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“We’re very, very concerned as a community, as a Latino community,” said Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who called last week for at least five Latinos to be appointed to Cabinet-level positions.

Asian American and Pacific Islander advocates and officials are warning the Biden administration, in writing, it will be “deeply disappointing if several AAPIs are not nominated” to Cabinet positions. They’re growing increasingly convinced the president-elect will not match President Barack Obama’s total of three Asian Americans in his first Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus is urging Biden to choose a Black Defense secretary and up the number of African Americans leading departments overall.

Together, the criticism highlights the challenges the Biden transition faces in satisfying expectations for a historically diverse Cabinet. And it underscores the growing demands for equal representation after a presidential election in which Asian Americans were difference-makers in Georgia, Latinos boosted Biden in Arizona, and Black voters propelled him to the nomination and ultimate victory.

But appeasing everyone may be a nearly impossible task, especially given the zero-sum reality of Cabinet jockeying and the limited slate of top-tier positions.

Latino lawmakers and outside groups, for example, are pushing New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for Health and Human Services secretary — but tapping her over former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is Indian American, could anger Asian American advocacy groups.

“It’s no secret that as you look at the number of people that have been appointed … we don’t see too many Asian Americans there, do we?” said Bel Leong-Hong, chair of the Democratic National Committee’s AAPI caucus.

Those lobbying the transition team say there is still time for Biden to meet his lofty diversity goals. But some Democrats are pessimistic after seeing the first rounds of personnel picks.

Biden’s core White House team will be mostly white, including his chief of staff, communications director, press secretary, legislative affairs director and one of his top economic advisers. And two of the so-called “Big Four” Cabinet positions — atop the State, Treasury, Justice and Defense Departments — have already been filled by white candidates.

“A true way for Biden to make history would be to nominate a person of color for one or more of those ‘Big Four’ positions, and now they’re down to just two,” said Janet Murguía, the president of UnidosUS and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. “So there will be enormous scrutiny from both the Black and Latino community for the remaining two jobs — DoD and Justice — and rightfully so.”

A Black House lawmaker, who requested anonymity to speak more freely as Biden fills positions, put it more bluntly. “He’s got to step it up,” the lawmaker said, noting that Kamala Harris’ selection as vice president doesn’t give Biden an excuse to appoint fewer African Americans to head key departments.

The Biden transition team says the president-elect will have a diverse administration when all is said and done. “His success in finding diverse voices to develop and implement his policy vision to tackle our nation’s toughest challenges will be clear when our full slate of appointees and nominees is complete,” a Biden-Harris transition official said in a statement.

It’s true that, as the transition official pointed out, Biden has “announced several historic and diverse White House appointments and Cabinet nominees.” He appointed an all-female senior communications team, for example, as well as the first woman of color to lead the Office of Management and Budget and the first female nominee for Treasury secretary.

But in 2020, the bar for diversity has been raised well beyond the seven women and 10 nonwhite officials in President Barack Obama’s first Cabinet.

Senior AAPI officials highlight huge increases in voter turnout among Asian American voters in the 2020 election — including in crucial battleground states he won, such as Georgia and Arizona — as one reason they should be well-represented throughout the administration. Early and absentee voting among AAPI voters rose nearly 300 percent in battleground states this year, according to the Democratic data firm Catalist.

The Biden transition announced Monday that Neera Tanden, an Indian American woman, will be nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget. But some AAPI officials said they still fear Biden is unlikely to meet the benchmark set by Obama, who appointed three AAPI candidates to Cabinet positions at the start of his term.

“We just want to make sure that the Biden administration — and we’ve conveyed this from Day One — has a diverse representation, and that diversity includes AAPIs,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), vice chair of the DNC. “That’s not always fully understood.”

The influential Congressional Hispanic Caucus has also mounted an active pressure campaign.

In phone calls and letters, the lawmakers pointed out the transition’s agency review teams are roughly 11 percent Latino and their COVID-19 Advisory Board is about 15 percent Latino — each less than the roughly 20 percent share of the U.S. population Latinos represent.

And though they cheered the nomination of Cuban American Alejandro Mayorkas to run Homeland Security — the first immigrant and first Latino to hold the position, if confirmed — it does not come close to representing the breadth of Latinos across the country, they say.

“When we talk about diversity, we also need to talk about diversity within the Hispanic community,” said California Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz. “The vast majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are Mexican Americans, so it would be important and helpful to have them represented in nominations. The Puerto Rican and Cuban American and Dominican American experiences are also important and should also be reflected.”

Gonzalez, the Texas Democrat, said he’s warned Democrats about the surge in support for Republicans among Mexican American communities in South Texas and other battleground states.

“When Republicans are coming into our districts saying, ‘what have the Democrats done for you?’ And we have a Democratic president with a low showing or low representation of Latinos in his Cabinet and government, it is a tough response,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t want to have to defend that.”

In addition to Lujan Grisham, Latino lawmakers support either DNC Chair Tom Perez or California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the Justice Department. Ruiz’s name has also been floated by some members of the Hispanic Caucus as a potential addition to a Biden administration, given his health care background as a physician.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been pressuring Biden’s transition team on an individual level, according to multiple members. Many take their cues from Clyburn, who is pushing for Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge to be selected as the first Black female Agriculture secretary.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he’s keeping a close eye on who Biden names to lead Housing and Urban Development, pointing out that Democrats have not nominated a Black man to lead HUD since 1965, when the department was created by President Lyndon Johnson. And he echoed other CBC members who are saying former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s “name needs to be in the mix” for Defense Secretary.

“I’m not ready to panic,” Cleaver said of representation within the administration, adding that members see Biden as someone who understands their demands and the “delicacy” of keeping a diverse party happy.

“The philosophy of those of us who’ve been in the civil rights movement is that even if it’s friends, you know, you don’t let up in your expressions of anticipation,” said Cleaver. “We’re anticipating that he does the right thing.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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