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“Whatever the calculation before Nov. 3, the calculation before Jan. 5 appears to be, on both sides, that a Covid relief bill is the right thing to do for the nation and the right thing to do politically,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Given that they are currently in the majority, there’s pressure for the GOP to show that a Republican majority under a President Joe Biden won’t be total gridlock. Provided they hang onto at least one seat from Georgia, they will have the majority under Biden for at least two more years.

Republicans believe their two incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, will get a significant boost from a new stimulus law after getting hammered by Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for opposing relief checks. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly told reluctant Republicans that President Donald Trump wants stimulus checks — and that they will boost Perdue and Loeffler significantly in Georgia, according to people familiar with the conference call.

Democrats “are arguing that the president-elect needs some partners to advance his progressive agenda. If we can demonstrate through passage of this Covid package that we can work together in an atmosphere of divided government, that seems to defeat their argument,” said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who runs the Senate GOP’s campaign arm.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who just won reelection while under attack for his party’s handling of the coronavirus, said “incumbents are going to be blamed as a part of the problem” if Congress falls short.

Warnock and Ossoff have been hammering Loeffler and Perdue for months over the lack of action on a stimulus package. With direct payments in the mix this time around, Ossoff has been hitting Perdue over his previous opposition to stimulus checks that were part of Congress’ pandemic relief measure approved in March.

Covid relief is also the subject of a new ad the Democrats’ campaigns are running in Georgia, featuring Biden making a direct plea for Warnock and Ossoff. In the ad, Biden details his stimulus plan and adds that he needs Warnock and Ossoff in the Senate “to get this done.”

“If you’re interested in more relief, the choice is super clear in Georgia,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Loeffler and Perdue are not part of the bipartisan group of lawmakers that prompted the most recent negotiations and have missed Senate votes this month as they campaign for their political lives. But Loeffler has been in regular contact with McConnell, according to an aide, and said Wednesday she would fly back to D.C. to vote for a stimulus bill as soon as it’s clinched.

“Both Kelly and David benefit from getting this over the finish line,” added Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “They’re part of the institution that’s got responsibility. So I think it is important that we get it done.”

Though Democrats have a shot in Georgia, they would risk losing out on today’s opportunity if they ignored the compromise in front of them and bet on winning back the Senate to drive toward a far larger package. Because if they lose either of those two Senate races, McConnell will ultimately determine whether a relief bill can be considered on the Senate floor next year.

Democrats want a much bigger deal but have been having discussions about how they may not get another chance if Georgia doesn’t go their way, said one Senate Democrat familiar with party dynamics. But they also want to provide Biden a clear deck when he takes office in January, so he’s not mired in relief talks that have stalled for months and confronted with an even worse economy and health crisis.

“It will be hard to get the [GOP] majority to do another one. That’ll be a challenge,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said.

Murphy, however, cautioned that Biden’s long-standing relationship with Republicans means it is “entirely possible that he’ll be able to convince Mitch McConnell and Republicans to come to the table on additional stimulus and other issues.”

Still, Republicans are plainly uneasy about committing to another round of stimulus in just a month. After passing the most recent tranche of aid in April, McConnell and other Republican called for a “pause.” The same is likely true in January if Republicans control the Senate and have just approved nearly $1 trillion in coronavirus aid.

“A lot of it probably depends on what happens in Georgia,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “If we address the critical needs right now and things improve next year as the vaccine gets out there and the economy starts to pick up again there may be less of a need.”

“What this really is all about is whether or not people want Republicans to be able to control the Senate and negotiate with a Biden administration and slow down the far left,” argued Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Still, there’s more on the line in Georgia than the immediate question of whether Biden will find cooperation in Congress for his next economic stimulus package. Whoever controls the Senate will determine the longer arc of how quickly the country recovers from the devastating health and fiscal impacts of the coronavirus, and Democrats are worried that a Biden White House will end up fighting constantly with a Republican majority on all of his priorities.

“At this juncture so many people are struggling,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “There’s going to be a stark difference still on the issues that are important around not just Covid but health care in general [and] the economy.”

She said Georgians are looking for “long-term solutions” rather than just a single bill.

Even as the political climate is ripe for compromise on a stimulus package, some say a coronavirus deal will not make or break Loeffler or Perdue. For one, the senators have blamed Democrats for filibustering targeted GOP-led relief bills in the fall, muddying the waters of who’s responsible for the long-stalled negotiations.

And while the Georgia Senate candidates are focusing their message on the need for more aid, their races will ultimately be nationalized into whom do they want running the Senate: Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell.

“I’ve seen the comments made that it’ll affect Georgia. I don’t think anybody knows,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “I’d trust one of those late night psychic hotlines before I trust some of the polls.”

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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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