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Secret recordings reveal political directives, tension over Alberta's pandemic response – CBC.ca

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On the morning of June 4, a team of Alberta civil servants gathered — as it had nearly every day since the COVID-19 pandemic began — to co-ordinate the province’s response to the crisis.

A few minutes into the meeting in a boardroom in downtown Edmonton, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw weighed in.

The cabinet committee, to which she and the group reported, was pressuring her to broadly expand serology testing, which is used to detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in the blood.

The problem was that the tests had limited large-scale clinical value and Hinshaw believed it would overestimate the virus’s presence in the population. 

“Honestly, after the battle that we had about molecular testing, I don’t have a lot of fight left in me,” Hinshaw said during that meeting. The province had introduced rapid molecular testing kits at the start of the pandemic to help testing in rural and remote communities. The recordings reveal some tensions about that decision. 

“I think we need to draw on our experience from the molecular testing battle that we ultimately lost, after a bloody and excruciating campaign, and think about, how do we limit the worst possible implications of this without wearing ourselves down?,” Hinshaw said. 

A few weeks later, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Hinshaw announced the province would pour $10 million into targeted serology testing, the first in Canada to do so.

The level of political direction — and, at times, interference — in Alberta’s pandemic response is revealed in 20 audio recordings of the daily planning meetings of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) obtained by CBC News, as well as in meeting minutes and interviews with staff directly involved in pandemic planning.

Taken together, they reveal how Premier Jason Kenney, Shandro and other cabinet ministers often micromanaged the actions of already overwhelmed civil servants; sometimes overruled their expert advice; and pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.

“What is there suggests to me that the pandemic response is in tatters,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in public health law and policy. 

Premier Jason Kenney declared a second state of public health emergency on Tuesday. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

“The story tells me that the chief medical officer of health doesn’t have control of the pandemic response [and] tells me that decisions are being made by persons who shouldn’t be making decisions,” said Ogbogu, who was given access by CBC News to transcripts of specific incidents from the recordings.

“It tells me that the atmosphere in which decisions are being made is combative, it is not collaborative and that they are not working towards a common goal — they are working at cross-purposes.” 

Ogbogu has been a staunch critic of the UCP government. In July, he publicly resigned from the Health Quality Council of Alberta, citing the potential for political interference in its work due to amendments to the Health Statutes Amendment Act.

Shandro did not respond to an interview request.

In a brief emailed statement that did not address specific issues raised by CBC News, a spokesperson for Kenney said it is the job of elected officials to make these sorts of decisions and he said there was no political interference.

Hinshaw also did not respond to an interview request.

But at the daily pandemic briefing Wednesday, as the province announced its 500th death, Hinshaw reiterated her belief that her job is to provide “a range of policy options to government officials outlining what I believe is the recommended approach and the strengths and weaknesses of any alternatives. 

 “The final decisions are made by the cabinet,” she said, adding that she has “always felt respected and listened to and that my recommendations have been respectfully considered by policy makers while making their decisions.”

Secret recordings reveal tension

The recordings provide a rare window into the relationship between the non-partisan civil servants working for the Emergency Operation Centre and political officials.

The EOC team, comprised of civil servants from Alberta Health and some seconded from other ministries, has been responsible for planning logistics and producing guidelines and recommendations for every aspect of Alberta’s pandemic response. 

The recordings also provide context for the recent public debate about the extent of Hinshaw’s authority to act independent of government. 

Even if Hinshaw had the authority to make unilateral decisions, the recordings confirm what she has repeatedly stated publicly: she believes her role is to advise, provide recommendations and implement decisions made by the politicians.

At the group’s meeting on June 8, the day before Kenney publicly announced Alberta’s move to Stage 2 of its economic relaunch plan, Hinshaw relayed the direction she was receiving from the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee (EMCC). That committee included Kenney, Shandro and nine other cabinet ministers.

“What the EMCC has been moving towards, I feel, is to say, ‘We need to be leading Albertans where they want to go, not forcing them where they don’t want to go,'” Hinshaw told the group.

The recordings confirm what Hinshaw has repeatedly stated publicly: she believes her role is to advise, provide recommendations and implement decisions made by the politicians. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Hinshaw said she didn’t know if the approach would work, but they were being asked to move away from punitive measures to simply telling people how to stay safe.

More of a “permissive model?” someone asked. Hinshaw agreed.

“I feel like we are starting to lose social licence for the restrictive model, and I think we are being asked to then move into the permissive model,” she said. “And worst-case scenario, we will need to come back and [be] restrictive.”

Soaring COVID-19 rates in Alberta

As a second wave of COVID-19 pummels the province, an increasing number of public-health experts say Alberta long ago reached that worst-case scenario.

The province has passed the grim milestone of more than 1,500 new cases reported in a day. To date, 500 people have died. Intensive care units across Alberta are overwhelmed, with COVID-19 patients spilling into other units as beds grow scarce.

On Tuesday, after weeks of pleading from doctors, academics and members of the public for a province-wide lockdown, Kenney declared another state of public health emergency. 

However, he pointedly refused to impose a lockdown, saying his government wouldn’t bow to “ideological pressure” that he said would cripple the economy. Instead, he announced targeted restrictions, including a ban on indoor social gatherings. 

WATCH | Premier Jason Kenney announces new pandemic restrictions:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bypassed a renewed lockdown as part of new COVID-19 restrictions, despite having more COVID-19 cases per capita than Ontario. Restaurants and retail can stay open with reduced capacity, though indoor private gatherings are banned and the school year has been altered again. 2:36

Kenney repeated many of the comments he made on Nov. 6.

Even as Alberta’s case count grew so high that the province could not sustain its contact tracing system, Kenney rejected calls for more stringent measures and downplayed the deaths related to COVID-19.

“What you describe as a lockdown, first of all, constitutes a massive invasion of the exercise of people’s fundamental rights and a massive impact on not only their personal liberties but their ability to put food on the table to sustain themselves financially,” Kenney said.

Kenney said it was projected, back in April, that COVID-19 would be the 11th-most common cause of death in the province. 

“And so currently, this represents a tiny proportion of the deaths in our province.”

High evidence threshold for restrictions

A source with direct knowledge of the daily planning meetings said the premier wants evidence-based thresholds for mandatory restrictions that are effectively impossible to meet, especially in an ever-changing pandemic.

As of Wednesday, no thresholds have been designated publicly. 

The source said Kenney’s attitude was that he wasn’t going to close down anything that affected the economy unless he was provided with specific evidence about how it would curtail the spread of COVID-19. 

“This is like nothing we have ever seen before. So [it is] very, very difficult to get specific evidence to implement specific restrictions,” said the source who, like the others interviewed by CBC News, spoke on condition of confidentiality for fear of losing their job.

Another planning meeting source said “there is kind of an understanding that we put our best public health advice forward and that Kenney is really more concerned about the economy and he doesn’t want it shut down again.”

The recordings suggest a desire by Health Minister Tyler Shandro to exert control over enforcement of public health orders. (CBC)

CBC News also interviewed a source close to Hinshaw who said she has indicated that, eight months into the pandemic, politicians are still often demanding a level of evidence that is effectively impossible to provide before they will act on restrictive recommendations.

The source said Hinshaw suggested politicians “have tended to basically go with the minimal acceptable recommendation from public health, because I actually think if they went below — if they pushed too far — that she probably would step down.” 

Ogbogu said it is clear politicians, who are not experts in pandemic response, are not focusing on what matters most to public health.

“The focus needs to be on the disease, on how you stop it,” he said. “Not the economy. Nothing is more important.”

‘I may have gotten in trouble with the minister’s office’: Hinshaw

The government has often used Hinshaw as a shield to deflect criticism of its pandemic strategy, suggesting she is directing the response. The government has at times appeared to recast any criticism of the strategy as a personal attack on her.

At her public COVID-19 updates, Hinshaw has refused to stray from government talking points or offer anything more than a hint of where her opinions may diverge.

Behind the scenes, however, there were clearly times when Hinshaw disagreed with the political direction — although it was also evident the politicians had the final say.

In April, for instance, the government introduced asymptomatic testing in some parts of the province, and later expanded it. 

Hinshaw told a May 22 meeting she had unintentionally started a conversation with Kenney in which she expressed concern about the value of large-scale asymptomatic testing as opposed to strategic testing.  

Kenney in turn asked for a slide presentation that would detail the pros and cons of each approach. 

“I didn’t intend to have that conversation, so I may have gotten in trouble with the [health] minister’s office today about that,” Hinshaw said at that meeting.

The presentation, she said, would include “how expensive it is to test people when we don’t actually get a lot of value, to go forward with a testing strategy that we can stand behind. So we will see if the minister’s office will allow us to put that [presentation] forward,” Hinshaw said. 

The premier, she said, had asked for the presentation for June 2.

But she cautioned the team, “Not to get all of our hopes up or anything.”

A week later, Hinshaw publicly announced the province had opened up asymptomatic testing to any Albertan who wanted it. At a news conference, she said that given the impending Stage 2 relaunch, it was an “opportune time” to expand testing.

‘They don’t want us to enforce anything’

The recordings suggest a desire by Health Minister Shandro to exert control over enforcement of public health orders.

Alberta Health Services (AHS), the province’s health authority, is responsible for enforcing public health orders. It is supposed to operate at arm’s length from government.

On June 9, the same day Kenney announced the Stage 2 economic relaunch, Hinshaw told the EOC meeting Shandro’s office wanted to be informed how AHS would consult with “us” before taking any action on COVID-19 public orders.

Alberta Health lawyers, working with the EOC, were responsible for writing the Stage 2 relaunch order that would outline restrictions on businesses and the public.

Hinshaw said she needed to verify with Shandro’s office, but she thought “they don’t want us to enforce anything. [They] just want us to educate, and no enforcement.”

But the group’s chief legal advisor was adamant.

“Under no circumstance will AHS check with the political minister’s office before undertaking an enforcement action under the Public Health Act,” he said

Hinshaw said Shandro’s office wanted AHS to check with her first, so she could report back to his office. 

The legal advisor challenged that, saying AHS was supposed to check with Hinshaw and a colleague “with respect to prosecutions, not enforcement generally.

“So what is going on?” he asked.

Shandro’s office was “mad that AHS has enforced things like no shaving in barber shops,” Hinshaw responded. 

Hinshaw said all local medical officers of health and environmental health officers were already expected to tell her and the team about any impending orders or prosecutions. 

But a week later, a senior health official told the meeting AHS was “struggling about what they should be doing” regarding enforcement. 

The official said AHS had been told: “Don’t turn a blind eye but don’t issue any orders.

“And then come to us, and if push comes to shove, I think it will be up to the ministry to figure out if we are going to do something.”

Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in public health law and policy, said ‘the atmosphere in which [COVID-19] decisions are being made is combative, it is not collaborative and [politicians and health officials] are not working towards a common goal.’  (CBC)

In mid-September, CBC News reported that AHS had received more than 29,000 complaints about COVID-19 public health order violations since the beginning of April.

A total of 62 enforcement orders, including closure orders, were issued in that period. As recently as last week, AHS has said that “every effort” is made to work with the public before issuing an enforcement order. 

‘Uphill battle’

In private conversations as recently as this month, Hinshaw has characterized her interactions with Kenney and cabinet as difficult, said a source close to her.

“I would say that she has used the phrase ‘uphill battle,'” they said.

The source said Hinshaw has been understanding of the reasons for the difficulty, “which I think we both see as being rooted in a completely different weighting of the risks of the disease and the risks of, for example, public-health restrictions.”

Hinshaw, however, “did allude to some of the meetings as being very distressing.”

But the source said Hinshaw worries about what could happen if she leaves her role.

“She sees her position, optimally, as trying to do the best she can from inside. And that if she wasn’t there, there would be a risk that things would be worse in terms of who else might end up taking that position and what their viewpoint was on the best direction.”

Ogbogu, the health law expert, said that while Hinshaw may be well-meaning, her willingness to allow politicians to subvert her authority is ultimately undermining the fight against COVID-19.

If the government is not following scientific advice, if it is not interested in measures that will effectively control a pandemic that is killing Albertans, then Hinshaw “owes us the responsibility of coming out and saying, ‘They are not letting me do my job,'” Ogbogu said.

“And if that comes at a risk of her job, that is the nature of public service.”

At the planning meeting on June 4, a civil servant told the team there was concern the province wasn’t giving businesses much time to adjust to shifting COVID-19 guidance. 

“I’ve been advocating everywhere I can to move it up, and they moved it back,” Hinshaw replied.

“So you can see I have a lot of influence,” she said sarcastically. “But I will keep trying.”

If you have information about this story, or for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca.

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Biden’s long political evolution leads to his biggest test – 95.7 News

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WILMINGTON, Del. — Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has navigated a half-century in American politics by relentlessly positioning himself at the core of the Democratic Party.

Wherever that power centre shifted, there Biden has been, whether as the young senator who opposed court-order busing in school integration cases or the soon-to-be 46th president pitching an agenda on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

The common thread through that evolution is Biden always pitching himself as an institutionalist — a mainstream liberal but also a pragmatist who still insists that governing well depends on compromise and consensus.

Now Biden’s central political identity faces the ultimate trial.

On Wednesday, the 78-year-old president-elect will inherit stewardship of a nation wrenched by pandemic, seismic cultural fissures and an opposition party’s base that considers him illegitimate, even to the point of President Donald Trump’s supporters violently attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress convened to certify Biden’s victory.

Biden’s answer follows two tracks: defending the fabric of society and institutions of government that Trump’s tenure has stressed and calling for sweeping legislative action. His agenda includes an initial $1.9 trillion pandemic response, along with proposed overhauls for health care, taxation, infrastructure, education, criminal justice, the energy grid and climate policy.

“A message of unity. A message of getting things done,” Ron Klain, his incoming White House chief of staff, explained Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The first approach, rooted in Biden’s campaign pledge to “restore the soul of the nation,” netted a record 81 million votes in the election. In his Nov. 7 victory speech, Biden called that coalition “the broadest and most diverse in history” and framed it as evidence Americans are ready to “lower the temperature” and “heal.”

Biden’s second, policy-based approach, however, still must confront a hyperpartisan age and a closely divided Congress.

The outcome will determine the reach of Biden’s presidency and further test the lifetime politician’s ability to evolve and meet events.

“We can’t have a claim to want to heal the nation if what people mean is just having the right tone and being able to pat one another on the back,” said the Rev. William Barber, a leading social justice advocate who has personally pushed Biden to prioritize the marginalized and poor of all races.

“Real healing of the nation,” Barber said, “must be dealing with the sickness in the body of the nation caused by policy, by racism, by polity.”

Activists such as Barber represent just one of many flanks surrounding Biden.

Republicans are clear they won’t passively ratify Biden’s responses to the pandemic or deep-seated problems that came before it: institutional racism, widening wealth gaps, the climate crisis. The Democratic Party isn’t marching in lockstep, either, as progressives, liberals and moderates dicker over details.

“I wouldn’t expect big, sweeping change,” said Michael Steel, once a top aide to former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Democrats will control a 50-50 Senate with Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris’s tiebreaking vote as presiding officer. But the chamber’s 60-vote filibuster threshold for major legislation remains. Biden’s longtime friend, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, is the House speaker, but presides over a diminished Democratic majority and slim margin for error.

Harris framed the stakes Sunday, telling “CBS Sunday Morning” that the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6 “was an exposure of the vulnerability of our democracy.”

John Anzalone, Biden’s campaign pollster, noted in a recent interview that Biden won with a message spanning ideology. Some voters “may not believe in his politics. But they believe in him,” Anzalone said. “They believe in his compassion and they believe in, quite frankly, his leadership skills.”

Anzalone loosely compared Biden’s appeal to Ronald Reagan’s. Reagan was a hero of movement conservatives yet drew support from a wide swath of “Reagan Democrats” to win the presidency in 1980 amid economic and international instability. By extension, Reagan could count on support or at least good faith from many Democrats on Capitol Hill, most notably then-Speaker Tip O’Neill, D-Mass.

“The analogy sort of fails when you ask who are the Tip O’Neills for Republicans at this point?” Anzalone acknowledged. But, he said, Biden “is not averse to big fights.”

Biden projects confidence regardless, in part, those close to him say, because of his long tenure in Washington buttressed now with the presidential megaphone.

“Part of the president’s job is making the case to the American people and persuading them what the right way forward is,” said Stef Feldman, policy director for Biden’s campaign.

Through that lens, it becomes less surprising to see the politician who joined Republicans in the mid-1990s to clamour for a balanced budget now declares emergency spending measured by the trillions “more urgent than ever,” even “including deficit spending.”

It was a similar course for Biden as he aged from a young senator in a chamber still stocked with old-guard segregationists into the trusted lieutenant for the nation’s first Black president. The Senate Judiciary Chairman who in 1991 led an all-male panel in Supreme Court confirmation hearings involving sexual harassment claims turned the widely panned experience into invitations for the committee to seat its first Democratic female members.

The Catholic politician who for decades acknowledged his struggle over abortion policy flouted church teachings as vice-president by announcing his support for same-sex marriage before most other elected Democrats, including the ostensibly more socially progressive Obama. And during the 2020 campaign, even as Biden started to the left of Obama and 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton, he inched further leftward on health care, college tuition aid and climate policy.

While Biden aides argue his shifts don’t involve changes in principle or fundamental values, some other observers say the point is moot. The question, said Maurice Mitchell, who leads the progressive Working Families Party, is simply whether Biden will continue to evolve and leverage his political capital into both post-Trump stability and big policy wins.

“We can’t control people’s convictions but we can shift the politics of the possible,” Mitchell said, noting that Johnson signed seminal civil rights laws less than a decade after quashing such measures as Senate majority leader.

Barber, the minister, pointed to other historical figures whom Biden sometimes mentioned while campaigning: Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Both, Barber noted, were savvy, even ruthless politicians who reached for their biggest achievements only after winning the nation’s highest office — and they did so against vicious opposition and during times of existential national threats.

“There’s good record in our history that there are moments in this country can and has taken great steps forward,” Barber said. “And many times, it was right on the heels of great pain. The movement and the moment can cause leaders — presidents, senators, congresspeople — to be much greater than they even intended or imagined.”

Bill Barrow, The Associated Press

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Live politics updates: Twitter temporarily suspends account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene – USA TODAY

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Rebecca Morin

David Jackson

Matthew Brown
 
| USA TODAY

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COVID relief: Biden introduces plan that includes $1,400 stimulus checks

Joe Biden introduced a $1.9 trillion spending package that aims to speed distribution of the coronavirus vaccines and provide economic relief.

Associated Press, USA TODAY

Twitter temporarily suspends account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Twitter announced Sunday it had suspended the account of freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for 12 hours.

The Georgia Republican’s last post to the site was a video in which she continued to allege debunked and unfounded conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud in Georgia. Twitter flagged the post with a warning and blocked users from liking or commenting on the post.

In another post earlier in the day, Greene attacked Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voter system implementation manager, spreading a false claim about alleged corruption from Dominion voting machines.

“Morons like you are responsible for losing GA’s 2 Republican Senate seats,” Greene said. The post was again flagged by Twitter for spreading misinformation.

Greene is a firebrand conspiracy theorist who has claimed the United States is experiencing an “Islamic invasion into our government offices,” that the Pentagon was not actually attacked on 9/11, that Black people are “slaves to the Democratic Party” and that billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros is a Nazi.

And she has expressed support for the baseless and wide-ranging QAnon conspiracy theory.

“Q is a patriot. We know that for sure,” Greene has said.

Twitter’s temporary suspension of Greene comes after it suspended 70,000 Twitter accounts connected to the QAnon believers, as well as prominent rightwing pundits and President Donald Trump.

CNN host Jake Tapper was not optimistic that Twitter’s brief suspension would change Greene’s ways. 

“I’m sure the woman who claimed a plane never really flew into the Pentagon on 9/11, an anti-Muslim bigot who has been nonetheless welcomed by @GOPLeader and @SteveScalise into the GOP caucus, will totally be chastised by this 12 hour suspension, examining her life choices,” Tapper tweeted with sarcasm. 

– Matthew Brown

GOP Sen. Ben Sasse denounces QAnon, conspiracy theories on the right

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., condemned the popularity of conspiracy theories within the Republican Party and the broader conservative movement in a blistering op-ed for The Atlantic, telling his party it must “reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them.”

Sasse’s opinion piece comes after a mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol. President Donald Trump had called on the crowd of his supporters to “march down Pennsylvania Avenue” and “show strength” as Congress voted to certify the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Sasse admonished his fellow Republicans, stating that many had deluded themselves about the threat conspiracy theories posed to the party. Sasse said prominent newly-elected conspiracy theorists like freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., whom he called “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”

“Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can’t,” Sasse wrote. “Now is the time to decide what this party is about.”

Sasse argues that the rise of right-wing conspiracy theories in the Trump era has occurred for three reasons: the ostensibly poor media diet of Americans, a collapse of trust and engagement with civic institutions, and a loss of national meaning.

“A conspiracy theory offers its devotees a way of inserting themselves into a cosmic battle pitting good against evil. This sense of vocation that makes it dangerous is also precisely what makes it attractive in our era of isolated, alienated consumerism,” Sasse writes.

The junior Nebraska senator argued that to win again, Republicans must “repudiate the nonsense that has set our party on fire” and then “offer a genuine answer to the frustrations of the past decade.”

Referencing a viral confrontation between Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman and a QAnon adherent storming the Capitol, Sasse wrote. “In a standoff between the Constitution and madness, both men picked a side. It’s the GOP’s turn to do the same.”

– Matthew Brown 

Biden aides: Threats won’t stop Joe Biden from taking the oath of office and getting to work

Aides to President-elect Joe Biden said Sunday they are aware of threats nationwide surrounding this week’s inauguration, but they won’t stop his plans to take the oath of office and get to work.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, speaking on CNN, said he has confidence that the Secret Service, National Guard, and others can protect Washington, D.C., but “we are concerned, certainly, about these threats in other places.”

“We will have a team in place in the White House to monitor these actions going forward starting on 12:00 noon on Jan. 20,” Klain said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Less than two weeks after a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol, officials in Washington are bracing for the inauguration with street closings, high fences and concrete barriers, and thousands of armed police officers and National Guard troops.

Kate Bedingfield, the incoming White House communications director, told ABC News’ “This Week” that “you only have to look at the chatter on social media to see that we are in a volatile time, and so we are making preparations.”

That said, she added, it is “our plan and our expectation” to have Biden take the oath of office outside on the west front of the Capitol.

After that, aides said, Biden has an agenda of items to move forward on. They ranged from having the United State rejoin the Paris climate change accord to new plans to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re inheriting a huge mess here,” Klain said, referring in particular to problems with distributing COVID vaccines. “But we have a plan to fix it.”

– David Jackson

Trump aide: Members of impeachment legal team (including Giuliani) yet to be determined

While Rudy Giuliani was at the White House on Saturday, an adviser to outgoing President Donald Trump said he has not selected members for his impeachment defense team.

Trump “has not yet made a determination as to which lawyer or law firm will represent him for the disgraceful attack on our Constitution and democracy, known as the ‘impeachment hoax,'” spokesman Hogan Gidley tweeted Sunday. “We will keep you informed.”

The House impeached Trump last week on charges of inciting the insurrection and attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The Senate is scheduled to try Trump later this year, even though he will be out of office.

Giuliani told ABC News he is working on Trump’s defense, though Gidley’s statement indicates that is not official – at least not yet.

– David Jackson

Trump approval ratings hold steady after Capitol riot, second impeachment

President Donald Trump will be leaving office with a record low, yet historically stable approval rating, according to recent polls.

An NBC News poll found that Trump’s approval rating with voters nationwide stood at 43%, slightly down from the 45% the poll registered before the November election. A similar Washington Post/ABC News poll found Trump held a 38% approval rating, down seven points from when that poll was conducted in October.

The findings come after Trump became the first president in American history to be impeached twice by Congress, a week after he told a large crowd of his supporters to march to the Capitol ahead of a deadly riot in which the mob stormed the building. 

The recent polls underscore Trump’s tenure as one of the most polarizing figures in American history.

While only 5% of Democrats approved of Trump in the NBC News poll, 87% of Republicans gave the president a positive approval rating. Those numbers show only marginal declines from late October, when Trump had a 6% and 89% approval rating among Democrats and Republicans, respectively. In both reports, independents gave the president a 44% approval rating.

Forty-nine percent of respondents said Trump was “one of the worst” presidents, and an additional 9% said he was “not as good as most,” in the NBC News poll. Nineteen percent of respondents, however, believed Trump was “one of the best,” and another 21% said he was “better than most.”

A new USA TODAY/ Suffolk University poll found Americans are worried about the health of the nation’s democracy. Seventy percent of respondents in that poll said American democracy was weaker than it was four years ago. Another 70% called the Capitol rioters “criminals,” though one in four felt the rioters “went too far, but they had a point.”

A recent CBS News poll found that 54% of Americans believed that the biggest threat to the American way of life was “other people in America,” highlighting high levels of distrust within the nation.

Divisions over Trump’s conduct and the legitimacy of the presidential election are also evident in the polls.

Sixty-six percent of respondents in the Post/ABC poll said Trump acted irresponsibly in the aftermath of the November election. Sixty-two percent believed that Joe Biden won the presidential election legitimately and that there was no solid evidence of widespread voter fraud in the election.

The Post/ABC poll also found persistent divides over not only the 2020 election, but also Trump’s win in 2016. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said Trump’s 2016 victory was legitimate versus 42% who said it was not.

It is likely these divides will persist. While 69% of voters overall would like to see the Republican Party chart a new path after Trump, 57% of Republican-leaning voters want Republican leaders to follow Trump’s lead, the Post/ABC poll found.

– Matthew Brown

Lindsey Graham to Trump: Don’t pardon insurrectionists

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham once criticized President Donald Trump over his demands to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden, but Graham was full of support in an interview broadcast Sunday – though he did warn Trump not to pardon extremist supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“To seek a pardon of these people would be wrong … I think it would destroy President Trump,” Graham said on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures.” “And I hope we don’t go down that road.”

Graham also praised Trump’s accomplishments in office and reaffirmed the president’s place as the leader of the GOP. 

“Mr. President, your policies will stand the test of time,” he said on the Fox program that Trump is known to watch. “You’re the most important figure in the Republican Party. You can shape the direction of the party, keep your movement alive.”

Demonstrating his fealty to Trump, Graham later released a letter to incoming Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., requesting a dismissal of the impeachment case charging him with inciting the Capitol riot. Holding a Senate trial, he said, would delay “the healing of this great Nation.”

Schumer is not expected to grant the request, and several political analysts mocked Graham’s call for unity. 

“You don’t get to whine about ‘healing’ now after you personally inflicted so many of the wounds,” tweeted historian Kevin Kruse.

– David Jackson

House prosecutor: We’re developing a trial plan to detail Donald Trump egged on capital rioters

WASHINGTON – The top House impeachment prosecutor said Sunday his team is developing a “trial plan” designed to detail President Donald Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told CNN the plan would be used during Trump’s Senate trial later this year. Raskin said he did not know exactly when the trial might take place, but noted that a conviction would bar Trump from holding future office and end any of his remaining presidential aspirations.

“This was the most serious presidential crime in the history of the United States of America,” Raskin said on “State of the Union.”

The House impeached Trump on charges of inciting an insurrection designed to intimidate lawmakers into reversing his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. Ten Republicans voted for the impeachment of Trump as a result of the riot that left five people dead.

Raskin said Trump inspired the insurrection with his constant lies about widespread election fraud after Biden’s win, from a series of lawsuits to his fiery speech at a rally right before the invasion of the Capitol building.

House leaders have not delivered the impeachment article to the Senate, which is responsible for trying Trump even though he is out of office. Democrats will take political control of the Senate later this week.

Raskin is leading the House prosecution team in the wake of his son’s self-inflicted death.

The Maryland congressman told CNN he is inspired by the memory of his late son, as well as colleagues, aides, and workers who were threatened by the mob at the U.S. Capitol.

“I’m not going to lose my son at the end of 2020, and lose my country and my republic in 2021,” Raskin said.

– David Jackson

Biden outlines executive orders planned for first 10 days

President-elect Joe Biden will sign more than a dozen executive orders on his first day in office reversing key Trump Administration policies on issues from immigration to climate change, Biden’s transition team announced Saturday.

On Wednesday, the day Biden is inaugurated as president, his executive actions will include:

  • Asking the Department of Education to extend the pause on student loan payments and interests on federal student loans
  • Rejoin the Paris Agreement, which focuses on goals to help mitigate climate change
  • Reverse the travel ban for Muslim-majority countries

He will also enact orders that address the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. As president, he will launch his “100 Day Masking Challenge,” which includes a mask mandate on federal property and inter-state travel. He will also extend nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures.

On Biden’s second day in office, he will sign more executive actions addressing the pandemic that will “change the course of the COVID-19 crisis and safely re-open schools and businesses,” the transition team said. He will take actions that aim to mitigate the spread of the virus by expanding testing, protecting workers and establishing public health standards.

More: A Biden presidency could bring a wave of policy shifts. Here are the ones you likely care about.

On his third day in office, Biden will direct his Cabinet agencies to take immediate action to deliver economic relief to working families, though the transition team did not provide specifics. 

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, Biden will sign more executive actions, memoranda and issues additional Cabinet directives, including ones addressing equity and support in communities of color and underserved communities, and criminal justice system reforms.

Biden also plans to sign more executive actions addressing the climate crisis, in addition to taking his first steps to expand access to health care. And he will begin reuniting families separated at the border. As of December, 628 parents who were separated from their children at the border are still missing.

– Rebecca Morin

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The Week Ahead – U.S Politics, Monetary Policy, Economic Data, and COVID-19 in Focus – Yahoo Finance

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On the Macro

It’s a busy week ahead on the economic calendar, with 73 stats in focus in the week ending 22nd January. In the week prior, 46 stats had been in focus.

For the Dollar:

It’s a quiet week ahead on the economic data front.

In a shortened week, there are no material stats to consider in the 1st half of the week.

Through Thursday, Philly FED Manufacturing PMI and weekly jobless claims figures are in focus.

With market attention to labor market conditions, expect the jobless claims to have the biggest impact. Another jump in jobless claims would likely weigh on riskier assets.

At the end of the week, prelim private sector PMI figures for January wrap things up.

Housing sector data also due out in the week will likely have a muted impact on the Dollar and risk sentiment.

The Dollar Spot Index ended the week up by 0.75% to 90.772.

For the EUR:

It’s a busy week ahead on the economic data front.

On Tuesday, January ZEW Economic Sentiment figures for Germany and the Eurozone kick things off.

Germany’s ZEW Economic Sentiment indicator will likely be the key driver.

The focus will then shift to January prelim private sector PMI numbers on Friday. France, Germany, and the Eurozone’s private sectors will be in the spotlight on.

Expect Germany’s manufacturing and the Eurozone’s composite to be the key drivers.

Finalized December inflation figures for member states and the Eurozone, also due out in the week, will likely have a muted impact on the EUR.

On the monetary policy front, the ECB is in action on Thursday. No moves are expected, leaving the press conference as the key driver. Questions on the economic outlook are likely as EU member states extend lockdown periods.

The EUR ended the week down by 1.11% to $1.2082.

For the Pound:

It’s a relatively busy week ahead on the economic calendar. Key stats include December inflation and retail sales figures, CBI industrial trend orders, and prelim January private sector PMIs.

Expect the retail sales figures and services PMI, due out on Friday, to have the greatest influence.

Away from the economic calendar, COVID-19 news will also influence. Following the vaccine approvals, the markets will be looking for new COVID-19 cases to begin abating.

On the monetary policy front, BoE Governor is scheduled to speak on Wednesday.

The Pound ended the week up by 0.16% to $1.3590.

For the Loonie:

It’s a busy week ahead on the economic calendar.

Key stats include December inflation and November retail sales figures due out on Wednesday and Friday.

Other stats include housing stats, manufacturing and wholesale sales figures. We would expect these stats to have a muted impact on the Loonie, however.

On the monetary policy front, the BoC is in action on Wednesday. With the markets expecting the BoC to hold rates steady, the rate statement and press conference will be the key drivers.

From elsewhere, economic data from China and private sector PMIs from the Eurozone and the U.S will also influence.

Expect COVID-19 news updates and chatter from Capitol Hill to also provide direction.

The Loonie ended the week down by 0.24% to C$1.2732 against the U.S Dollar.

Out of Asia

For the Aussie Dollar:

It’s a busier week on the economic data front.

Consumer sentiment figures for January are due out on Wednesday.

With consumer confidence key to fueling a pickup in consumer spending and an economic recovery, expect Aussie Dollar sensitivity to the numbers.

On Thursday, December employment figures will also provide direction ahead of retail sales figures on Friday.

Economic data from China and private sector PMI numbers from the U.S and the Eurozone will also influence.

COVID-19 news updates will remain a key driver in the week. however.

The Aussie Dollar ended the week down by 0.70% to $0.7703.

For the Kiwi Dollar:

It’s a quiet week ahead on the economic calendar.

In the 1st half of the week, 4th quarter business confidence and electronic card retail sales figures are in focus on Tuesday.

At the end of the week, Business PMI and 4th quarter inflation figures wrap things up.

Expect business confidence, retail sales, and 4th quarter inflation figures to be the key drivers.

The Kiwi Dollar ended the week down by 1.51% to $0.7133.

For the Japanese Yen:

It is a busy week ahead.

Finalized November industrial production figures get things going on Monday.

On Thursday, December trade figures will draw plenty of attention. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc, weak numbers could test market risk appetite.

At the end of the week, December inflation figures and prelim private sector PMIs for January wrap things up. The PMI numbers should have greater influence at the end of the week.

On the monetary policy front, the BoJ is in action on Thursday.

The Japanese Yen ended the week up by 0.09% to ¥103.85 against the U.S Dollar.

Out of China

It’s also a busy week ahead.

December industrial production and 4th quarter GDP numbers are due out on Monday. These will be the key stats of the week.

Other stats include fixed asset investment, retail sales, and unemployment figures. Barring dire numbers, however, these stats should have limited impact on market risk sentiment.

On Wednesday, the PBoC is also in action. However, the markets are not expecting any moves.

The Chinese Yuan ended the week down by 0.10% to CNY6.4809 against the U.S Dollar.

Geo-Politics

U.S Politics

It’s a busy week on Capitol Hill.

Inauguration Day and Trump’s impeachment will draw interest.

COVID-19

Vaccination rates and availability of vaccines will be key areas of interest.

An upward trend in vaccination rates and a downward trend on infection rates would support optimism towards an economic recovery.

Corporate Earnings

A number of big names deliver results in the week ahead.

From the U.S

These include:

Bank of America (Tues)

Goldman Sachs Group (Tues),

Netflix (Tues)

United Airlines (Wed)

Morgan Stanley (Wed)

Intel Corp. (Thurs).

This article was originally posted on FX Empire

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