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House impeaches Donald Trump in historic vote, reshuffling U.S. politics on eve of 2020 – USA TODAY

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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump became the third president in history to be impeached Wednesday after a bitterly divided House formally charged him with “high crimes and misdemeanors” over his request to Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

After a daylong debate marked by fiery recriminations, lawmakers voted largely along party lines in favor of impeachment, reshuffling American politics at a time when voters were already profoundly divided over the nation’s leadership and direction.

Democrats and Republicans disagreed sharply over the president’s actions, the ramifications of the historic vote, and each other’s motives in either defending Trump or prosecuting the case against him. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., stepped to the dais at one point to chide Republicans for what he described as choosing party over country.  

“Many of my colleagues appear to have made their choice to protect the president, to enable him to be above the law, to empower this president to cheat again as long as it is in the service of their party and their power,” the House Intelligence Committee chairman said. “They have made their choice and I believe they will rue the day that they did.”

Republicans claimed Democrats were grasping for any excuse to undermine an unconventional president who unexpectedly and narrowly won election in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. They repeatedly described the process used in the run up to the vote as unfair, sidestepping the fact that the White House rebuffed invitations to take part.

White House: Grim defiance as House debates Donald Trump impeachment

Play by play: GOP will ‘rue the day’ they chose to protect Trump from impeachment 

“One week before Christmas, I want you to keep this in mind,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., told his colleagues during the debate. “Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president.”

Will the Senate remove Trump? 

The Democratic-led House approved 230-197 the first article of impeachment accusing Trump of abusing his power by asking Ukrainian officials to announce investigations that would benefit his reelection. Minutes later, the House approved a second article, voting 229-198 to charge Trump with obstructing the congressional investigation into that request.

Though the historic votes ended a hurried effort by Democrats to advance impeachment articles before the end of the year – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the inquiry into Trump’s actions less than three months ago – it will kick off an exceptionally rare trial in the Senate to determine whether the president will be removed from office. 

Republican leaders expect that trial to begin next month, though Pelosi was noncommittal during a press conference after the vote about when the House would send the articles to the Senate for their review. 

In an emotional moment during that press conference, Pelosi raised the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and former chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who died in October.  

“We did all we could, Elijah, we passed the two articles of impeachment,” Pelosi said. “The president is impeached.”  

Speaking earlier on the House floor, Pelosi said the vision of the nation conceived by the Founding Fathers was “under threat” from the White House. 

“He gave us no choice,” Pelosi said. 

React: ‘Disgusted.’ Trump rails against Democrats after impeachment committee vote

Rally: Michigan crowd rallies for Trump on day of House impeachment vote

Impeachment, which Pelosi and other Democratic leaders initially resisted, could also have consequences for the 2020 election, where a field of candidates angling to unseat Trump have sought to focus the nation’s attention on health care, immigration and education while tiptoeing around the constitutional dramas unfolding in Washington. Trump is betting impeachment will sour swing voters on Democrats for years to come.

Trump’s response: Defiance  

As if to underline that point, Trump remained defiant throughout the day, accusing Democrats of “atrocious lies” and an “assault on America” in a series of tweets. The president, who did not take questions from reporters throughout the day, left the White House before the impeachment votes, departing Washington for a campaign rally in the presidential battleground state of Michigan.

Trump took the stage in Battle Creek just as the House began voting, setting up an extraordinary split screen image for cable news networks.

“It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” Trump said as the votes were being tallied during the first article of impeachment. “We did nothing wrong and we have tremendous support in the Republican Party.”

After initially sticking to rally talking points, Trump abruptly relayed one of the votes to the crowd and embarked on an extended criticism of Democrats. 

“This lawless partisan impeachment is a political suicide march for the Democrat party,” he said. “Have you seen my polls in the last four weeks?” 

Within the West Wing, aides went about their regular duties in a mood of grim defiance, holding meetings and calls while occasionally glancing at banks of television screens where the debate played. They had anticipated this day for weeks, some said, and have felt under siege since Trump moved into the White House in early 2017.

Others said they wanted the House to get it over with and send the impeachment case to the Republican-led Senate, where Trump is expected to be acquitted.

Senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway attended a Republican Senate luncheon to discuss impeachment and the latest polls before appearing for a pair of media interviews and an impromptu news conference with reporters, during which she criticized the impeachment articles as “spare” and “specious.”

Underscoring the discord among voters, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released hours before the House vote found the nation evenly split, with 48% of Americans saying Trump’s actions demanded impeachment and removal from office and an equal 48% saying they disagree.

At the center of the impeachment is a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump asked his counterpart to look into a conspiracy about Democratic misdeeds in the 2016 election and, separately, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Defying Trump’s orders not to testify, a handful of State Department and White House officials detailed for lawmakers in televised hearings how the administration held up nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine as leverage to pressure Zelensky to announce those investigations.

Voters get final say

Trump and his allies said the “perfect call” was an attempt to address corruption in Kyiv, not swing an election.

In that sense, the divisions on display recalled the atmosphere from 1998, when a Republican-led House impeached President Bill Clinton for lying under oath to hide an affair with a White House intern. President Richard Nixon, by contrast, resigned in 1974 to avoid almost certain impeachment after he lost support from Republican defenders.

Past is prologue: The political ‘fire extinguisher’ of impeachment is more common

Throughout the day, Republicans argued the Founding Fathers would have condemned an impeachment playing out along partisan lines. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., vowed Republicans would take that argument to voters in next year’s election.  

“It is a matter for the voters, not this House. Not in this way,” Collins said. “The people of America see through this.”

John Fritze covers the White House. Follow him @jfritze. 

Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, David Jackson, Michael Collins, Ledyard King, Maureen Groppe. 

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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U.S. senator slams Apple, Amazon, Nike, for enabling forced labor in China

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U.S. senator

A U.S. senator on Thursday slammed American companies, including Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc and Nike Inc, for turning a blind eye to allegations of forced labor in China, arguing they were making American consumers complicit in Beijing’s repressive policies.

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its western Xinjiang region, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said many U.S. companies had not woken up to the fact that they were “profiting” from the Chinese government’s abuses.

“For far too long companies like Nike and Apple and Amazon and Coca-Cola were using forced labor. They were benefiting from forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that were suspected of using forced labor,” Rubio said. “These companies, sadly, were making all of us complicit in these crimes.”

Senator Ed Markey, who led the hearing with fellow Democrat Tim Kaine, said a number of U.S. technology companies had profited from the Chinese government’s “authoritarian surveillance industry,” and that many of their products “are being used in Xinjiang right now.”

Thermo Fisher Scientific said in 2019 it would stop selling genetic sequencing equipment into Xinjiang after rights groups and media documented how authorities there were building a DNA database for Uyghurs. But critics say the move didn’t go far enough.

“All evidence is that they continue to provide these products which enabled these human rights abuses,” Rubio said of Thermo Fisher, noting that he had written the Massachusetts-based company repeatedly about the matter.

“Whenever we receive proof of forced labor, we take action and suspend privileges to sell,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

Coca-Cola declined to comment. The other companies mentioned did not respond immediately to Reuters’ questions.

U.S. lawmakers are seeking to pass legislation that would ban imports of goods made in Xinjiang over concerns about forced labor.

Rights groups, researchers, former residents and some western lawmakers say Xinjiang authorities have facilitated forced labor by arbitrarily detaining around a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in a network of camps since 2016.

The United States government and parliaments in countries, including Britain and Canada, have described China’s policies toward Uyghurs as genocide. China denies abuses, saying the camps are for vocational training and to counter religious extremism.

Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, told the Senate panel that Beijing’s “extreme repression and surveillance” made human rights due diligence for companies impossible.

“Inspectors cannot visit facilities unannounced or speak to workers without fear of reprisal. Some companies seem unwilling or unable to ascertain precise information about their own supply chains,” she said.

 

(Reporting by Michael Martina, Richa Naidu, Aishwarya Venugopal and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more

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The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.

The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.

G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.

“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.

Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.

Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.

The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.

GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)

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