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Pelosi and her allies have been ratcheting up their lobbying campaign in recent weeks to ensure House Democrats are in the Capitol that first Sunday in January. Pelosi has had help from her top deputies, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), according to several sources familiar with the effort. She and her supporters have also deployed former Obama administration alumni and big donors to help squeeze undecided Democrats, in addition to influential politicians and labor leaders in lawmakers’ home states.

House Democrats are expected to hold 222 seats on Jan. 3 versus 212 for Republicans, if all members are in attendance, say lawmakers and aides in both parties. Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s (D-N.Y.) tight race against Republican Claudia Tenney may not be called by then.

According to House rules, Pelosi must win a majority of votes cast “for a person by name” of the members who are in attendance and voting. So Pelosi can afford to allow a handful of her members to vote “present,” but a vote for anyone else is more problematic. In January 2019, some Democrats cast votes for Joe Biden, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), among others, as an alternative to Pelosi. With the narrower Democratic margin next year, that won’t work for the speaker.

“I think it’s a lot tougher for her this time,” said Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), a senior Democrat who opposed Pelosi as speaker in 2019. Schrader said in an interview he’s still undecided, but several top Democrats said they expect him to support Pelosi this time.

“It’s not all black and white. Everyone wants it to be all or none but that’s not the way it works,” he added.

Pelosi’s thinner majority will require a near-perfect showing from rank-and-file Democrats to again lock down the speakership, a far more difficult task in a year when the coronavirus has sidelined dozens of members over the course of the year.

One shift in Pelosi’s favor is that she will have far fewer Democrats to flip this time around compared with her 2019 bid, when she had to confront a whole group of disgruntled rebels. That negotiation ended with her agreeing to term limits, allowing her to return to the speaker’s chair after an eight-year absence with the upcoming two years in theory her last.

But with less room for error, Pelosi and her allies have begun applying pressure with hopes of winning over several of the defectors who opposed her in the past.

The lobbying blitz hasn’t gone without hiccups. House Rules Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a Pelosi ally, angered moderates after he wrote in a letter to the caucus that a vote for anyone other than Pelosi would be a vote for “the QAnon wing of the Republican Party.”

Still, Pelosi already has flipped several key Democrats, some without any direct outreach. Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a senior Blue Dog, told POLITICO this month he would support her. Cooper voted “present” last time. Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado also plans to back Pelosi after voting for Duckworth in 2019. And Democratic sources predicted Schrader will likely vote “yes” as well. Schrader voted for Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio two years ago.

“I’m going to talk to anybody and everybody. I think it’s absolutely essential that we be able to elect our speaker,” Hoyer said in an interview. Asked about any floor issues, Hoyer said: “I think we’ll get there.”

At least two Democrats plan to vote against Pelosi on the floor: Reps. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Jared Golden of Maine, according to several sources. A third, Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, could also vote “no,” though she declined to comment in a recent interview. All three voted for other candidates last time.

Pelosi does have one way to release the pressure valve with other swing-district moderates: Several Democrats can vote “present” instead of “no” on the floor, which would shore up her path to the speakership without putting vulnerable Democrats on the spot.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan confirmed Thursday that she plans to vote “present” on the floor, as she did in 2019.

“I made a pledge in the spring of 2019, before I was elected. I’ve discussed that personally with [Pelosi], one on one,” Slotkin said in an interview. “That, to me, is a commitment that I made to my district. It just doesn’t change based on the ups and downs here.”

Democrats are closely circling another national security freshman, Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, who could vote “present.” Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, vocal Pelosi opponents in 2019, have also said they are undecided.

Of the 15 Democrats who voted against Pelosi on the floor in 2019, 10 survived reelection. An eleventh, Rep. Jeff Van Drew, has since switched to the Republican Party.

Making sure everyone is in attendance for several key early January votes is also on the minds of leaders of both parties. The Capitol physician has privately advised that members should be summoned back to Washington as early as Dec. 27 to ensure the House can safely hold its first vote on Jan. 3, although that is not official guidance, according to lawmakers and aides.

A single Democrat forced to stay home because of an infection or quarantine period — not to mention other health issues — could upset Pelosi’s careful balancing act. It could also complicate other key floor votes, such as the vote to certify the votes of the Electoral College for President-elect Joe Biden. That vote takes place on Jan. 6.

Lawmakers heading into the Biden administration like Fudge or Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) shouldn’t affect the math; they are expected to remain in the House until Jan. 20, when Biden is sworn in.

“The only way she won’t win is — I’m always a little nervous about Covid. That’s the most frightening aspect of this. But it’s a problem for both sides,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said.

Top House Democrats have easily managed the outcome of floor votes amid the pandemic; any members unable to travel have simply voted remotely.

But at the start of the next Congress, none of the Democrats’ proxy voting rules will be in effect, requiring every member to be physically present to cast their vote.

Several senior Democrats have downplayed the prospects of an attendance problem.

“It is our expectation that everybody will be present on Jan. 3,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York told reporters. “We expect to be present. Nancy Pelosi will be the next speaker.”

Democrats say even members with underlying health issues — including Reps. Mark DeSaulnier of California, who nearly died in a running accident while battling leukemia, and Alcee Hastings of Florida, who’s battling pancreatic cancer — are determined to vote. DeSaulnier told members on a Zoom call this week that he planned to attend, according to a Democrat on the call.

A small number of House Democrats privately say they are waiting on the outcome of the Covid relief negotiations before deciding whether to back Pelosi, as frustration with the stalemate mounts in their districts. But Pelosi supporters say members realize they simply don’t have the option to make a political statement with their vote.

“Clearly, people are going to have to be here,” Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan said. “Everyone just has to say, ‘OK. We don’t have this messaging option left anymore.’”

Ally Mutnick contributed to this report.

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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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