“We’ve got bad habits that accumulated over the last four years,” said retiring Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who led the panel’s first Russia investigation after Nunes, then the chair, recused himself. Conaway added: “On both sides.”
A spokesman for Nunes did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Democrats built up a long list of complaints about Nunes’ leadership of the panel during Trump’s first two years, including his efforts to absolve the president of collusion with Russian election interference and promote accusations of anti-Trump bias among federal law enforcement officials. Republicans argue that Democrats contributed to the panel’s rancorous atmosphere, citing what they consider a stream of leaks, Trump’s impeachment and Schiff’s regular presence on TV — though some acknowledge that GOP members kept stirring the pot, for example with their unanimous call for Schiff to resign as chair.
Neither Schiff or Nunes is expected to go anywhere, however, in a panel that will be more evenly divided next year thanks to Democratic losses in November’s elections. Both remain close allies of their party’s respective leaders and incredibly popular among their colleagues.
But Trump will be gone after Jan. 20. And Schiff said he hoped that would bring a change of tone for the committee, which will wrap up a months-long review of the U.S. clandestine community’s response and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The panel may also launch its own investigation of the SolarWinds hack, suspected to be the work of Russian intelligence, which has breached multiple federal agencies and an untold number of private companies.
“We just have too much important work to do,” Schiff said. He added, “All I can say is I’m going to make every effort and I hope it’ll be reciprocated.”
He added that he had a similar conversation with his GOP colleagues at the beginning of this Congress “that was not successful. But I intend to again and invite all of them to reset and see if we can get to ‘yes.’”
Intelligence panel or ‘political instrument’?
Current and former Republicans on the committee were less hopeful for a return to the panel’s reputation as a quiet, bipartisan protector of the nation’s most closely held secrets.
“The focus has to shift from partisan issues to true national security issues,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said about the committee’s future. But on the other hand, he said, “I don’t think Adam Schiff can go 15 minutes without attacking someone in the Capitol or in the Trump world.”
Former panel Chair Mike Rogers of Michigan, who retired from Congress in 2014, said he sees at least one way to restore civility: Replace both Schiff and Nunes.
“Both of them are leading fundraisers because of the notoriety they get in the very public political fights off of the committee, using the committee as that platform,” Rogers told POLITICO. “That is really destructive to good and proper oversight of the intelligence community, more than they will admit it, more than people will know.”
Dismissing both Schiff and Nunes would also “send a message that you don’t get a membership on the committee by using it as a political instrument,” Rogers said.
Intelligence is the only permanent committee in Congress whose members are appointed unilaterally by the Republican and Democratic leaders in the House, instead of being recommended by steering committees and voted on by their full caucus or conference. That means leadership retains tight control over the committee’s business and tend to appoint allies to it.
If leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are serious about reversing the partisanship that’s wracked the panel during the Trump era, committee veterans say it will be most evident in next year’s appointments, including the choices of chair and ranking Republican.
Losses in the November elections have left Democrats with a razor-thin majority in the House. That means Republicans could gain a seat on the 21-person committee, whose appointments are usually announced last, after Pelosi and McCarthy finish negotiating the new ratio and all the other congressional panel rosters are finished.
McCarthy will have the chance to name at least three new Republicans to the panel, following the retirements of Conaway and Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, a former CIA officer, and the departure earlier this year of John Ratcliffe, now the director of national intelligence.
Compared with the changes coming for the GOP, the committee’s Democratic side will largely remain the same. Reps. Jim Himes of Connecticut and Terri Sewell of Alabama are term-limited off the committee but are expected to seek waivers to remain on the panel. Only Rep. Denny Heck of Washington state is retiring.
Despite the four years of bickering, Intelligence “is the most coveted committee on our side,” said Conaway, adding that McCarthy “will have more than enough rock-solid people to put in these slots, to take up the reins. … He’ll have to disappoint some really good, qualified people.”
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who is the favorite to get the top GOP slot if Nunes somehow doesn’t, noted that the committee has had a reputation for attracting lawmakers who are workhorses and don’t mind that much of the panel’s work takes place behind closed doors.
“If you’re on HPSCI, it should be the most important committee you sit on,” said Stewart, who also serves on the Appropriations and Budget panels. “Sometimes you have to choose. And when I have to choose, I always have to choose Intel and I would hope other members would make it their priority too, not something they do casually.”
Recent developments on Capitol Hill don’t exactly bode well for a restoring an atmosphere of cooperation any time soon.
Earlier this year the GOP unofficially boycotted the panel’s proceedings for months at the start of the pandemic over what they said were security concerns, though Democrats argued it was partisan politics.
Objections by Nunes almost scuttled the passage of an annual intelligence authorization bill — which passed out of committee in a rare, party-line vote — even though Schiff and the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee had agreed to it. Nunes had objected to moving forward on the measure because he believed that provisions on election security and protecting whistleblowers and inspectors general amounted to partisan attacks on the White House.
A compromise version of the proposal, which authorizes billions of dollars in spending and provides policy guardrails to the country’s 17 intelligence agencies, was eventually hitched to the $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill and Covid-19 relief package that the House and Senate passed on Monday — but not before the provisions Nunes objected to were jettisoned.
“Regrettably” those provisions were cut from the compromise bill, Schiff said in a statement.
“We will continue to press for those necessary reforms, and others, in the next Congress through the [Intelligence Authorization Act] and other legislative vehicles,” the California Democrat said.
Meanwhile, some Republican members openly skewered Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and called for Pelosi to remove him from the committee after an Axios report accused him of having had dealings with an alleged Chinese spy. But Pelosi has stood by Swallwell, who has said he broke off contact with the woman after getting an alert from the FBI in 2015.
“I’m not taking anything personally,” Swalwell said when asked about GOP calls for him to step down from the panel.
“I’m going into the next Congress putting aside what’s happened in the past and wanting to try and get some of the friendships back that I had across the aisle before Donald Trump became president,” he added. “All you can do is try.”
‘Find something that you can do with Devin’
Rogers suggested that one way to restore comity post-Trump would be to bring back a practice employed during his time helming the panel: Have Republican and Democratic staff brief members together, because “sometimes the staff fighting is as bad as anything that you’ll see from the members.” As a result of the joint briefings, he said, “people started realizing we’re on the same page for the same mission.”
Still, Rogers remains dubious that Schiff and Nunes can lead the panel back from the brink of dysfunction.
“The fact that they are nationally known for going after Trump, or supporting Trump, that is an aphrodisiac that’s hard to get over,” he told POLITICO.
For some members, it’s too late.
When he announced his retirement last year, Heck said the “countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary” — and the memories of the committee’s heated clashes may not disappear soon.
Heck said that “our best opportunity for a reset” would have been to give Nunes the top GOP spot on the Ways and Means Committee, which the California Republican has long coveted. But that slot will remain with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), McCarthy announced earlier this month.
“If I had 30 seconds with Kevin, and I thought he listened to me, I’d say: Find something that you can do with Devin,” Heck said. But, he added, “That’s not going to happen.”
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“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.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
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.”
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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