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McConnell open to convicting Trump in impeachment trial

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WASHINGTON: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly did not rule out Wednesday that he might eventually vote to convict the now twice-impeached President Donald Trump, but he also blocked a quick Senate impeachment trial.
Minutes after the House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump, McConnell said in a letter to his GOP colleagues that he’s not determined whether Trump should be convicted in the Senate’s upcoming proceedings. The House impeachment articles charge that Trump incited insurrection by exhorting supporters who violently attacked the Capitol last week, resulting in five deaths and a disruption of Congress.
“I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote.
McConnell’s openness was a stark contrast to the support, or at times silence, he’s shown during much of Trump’s presidency, and to the opposition he expressed rapidly when the House impeached Trump 13 months ago. McConnell will be Washington’s most powerful Republican once Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, and McConnell’s increasingly chilly view of Trump could make it easier for other GOP lawmakers to turn against him.
McConnell’s burgeoning alienation from Trump, plus the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him, underscored how the GOP’s long, reflexive support and condoning of Trump’s actions was eroding.
McConnell also issued a statement saying Congress and the government should spend the next week “completely focused on facilitating a safe inauguration and an orderly transfer of power” to Biden. He suggested Trump’s Senate trial would begin no earlier than Jan. 19 in effect rejecting a drive by the chamber’s Democrats to begin the proceedings immediately so Trump could be ousted from office.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said that unless McConnell reverses himself and agrees to quickly start the trial, it would begin after Jan. 19. That’s a day before Biden is inaugurated as president and about the time Democrats take over majority control of the Senate. The timetable essentially means McConnell is dropping the trial into Democrats’ laps.
“Make no mistake, there will be an impeachment trial in the United States Senate,“ Schumer said. He added, “If the president is convicted, there will be a vote on barring him from running again.“
The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to convict a president, meaning at least 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats to oust Trump. If Trump were convicted, it would take only a simple majority of the Senate to prohibit Trump, who’s mentioned running again in 2024, from holding federal office again.
Earlier Wednesday, a GOP strategist said McConnell has told people he thinks Trump perpetrated impeachable offenses. McConnell also saw House Democrats’ drive to impeach Trump as an opportune moment to distance the GOP from the tumultuous, divisive outgoing president, according to the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
McConnell’s views were first reported by The New York Times.
McConnell spoke to major Republican donors last weekend to assess their thinking about Trump and was told that they believed Trump had clearly crossed a line, the strategist said. McConnell told them he was finished with Trump, according to the consultant.
The Democratic-led House approved an impeachment article accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, an unprecedented second impeachment of his clamorous presidency. Trump exhorted a throng of his followers to march on the Capitol last Wednesday, where they disrupted Congress’ formal certification of Biden’s win in a deadly riot that produced widespread damage.
McConnell is looking out for his party’s long-term future, but moving toward a political divorce from Trump could mean that congressional Republicans will face challenges in GOP primaries.
It is unclear how many Republicans would vote to convict Trump in a Senate trial, but it appears plausible that several would.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Wednesday told Alaska’s News Source, an Anchorage news outlet, that Trump “has committed an impeachable offense.“ She stopped short of saying if she’d vote to convict him.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has said he would “definitely consider” House impeachment articles.
Complicating GOP thinking about Trump’s second impeachment is that Republicans will be defending 20 of the 34 Senate seats up for election in 2022. Thanks to Democratic victories this month in two Georgia runoffs, Democrats are about to take control of the chamber by 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.
Speaking out against impeachment Wednesday was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. A once-bitter Trump foe, Graham became one of his closest allies during his presidency, then lambasted him over last week’s Capitol invasion but has since spent time with Trump.
Impeaching Trump now would “do great damage to the institutions of government and could invite further violence,“ Graham said in a statement. He said Trump’s millions of backers “should not be demonized because of the despicable actions of a seditious mob,“ but he did not specifically defend Trump’s actions last week.
“If there was a time for America’s political leaders to bend a knee and ask for God’s counsel and guidance, it is now. The most important thing for leaders to do in times of crisis is to make things better, not worse,“ Graham said.
When the Senate voted against removing Trump in February after the House impeached him for pressuring Ukraine to provide political dirt on Biden, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was the only Republican who cast a vote to oust him.
Trump has falsely insisted that November’s presidential election was stolen from him by fraud. Those allegations have been rejected by state officials of both parties, state and federal courts and members of his own administration.
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Biden admin withdraws move to rescind work authorisation for H-1B spouses

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MUMBAI: The steps that were underway, by the Trump administration to rescind the employment authorisation program, for certain categories of spouses of H-1B visa holders, is history. Nearly a lakh Indian spouses can now breathe a sigh of relief.
Way back in February 2019, when the Trump administration began to take concrete steps towards rescinding this employment authorisation program, US Vice-President Kamala Harris (who was then a Senator) had tweeted, “This is outrageous and will force immigrant women who are doctors, nurses, scientists and academics among others to abandon their professional careers. I called on DHS last year to withdraw this proposal and will continue to fight this.” Nearly two years later, this fight comes to an end.

The proposed rule – ‘Removing H-4 dependent spouses from the class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation’ was under review by the Office of Management and Business (OMB). In other words, it was in its final stages of a roll-out.
Soon after the Biden administration stepped in, it stayed for a 60-day period, subject to further extensions, various proposed policies including the proposal to rescind the employment authorisation program. Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has formally withdrawn this proposed rule.
Spouses of H-1B workers are given an H-4 visa. Only in certain cases, such as where the H-1B visa recipient is on track for a green card or where the H-1B visa recipient has got an extension beyond the permitted six years, could the H-4 spouse apply for an employment authorisation document.
To take care of the decades-long green card backlog for certain sections, such as applicants from India, the Obama administration in 2015 had introduced the ‘H-4 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) rule.”
Given that the expected wait time for Indians caught in the backlog of the employment-based green card for EB-2 and EB-3 (skilled category) runs to 84 years, according to a CATO Institute study – the EAD program proved to be very useful, especially for families struggling to survive on a single income.
According to the latest available official data, up to December, 2017, nearly 84,360 Indian spouses (largely wives) held an EAD (this was 93% of the total EADs issued). The number of such Indian spouses is now estimated to be over a lakh.
The EAD program meant more than financial freedom by enabling them to take up jobs or be self-employed, as the work authorisation also enabled spouses to obtain a social security number, open a bank account and get a driving license.
SaveH4EAD, a group that started in December 2017, which currently has an outreach of several thousands has tweeted, “After years of advocacy, meeting Congress members, DHS/OMB and collecting irrefutable data on value-add of H4-EAD not only to economy but also to provide life of dignity to thousands of immigrants, we are pleased to announce that the new administration has withdrawn regulation to help #SaveH4EAD.”

TOI has in the past covered the efforts of this group and had narrated how the American dream for many families would be shattered, if the EAD program came to an end.

Plans to return or migrate elsewhere emerge for over 80,000 Indian families in US

The H4-EAD program has been involved in a long-drawn lawsuit filed by Save Jobs USA, which states that the EAD program takes away American jobs. Lately delays in getting the EAD extensions in a timely manner, has led to many H-4 visa holders filing lawsuits across the country.
The next step according to SaveH4EAD is to streamline the process so that no one loses their jobs owing to processing delays.
Todd Schulte, President of FWD.us, a bipartisan political organisation, whose founders include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others stated, “We commend the Biden-Harris Administration for taking immediate action to turn the page from the Trump-Pence Administration’s disastrous immigration policies, and to do right by more than 100,000 hardworking immigrants who are contributing to the United States every single day in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Allowing H-4 visa holders the ability to continue working and providing for their families has profound, life-changing effects for these individuals and our communities. Roughly 93 percent are women, and many are working in essential roles that are key to supporting our nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”
“At the end of the day, there is no successful economic or public health recovery without bold action from lawmakers to protect immigrant essential workers and keep immigrant families safe and together. Congress must work together to immediately pass the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, which would formalize work authorization for H-4 visa holders, create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrant essential workers, and address the bureaucratic backlogs that plague our broken immigration system,” added Schulte.

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#MeToo: Harvey Weinstein to pay sexual abuse victims $17 million

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NEW YORK: A US bankruptcy judge has approved a $17 million payout to dozens of women who accused jailed movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse.
Weinstein, 68, was sentenced to 23 years in prison last year after being convicted of rape and sexual assault.
Delaware Judge Mary Walrath on Monday agreed to the Weinstein Company’s liquidation plan, which sets aside the payment.
She overruled the objections of several of Weinstein’s victims who complained that the settlement prevented them from pursuing other legal claims.
The money will be split between 37 women, meaning they are each likely to receive six-figure sums.
Lawyers representing some victims had earlier denounced the proposed settlement as insufficient.
Eight accusers who rejected the settlement will be able to sue the ex-Hollywood mogul later.
Weinstein was found guilty in February 2020 of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree in a landmark verdict for the #MeToo movement.
His sentence capped a remarkable downfall for the “Pulp Fiction” producer who was accused of years of vile predatory behavior by almost 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek.
The Weinstein Company declared bankruptcy in March 2018 after the avalanche of claims. Lantern Capital, later renamed Spyglass Media Group, bought its assets for $289 million.
Weinstein is also awaiting trial in Los Angeles on rape and sexual assault charges involving five women.
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US to purchase additional 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses

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WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced the purchase of additional 200 million doses of coronavirus vaccines as the country hit another grim milestone, reaching 25 million infections.
After reviewing the current vaccine supply and manufacturing plans, Biden announced that his administration will increase overall weekly vaccination distribution to states and tribal territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses.
Starting next week, that’s an increase of 1.4 million doses per week, he said adding that these are being distributed to states based on population.
“We’ve got a long way to go, though,” he said in his address to the nation on the steps he is taking to address the coronavirus pandemic.
Reiterating his ambitious goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, he said the end goal is to beat Covid-19.
Biden said he is directing Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and increase the supply of vaccines for the American people.
“We believe that we will soon be able to confirm the purchase of an additional 100 million doses for each of the two FDA authorised vaccines Pfizer and Moderna,” he said, adding this is 200 million more doses that the federal government had previously secured not in hand yet but ordered.
“We expect these additional 200 million doses to be delivered this summer,” he said.
Observing that there are enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 300 Americans by the end of the summer, he stressed that over 400,000 people in the country have already died from coronavirus in the past year.
“This is a wartime undertaking. It is not hyperbole, and as such, I directed the team to be ready to exercise all of the authorities I have under the Defense Production Act and expedite these vaccines, and we are using the Defense Production Act to launch full-scale wartime effort to address the supply shortages we inherited from the previous administration,” he said.
“These aggressive steps to increase vaccine supply come on top of the steps we took last week to get more people vaccinated for free, to create more places for them to get vaccinated and to mobilise more medical teams to get shots in people’s arms,” Biden said.
The president has also directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stand up the first federally supported community vaccination centers. That work is under way, he said.
“We are working to make vaccines available to thousands of local pharmacies beginning in early February, a couple of weeks off, and that will enormously expand our reach,” he said
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