10 things you need to know today: December 26, 2019

Harold Maass

1.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was "disturbed" to hear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say he would work in "total coordination" with White House lawyers on President Trump's impeachment trial. "There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can," McConnell told Fox News earlier this month. Murkowski told Anchorage TV station KTUU that Republicans should not work "hand in glove with the defense." Murkowski's statement marked a rare sign of disagreement in the GOP, which has been unified in its defense of Trump against House Democrats' charges that Trump abused his office and obstructed the House impeachment inquiry. [USA Today, The New York Times]

2.

Hong Kong anti-government demonstrators protested at shopping centers on Wednesday, forcing one mall to shut down early. Hundreds of black-clad protesters marched through the malls, chanting "Liberate Hong Kong!" and other slogans. Police dispersed a crowd at one of the Christmas Day protests by firing tear gas. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful for weeks, but violent clashes have become more frequent since pro-democracy candidates dominated recent district council elections. "Confrontation is expected, it doesn't matter if it's Christmas," said one protester, who identified himself only by his last name, Chan. "I'm disappointed the government still didn't respond to any of our... demands. We continue to come out even if we don't have much hope." [Reuters]

3.

President Trump criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a pair of Christmas-night tweets, saying the Democrats' "Scam Impeachment" process against him was "very unfair." The two articles of impeachment accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democrats, and trying to obstruct the congressional investigation. "Why should Crazy Nancy Pelosi, just because she has a slight majority in the House, be allowed to Impeach the President of the United States?" wrote Trump during his holiday stay at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. "Got ZERO Republican votes, there was no crime, the call with Ukraine was perfect, with 'no pressure.'" Pelosi is delaying sending the impeachment case to the Senate until leaders there establish rules for the trial. [The Hill]

4.

Pope Francis made a Christmas Day appeal for peace in a host of global hot spots, including the Middle East, Venezuela, and several African nations. "May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world," Francis told tens of thousands of people listening to his annual Christmas message in St. Peter's Square. He also prayed for migrants, many of them fleeing armed conflicts. "It is injustice that forces them to endure unspeakable forms of abuse, enslavement of every kind, and torture in inhumane detention camps," the pope said. "It is injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference." [CBS News]

5.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a challenge for leadership of his conservative Likud party on Thursday. Long-term rival Gideon Saar is opposing Netanyahu in internal party elections. Netanyahu now faces trial on bribery and corruption charges, and Saar says the longtime leader won't be able to lead Likud to victory in March elections because he failed to win enough seats to form a government in two elections since April. Netanyahu is expected to hold on to the leadership position he has held for 14 years. In a moment of drama on Wednesday night, Netanyahu was rushed off stage at a campaign rally in the southern city of Ashkelon after an air raid siren sounded due to rocket fire from Gaza. [BBC News, CNN]

6.

President Trump told reporters that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be getting together soon to sign the "phase one" agreement to ease the U.S.-China trade war. "We will be having a signing ceremony, yes," Trump said. "We will ultimately, yes, when we get together. And we'll be having a quicker signing because we want to get it done. The deal is done, it's just being translated right now." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that negotiators from the world's two largest economies are talking to finalize the agreement they reached this month. "Both sides' economic and trade teams are in close communication about detailed arrangements for the deal's signing and other follow-up work," Geng said. [Reuters]

7.

The rector of Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral said Wednesday that the famous church remains so fragile after a devastating fire that there is still just a 50 percent chance it can be saved. Notre Dame, which dates back more than 800 years, did not host Christmas services this year for the first time in more than two centuries. Its roof and iconic spire collapsed in the April fire, and the government immediately pledged to rebuild. More than $1 billion in donations quickly poured in, but the restoration can't begin until work is done to save the structure. "Today it is not out of danger," Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said. "It will be out of danger when we take out the remaining scaffolding." [USA Today]

8.

Taliban insurgents abducted 26 peace activists after ambushing their convoy in Afghanistan's western Farah province, police said Wednesday. Taliban members stopped the six-vehicle People's Peace Movement of Afghanistan convoy, then took control of the vehicles and drove away, provincial police spokesman Mohibullah Mohib said. Police are conducting a village-to-village search for the activists. Local tribal elders are trying to negotiate the activists' release, said Bismillah Watandost of the People's Peace Movement of Afghanistan. Phone lines are down in the area of the assault, so communication is difficult. The Taliban currently control approximately half the country and are stronger than any other time since the 2001 U.S.-invasion. [The Associated Press]

9.

Holiday sales rose this year despite a short holiday season, according to a Mastercard report released Wednesday. Record online sales, up 19 percent from last year, helped lift the total. Aggressive discounts also helped. "E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online," said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard. "Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers' demand for the best deals across all channels and devices." The holiday shopping season, which can account for 40 percent of annual sales, runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This year it was six days shorter than last year, because Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 28 in 2019 and Nov. 22 in 2018. [Reuters]

10.

The State Department is recalling the U.S. ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Foote, after the country's president objected to his criticism of the government's record on gay rights. Foote made a Dec. 2 statement protesting the sentencing of two men to 15 years in jail for their gay relationship, and slamming Zambians who had compared homosexuality to bestiality. Foote, a career foreign service member, also had spoken out against corruption. Zambian President Edgar Lungu called Foote's remarks "disrespectful," and wrote to Washington requesting Foote's withdrawal, according to state-owned media in the conservative Christian nation. "We have complained officially to the American government," Lungu said in a Dec. 15 speech. A State Department spokesperson said Washington was "dismayed" that Zambia had essentially declared Foote to be "Persona Non Grata." [CNN]

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