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“Congress is filled with lots of great actors. It is devoid of action,” said moderate Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a member of the Problems Solvers Caucus who has been involved in the bipartisan discussions. “There’s a massive disconnect between those who have been elected to leadership in our respective chambers and caucuses and between the rank-and-file members.”

The odds of passing a new tranche of relief are still daunting. Yet the outcome of the long-shot effort could offer a key glimpse into what Washington will look like with Joe Biden in the White House.

With razor-thin majorities in both the House and Senate and party divisions sharper than ever, moderates will be key to whether Biden accomplishes anything meaningful during his tenure. And their moves this week suggest they’re finally ready to push their leadership to the table.

“This model of how we’re working together, to me, is exactly the model to get things done in the next Congress,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

McConnell has continued pushing a smaller Republican-preferred “targeted” relief bill, even amid the bipartisan progress. But some in the GOP say his position might not be sustainable.

“We had a real breakthrough,” said Collins, who met with McConnell and other centrist Republicans Thursday. “I was surprised to have the leader dismiss it so quickly. And I’m disappointed in that. I hope he will [come around]. We need to get 60 votes to pass something in the Senate. And I don’t see his proposal garnering 60 votes.”

Others were not so optimistic: “I’m not prepared to say that’s something that I think is a 60/40 chance in the next two weeks is the new MO for Congress the next two years,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). But he said the looming Georgia runoffs, which will determine control of the Senate, could be weighing on Republican leaders as they deliberate whether to move forward with the bipartisan framework.

The jolt toward a possible compromise continued Thursday, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) leaving a meeting with Trump at the White House on Thursday afternoon declaring he’s “never been more hopeful that we’ll get a bill,” though he said the policy differences remain.

“I don’t know whether the Senate will pass our bill exactly as we negotiated it, or whether it will be used cafeteria-style with portions picked by [leaders] in putting together the omnibus bill. But it’s pretty clear to me there’s growing support in our caucus and apparently the Democratic Caucus behind our bill,” Romney added in an interview.

Many of the rank-and-file members who helped revive talks had been growing more furious by the day as a stimulus deal slipped past August, and then again in September and October. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases flooded hospitals in dozens of states and battered the economy. Congress, too, saw its own cluster of cases, offering further urgency for lawmakers to reach a deal swiftly and avoid the Capitol complex.

The outrage became so acute that some members, including Phillips, called their own meetings with their leadership to urge action. Senators like Collins and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the lead sponsors of the bipartisan bill, spent much of Thanksgiving break on Zoom calls, working to create a tangible solution. And many on Capitol Hill acknowledged that attempts to reach a compromise at the highest levels had failed.

“I’ve been very, very frustrated with this whole process. And I would like to see this be the new model,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), a centrist freshman. “We’ve just been on a treadmill … the slowest treadmill I’ve ever been on in my life.”

“Carrying on like we’ve done for half a year, while people are struggling, while people are literally dying because of a lack of inaction in many ways, that’s a fault of government,” added Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa).

The first signs of life in coronavirus negotiations since before the election came after lawmakers returned to Washington this week. Shortly after the bipartisan group unveiled their $908 billion proposal, top Democrats surprised even their own members as they signaled a willingness to support a bill when they had long been adamant about approving a $2 trillion deal.

“It is quite clear across the board — not just on this — people have to be willing to come out from their corners in the ring, otherwise we’re going to have this kind of stalemate,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said, calling on Republicans, too, to compromise.

Members of both parties insist they can’t leave town for the holidays before passing some kind of stimulus measure, though both chambers have repeatedly departed for lengthy recesses without delivering aid. And, as several lawmakers and aides have pointed out, actually settling on the legislative language for any kind of relief package remains a huge hurdle.

Still, some top House Democrats are reluctant to keep members in the Capitol for any more days during the pandemic, arguing that it’s not worth the health risk if their Senate counterparts are still refusing to budge.

“My recommendation will be if we can’t get a deal, we will have to send members home,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Thursday, adding that members will come back immediately if and when there is a deal ready for a floor vote.

But not everyone in D.C. is going to find that acceptable.

“I think it’s wrong. And I’d like to think every Democrat and Republican would refuse to go home, leaving people in the lurch and losing all their lifelines at the end of December,” Manchin said.

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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


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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