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Democratic lawmaker from New Jersey reportedly plans to become Republican

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Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a freshman member of the House from New Jersey who was planning to break with his party and vote against impeaching President Donald Trump, will become a Republican, a party official said Saturday.

Van Drew has told top House Republicans about his decision, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversations. The lawmaker also discussed switching parties in a meeting with Trump at the White House on Friday, an administration official said Saturday.

Van Drew’s decision underscores the pressures facing moderate Democrats from Trump-leaning districts as next week’s impeachment vote approaches. Van Drew won his southern New Jersey district by eight percentage points last year, but Trump carried it by five points in 2016 and Van Drew was considered one of the more vulnerable House Democrats going into next November’s congressional elections.

There are 31 House Democrats who represent districts Trump carried in the 2016 election, and many of them have been nervous about the political repercussions they would face by voting to impeach Trump. The House Republican campaign committee has already run ads targeting many of them, but most are expected to support Trump’s impeachment.

A senior Democratic aide said Van Drew had not notified House Democratic leaders about his decision. All the aides spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

The senior Democratic aide provided what was described as a poll conducted earlier this month by Van Drew’s campaign showing that by more than a 2-1 margin, people in his district would prefer a different candidate than Van Drew in the Democratic primary and general election.

Rumours surfaced last week that Van Drew might switch parties, and he repeatedly denied them to reporters. But he reaffirmed his plan to oppose impeachment, barring new evidence.

“It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything the president may have said or done. It means that I don’t believe that these are impeachable offences,” he said in an interview Thursday.

Van Drew and a spokesperson did not answer their cellphones or return text messages on Saturday.

Democrat-controlled House set to impeach Trump

Even with his defection, there remains no doubt that the Democratic-controlled House will vote to impeach Trump on a near party-line vote.

Democrats will still control the chamber by 232-198, plus an independent and four vacancies. Until now, Van Drew and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota were the only Democrats expected to vote against impeachment, with perhaps a small handful of others joining them. House Republicans seem on track to oppose impeachment unanimously.

Van Drew was a longtime state senator. His congressional district had been under Republican control for nearly two decades before he was elected.

The House is set to approve two articles of impeachment against Trump this coming week. Democrats, who hold the majority, expect support from all but a few of their members. No Republicans are expected to join them.

The Republican-controlled Senate is then all but certain to acquit Trump after a trial in January.

Van Drew has argued that the process is likely just to further divide the country and it would be better to let voters decide Trump’s fate in next year’s election.

In the first article of impeachment, Trump is accused of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden while holding military aid as leverage. In the second article, he’s accused of obstructing Congress by blocking the House’s efforts to investigate his actions.



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Coronavirus in China: What is the mystery illness sweeping through the country?

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The city of Wuhan, China, is racing to contain the potential spread of a deadly new strain of virus that has infected more than 200 people. Over the weekend, the number of cases of the “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV” quadrupled — and on Monday, a Chinese scientist confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission of the illness. 

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus outside Asia, but officials have been screening airport passengers to prevent the virus from spreading to the U.S. Here’s what you need to know:

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that can cause illnesses as minor as a cold, or as serious as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization. They often present with pneumonia-like symptoms.

The viruses are transmitted from animals to humans — the virus that causes SARS, for example, was transmitted to humans from a cat-like animal called a civet. But in some instances, as appears to be the case with this new strain of coronavirus, they can also be transmitted between humans. 

The World Health Organization said there are multiple known coronaviruses circulating in animals that have not yet been transmitted to humans.

How did the new strain start?

The outbreak began in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. Many of the patients have reportedly been linked to Hua Nan Seafood Wholesale Market, a large seafood and animal market in the city, according to CBS News’ Ramy Inocencio. But a rising number of people have apparently contracted the virus without exposure to the market, according to Chinese officials.

outbreak-coronavirus-wuhan-china.png
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is closely monitoring an outbreak caused by a novel (new) coronavirus first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.

CDC


How many people have died?

At least four people have died from the illness, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. 

The first patient, a 61-year-old man, died January 9. Two more patients died January 15 and January 18. 

The Commission announced the fourth patient’s death Monday, writing that an 89-year-old man died January 19 after he was admitted to the hospital with severe breathing difficulties a day earlier.

The Commission added that 169 patients are being treated in the local hospital. Thirty-five of those patients are in severe condition, and nine are in critical condition. 

Where is it?

While the virus originated in China, cases have also been reported in Thailand, Japan and South Korea, according to the CDC. 

How is it transmitted?

It’s well-established that coronaviruses spread from animals to humans, according to the World Health Organization. But on Monday, a Chinese official confirmed there have been cases in which the virus has also spread from human to human. 

State-run CCTM quoted Zhong Nanshan, a scientist at the China’s National Health Commission, as saying such transmission was “affirmative.” The scientist did not say how many cases were the result of human-to-human transmission  — but in one case, a hospital patient is said to have infected 14 medical workers, according to Inocencio.

What’s being done to stop the spread? 

The World Health Organization announced Monday that it will convene an Emergency Committee on the virus on January 22 in Geneva, Switzerland, to determine if the outbreak is a public health emergency.

Meanwhile, the CDC has deployed about 100 workers total to screen passengers at the three major ports of airline entry in the U.S.: New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Approximately 5,000 passengers from Wuhan are expected to pass through those airports in the coming weeks. 

The CDC also said it has developed a test to diagnose the virus. Currently, that test must be administered at the CDC — but the organization is working to share the test with domestic and international partners.

In Hong Kong, which was ravaged by SARS in 2002 and 2003, hospitals upped their alert level to “serious” and implemented temperature checkpoints for inbound travelers.

In China, airline workers are running temperature checks on flights leaving Wuhan. But there could be a problem: Hundreds of millions of people are moving through China to celebrate the Chinese New Year, stoking fears that the virus could spread even faster.

U.S. begins airport screenings as coronavirus spreads in China

Ramy Inocencio and Grace Qi contributed to this report. 





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Fears of China’s Coronavirus Prompt Australia to Screen Flights

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HONG KONG — Australian officials said Tuesday that the country would begin screening passengers on flights from Wuhan, the Chinese city where a new coronavirus has infected more than 200 people and killed at least four, as global concern has grown about the spread of the disease.

Adding to worries about the outbreak was confirmation by a prominent Chinese scientist on Monday night that the disease is capable of spreading from person to person. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a scientist leading a group of experts in examining the outbreak in Wuhan, said the virus could be present in particles of saliva and that in one case, a patient appeared to have infected 14 medical workers.

The number of reported cases in China more than tripled earlier this week as the authorities expanded testing across the country. Most of the cases were found in Wuhan, where the disease was first reported last month. Major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen have also reported cases of infections.

Infections have been confirmed abroad in Japan, South Korea and Thailand, all in people who traveled from Wuhan. The World Health Organization said it would hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak was an international public health emergency.

“It is now very clear from the latest information that there is at least some human-to-human transmission,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the Western Pacific regional director for the World Health Organization.

Dr. Kasai said that the infections among health care workers added to the evidence that the virus was spreading between humans, but more analysis of the data was necessary to understand the full extent of such transmission.

On Monday, China’s health commission said it would respond with measures intended to manage outbreaks of the most virulent diseases, including mandatory reporting of cases, and classified the virus as a class B infectious disease — a category that includes diseases such as SARS.

The authorities in Wuhan will begin barring group tours from traveling outside of the city and carry out checks of vehicles to search for live animals, state media reported on Monday. The city has also installed infrared thermometers at airports, and bus and train stations.

In Hong Kong, the authorities have reported more than 100 potential infections. So far, none have tested positive for the new coronavirus, and most have been discharged. But the possibility of the illness emerging in the territory remained, Matthew Cheung, the city’s second-highest official, said Tuesday.

High-speed rail passengers will have their temperatures checked on arrival in Hong Kong. Air passengers from Wuhan will be required to declare their health status, and people suspected of having an infection will be “forcibly transferred to public hospital to be treated in isolation,” Mr. Cheung said.

Elaine Yu in Hong Kong and Javier C. Hernández in Wuhan, China, contributed reporting.



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The Day – Protests or not, politics and Olympics are intertwined

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More than a half-century later, Tommie Smith and John Carlos are cemented into Olympic lore — their names enshrined in the Olympic Hall of Fame in the United States, their portrait an indelible fixture on the universal sports landscape.

As for that raised-fist salute that transformed them into Olympic icons, while also symbolizing the power athletes possess for the short time they’re on their biggest stage — it’s still forbidden.

Such was the warning this month in the announcement by the IOC, whose athletes’ commission banned kneeling and hand gestures during medals ceremonies and competiton. It’s all part of an attempt to tamp down political demonstrations at this summer’s Tokyo Games.

“The eyes of the world will be on the athletes and the Olympic Games,” IOC President Thomas Bach said, in delivering an impassioned defense of the rules.

IOC athlete’s rep Kirsty Coventry portrayed the guidance as a way to provide some clarity on an issue that has confounded both athletes and authorities for decades.

The issue, always bubbling, surfaced last year when two U.S. athletes — Gwen Berry and Race Imboden — used medal ceremonies to make political statements at the Pan American Games. Those gestures brought a strong rebuke from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic committees, but the groups still appear confused and conflicted about the entire matter. (The USOPC didn’t welcome Smith and Carlos to an officially sanctioned event until 2016. )

The IOC got its athletes’’ commission, which has often contradicted key athlete movements in other Olympic areas, to get out front on the issue and offer its advice. It was essentially no different from what the IOC itself has been touting for years. Not surprisingly, some view it as an out-of-touch, retrograde attempt to stifle an increasingly outspoken generation of athletes.

The mushrooming of live TV, to say nothing of the outlets now available on social media, has empowered athletes — the best examples from recent years would be Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe, but there are dozens more — to use sports to send a message.

Rapinoe’s reaction to the IOC announcement: “We will not be silenced.” As much as her play, Rapinoe’s outspoken fight for equal pay for the U.S. women’s soccer team underscored the American victory in the World Cup last year and made her, in the minds of many, the most influential athlete of 2019.

“So much for being done about the protests,” Rapinoe wrote on Instagram last weekend. “So little being done about what we are protesting about.”

The athletes’ commission said disciplinary action would be taken “on a case-by-case basis as necessary” and listed the IOC, the sports federations and the athletes’ national governing bodies as those who will have authority to make the call. It made no mention of what the sanctions could be. In that respect, it added confusion, and might have served to emphasize the power disparity between the athletes, who are the show, and the agencies who run this multibillion-dollar enterprise and, for all intents and purposes, control the invitation list.

Among the other questions not answered in the guidance document:

Who, exactly, will adjudicate the individual cases and how will cases be adjudicated?

Who, exactly, will have ultimate responsibility for implementing sanctions?

While those questions went unanswered, the document did include the reminder that “it is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.”

That concept, however, runs counter to long thread of Olympics-as-politics storylines that have dominated the movement since it was founded in 1896.

A truncated list includes:

—Hitler’s hosting of the 1936 Games (winter and summer) in Nazi Germany.

—IOC President Avery Brundage’s ham-handed handling of South Africa’s status in the Olympics during apartheid.

—The 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes during the Munich Games.

—The U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, followed by the Soviet Union’s boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

—The IOC’s awarding of the 2008 Olympics to Beijing, in part compelled by promises to shine a light on the country’s attempt to improve human rights.

More recently, Bach has found the committee a permanent place at the United Nations, used the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea to strive for better relations between the Koreas and spent ample time negotiating deals with leaders who have been kind enough to spend billions to stage the Olympics.

Though the IOC would argue that there are still places to make political statements in the Olympic space — news conferences and social media among them — it does not condone them on the field of play or the medals stand. It made all the more striking the picture the IOC tweeted out last Monday: Bach posing on a mountain with athletes in uniform from the United States and Iran at the Youth Olympic Games — a political statement during a time of strife that is designed to forward the long-held IOC-driven credo that the Olympics promote peace.

Peace itself is dependent on politics, and the people who run the Olympics are well connected to that world.

No fewer than nine members of IOC itself are princes, princesses, dukes or sheiks — and that list doesn’t include the multitude of government officials involved in organizations that branch out of the IOC. For instance, half the World Anti-Doping Agency’s board comes from governments across the globe.

Bach has singled out political concerns as a major divider in the Russian doping scandal that has embroiled the Olympics the past five years — implying it’s as much an East vs. West issue as one based on decisions that stem from painstakingly accumulated evidence.

The latest move comes in the run-up to what figures to be a divisive election year in the United States, the country that sends the largest contingent to the Olympics, wins the most medals and often lands some of the most outspoken athletes on the podium.

Smith and Carlos were booted from Mexico City after their protest. If history — to say nothing of Rapinoe’s reaction — is any guide, the IOC could be placed in the position to decide whether to make that same sort of statement again.





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