The US health secretary, Alex Azar, warned Donald Trump in a letter that last week’s attack on the Capitol threatened the administration’s legacy, and he urged the president to support a peaceful transfer of power.
In the two-page, formal resignation letter, dated 12 January, Azar recited what he saw as the administration’s key accomplishments but voiced concern that last week’s siege in Washington and Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud “threaten to tarnish these and other historic legacies of this administration”.
“The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power,” Azar wrote.
“I implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence, to demand that no one attempt to disrupt the inaugural activities in Washington or elsewhere, and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power on January 20, 2021,” he added.
Azar says he will resign at noon on 20 January, when Joe Biden is sworn in.
Azar is not the first member of Trump’s cabinet to issue strong words in the wake of the attack, in which five people died and which led to the president’s second impeachment.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, resigned after of the attack, saying in a letter to the president that she blamed his “rhetoric” for “the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the US Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business”.
Elaine Chao, Trump’s transportation secretary, also resigned, calling the attacks “traumatic and entirely avoidable”.
Azar took up the role of health secretary in 2018, overseeing the department during the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, which has so far claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans. Some experts are estimating half a million deaths could be possible by the end of February.
Earlier on Friday, Azar told NBC News the US did not have a reserve stockpile of Covid-19 vaccines, but it was confident that there would be enough produced for second doses.
“We now have enough confidence that our ongoing production will be quality and available to provide the second dose for people. So we’re not sitting on a reserve any more. We’ve made that available to the states to order,” Azar said.
The news on Friday came as Joe Biden called for a vast expansion of federal aid in order to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office. Biden has tapped Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, to lead the health department.
The former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang formally announced his run as New York City mayor on Thursday morning, promising to rebuild a city that has been devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The formal announcement came after Yang released his first campaign video, directed by the film director and producer Darren Aronofsky, on Wednesday night. The video showed Yang, sporting a mask that read “Forward New York”, going around the city talking to and elbow-bumping residents.
“The fears for our future that caused me to run for president have accelerated since this pandemic started,” Yang told a small crowd of supporters in Manhattan on Thursday morning. “We need to make New York City the Covid comeback city, but also the anti-poverty city.”
Yang is entering a crowded field of about a dozen mayoral candidates that includes current and former city officials, a member of Barack Obama’s White House cabinet and an ex-Wall Street executive. The bulk of the action in the race will be around the Democratic primary, which is set to take place on 22 June before the general election in November.
Before his presidential campaign, Yang, who has not held office before, had a low profile as the founder of Venture for America, a not-for-profit group that aimed to help create jobs in cities hurt by the Great Recession. The launch of his internet-friendly presidential campaign helped him gain something of a cult following, with supporters nicknaming themselves the “Yang Gang”.
On Thursday, Yang dived into the specifics of his platform, at the top of which is a plan to implement universal basic income – what was the hallmark of his presidential campaign before it ended in February of last year. Yang promised to institute “the largest basic income program in the history of the country”.
“Two years ago, no one would have fathomed Congress would ever send tens of millions of Americans around the country money with no strings attached,” Yang said, referring to the stimulus checks that were included in Congress’s two coronavirus relief bills.
Though he has not yet publicly outlined what the program would look like, sources have said the plan could entail 500,000 of the city’s residents receiving between $2,000 and $5,000 and will cost an estimated $1bn a year, according to Gothamist.
Yang said he also aims to fix the city’s “mass transmit mess”, saying that he would push for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses – which are currently under state-level control – and promised to have a fully electric bus system by 2030.
“As mayor, I will get around the city by subway, bus or bike because that’s how most New Yorkers get around,” Yang said, a subtle dig at the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who has notoriously taken a black car around the city instead of using public transportation.
De Blasio’s popularity has significantly declined during his two terms, after winning on a progressive agenda promising economic and social change in 2013.
The new mayor faces long-existing issues of inequality, particularly around housing and policing, that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and new ones Covid-19 created.
After shutdown orders and travel restrictions decimated the number of tourists and commuters coming into the city, New York now faces an unemployment rate that is almost double the national rate and a potential $13bn budget shortfall. The pandemic has shuttered thousands of small businesses in the city.
Twitter has removed a post by China’s US embassy claiming that Uighur women have been “emancipated” from extremism and were no longer “baby-making machines”. The post linked to an article denying allegations of forced sterilisation in Xinjiang.
Twitter said the post had “violated the Twitter rules” but did not provide further details.
The post linked to an article by state mouthpiece China Daily, and said: “Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”
The phrase was taken directly from the attached article, which said an unpublished study by the Xinjiang Development Research Center had found that decreases in the birthrate and population growth rate of the region in 2018 was due to the eradication of religious extremism.
“The changes were not caused by “forced sterilization” of the Uygur population, as repeatedly claimed by some western scholars and politicians,” it said, noting by name German researcher Adrian Zenz, who specialises in Xinjiang and Tibet by examining Chinese government documents. His research is a primary source of information about labour programmes in both regions, and has attracted the ire of Chinese state media.
The Chinese embassy’s Twitter account later reposted the story with a different caption: “Study shows the population change in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region involves the overall improvement in population quality. An increasing number of youths chose to spend more time and energy on personal development.”
Other Chinese state media reports said women were “spontaneously” taking up free IUDs and tubal ligations (a form of permanent surgical contraception), and the changes in birthrate were due to government limits of three children per family, poverty alleviation and education improvements, and changes to cultural marriage practices and religious opposition to contraception.
In recent years, China has escalated its crackdown on ethnic Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, including the mass internment of an estimated one million people, intense human and digital surveillance, re-education programs, suppression of religious activity and destruction of religious sites, forced labour, and enforced sterilisation of women. Experts have said the policies amount to cultural genocide. China rejects the accusations, and says the camps are vocational training centres necessary to combat religious extremism and terrorism.
An extensive investigation by Associated Press found authorities subjected hundreds of thousands of Uighur women to pregnancy checks, and forced intrauterine devices, sterilisation and abortion. The AP found birthrates collapsed by more than 60% between 2015 and 2018 in the mostly Uighur regions of Hotan and Kashgar, compared with a fall of 4.2% nationwide. The AP said its findings were on based on government statistics, state documents and interviews with 30 ex-detainees, family members and a former detention camp instructor.
The statistics on declining birthrate and population growth among Uighurs in Xinjiang have been known for months, however Chinese authorities have not previously attributed it to its programs of “eradicating extremism”.
In response to a CNN article on similar findings, the Chinese government said the drop in birthrate was due to “comprehensive implementation of the family planning policy”. It did not dispute the numbers in the report.
In September one Uighur woman, Sidik, told the Guardian she was coerced into having an IUD at the age of 47, and being sterilised three years later. She said a text message – seen by the Guardian – came from authorities and told her: “Do not gamble with your life, don’t even try.”
Soon after Joe Biden is inaugurated as the next US president, he is expected to take several strong steps on the labor front aimed at reversing or remedying the policies of Donald Trump – who promised workers a lot and delivered little.
But Biden’s number one priority will be to tackle the issues left in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh – the Mayor of Boston and before that a labor leader for decades – is likely to help advance Biden’s promises to help unions expand. Walsh, who had headed Boston’s federation of building trades unions, is expected to support increased spending on infrastructure to upgrade roads and bridges, strengthen the economy and create good-paying jobs. As mayor, he pushed for construction contractors to hire more workers of color.
With Covid-19 still raging across the US, many job safety experts say it’s urgent for Biden to do something that the Trump administration has failed to do: issue nationwide regulations directing businesses to take specific steps to protect their workers from the coronavirus, whether retail, restaurant, factory or construction workers.
Trump’s business-friendly Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) repeatedly rejected labor unions’ pleas to adopt such safety standards.
“Clearly priority one is an emergency standard for Osha dealing with Covid and equally a focused, full-on press on inspections, enforcement and guidance. It means doing everything Osha hasn’t been doing,” said David Weil, a top labor department official under Barack Obama. “Ultimately the only way we’ll get public safety and reopening is if we get worker safety.”
Weil, now the dean at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy, said Osha under Biden should get far tougher than Trump’s Osha in holding employers accountable for failing to take steps to minimize Covid. Many worker advocates were dismayed by the modest fines that Trump’s Osha assessed, for instance, a $13,494 penalty against Smithfield’s pork-processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where at least 1,294 workers contracted Covid. Smithfield’s parent company had revenues of $24.1bn last year.
Biden has signaled he will take many other pro-worker actions.
Although Trump held himself out as a champion of workers, he did nothing to raise the minimum wage or enact paid leave, while Biden has repeatedly called for a $15 minimum wage and guaranteeing workers 12 weeks’ paid family and medical leave. Biden has also backed far-reaching legislation that would make it easier to unionize, and his appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are likely to reverse many Trump labor board decisions that made it harder for workers to join unions.
Steven Pitts, a longtime labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said Biden should pursue two sets of labor policies. “One is try to raise and protect labor standards like a higher minimum wage and tougher safety rules,” he said. “Second is to build worker power into policy. Too often we focus on the former and not the latter.”
Solid Republican opposition, along with a filibuster, blocked efforts by Barack Obama and Bill Clinton to enact pro-union legislation, and it will be similarly difficult for Biden to enact the Pro Act unless he musters 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Because Senate Republicans so often vote in line with corporate America’s wishes, it might also be difficult for Biden to get a $15 minimum wage or paid family and medical leave through the Senate.
William Samuel, director of government affairs at AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the US, acknowledges that passing the Pro Act – a huge goal of labor – won’t be easy. He recommends that Biden, in addition to pushing to pass the Pro Act, pursue a parallel strategy: “He should use his bully pulpit to support the right of workers to organize and to shame employers who trample on those rights” – for example, by criticizing Amazon for firing the worker who led a New York walkout over Covid-19 safety.
“There will be lots of obstacles in his [Biden’s] way and we can hope and pray he can use his executive authority and the bully pulpit to advance the cause of workers,” Samuel said.
Because the Senate might be a formidable barrier to pro-union or pro-worker legislation, Samuel says Biden should use federal procurement policy to raise standards for workers. Many worker advocates want Biden to require federal contractors to pay their workers a minimum of $15 an hour and guarantee them two-weeks’ paid medical and family leave.
Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, opposed a California ballot initiative in which voters – swayed in part by a $200m campaign financed by Uber and other app-based companies – approved a measure that categorizes Uber and Lyft drivers and DoorDash delivery workers as independent contractors rather than employees. By defining them as independent contractors, the ballot initiative, known as Proposition 22, means these workers won’t receive state minimum wage or overtime protections, won’t receive paid sick days or unemployment compensation and won’t have their companies reimburse their expenses, like gasoline.
Uber has said it hopes to pass Prop 22-like laws or ballot initiatives to other states. But Pitts said: “How do we find a way to stop the spread of Prop 22 around the country – that’s an important thing.”
Worker advocates hope Biden’s labor department will issue guidance that goes far to trump Prop 22 by saying that under federal minimum wage and overtime laws, Uber and Lyft drivers should be considered employees, not independent contractors, because they are not truly independent: Uber and Lyft have great control over the work the drivers do, and the drivers are not really independently in business for themselves.
Weil, who headed the labor department’s wage and hour administration, said Prop 22’s definition of independent contractors contradicts the definition under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, a 1938 law that creates nationwide minimum wage and overtime protections. “You just can’t decide, ‘I can treat them as independent contractors if that’s counter to what our Fair Labor Standards Act says,’” Weil said.
The Trump administration recently awarded an $810m contract to Uber and Lyft to provide rides to public agencies. Worker advocates say the General Services Administration should use its power to set contract conditions to insist that Uber and Lyft pay their drivers $15 an hour and treat them as employees.
Labor leaders say they hope Biden’s NLRB will reverse many of the anti-union actions taken by Trump’s NLRB – for instance, making it harder for workers at franchises like McDonald’s to unionize, making it harder for small groups of workers at larger establishments to unionize, letting employers prohibit workers from using the company email system to discuss union matters, letting companies bar union organizers from spaces open to the public, like corporate cafeterias.
“It’s going to be a slog to undo all the damage that’s been done the past four years by the Trump majority on the board,” said Wilma Liebman, who was NLRB chair during Obama’s first term. “Their overruling of precedent has been so sweeping. They’ve overruled precedents that went back decades.”
Liebman said the Trump board’s reversals of precedent twisted a pro-worker law, the National Labor Relations Act, in ways that always favored employers. But Republicans say the Trump board was merely undoing what they saw as the unduly pro-union tilt of the Obama board.
It’s the end of the week. In my fridge’s crisper drawer lies a quarter of a cauliflower, a beetroot and its wilting leaves, a bunch of past-its-best coriander and a bendy celery heart. The top shelf is nicely stocked, though, with a jar of plum tomatoes, preserved lemons, sushi ginger and some medlar cheese. In my larder, I’ve got a few things that need using up, too: some pistachios left over from Christmas, and some dried chillies, capers and barberries.
This is when the concept of “bowl food” comes into its own, since it’s all about building a meal using layers of different foods, rather than sticking to a recipe. It’s a system that’s perfect for using up leftovers and things you already have in your cupboard or fridge.
At least one of my meals each week could be described as “bowl food”. By its simplest interpretation, the term simply means food served in a bowl, but it has become so much more, even a movement to some, with whole books, blogs and even restaurants dedicated to the subject.
Bowl food is normally a beautifully presented, balanced meal of whole grains, legumes or another filling base topped with a variety of different cooked and raw vegetables, herbs, seeds, nuts and preserves, maybe with a dressing. It can be really hard to come up with creative meal ideas using limited ingredients, but the bowl food concept makes it easier. Rather than a recipe, this week is more of a guide.
Whole grains and legumes Fill the bottom of a bowl with a nourishing protein. We all need to eat a sufficient amount each day, but not all proteins are equal: only some are “complete proteins” that include all nine amino acids that the body can’t produce itself. With a diverse, plant-based diet, it’s pretty easy to consume all nine throughout the day, but some ingredients will provide them in one meal.
Buckwheat (wholegrain or noodles), quinoa, pumpkin seeds and soybeans, for example, are all complete proteins. Otherwise, combine any grain and legume to create a complete amino acid (eg short-grain brown rice and lentils, spelt berries and peas, barley and chickpeas etc).
Seasonal vegetables and fruit A beautiful plate of food is a feast for the eyes. Think about the colour and presentation, and aim to fill half the plate with a wide assortment of prepared fruit and vegetables. Think about cutting it into a variety of textures, from fine, small cubes to big, rustic pieces. Serve a mixture of raw and cooked produce, and keep the ingredients mostly separate on the plate, so the colours pop.
Here’s an example of what I might put together each season:
Spring Steamed asparagus, sliced blood oranges, radish leaves, wilted spinach and wild garlic
Summer Torn apricots, grilled aubergines, raw broad beans, shredded kohlrabi and sorrel
Autumn Grated beetroot and carrot, roasted chestnuts, caramelised fennel and pickled squash
Winter Shredded brussels sprouts, cauliflower “rice”, chicory leaves, caramelised shallots and turnips with their leaves
Nuts and seeds Scatter a few toasted or soaked nuts and seeds (almonds, brazil nuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds etc) on top to add texture and crunch. I like to fry them gently with a little honey and spice or tamari first, to make the most incredibly flavourful topping.
Herbs and spices Garnish with some finely chopped herb stalks and whole leaves, and/or a dusting of spices for extra depth of flavour and colour.
Dressings Finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin oil and a squeeze of lemon or a little cider vinegar for acidity. Or up the ante with a more complex dressing like tahini or salsa verde.
And it doesn’t end there Keep going! If you have any leftovers or larder condiments you think will work well, by all means add them, too. Pickles and ferments such as sauerkraut and kimchi are perfect. Add seaweed for an extra nutritional kick. Dried fruits for sweetness. Or hummus, vegetable purees and plant yoghurt for some creamy unctuousness. Nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12 is also a welcome umami topping.
The Guardian carries a scene from the Capitol’s rotunda, filled with a pro-Trump mob waving the flag of their leader: “Chaos as pro-Trump mob storms US Capitol”. Prominence is given to a quote from the US president-elect, Joe Biden, who said: “Our democracy’s under assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times.”
The House will not reconvene on Monday after all, the Democratic leadership announces, according to Fox News’ Chad Pergram.
“His comments directly led to the violence and so far he has failed to condemn that violence – and that is completely wrong,” she said.
She said the departing president’s statement, in which he said “we love you” to the rioters, and repeated his unproven claims of electoral fraud did “very little to de-escalate the situation”.
“He basically has made a number of comments yesterday that helped to fuel that violence and he didn’t do anything to de-escalate that whatsoever,” she told BBC Breakfast.
Read the full piece:
An Israeli journalist reporting outside the US Capitol on Wednesday had to face a torrent of antisemitic abuse from a pro-Trump supporter live on air.
The reporter for Channel 13 television news was confronted by a man in a helmet and asked inaudible questions that appeared to be requests to explain his government’s actions, a video of the event showed.
“I’m not representing the Israeli government,” the reporter replied.
“You lying Israeli, you play the pilpul game,” the man said. “Pilpul” is a word used to refer to the process of analysing Jewish religious texts, and has been racistly misappropriated to mean lying.
The protester then went on to demand the reporter tell him what a “goy” was. A “goy” is a word for a non-Jew.
The Jerusalem Post, an Israeli newspaper, said the protester had also called the reporter a deeply offensive term for a Jewish person.
The US-based Anti-Defamation League said the incident was “absolutely despicable”.
Congress certifies Biden and Harris win hours after deadly attack on Capitol – video
The Washington Post editorial board joined Democratic voices overnight in calling for the removal of Trump through the 25th amendment before Inauguration Day. From their piece:
The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days. Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security. Vice President Pence, who had to be whisked off the Senate floor for his own protection, should immediately gather the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring that Mr. Trump is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Congress, which would be required to ratify the action if Mr. Trump resisted, should do so. Mr. Pence should serve until President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.
While removal of Trump through the 25th amendment is extremely unlikely in the less-than-two-weeks before the election, discussion of such a move has surfaced repeatedly during Trump’s term. Here’s a video explainer from 2018 about how it could work:
At a daily press briefing in Beijing this afternoon, China’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said – inaccurately – that the Chinese people have the right and freedom to express their views and comments on the Internet.
“Many people are thinking about this: (this is) a scene of deja vu, but the response of some people in the United States, including some media, is quite different. In July 2019, radical protestors violently attacked the Legislative Council building in Hong Kong… and surrounded the police with toxic powder and liquid, even bit off the police’s fingers and stabbed the police with knives. However, the Hong Kong police maintained a high degree of restraint and professionalism, and none of them died. But while the degree of violence and destruction in Washington is not as serious as what happened in Hong Kong, four people have died…”
Hua’s comments came after the Global Times quoted unnamed netizens gleefully revelling in the scenes, reportedly describing it as “karma”, “revenge”, and “deserved”.
“It was like watching a thrilling action movie!” they quoted one saying.
Across editorials and social media posts, the hawkish tabloid repeatedly drew crude comparisons between the footage of Capitol Hill and footage from the Hong Kong protests, ignoring the diametrically opposed motivations behind the two groups.
The German chancellor was made furious and sad by the scene last night at the US Capitol, a German broadcaster reports:
Trump: ‘there will be an orderly transition on 20 January’
Trump’s social media aide Dan Scavino has tweeted a “Statement by President Donald J. Trump on the Electoral Certification”:
Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out*, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”
*The facts do not bear Trump out.
The House adjourns until Monday.
Biden and Harris will be inaugurated at noon on Wednesday, 20 January. Less than two weeks.
“The chair declares the joint session resolved,” Pence says.
He drops a gavel and mingling commences.
We don’t know what Trump makes of this because he’s suspended on Twitter.
Congress certifies Biden win
The teller, senator Amy Klobuchar, reports: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the president and the vice president according to the ballots that have been given to us.”
Applause in the room.
Pence says Biden “has received 306 votes” and Trump “has received 232 votes.”
“The announcement of the state of the vote by the president of the senate shall be deemed as sufficient of the election of the president and the vice-president,” Pence says.
It’s done. Closing prayer.
Wyoming’s three votes for Trump stand. That’s it. Biden wins 306-232. We knew this months ago.
“The tellers will ascertain and deliver the result to the president of the senate,” Pence says.
No senator joins Wisconsin objection, which is rejected
West Virginia received no objection.
Here’s Wisconsin which gave its 10 electoral votes to Biden.
Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas rises to object to the Wisconsin certification. He spools off a string of conspiracy theories about election irregularities.
“We object along with a senator who now has withdrawn his objection,” Gohmert says.
The Wisconsin objection is not supported by a senator. It stands for Biden.
“The objection cannot be entertained,” Pence says.
Republicans have decided not to fight over Vermont’s three electoral votes going to Biden. Nor do they object to Virginia’s 13 votes going to Biden. Nor do they object to Washington’s 12 electoral votes going to Biden.
Texas comes after Tennessee in the alphabetical list of states. Trump’s victory there is announced by senator Amy Klobuchar. Pence invites objections. None is heard. Texas’ 38 electoral votes go to Trump.
Utah’s six votes go to Trump too. No objections there.
No objection to Rhode Island.
We’re on to South Carolina. No objections there. Now South Dakota. Another state won by Trump – no objections there.
Wisconsin is the penultimate state alphabetically, with Wyoming coming last.
Here’s Tennessee. No objections to the certification of Trump’s victory in Tennessee.
Biden in this count has already amassed more than half the electoral college votes, so in that sense the goose is cooked.
Pence accepts Pennsylvania vote
Pence is back on the dais. He asks for the secretary of the senate to report the results in the Pennsylvania vote. That vote is reported: 7 ayes, 92 nays. Then Pence calls on the House clerk. The clerk does not give the vote tally, merely noting that the objection was defeated.
“The original certificates as submitted will be counted” from Pennsylvania, Pence says.
And just like that we’re on to Rhode Island.
The senators are coming back. We’re about to resume.
Speaker Pelosi and other members are now standing in the House chamber chatting, waiting apparently for the senators to return so the joint session can resume.
Twelve states remain plus Washington DC. Among them Wisconsin seems the most likely to be objected to, but it does not appear that a senator has signed onto an objection to results from that state.
So we might breeze along from here.
Here’s a summary of where things stand:
The process of the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory resumed after a pro-Trump mob invaded the US Capitol Wednesday evening.
The confirmation process proceeded through the night roughly as expected, with the confirmation of Biden’s presidential victory approaching.
Objections to the results in two states, Arizona and Pennsylvania, failed after debate, while attempted objections by Republicans to other states’ results failed to clear the threshold permitting debate.
Four people died in the unrest at the Capitol, including a woman who was shot by police when a mob tried to break through a barricaded door and three others who suffered “medical emergencies”, according to police.
At least 52 people were reportedly arrested.
Trump released a video statement after the sacking of the Capitol telling mob members “we love you” but asking them to go home. Security forces regained control of the Capitol late Wednesday evening.
Agitation in the capital over the evening’s events saw a deputy on Trump’s national security team resign and vice-president Mike Pence’s chief of staff declining to comment on reports of his resignation.
Trump was in open war on social media with both Pence and senate majority leader Mitch McConnell – until both Twitter and Facebook temporarily suspended his accounts.
House votes down challenge to Pennsylvania result
Congress has just taken another major step toward certification as the objection to the Pennsylvania result fails on the House floor.
The final tally was 282-138 – a closer vote than the 303-122 vote on the Arizona objection.
The senate earlier rejected the Pennsylvania objection. The joint session is expected to reconvene shortly to complete the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
More than half of the members of the House have voted against the objection to the Pennsylvania result, meaning it has failed.
Still waiting for the final tally. The Arizona challenge failed 303-122.
Here are further details from the room of the off-camera (near) fisticuffs.
House taking vote on objection to Pennsylvania result
Time for debate on the Pennsylvania objection has expired. Pelosi takes a voice vote on the objection. The Nos have it – endorsing the certification of the Pennsylvania result. The Senate rejected the same objection immediately, 92-7.
A roll call vote in the House is requested. That vote is now proceeding. The joint session is expected to reconvene shortly.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, who led the impeachment inquiry, is speaking to oppose the objection to the Pennsylvania certification.
“The members of this body cannot continue to challenge the merits of an election that was fairly conducted and overwhelmingly won by Joe Biden,” Schiff says. “Look at the damage that was wrought… is that not enough?”
As “debate” in the House continues, we want to break away momentarily to note that prolific butt-dialer Rudy Giuliani yesterday evening committed another cell-phone slip-up, leaving a voice message apparently meant for freshman Republican Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville on someone else’s phone. The message has been published.
In the message, Giuliani encourages “Tuberville” to object to “every state” in order to prolong the current process. As demonstrated in the failed effort to object to the Michigan result, no objection in this process stands if it is not joined by a senator in writing.
Tuberville joined objections to both the Arizona and Pennsylvania results but not others. He must not have … gotten the message.
There are a lot of members of Congress from Texas, and they all seem to be in line to object to the election result in Pennsylvania. Representative Roger Williams, a five-termer, is the latest.
He wants to clarify something. “I’m not ashamed and neither are my colleagues over here,” he says. “We’re actually proud of what we’re doing and standing for.”
Fisticuffs? The video feed of the chamber was showing the dais so this skirmish was not visible on TV. HuffPost’s Matt Fuller:
Speaker Pelosi handles a point of order from the Republican side. They’re trying to shout down Lamb, complaining he accused them in an unparliamentary way of lying. Pelosi gavels the Republicans, who keep yelling. Pelosi kicks the Republican representative out.
Lamb finishes. “Who’s next?” Pelosi says, sounding just the slightest bit impatient.
Lamb: ‘A woman died out there tonight, and you’re making these objections’
Now Conor Lamb, the moderate Democrat from Pennsylvania, is up. He supplies some basic information about election operations in Pennsylvania.
I want to point out… that it was the Republican state legislature that passed a Republican bill that set up the system [used in the election] … and that the reason the president lost is that he was not as popular as other Republicans in the state. He got fewer votes than all of them …
These objections don’t deserve an ounce of respect. A woman died out there tonight, and you’re making these objections …
Enough has been done today already to try to strip this Congress of its dignity and we don’t need to do any more.
Representative Kat Cammack, a freshwoman Republican from Florida, thanks law enforcement for preserving order … and then objects to the Pennsylvania election result.
She quotes from the constitution and reminds everyone that they have sworn an oath to defend it. “Our children our counting on us,” she says, to investigate election irregularities. That’s been done already, in dozens of state and local challenges and federal and state court cases across the country in the past two-plus months. You’re welcome, children.
Texas’s Jodey Arrington follows Cammack. He takes no pride in his objection, he explains, which is not based on any loyalty to the president but rather to the constitution.
A message has just been carried from the Senate to the House.
The message is read on the House floor:
“I have been directed by the Senate to inform the House that the Senate is ready to resume the joint session.”
Duly noted. Debate in the House resumes.
We’ve just had a couple speeches from House Republicans opposing certification of the Pennsylvania vote. Representative Brian Babin of Texas, a four-termer, accused Democrats of upsetting the rule of law by moving to certify the result.
“I have no doubt there was widespread election fraud this past November,” Babin said, despite the failure of any such evidence to emerge in more than 100 lawsuits brought by the Trump campaign after the election.
Representative Ted Budd of North Carolina then stands to accuse Pennsylvania of admitting “thousands of unverifiable ballots”. That’s not true but on those false grounds, Budd says, he’s objecting.
On the House floor, representatives are taking turn delivering short speeches about the objection to the Pennsylvania election result. Most of the speeches, including on the Republican side, oppose the objection and favor certifying the result. Debate is scheduled to last for a maximum of two hours. We’re about an hour in. Here’s a live video stream:
The US Capitol police have advised that the “internal security threat incident” has been “cleared”, Fox News’ Chad Pergram reports. A notification has been issued to “return to normal operations”.
The joint session of Congress is ongoing in the House chamber, part of the larger Capitol complex.
What we know so far
Debate on the objection to the Pennsylvania electoral votes continues in the House of Representatives. Once that concludes, the joint session resumes to continue the certification of the votes of the electoral college.
Four people died amid unrest after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol today, including a woman who was shot by police when a mob tried to break through a barricaded door and three others who suffered “medical emergencies”, according to police. Despite widespread vandalism and looting, only 52 people were arrested.
Congress certified the electoral votes of dozens of states, despite a number of objections, some entertained and some not.
House Democrats are calling on Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Donald Trump from office.
There have been reports all day that Donald Trump barred Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence, from the White House, following Pence’s refusal to overturn the results of the election.
Just now, it appears that Marc Short has declined to comment on the reports.
Senate rejects challenge to Pennsylvania election results
The Senate has voted on whether to sustain an objection to Pennsylvania’s election results: nays are 92, yeas are 7.
Meanwhile in the House of Representatives, debate is still going strong.
In the Senate, there was no interest in using up the full two hours of debate for the objection to the Pennsylvania electoral results.
Just to recap: what’s about to happen with the objection to the Pennsylvania electoral votes is expected to be a lot like what happened with the objection to the Arizona electoral votes.
The House and the Senate will go into their separate chambers and debate the objection. They have up to two hours of debate but there is some speculation that there might be a vote to limit the debate because it is past midnight in Washington and it’s been a very, very long day for everyone.
Then the Senate and the House will vote on whether the objection should be sustained. It will most likely fail. The Senate and the House will reconvene for a joint session to certify the results.
The objection to the Pennsylvania electoral votes comes signed by a senator and representatives.
We now retire for two hours of debate in both chambers.
It is 12:17am on 7 January in Washington DC.
An objection to the electoral votes of Nevada. Once again, no senator has joined the effort so “the objection cannot be entertained.” Massive applause throughout the chamber.
The objection to the electoral results in Michigan also cannot be entertained.
Objection to Georgia election results withdrawn
The objection to the Georgia election results, on the (baseless) grounds of fraud could not be “entertained”, according to Vice-President Mike Pence.
“It appears some senators have withdrawn their objection,” Representative Jody Hice, a Republican from Georgia, said. Senator Kelly Loeffler, who lost her bid for reelection yesterday to Raphael Warnock, announced she was withdrawing her objection earlier.
As Congress continues to certify the electoral votes, let’s look at the damages done to the Capitol today:
Joint session of Congress back in session. Arkansas, which voted for Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and California, which voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, fly through with no objections.
Four dead after police shooting and ‘medical emergencies’ at Capitol
Four people died as supporters of President Donald Trump violently occupied the Capitol, the Associated Press is reporting.
Washington DC Police Chief Robert Contee said the dead on Wednesday included a woman who was shot by the US Capitol Police as a mob tried to break through a barricaded door in the Capitol, as well as three others who died in “medical emergencies”.
Both law enforcement and Trump supporters deployed chemical irritants, police said.
House rejects challenge to Arizona election results
Just like the Senate, the House of Representatives voted after two hours debate and rejected the call to sustain the objection to the Arizona election results in favor of Joe Biden.
House Dems call for Pence to invoke 25th amendment
Meanwhile, as Congress looks toward 20 January and certifying the electoral college votes, others are concerned about the next 14 days.
The Democrats of the House Judiciary Committee are calling for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Donald Trump from office.
“We have seen the fruit of the President’s remarks in the violence and chaos unleashed today,” they wrote to Pence. “Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution provides the Vice President and a majority of sitting Cabinet secretaries with the authority to determine a president as unfit if he ‘is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’ Even in his video announcement this afternoon, President Trump revealed that he is not mentally sound and is still unable to process and accept the results of the 2020 election. President Trump’s willingness to incite violence and social unrest to overturn the election results by force clearly meet this standard.”
USA Today has a great run-down on the 25th amendment, which was ratified in 1967 following concerns after John F Kennedy’s assassination. In simple terms, it’s the process in which the vice president becomes president should the president be unable to do his or her job.
The fourth section of the amendment – the process for removing a president when others believe he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” – has never been used in the amendment’s short history.
In order for that section to be triggered, the vice president and a majority of the cabinet must declare the president unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. If the president disputes that, two-thirds of both the House and the Senate must vote for the vice president to take office.
Had lawmakers had more than 14 days, they could also come up with legislation an alternative group that the vice president could work with to declare a president is unable to serve.
Previously, Gerald Ford invoked the amendment’s first two sections when he became Richard Nixon’s vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned and when he became president after Nixon resigned.
The amendment’s third section, which allows a president to temporarily cede power and duties to a vice president, was used after Ronald Reagan underwent surgery in 1985 and when George W Bush was under anesthesia in 2002 and 2007.
They’re calling the vote now in the House of Representatives. Nays have it, but now they’re doing a roll call.
The House of Representatives did not reconvene until about an hour after the Senate reconvened to debate the objection to the Arizona electoral votes.
As it’s two hours of debate in each chamber, we can’t move on until the House concludes its vote – and then the House and the Senate can come back together for a joint session to continue the vote certification of electors, state by state, in alphabetical order.
Florida Representative Matt Gaetz is now on the floor blaming antifa for the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol. Reminder that there is absolutely no proof whatsoever of any “antifa involvement” and all evidence points to anti-antifa involvement.
Senate rejects challenge to Arizona election results
After two hours of debate, the Senate has voted and the vast majority voted against the call to sustain the objection to the Arizona election results in favor of Joe Biden.
Six senators voted in favor of the objection.
The Senate is now voting on whether to throw out the results from Arizona. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has led the charge in objecting to the certification of the electoral college vote, was a clear vote in favor of throwing out the results.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham just had a field day with his remarks, saying that “the mob has done something nobody else could do, get me and [Senator Rand Paul] to agree”.
“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the president and the vice-president of the United States on January the 20th,” he said.
The woman shot and killed inside the Capitol has been identified by San Diego-based news station KUSI as Ashli Babbit, a 14-year military veteran and Trump supporter.
The Guardian has not independently confirmed her identity.
Romney calls Capitol violence ‘an insurrection’
“What happened today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States,” said the Utah senator Mitt Romney.
Romney had strong words for both today’s violence and for everyone who votes to object, who he said “will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode. That will be their legacy.”
Facebook and Instagram lock Trump’s accounts
Facebook and Instagram have joined Twitter in locking the social media accounts of Donald Trump following today’s violence at the Capitol.
Trump’s former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned over the president’s Syria policies, issued a statement blaming the president for the violence at the Capitol.
Mattis said Trump has used the presidency “to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens”.
“Our Constitution and our Republic will overcome this stain and We the People will come together again in our never-ending effort to form a more perfect Union, while Mr Trump will deservedly be left a man without a country,” Mattis said.
While the electoral vote certification continues on the Senate floor, there appear to be a number of resignations happening at the White House in the wake of the Capitol riot:
Obama: history will rightly remember today’s violence as a moment of shame
Former president Barack Obama has issued a statement on today’s events, calling the storming of the Capitol “a moment of great dishonor and shame for the nation”.
Read his full remarks below:
The Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler, who lost her re-election bid yesterday to Raphael Warnock, has announced that she will no longer be objecting to the Georgia election results, following the violence today. “I pray that America never suffers another dark day again,” she said.
Schumer condemns ‘domestic terrorists’ who stormed Capitol
The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, called for the “goons” and “thugs” and “domestic terrorists” who stormed the Capitol today to be “prosecuted to the full extent of the law”. He reminded those listening that “today’s events did not occur spontaneously”.
“This mob was in good part President Trump’s doing, incited by his words and his lies,” Schumer said.
Mitch McConnell referred to the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol as “the unhinged crowd we saw today”.
“We’ve never been deterred before and we won’t be deterred today,” he said. “They tried to disrupt our democracy and they failed.
“Criminal behavior will never dominate the United States Congress,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The United States Senate will not be intimidated. We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs or threats.”
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: You did not win,” Vice-President Mike Pence said. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house.”
“Let’s get back to work.”
Certification resumes after Capitol takeover
As expected, Congress has reconvened tonight on the Senate floor for the electoral vote certification.
Vice-President Mike Pence opened the session.
Hey all, Vivian Ho on the west coast taking over for the indefatigable Joan Greve.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now on the senate floor. The electoral vote count is expected to resume momentarily.
Today so far
That’s it from me after a sadly historic day in Washington. My west coast colleague, Vivian Ho, will take over the blog for the next few hours.
Here’s where the day stands so far:
Congress will soon resume its electoral college vote count after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to evacuate the building. It’s unclear whether Republicans will move forward with their objections to the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
A woman who was shot at the Capitol has reportedly died. Earlier reports indicated that the woman was in critical condition after being shot in the chest as the Capitol was breached.
Wasington, DC, is under curfew in response to the violence. City residents have been told not to occupy public spaces until 6 am tomorrow.
Donald Trump celebrated the mob as “very special” people. The president justified the violence at the Capitol by citing his baseless claims of widespread election fraud. In a video that Twitter has since deleted from his account, the president told his supporters, “We love you!”
Biden called on Trump to “demand an end to this siege.” The president-elect said in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, “It’s not a protest; it’s insurrection. The world is watching.”
Vivian will have more coming up, so stay tuned.
Senators are being escorted back into the Senate chamber to resume the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race.
The joint session is expected to recommence in about 10 minutes. It’s unclear whether Republican lawmakers still intend to object to the electoral votes from Georgia and Pennsylvania after the violence at the Capitol today.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for the impeachment of Donald Trump, echoing some other progressive lawmakers after today’s violence at the Capitol.
The New York congresswoman sent a single-word tweet saying, “Impeach.”
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, another member of the progressive “Squad” in the House, said earlier today that she was filing articles of impeachment.
Some Democrats had previously suggested it was not worth impeaching Trump with so little time left in his term, but the events of the day may change many minds on that.
Melania Trump’s chief of staff has reportedly resigned, effective immediately, in the wake of a pro-Trump mob storming the Capitol.
[Stephanie] Grisham was one of the longest-serving Trump administration officials, having begun her tenure working for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2015 as a press wrangler on the campaign trail. Grisham entered the White House as deputy press secretary under Sean Spicer, but in March 2017, Melania Trump hired her for her East Wing staff. As East Wing communications director, Grisham quickly became the first lady’s most prominent staffer, acting as defender, enforcer and, often, protector.
Grisham previously served as White House communications director and press secretary. She didn’t hold a single White House briefing while she held the role, and she was eventually replaced by Kayleigh McEnany.
The Guardian’s Lois Beckett spoke to Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, about the violence at the Capitol today.
Heyer was murdered in Charlottesville in 2017, after a man deliberately drove a car into a group of demonstrators who were counter-protesting a neo-Nazi event.
“This path has always been predictable,” Bro told Beckett. “And for people to now go, ‘I never knew this would happen,’ why not? How would you not see this happen?”
Bro added that she had seen a “great deal of difference in how black protesters and white protesters are treated”.
“I think we’re going to have to have some accountability of actions here, otherwise this will be attempted again and again,” Bro said. “I am saying there needs to be accountability, and it needs to be commensurate with what you would see handed to people of color.”
Mike Pence has returned to the Senate chamber, after being evacuated due to concerns about his safety after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
A spokesperson for the vice-president said Pence never left the Capitol and was in regular contact with congressional leadership, law enforcement, the justice department and the defense department to secure the building.
“And now we will finish the People’s business,” spokesperson Devin O’Malley said.
Amid the violence and chaos at the Capitol, Pence seems to have taken over many of the responsibilities that would traditionally go to the president.
The electoral college ballots, which will finalize Joe Biden’s victory, are now on their way back to the Senate chamber.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that the chambers will reconvene to continue with the certification in about 45 minutes.
Twitter locks Trump’s account for at least 12 hours
Twitter has announced that Donald Trump’s account will be locked for at least 12 hours, after the removal of three of the president’s tweets.
“As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump Tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy,” the Twitter Safety account said in a tweet thread.
“This means that the account of @realDonaldTrump will be locked for 12 hours following the removal of these Tweets. If the Tweets are not removed, the account will remain locked.”
The social media giant added, “Future violations of the Twitter Rules, including our Civic Integrity or Violent Threats policies, will result in permanent suspension of the @realDonaldTrump account.”
The White House has also already called a lid for tonight, meaning the president will not make any other public appearances today, so we won’t be hearing from him for the rest of the night.
Another Republican senator, Richard Burr of North Carolina, has directly blamed Donald Trump for the violence on Capitol Hill today.
“I supported President Trump’s legal right to contest the election results through the courts, but the courts have now unanimously and overwhelmingly rejected these suits. No evidence of voter fraud has emerged that would warrant overturning the 2020 election,” Burr said in a new statement.
“The President bears responsibility for today’s events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories that have led to this point. It is past time to accept the will of American voters and to allow our nation to move forward.”
One of Burr’s Republican colleagues, Mitt Romney, also released a statement tonight describing the violence as “an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States”.
The Guardian’s Edward Helmore reports:
The Proud Boys’ leader, Enrique Tarrio, told the Guardian he’d instructed members of the far-right group to stay away from the anti-certification protest Wednesday that escalated into the occupation of the Capitol building.
“I don’t think the occupation of the Capitol Building was planned. To me this is a cocktail – a whole bunch of people in DC and a whole lot who are pissed off.” Capitol police, he said, “had assaulted and pepper sprayed Trump supporters – the people who usually ‘back the blue’. They’d had enough. So they pushed through and got into the Capitol.”
Tarrio, who was barred from entering Washington DC on Tuesday after he was arrested on vandalism and weapons charges, said he was not “one of the people who think the election was stolen”.
But, he added, “I think there was inconsistency over the numbers and a lack of transparency that people deserve” and president-elect Joe Biden had done nothing to allay the fears of people who felt they were not being listened to.
“So this is the result. Biden has the presidency, the Senate and now the House, but he doesn’t have the people. I think they’d be calmer if he had shown that he is prepared to listen to them.”
Earlier tonight, House majority whip Jim Clyburn said Congress would continue the electoral college vote count, emphasizing that he would not be deterred by “violent hatred”.
“I have faced violent hatred before. I was not deterred then, and I will not be deterred now,” said Clyburn, who was active in the civil rights movement.
“This authoritarian menace will not succeed in his attempts to overthrow our democratically elected government,” the Democratic whip added.
“I am praying for the safety and security of the public servants who are dedicated to making this country a ‘more perfect union’.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that he expected the joint session to resume in a little over an hour, at 8 pm ET.
So far, only two states’ electoral votes have been formally counted by Congress, so the session could go late into the night, depending on Republicans’ objections.
Pelosi says Congress will proceed with certification tonight
Nancy Pelosi announced in a letter to colleagues that Congress would move forward with the certification of Joe Biden’s victory tonight.
“Today, a shameful assault was made on our democracy. It was anointed at the highest level of government. It cannot, however, deter us from our responsibility to validate the election of Joe Biden,” the Democratic speaker said.
“To that end, in consultation with Leader Hoyer and Whip Clyburn and after calls to the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the Vice President, we have decided we should proceed tonight at the Capitol once it is cleared for use. Leader Hoyer will be sending out more guidance later today.”
The House and the Senate were debating a Republican objection to Arizona’s electoral votes when the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
Before the violence today, Republicans were expected to raise similar objections to the electoral votes from Georgia and Pennsylvania, but it’s unclear whether they still will after the events at the Capitol.
Senator Mitt Romney condemned the events of today, describing the storming of the Capitol as “an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States”.
The Utah Republican said in a new statement, “Those who choose to continue to support his dangerous gambit by objecting to the results of a legitimate, democratic election will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy. They will be remembered for their role in this shameful episode in American history. That will be their legacy.”
Romney called on the Senate to continue with the counting of electoral college votes without any further objections.
“I urge my colleagues to move forward with completing the electoral count, to refrain from further objections, and to unanimously affirm the legitimacy of the presidential election,” Romney said.
George W Bush condemned the violence at the US Capitol today, describing the events of the day as an “insurrection” and criticizing the “reckless behavior” of some lawmakers since election day.
“Laura and I are watching the scenes of mayhem unfolding at the seat of our Nation’s government in disbelief and dismay. It is a sickening and heartbreaking sight. This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic – not our democratic republic,” the former Republican president said in a statement.
“I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement. The violent assault on the Capitol – and disruption of a Constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress – was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.
“Insurrection could do grave damage to our Nation and reputation. In the United States of America, it is the fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law. To those who are disappointed in the results of the election: Our country is more important than the politics of the moment. Let the officials elected by the people fulfill their duties and represent our voices in peace and safety. May God continue to bless the United States of America.”
Bush, the only living Republican president besides Donald Trump, announced yesterday that he would attend Joe Biden’s inauguration later this month.
The Guardian’s Kari Paul reports:
Facebook and YouTube removed a video post from the account of Donald Trump in which the president attempted to delegitimize the result of the presidential election after his supporters stormed the US Capitol.
Facebook and YouTube’s rare enforcement action were just two of several actions social media companies took against messaging from the president in an attempt to respond to the unprecedented chaos unfolding at the US Capitol.
Earlier on Wednesday, Twitter blocked several posts from Donald Trump – including the one Facebook deleted – from being shared, citing a “risk of violence”. However it declined to remove the video in question.
“In line with our Civic Integrity Policy and recent guidance, we have placed a label on the Tweet, and have significantly restricting engagement with the Tweet due to the risk of violence,” a spokesman said. “This means this Tweet will not be able to be replied to, Retweeted, or liked.”
Trump revels in violent mob storming the Capitol
Donald Trump justified a group of his supporters storming the US Capitol by citing his baseless claims of widespread election fraud.
The president said in a new tweet, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Trump seemed to be reveling in the events of the day just moments after reports emerged that a woman who was shot at the US Capitol earlier today has now died.
DC curfew goes into effect
It is 6 pm ET, so the curfew in Washington has now taken effect. Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked residents to avoid public spaces until 6 am tomorrow.
An announcement played at the Capitol informing those there that anyone still on Capitol grounds after 6 pm would be subject to arrest.
Officials said the Capitol is now secure, about four hours after a breach by a pro-Trump mob, but it’s unclear whether lawmakers will be able to proceed with the electoral college vote count.
Woman shot at the Capitol has died – report
A woman shot in the chest on Capitol grounds today, as a pro-Trump mob stormed the building, has died, according to NBC News.
It was previously reported that the woman, who has not yet been identified, was in critical condition after sustaining gunshot wounds.
DC police chief says 13 people arrested in connection to Capitol ‘riot’
The DC police chief, Robert Contee, said that 13 people have been arrested so far in connection to the “riot” at the US Capitol.
Of those 13 people, three were from Arlington, Virginia. The other ten were from outside the Washington region.
It’s worth noting that, during last summer’s protests over the police killing of George Floyd, more than 400 people were arrested, mostly for curfew violations.
Contee told reporters that the rioters deployed “chemical irritants on police” to gain access to the US Capitol.
“A riot was declared. It was clear that the crowd was intent on causing harm to our officers,” Contee said.
A curfew will take effect in Washington in about 15 minutes.
US Capitol is ‘secure,’ sergeant at arms says
The sergeant at arms announced to lawmakers, who are being held in an undisclosed location, that the Capitol is now “secure.”
The room broke out in applause following the announcement.
Here’s how US politicians and commentators have been reacting to the Trump-fueled chaos at the Capitol today:
Ivanka Trump was fiercely criticized after she described the rioters who stormed the US Capitol as “American patriots.”
The president’s daughter said in the now-deleted tweet, “American patriots – any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable.”
Trump later tried to clean up the tweet by saying in response to a reporter’s question, “Peaceful protest is patriotic. Violence is unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest terms.”
Pentagon says Pence, not Trump, approved national guard deployment
The acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, said in a statement that he discussed the deployment of national guard troops to the Capitol with Mike Pence, not Donald Trump.
“Chairman Milley and I just spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the US Capitol,” Miller said in the statement.
“We have fully activated the DC National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation. We are prepared to provide additional support as necessary and appropriate as requested by local authorities.”
There were earlier reports that the Pentagon had initially denied the request for national guard troops to be deployed, but reinforcements have now been sent to the Capitol.
Law enforcement officials now appear to be trying to clear rioters out of areas of the Capitol by deploying teargas and flash grenades.
Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat of Oregon, confirmed that the electoral college ballots were saved by Senate floor staffers as they evacuated the chamber.
“If our capable floor staff hadn’t grabbed them, they would have been burned by the mob,” Merkley said in a tweet.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat of Illinois, credited a “very, very quick-thinking” staffer with grabbing the electoral college ballots before lawmakers were forced to evacuate the chamber.
“So we have them with us, and we will be able to proceed as long as Mitch McConnell calls us back into session,” Duckworth told CBS News.
Ilhan Omar, a progressive congresswoman from Minnesota, said she was drawing up articles of impeachment after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol today.
“Donald J. Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives & removed from office by the United States Senate,” Omar said.
“We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfill our oath.”
There had been some rumblings among Democrats about impeachment after Trump’s call with the Georgia secretary of state was made public, but some Democratic lawmakers said they did not think impeachment was necessary because Trump’s term will end in two weeks.
But the events of today may change some minds on that front.
The Guardian’s Kari Paul reports:
Twitter suspended two of Donald Trump’s tweets from being shared and flagged many others for misinformation as he appeared to encourage a violent insurrection at the US capitol.
The platform faced increased calls to suspend the president’s account after he condemned Vice-President Mike Pence for refusing to overturn election results over unsubstantiated reports of voter fraud.
It flagged a tweet in which Trump accused Pence of failing to have “the courage to do what should have been done” and refuse to certify the results. It prevented users from retweeting the message, citing “risk of violence”, the first time it has included such a tag.
“In regard to the ongoing situation in Washington, D.C., we are working proactively to protect the health of the public conversation occurring on the service and will take action on any content that violates the Twitter Rules,” the company wrote.
Further, the company’s Safety account, which shares updates and enforcements of company policy, released a series of statements saying it is working to rein in violent language on the platform as the attempted coup continues to unfold.
Twitter has flagged a number of tweets from Trump sharing misinformation or calling for violence in the last year. It has also faced criticism for failing to remove tweets quickly enough and calls to remove the account entirely.
“Threats of and calls to violence are against the Twitter Rules, and we are enforcing our policies accordingly,” the company wrote.
Twitter is not allowing users to engage with the video that Donald Trump just tweeted out due to “a risk of violence”.
In the video, Trump praised his supporters, some of whom stormed the US Capitol, as “very special”. The president said to them, “We love you.”
Trump praises supporters as ‘very special’ after mob storms the Capitol
Donald Trump has released a pre-recorded video urging his supporters, some of whom stormed the US Capitol with firearms, to “go home”, while also praising them as “very special”.
“I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side,” Trump said. “But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order.”
To say this for the 1,000th time, the president and his allies have produced no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.
Trump blamed his opponents for the violence today and praised his supporters, saying, “We can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you; you’re very special.”
According to reports, one woman is in critical condition after being shot in the chest on Capitol grounds, and one police officer has been transported to a local hospital.
Ossoff wins Georgia race, giving Democrats the Senate
Democrat Jon Ossoff has won his Senate runoff race against David Perdue, the AP just announced.
With the victories of Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the US Senate is now 50-50. Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris will serve as the tie-breaking 51st vote, giving Democrats control of the chamber.
This is the first time that Democrats will control the Senate since 2015.
Cori Bush, the newly elected progressive congresswoman from Missouri, said she would introduce a resolution calling for the expulsion of Republican members who have “incited this domestic terror attack through their attempts to overturn the election.”
When the Capitol was stormed by a pro-Trump mob, the House and the Senate were debating a Republican objection to the electoral votes from Arizona, which Joe Biden won in November.
Photos of Trump supporters are emerging from inside the Capitol building that are hard to believe. Before today, the idea that anyone could storm Congress like this, and occupy its offices and chambers, was simply unimaginable. Here is a selection of some of the surreal scenes from today so far:
Biden calls on Trump to ‘demand an end to this siege’
President-elect Joe Biden denounced the violence at the Capitol, after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building.
“At this hour, our democracy is under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware.
The Democratic president-elect lamented the “assault on the rule of law” in Washington, a “citadel of liberty”.
“The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are,” Biden said. “What we’re seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness.”
Biden said the violence at the Capitol “borders on sedition” and “must end now”.
“I call on President Trump to go on national television now, to fulfill his oath and defend the constitution and demand an end to this siege,” Biden said. “It’s not a protest; it’s insurrection. The world is watching.”
A senior spokesperson for the Pentagon confirmed that the DC national guard has been mobilized to address the violent situation at the Capitol.
The spokesperson, Jonathan Hoffman, also said the acting defense secretary, Christopher Miller, has been in contact with congressional leaders.
The Nato secretary general expressed shock at the images coming out of Washington, as a pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol.
“Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected,” Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet.
The message was a powerful reminder that the world is watching as Washington devolves into chaos.
A spokesman for Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said he was also sending National Guard troops and state troopers to Washington amid the violence at the Capitol.
White House says national guard is on the way
The White House said national guard troops are on their way to the Capitol, after the building was breached by a mob of Trump supporters.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said in a tweet, “At President @realDonaldTrump’s direction, the National Guard is on the way along with other federal protective services.”
She added, “We reiterate President Trump’s call against violence and to remain peaceful.”
Of course, it seems odd to ask the president’s supporters to “remain” peaceful, when some of them have already engaged in violence. According to reports, one woman is in critical condition after being shot on Capitol grounds.
Pence says the violence at the Capitol ‘must stop now’
The vice-president, who was evacuated from the Senate chamber after the Capitol was breached, said the violence and destruction taking place “must stop and it must stop now”.
“Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building,” Pence said in a tweet thread.
“Peaceful protest is the right of every American but this attack on our Capitol will not be tolerated and those involved will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Donald Trump has not yet called on the mob to disperse; he has simply asked them to “remain peaceful”, even as some of them engage in violence.
Today so far
Here’s what we know so far about what’s unfolding at the US Capitol:
A mob of Trump supporters have stormed the Capitol after attending a rally in Washington. Some are armed, and some have been involved in physical clashes with the police, while others have been able to enter the Senate and House chambers.
A woman is reportedly in critical condition after being shot on the grounds of the Capitol.
A former DC police chief has said “this is as close to a coup attempt as this country has ever seen”.
Trump has called on his supporters to “remain peaceful” despite instructing them to march to the Capitol at the rally earlier today.
The Democratic governor of Virginia said he is sending national guard troops and state troopers to Washington.
The Democratic governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, said he was sending National Guard troops and state troopers to DC to respond to the violent situation at the Capitol.
Abby Phillip of CNN noted that the lack of National Guard troops at the US Capitol was a stark contrast to last summer, when the guard was quickly deployed to respond to protesters who were outraged by the police killing of George Floyd.
Woman in critical condition after being shot on Capitol grounds – reports
A woman is in critical condition after being shot in the chest at the US Capitol as Trump supporters stormed the building, according to multiple reports.
Administration officials condemned the actions of the mob that breached the Capitol, but it’s unclear whether federal authorities are sending assistance to US Capitol police.
Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman, described Donald Trump’s tweet to his supporters storming the US Capitol as “cowardice.”
Speaking to CNN, the Illinois congressman called on the president to acknowledge his defeat in the presidential race and allow the electoral college vote count to move forward.
Trump’s former acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, also said the president needed to instruct his supporters to “go home.”
Donald Trump has sent another tweet asking his supporters to “remain peaceful”, as some of them storm the US Capitol.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!” Trump said.
It’s important to remember that, at the end of his speech at the rally in Washington today, Trump instructed his supporters to march to the Capitol and protest against the electoral college vote certification.
The president also sent a tweet criticizing Mike Pence for not trying to block the certification, before he sent a much more subdued tweet urging protesters to stay peaceful.
The Washington Post is now reporting that the defense department has denied a request from DC officials to deploy the national guard to the US Capitol.
The defense department is currently led by acting secretary Christopher Miller, who was appointed in November, after Donald Trump abruptly fired Mark Esper.
The situation at the Capitol has made it clear that the US Capitol police need more assistance, and those watching the situation are starting to ask why help hasn’t arrived.
The Trump supporters storming the Capitol are now walking on the Senate floor, after the vice-president and lawmakers who were in the chamber were evacuated amid the electoral college vote certification.
Alyssa Farah, who served as Donald Trump’s communications director until last month, called on the president to condemn the actions of his supporters as they stormed the US Capitol.
So far, the president has sent two tweets since the Capitol was breached. One criticized Mike Pence for not trying to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, and the other (much less enthusiastic) one urged his supporters to “stay peaceful.”
Ex-police chief warns of ‘coup attempt’
Charles Ramsey, a former DC police chief, said he believes Donald Trump should “shut the hell up and get out of the way” to allow law enforcement to secure the Capitol.
“This is as close to a coup attempt as this country has ever seen,” Ramsey told CNN.
Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Democrat of Virginia, confirmed that members were given gas masks before being evacuated from the floor, and teargas was deployed in the Rotunda.
A HuffPost reporter shared a photo from inside the chamber, showing one protester on the dais as he yelled that Donald Trump won the presidential election. (He obviously did not.)
A congressional reporter said one protester was shooting into the House chamber, as police officers tried to barricade the door with guns drawn.
Pro-Trump protesters are now surrounding the House chamber, and members are reportedly being evacuated from the floor.
After encouraging his supporters to march to the Capitol amid the electoral vote certification and sending a tweet criticizing Mike Pence, Donald Trump finally sent this very tepid message to protesters to “stay peaceful.”
The mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser, has announced a citywide curfew from 6pm tonight until 6am tomorrow, after pro-Trump protesters breached the US Capitol.
Trump lashes out against Pence as protesters breach the Capitol
The House and the Senate have now both recessed, due to concerns about pro-Trump protesters breaching the Capitol.
As Capitol police issued instructions to lawmakers and staffers on how to stay safe amid the chaos, Donald Trump sent a tweet criticizing Mike Pence for not trying to circumvent the will of American voters by blocking the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
Trump said, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
According to reports, Pence was quickly moved out of the Senate chamber due to concerns about his safety after the Capitol was breached.
Pro-Trump protesters breach the Capitol
The pro-Trump protesters have now breached the Capitol and are standing outside the Senate chamber as lawmakers debate a Republican objection to Arizona’s electoral votes.
Capitol goes into lockdown as Trump supporters clash with police
The US Capitol is now on lockdown, with no one allowed to go in or out, as Trump supporters clash with police outside the building.
Hundreds of protesters have attempted to breach the barricades around the Capitol, as lawmakers inside the building move toward certifying Joe Biden’s victory.
It’s important to note that Donald Trump instructed his supporters to march to the Capitol when he addressed rally attendees in Washington this afternoon.
“We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave — I love Pennsylvania Avenuw — and we’re going to the Capitol,” the president said.
“We’re going to try and give our Republicans — the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help — we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” Trump added. “So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
The situation at the Capitol is getting alarming, as Trump supporters attempt to breach the barricades around the building.
Reporters sitting in the Senate press gallery were informed that, if protesters storm the building, they would be taken into the Senate chamber with the door locked behind them.
Elaine Luria, a Democratic congresswoman from Virginia, said her House office was evacuated due to a report of a pipe bomb outside.
“I don’t recognize our country today and the members of Congress who have supported this anarchy do not deserve to represent their fellow Americans,” Luria said in a tweet.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy also urged the protesters near the Capitol, some of whom have attempted to storm barricades, to “remain peaceful.”
Senator Ted Cruz defended his objection to Arizona’s electoral votes by noting that polling shows 39% of Americans believe the election was rigged.
Of course, the reason that many Americans believe that is because Donald Trump and his allies have spread baseless claims of widespread election fraud without presenting any evidence.
So Cruz is effectively citing Republicans’ faith in the president as evidence of fraud, without presenting any actual evidence of fraud.
McConnell warns blocking certification would ‘damage our republic forever’
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, made an impassioned speech in favor of certification, as the chamber debated an objection to Arizona’s electoral votes.
“I’ve served 36 years in the Senate,” the Republican leader said. “This will be the most important vote I have ever cast.”
McConnell warned that overruling the will of the people in the presidential election would do irreparable harm to American democracy.
“The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken,” McConnell said. “If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.”
McConnell also noted that the November election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was not particularly close, certainly not close enough to raise doubts about the outcome.
“If this election were overturned by mere accusations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” McConnell said.
Criticizing the members of his party who are objecting to the certification, McConnell added, “I will not pretend that such a vote is a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.”
House offices evacuated as Trump supporters storm Capitol barriers
Capitol Police are ordering two House offices to be evacuated as hundreds of Trump supporters stormed barriers around the building.
Videos showed Trump supporters, who attended today’s “March to Save America” rally in Washington, clashing with police officers on the Capitol steps.
After congressman Paul Gosar raised an objection to Arizona’s electoral votes and confirmed the objection was co-signed by senator Ted Cruz, Republicans offered Gosar a standing ovation in the chamber.
The House and the Senate will now debate Gosar’s objection for up to two hours, and it is expected to be easily defeated.
Republicans raise first objection to electoral college certification
Congressional Republicans have raised their first objection to the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race.
After senator Amy Klobuchar announced Arizona’s 11 electoral votes would go to Biden and Kamala Harris, Paul Gosar, a Republican congressman from Arizona, raised an objection.
Mike Pence asked if Gosar’s objection was co-signed by a senator, as required by law, and Gosar confirmed that it was.
The House and the Senate will now debate the objection for up to two hours. The objection is expected to be easily defeated.
Republicans are also expected to object to the Georgia and Pennsylvania electoral votes, so Congress will go through this process at least three times.
It’s going to be a long day.
Nancy Pelosi opened the joint session by noting that only a limited number of people were allowed on the floor at a time, to comply with social-distancing guidelines.
The Democratic speaker’s announcement was met with grumbling on the Republican side, and congressman Morgan Griffith then posed a parliamentary inquiry to ask how lawmakers were supposed to object if only 11 members are allowed on the floor.
Mike Pence dismissed Griffith’s inquiry by saying that debate is not allowed during such a session. So far, it appears the vice-president plans to oversee the session by adhering very closely to the rules.
Congress convenes to finalize Biden’s victory
Mike Pence, the vice-president, and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, have now taken their places to oversee the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
The electoral college votes have made their way to the House floor to be formally counted.
Pence says he will not try to block certification of Biden’s victory
Mike Pence has released a letter announcing that he will not attempt to block the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory today.
Citing his constitutional obligations, Pence writes that the vice-president does not have the “unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted”.
“Our Founders were deeply skeptical of concentrations of power and created a Republic based on separation of powers and checks and balances,” Pence said.
“Vesting the VP with unilateral authority to decide presidential contests would be entirely antithetical to that design.”
Donald Trump has repeatedly pressured Pence to try to block Congress from finalizing Biden’s victory, even though there is no precedent for doing so.
The president said moments ago at the “March to Save America” rally in Washington, “Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our constitution.”
If Merrick Garland is confirmed as attorney general, it would open up a seat on the highly influential US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit.
The appeals court is often seen as a training ground for the supreme court, and Joe Biden’s team has reportedly already discussed who should be nominated to fill Garland’s seat.
With Democrats expected to win a Senate majority after strong showings in both of Georgia’s runoff races, they would likely have an easier path in both confirming Garland as attorney general — and the nominee eventually named to replace him on the court.
Biden advisers have discussed Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently a judge on the U.S. District Court for D.C., to replace Garland on the D.C. Circuit court, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The Guardian is still waiting on an official AP race call in the second Georgia Senate election, but Jon Ossoff has slightly grown his lead over David Perdue.
The Democratic candidate now has 17,567 more votes than his Republican opponent, representing a lead of 0.4 points.
If Ossoff’s lead ends up being more than 0.5 points, the race will be outside of recount territory.
Raphael Warnock, who has already been declared the winner of his election, currently leads Kelly Loeffler by 1.2 points, so that race will not be eligible for a recount either.
Donald Trump is putting the pressure on Mike Pence, who will oversee the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory today.
Speaking to attendees of the “March to Save America” rally in Washington, Trump said the vice-president needs to “come through” for his supporters.
“Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution,” Trump said.
The president went on to say that Pence could send the election back to the states to re-certify the results, but that has never been done by any vice-president in US history.
Pence has reportedly told Trump that he has no power to influence the outcome of the certification because the role of the vice-president at today’s session is more ceremonial than anything.
Biden to nominate Merrick Garland as attorney general – reports
Joe Biden has selected federal judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to lead the justice department, according to multiple reports.
Biden selected Garland over former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates, choosing to elevate the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals in D.C. to run the Justice Department. …
In a Republican-controlled Senate, Jones was viewed as the easiest candidate to get confirmed given his strong relationships across the aisle. Garland was also considered a risk in that it would be difficult to confirm a replacement for him on the appellate court.
But with Democrats expected to have won the majority with a pair of upset victories in Georgia, confirmation issues with other candidates largely dissipated.
Barack Obama nominated Garland to the supreme court in 2015, after the death of Antonin Scalia, but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider his nomination. After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, Scalia’s seat was ultimately filled by Neil Gorsuch.
Trump says he will ‘never concede’ as Congress nears certifying Biden’s win
Donald Trump is now speaking to attendees of the “March to Save America” rally in Washington, less than an hour before Congress will convene to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
The president reiterated his baseless claims of widespread fraud in the election, telling rally attendees, “We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
Of course, Trump and his allies have failed to produce any evidence of widespread fraud in the November election.
And although some congressional Republicans intend to object to the certification of Biden’s win today, they have no path to actually blocking the president-elect from taking office.
The fact remains that Biden’s victory will be certified today, and he will be sworn in on January 20.
•Jon Ossoff is closing in on victory in the Georgia US Senate race. The Democrat was leading by more than 17,000 votes on Wednesday morning. A victory for Ossoff would tie the US Senate 50-50, effectively handing control to Democrats as Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris would have the tie-breaking vote.
•Raphael Warnock won his Senate election overnight, defeating Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. He becomes the first Black Democratic senator to be elected from the south and Georgia’s first ever Black senator. In a victory speech Warnock noted that his mother, who had been a teenage sharecropper, had voted for him. “The 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton went to the polls and picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” Warnock said.
•Joe Biden congratulated Warnock and promised “urgent action” on a fresh Covid relief bill. “I have long said that the bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill passed in December was just a down payment. We need urgent action on what comes next, because the COVID-19 crisis hits red states and blue states alike.”
•Thousands of Trump supporters have gathered in Washington for what is a doomed attempt to have Congress reject Joe Biden as president. Congress is meeting to certify each state’s election results, but a dozen Republican senators have announced they will join with conspiracy-minded members of the House of Representatives to reject the outcome of certain states.
More than 50 people including pro-democracy politicians and campaigners have been arrested in early morning raids in Hong Kong, in an unprecedented crackdown by authorities on opposition in the region.
The activists were reportedly held under the national security law, with some accused of “subverting state power” by holding primaries and saying they intended to win a majority of seats in the Hong Kong election. Under the national security law (NSL) subversion carries a maximum penalty of life in prison for “principal offenders”.
The sweeping arrests on Wednesday morning came without warning, and shocked observers. It is the largest single mass arrest of people under the NSL, and appeared to relate to just a singular event: the holding of democratic votes. It also included the first apparent arrest of a foreigner under the law, a US citizen and lawyer.
Political parties associated with those arrested said the move by police appeared to be related to unofficial primaries held by the pan-democrats last year, ahead of the Hong Kong election. Campaigners had been aiming for 35 seats – a majority in the legislative council. The election was ultimately delayed by Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, for a year purportedly because of the pandemic.
“Being arrested for sedition for taking part in democracy 35+,” tweeted Dr Kwok Ka Ki, one of four legislators disqualified in November, who was detained on Wednesday morning.
District councillor Ng Kin-wai live-streamed his arrest, the video capturing an officer specifying he was accused of participating in “a primary election named ‘35+ citizens vote’ in the year 2020 in order to elect 35 or more winners to join the Legislative Council.”
The Facebook page of jailed activist Joshua Wong, said his home was also raided on Wednesday morning.
Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the mass arrests removed “the remaining veneer of democracy in the city”.
“Beijing once again has failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: that repression generates resistance, and that millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government.”
UK-based Hong Kong Watch accused Beijing of “once again undermining Hong Kong’s democracy & breaching its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration”.
“The international community must respond with Magnitsky sanctions and other punitive measures demonstrating that an attack on democracy has consequences.”
International condemnation and diplomatic sanctions on Beijing and Hong Kong officials have had little to no impact on the crackdown.
The timing of the arrests was widely seen as deliberate, occurring on the day of the US run-off vote in Georgia, two weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration, and just after the EU agreed to a trade deal with China.
Anthony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, labeled the arrests “an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights” and said the Biden-Harris administration would stand with Hong Kong people against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.
US Republican senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said the raids were “despicable”.
“Chairman Xi sees a divided and distracted America, and he isn’t wasting the moment. These despicable raids expose the Chinese Communist Party for the cowardly dictators they are.”
At the time of the primaries the Hong Kong government claimed it had received complaints that the poll might have “interfered with and manipulated” the election, and that by pledging to win a majority of seats in order to block government bills candidates and campaigners had potentially violated the NSL.
The NSL defines subversion to include organising or planning to seriously interfere, disrupt or undermine “the performance of duties and functions” by the Central or Hong Kong governments.
The primary polls, while not a formal part of Hong Kong’s election process, drew an estimated 600,000 people out to vote for democracy candidates in what was seen as a litmus test of the public’s response to government crackdowns, and an act of protest.
But Beijing’s top representatives in Hong Kong labelled the primaries “illegal” and accused organisers of colluding with foreign powers in a “serious provocation” of Hong Kong’s electoral system.
“The goal of organiser Benny Tai and the opposition camp is to seize the ruling power of Hong Kong and … carry out a Hong Kong version of ‘colour revolution’,” said a spokesman for the Liaison Office, whose chief is also in charge of implementing the national security laws.
After the polls closed Tai predicted as many as 45 seats could be won by pro-democracy candidates, but he was wary of backlash from those in power.
“Everyone must be mentally prepared.”
Later on Wednesday morning police also visited the newsroom of Hong Kong online outlet, Stand News. In the live-streamed visit, officers delivered a document relating to the NSL, but said they had no current plans to search the office or take anyone away for investigation.Police also searched the offices of law firm Ho Tse Wai & Partners, and reportedly arrested lawyer John Clancy, who CNN reported was a US citizen.
The Beijing-designed law was imposed in June last year, and criminalised secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, including benign acts of protest. Until Wednesday around 35 people had been arrested under the law, and four charged, including media mogul Jimmy Lai. Prosecutors have fought to ensure none are released on bail, suggesting anyone charged from Wednesday’s raids will likely be detained.
Lam and Beijing have repeatedly claimed the NSL was necessary to restore order in Hong Kong after the mass protests of 2019, in part to protect and maintain business confidence in the financial hub.
On Wednesday the chair of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce said the political crackdown was having “a significant negative impact on business”.
“Legitimate questions about rule of law raised and as Hong Kong’s image deteriorates, it becomes more and more difficult to defend why you should maintain costly operations here.”
The coronavirus crisis has reached a “critical point” and immediate and decisive action is needed, an organisation representing NHS trusts in England has warned .
NHS Providers boss Chris Hopson said NHS trust leaders are “clear” tier 3 rules are “insufficient” and believe tier 4 rules “appear to just slow down the rate of increase” rather than cut it.
The latest NHS England figures show a total of 3,145 admissions in England were reported for 2 January, passing the previous peak of 3,099 set on 1 April last year. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at 26,626 as of 8am on 4 January — a week-on-week increase of 30%.
Hopson said that, having spoken to trust leaders across the country, coupled with the latest statistics, “it’s clear we have reached a critical point where immediate and decisive action is now needed to stem the rapidly rising rate of infections, hospital admissions and deaths”.
He said: “Hospitals are filling up with Covid patients at a deeply alarming rate. Today’s figures show that, in the 10 days since Xmas, we’ve seen nearly 9,000 more Covid patients in hospital beds. That’s equivalent to 18 hospitals full of new Covid patients in just 10 days. Any changes must therefore have a significant impact as quickly as possible. Half measures at this point would be very dangerous.”
Hopson said the new variant had “changed the rules of the game”, adding: “We cannot continue on the current trajectory and must react accordingly.”
He added: “Today’s news on the first Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses being administered provides a really important, positive, context here. This genuinely is one more, time-limited, push to get through the next few months”.
Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier arrested over alleged Covid rule breach
The Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier, 60, has been arrested and charged in connection with alleged culpable and reckless conduct over an alleged breach of coronavirus regulations between 26 and 29 September 2020.
Welsh schools and colleges to move to remote teaching until 18 January
All schools and colleges in Wales will move to online learning until 18 January, the education minister has said.
In a written statement to Members of the Senedd, the education minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “The situation in Wales and across the UK remains very serious. Today, the four UK chief medical officers have agreed that the UK is now at the highest level of risk, Joint Biosecurity Council Level 5.
“In the light of that decision the Welsh government, in consultation with the WLGA and Colegau Cymru, has agreed that all schools, colleges and independent schools should move to online learning until 18 January.
“As a government we will use the next two weeks to continue to work with local authorities, schools and colleges to plan for the rest of term. This is the best way to ensure that parents, staff and learners can be confident in the return to face-to-face learning, based on the latest evidence and information.”
“Really major additional measures” are immediately needed to control the spread of coronavirus, with school closures being the “biggest lever” available, Sage member Prof John Edmunds has said.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine scientist told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “We’re in a really difficult situation.
“The new strain is significantly more transmissible than the old strains. So we have to take significant extra measures to stop the NHS from becoming overwhelmed with Covid patients. Unfortunately we are going to have to take some really major additional measures, I can’t see any other way out of it.
“The biggest lever that has only partly been pulled is school closures. That would have the biggest effect of a single measure and I can see that happening.”
He later added: “What we have to do now, and it’s horrible I know, but we have to take really quite stringent steps right now and as stringent as we can right now.”
Edmunds rejected suggestions that a lack of public compliance with restrictions is a major issue, saying: “I don’t think that’s a major issue myself, I think people are pretty compliant.”
CMOs: UK alert level should move to level 5
The UK’s four chief medical officers and NHS England medical director have recommended that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 5.
In a statement, the CMOs and director said: “Many parts of the health systems in the four nations are already under immense pressure. There are currently very high rates of community transmission, with substantial numbers of Covid patients in hospitals and in intensive care. Cases are rising almost everywhere, in much of the country driven by the new more transmissible variant. We are not confident that the NHS can handle a further sustained rise in cases and without further action there is a material risk of the NHS in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”
The statement adds that despite “immense pressure” on the NHS, changes have been made so people can still receive lifesaving treatment, and stress that people should come forward for emergency care. People are advised to contact their GP or call NHS111 if they require non-urgent medical attention.
Level 5 is the highest alert level, and means there is a risk of the NHS being overwhelmed.
During the first lockdown the UK was judged to be at level 4.
Hello, I’ll be taking over the blog for the remainder of the evening ahead of Boris Johnson’s televised address at 8pm, where he will outline new measures to deal with the UK’s rapidly escalating coronavirus crisis.
The prime minister’s address comes as the country reports its highest ever daily number of new cases, with 58,784 further infections registered. As well as being a record rise, Monday’s figure is also the seventh time in a row that the daily number of cases has topped 50,000, which had never happened until last week.
The UK’s chief medical officers are understood to have agreed to raise the Covid-19 alert level to five – its highest – meaning there is a risk of the NHS being “overwhelmed”.
Arlene Foster, the first minister of Northern Ireland, has said that the region faces a “very dire situation” and that ministers will have “very difficult decisions to take” when they meet this evening. She told reporters:
It is very clear to me that we cannot keep going in the trajectory upon which we currently are, 1,801 cases today, something similar yesterday, over 2,000 the day before. We cannot keep going in this direction or our health service will fall over, it will not be able to cope with what is going on.
That’s all from me for this evening. My colleague Clea Skopeliti will be taking over the blog now and she will be covering Boris Johnson’s TV announcement at 8pm.
Covid hospital admissions in England now higher than during first wave peak, latest figures show
Total Covid hospital numbers for England have also hit a new high, at 26,626. During the first wave they peaked at 18,974 on 12 April. That figure was passed on boxing day.
Two-thirds of schools for primary-age children in Portsmouth have closed their doors over fears of rising coronavirus rates, PA Media reports.
Despite the government stating that primary education should remain open, 30 infant, junior and primary schools in the Hampshire city, which is a tier 4 area, have decided to move to remote learning apart from for vulnerable children and key workers’ children.
A total of 13 schools have stated they intend to remain fully or partly open while two are undecided, according to figures released by Portsmouth city council.
EastEnders will start later as a result of the prime minister’s televised address to the nation at 8pm, PA Media reports. The BBC One soap was due to air at 8.05pm but will now air at 8.35pm.
Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first minister, says her executive will be meeting later tonight, following talks with the UK government, to discuss further coronavirus restrictions.
There have been 1,801 further cases in Northern Ireland and 12 further deaths.
Here are the latest daily coronavirus figures from Public Health Wales.
For comparison, here are the equivalent recorded case and death figures for Wales for the last four Mondays.
A week ago today – 2,273 cases, 15 deaths
Two weeks ago today – 2,563 cases, 10 deaths
Three weeks ago today – 1,228 cases, 33 deaths
Four weeks ago today – 2,021 cases, 2 deaths
Support for national lockdown up since Christmas and now running at 79%, poll suggests
According to a snap YouGov poll, members of the public support another national lockdown by a margin of five to one.
Some 79% of people either strongly (51%) or somewhat (28%) support the idea. Only 16% are either strongly (7%) or somewhat (9%) opposed.
This is an even larger margin of support for another lockdown than when YouGov last polled on this just before Christmas.
Today’s YouGov poll also suggests 69% of people think the government has handled the school re-opening issue badly.
According to the Financial Times (paywall), which says it has been briefed by “several Whitehall officials”, cabinet ministers agreed this afternoon that “primary and secondary schools would probably close until the mid-February half-term break”.
Schools in Wales will begin to reopen this month unless the evidence about the new strain of coronavirus changes, the country’s health minister, Vaughan Gething, has said.
Some schools in Wales are preparing to resume face-to-face learning as early as Wednesday, in line with the government’s current plan to allow them to choose when to reopen ahead of an expected full return by 18 January.
Gething said the government is still planning for schools “to open in a flexible way”, and that control measures to prevent the spread of the virus have been “largely effective”.
Unions have called for a rethink of the plan due to safety concerns. The Welsh TUC called for “a far more cautious approach” from the Welsh government, including moving all schools to home learning for most, so that only pupils who are vulnerable or the children of key workers return to school while the role of young people in transmitting the new coronavirus variant continues to be investigated.
UK Covid cases reach new daily record high at close to 60,000
The UK has recorded 58,784 further cases. This is the highest daily figure ever for recorded cases (beating 57,725 on Saturday) and the seventh day in a row that the daily number of cases has topped 50,000, which had never happened until last week. Over the holiday period the number of cases being reported has varied more than usual day by day, but the number of cases reported over the last seven days is 50% higher than during the previous week. The trend is clear; cases are rising very sharply, even though the amount of testing being carried out has changed little over the last fortnight.
The UK has recorded 407 further deaths. That is the lowest daily total since last Monday (357) but, week on week, deaths are still up 21%.
Starmer says school closures in England ‘now inevitable’
Sir Keir Starmer has said a national lockdown “in the spirit of March” is now needed, with schools closed.
Speaking to the BBC, the Labour leader said the government also needed to spell out clearly its plan to defeat the virus through vaccination with a goal of four million vaccines a week by February. He said:
The virus is out of control. The tier system clearly isn’t working and we all know tougher measures are necessary.
If we are asking the British people to be subject to tough national restrictions – and we are because that needs to happen straight away – then the contract needs to be that the vaccine programme is rolled out as quickly as possible, two million a week in January and double that in February. That needs to be the deal.
It needs to be back to the spirit of March. Now you see lots of people out and about, trains that are half full. We need very strong messaging about staying at home.
I’m afraid the closure of schools are now inevitable and that needs to be part of the national plan for restrictions. We need measures in place to protect working parents, to enable children to learn at home and a plan to get schools safely reopen.
Scottish business leaders have expressed alarm about the announcement of a new lockdown. This is from Tracy Black, the director of CBI Scotland.
Firms understand that a sharp spike in infection numbers require a swift response to protect public health. But news of a national lockdown will be a severe setback for Scottish companies trying to claw back losses from 2020 and vital trading over the Christmas period.
There’s now an urgent need for existing financial support to be unlocked, so companies can survive the Spring and beyond, and for Holyrood to clarify guidance on what constitutes an essential business.
And this is from Liz Cameron, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
Today’s news is another blow to the private sector’s recovery from this pandemic. Whilst we fully appreciate the need for the Scottish government to act in response to the worrying rise in Covid cases, we cannot ignore the direct impact this will have on business and livelihoods.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the Commons, has sent an email to MPs confirming that the Commons will be recalled at 11.30am on Wednesday. But he is urging them not to attend in person. He says:
As per my advice on the previous recall, I would strongly urge you NOT to physically come to Westminster to participate in any business unless absolutely necessary due to the current severe public health situation. Members’ staff should also be working from home and I have asked the house authorities to limit house staff on the estate to a bare minimum.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has called for more testing and tougher quarantine restrictions for people arriving in the UK. Speaking to PA Media, he said:
Other countries that have been affected have not allowed people to come in unless they properly quarantine for a period of time and there is proper testing. If you compare and contrast what happens at our airports in relation to the airports in, for example, Seoul, there is a big difference.
So I’m really frustrated, as the mayor of a city with a number of airports serving us – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, City, plus the Eurostar – at the ease with which people can come in to our city, potentially with new strains of the virus …
I’m asking for much more strict controls in relation to those arriving in our country, including not least far more testing at the point of arrival and proper quarantining before they leave the airport firstly for the testing and before they can leave their homes.
Commenting on the news that Boris Johnson will make a TV address to the nation tonight, Sir Keir Starmer said:
I hope the prime minister has been listening to the clear calls for tough national restrictions.
This is what Starmer posted on Twitter around this time yesterday.
NHS England has recorded 376 further deaths of hospital patients who have tested positive for coronavirus. The details are here.
For comparison, here are the equivalent figures for the last four Mondays.
A week ago today – 318
Two weeks ago today – 198
Three weeks ago today – 179
Four weeks ago today – 190
The Scottish government has also published a four-page document (pdf) setting out the state of the epidemic in Scotland. It includes this chart which shows that (not for the first time) Nicola Sturgeon is tightening restrictions in Scotland beyond what is in place in England even though in England Covid cases are higher.
This is from the BBC’s Nick Eardley.
As Eardley says, alert levels are not the same as tiers. The government defined five potential alert levels in May, when it published its Covid recovery strategy. Alert level 5 is the highest and it means that, as well as the virus being in general circulation and transmission being high or rising exponentially (the conditions that apply at level 4), “there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed”.
During the first lockdown the UK was judged to be at level 4.
Here is my colleague Severin Carrell’s story about the new Scottish lockdown.
In her statement to the Scottish parliament Nicola Sturgeon said the most recent figures show 15% of coronavirus tests carried out in Scotland were positive. Yesterday the figure was 15.2%. These numbers are a sign of how serious the problem is in Scotland. Sturgeon has said before the World Health Organisation regards getting test positivity below 5% (which happened at times in Scotland in early December) as proof that an outbreak is under control. This chart, from the Scottish government’s dashboard, shows the trend.
Johnson to make TV address this evening as No 10 says further steps needed to tackle Covid
Boris Johnson seems to have got the message. (See 2.39pm.) Downing Street has just announced that he is recalling parliament for Wednesday, and that he is making a TV address to the nation at 8pm tonight.
A No 10 spokesman said:
The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.
The prime minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.
He will set those out this evening.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, has told Sky News that he agrees with Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative former health secretary, about the need for the government to impose a new lockdown in England now. (See 12.37pm.) Hunt was “spot on”, Khan said.
These are from Prof Stephen Reicher, professor of psychology and neuroscience at St Andrews University, who, as well as being a good Guardian reader, is an adviser to both the Scottish and UK governments on coronavirus.
Turning back to England, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace) has called for all schools to close to allow teachers to be vaccinated as a priority. As the Local Government Chronicle reports, Ade Adetosoye, Solace spokesperson for children and families, said:
The welfare of our children is paramount and one of the core functions of the state is to protect them from harm. In the current context the only way to achieve this is to close all schools and move to online learning for a period of time during which teachers should be fast-tracked for vaccination.
While such an approach is not without consequence or risk, the only way to reduce inequality in education long-term is to limit this ‘stop-start’ approach to school closures and openings.
Sturgeon says all over-50s and other vulnerable people in Scotland should get first dose of vaccine by early May
Sturgeon says more than 100,000 people in Scotland have had their first dose of vaccine. She says the AstraZeneca jab is being rolled out from today. And by the end of January the government will have access to 900,000 doses, she says (including the 1000,000 already delivered).
She says, following the new vaccine policy (ie holding back second doses), by “early May” everyone over 50, and everyone with underlying health conditions making them a priority, will have received their first dose of vaccine.
She stresses that these timetables are “heavily dependent on supply”.
Sturgeon says schools and nurseries will be the first places the government wants to reopen.
She says the government will consider whether teachers and childcare staff can be prioritised for vaccines.
Schools in Scotland to close for most pupils until 1 February, Sturgeon says
Sturgeon says schools will be closed for the majority of pupils until 1 February.
There will be exemptions for the children of key workers and vulnerable children, she says.
She says this is the most difficult decision the government has had to take.
Sturgeon is now giving the details of the new measures.
Delay “almost always makes things worse” in dealing with Covid, she says.
She says the decisions on schools will apply to all parts of Scotland.
But the measures she is announcing now apply to parts of Scotland in level 4 – ie mainland Scotland.
These measures will strengthen level 4. They will be in place for the whole of January, but could last longer.
First, the advice to stay at home will become mandatory. People will only be allowed to leave home if they have a reasonable excuse. And they should work from home if they can.
She says this will be a legal requirement.
The economy secretary will speak to businesses about these rules later today, Sturgeon says.
She says new guidance will be issued to people who have had to shield. They should stay at home, and they will all get a letter telling them this, she says.
She says from tomorrow only a maximum of two people, from two households, will be able to meet outdoors. Children aged 11 and under will not be included, she says.
Non-essential travel into and out of Scotland will not be allowed, she says.
And she says from Friday places of worship will have to close.
Up to 20 people will be allowed to attend a funeral, but wakes will not be allowed in January.
She says workplace canteens will have to enforce the 2-metre rule again; the 1-metre exemption will no longer be allowed.
Sturgeon says there have been 1,905 new cases in Scotland. And 15% of tests are positive.
She says no new deaths are reported today, but that is because registration offices were closed yesterday.
She says there have been 289 deaths since she last updated parliament before Christmas.
Sturgeon says new variant of coronavirus now accounts for almost half new cases in Scotland
Sturgeon says the new variant has changed the situation.
She compares the situation now to a race.
In one lane is the vaccine, and in another lane is the virus, which is now running faster because of the way it has changed.
She says the new variant now accounts for almost half of new cases in Scotland.
She says she is more concerned now about the situation than she has been at any time since March last year.
Nicola Sturgeon confirms Scotland facing new lockdown from tonight
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is making her statement to the Scottish parliament now.
She says the cabinet has decided to introduce from midnight tonight a legal requirement to stay at home, except for essential purposes.
This is similar to the lockdown announced last year, she says.
Welsh lockdown restrictions set to last for whole of January, health minister says
Wales’s lockdown restrictions are almost certainly likely to last for the whole of January, the Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said.
Gething also suggested that police should take firm action against people who were breaking Wales’ strict travel rules to visit beauty spots for exercise.
The Welsh government is due to announce later this week whether its alert level 4 restrictions will change this month.
Asked if the lockdown was likely to last into February and even beyond, Gething said:
I think it would be unusual and not what people expect for us to decide to come out of level 4 at the end of this week.
We haven’t seen the direct impact yet in our figures of the mixing that will have taken place over Christmas or those people who went outside the rules over new year.
Asked about reports of people breaking the rules by driving to beauty spots in Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons, Gething said:
If people are deciding to drive to go for a walk up a mountain I think those people know they are doing the wrong thing. My view is that we need to support the police in taking enforcement measures. Ten months deep into a global pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 3,500 people in our country, I have a great deal less tolerance of people who are knowingly doing the wrong thing.
Sturgeon expected to announce full lockdown for Scotland from tonight
Scotland will be placed in a full lockdown from midnight tonight to avoid the coronavirus pandemic spiralling out of control, Nicola Sturgeon is expected to tell the Scottish parliament this afternoon.
The first minister is also expected to announce in an emergency statement at 2pm that all Scotland’s schools will remain closed for the whole of January, shifting to online learning, because of the risks posed by the new Covid variant, B117.
The new “stay at home” rules, mirroring the very strict controls imposed last March, will also be legally enforced and greatly restrict who is able to travel, the Scottish government’s cabinet agreed earlier on Monday.
While Scotland has not experienced the sharp escalation in the number of people in hospital with Covid seen in parts of England over the last week, the number of positive cases has risen to new records every day, hitting 2,464 yesterday.
In her interview with Radio 5 Live, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), was asked if vaccines would need to go through entire the regulatory process all over again if they get adapted to deal with a new variant of the virus.
It would depend on whether there was “a big tweak or a small tweak” to the vaccine, she said. But she said the MHRA was already looking at this issue. She said:
We’re already looking at whether we would need to do, as you suggest, a full relook, or whether we can have a way of amending or updating a current approval. And that’s all in hand at the moment. We’re looking to make sure this is done in the shortest time possible if it has to be done.
Some readers have been asking how many schools in England that were meant to open today have been closed. We don’t have proper figures yet, but this tweet, from Emma Parker, a member of the National Education Union’s executive, gives an insight into the situation in Durham. She says more than 400 union members have used section 44 of the Employment Rights Act to argue that going to work is not safe, and that there have been 67 school closures.
In an interview with Radio 5 live Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), played down the suggestion from Boris Johnson (see 11.44am) that the need for batch testing was holding up the supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Asked about Johnson’s comment, she said:
It’s part of our end-to-end process where everything is thoroughly checked, the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control batch release biological medicines as their job and so that process begins very early, before approval is granted, to look at what is needed to do all the right checks and therefore at the time of approval everything is there and in hand.
Asked if the MHRA is able to do this as quickly as possible, Raine said:
Yes, and we have scaled up, in the fullness of time, if there are more vaccines, to be able to batch release all of them. I was really proud last Wednesday when we approved the AZ vaccine, the Oxford/AZ vaccine, that we had approved the first batch the night before. We are that nimble and that quick.
The MHRA is fully scaled up to do the batch testing that’s so important for confidence as the new products come through.
It’s a supply chain that goes right back from the manufacturer, right through to MHRA, and then on to the clinical bedside or where the vaccines are delivered, so we are a step on the road but our capacity is there, I’m very clear about that.
Asked whether it was reasonable to have a target of two million vaccinations a week, Raine said:
It is aspirational, but depending on the size of the batch, most certainly we have the capacity.
Rates of coronavirus have fallen in Wales but remain very high and the new variant is spreading quickly, the country’s health minister, Vaughan Gething, has said.
Gething told a press conference that cases of coronavirus in Wales “remain very high”, though rates have fallen back from “incredibly high levels” seen before Christmas. He said:
The overall incidence rate for Wales has fallen from a high of 636 cases per 100,000 people on December 17 to 446 cases today.
This is still far too high. There have been falls in most parts of Wales, except in north Wales, where we are seeing cases rise quickly. We believe this is because of the new fast-moving strain.
It’s too early to know if these falls are because of the Christmas period and fewer people coming forward for testing or if they are early, positive signs of a sustained slowing of this awful virus.
Hunt says delaying school and border closures for even one extra day will cause ‘many avoidable deaths’
Jeremy Hunt, the former Conservative health secretary who now chairs the Commons health committee, is calling for what would effectively be a full lockdown in England now. He says schools and borders should be closed, and all household mixing banned, immediately. He says delaying even for a day will cause “many avoidable deaths”.
The trade unions may be surprised to find such a senior Conservative taking their side so clearly in their dispute with the government over schools reopening. (See 10.49am.)
Hunt has made his arguments on Twitter.
In Cardiff Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, is holding a briefing on coronavirus. There is a live feed at the top of the blog. Gething opened by saying that the vaccine was being rolled out in Wales, but that the country was “not out of the woods yet” because of the ongoing threat.
Boris Johnson claimed this morning that teachers are no more at risk of getting coronavirus than anyone else. (See 11.44am.) Responding to this on Sky News, Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, challenged the government to produce the evidence to support the claim. He also said that his union had evidence suggesting teachers are more at risk. He said:
We’ve been conducting evidence gathering from employers which does indicate that teachers and staff working in schools are contracting the virus at a higher rate than other adults in the local population.
So it’s just not true that schools can operate in a manner which is safe and coronavirus free unless there are tough measures in place to ensure the safety of those who are working there.
The government claim that teachers are not at greater risk is supported by this Sage report (pdf), which does not take into account the impact of the new variant of the virus.
In the comments BTL (below the line) some readers have been asking about a comment Matt Hancock, the health secretary, made on the Today programme this morning. In response to a question about the risk of children returning to school, he said:
On the substance of the question, it is clear that children are very, very unlikely to get this disease, and that is true, as far as we can see, with the new variant, as well as the old.
This is misleading because children do get coronavirus like other people. This report from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine says children are “typically less susceptible” to infection than adults. But the latest ONS Covid infection survey, released on 24 December, said “secondary school-age children continue to have the highest percentage testing positive”.
What Hancock probably meant was that children are very unlikely to get ill or seriously ill from the disease, which is true.
But the claim that the suggestion that the new variant does not make a difference is more contentious. An Imperial College London study (pdf) published at the end of last week said there was evidence of under-20s being more affected by the new variant than by the old one. But the authors said they could not explain why, and that it could just be that the new variant is more infectious for everyone, but that because schools were open in November when England was in lockdown, teenagers might have been disproportionately affected.
Johnson claims teachers at no more risk of getting coronavirus than anyone else
Here are some more lines from Boris Johnson’s interview for broadcasters at Chase Farm Hospital in north London this morning.
Johnson claimed that teachers were at no more risk of getting coronavirus than anyone else. He said:
The risk to teachers, and of course we will do everything we can to protect teachers, but the risk to teachers is no greater than it is to anyone else. The reasons for wanting to keep schools open I think are very, very powerful.
Matt Hancock made the same claim in an interview this morning. But both ministers seems to be relying on evidence on a Sage report that does not take into account the impact of the new variant of the virus. See 10.12am.
Johnson said that he regretted closing primary schools during the first wave of the pandemic and that closing them again would be a “last resort”. He said:
It’s very important to understand that back in March, one of the things I look back on with the greatest misgivings was the closure of primary schools because it’s so important for young people to get an education.
That’s why closing primary schools is, for all of us, a last resort. That’s why we are looking at everything else we can possibly do to avoid that.
I would stress schools are safe and the risk to kids is very, very small.
He said that the NHS had the capacity to administer two million doses of vaccine a week, and that supply was the issue. He said:
We have the capacity, the issue is to do with supply of the vaccine. It’s not so much a manufacturing issue although that’s part of it. Each batch needs to be properly approved and quality controlled.
Johnson says ‘no question’ tougher Covid measures needed for England
Yesterday Boris Johnson hinted that he would have to tighten coronavirus restrictions in England shortly, but he implied that this was not yet a certainty. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr he said:
It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in … many parts of the country … I’m fully, fully reconciled to that. And I bet the people of this country are reconciled to that.
This morning he seems to have firmed up his view; stricter measures are now inevitable, he said. Speaking in an interview on a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London, he said:
We’ve already got a lot of the country in tier 4, some of it in tier 3. What we’ve been waiting for is to see the impact of the tier 4 measures on the virus. It’s a bit unclear still at the moment.
But I think, if you look at the numbers, there’s no question that we’re going to have to take tougher measures, and we’ll be announcing those in due course.
I will post more from his interview shortly.
The leader of Birmingham city council has demanded a new national lockdown and the closure of all primary and special schools. Speaking on BBC WM, Ian Ward said the authority would back any headteacher who decided not to open to pupils on safety grounds. He said:
At the moment I don’t know how many primary schools won’t be reopening but we will be collating that data as we go through the morning.
We are advising all primary schools and special schools to carry out a risk assessment and to determine whether it’s safe to reopen for the spring term.
If that risk assessment indicates it’s not safe for schools to reopen then Birmingham City Council will stand behind teaching staff in making that decision.
Birmingham’s current case rate was 429 per 100,000 people for the week to December 29, a rise of 36 per cent. Neighbouring Wolverhampton has recorded 568 cases per 100,000 people.
Universities Hospital Birmingham currently has almost 1,500 staff off work, with more than 43% of absences linked to Covid-19. According to the Birmingham Mail, 98% of ITU (intensive therapy unit) beds in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital are occupied, and 100% of ITU beds at City and Sandwell occupied.
We know from London that once the new variant is in schools it will spread and then pupils will then take their virus back to the family home.
So we are in a really really serious situation and the government needs to recognise that and they need to accept that in all tier 4 areas primary schools and special schools will have to close.
PM urged by unions to keep English schools closed for most pupils pending safety review
The three biggest teaching unions in England, the NEU, the NASUWT and the NAHT, as well as three big unions representing non-teaching staff working in schools, the GMB, Unison and Unite, have put out a joint statement urging the government to “pause” the reopening of schools while their Covid security is reviewed. It says:
The government’s chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike. Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.
Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed. All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to Covid-19 vaccinations.
Instead of casually asserting that schools are safe, the prime minister should sit down with unions to discuss a joint approach to ensuring safe working arrangements in all schools and prioritising enabling all pupils have the equipment and access they need to receive a high standard of remote learning until the safety of them and the staff in their school can be guaranteed.
Backing the initiative, Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said:
The government’s own advice from Sage (pdf) makes it clear that opening schools to all pupils now risks increasing the infection rate. That’s in no-one’s interests.
Instead of creating chaos for parents and exposing workers to risks, the prime minister should be talking to trade unions about what steps are needed to make sure all schools are Covid-secure.
Boris Johnson has been visiting a hospital in north London today to see people being injected with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Matt Hancock’s morning interviews – Summary and analysis
You can tell the news cycle is getting back to normal after the Christmas and new year holiday because Matt Hancock, the health secretary, was all over the airwaves this morning giving interviews. Over the last year it has seemed at times as if he has never been off air. Here are the main points he was making.
He confirmed that the government was not ruling out a further national lockdown for England.
He rejected claims that the government was being too slow in tightening restrictions. When asked on Sky News why he had waited to put areas into tier 4, Hancock replied:
We’ve acted very rapidly to put areas into tier 4 and obviously we keep that data under review all the time … And we then act very fast. For instance, when we saw the new variant arrive, and we got the advice on the fact that it’s more contagious, we then acted within 24 hours.
But the opposition parties have repeatedly argued that the UK government has been too slow in tightening restrictions. In Scotland the parliament has been recalled to hear a statement on tightening rules (something that has not happened in London, where the Commons recess has been extended until Monday next week) and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, yesterday urged Boris Johnson to impose a new national lockdown within 24 hours.
Hancock explained why the new variant of the virus circulating in the new UK was more dangerous. He said:
This new variant is so much more easily transmitted, it’s so much more contagious. You only need to come into contact with a tiny amount of it to catch the disease. And that’s what’s made this period so much harder.
He said he was “incredibly worried” about the new variant of coronavirus that has emerged in South African. (See 9.20am.)
He defended the government’s policy on schools reopening in England, saying that teachers were no more at risk than other people. He said:
It is also clear that the proportion of teachers who catch coronavirus is no higher than the rest of the population.
Hancock seemed to be referring to this data, in a report (pdf) from Sage, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, that was released last week. But this paper, dated 17 December, was drafted before data emerged on the new variant of coronavirus.
Hancock claimed that the government’s policy on schools was in line with public health advice. He said:
There is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people’s long-term health.
This is questionable. Minutes of a Sage meeting held on 22 December (pdf) show the government’s scientific advisers think it will not be able to drive the reproduction number below 1 if schools stay open. The minutes say:
It is highly unlikely that measures with stringency and adherence in line with the measures in England in November (i.e. with schools open) would be sufficient to maintain R below 1 in the presence of the new variant. R would be lower with schools closed, with closure of secondary schools likely to have a greater effect than closure of primary schools …
It is not known whether measures with similar stringency and adherence as spring, with both primary and secondary schools closed, would be sufficient to bring R below 1 in the presence of the new variant. The introduction of tier 4 measures in England combined with the school holidays will be informative of the strength of measures required to control the new variant but analysis of this will not be possible until mid-January.
Hancock said the NHS would be able to carry out two million vaccinations per week if the vaccines were available. He said:
If the NHS needs to go faster, then it will go faster. If there were two million doses a week being delivered, then the NHS would deliver at that speed. That’s the critical question, but that supply isn’t there yet, and we are working very closely with the manufacturers.
He said the “bureaucracy” involved in signing up to be a vaccination volunteer vaccinator was being reduced. He said:
We’re going to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that is needed there, and I’ve been working with the NHS on that. For instance, there’s one of the training programmes about needing to tackle terrorism. I don’t think that’s necessary, we’re going to stop that.
He said that more than one million doses of vaccine had been administered in the UK already – more than in the rest of Europe combined. He said:
We’ve delivered more than a million vaccines into arms already. That’s more than the rest of Europe put together. I’m really proud of how the NHS have really risen to this challenge.
Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce tougher Covid controls in Scotland later today, with her government considering plans to keep schools closed for the rest of January.
The first minister asked for the Scottish parliament to be recalled for an emergency session at 2pm on Monday, after the number of Covid cases continued breaking records over the weekend, with 2,464 confirmed cases on Sunday.
Sturgeon believes the new faster-spreading variant of Covid-19, B117, is largely to blame for the rise in cases, but the rate of hospitalisations has not yet reached critical levels in Scotland. There is speculation she may invoke a new stay at home order close to the national lockdown imposed in March 2020.
In a thread on Twitter, she said:
All decisions just now are tough, with tough impacts. Vaccines give a way out, but this new strain makes the period between now and then the most dangerous since the pandemic’s start.
So the responsibility of government must be to act quickly and decisively in the national interest.
Opposition leaders, who have previously attacked Sturgeon for a lack of full transparency with her decision-making, will call for Sturgeon to release the data and scientific advice underpinning any further restrictions.
Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, said opposition parties should be briefed in advance of her statement so they could be properly prepared. He said:
What is clear is that we need to see an acceleration of the vaccine rollout and a step change in testing.
It is also clear that financial support from government has simply not been nearly sufficient to make up for the damage that lockdown measures have done to jobs, livelihoods and businesses. The SNP government must distribute additional funds to the front line now.
The government’s education recovery group is also meeting today, and is thought likely to propose extending the current closure of schools to pupils from 18 January by several weeks.
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, said:
Shutting secondary schools and even primary schools for longer will inflict a heavy price on the future opportunities for young people who have already lost out so much. So we need to see the evidence for such a decision. We also need a full joined up plan for childcare as more people are now working than in the earlier lockdown.
If we are to restrict people’s movement then we need to see what the benefit will be.
Matt Hancock ‘incredibly worried’ about South African Covid variant
Happy new year – although, “alas” (as the prime minister would say), that’s just a polite wish, and not an accurate description.
On the plus side, this morning an 82-year-old dialysis patient from Oxford has become has become the first person in the world to receive Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine outside clinical trials on the day its UK rollout starts. There is a full story here.
But on the minus side, Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths are now rising sharply and the outlook for the next few weeks is very grim. Here are three recent Twitter threads that explain why.
From Prof Christina Pagel, head of the clinical operational research unit at University College London
From Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers
From Neil O’Brien MP, head of the Conservative party’s policy board
In his final tweet, O’Brien says “something big” is needed.
Yesterday Boris Johnson hinted that tougher lockdown measures could b e announced soon.Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been giving interviews this morning, and he has in effect backed that message too. “Each week we look at all of the areas of the country to check that we are in the right position in terms of the tiers,” he said. “It is a very difficult situation in terms of the growth of the virus.”
The situation in the UK has become much worse in recent weeks because of the new variant of coronavirus in circulation that is now dominant in some areas. But in an interview on the Today programme Hancock said he was “incredibly worried” about another new variant of the virus, one that has emerged in South Africa. He told the programme:
I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant. That’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa, and movement from South Africa, and to insist that anybody who’s been to South Africa self isolates.
This is a very, very significant problem. In fact I spoke to my South African opposite number over Christmas, and one of the reasons they know they’ve got a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic scientific capability, to be able to study the details of the virus. And it is even more of a problem than the UK new variant.
ITV’s Robert Peston posted this on Twitter to help explain Hancock’s comment.
12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12.15pm: Vaughan Gething, the Welsh government’s health minister, holds a coronavirus briefing.
2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, makes an emergency statement to the Scottish parliament, which has been recalled from recess, about coronavirus.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Although Chris Moulin and Céline Souchay met at a scientific conference in France in 1999, they didn’t make a lasting impression on each other at the time. “I remember that Chris had long ginger hair,” says Céline. “I asked him some questions about a presentation he gave, but couldn’t understand his response, because my English wasn’t good.” She says he sounded “a bit posh and pretentious”, but it was “probably due to the language barrier”.
By 2004, Céline had moved from France to Plymouth to work as a lecturer, while Chris was living and working in Leeds. In September that year, he invited her to a British Psychological Society conference he was organising in the city. Although he had read her work, he didn’t recall having met her five years earlier. “She stood right next to me at the evening reception and I assumed she must fancy my PhD student,” says Chris. But Céline thought he was amazing. “I didn’t recognise him, but he looked so trendy and happy. I was frustrated, because I wanted to speak to him, but there were lots of people around. I stood nearby to show I was interested.” Although there was a spark, they kept things professional. “I asked him to read something I had written, as an excuse to keep in touch.”
In January 2005, Chris invited Céline to another conference, in London. “I took her around the city to see the sights,” he says. That was when they discussed previous conferences and realised they had met before. By this time, Chris knew he wanted to be with Céline, but was coming out of another relationship. “I tried to explain that we were breaking up and sorting out the mortgage.” They stayed in touch via text message and shortly afterwards Céline applied for a job in Leeds. The pair became a couple when she went for the interview, then moved in together after she got the job.
The following February, Céline proposed to Chris. Desiring something fuss-free, fun and different, the couple arranged a surprise wedding five months later. It took place in Bristol, Chris’s home town. “We pretended it was so our parents could meet,” says Chris. “Céline’s parents were visiting, and we told both sets of parents to dress up so that we could go to the Wills Memorial Building.” Instead, they took them to Bristol Register Office. “My mum was worried she didn’t have a hat for the surprise wedding,” laughs Chris. “Céline translated the ceremony for her parents line by line.”
The couple’s sons were born in 2007 and 2009. In 2012, they moved to France. They live in Grenoble with their children, two cats, a dog and three chickens. Although their relationship has been happy, it has been complicated by Céline’s health problems. In 2010, she went to hospital after becoming seriously ill; Chris was told she wouldn’t survive. “They didn’t know what was wrong, so they prepared me for the worst and told me to say goodbye,” he says. Céline underwent emergency surgery to repair damage to her colon, which was linked to a genetic condition that her doctors still don’t fully understand. “I did recover, but now live in chronic pain, which impacts our everyday life,” she says. Since Covid hit, the couple have been shielding. “We’ve noticed how much casual discrimination there is towards people with illness and disabilities throughout the pandemic,” says Chris.
Despite the difficulties of the pandemic and Céline’s condition, they adore each other’s company. “I don’t like staying in bed, so we work on lots of projects together, like doing up houses,” says Céline. Chris loves his wife’s positive nature and dark sense of humour. “Everything has been an adventure with her. She’s motivated and inspired me on every level.” Céline appreciates her partner’s patience. “He’s also really artistic, and plays music. When we first met, he made me a CD of all his own songs.” As well as working in the same field, they share the same interests in music and film. “We were on the same page from the start,” says Chris. “We’re kindred spirits.”
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