Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 31, 2021

Trump's impeachment defense team steps down, Russians return to the streets in support of Navalny, thousands arrested, and more


Trump's impeachment defense team steps down

Five attorneys who were prepared to defend former President Donald Trump in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial have departed his legal team, people familiar with the situation confirmed to CNN and The New York Times. Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, who were expected to be two of the lead attorneys, are out, as are Josh Howard, Johnny Gasser, and Greg Harris. No other attorneys have announced they were involved with the case, so it appears that, for now, Trump is defenseless. The lawyers reportedly left because of a disagreement over legal strategy. Trump reportedly wanted them to push his unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in last year's presidential election rather than focus on whether convicting a former president after he's out of office is constitutional. Bowers, a source said, lacked chemistry with Trump and the decision to leave was reportedly mutual.


Russians return to the streets in support of Navalny, thousands arrested

Thousands of supporters of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny once again took to the streets across Russia on Sunday in hopes of pressuring Russian President Vladimir Putin into freeing the opposition leader, who was detained after returning to Moscow earlier this month from Berlin where he spent months recovering from a poisoning, believed to have been carried about Moscow's FSB spy agency. Demonstrators came out in large numbers last weekend, and thousands of people were arrested, but the threat of detention and frigid weather didn't prevent the protesters from gathering again. Per BBC, more than 3,000 people have been arrested on Sunday, including Navalny's wife, Yulia Nalvanaya, who was also detained last week. The rallies are considered anti-Putin, but it appears the goal is to signal to the Kremlin that Navalny has a legitimate movement behind him, rather than regime change.


Racial disparities seen in vaccine distribution, AP analysis finds

Black Americans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at rates below their share of the general population, an Associated Press analysis reveals. AP reviewed vaccine distribution data broken down by race from 17 states, as well as Philadelphia and Chicago. In Maryland, Black people make up 30 percent of the population (and 40 percent of people working in the state's health care industry), but account for only 16 percent of those vaccinated. The numbers are very similar in Chicago, where Black people make up 30 percent of the population, but only represent 15 percent of those who have been inoculated. In North Carolina, the numbers are 22 percent and 11 percent, respectively. And in Philadelphia, the city's Black residents account for 40 percent of the population, but just 14 percent of vaccine recipients. Per AP, experts believe distrust in the medical establishment, inadequate access to the vaccine in Black neighborhoods, and states' relying too heavily on the internet for sign-ups, are factors in the disparities.


10 GOP senators to propose alternative relief package, hope to meet with Biden

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) led a group of 10 Republican senators — including fellow moderates Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — that on Sunday announced plans to release the details of a COVID-19 relief package they believe could serve as a bipartisan alternative to President Biden's $1.9 trillion plan, which the GOP has deemed too expensive. The Republicans want to meet with Biden to discuss their counterproposal. "We want to work in good faith with you and your administration to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges" of the COVID-19 pandemic, they wrote in a letter. Whether Democrats will be open to the idea remains to be seen, but, as The Washington Post notes, the fact that 10 Republicans are on board with the plan is significant. If the two sides do reach a consensus that would give the Senate the 60 votes required to pass legislation.


U.K. launches special visa scheme for Hong Kong residents

The United Kingdom on Sunday opened applications for a new visa scheme that provides eligible Hong Kong residents the right to live, work, and study in the country for five years before eventually applying for citizenship. The offer was made in response to China's crackdown on Hong Kong over the last year, and the U.K. says it is fulfilling a moral and historic commitment to Hong Kong, which was formally a British territory. London believes Beijing, by implementing a restrictive national security law, has violated the terms of agreement under which the semi-autonomous city was handed back to China in 1997. The U.K. government expects more than 300,000 people could emigrate from Hong Kong to Britain over the next few years under the scheme.


South Carolina GOP censures Republican congressman over impeachment vote

South Carolina Republicans on Saturday formally censured Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) after he voted to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this month. The censure is a symbolic expression of disapproval, but there's a sense that it could have electoral consequences for Rice going forward. He seems well aware of that fact, telling The Associated Press that his impeachment vote could cost him his seat. "If it does, it does," he said. Rice was previously considered a reliable Trump ally, but he felt Trump's actions, or lack thereof, before, during, and after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot warranted impeachment. Dreama Perdue, the Republican chair in Rice's home county, said her office fielded hundreds of calls from constituents who are "just very, very upset" by Rice's vote.


NATO not planning full withdrawal from Afghanistan by May

"There will be no full withdrawal" of international troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, four senior NATO officials told Reuters. That means forces will remain in the country beyond the May deadline set in the Taliban's deal with the United States last year. "Conditions have not been met," one of the officials told Reuters. The official also noted that the agreement was reached during the Trump administration, and "tweaks in the policy" under the Biden administration could lead to "a much more calculated exit strategy." A change could potentially escalate already-high tensions in Afghanistan, as the Taliban has suggested "there will be consequences" if the agreement "is not implemented."


Anti-vaccine protesters temporarily block Dodger Stadium vaccination center

The Los Angeles Fire Department on Saturday was forced to temporarily shut the gates of the vaccination center at Dodger Stadium, one of the largest COVID-19 vaccination sites in the country because anti-vaccination demonstrators were blocking the entrance. The protest reportedly consisted of only around 50 people and was considered peaceful, with no arrests made, but it did stall hundreds of people who had been waiting in line for hours for their shot. Ultimately, the total number of shots given Saturday was not affected, LAFD spokesman David Ortiz told The Washington Post. The protesters reportedly carried signs calling the pandemic that has killed more than 438,000 Americans a "scam" and telling people in line the vaccines, which have been found to be safe in large-scale trials, are dangerous.


Pentagon 'pauses' plan to vaccinate Guantanamo Bay detainees

The Pentagon is "pausing" its plan to vaccinate Guantanamo Bay detainees against the coronavirus while reviewing "force protection protocols," Defense Department press secretary John Kirby tweeted Saturday. Kirby clarified that none of the 40 inmates, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks), at the detention site near Cuba have been inoculated. A lack of vaccinations has reportedly made it difficult for federal prosecutors to move forward with war crimes hearings at the base, and it appears those delays may continue. Several Republican lawmakers complained about the order Friday, accusing the Biden administration of prioritizing the detainees over Americans who are still waiting for their shots.


Rams reportedly to acquire QB Stafford in blockbuster deal

The Los Angeles Rams have agreed to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions in a blockbuster deal, sources told ESPN. While the details are reportedly locked in place, the trade cannot become official until March 17 when the new NFL year formally begins. Detroit will reportedly receive quarterback Jared Goff, a former no. 1 overall pick who helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2019, as well as a third-round pick in 2021, and a first round pick in both 2022 and 2023. Stafford, like Goff, is a former no. 1 overall pick, who has enjoyed a solid career in Detroit since he arrived there in 2009, but he and the franchise reportedly came to the mutual decision that it was time for Stafford to move on. Stafford led the Lions to a few playoff appearances, but they were never able to achieve sustained success.


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