Trump impeachment goes to Senate, testing his sway over GOP
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats delivered the impeachment case against Donald Trump to the Senate for the start of his historic trial, but Republican senators were easing off their criticism of the former president and shunning calls to convict him over the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.
It’s an early sign of Trump’s enduring sway over the party.
The nine House prosecutors carried the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol on Monday night, making a solemn and ceremonial march to the Senate along the same halls the rioters ransacked just weeks ago. But Republican denunciations of Trump have cooled since the Jan. 6 riot. Instead Republicans are presenting a tangle of legal arguments against the legitimacy of the trial and questioning whether Trump’s repeated demands to overturn Joe Biden’s election really amounted to incitement.
What seemed for some Democrats like an open-and-shut case that played out for the world on live television, as Trump encouraged a rally mob to “fight like hell” for his presidency, is running into a Republican Party that feels very differently. Not only are there legal concerns, but senators are wary of crossing the former president and his legions of followers — who are their voters. Security remains tight at the Capitol.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked if Congress starts holding impeachment trials of former officials, what’s next: “Could we go back and try President Obama?”
Biden more bullish on vaccines, open to 1.5M daily shot goal
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday appeared to boost his goal for coronavirus vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, suggesting the nation could soon be injecting 1.5 million shots on an average per day.
Biden signalled his increasing bullishness on the pace of vaccinations after signing an executive order to boost government purchases from U.S. manufacturers. It was among a flurry of moves by Biden during his first full week to show he’s taking swift action to heal an ailing economy as talks with Congress over a $1.9 trillion stimulus package showed few signs of progress.
Biden reiterated that he believes the country is in a precarious spot and and that relief is urgently needed, even as he dismissed the possibility of embracing a scaled-down bill to secure passage faster. Among the features of the stimulus plan are a national vaccination program, aid to reopen schools, direct payments of $1,400 to individuals and financial relief for state and local governments.
“Time is of the essence,” Biden said. “I am reluctant to cherry-pick and take out one or two items here.”
Biden’s new vaccination target comes after he and his aides faced criticism for the 100 million goal in his first 100 days in office. The U.S. has exceeded a pace of 1 million doses per day over the last week.
Watchdog probes if DOJ officials tried to overturn election
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department’s inspector general is launching an investigation to examine whether any former or current department officials “engaged in an improper attempt” to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Monday that the investigation will investigate allegations concerning the conduct of former and current Justice Department officials but will not extend to other government officials.
The Justice Department watchdog investigation follows a report in The New York Times that a former assistant attorney general, Jeffrey Clark, had been discussing a plan with then-President Donald Trump to oust the acting attorney general and try to challenge the results of the 2020 race by falsely saying there had been widespread election fraud.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded the inspector general launch a probe “into this attempted sedition.” The New York Democrat said it was “unconscionable a Trump Justice Department leader would conspire to subvert the people’s will.”
The watchdog’s probe is part of a growing number of efforts underway to investigate the attempts by Trump and his allies to subvert the election results. The moves culminated in a deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and a second impeachment of Trump, this time for inciting an insurrection. Also on Monday, the voting machine company Dominion Systems filed a defamation suit against Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani for his repeatedly false claims about widespread voting fraud in the election.
US virus numbers drop, but race against new strains heats up
Coronavirus deaths and cases per day in the U.S. dropped markedly over the past couple of weeks but are still running at alarmingly high levels, and the effort to snuff out COVID-19 is becoming an ever more urgent race between the vaccine and the mutating virus.
The government’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the improvement in numbers around the country appears to reflect a “natural peaking and then plateauing” after a holiday surge, rather than the arrival of the vaccine in mid-December.
The U.S. is recording just under 3,100 deaths a day on average, down from more than 3,350 less than two weeks ago. New cases are averaging about 170,000 a day after peaking at almost 250,000 on Jan. 11. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has fallen to about 110,000 from a high of 132,000 on Jan. 7.
States that have been hot spots in recent weeks such as California and Arizona have shown similar improvements during the same period.
On Monday, California lifted regional stay-at-home orders in favour of county-by-county restrictions and ended a 10 p.m. curfew. The shift will allow restaurants and churches to resume outdoor operations and hair and nail salons to reopen in many places, though local officials could maintain stricter rules.
Under Biden, China faces renewed trade pressure
BEIJING (AP) — The U.S.-Chinese trade war isn’t going away under President Joe Biden.
Biden won’t confront Beijing right away, economists say, because he wants to focus on the coronavirus and the economy. However, Biden looks set to renew pressure over trade and technology grievances that prompted President Donald Trump to hike tariffs on Chinese imports in 2017.
Negotiators might tone down Trump’s focus on narrowing China’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States and push harder to open its state-dominated economy, which matters more in the long run, economists say. But no abrupt tariff cuts or other big changes are expected.
“I think Biden will focus more on trying to extract structural reforms,” said Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics. “It’s going to take some time before we get any shift or explicit announcements.”
Biden is evaluating tariffs on Chinese goods and wants to co-ordinate future steps with allies, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday. She gave no indication of possible changes.
Janet Yellen wins Senate approval as treasury secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Monday approved President Joe Biden’s nomination of Janet Yellen to be the nation’s 78th treasury secretary, making her the first woman to hold the job in the department’s 232-year history.
Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve, was approved by the Senate on a 84-15 vote, becoming the third member of Biden’s Cabinet to win confirmation. The 15 votes against her all came from Republicans.
She is expected to play a key role in gaining congressional approval of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is running into stiff opposition from Republicans who believe the price tag is too high.
Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the former Federal Reserve chairwoman had bipartisan support.
Schumer said Yellen has a “breathtaking range of experience” and support for her nomination reflected “just how well suited she is to manage the economic challenges of our time … particularly during this moment of economic crisis.”
Biden reverses Trump ban on transgender people in military
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden signed an order Monday reversing a Trump-era Pentagon policy that largely barred transgender individuals from serving in the military.
The new order, which Biden signed in the Oval Office during a meeting with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, overturns a ban ordered by President Donald Trump in a tweet during his first year in office. It immediately prohibits any service member from being forced out of the military on the basis of gender identity.
The decision comes as Biden plans to turn his attention to equity issues that he believes continue to shadow nearly all aspects of American life. Ahead of his inauguration, Biden’s transition team circulated a memo saying Biden planned to use his first full week as president “to advance equity and support communities of colour and other underserved communities.”
As he signed the order on Monday, Biden said, “What I’m doing is enabling all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform.”
“America is stronger, at home and around the world, when it is inclusive. The military is no exception,” the order says. “Allowing all qualified Americans to serve their country in uniform is better for the military and better for the country because an inclusive force is a more effective force. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do and is in our national interest.”
Trump agreements seek to tie Biden’s hands on immigration
SAN DIEGO (AP) — During the Trump administration’s final weeks, the Department of Homeland Security quietly signed agreements with at least four states that threaten to temporarily derail President Joe Biden’s efforts to undo his predecessor’s immigration policies.
The agreements say Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas are entitled to a 180-day consultation period before executive branch policy changes take effect. The Biden administration rejects that argument on grounds that immigration is solely the federal government’s responsibility under the Constitution.
Former President Donald Trump relied heavily on executive powers for his immigration agenda because he was unable to build enough support for his policies in Congress. Now some of his supporters say Biden is going too far in doing the same to reverse them.
The first legal test is in Texas, where the Republican governor and attorney general are challenging the Democratic president’s 100-day moratorium on deportations, which took effect Friday.
The Homeland Security Department told lawmakers shortly before Biden’s inauguration last week that it reached nine agreements, mostly with states, according to a congressional official speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss information that is not yet publicly available.
Storm blankets Midwest with heavy snow, travel disruptions
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A major winter storm blanketed parts of the middle of the country with snow that was forecast to continue into late Tuesday in some areas, disrupting traffic and closing some coronavirus testing sites.
The National Weather Service said at least 4 inches (10 centimetres) of snow is expected across most of an area stretching from central Kansas northeast to Chicago and southern Michigan. Parts of southeast Nebraska and western Iowa could get more than three times that much by Tuesday morning.
The weather service forecast the light snowfall that began around sunset Monday in northern Illinois was expected to get heavier overnight, with accumulation totalling about 3 to 6 inches by early Tuesday. Meteorologist Bett Borchardt forecast snowfall could total up to 8 inches (20.32 centimetres) or more before it ends Tuesday evening.
The last comparable snowfall in the area occurred in November 2018, when 8.4 inches (21.34 centimetres) of snow fell.
A winter weather advisory was issued Monday for northwest Indiana, where the weather service forecast 3 to 5 inches of snow by the time the storm leaves the area Tuesday. A mix of freezing drizzle was expected in the southern parts of the region.
Effort to put Tubman on $20 bill restarted under Biden
WASHINGTON (AP) — With a change of administrations, it looks like Harriet Tubman is once again headed to the front of the $20 bill.
Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Treasury Department is taking steps to resume efforts to put the 19th century abolitionist leader on the $20 bill.
Obama administration Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had selected Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, on the $20 bill.
But Tubman’s fate had been in doubt since the 2016 presidential campaign based on critical comments by then-candidate Donald Trump, who branded the move “pure political correctness.”
Trump administration Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not move forward with the decision by the Obama administration. Instead, Mnuchin in 2019 announced a delay in redesigning the $20 bill in order to redesign the $10 and $50 bills first to improve security features to thwart counterfeiters.
The Associated Press