Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 14, 2021

Trump acquitted by Senate in impeachment trial, Trump releases triumphant statement after acquittal, and more


Trump acquitted by Senate in impeachment trial

Former President Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate on Saturday in his second impeachment trial. A majority of senators voted guilty — the final tally was 57-43 — but impeachment trials require a two-thirds majority for conviction. All 50 senators who caucus with the Democrats voted to convict, and they were joined by seven of their Republican colleagues, including Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). The vote capped off a chaotic day, which began with a surprising 55-45 vote in favor of calling witnesses, seemingly extending the proceedings into next week. Ultimately, though, the sides agreed on not bringing anyone in to testify, and the trial finished up on schedule.


Trump releases triumphant statement after acquittal

In a statement released shortly after he was acquitted by the Senate in an impeachment trial for the second time, former President Donald Trump thanked his defense team and the lawmakers who voted not guilty before claiming "this has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country." He added, presumably referring to the Democratic Party, "it is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance." Trump maintained that, in contrast, he has always been a "champion for the unwavering rule of law." Toward the end of the statement, the former president praised his supporters and claimed "our historic, patriotic, and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun."


Biden: Trump's impeachment saga reminder that 'democracy is fragile'

In a Saturday night statement, President Biden addressed former President Donald Trump's earlier acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial. Biden said that while the final vote did not garner the two-thirds majority required for conviction, "the substance of the charge is not in dispute," noting that seven Republicans voted guilty, and even those who voted to acquit Trump, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), believe Trump was responsible for "provoking" the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. "This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile," Biden said. "That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and defeat the lies."


McConnell harshly criticizes Trump after casting not guilty vote

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to acquit former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, while still rebuking his "disgraceful" and "reckless" actions. The Republican leader spoke on the Senate floor on Saturday afternoon shortly after Trump was acquitted on a charge of inciting an insurrection at the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Despite McConnell voting not guilty because he believes impeaching a former president is unconstitutional, the senator again strongly criticized Trump's conduct surrounding the riot. "Former President Trump's actions [that] preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty," McConnell said. "There's no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it."


Myanmar protests continue for 9th straight day

Massive anti-military junta protests continued for the ninth consecutive day across Myanmar on Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in defiance of a new order that allows authorities to carry out searches and make arrests without a court warrant. There are also reports that state railway workers have gone on strike in support of the movement. The demonstrators continued to call for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been detained by the junta, which staged a coup earlier this month. In Yangon, the country's largest city, crowds gathered outside the Chinese and American embassies, where they reportedly accused Beijing of propping up the military and applauded Washington's sanctions against the regime.


Louisiana GOP censures Cassidy over impeachment vote

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict former President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial Saturday, was quickly censured by the Louisiana Republican Party for his decision. The party said its executive committee voted unanimously to censure Cassidy. "We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the vote today by Sen. Cassidy to convict former President Trump," the party said on Twitter. "Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed and President Trump has been acquitted of the impeachment charge filed against him." Cassidy has not responded to the censure, though he did explain his vote, saying the "Constitution and our country" are "more important than any one person, I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty." Cassidy was re-elected last year, and his term won't end until 2026.


National security adviser concerned by WHO's coronavirus origin investigation

In a statement Saturday, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration has "deep concerns about the way in which the early findings" of the investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic "were communicated" by the World Health Organization. A WHO team visited Wuhan, China, last week in the hopes of finding some clues. The investigators didn't pin anything down, but the global health agency felt comfortable saying the virus probably didn't leak from a nearby lab and most likely spread to humans from another species. That has long been the consensus view in the scientific community, but there are international concerns about how tightly Beijing has been controlling the situation. "It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government," Sullivan said.


Earthquake hits Japan off the coast of Fukushima, injuring hundreds

A magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck eastern Japan late Saturday night, its epicenter off the coast of Fukushima, not far from where a previous quake and tsunami occurred in 2011 causing the meltdown of three nuclear reactors. This time, there appears to be no major damage, and Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said no deaths have been reported as of Sunday morning. However, state broadcaster NHK reports more than 100 people have been injured. Nearly a million households across the Fukushima region were without power, roads were closed, and train services have been suspended. Residents are reportedly bracing for aftershocks, but Japan's meteorological service said there was no danger of a tsunami.


New Zealand orders first lockdown in 6 months in Auckland

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ordered Auckland, the country's largest city, to go into lockdown after three new local cases of COVID-19 were detected. All three infections occurred in the same household, and it's unclear how the individuals may have initially contracted the virus. Residents will be required to stay at home for the next three days, except for essential shopping and work, as the government conducts more testing to determine if there was any community transmission. New Zealand has received praise for stifling the virus — since the pandemic began, the South Pacific nation has recorded just over 2,300 cases and 25 deaths while largely eliminated community spread. The lockdown is the first in New Zealand in six months.


White House aide resigns after threatening reporter

Former White House Deputy Press Secretary TJ Ducklo resigned Saturday after Vanity Fair reported last week that he threatened to "destroy" Politico reporter Tara Palmeri, who was pursuing a story about his romantic relationship with Axios reporter Alexi McCammond. Ducklo also reportedly made derogatory and misogynistic comments toward Palmeri. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki initially suspended Ducklo for a week without pay, but she later accepted his resignation. Ducklo, who reportedly apologized to Palmeri, issued a statement, saying "no words can express my regret, my embarrassment, and my disgust for my behavior ... I am devastated to have embarrassed and disappointed my White House colleagues and President Biden."


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