Tuesday morning news – February 9, 2021

Trump Senate Impeachment trial begins » The second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump begins today on Capitol Hill with both sides laying out their arguments. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that all parties have agreed to a resolution spelling out the structure and timing of the trial. 

SCHUMER: Each side will have ample time to make their arguments: 16 hours over two days for the House managers, the same for the former president’s counsel. If managers decide they want witnesses, there will be a vote on that. 

Lawyers for President Trump filed a brief on Monday calling the case against him “political theater.” The former president’s legal team will argue this week that he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights and that he called for a peaceful protest.

Former senior advisor to Trump, Jason Miller told Fox News…

MILLER: Nobody who could consider themselves a supporter of President Trump could ever participate in any violence like that because President Trump is so anti-mob violence and has been so outspoken on this. 

But House impeachment managers will argue that Trump aimed a mob of supporters “like a loaded cannon” at the Capitol. 

White House, Democrats continue work on relief package » Lawmakers and the White House continue to haggle over what the next big COVID-19 relief bill will look like. But it appears all but certain that Democrats will use a process called budget reconciliation to pass the nearly $2 trillion package. That would cut Republicans out of the process. GOP leaders have urged President Biden to consider a more targeted and scaled down relief measure. 

But some questions remain. Among them, who will qualify for the next round of stimulus payments. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden is talking with lawmakers. 

PSAKI: He had proposed kind of a threshold. There’s a discussion about what that threshold will look like. A conclusion hasn’t been finalized. That will be worked through Congress. 

The “threshold” being some kind of an income cap for those receiving full stimulus payments. Right now, the package is expected to send $1,400 payments to most Americans. 

President Biden also wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and hopes to include that as part of the measure. But he said it’s up to the Senate parliamentarian to decide whether Democrats can push that through using budget reconciliation. 

UN: ‘Concerning news’ vaccines may not work against variants » The head of the World Health Organization Tedros Gherbreysus says new COVID-19 variants have raised questions about whether or not existing vaccines will work. 

His remarks follow South Africa’s decision to suspend its campaign using the AstraZeneca vaccine. The South African government said it was not proving to be very effective against a new variant that is now the dominant virus strain in the country.

Ghebreyesus called that “concerning news.”

GHEBREYESUS: These results are a reminder that we need to do everything we can to reduce circulation of the virus with proven public health measures. 

He said it was increasingly clear that vaccine manufacturers will have to tweak their existing shots to address mutations of the virus. 

And he said booster shots will likely be needed everywhere, especially since new variants of the virus are likely to become the predominant strains.

Other COVID-19 vaccines developed by Novavax, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson also appear to be less effective against the South African strain, although they may prevent severe disease. 

U.S. to re-engage with U.N. Human Rights Council » Secretary of State Tony Blinken says the United States will re-engage with the troubled U.N. Human Rights Council after former President Trump withdrew from it almost three years ago. WORLD’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: Blinken said Monday that pulling out of the council “did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of U.S. leadership.”

The U.N. human rights body has long drawn criticism for overlooking abuses by autocratic regimes while even accepting human rights abusers as members. Critics say the panel also frequently, and often unfairly, targets Israel. 

Blinken, in a statement, acknowledged problems with the council. He said it is—quoting here—a “flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel.” 

But Blinken said the council, when it works well, “can serve as an important forum for those fighting injustice and tyranny.”

The United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council in 2018 when it did not adopt a list of reforms demanded by the Trump administration. 

Current members of the Human Rights Council include China, Cuba, Russia, and Venezuela.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin. 

U.S., Iran locked in standoff on nuclear deal » President Biden has expressed an interest in returning to something else President Trump pulled out of in 2018—the Iran nuclear deal. 

But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei says his county will not return to the bargaining table unless the United States first lifts all economic sanctions. 

The president responded to that ultimatum during an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation

O’DONNELL: Will the U.S. lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?

Biden said Tehran must start adhering to the rules of the 2015 nuclear deal before the two sides can come to any new agreement. 

KHAMENEI: [Speaking Farsi]

But the 81-year-old Iranian supreme leader said the United States must start by meeting his demands, and he will not budge. He told state television—quote— “This is the definitive and irreversible policy of the Islamic Republic, and all of the country’s officials are unanimous on this, and no one will deviate from it.”

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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