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Obama-era veteran Kurt Campbell to be White House Indo-Pacific coordinator

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WASHINGTON: US President-elect Joe Biden has picked an Obama-administration veteran, Kurt Campbell, to be his White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region, which covers the relationship with China, a spokeswoman for Biden’s transition said on Wednesday.
Campbell, who served as the top US diplomat for Asia under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is considered one of the architects of their “pivot to Asia” strategy, a much vaunted but still limited US rebalancing of resources to the region.
“I can confirm Kurt will be Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific at the NSC,” the transition spokeswoman said, referring to the White House National Security Council.
Campbell has since run the Asia Group business strategy consultancy and advised Biden’s campaign. He is co-founder of the Center for a New American Security think tank.
Campbell outlined his approach to Asia in a 2016 book entitled “The Pivot” in which he advocated strengthening existing alliances with Japan and South Korea and building closer relations with states like India and Indonesia in the face of a rising China.
He has since endorsed some of the tough approaches towards China adopted by the outgoing Trump administration and also praised some of Trump’s unprecedented dealings with North Korea.
In doing so, he has stressed the need for the new administration to rebuild and reconcile at home and backed away in his past support for a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that Washington negotiated under Obama and from which Trump withdrew.
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Biden acknowledges not enough votes to convict Trump in impeachment trial

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WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden virtually doomed the Senate impeachment trial of his predecessor Donald Trump by acknowledging Democrats do not have enough votes in the chamber to convict the former President.
Biden’s remarks came even as the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives formally delivered to the Senate (which is also now Democrat-controlled despite being tied at 50-50) an article of impeachment charging Donald Trump with inciting the deadly insurrection at the Capitol.
“The Senate has changed since I was there, but it hasn’t changed that much,” Biden said in remarks to CNN at the very moment Democratic impeachment team from the House were delivering the article, implicitly conceding the outcome may not result in conviction. He however said the trial was necessary to bring about accountability and it would be worse if it did not happen.
The prelude confirmed the growing belief that the impeachment trial would largely be a political spectacle. Convicting the former President requires a 2/3rd majority of those present and voting in the 100-member Senate, and Republican lawmakers, despite the signal from the party establishment and leadership that they were free to vote according to their conscience, have begun to shy away from committing to do so for fear of being defeated in party primaries by surrogates of the former President, who still wields considerable support in his base.
As per the schedule agreed upon by Senate Democrat and Republican leadership, Senators will be sworn in as jurors Tuesday, when Trump will receive the official summons. But the official trial proceedings will begin only in the week of February 8. The trial will be presided over by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who is the president pro tempore and the most senior Democrat in the chamber, and not by the US Chief Justice John Roberts (who presided over the first impeachment) or by vice-president Kamala Harris, who is the constitutionally-designated President of the Senate.
Very few Republican Senators have committed to vote for Trump’s conviction though the party establishment would like to put the former President out of politics and rescue the GOP from the so-called insurgents who’ve hijacked it. Among those who oppose the impeachment is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who told Fox News, “They beat him up before he was in office, they beat him while he was in office, now they’re beating him up after he’s left office. Give the man a break.”
Trump meanwhile formally established an “Office of the Former President,” to show that he is not going fading away into the Florida sun. Located in Palm Beach, the office will be run by his former White House aides and “will be responsible for managing President Trump’s correspondence, public statements, appearances, and official activities,” a statement from his office said, adding, “President Trump will always and forever be a champion for the American people.”
The former President has all but disappeared from public view, virtually unheard of without his social media megaphone and without the cameras that trail the most powerful office in the world. Images from Florida showed him playing golf over the weekend wearing a red MAGA cap. The former President’s surrogates have denied reports that he plans to launch an outfit called the “Patriot Party” but Trump himself said last week that “We’ll do something, but not just yet.”
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'Historic' snow blankets parts of Midwest, disrupts travel

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OMAHA: A major winter storm blanketed parts of the middle of the country with snow that was forecast to continue into late Tuesday in some areas, disrupting traffic and closing some coronavirus testing sites.
The National Weather Service said at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) of snow is expected across most of an area stretching from central Kansas northeast to Chicago and southern Michigan. Parts of southeast Nebraska and western Iowa could get more than three times that much by Tuesday morning.
The weather service forecast the light snowfall that began around sunset Monday in northern Illinois was expected to get heavier overnight, with accumulation totaling about 3 to 6 inches by early Tuesday. Meteorologist Bett Borchardt forecast snowfall could total up to 8 inches (20.32 centimeters) or more before it ends Tuesday evening.
The last comparable snowfall in the area occurred in November 2018, when 8.4 inches (21.34 centimeters) of snow fell.
A winter weather advisory was issued Monday for northwest Indiana, where the weather service forecast 3 to 5 inches of snow by the time the storm leaves the area Tuesday. A mix of freezing drizzle was expected in the southern parts of the region.
The break in the relatively mild winter in northern Illinois may mean the rest of the season could be more active, said weather service meteorologist Matt Friedlein.
“Now, more active does not necessarily mean more snow,” Friedlein told the Chicago Sun-Times. “If we stay on the milder side of things, that could be more rain or more mixed precipitation.”
The city of Chicago on Monday warned residents that hazardous conditions are likely to impact Tuesday morning commutes and some power outages are possible due to the wet nature of the snow and gusts. City officials have dispatched about 280 salt spreaders to clear the city’s main streets and have created warming centers in libraries and park facilities for residents who have no heat because of the loss of power to their homes.
By late Monday, 120 flights had been canceled at O’Hare and 48 flights at Midway international airports, with 15-minute delays at both facilities.
Gary Mayor Jerome Prince declared a snow emergency late Monday, placing restrictions on where vehicles can park and prohibiting the pushing of snow from private property onto city streets. In addition, Prince closed city-owned buildings and facilities until Wednesday.
Several coronavirus testing sites in Nebraska and Iowa were closing early Monday because of the snow. More than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow had already fallen in parts of eastern Nebraska by Monday evening.
National Weather Service meteorologist Taylor Nicolaisen said 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of snow was likely between York, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, and that it has been at least 15 years since that area received more than a foot of snow in a single storm.
“This is historic snow,” said Nicolaisen, who is based near Omaha, Nebraska.
Many schools and businesses closed Monday as the storm moved across the region. In western Iowa, Missouri Valley Superintendent Brent Hoesing reworked the lyrics of the 1970s hit “I Will Survive” to tell students in his district to “So Stay Inside.”
Officials urged drivers to stay off the roads during the storm, especially during the heaviest snowfall in the afternoon and evening. Nebraska State Patrol troopers responded to more than 200 weather-related incidents Monday.
“Do not travel unless it’s absolutely necessary,” said Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc.
Roughly 250 semi trucks pulled off the road to wait out the storm at the Petro truck stop alongside Interstate 80 in York, Nebraska. Manager Rachael Adamson said she could see knee-high drifts and that the maintenance man had to go out every 30 minutes to shovel the sidewalks to keep up with the snow.
“We haven’t had this much snow in quite a few years,” Adamson said.
Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Alex Dinkla said road conditions deteriorated quickly and numerous vehicles slid off roads in central Iowa.
“The big thing that people are seeing is that this snow system is packing a big punch,” Dinkla said to the Des Moines Register. “As we have seen this system move into Iowa, the road conditions go from zero snow on the road to an immediate totally covered roadway in just a matter of minutes.”
A section of eastbound Interstate 80 was closed in central Nebraska Monday afternoon following a crash. And Missouri officials urged drivers not to travel on Interstates 29 and 35 in northwest Missouri into Iowa. The agency said most roads in the area were covered with snow and heavy snow continued falling Monday afternoon.
“If northern Missouri or Iowa are part of your travel plan, please re-route or find a warm, safe place to wait out the storm,” the Missouri Transportation Department said.
In the South, a tornado touched down in an Alabama city north of Birmingham, with significant damage reported, officials said. The damage is being evaluated to determine the strength of the tornado, which hit the Fultondale area of Jefferson County late Monday night, the National Weather Service in Birmingham said.
A tornado watch is in effect until 6 a.m. for a swath of counties in the area, including Jefferson. It’s unclear whether anyone has been injured, though emergency responders were in the area to help with “entrapments and damage,” WVTM reported. Businesses and homes were damaged in the storm, which also toppled power lines and trees.
Elsewhere in the U.S., a storm moving across the Southwest on Monday and Tuesday was forecast to bring gusts and snowfall, the weather service said. Over the weekend, more than a foot of snow fell in Southern California‘s mountains, making driving conditions hazardous. Interstate 5 was shut down Monday in the Tejon Pass between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. Wind, snow and ice also forced the closure of State Route 58 through the Tehachapi Pass.
Until recently, California had been experiencing significantly dry weather accompanied by relentless wildfires. A band of clouds suggested more rain could fall Tuesday in areas north and south of San Francisco Bay, bringing the threat of possible flash floods and landslides in areas scarred by the fires.
Forecasters at the Sacramento-area National Weather Service office predict an abundance of snow in the Sierra Nevada between late Tuesday and Friday that will make travel through the mountains difficult.
A major winter storm buried northern Arizona in snow on Monday while sending flurries to the outskirts of Las Vegas and Phoenix.
And most of Nevada was bracing for another series of powerful winter storms that could bring rare snowfall to the Las Vegas Strip late Monday or early Tuesday and several feet to the mountains above Lake Tahoe with winds up to 60 mph (96 kph) by Thursday.
Up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow fell Monday in the Reno-Sparks area, where up to 10 inches (25 cm) is possible and up to 20 inches (50 cm) in the Sierra foothills above elevations of 5,000 feet (1,828 meters) on the edge of town by Thursday.
Three to 6 feet (91 cm to 1.8 meters) of snow is forecast in the Sierra above elevations of 7,000 feet.
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Biden more bullish on vaccines, open to 1.5m daily shot goal

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WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden appeared to boost his goal for coronavirus vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, suggesting the nation could soon be injecting 1.5 million shots on an average per day.
Biden signaled on Monday his increasing bullishness on the pace of vaccinations after signing an executive order to boost government purchases from U.S. manufacturers.
It was among a flurry of moves by Biden during his first full week to show he’s taking swift action to heal an ailing economy as talks with Congress over a USD 1.9 trillion stimulus package showed few signs of progress.
Biden reiterated that he believes the country is in a precarious spot and and that relief is urgently needed, even as he dismissed the possibility of embracing a scaled-down bill to secure passage faster. Among the features of the stimulus plan are a national vaccination program, aid to reopen schools, direct payments of USD 1,400 to individuals and financial relief for state and local governments.
“Time is of the essence,” Biden said. “I am reluctant to cherry-pick and take out one or two items here.”
Biden’s new vaccination target comes after he and his aides faced criticism for the 100 million goal in his first 100 days in office. The U.S. has exceeded a pace of 1 million doses per day over the last week.
“I think we may be able to get that to … 1.5 million a day, rather than 1 million a day,” Biden said, “but we have to meet that goal of a million a day.”
Biden added that he expects widespread availability of the vaccines for Americans by spring, with the U.S. “well on our way to herd immunity” necessary to end the pandemic by summer.
Even so, he warned the nation was going to be “in this for a while, and could see between “600,000 and 660,000 deaths before we begin to turn the corner in a major way.”
As of Sunday, the federal government had distributed 41.4 million vaccine doses to states and other jurisdictions.
Of that, 21.8 million doses had been administered, or about 53 per cent.
About 3.2 million people had received their full two-dose vaccination, a little less than 1 per cent of the population.
That’s according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Already, more than 420,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.
Biden’s team held a call Sunday to outline the stimulus plan with at least a dozen senators, while the president also privately talked with lawmakers.
“There’s an urgency to moving it forward, and he certainly believes there has to be progress in the next couple of weeks,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
She warned that action needed to be taken before the U.S. reaches an “unemployment cliff” in March, when long-term unemployment benefits expire for millions of Americans.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill were not joining in the push for immediate action.
One key Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said after Sunday’s call that “it seems premature to be considering a package of this size and scope.”
Collins described the additional funding for vaccinations as useful while cautioning that any economic aid should be more targeted.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday that “any further action should be smart and targeted, not just an imprecise deluge of borrowed money that would direct huge sums toward those who don’t need it.”
Biden sought to downplay the rhetoric from GOP lawmakers, saying, “I have been doing legislative negotiations for a large part of my life. I know how the system works.”
“This is just the process beginning,” he added. “No one wants to give up on their position until there’s no other alternative.”
Monday’s order will likely take 45 days or longer to make its way through the federal bureaucracy, during which time wrangling with Congress could produce a new aid package.
That would be a follow-up to the roughly USD 4 trillion previously approved to tackle the economic and medical fallout from the coronavirus.
The order was aimed at increasing factory jobs, which have slumped by 540,000 since the pandemic began last year.
“America can’t sit on the sidelines in the race for the future,” Biden said before signing the order in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “We’re ready, despite all we’re facing.”
Biden’s order would modify the rules for the Buy American program, making it harder for contractors to qualify for a waiver and sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies.
It also changes rules so that more of a manufactured good’s components must originate from U.S. factories. America-made goods would also be protected by an increase in the government’s threshold and price preferences, the difference in price over which the government can buy a foreign product.
It’s an order that channels Biden’s own blue-collar persona and his promise to use the government’s market power to support its industrial base, an initiative that former President Donald Trump also attempted with executive actions and import taxes.
“Thanks to past presidents granting a trade-pact waiver to Buy American, today billions in U.S. tax dollars leak offshore every year because the goods and companies from 60 other countries are treated like they are American for government procurement purposes,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and a critic of past trade agreements.
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