Impeachment Reflects Deep American Divide

The U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to impeach President Donald Trump broke along party lines Wednesday, reflecting the American public’s deep divide over the president. 
National polls showed public opinion remained evenly split on the president’s impeachment, moving little since the process began. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey, 48% of those surveyed approved of the impeachment process, whereas an equal percentage opposed it. Those figures mirrored the president’s approval ratings, which also have fluctuated little since his first days in office. 
For some of the president’s biggest critics and supporters, impeachment brought an opportunity to publicly state their views outside the Capitol during the vote.  

Supporters react at U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, U.S., December 18, 2019. REUTERS…
FILE – Supporters react at President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich., Dec. 18, 2019.

“I think it’s a hoax, I think it’s a travesty, I think it’s damaging our democracy, I think it’s hurting our country. I think it’s really an invalid impeachment,” said Mark Kampf, a Trump supporter who came from Nevada to denounce what he considered a politically motivated process. 
Paki Wieland, however, joined the rally to call for the removal of Trump: “This president has broken so many laws and we need to hold him accountable. And to state to him and to the world that no one is above the law.” She also expressed concern that Republican partisanship was undermining the country’s democratic system of government. 
“I was here for the Nixon impeachment. Members of his party were much less partisan than members of the Republican Party are today,” Wieland said. 
Analyst Elaine Kamarck with the Brookings Institution in Washington said Americans have been divided politically for years, but Trump has tried to exploit those divisions for political gain. 
“Donald Trump has intensified the polarization. Throughout his presidency, he has played to his base. He has played to simply the supporters that he already has,” Kamarck said. 
Facts vs. opinions 

While public opinion shifted as evidence was uncovered in previous impeachment efforts, the testimony and evidence did little to shift opinions this time. That was in part because many Americans disagreed on the evidence itself. 
“There have been no facts. It’s only hearsay and innuendo,” Kampf, the Trump supporter, said. 
Adam from Maryland, dressed in an American flag shirt, shared the same view and said the process had only reinforced his trust in the president. 
“The only thing I am convinced about is when Trump released the transcript and proved the whistleblower completely wrong,” he said. 
And how people read the White House summary of the president’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeared to reflect their view of impeachment itself. 
Supporters saw the president exonerated by the summary of the call, in which Trump asked for a “favor”: an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Critics saw it as a straightforward example of the president using his office for personal political gain. 

Ray Bonachea holds a sign in favor of the impeachment of President Donald Trump, outside of the Trump National Doral Miami golf…
FILE – Ray Bonachea holds a sign in favor of the impeachment of President Donald Trump, outside the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort, Dec. 17, 2019, in Doral, Fla.

Kory Holmes from Maine said the Ukraine episode was the latest example of behavior that disqualifies the president from serving as the nation’s leader. 

Holmes said the testimonies and the documents released had provided sufficient proof that the president’s actions amounted to a pattern of misconduct that stretched back to the 2016 election. 
“This man constantly lies, breaks the law, violates every constitutional thing there is. He cheated with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to steal the first election and he’s trying to cheat for the second one,” he said. 
Views on impeachment 
Trump is expected to survive a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers would decide whether to remove him from office. 
The process will only help cement support for the president, said Adam, who added that impeachment was another example of what he called an anti-Trump agenda the Democrats have followed since the president’s election. 
For their part, pro-impeachment voters did not seem disheartened by the expected results in the Senate trial. They said the process was about much more. 
Holmes, of Maine, said impeachment was a victory for the laws and the Constitution of the United States. 
“They [lawmakers] have got to do the job. They swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. The man broke the law. This has nothing to do with the election — this is the law,” he said. 

People watch as members of the House of Representatives voting on article one of the impeachment against President Donald Trump…
FILE – People watch as members of the House of Representatives vote on the first article of impeachment against President Donald Trump, displayed on television monitors at the Hawk ‘n’ Dove bar on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 18, 2019.

Analyst Kamarck said she saw a deepened polarization among American voters because of the impeachment. She said Trump used the process to further corrode people’s trust in the government. But she also said she thought impeachment reinforced the constitutional guarantees and protections for the American democratic system. 
“The most important reason to do this, even though he will not most likely be removed from office, the most important reason to do this is to preserve what we call in the United States the separation of powers. Had they not done this, what they would have done is ceded an enormous amount of power to the president of the United States, and that is a precedent that they simply could not make,” Kamarck said. 
The process has energized the political base of each party. Analysts, such as Kamarck, said they expected to see the highest voter turnout in U.S. history for the 2020 elections. 

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Curtain Rises in Los Angeles for Last Democratic Presidential Debate of 2019

LOS ANGELES — It was touch and go for a while, but the final Democratic presidential debate of the year is on for Thursday night, with seven of the leading contenders thrashing it out on stage at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

A labor dispute between a university contractor and a food services union representing roughly 150 workers threatened to torpedo the Democratic debate after all seven of the presidential candidates vowed not to cross a picket line to take part in the nationally televised Democratic National Committee event. However, the union and company reached agreement Tuesday on a new three-year contract, prompting a sigh of relief from Democratic officials who had feared the sixth debate of the year was in jeopardy.

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop in Hillsboro, N.H., Nov. 24, 2019.

The seven candidates include former vice president Joe Biden, the current front-runner in national polls, Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. The three other lower-tier candidates are entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire activist Tom Steyer. These seven of 15 Democratic candidates seeking the nomination to challenge President Donald Trump next November survived a Democratic party winnowing process based on their showing in the polls and fundraising.

The high-profile debate, hosted by PBS NewsHour and Politico, is occurring a day after Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ironically, the debate originally was scheduled to be held on the campus of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), but had to be moved to Loyola Marymount because of a separate labor dispute. For Loyola Marymount students, that change in venue was a pleasant surprise.

“When I found out that it was going to be on campus, my first, my first thought was to change my flight home so I could stay,” said Havana Campo, a Loyola Marymount biochemistry student from Texas.

The debate is being held a week after final exams. While most students will not get to see the debate in person, a few lucky ones, such as Emily Sinsky, who is volunteering the day before the debate, has been given a seat in the debate hall.

“It’s exciting. I couldn’t believe,” said Sinsky, a Californian who is studying international relations.

Super Tuesday factor

One reason the debate is being held in California is because the solidly Democratic state has gained significance due to its primary election date being moved up by three months. With 495 delegates at stake, California will play a bigger role in determining who will represent the Democratic Party in challenging Trump than in past elections.

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Charleston, S.C., Dec. 8, 2019.

“They [California’s primary elections] will be more relevant than they normally have been, because in most cases we know who the nominee will be by the time he got to California, and we were just ratifying what already had been decided,” said Michael Genovese, president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University. “That got a little old for most Californians. So now, we’re going to be very important and we’ll have a strong say.”

Primary voters in California will be going to the polls on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020. Thirteen other states will also hold primaries that day.

Money tree

California is also highly attractive to candidates because of its donors with deep pockets.

“Los Angeles is a place where candidates do not campaign so much as come for the money, to shake the money tree,” Genovese explained. “The donors come from a rich variety of sources. You’ve got Hollywood. You’ve got a very strong component of the gay community.”

There are also tech companies, lawyers and donors in the corporate world from Los Angeles who would be willing to give to their preferred candidate.

Candidates and issues

With the top four contenders being Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg, “what’s unusual is that we have so many older candidates running and at first you thought maybe this is going to be a generational debate,” Genovese said. “The older voters and the older candidates versus the younger generations. It hasn’t quite worked out that way except maybe with Yang and Buttigieg.” Biden, Sanders and Warren are all in their 70s, while Buttigieg is the youngest candidate at 37.

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the Iowa Farmers Union Presidential Forum in Grinnell, Iowa, Dec. 6, 2019.

Some younger voters are looking at their candidates from a broader lens outside of a candidate’s age.

“Age is not particularly a concern if the candidate that you’re supporting is more part of a greater movement, and if they select a vice president that really doubles down on their beliefs,” said Luke Hart-Moynihan, a screenwriting graduating student at Loyola Marymount University.

One candidate taking the debate stage that should be watched, analysts say, is Yang, who most likely will not make it to the top, but did qualify for the debate just before the deadline.

“He’s established himself as a player. So the question is not what will Yang do now, it’s what will he do in the next two, four, six, eight or 10 years,” Genovese said. “You can see him being in a Democratic president’s Cabinet, establishing himself as a person of weight and gravitas, and sort of channeling that to something bigger in the future.”

Diverse interests

Many of the Loyola Marymount students who are following the debates are focused on Sanders and Warren. The topics that interest them are as diverse as the students’ backgrounds.

FILE – Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Nashua, N.H., Dec. 8, 2019.

“Three topics in this election that concern me the most would be climate change, health care and immigration reform. I come from a family of immigrants,” said Campo, who is the daughter of a Cuban mother and Colombian father.

“One thing that I feel I have not heard enough from the Democratic candidates is talking about both election security and election legitimacy, because over the past several decades, there have been a lot of concerns about gerrymandering of congressional districts, voter disenfranchisement through voter identification laws,” said Peter Martin, a political science student from California.

“We’re starting to hear a lot more about student debt. Issues that affect young voters, which is really important,” said Gabriella Jeakle, an English major from Washington state, voicing a concern of many of her schoolmates.

Sinsky, the student who plans to attend the debate, said if she had a chance, she would ask the candidates what they would do in their first 100 days in office.

“That really shows where their values are,” Sinsky said.

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Russia Seeks to Build Local Force in Northeast Syria

Russia has been working to establish a new military force in the Kurdish-majority, northeastern part of Syria with the aim to deploy those troops and hardware to areas along the Syria-Turkey border, local sources told VOA.

The military force reportedly would replace a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-armed group that Turkey claims are terrorists.

“The Russians have already opened recruitment centers in two towns in our region, including Amuda and Tal Tamr,” said a Kurdish journalist, requesting anonymity.

He told VOA he knows “several young people who have signed up to join this force,” adding that Russia is primarily “recruiting ethnic Kurds.”

Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed to VOA that Russian efforts were under way to build an allied force in the Kurdish region.

Kurdish military officials said they were aware of Russia’s plans, noting the new fighters will largely be used for patrol missions, along with Russian troops in the area.

“Those joining the new force are our people,” said a senior commander with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “We want to make sure that we have a close military relationship with Russia,” he told VOA on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the matter to the media.

Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are pictured during preparations to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.
FILE – Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are pictured during preparations to join the front against Turkish forces, near the northern Syrian town of Hasakeh, Oct. 10, 2019.

The SDF official ruled out any potential confrontation between the newly established Russian forces and the U.S.-backed SDF, since “we are essentially involved in the recruiting and vetting process of the new fighters.”  

The SDF is a Kurdish-led military alliance that has been an effective partner with the United States in its fight against Islamic State in Syria.

SDF officials have stated to VOA they have at least 85,000 fighters who have been trained and equipped by the U.S.-led coalition to defeat IS.

Following a decision in October by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. forces near the Syria-Turkey border, the Turkish military and allied Syrian militias began an offensive in northeast Syria to clear the region from the Syrian Kurdish fighters Turkey views as terrorists.

Ankara says the SDF is an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The U.S., however, makes a distinction between the two Kurdish groups.  

‘Return of regime authority’ 

In response to the Turkish incursion into Syria’s northeast, Syrian Kurds have allowed the Syrian regime and Russian troops to deploy in the area in an attempt to halt the Turkish operation. Since then, Russia has been trying to increase its presence in the region, experts say.  

“Russia’s goal is the return of regime authority in the east of the Euphrates,” said Jonathan Spyer, a research fellow at the Middle East Forum, a U.S.-based think tank.

Syrian Kurdish forces took control of the area in 2012 after Syrian government troops withdrew to focus on fighting rebel groups elsewhere in the war-ravaged country.

TOPSHOT - A convoy of Russian military vehicles drives toward the northeastern Syrian city of Kobane on October 23, 2019. -…
FILE – A convoy of Russian military vehicles heads for the Syrian city of Kobane, Oct. 23, 2019.

With the U.S. withdrawal from some areas in northeast Syria, Syrian government forces appear to be poised to regain control of the Kurdish-held region.

Largely depleted after eight years of fighting rebels throughout the country, the Syrian military is unlikely capable of asserting its authority over this part of Syria.

Russia “understands that the regime is currently too weak to achieve this,” Spyer told VOA. “Hence, Moscow appears to be establishing new bodies to try to push the gradual reconnection of Kurdish forces in northeast Syria to the Syrian state.”

Long-term presence

Some experts, such as Anna Borshchevskaya, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, think Russia’s recent move suggests it has plans for a long-term presence in the area.

“This is consistent with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s overall approach to the region — control by relying on local actors,” she told VOA. “The relationship with the Kurds is especially important because Syria’s oil right now is critical to control in Syria,” Borshchevskaya added.

Russia vs. U.S.

After mounting pressure from the U.S. Congress and U.S. foreign allies, Trump decided to keep about 500 U.S. troops in the area to protect the region’s oil fields, and prevent IS and Syrian regime troops from accessing them.

“As minuscule as Syria’s oil reserves are in terms of its global market share, oil revenue has become critical for keeping the [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad regime afloat,” Borshchevskaya said. “U.S. and Kurdish-led forces collect oil revenue, but with the U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, the Kurds have little choice but to work more closely with Putin and Assad.”

“These latest Kremlin moves in Syria show that Putin is building additional leverage in Syria, with implications for the entire region — and U.S. interests,” Borshchevskaya added.

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Trump Senate Impeachment Trial Thrusts Chief Justice Into Limelight

For a man fixated on the image of the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts faces a unique challenge in presiding over President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, expected next month.

For only the third time in the nation’s history, the Senate will weigh the evidence generated by the House of Representatives and determine whether to oust a sitting president from office.

As the head of the high court, Roberts, a Republican appointee, has taken pains in recent years to explain that the court is not a partisan bench, but a body of judicial “umpires” calling balls and strikes. 

Projecting an air of independence

However, as he assumes the gavel in January and guides the impeachment trial to what is almost certain to be an acquittal, Roberts must project an air of independence from the Republican majority defending the president.

“He’s undoubtedly going to recognize that any appearance of partiality to one side or the other is going to reflect to some degree on the side’s view of the court of which he’s the head,” said Frank Bowman, a law professor at the University of Missouri and author of a history of impeachment. “He is going to be particularly interested in preserving the integrity of the court, far more than he is in the outcome of this particular proceeding.”

The historic trial comes at a time when many critics are openly questioning the Supreme Court’s legitimacy. These critics say the high court has become a highly politicized body, with its nine justices, appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents, often voting on matters of consequence along predictably ideological lines.

Protests grew louder after Kavanaugh appointment

The protests have grown louder since June 2018, when Justice Anthony Kennedy, a crucial swing vote on the court, retired and Trump picked Brett Kavanaugh, a more conservative jurist, as his replacement. With the Kavanaugh appointment – which came amid accusations of sexual assault – the conservatives cemented their hold on the court, spurring Democratic fears that the justices will overturn consequential legal precedents on abortion and gay rights, and rubber-stamp Trump’s controversial policies on a range of issues.

FILE - Supreme Court Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch, left, and Brett Kavanaugh watch as President Donald Trump arrives to give his State of the Union address to a joint session on Congress at the Capitol in Washington.
FILE – Supreme Court Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch, left, and Brett Kavanaugh watch as President Donald Trump arrives to give his State of the Union address to a joint session on Congress at the Capitol in Washington.

Yet Roberts, a moderate conservative with a proclivity for occasionally crossing party lines, has emerged as something of a “median” justice on the bench. While he voted in favor of Trump’s “travel ban” on several Muslim-majority countries last year, the chief justice angered many on the right when he joined the four liberals this year in rejecting a controversial administration plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. 

Roberts rebuked Trump

Roberts typically maintains a low profile. Now, with Trump’s impeachment, Roberts is being thrust into the public eye and the awkward position of presiding over the trial of a president who once disparaged him as “an absolute disaster” and with whom he publicly clashed last year.

The quarrel with Trump happened after the president berated a federal judge who had ruled against his asylum policy as an “Obama judge,” referring to former President Barack Obama. That prompted Roberts to issue a rare public rebuke.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement, referring to Trump, Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Trump fired back 

That did not sit well with Trump, who fired back on Twitter that the chief was “wrong.” However, the highly unusual statement underscored the length to which the chief justice has been willing to go to defend the court’s institutional integrity and in the process secure his own legacy.

“I think it shows that Chief Justice Roberts is taking his responsibility as the presiding officer, the chief executive officer of the machinery of the federal judiciary very, very seriously,” said Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.

During the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial, Richards served as a clerk to then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is Roberts’ predecessor.

Rehnquist role largely ceremonial

Richards said Roberts will likely look to Rehnquist’s performance for clues on how to conduct an impeachment trial.

Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist reads the vote tally in the Senate's impeachment trial of President Clinton, as…
FILE – Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist reads the vote tally in the Senate’s impeachment trial of President Clinton, as Clinton’s attorney Charles Ruff (L) listens.

Rehnquist’s role was largely ceremonial, restricted by Senate rules that permitted a simple majority of senators to override his rulings. On the rare occasion that he did issue a ruling, such as upholding a senator’s objection when a House manager addressed the senators as “jurors,” it was largely inconsequential.

“I think [Roberts] is going to realize, as Chief Justice Rehnquist did before him, that this is a slightly different kind of proceeding from the one that he’s used to presiding over at the court,” Richards said.

Senate no ordinary court

The Constitution gives the Senate the “sole power” to try all impeachments, and designates the chief justice as the presiding judge for presidential impeachment trials.

When the likely Trump trial gets underway, the Senate will be transformed into something of an impeachment court, but it will be very different from an ordinary court, with senators doubling as jurors and judges, and wielding the power to override the presiding judge on any procedural point.

That will limit the chief justice’s authority, something that Roberts will likely welcome, Bowman said.

“Beyond exerting whatever moral suasion he has, he has very little real power,” Bowman said. “And my sense is that he, like Justice Rehnquist, is going to want to keep a low profile.”

On the other hand, if the Senate agrees to new rules allowing witnesses and cross-examinations, Roberts is likely to take on a larger role, Richards said.

“By definition, there is going to be a more active chief justice just because he’s going to have to deal with objections and reluctant witnesses and claims of executive privilege of the sort that just didn’t come up in the Clinton trial,” Richards said.

McConnell says trial is a ‘political process’

That scenario is far from certain. Complicating matters for Roberts, Senate Republicans have dispensed with all pretense that this will be a deliberate judicial process.

“I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There is not anything judicial about it,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

Last week, McConnell, a close Trump ally, said he’ll be coordinating with the White House throughout the trial.

While not illegal, the planned coordination “certainly runs contrary to the tradition that the Senate has tried to uphold of at least appearing to represent a thoughtful deliberative, natural decision,” Bowman said.

It also puts Roberts on the spot, said Jeffrey Tulis, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin who has written about impeachment.

Paradoxically, however, the trial may enable the chief justice to burnish his court’s image as an apolitical institution, Tulis said.

“It will reconfirm the view that that guy is a justice, he’s not a politician,” he said.


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Chinese National Arrested for Illegally Entering Mar-a-Lago

A Chinese national trespassed at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club Wednesday and was arrested when she refused to leave, police said, the second time this year a woman from that country has been charged with illicitly entering the Florida resort.

Jing Lu, 56, was confronted by the private club’s security officers and told to leave, but she returned to take photos, Palm Beach police spokesman Michael Ogrodnick said in an email. Palm Beach officers were called and arrested her. It was determined she had an expired visa, Ogrodnick said.

Lu was charged with loitering and prowling and was being held late Wednesday at the Palm Beach County jail.

The president and his family were not at the club — he held a rally in Michigan on Wednesday as the U.S. House voted to impeach him. The Trumps are expected to arrive at Mar-a-Lago by the weekend and spend the holidays there.

Lu’s arrest is reminiscent of the March arrest of Yujing Zhang, a 33-year-old Shanghai businesswoman, who gained access to Mar-a-Lago while carrying a laptop, phones and other electronic gear. That led to initial speculation that she might be a spy, but she was never charged with espionage and text messages she exchanged with a trip organizer indicated she was a fan of the president and wanted to meet him or his family to discuss possible deals.

Zhang was found guilty in September of trespassing and lying to Secret Service agents and was sentenced last month to time served. She is being held for deportation.

In another Mar-a-Lago trespassing case, a University of Wisconsin student was arrested in November 2018 after he mixed in with guests being admitted to the club. He pleaded guilty in May and received probation.

In both of those cases, Trump and his family were staying at the resort, but none were ever threatened.

With the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway to the west, Mar-a-Lago sits on the Palm Beach barrier island, a 128-room, 62,500-square-foot (5,8000-square-meter) symbol of opulence and power. The Trump family business doubled the initiation fee to $200,000 after the president was elected in 2016. He spends many weekends between November and April there, mingling with the club’s 500 members, who pay $14,000 in annual dues to belong.

Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago from the foundation of the late socialite and cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1985. He and first lady Melania Trump held their 2005 wedding reception inside the 20,000-square-foot (1,860-square-meter) ballroom shortly after its completion.

Federal agencies spent about $3.4 million per Trump visit, much of it on security, according to an analysis of four 2017 trips by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The Secret Service doesn’t decide who is invited or welcome at the resort; that responsibility belongs to the club. Agents do screen guests outside the perimeter before they’re screened again inside.

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Trump Third Impeached US President

The Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump Wednesday. Lawmakers passed charges he abused the power of the presidency to benefit himself politically by a 230-197 vote, with one present. Charges Trump obstructed Congress’ efforts to investigate him also passed by a 229-198 vote, with one present. The historic vote fell almost entirely along party lines, sending the case for removing Trump from office to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. VOA’s Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill

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After Vote, Pelosi Stokes Impeachment Trial Uncertainty

Minutes after the House impeached President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw uncertainty into the process by refusing to say, repeatedly, when or whether she would send two articles to the Senate for a trial.

Her comments came as a surprise in a news conference late Wednesday that was intended to express Democrats’ somber closing message after voting to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. She started by praising her fellow Democrats for having “moral courage” and said it was “a great day for the Constitution of the United States of America.”

But then she declined to say when she would send the articles to the Republican-led Senate. Until the articles are submitted, the Senate cannot hold the trial that is nearly certain to acquit the president.

Pelosi said House Democrats could not name impeachment managers — House prosecutors who make the case for Trump’s conviction and removal from office — until they know more about how the Senate will conduct a trial.

“’We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi said. “And I would hope that that will be soon. … So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us. So hopefully it will be fair. And when we see what that is, we’ll send our managers.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., rejected a proposal earlier this week from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to call several witnesses. McConnell also said that he is coordinating with the White House and declared that “I am not an impartial juror.”

Pelosi said that McConnell “says it’s OK for the foreman of the jury to be in cahoots with the lawyers of the accused. That doesn’t sound right to us.”

Schumer and Pelosi are set to meet Thursday morning, according to a person familiar with the planning who was not authorized to discuss the private meeting.

Asked again if she could guarantee that she would send the articles to the Senate, Pelosi said at the news conference: “That would have been our intention.” But they will see what the Senate decides, she said.

“We are not having that discussion. We have done what we set out to do,” Pelosi said.

An aide to McConnell said he did not have an immediate comment on Pelosi’s remarks. But he tweeted that McConnell would speak about “House Democrats’ precedent-breaking impeachment of the President of the United States” on Thursday morning.

Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, said after her remarks that Democrats want impeachment proceedings that are “judicious and responsible and deliberative.”

He said that while Senate will decide its own procedures, “the speaker’s only point is before she sends it over she needs to understand what that is” because it will influence who the impeachment managers are.

Asked about never sending the articles over, Cicilline said, “I would not speculate that anyone’s even contemplating that.”

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UN Says Cost-Sharing Key to World Refugee Crisis

A year after the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted the Global Refugee Compact to deal with the world refugees crisis, world leaders gathered in Geneva to weigh the progress made, and pledged more than $3 billion to support refugees and about 50,000 resettlement communities.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the Global Forum on Refugees divvied up the responsibility for dealing with the 25.9 million refugees who have fled war and persecution, mainly exiled in poor neighboring countries.

In addition to the $3 billion, Grandi said Germany, which has hosted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, pledged about $1.9 billion. The Inter-American Development Bank pledged $1 billion to communities hosting refugees in Latin America. The World Bank also increased its funding for projects supporting refugees by 10%, to $2.2 billion.

At the end of 2018, nearly 71 million people were living in forced displacement due to war, violence and persecution, including the nearly 26 million who had fled to other countries as refugees.

The meeting this week in Geneva stressed the need to share the economic and societal burden of nearly 80% of the world’s refugees living in poor and developing countries.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country hosts a large amount of the world’s refugees, criticized wealthy nations for setting “tiny” refugee quotas and for not providing adequate financial support to Ankara.

Turkey hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, about 3.7 million, following by Pakistan, with 1.4 million registered refugees.

“We cannot go into a world in which responsibility-sharing means some states keep all the refugees and some states pay all the money. We cannot do that, that is why we have resettlement, why we have different types of partnerships,” Grandi said Wednesday at the close of the two-day meeting.

Rising tide of refugees

The number of people fleeing their homeland has been surging. According to a new report by the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of global migrants has increased from 150 million, to 272 million, in the past 20 years.

Contributing to these burgeoning numbers are the reasons why large numbers of people are being forced out of their homes, Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, said.

“People are being forced out for reasons — whether it’s gangs, whether it’s civil war, whether it’s a state collapse, whether it’s environmental degradation — things that a normal person would decide to flee from,” Selee said.

Along with the challenge of dealing with accommodating large amounts of refugees is the issue of who to let in. Countries are facing the question of who is a refugee and who isn’t. Some cases are clear cut, such as Turkey with the Syrians who are fleeing a brutal civil war; or Colombia with the Venezuelans fleeing their country’s revolution and subsequent economic meltdown.

But there are other cases, such as in Europe and the United States at the southern border with Mexico, in which they are trying to figure out who should be returned to their home country, and who actually has a legitimate claim for asylum or refugee protection.

“And, so some people say, OK, we’ll call all these people refugees. Then people say, let’s not expand the definition but at least accept that these people are forced migrants that aren’t leaving by choice,” Selee said. “They’re leaving because something has pushed them out. And there’s a recognition that we need to offer some protection to those people, whether or not we call them refugees.”

Mass migration

Another challenge facing host countries is the issue of mass flows of migrants, and the perception of migrants’ impact on communities.

Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution said when you think of a refugee crisis today, you think about a huge inflow of people that come to a country in a very short period of time.

Bahar said economists who have been researching the effect of migration have found the perception people had — about how massive inflows of migrants and refugees have negative impacts on the local labor markets — is not really backed by research.

“When refugees are allowed to work, that helps a country that is receiving them to become more productive, to grow etc. When the country has the ability to integrate these refugees by allowing them to be part of society, take part in the public sector, health system and education systems, that is of course positive for everybody,” Behar said.

Lebanon has anestimated population is 5.9 million, with nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees. This makes it the country with the highest number of refugees per capita – with one refugee for every four nationals, according to the UN.

These numbers have placed an enormous strain on the country’s already fragile economy, society and politics.

“So in the case of Turkey and Lebanon receiving a lot of Syrian refugees, or in the case of Colombia receiving a lot of Venezuelan refugees, or Ethiopia receiving Eritrean and Sudanese refugees — these are countries that, to begin with, are lagging behind in terms of their infrastructure,”  Behar said.

He said that is why international financing is so important, not only for humanitarian reasons to help people, but to get the services they need by sending financial aid to allow host countries to invest in infrastructure and capital, so that they can integrate these refugees.

All in all, more than 770 pledges were made at this week’s forum for financial support as well as improving refugee access to employment, education, electricity, infrastructure and promises of more resettlement spots for the most vulnerable.

Katherine Ahn and VOA Persian contributed to this report

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Britain Poised to Tackle Google, Facebook’s Online Ads Dominance

Britain’s competition regulator said there was a strong argument for tougher regulation of Google and Facebook to curb any negative consequences stemming from their domination of online advertising.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Google accounted for more than 90% of all revenue earned for search advertising in the UK in 2018, with revenue of about 6 billion pounds, and Facebook accounted for almost half of all display advertising in the same year.

It said ‘big’ was not necessarily ‘bad’ and the platforms had brought innovative and valuable products and services to the market, but it was concerned their position may have negative consequences for the people and businesses who used their services every day.

It was also concerned that people did not feel in control of their data when they were on the platforms.

“Most of us visit social media sites and search on the internet every day, but how these firms work can be a mystery,” CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said.

“Digital advertising fuels big businesses like Google and Facebook and we have been building a picture of how this complex new market works.”

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Russia’s Top Military Officer Airs Concern About NATO Drills

NATO exercises near the border with Russia reflect the alliance’s preparations for a large-scale military conflict, Russia’s chief military officer said in remarks published Wednesday.

The chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, said at Tuesday’s meeting with foreign military attaches that NATO’s activities have heightened tensions and reduced security along the Russian border.

Asked if the Russian military sees a potential threat of war, Gerasimov said that Moscow doesn’t see “any preconditions for a large-scale war.”

He added, however, that Western pressure on Russia could trigger “crisis situations” that may spin out of control and provoke a military conflict.

Russia-West ties have sunk to their lowest levels since Cold War times following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. The Kremlin has repeatedly voiced concern over the deployment of NATO forces in the Baltics and the alliance’s maneuvers near Russia’s western border.

Gerasimov charged that the scenarios of the alliance’s drills in eastern Europe “point at NATO’s deliberate preparation for its troops’ involvement in a large-scale military conflict.”

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India Rejects Final Death Sentence Appeal in 2012 Gang Rape

India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the final appeal of one of the four men sentenced to death for the 2012 fatal gang rape of a woman on a moving bus in New Delhi, paving the way for the four to be hanged.

The gruesome case made international headlines and exposed the scope of sexual violence against women in India, prompting lawmakers to stiffen penalties in rape cases.

The victim, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student whom Indian media dubbed “Nirbhaya,” or “Fearless,” because Indian law prohibits rape victims from being identified, was heading home with a male friend from a movie theater when six men lured them onto a bus. With no one else in sight, they beat the man with a metal bar, raped the woman and used the bar to inflict massive internal injuries to her. The pair were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died two weeks later.

The assailants were tried relatively quickly in a country where sexual assault cases often languish for years. Four defendants were sentenced to death. Another hanged himself in prison before his trial began, though his family insists he was killed. The sixth assailant was a minor at the time of the attack and was sentenced to three years in a reform home.

One of those sentenced to death, Akshay Kumar Singh, filed his review petition earlier this month after the other three had theirs rejected.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Singh’s appeal. India’s president can still decide to grant him mercy, but that is not expected to happen.

Activists say new sentencing requirements haven’t deterred rape, the fourth-most common crime against women in India, according to government statistics.

The last hanging in India was in 2013.

The Supreme Court’s ruling comes amid a revived debate over sexual violence in India after several headline-grabbing cases in recent weeks. A woman in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was doused with gasoline and set on fire by five men, including two she had accused of gang rape and who were out on bail, on her way to attend a court hearing in her case. She died earlier this month at a hospital in New Delhi.

The burned body of a 27-year-old veterinarian was found in late November near the city of Hyderabad in southern India. Police later fatally shot four men being held on suspicion of raping and killing the woman after investigators took them to the crime scene, drawing praise from people frustrated by the pace of the 2012 case and condemnation from those who said it undermined the courts’ role.




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Shipping Industry Proposes Fund to Tackle Carbon Emissions

A global shipping industry organization is proposing a research and development program to help cut carbon dioxide emissions, funded by about $5 billion from shipping companies over a decade.

The International Chamber of Shipping said Wednesday that it is proposing creating a nongovernmental organization to be known as the International Maritime Research and Development Board.

It would be overseen by member countries of the U.N. maritime agency and financed by shipping companies through a mandatory contribution of $2 per metric ton of marine fuel.

Environmental activists say that while shipping contributes only about 2% of global greenhouse gases, the industry’s efforts are essential to combating climate change.

Last year, members of the U.N. agency, the International Maritime Organization, reached an agreement to cut the shipping industry’s emissions.

The strategy envisions cutting total annual emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared with 2008. It foresees “pursuing efforts toward phasing them out entirely.”

The International Chamber of Shipping said that the proposed $5 billion “is critical to accelerate the R&D effort required to decarbonize the shipping sector” and to spur the development of commercially viable zero-carbon ships by the early 2030s. It added that “additional stakeholders’ participation is welcomed.”

The group said that governments will discuss the shipping industry’s proposal when the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meets in London in March.




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