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“The hits just keep coming,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who said trying to follow the frenetic news cycles has been like “drinking out of a water hose.”

“Just when you think you have it figured out, something happens,” added Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who served in the House for several terms before assuming his current Senate seat in January 2019.

Even veteran lawmakers say the period feels unprecedented, comparing the political upheaval to the Civil Rights era of the late 1960s or World War II, or in more recent times, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But now, Republicans and Democrats are wrestling with the overlapping crises of the economy, social justice, public health and discord of the Trump era, generally.

Lawmakers have achieved some success, such as a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package that delivered badly needed aid to the most desperate Americans in the early stages of the pandemic. And House Democrats have passed much of their own ambitious agenda, from police reform to protecting Dreamers to infrastructure, only to see it ignored by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Things have gotten so bad, though, that the House and Senate couldn’t renew a law designed to help the victims of violent crimes, let alone another badly needed coronavirus aid bill. The Senate has been unable to pass anti-lynching legislation. And this week, the Senate couldn’t even agree on a nonbinding resolution honoring Ginsburg amid a heated dispute over filling the Supreme Court vacancy in an election year.

Lawmakers on the left and the right are now casually discussing extreme tactics that could inflict permanent damage on the institution. Democrats are considering blowing up the filibuster and packing the Supreme Court isn’t off the table if Republicans do, indeed, confirm a high court pick with just days to go before the election.

And House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy threatened to move forward with a long-shot bid to oust Nancy Pelosi as speaker if Democrats try to impeach Trump officials in order to slow down the Supreme Court confirmation process — an idea that is not being seriously considered by senior Democrats on Capitol Hill.

“People in some ways feel exhausted with all of it. But we remain committed to doing our jobs here. We know the consequences are so great,” said Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), who served as one of Trump’s impeachment surrogates. “We feel the weight of history.”

And it could get worse. With a hypercharged election ahead, some lawmakers fear that a deadlocked Electoral College could force the House to step in and determine the fate of the presidency — a scenario that has happened only in 1800 and 1824.

In some ways, this session of Congress was doomed from the start.

The two-year stretch — starting last January, when Democrats seized back the House halfway through Trump’s first term — began with the longest government shutdown in U.S. history that onlookers described as an “ugly” and “pathetic” milestone.

Then there was the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, the migrant crisis at the Southern border, a near-war with Iran and eventually, the third presidential impeachment in American history, all in 2019.

Many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, are quick to blame Trump for fueling the nonstop drip-drip of news. But a mix of compounding factors — such as growing cultural divides, shifting demographics and the rise of social media and online misinformation — have also helped fuel the polarization.

“The impeachment seems as if it were lifetimes ago. It’s like the war of 1812,” said Raskin.

2020 has, of course, shattered almost every semblance of normalcy in the U.S., with 200,000 Americans dying of the coronavirus and millions more losing their jobs, all while the nation suffered from a different epidemic — police killings of unarmed Black people.

Then there are the losses of storied national figures, such as Lewis, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings and now feminist pioneer Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Freshman Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) said he was celebrating his first wedding anniversary with his wife Friday night when he received the news about Ginsburg’s passing, which he described as a gut punch — especially on top of everything else.

“There are days where you feel like everything bad that could have happened, has,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “And there are other days you recognize it always can get worse.”

“My dad used to say, ‘You’ve got to turn chicken crap into chicken salad,” he added.

For freshman lawmakers, including dozens who arrived in Congress after highly competitive races — this constant state of crisis is all they know as a member. Their political careers were essentially born into, and molded by, the fire.

Just months after being sworn in, this year’s freshman class was making the kind of decisions that would define their political obituary — whether to impeach a president, whether to add trillions of dollars to the national debt, whether to back historic policing reforms.

But they say that has only made them more battle-tested.

“I think our freshman class has endured some of the most challenging times ever in the history of the Congress. Certainly in my lifetime,” said Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a five-term member of Democratic leadership. “I assure them, everytime I talk to them, this will be the hardest term you’ll ever have.

“At least I hope that’s true,” he added. “It can’t get any worse.”

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), too, acknowledged the historic nature of the 116th Congress and jokingly suggested there could be even more drama, referring to the push within the Democratic base to impeach a Trump appointee in an attempt to slow-walk the Senate GOP’s nomination to replace Ginsburg.

“We might be coming full circle,” Clyburn said with a chuckle. “Start with an impeachment and end with an impeachment … I think this country is living out its true meaning, a living Constitution.”

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India’s Ranjitsinh Disale wins 2020 Global Teacher Prize and splits it with runners-up

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The award, which is run by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, celebrates “exceptional” teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

Ranjitsinh Disale, a teacher at Zilla Parishad Primary School, in the village of Paritewadi in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, was chosen as winner from more than 12,000 nominations and applications, from over 140 countries around the world.

The award recognized his efforts to promote girls’ education at the school, whose pupils are mostly from tribal communities.

The Global Teacher Prize said he learned the local language of the village in order to translate class textbooks into his pupils’ mother tongue.

He also created unique QR codes on the textbooks to give students access to audio poems, video lectures, stories and assignments, greatly improving school attendance. His QR technology is now being rolled out more widely across India.

The British actor and TV host Stephen Fry announced Disale as the winner at a virtual ceremony broadcast from the Natural History Museum in London on Thursday.

Rather than keeping all his winnings, Disale told Fry in an interview that he would share the prize with the other nine finalists, giving them $55,000 each — the first time anyone has done so in the award’s six-year history.

He told Fry: “I believe that if I share this prize money with nine teachers it means I can scale up their work. Their incredible work is still worthy… If I share the prize money with the rest of the teachers they will get a chance to continue their work… and we can reach out and lighten the lives of as many students as we can.”

His actions drew praise from around the world, including from the Dalai Lama, who said on Twitter and in a statement published online that he admired Disale for sharing the money.

“Educating young children, especially from poor and needy backgrounds is perhaps the best way to help them as individuals, and actively contributes to creating a better world,” he said.

The award’s nine runners-up are teachers working in the United States, Britain, Vietnam, Nigeria, South Africa, Italy, South Korea, Malaysia and Brazil.



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Pelosi eyes combining Covid aid with mammoth spending deal

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Pelosi said the $908 billion proposal released this week by a centrist group of Senate and House members helped restart the stimulus talks, which fell apart just before the election after months of dragging on with little real movement.

“There is momentum — there is momentum with the action that the senators and House members in a bipartisan way have taken,” Pelosi said Friday, in the latest sign that negotiators are closing in on a deal. “The tone of our conversations is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Friday said he’s “encouraged” by the $908 billion proposal, framing it as the type of bipartisan work that he hopes to foster as president. He cautioned that “any package passed in the lame duck session is not going to be enough overall.”

But hurdles remain. Government funding runs out in just one week, and there are still a sizable number of issues impeding an agreement on a massive spending package that would increase agency budgets for the rest of the fiscal year.

The sheer number of outstanding items at such a late stage makes it increasingly likely that congressional negotiators will require a brief stopgap spending bill to complete their work before leaving for the holidays. Such a decision could be made early next week if lawmakers fail to make significant progress over the weekend.

Pelosi demurred when asked about the possibility of a short-term stopgap to buy more time for talks, and dismissed the need for a longer term continuing resolution that would extend current government funding into early next year.

“We will take the time that we need,” Pelosi said, while acknowledging that a number of issues remain, including some outside of appropriators’ jurisdiction.

“Don’t worry about a date,” she added.

While appropriators in both chambers remain optimistic that they’ll finish their work before the holidays, Republicans and Democrats are still swapping offers and arguing over details, kicking some of the most difficult items up to congressional leaders.

For example, a House Democratic aide close to the talks said Republicans want to scrub any mentions of Covid-19 from the omnibus package entirely. Earlier this year, House Democrats added coronavirus relief to their slate of fiscal 2021 appropriations bills, while Senate Republicans have insisted that pandemic aid remain totally separate from annual appropriations measures.

Republicans are also objecting to funding for research on reducing racial and ethnic inequalities in the justice system, in addition to language that would require the Capitol Police to report on policies and procedures on eliminating unconscious bias and racial profiling during training, the Democratic aide said.

Republicans, meanwhile, are accusing Democrats of holding up omnibus talks by insisting on the removal of two Interior-Environment policy riders that have been included in annual spending bills for years. The provisions involve protections for the greater sage-grouse, in addition to a provision related to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass.

“Dredging these up right now is beyond counterproductive,” a GOP aide familiar with the talks said Thursday night.

Funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall also remains a perennial sticking point — Senate Republicans have proposed $2 billion for fiscal 2021, which began on Oct. 1. House Democrats have proposed no extra cash.

Lawmakers have also disagreed on detention beds for detained migrants in recent days, although Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) — the top Senate Democrat who oversees funding for the Department of Homeland Security — said Thursday that issue may get solved without the help of leadership.

Also in question is whether the White House will ultimately support a package that classifies billions of dollars in veterans’ health care spending as “emergency” spending outside of strict budget limits. Both House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby are moving forward with their negotiations assuming that’s the case, since the White House has previously signed off on such an arrangement.

Pelosi on Friday also said that whatever coronavirus relief they include in the government funding bill will not be the last time Congress addresses the ongoing pandemic, which continues to devastate the U.S., killing more than 275,000 Americans and causing a sharp downturn in the economy. The U.S. saw the deadliest day ever on Thursday, with Covid-19 fatalities exceeding 2,700.

“President-elect Biden has said that this package would be, just at best, just a start. And that’s how we see it as well,” Pelosi said.

The speaker also defended her decision to hold out for months, demanding a larger deal in the ballpark of $2 trillion or more, only to agree to negotiate this smaller package now. McConnell, similarly, refused to come off his much smaller baseline over the summer — pushing a $500 billion package — resulting in a standoff between congressional leaders.

“That was not a mistake, it was a decision,” Pelosi told reporters, saying the dynamics have significantly shifted since the election of Biden and the quicker than expected vaccine development. “That is a total game changer — a new president and a vaccine.”

With cautious optimism about the prospect of passing some fiscal stimulus to buoy the American economy during a bleak pandemic winter, lawmakers remain hopeful that Congress will pull it together before leaving Washington, despite lingering omnibus headaches.

“You know this place — turns on a dime,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who was elected by the Democratic caucus on Thursday as the next Appropriations chair.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.

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Gavin Williamson Claims The UK Approved A Coronavirus Vaccine First Because It Is A “Much Better Country”

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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK is a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US


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Gavin Williamson has claimed the UK’s speedy approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was due to it being a “much better country” than France, Belgium and the US.

The UK become the first country in the world to approve a clinical vaccine for coronavirus on Wednesday after the medicines regulator, the MHRA, gave the green light for the jab to be rolled out from next week.

The Education Secretary said this is because the UK has the “best medical regulators”, dodging questions about the impact of Brexit on the approval process of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Speaking after the approval announcement on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “because of Brexit” the UK regulator had been able to approve the vaccine without having to wait for the European Medicines Agency to do so.

But his claims were later contradicted by both No10 and senior figures within the regulator, with a spokesperson for Boris Johnson insisting the approval was “thanks to the hard work of the MHRA”.

Meanwhile, Dr June Raine, head of the regulatory agency said the green light to roll out the vaccine from next week was made “using provisions under European law which exist until January 1”.

But pressed on the impact of Brexit on the approval process, Mr Williamson instead suggested the approval was down to the UK having “much better” medical regulators than France, Belgium and America.

“Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators,” he told LBC

“Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country that every single one of them, aren’t we.”

He added: “Just being able to get on with things, deliver it and with brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the world to get that Pfizer vaccine.”

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