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Live politics updates: Trump to return to DC early, GOP senator says he's 'playing with fire' in contesting election – USA TODAY

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Matthew Brown

John Fritze

Christal Hayes
 
| USA TODAY

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Pelosi slams McConnell for halting stimulus checks

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held her last weekly press conference of the 2020 congressional session Wednesday and blasted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “obstruction” in halting President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks. (Dec. 30)

AP

This week, USA TODAY Politics focuses on the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, his remaining Cabinet picks and the final week of the current Congress. 

Dates to watch:

Jan. 3: New Congress is sworn in.

Jan. 5: Senate runoff election in Georgia.

Jan. 6: Congress will count and certify the electoral results in a joint session.

Jan. 20: Inauguration of Biden, who will take the oath of office.

Be sure to refresh this page often to get the latest information on the transition.

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse: Trump, GOP allies ‘playing with fire’

In a blistering Facebook post on Congress’ role in counting the votes of the Electoral College, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., denounced efforts by President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the presidential election results.

The senator gave a lengthy analysis of Trump’s claims of election fraud, saying there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would put President-elect Joe Biden’s win in doubt.

“For President-Elect Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory to be overturned, President Trump would need to flip multiple states. But not a single state is in legal doubt,” Sasse wrote.

Sasse’s comments come as several Republican lawmakers have indicated they plan to contest the certification of Biden as the winner when Congress holds a joint session on Jan. 6.

Though the effort is doomed to fail, a faction of conservative House Republicans, led by Mo Brooks, R-Ala., have already said they will object to electoral votes from some battleground states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania and Georgia.

On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he would join the effort, ensuring that both chambers will need to debate and hold a vote on the issue.

Sasse said those were the actions of “ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage.”

The Nebraska senator, who has emerged as one of the more vocal critics of Trump in a party that is staunchly loyal to the president, warned that the effort amounts to pointing a “loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.” 

“We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided,” he said.

– Matthew Brown

Trump to cut short Florida trip, return to White House

President Donald Trump is cutting short his holiday trip to Florida to return to Washington Thursday.

White House officials did ncite a reason for the change in plans by Trump, who traditionally hosts a black-tie New Year’s Eve celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Trump’s return comes as his demand for $2,000 stimulus checks for millions of Americans appears to be dead. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tied the larger checks to two other provisions – eliminating legal protections for social media companies and creating a commission to study the 2020 election – that are widely opposed by Democrats.

Trump kept a low profile in Florida since arriving on Dec. 23 and has rarely been seen outside the golf course. Instead of providing a detailed schedule, the White House said only that he was working “tirelessly for the American people” and would take “many meetings and calls.”

– John Fritze

First senator joins GOP effort to challenge Electoral College results

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, says he will object to the Electoral College results next week when Congress meets to officially certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win over President Donald Trump, ensuring a doomed but dramatic congressional fight to overturn Biden’s win. 

Hawley, a close ally of the president, is the first senator to announce he would back the effort on Jan. 6, ensuring both chambers will debate and be forced to vote on whether to overturn Biden’s election win. A faction of conservative House Republicans, led by Mo. Brooks, R-Ala., have already said they will object to electoral votes from some battleground states that Biden won, such as Pennsylvania ad Georgia.

Biden won the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote 306-232.

Trump has repeatedly called on congressional Republicans to step up and object on his behalf, but many have acknowledged Biden’s win. Some went as far to call the effort to object meaningless.

The effort, however, is doomed to fail in the Democratic-controlled House and even in the Senate, where Republican leaders led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have warned colleagues not to challenge the Electoral College vote.

– Christal Hayes and Joey Garrison

$2,000 stimulus checks likely dead

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Wednesday that the effort to increase stimulus checks in the COVID relief package to $2,000 is likely dead.

President Donald Trump has urged an increase in the size of the checks and the House this week passed a bill to boost them to $2,000.

But McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday the proposal for bigger stimulus payment has “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”

The Senate majority leader has introduced a bill Tuesday that includes two other Trump demands that Democrats are not likely to support. The measure would increase checks to $2,000 but also repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants certain legal protections for big tech companies, and establish a commission to study election fraud.

The commission would examine many of the concerns Trump has raised since losing the election and make recommendations to Congress. The president hasn’t provided evidence to back his claims, and the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud in last month’s election.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said there was no way Democrats would support the legislation and it stood no chance of reaching Trump’s desk. Democrats called on McConnell to pass a standalone proposal on stimulus checks.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Department is has begun issuing the $600 payments. The department said payments would begin for Americans with direct deposit set up through the Internal Revenue Service as soon as Tuesday night. Paper checks will begin to be mailed Wednesday.

McConnell’s bill hasn’t been scheduled for a vote, and it’s unclear whether it will receive the backing of Senate Republicans. Some have voiced support for increasing relief checks, but most are opposed.

Holding a vote on the measure would put Republican senators on the spot to either reject Trump’s demands for increased checks or relent on long-held objections to adding to the debt. 

— Christal Hayes and staff reports

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down

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Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government

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Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER

“We’ll be back, soon.”

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”

NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS

“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER

“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”

TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER

“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”

FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN

“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”

BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER

“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”

CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER

“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA

“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”

MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT

“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”

DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”

EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”

SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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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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