The House voted Wednesday to send two articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate for a trial. The House, controlled by Democrats, approved a slate of seven impeachment managers named by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to present the case, which centers around Trump's alleged effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden (now a leading Democratic presidential candidate) and his son, Hunter. The House also has accused Trump of trying to obstruct its investigation. The impeachment managers will be led by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). The White House is pushing for Trump to be acquitted quickly. One top administration official said the trial shouldn't last more than two weeks. [The Washington Post]
Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday that "President Trump knew exactly what was going on" in a Giuliani-led effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democrats. "He was aware of all my movements," he said. "I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president." Parnas, who was arrested last fall and charged with campaign finance violations, helped set up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials while Giuliani was looking to dig up dirt on a Trump political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Parnas also implicated Attorney General William Barr, Vice President Mike Pence, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Giuliani denied he ever told Ukrainian officials Parnas spoke for Trump. [NBC News]
President Trump signed the "phase one" trade deal with China on Wednesday in what both sides portrayed as a step toward ending the 18-month trade war between the world's two largest economies. China's Vice Premier Liu He traveled to the White House to lead Beijing's delegation at the signing ceremony. Under the agreement, China pledged to buy at least an additional $200 billion in U.S. farm products and other goods and services, including in the energy and manufacturing sectors, over two years. The Trump administration has said it will monitor progress and start talks on the next phase in its push to end what the president has called unfair trade practices by China. "Together we are righting the wrongs of the past," Trump said. [The New York Times, Reuters]
U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte on Wednesday temporarily blocked a Trump administration order that let state and local governments refuse to resettle refugees. The judge, based in Maryland, called the policy "unlawful," and said if the order were put into place, "many refugees may find themselves at least in limbo, denied services congressionally intended to help them effectively integrate into new homes." That, Messitte added, "flies in the face of clear congressional intent." The ruling came a week after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said his state would be the first to reject new refugees. The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which challenged the administration's order in November, said Messitte's decision would ensure the U.S. "remains a place of welcome for the world's most vulnerable." [NBC News]
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced Wednesday that he and his entire government were resigning. The unexpected departure of the cabinet, en masse, came after President Vladimir Putin proposed sweeping constitutional changes that could prolong his hold on power even after his presidency ends. Putin announced his plans in his annual state of the nation address, thanked cabinet members for their work, and said he would be meeting with them individually to discuss next steps. Putin framed the proposed changes as a way to strengthen Russian democracy. Critics said the moves were just a way to maintain control after the end of what should be his final term in 2024. Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Putin prime minister, said Putin essentially is saying, "I will remain president forever." [CNN, The New York Times]
Both houses of Virginia's General Assembly on Wednesday approved resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The chambers are expected to approve each other's resolutions within a week, which would make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the ERA, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing equal rights regardless of sex. That would push the amendment to the required three-quarters of the states needed to ratify it, but many consider the achievement symbolic, because the deadline passed in 1982 when only 35 states had signed on. Advocates argue that Congress can and should change the deadline. "There's no time limit on equal rights," Virginia state Sen. Mamie Locke (D) said. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]
The U.S. Virgin Islands government on Wednesday sued Jeffrey Epstein's estate, demanding the forfeiture of two islands where the late financier allegedly "facilitated ... the sexual molestation and exploitation of numerous girls." The U.S. Caribbean territory said Epstein, who was found hanging dead in a Manhattan jail cell where he was awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges, abused girls aged 12 to 17 at the secluded island getaways from 2001 through 2018. The lawsuit says the victims were "deceptively lured" to the Virgin Islands after being recruited "with money and promises of employment, career opportunities, and school assistance." There, they allegedly were forced "to recruit others to perform services and engage in sexual acts — a trafficking pyramid scheme." [CNBC]
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday announced a ban on firearms around the state capitol building ahead of a major gun-rights demonstration planned for this weekend. Northam said he wants to avoid violence similar to the deadly clash at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, which left a counterprotester dead. Northam is leading an effort to pass new gun laws now that Democrats have new majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Gun-rights advocates, including militia groups, are planning a Monday "Lobby Day" rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The group hopes that large crowds will turn out openly carrying firearms, as allowed under state law, to show opposition and persuade lawmakers to drop the legislation. [Reuters]
New research from NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration released Wednesday showed that the 2010s were the hottest decade since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, and 2019 was the second-hottest year on record. The research found that 2019 was just a bit cooler than 2016, the hottest year on record (a year that included a strong El Niño). The 2010s as a whole averaged 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit higher worldwide than the average in the 20th century, and the decade saw eight of the 10 hottest years ever recorded. The other two warmest years were 2005 and 1998. NASA notes that this increase has "mostly has been driven by increased emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by human activities." [The New York Times]
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has passed the $1 billion mark in global ticket sales, making it Disney's seventh billion-dollar release of 2019. That boosted what was already a record year in which Disney smashed the record for most films topping $1 billion at the box office in a single year. Disney set the previous record of four in 2016. Before 2019, the most billion-dollar films across all studios in a single year stood at five. The seven 2019 Disney films to cross the threshold were Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, The Lion King, Frozen 2, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Despite the big numbers, the latest Star Wars installment is expected to finish with the lowest worldwide gross of the franchise's sequel trilogy. [CNBC, Polygon]
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