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Trump feels no pressure to be President while Americans suffer at Christmas

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For Christmas this year, Washington is giving the country more pain.

Perhaps it is fitting that in the worst year in memory, the surprise prospect of a government shutdown and delayed economic relief hangs over holiday celebrations already made less merry by the pandemic.
Maybe nothing better could be expected in a year that saw denial and delusion, led by President Donald Trump, presage a wave of illness and death coupled with evictions, bankruptcies, hunger and ruined livelihoods.
But after enduring so much, Americans can hardly be blamed for feeling outrage at yet another indignity at the hand of their leaders.
The joint Covid relief package and government funding bill that Trump has lambasted arrived at Mar-a-Lago Friday after being flown down a day earlier. Yet Trump, who arrived at his namesake golf course just before 10 a.m. local time, has offered no clues as to whether he’ll sign it.
As Trump plays rounds of golf in Florida and pardons corrupt loyalists, and as congressional leaders line up for the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine, there is scant evidence the pressing needs of the country will be addressed in anything resembling a timely fashion.
House Republicans on Thursday rejected an attempt by Democrats to pass a bill that included $2,000 direct payments to Americans — precisely the figure Trump demanded in a random video he tweeted this week rejecting a bill with $600 payments that had passed overwhelmingly with the support of his administration.
In the Republican-controlled Senate, there does not appear to be enough support for a bill with $2,000 checks. Trump is engaged in open hostility with the chamber’s GOP leaders because they have acknowledged the reality that he lost the election, a dispute he acknowledged on Twitter after returning to Mar-a-Lago from his golf course on Christmas Eve Day.
“At a meeting in Florida today, everyone was asking why aren’t the Republicans up in arms & fighting over the fact that the Democrats stole the rigged presidential election?” he asked, using the term “meeting” somewhat freely. “Especially in the Senate, they said, where you helped 8 Senators win their races. How quickly they forget!”
The bill Trump demanded Congress change was flown to him in Florida on Thursday afternoon but he offered no more clarity on what he would do with it. Government funding will lapse on Monday unless Trump signs the package or Congress passes another stopgap measure; they have already passed four such fixes this month alone.
That no one seems to know what Trump wants — if he even knows himself — has only fueled in the impression the country is careering further into chaos at exactly the moment it is least welcome.
“I have no idea what he plans to do,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican who is usually aligned with the President, said on Thursday.
In the past, when the government was about to shut down around Christmas, presidents and lawmakers stayed behind in Washington to figure it out. Even Trump skipped his Florida vacation two years ago as agencies shuttered.
So, too, have the country’s leaders typically attempted some form of in-the-trenches solidarity with their constituents when the going gets tough — like, for example, when health experts advise against holiday travel and gatherings with family.
But conventional practices have mostly disappeared in the four years Trump has been president. And no one really thinks twice anymore when Trump — despite claims by the White House that his schedule is packed with phone calls and meetings — pays another visit to one of his golf clubs while millions of Americans go hungry at Christmas.
Having already forced suffering Americans to wait months for more economic relief from the ravages of the coronavirus, it does not appear elected officials will figure out how to move forward anytime soon.
“We were assured that the President would sign the bill,” Blunt told reporters Thursday, casually suggesting the President may not understand what is in it — something of an understatement given the President’s conflation of the Covid stimulus and government funding packages, and his fury over spending figures he proposed himself in his budget this year.

Going hungry

As Republicans work on sorting out what Trump wants, more than 12 million laid-off Americans could lose their unemployment benefits after this weekend, back rent will be due January 1 for millions of tenants and states could lose any unspent funds from the $150 billion that Congress provided earlier this year to state and local governments to help them cover coronavirus-related expenses.
It has left millions of Americans facing deep uncertainty at the end of a difficult year.
“I think that people are scared,” said Karen Pozna, the communications director at the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, on CNN. “You know, they’re scared, there’s been so many people who have lost their jobs or had to take pay cuts. The need was great before the pandemic. It’s continuing now. And I see it continuing well into the new year.”
Trump has made virtually no mention of the pandemic’s toll for weeks; in a video he taped alongside the first lady for Christmas, he left the empathy to his wife while he declared the rollout of recently authorized vaccines “a Christmas miracle,” though the vast majority of Americans won’t have access to shots for months.
Lawmakers say they are feeling heat from their constituents to get something done, pressure Trump doesn’t appear to share.
“I did a town hall last night that had people crying, people terrified of what is going to happen,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, said on Thursday after Democrats’ measure failed.
“The President — when we finally thought that we’d be able to give people hope — that’s what people need, hope — and be able to begin to continue to work on this in January, he doesn’t give a damn about people,” she said. “He threw more fear — he threw kerosene on a terror fire.”
It wasn’t only Democrats who were frustrated.
“If he thinks going on Twitter and trashing the bill his team negotiated and we supported on his behalf is going to bring more people to his side in this election fiasco, I hope he’s wrong, though I guess we’ll see,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, tweeted on Wednesday.

Watching everything burn

In the end, Trump himself may not know what his end goals are beyond throwing more gasoline into a system he appears intent on watching burn as he leaves office. Trump remains furious that Republicans — including those who helped negotiate the legislation he rejected — aren’t supporting him in his bid to overturn the election.
In Florida, Trump is often surrounded by more willing hangers-on who, in the past, have encouraged his destructive impulses. His personal attorney Rudy Giuliani flew with him to Florida aboard Air Force One on Wednesday.
CNN reported on Thursday that Trump’s latest fixation is the January 6 certification of the Electoral College count for Joe Biden, an occasion he hopes will provide an opening for his supporters to challenge the results.
As he was flying to Florida for his vacation, Trump retweeted a call from one of his supporters for Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to ratify the Electoral College results.
Trump has told people recently that Pence isn’t doing enough to fight for him as his presidency ends, and has recently taken an interest in Pence’s traditional role during the certification. As president of the Senate, Pence presides over the proceedings.
Sources say Trump in recent days has brought the matter up to the vice president and has been “confused” as to why Pence can’t overturn the results of the election on January 6. Pence and White House aides have tried to explain to him that his role his more of a formality and he cannot unilaterally reject the electoral college votes.
It’s far from clear the President has internalized the message.

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Biden expands US investment ban on Chinese firms

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US President Joe Biden is set to ban Americans from investing in dozens of Chinese tech and defence firms with alleged military ties.

The new executive order will come into effect on 2 August, hitting 59 firms including communications giant Huawei. The list of firms will be updated on a rolling basis.

The move expands an order previously issued by ex-President Donald Trump.

Even before the official announcement, China suggested it would retaliate.

Under the new order, US investors will be banned from buying or selling publicly-traded securities for other companies including the China General Nuclear Power Corporation, China Mobile Limited and Costar Group.

It expands the previous list from 31 firms to include surveillance companies and is aimed at ensuring “US persons are not financing the military industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China,” one White House official said.

“The prohibitions are intentionally targeted and scoped to maximise the impact on the targets while minimising harm to global markets,” the official added.

Huawei recently said that sanctions imposed on it by the US in 2019 have had a major impact on its mobile phone business.

The US took action amid claims that the company posed a security risk and last July, and the UK said it would exclude the company from building its 5G network.

The new list of companies barred from US investment will update one from the Department of Defense.

“We fully expect that in the months ahead… we’ll be adding additional companies to the new executive order’s restrictions,” the White House said.

It comes as the surveillance of citizens, including Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region in particular, has come under scrutiny.

The Biden administration has also accused China of acting more aggressively abroad and more repressively at home.

The China-US relationship is crucial to both sides and the wider world, with Beijing repeatedly calling on the new administration in Washington to improve relations which deteriorated under predecessor Donald Trump.

In their first meeting under the Biden presidency last month, the two countries’ top trade negotiators held “candid, pragmatic” talks on their trading relationship.

President Biden has insisted, however, that existing tariffs will be kept in place for now as he looks to boost the US economy, which was hit hard early in the pandemic but is now recovering.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin suggested China would retaliate against the latest measures.

“China will take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises and resolutely support Chinese enterprises in safeguarding their rights and interests in accordance with the law,” he said.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-57334265\

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Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward rejects calls for audit of party elections

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Kelli Ward on Friday rejected calls for an audit into her recent reelection as the chair of the Arizona Republican Party and other party races, arguing that the state GOP does not have the structure to review them.

“We don’t have the structure to be able to do an audit,” she said on KFYI’s radio show “The Conservative Circus with James T. Harris,” adding, “But we welcome their input to make elections bigger.”
She added that the structure for an audit “doesn’t exist in our process, our procedures, our bylaws, in statute.”
Ward, one of the most fervent proponents of former President Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him, claimed not only that an audit was not possible, but that calls for it were being pushed as a way to attack her.
She argued that the only people demanding an audit are Sergio Arellano — a Tucson small business owner who challenged Ward for the top state party job — and people who were part of his campaign.
Arellano did not respond to CNN’s request for a response to Ward on Friday.
Last week, Ward secured a second stint as chair of the state party, beating Arellano by 3 percentage points. Arellano on Thursday requested an audit of the votes cast in the race for Arizona GOP chair and other party elections.
“I anticipate the State GOP will do a solid job here and provide election officials around the state with an example of how to conduct a timely audit and how important ballot security and paper backups are,” Arellano said in a statement posted to Facebook.
He claimed that a “reversal of the stated results” in another party race prompted a “number of state committeemen” to raise concerns and reach out to him to ask that he request an audit. Sandra Dowling was announced the winner of a bid for Arizona’s 8th congressional district’s member-at-large committee, only to have the win pulled back because of an error.
During the radio interview, Ward went on to attack the media, saying stories about the possible audit were trying to “gin up something that just doesn’t exist” and that “everything was above board” with the election.
Ward’s tenure as chair of the party has been defined by her unwavering support for Trump, having repeatedly backed his maneuvers to overturn the presidential election results, including in Arizona, which Joe Biden won by more than 10,000 votes.
The former vice president became the second Democrat since Harry Truman in 1948 to win Arizona in 2020. In the wake of Biden’s win, Ward lashed out at some Republicans who backed the new President, including Cindy McCain, the late Sen. John McCain’s widow, and former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

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Senate impeachment trial arguments to start February 9

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The second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is scheduled to begin on February 9 after Senate leaders reached a deal to push it back, giving Trump’s legal team more time to prepare and Senate Democrats a chance to consider Covid-19 legislation and to confirm President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.

House Democrats will formally walk over the single article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate on Monday evening, but the agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will push back the substance of the trial until February. Without an agreement, the trial would have started the afternoon after the article was transmitted to the Senate.
“We have made good progress in our efforts to determine the timing and structure of the impeachment trial of Donald J Trump,” Schumer said Friday evening announcing the trial schedule, saying it would begin the week of February 8.
Under the agreement, the ceremonial functions of the trial will occur next week, with the articles being presented on Monday and senators being sworn in as jurors on Tuesday. Then the trial will pause, while the House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal team exchange pre-trial briefs for two weeks. The final briefs would be due on February 9, allowing the trial itself to begin.
A delay to the impeachment trial also makes sense for Democrats because the trial had threatened to stall the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet, as well as put a stop to any consideration of another Covid stimulus package, as Senate Republicans said Friday they would not allow the Senate to confirm nominees at the same time the trial is going on. The trial’s timing had been one of several logistical hurdles the Senate is tackling amid broader negotiations between Schumer and McConnell over how the 50-50 Senate will be governed.
McConnell had proposed delaying the trial until early February, arguing that Trump’s legal team should be given ample time to prepare after the House’s swift impeachment of Trump for “incitement of insurrection” earlier this month. The timeline Schumer announced Friday evening is one week earlier that what McConnell had proposed, but the Kentucky Republican’s team praised the agreement Friday.” This is a win for due process and fairness,” said McConnell spokesman
The length of the trial is still an open question and will depend both on whether the House impeachment managers seek to call witnesses and the length of senators’ questions for the legal teams. But sources say most believe the trial will be shorter than the three-week 2020 impeachment trial for Trump.
The timing for the trial had remained unsettled on Friday morning as the negotiations continued between Senate leaders. On Friday morning, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would transmit the impeachment article to the Senate on Monday, in effect setting a deadline for the Senate to cut a deal on the trial timing.
“We are respectful of the Senate’s constitutional power over the trial and always attentive to the fairness of the process, noting that the former president will have had the same amount of time to prepare for trial as our Managers,” Pelosi said Friday. “Our Managers are ready to begin to make their case to 100 Senate jurors through the trial process.”
Republicans made clear Friday that Biden’s agenda would have been frozen until the Senate finished the trial, had it taken place next week.
“We won’t be doing any confirmations, we won’t be doing any Covid-19 relief, we won’t be doing anything else other than impeaching a person who’s not even president,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Senate GOP leadership.
Cornyn said Republicans haven’t given consent to bifurcate the trial days to take up nominations during the trial. “No, it’s not gonna happen,” he said.
In order to convict Trump, Democrats need a two-thirds majority, meaning at least 17 Republicans would have to vote to convict Trump, assuming that all 50 Democrats do. Ten House Republicans joined with Democrats to impeach.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, considered a swing GOP vote, said Friday that the process “has to be fair.”
“My thought process is to see what happens as this unfolds,” she said. “You know, we learned this morning that Speaker Pelosi is going to transmit the article on Monday. As I understand, right now, there hasn’t been an agreed-to schedule on the pre-trial. I think what McConnell laid down was eminently reasonable, in terms of making sure that we got process. Got to have process and the process has to be fair. So yeah, so we’ve got to get started, I guess.”
The Biden administration has publicly taken a hands-off approach to the impeachment process has publicly taken a hands-off approach to the impeachment process. Biden has never had a strong appetite for impeaching Trump, advisers say, but he also has little desire for allowing the Senate trial to drag out any longer than necessary.
“We need to move past this,” a Biden official told CNN. “The only way for that to happen is for the trial to begin.”
But Biden said at a White House announcement Friday that he saw the upside to waiting on the trial. “The more time we have to get up and running and meet these crises, the better,” he said.

‘It will be a full trial’

A faction of Senate Republicans has argued that the impeachment trial would be unconstitutional because Trump has already left office. It’s an argument that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, has suggested Trump’s legal team should adopt.
“I think it’s obvious that the post-presidential impeachment has never occurred in the history of the country for a reason, that it’s unconstitutional, that it sets a bad precedent for the presidency and it continues to divide the nation,” Graham said Friday.
But Schumer pushed back on that argument, noting that both liberal and conservative legal scholars have said there is precedent for an impeachment trial of a former official.
“The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump,” Schumer said. “It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial. But make no mistake, there will be a trial, and when that trial ends, senators will have to decide if they believe Donald John Trump incited the insurrection against the United States.”
McConnell said Friday that the Senate should give Trump a “full and fair process” to mount his impeachment defense.
“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House. The sequel cannot be an insufficient Senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself,” McConnell said. “Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense and the Senate can properly consider the factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake.”

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