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China Halts Transportation Out Of Wuhan To Stop Spread Of Coronavirus




Public transportation out of the Chinese city of Wuhan is being shut down amid an outbreak of a mysterious new virus strain that has sickened hundreds of people in China and killed at least 17, according to Chinese state media.
No one will be allowed out of the city starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, local time, in an effort to prevent the coronavirus strain from spreading, the state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said on Twitter, citing local authorities.
The affected means of transportation reportedly includes trains, buses, subways, ferries and planes.

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Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated.

The infectious respiratory disease is believed to spread through human-to-human contact, though its source remains under investigation. Environmental samples taken from a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan have tested positive for the strain. Not all confirmed patients reported having visited the market, authorities have said.
In addition to China, cases of the disease have been reported in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. On Tuesday, the U.S. announced its first confirmed case in a Washington state man who recently traveled to Wuhan. He was described as hospitalized in good condition on Tuesday.
The decision to seal off the city came as members of the World Health Organization on Wednesday said they were unable to agree on whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency. The WHO’s Emergency Committee said it will reconvene on Thursday to continue discussions.

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A staff member wearing a mask monitors thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the security check inside the Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan on Tuesday.

Such declarations are made when there is “an extraordinary event” that creates a public health risk that could “potentially require a coordinated international response,” according to the WHO’s website.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he agreed with the Chinese authorities’ decision to halt public travel, so long as it was with the goal of protecting public health.
“What they are doing is a very, very strong measure and with full commitment,” he said at a press conference when asked about the decision in Wuhan. “We stress to them that by having a strong action, not only will they control the outbreak in their country but they will minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally. So they recognize that and they’re doing both.”

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Citizens wear masks to defend against new viruses on Wednesday in Guangzhou, China.

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U.S. To Impose Visa Restrictions For Pregnant Women




WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is coming out with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting “birth tourism,” in which women travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport.
The State Department planned to publicize the rules Thursday, according to two officials with knowledge of the plans who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The rules would make it more difficult for pregnant women to travel on tourist visas. In one draft of the regulations, they would have to clear an additional hurdle before obtaining the visas — convincing a consular officer that they have another legitimate reason to come to the U.S.
The Trump administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but the president has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship — anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. He has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it’s not so easy to do.
Regulating tourist visas for pregnant women is one way to get at the issue, but it raises questions about how officers would determine whether a woman is pregnant to begin with, and whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be just by looking at her.
Consular officers right now aren’t told to ask during visa interviews whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. But they would have to determine whether a visa applicant would be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth.
Birth tourism is a lucrative business in both the U.S. and abroad. American companies take out advertisements and charge up to $80,000 to facilitate the practice, offering hotel rooms and medical care. Many of the women travel from Russia and China to give birth in the U.S. The U.S. has been c racking down on the practice since before Trump took office.
Although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.
The draft rule is “intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” a State Department spokesperson said.

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Democrats Hammer Case Against Trump In Senate Trial Opening Arguments




WASHINGTON ― Democrats opened their arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump on Wednesday by laying out a crucial part of the charges against the president: that he put his own interest above the national interest by freezing aid to Ukraine in order to aid his reelection.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House impeachment manager, described a brazen scheme personally directed by Trump and aided by his personal lawyer and top administration officials to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, the leading Democratic front-runner in the 2020 presidential race.
“The U.S. aids Ukraine and its people so they can fight Russia over there and we don’t have to fight them here,” Schiff explained, arguing that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine hindered the United States’ ability to check the Kremlin’s influence and aggression across the globe.
“If this conduct is not impeachable, then nothing is,” Schiff added. “The president was the key player in the scheme. Everyone was in the loop.”
As part of their presentation on the Senate floor, the House managers made extensive use of video, including footage of Trump’s many statements that he wanted Ukraine and China to investigate Biden and his son Hunter.
Wednesday is the first of as many as three days of Democratic arguments, to be followed by up to three days of counterarguments by the president’s lawyers. Senators will then get to ask questions of both sides, and after that the Senate will vote on whether to have witnesses. If the Senate decides not to call witnesses, the trial could be over as soon as next week.
To convict Trump and remove him from office, Democrats would need to convince 20 Republicans to break rank. It’s going to be difficult for Schiff to do, if early comments are any indication ― the GOP senators who have spoken up haven’t said they were at all convinced of the charges.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he was “not optimistic” about getting even the four Republicans that Democrats would need in order to win a witness vote because of how Republicans unanimously opposed Democratic motions to subpoena testimony during a marathon session Tuesday night. Only two GOP senators have said they are likely to support calling witnesses after opening arguments: Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah.
“Being in the room last night was not even in the slightest encouraging because the lockstep vote after vote after vote” by Republicans against the Democratic amendments, Coons said.
Hearing from witnesses like John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, could be difficult even if enough Republicans defect and vote to subpoena his testimony. Trump on Tuesday claimed that allowing Bolton to testify would be a “national security problem” ― suggesting he may assert executive privilege to block him from doing so. Resolving the dispute over privilege would likely require taking the matter to court and possibly take weeks.
During a caucus lunch on Wednesday before the trial began, Senate Republicans heard from former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under George W. Bush, about “the importance of executive privilege to a president,” according to NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Everything You Should Know About Coronavirus, Which Just Hit The U.S.




By now, you’ve probably read a headline or two about coronavirus and how the first case appeared in the United States earlier this week.The virus has been circulating around Wuhan, China, for about a month now, infecting several hundred people and killing at least 17, according to the latest figures shared by Chinese health officials on Wednesday. Now that it’s in the U.S. — specifically in Washington state — you’re probably wondering if we’re on the cusp of an outbreak, and if so, what your odds of getting sick are.Infectious disease experts say we don’t need to panic. Though health officials are still learning about the virus, it currently looks unlikely that we’ll see an outbreak here in the U.S. That said, it’s good to be armed with information. Here’s what we know about coronavirus so far: What is coronavirus?Coronavirus refers to a group of viruses known to cause respiratory infections. Some cases can be mild, whereas others involve more serious symptoms. The vast majority of coronavirus strains are benign, according to William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. If you do contract coronavirus, it’s typically no worse than a cold.Some coronavirus strains live in humans, and some live in animals. In the current outbreak in Wuhan, the virus was passed from an animal to a human, an event the World Health Organization calls “a spillover event.”“Every once in a while, one of these animal viruses gets rogue and jumps species from the animal species to the human,” Schaffner told HuffPost. The virus we’re currently seeing is novel to experts, it’s in an unusual host — humans — and appears to cause a very serious illness in certain people. At the very least, coronavirus can cause fever, cough and general malaise, similar to a cold. In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory system problems, kidney failure and death, according to the WHO.Health experts suspect it originated from live-animal markets in Wuhan, though the specific animal source is still unknown.How coronavirus stacks up to other diseasesThis coronavirus is, in some ways, similar to two other coronavirus strains that have caused outbreaks in the U.S.: severe upper respiratory syndrome (SARS), which struck in 2002, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which took off in 2012.Both SARS and MERS caused serious and often fatal complications. SARS — which infected 8,098 people and killed 774 worldwide — was transmitted between humans, and originated from civets and bats. Like the new coronavirus, SARS is also thought to have come from live-animal markets.MERS — which sickened close to 2,500 and killed 858 — didn’t pass between humans easily and came from camels.In general, both SARS and MERS appear to be more severe and life-threatening than the current coronavirus going around in Wuhan. SARS had a mortality rate of 9.6% and the MERS mortality rate was around 35%. With this new coronavirus, we’ve only seen 17 deaths.“That’s much less than we saw with SARS and with MERS,” Schaffner said.Coronavirus can pass between humansHow easily this particular coronavirus passes from person to person seems to fall somewhere in between MERS and SARS. “There is sufficient evidence to conclude that there is some human-to-human transmission. How much is uncertain at the present time, and of course, that will have a large determining factor on the seriousness of the public health problem,” Schaffner said.It’s safe to presume that it’s transmitted through respiratory secretions or bodily fluids, which can be passed through something as simple as breathing, talking, coughing and sneezing. Researchers are still working to figure out how transmissible it is. Transmission likely requires close proximity to an infected person — roughly three to six feet — but it’s unknown how long it takes for someone to pass on the virus. It could take mere moments or require prolonged exposure.JASON REDMOND via Getty ImagesOne person in Washington state has been infected with coronavirus, a new virus strain that has killed 17 people and sickened hundreds of others in China.Health officials have work to doWithin a couple weeks of the illness first appearing, Chinese scientists identified the virus and quickly sequenced the genome. That information was immediately shared across the globe to help researchers start developing a rapid diagnostic test along with a vaccine. While there’s no shot for it yet, Schaffner said, “our own NIH [National Institutes of Health] is already starting to work on trying to develop a vaccine should it become necessary.”Researchers are also hustling to learn more about the virus, including who gets sick, whether it’s more prevalent in people with underlying illness, how vulnerable children are, and more. They’re also uncovering the epidemiology by identifying the animal source, how widespread the infection is in China, and how readily it spreads between people.An outbreak in the U.S. is unlikelyWe know at least one person in the U.S. is affected by the virus. Does that mean there’s a chance it’ll become more widespread?“It’s hard to say, but we do not anticipate major outbreaks,” Schaffner said. It’s likely a handful of people will get it, perhaps those traveling to and from Wuhan, and there may be a little bit of spread, he added. But, looking at the big picture, the flu will be much more of an issue than this virus.“I can assure you, influenza is going to cause many more thousands of hospitalizations and many thousands more deaths this winter season than any new coronavirus,” Schaffner said.Locally, doctors are screening people with fevers and asking if they’ve traveled to China or been in contact with someone who has. If there’s a risk, patients are quickly isolated, tested and treated safely and appropriately.Travelers coming from Wuhan to the U.S. through five international airports — Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, Chicago’s O’Hare, New York’s John F. Kennedy and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson — are being screened for the virus.Here’s how to protect yourselfThe best way to ward off any virus like this is to wash your hands frequently. You should also avoid people coughing and sneezing, get your flu shot (it’ll help you stay strong if you’re exposed to the flu), and sanitize a public surface you’ll be using for a few hours, like an airplane tray table or your desk.If you’re traveling to China, Schaffner advises against visiting a live-animal market. Avoid contact with live animals on farms in rural areas and don’t eat meat sourced from strange animals — “because somewhere out there, there’s a source,” he said.If you suspect you’re sick and are at risk of contracting the virus, go to the emergency room. Be sure to call ahead of time so it can prepare and take necessary safety measures.As previously mentioned, there’s no vaccine yet and there are also no anti-virals or specific treatments for those who contract coronavirus. However, those with the illness will be treated with supportive care and symptom management, which both the U.S. and China are extremely skilled at administering. In fact, many people who’ve had this infection have successfully recovered and returned home.Lastly, don’t panic. Health officials and providers are doing everything they can to keep this contained. “[People] ought to be reassured we are all on the ball here and we’re looking at this very carefully,” Schaffner said.



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Ex-Ethics Chief Gives Republicans A Much-Needed Lesson In Democracy




Walter Shaub on Tuesday night used a lengthy Twitter thread to attempt to make sense of the GOP-controlled Senate’s ongoing impeachment trial of President Donald Trump over the Ukraine scandal.The former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics used 16 posts to imagine “trying to explain democracy to someone who showed up at today’s trial with no knowledge of democracy except for (President Abraham) Lincoln’s quote about a ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’”Shaub served under former President Barack Obama and then resigned six months into Trump’s presidency. He has since become a vocal critic of the Trump administration.“What they witnessed might raise a few questions,” he claimed.Check out the full thread here:Imagine trying to explain democracy to someone who showed up at today’s trial with no knowledge of democracy except for Lincoln’s quote about a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” What they witnessed might raise a few questions. (Thread)— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. Is the judge inexperienced?A. He’s the top judge in the country. Q. Why doesn’t he have this thing under control?A. Oh, well, he has no power. The Republican Senators are in charge.Q. But they’re the ones saying there shouldn’t be any witnesses or documents.A. Yes.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. It’s almost like they don’t want to uncover the truth. Shouldn’t they be objective? A. Oh yes. They take an oath pledging to be objective. Q. – -A. It’s tradition.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. It’s weird that the president’s lawyers are not even challenging the factual basis for the charges. Also, why are they shouting?A. There’s this thing called Fox News that likes to play vignettes of white guys shouting.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. How come the other side doesn’t already have all the documents and testimony they want?A. The top lawyer in the president’s office wrote that he wouldn’t let them have any documents or witnesses. Q. Why don’t they get that guy down here and ask him some questions?— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

A. He’s right over there, but the Senate majority won’t let them ask him any questions. Q. Then, what’s his job here today?A. He’s here to argue that the other side doesn’t have enough evidence to convict. Q. The evidence he withheld from them?A. Yes. That evidence.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. But he complained that the other side didn’t give him documents. A. Right. Q. And they wouldn’t let his political party into the secure room he called a SCIF.A. They were allowed in. Q. And the people in charge of this trial didn’t mind that he said that?A. No.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. Do they deny that your president asked Ukraine to investigate his political rival?A. No. That’s well established. Q. But he just did it the one time?A. Well, he asked China to do it too. Q. How do you know?A. He did it on live television.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. So twice?A. He also asked Russia to get emails belonging to another political rival. Q. On live TV?A. Yes. Q. But they didn’t do it, right?A. They released the emails before the election. Q. That must have been the worst thing that could have happened to his rival.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

A. Some might say it was worse that the FBI revealed it was investigating her right before the election? Turns out they never found anything warranting prosecution.Q. Isn’t that the agency his friends here in the Senate say was out to get him?A. Yes.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. Lucky for him he wasn’t under investigation. A. Oh he was. And the investigation, which was taken over by the Justice Department, resulted in a lengthy report. Q. I assume they cleared him of any wrongdoing too. A. No. They explicitly said they couldn’t clear him.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. So they revealed they were investigating his rival and concealed that they were investigating him, and then he got the most votes?A. He lost by 3 million votes. Q. – -A. It’s complicated.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. And they never prosecuted him?A. The Justice Department refuses to prosecute a president. Q. They work for him?A. Technically, they work for a guy he picked.Q. And that guy‘s loyal to him?A. More so than the one he fired for not stopping the investigation of him.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. So if this Justice Department won’t prosecute him, who can hold him accountable?A. A majority of Senators. Q. The ones who don’t want documents or witnesses?A. Yes. Q. And the American people, do they want him acquitted?A. Surveys show a majority want him removed.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. But they don’t support calling witnesses? A. A majority of people do support calling witnesses. Q. But witnesses won’t be called?A. No.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020

Q. So who said that line about government of, by and for the people?A. President Abraham Lincoln. Q. What was his party affiliation?A. Republican. Q. – -— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 22, 2020



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Trump’s Chief Defender Argues Dems Have ‘Absolutely No Case’




WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial began in earnest in the Senate on Tuesday, with his chief legal defender attacking the case as baseless and a top Democratic lawmaker saying there was “overwhelming” evidence of wrongdoing.
Democrats have called on the Republican-controlled Senate to remove Trump from office for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and then impeding the inquiry into the matter.
Trump, who was impeached last month by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress, denies any wrongdoing and describes his impeachment as a partisan hoax to derail his 2020 re-election.
With the television cameras rolling, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts convened the proceedings and the two sides began squabbling over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed rules for the trial.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who is leading Trump’s defense, attacked the foundation of the charges against the Republican president and said Democrats had not come close to meeting the U.S. Constitution’s standard for impeachment.
“The only conclusion will be that the president has done absolutely nothing wrong,” Cipollone said as he argued in favor of McConnell’s proposal to decide on whether to allow further witnesses or documents later in the trial.
“There is absolutely no case,” he said.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, who helped spearhead the House impeachment inquiry, summarized the charges against Trump and said the Republican president had committed a “trifecta of constitutional misconduct justifying impeachment.”
Schiff said that although the evidence against Trump was “already overwhelming,” further witness testimony was necessary to show the full scope of the misconduct by the president and those around him.
Democrats want a number of current and former Trump administration officials, including Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton to testify. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday offered an amendment to subpoena White House documents related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and vowed to push for the further witness testimony.
“For all of the name-calling and fingerpointing from the president’s counsel, we did not hear a single argument on the merits about why there should not be the documents and witnesses we requested in this trial,” Schumer said.
McConnell unveiled a plan on Monday for what would be a potentially quick trial without new testimony or evidence. It would have given Democratic prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers 48 hours, evenly split, to present their arguments over four days.
That plan was changed to give each side three days of opening arguments over two 24-hour periods. The rules also will allow the House’s record of the impeachment probe admitted as evidence in the trial, as Democrats had demanded.
“We discussed it at lunch. It was pretty much a (Republican) conference consensus that that made a lot more sense,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson said.
Democrats had accused McConnell of trying to rig a trial with proposed rules that they said would prevent witnesses from testifying and bar evidence gathered by investigators.
McConnell has repeatedly said the rules would mirror those the Senate used in the 1999 impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Republican senators have not ruled out the possibility of further witness testimony and evidence.
Under McConnell’s plan, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, according to a senior Republican leadership aide, a motion that would likely fall short of the support needed to succeed.
Even if such a motion fails, Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the 100-member chamber, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office.
But the impact of the trial on his re-election bid is far from clear.

TRUMP SUPPORT FIRM
Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine, a vulnerable ally, to interfere in U.S. elections at the expense of American national security and say he is a danger to American democracy.
Trump and his legal team say there was no pressure and that the Democrats’ case is based on hearsay. Cipollone has described the Ukraine investigation as an illegal attempt to remove a democratically elected president and avert his re-election.
“They’re not here to steal one election, they’re here to steal two elections,” Cipollone said on Tuesday.
Cipollone also repeated a trope that Republicans were excluded from the secure facility where the initial depositions for the House impeachment hearings took place. In fact, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee were not only present but questioned witnesses.
The Senate trial is expected to continue six days a week, Monday through Saturday, until at least the end of January.
Trump has sought to rally his base with the impeachment issue, fund-raising off it. At raucous election rallies he has painted himself as the victim of a witch hunt.
Televised congressional testimony from a parade of current and former officials who spoke of a coordinated effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens has done little to change support for and against Trump’s impeachment. Reuters/Ipsos polling since the inquiry began shows Democrats and Republicans responding largely along party lines.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted Jan. 13-14, 39% of U.S. adults approved of Trump’s job performance, while 56% disapproved. It also found 45% of respondents said Trump should be removed from office, while 31% said the impeachment charges should be dismissed.
The impeachment drama has consumed much of Trump’s attention even as the United States faces a series of international challenges, including tensions with Iran that nearly boiled over into open war and an on-again, off-again trade war with China.
Trump is attending the annual gathering of world business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday to project an air of business as usual and tout the strength of the U.S. economy.
Asked whether Trump was planning to watch the trial from Davos, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “He has a full day here in Davos, but will be briefed by staff periodically.”

MARKETS SHRUG OFF TRIAL
The trial of a U.S. president could be freighted with drama, huge political risk and the potential unraveling of a presidency. But financial markets have shrugged it off, and the revelations in the months-long impeachment investigation thus far have done little to boost anti-Trump sentiment among undecided voters or shift away moderate Republican voters.
This is only the third impeachment trial in U.S. history. No president has ever been removed through impeachment, a mechanism the nation’s founders – worried about a monarch on American soil – devised to oust a president for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
A pivotal event in the impeachment case is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens and a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
Hunter Biden had joined the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his father was vice president. Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption without offering evidence. They have denied wrongdoing.
Democrats said Trump abused his power by initially withholding $391 million in Ukraine security aid intended to fight Russia-backed separatists, and a coveted White House meeting for Zelenskiy, to pressure Ukraine to announce the investigations of the Bidens. Trump’s legal team says there is no evidence that the aid was a condition for receiving help.
The obstruction of Congress charge relates to Trump directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.

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A Joe Biden Mailer Targeting Iowa Voters Uses Sinister Image Of Iran




Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is using stark imagery in an Iowa mailer that appears to pitch him as a bulwark against the Iranian government, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with whom former President Barack Obama negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement.
HuffPost obtained a four-page piece of campaign literature that the Biden campaign sent to voters in Des Moines.
The mailer’s front features a dark, red-hued drawing of an Iranian tank in the foreground. A soldier standing atop the tank is saluting a row of Iranian military officials led by President Rouhani. A framed photo of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is in the background alongside them.
“We live in the most dangerous moment in a generation,” the mailer says in bold white font at the bottom. “Who is ready to lead us?”

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The back of the pamphlet repeats the same lines, but overlays them on a black-and-white photo of the Oval Office.

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Inside, the pamphlet contains information and images promoting Biden’s foreign policy experience ― fairly typical campaign material. A headline in large, navy-blue letters across the top of the two-page spread says, “Joe Biden: Strong, Steady Leadership.” A photo on the third page shows Biden speaking at a lectern with U.S. military service-members and an American flag arrayed behind him.

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Still, the message on the mailer’s front evokes an unusual degree of foreign-policy alarmism for a Democratic presidential candidate, particularly concerning Iran.
It suggests that Iran ― rather than, say, the so-called Islamic State, Russia, or China ― represents the greatest threat to the U.S. And it frames the relationship between the two countries as fundamentally belligerent. 
The campaign’s inclusion of Rouhani ― a political moderate in the Iranian context, especially given his role in the historic U.S.-Iran nuclear deal in 2015 ― is especially puzzling. Biden is fond of touting the role he played in Obama’s negotiation of the accord with Iran and has vowed, as recently as last week’s Democratic debate in Des Moines, that he would reinstate it if elected president.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated significantly since President Donald Trump announced in May 2018 that his administration would be withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s presidential campaign, responded with incredulity at the notion that the mailer was in any way at odds with Biden’s support for the Iran nuclear deal and opposition to Trump’s march to war with Iran. The threat of war that the mailer presents reflects Biden’s concern about Trump’s erratic leadership and how it brought the country to the brink of war with Iran, Bates said.
“I’m not a doctor or theologian, but I can’t understand how sounding the alarm about Donald Trump rushing toward war was anything but called for after the events of this month,” he said. “The Obama-Biden administration used diplomacy to mobilize a global effort and cut off Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons.
“Donald Trump walked away from an agreement that was working and unleashed a cycle that brought us to the brink of war,” he continued. “Vice President Biden has blasted that decision ever since Trump made it, warning that it would worsen tensions, let Iran off the hook to restart its nuclear program, and make conflict more likely with a country of 80 million people. Unfortunately, he was right.”
Trump has been subjecting Iran to a “maximum pressure” campaign that includes wide-ranging, painful sanctions. The Iranian government has responded by ratcheting up the activities of its proxy militias in Iraq, including a violent mob attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31. 
Two days later, Trump ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded by firing missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq.
Biden, like other national-security hawks in the Democratic Party, shares some of Trump’s suspicion of the Iranian government. But he was critical of Trump’s handling of Soleimani’s killing.
“The haphazard decision-making process that led up to it, the failure to consult our allies or Congress, and the reckless disregard for the consequences that would surely follow — was dangerously incompetent,” Biden said in a speech in New York on Jan. 7.

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First U.S. Case Of Deadly Wuhan Coronavirus Found In Washington State




The first U.S. case of a new coronavirus strain that has killed at least six people in China has been reported in Washington state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
The deadly virus, which Chinese health officials have said can spread by human-to-human contact, has sickened hundreds of people, according to the mayor of China’s central city of Wuhan, where an outbreak is underway. Exported cases of the illness also have been confirmed in Thailand, Japan and the Republic of Korea.
The male U.S. patient is a resident of Snohomish County, Washington. He was hospitalized last week in Everett with pneumonia after returning from a trip to Wuhan, health officials said at a news conference.

Darley Shen / Reuters

Medical staff carry a box as they walk at China’s Jinyintan hospital, where patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province.

“We believe the risk to the public is low,” Washington state Secretary of Health John Wiesman said. Wiesman credited the patient’s decision to seek immediate medical help for helping prevent the virus from spreading.
The patient was described as being in good condition on Tuesday. He remained hospitalized for short-term monitoring out of an abundance of caution, said Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.
The CDC on Monday said it has been actively screening incoming travelers from Wuhan City in Hubei Province. 

Darley Shen / Reuters

Medical staff transfer a patient at the Jinyintan hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

The World Health Organization has said it will convene on Wednesday to determine whether the virus outbreak warrants being declared a global health crisis.
The patient in Washington returned to the U.S. on Jan. 15. This was before he began experiencing symptoms and before health screenings for incoming travelers at airports were put in place on Jan. 17.
Because the man had been following the news about the virus in China, he thought to contact health officials when he became ill, health officials said.
The man said he didn’t know of anyone in Wuhan who was ill with the virus while he was overseas, and didn’t go to a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan that has been implicated in the outbreak.

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How To Load A Dishwasher Correctly: The Definitive Guide




Few topics are as polarizing among roommates and clean freaks as the best way to load a dishwasher. Everyone has their own “system,” which they believe to be infallible. But in reality, it’s probably wrong ― at least a little bit.We got the lowdown from experts on how to properly load a dishwasher so that everything comes out sparkling clean and undamaged. Read on to find out how to improve your dish stacking skills.How To Load A Dishwasher The Right WayTop rack: Glasses, mugs and small bowls should go on the top, upside down. If the bottoms of certain cups or dishes are slightly concave, it helps to lean them at an angle to avoid collecting dirty water.“All plastic items should go on the top rack, too, because the heat comes from the bottom and can warp plastics,” said Heloise Blaure, a chef, blogger at Home Kitchen Land and self-proclaimed dishwasher stickler.Be sure that any small pieces are secured and won’t fall through the gaps, potentially blocking the washer arm or landing on the heating element.“Spatulas, ladles, and other large utensils should lie flat on the top level with your coffee mugs and saucers,” Blaure said. If you stick them upright with silverware, they’ll block the water spray and prevent other things from being cleaned properly.Bottom rack: Plates, large bowls, pots and pans should go on the bottom. Put the biggest pieces to the sides so they don’t block the sprayer.Utensil holder: Load utensils handle-first so that spoons and the prongs of your forks are facing up. One exception to this rule is knives, which should be placed point-down so that you don’t cut yourself when you unload them. Watch Out For These Common MistakesFiguring out where to put dishes is fairly intuitive, but there are many nuances to loading a dishwasher so that everything comes out as clean as possible. Below are some common mistakes to avoid.Overloading. Good on you for trying to save water, but know that overcrowding the dishwasher means you’ll end up having to rewash many pieces. According to Whirlpool, crowding dishes and stacking them on top of each other causes “nesting” and prevents dishes from being cleaned evenly.Placing large, flat items near the door. Whirlpool also noted that flat pans or platters should be placed in racks away from the door, as placing them near the door can block detergent from reaching other dishes.Laying large pots and pans face down. Big items should be loaded on their sides, not face down. “This is especially important for older dishwashers that do not have an upper spray arm, because whatever pot or pan is blocking the bottom spray arm will act as a shield, preventing water from reaching the top rack,” said Aleka Shunk, a food blogger at Bite Sized Kitchen.Blocking the spray arm. Just because everything fits inside the dishwasher doesn’t mean your job is done. “Right before you start your cycle, you want to give the arm a quick test spin to see if it spins without obstruction,” Shunk said. If it hits a plate or utensil, move that item before you start the cycle, otherwise the dishwasher won’t clean properly.Facing everything in the same direction. Water sprays from the center of the dishwasher, so you want the dirtiest part of your plates (the faces) pointed toward the spray. When you load your plates all facing to your right, for instance, you block some of them from having full access to the water. “Instead, you should face them all toward the middle so they get exposed to the spray,” Blaure said.Leaving a bunch of stuck-on food. You can put unrinsed dishes in your dishwasher, but you should scrape off any chunks of food before loading. “Too many food remnants in the dishwasher can lead to mold and also dishes not coming out clean,” said Melissa Maker, host of the YouTube channel Clean My Space. Cleaning dishes before loading them. Though you should clean off chunks of food before loading your dishes, it’s possible to go too far. If your dishwasher was made in the past 10 years, there’s no need to pre-rinse, according to Blaure. “Pre-washing is a serious waste of time, water and heat,” she said. If you stop washing your dishes in the sink before they go in the dishwasher, you should see your energy bill drop.Items You Should Never Put In The DishwasherYou may be tempted to save time and throw the whole kitchen sink into the dishwasher. However, some items will get damaged by sitting through cycles of harsh soap and extra hot water.Cast iron: Putting cast iron pans in the dishwasher will destroy the coating and cause them to become rusty. Non-stick pans: Even though many non-stick pans claim to be dishwasher safe, repeatedly exposing them to the hot water and detergents will break down the coating. It’s best to hand-wash these. Delicate pieces: Avoid loading anything that could break easily, such as crystal or china. Fine metals and finishes: “Certain finishes such as silver or enameled items should be hand washed only, as the heat and detergents can ruin the finish,” Maker said. Wood utensils and cutting boards: Avoid putting any wooden items in the dishwasher. “Wood is porous and can not sustain the amount of water that a dishwasher uses to clean,” Maker said. Sharp knives: Any chef will tell you that sharp knives are to be hand-washed. “A dishwasher exposes them to too much water and shortens their lifespan,” Blaure said. Anything that is not dishwasher safe: It may seem obvious, but always check dishes to be sure they’re safe for dishwashers. Some items, such as certain plastics, are not.Tips For Maximizing Your Dishwasher UseFinally, keep your dishwasher in top shape and use it to its fullest potential with these tips.Clean your dishwasher regularly. Even if you do a good job of removing gunk prior to washing, food particles, paper towels and other buildup can lead to funky smells and poor drainage. At a minimum, fill your soap dispenser with white vinegar and run an empty cycle once a month. You should also regularly check the food trap and other nooks and crannies for stuck food particles.Preheat the water. To avoid starting a load with cold water, run the kitchen sink on hot for a couple of minutes to get the heated water flowing. You should also check that your water heater is set to the right temperature ― about 120 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 49 degrees Celsius).Organize utensils by type. When loading utensils, organize each holder by forks, knives and spoons. It might not seem like a big deal, but when you go to put all your dishes away, you’ll be amazed at how much faster it goes when all the utensils are already separated.Skip the heat. You might feel guilty about the amount of water and energy each load requires, but it is possible to keep it to a minimum. “If people want to be more environmentally conscious, they can turn off the ‘heated dry’ option,” Maker said.Dishwashers aren’t just for dishes. According to Whirlpool, there are several unusual items that people may not know can go in the dishwasher. This includes rubber dog toys, baseball caps, grill grates and rubber rain boots.



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The Man (And The Mission) Behind Trump’s Clash With Venezuela




At a campaign-style rally in Miami last February, President Donald Trump issued a clear warning to Nicolás Maduro, the socialist leader of Venezuela whom Trump had wanted to oust from the day he entered the White House two years prior. “A new day is coming in Latin America,” Trump proclaimed, taking aim at not only Maduro but also the remnants of Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba.
To casual observers, it was easy to spot the influence of John Bolton in the president’s increasingly hawkish approach to the Americas. Bolton, whom Trump had named his national security adviser the previous spring, had declared the leftist governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba the “Troika of Tyranny.” Just weeks earlier, Trump had recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president, openly declaring the United States’ intention to end the Maduro regime — with military force, if necessary.
But veteran foreign policy hands in Washington and South Florida also saw the fingerprints of another lesser-known adviser with a hardline track record and the sort of sharp rhetorical tongue that had defined Trump’s — and Bolton’s — recent approach to Latin America. Trump’s speech, many of those experts thought, sounded like it had been written by Mauricio Claver-Carone. 
Claver-Carone, who serves as Trump’s top Latin America adviser on the National Security Council, is little known outside Washington. But he is notorious within the city’s Latin America circles as a bulldog for the hardline community that favors ever tougher stances toward Cuba’s ruling regime and still sees the region as the key front for Cold War-esque battles against creeping communist threats. To them, the Cubans are the puppet masters behind the instability gripping the Americas, in Venezuela and beyond; to them, the only answer is the sort of relentless pressure they believe has never been adequately applied to the region’s rogue leaders, especially to the Cubans.
Trained as a lawyer, Claver-Carone has spent most of the last two decades as an influential lobbyist and chief antagonist of anyone ― including former President Barack Obama ― who seeks to roll back the nearly 60-year embargo that has still not achieved its stated aim of ending Communist rule in Cuba. But under Trump he moved inside the government, and for the last 16-plus months, Claver-Carone has enjoyed unrivaled influence over the president’s policies toward Venezuela — so much so that foreign ambassadors have complained privately about his dominance on this issue. 
The president has exhibited a simplistic obsession with Maduro since he entered the White House, and it has only deepened amid the economic crisis that has sparked an 8,000% increase in the number of Venezuelan refugees and threatened to destabilize the entire region.
But Trump’s push for aggression shocked even those inside the foreign policy apparatus who’d long craved the chance to take a more forceful approach. “I’m a hawk in inter-agency meetings, but in the Oval Office, I’m the dove,” one senior official used to lament to his colleagues as he left meetings in which Trump demanded military options or more antagonistic policies toward Maduro than his advisers recommended. 
Trump’s facile and inconsistent view of the world has left even those closest to him baffled, wondering why a president so willing to cut up a negotiated deal with Iran favors dialogue in North Korea or how a leader who espouses the need to draw down military commitments in the Middle East has been so eager to start another one in South America. 
Searching for coherence in Trump’s foreign policy is a quest to discover “something that just isn’t there,” said Fernando Cutz, who served on the NSC under both Obama and Trump. “It’s going to be country by country, item by item. And even then it might not be consistent.”
The president’s foreign policy is, at its core, guided by the same narcissism that drives his decision-making on any other issue: Trump wants to win. And in Venezuela, coercion is his only strategy.

Gabriel Aponte via Getty Images

With Trump’s blessing, Mauricio Claver-Carone is pursuing the “maximum pressure” strategy he and other hardliners believe necessary against Venezuela.

Where others ― including Bolton, whom Trump fired in September last year in part for “holding me back” on Venezuela ― have had to compromise to work in that environment, Claver-Carone is living his dream. He has the opportunity to implement the “maximum pressure” strategy he and other hardliners have long believed necessary in Venezuela, the backing of a president who shares that view, and the mandate to ensure the rest of the government helps Trump ramp up the pressure to its actual maximum, too.
Apparently, they still haven’t reached it, even a year after the strategy began in earnest with the recognition of Guaidó.

“If you’d asked me in January 2017, ‘Who is the worst person who could be in that senior director position,’ I would have said, ‘Him!’” Ben Rhodes told HuffPost last year of Claver-Carone. (Rhodes had spearheaded Obama’s efforts to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba.) 
It’s not an uncommon view: Claver-Carone is not the sort of regional generalist or experienced diplomat who has typically occupied his NSC position, and he has little expertise on the largest countries in the Americas ― a concern nearly a dozen Latin America policy experts or former government officials expressed in interviews with HuffPost. Claver-Carone has spent his career focused almost entirely on Cuba, with occasional forays into U.S. relations with the socialist governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua, which he and many other anti-Castro hardliners see as little more than puppets of the Cuban government. 
“It is mind-boggling that we’d have a policy driven by these three countries, while overlooking Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico,” said Christopher Sabatini, a global affairs professor at Columbia University and the founder of Global Americans, a Latin America-focused research nonprofit. “Imagine having an NSC director for Asia that knew nothing but Laos. That’s what we’re talking about. You’ve got Japan and the Koreas, China and Vietnam, and this guy only knows Laos. Imagine that.”
Claver-Carone declined to comment on the record for this story. 

Ariana Cubillos/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Trump’s foreign policy advisers so far have not backed his idea of invading Venezuela to take out the country’s socialist president, Nicolás Maduro. 

Claver-Carone is a born and bred anti-Castro warrior, brought up in South Florida by a Cuban American mother whose own family had been persecuted in Cuba after the revolution. He would “go berserk” at the mention of Fidel Castro, a high school friend once recounted to USA Today. As a student at Rollins College in Orlando, Claver-Carone would stay after class to discuss with his mentor “how naive people are” when it came to the Cuban regime, the paper reported. 
If Trump’s interest in Venezuela and Cuba is mostly, and maybe entirely, a cynical search for victory ― over Maduro and in Florida (and beyond) in the 2020 election ― Claver-Carone’s is the opposite. 
He is a true believer in the gospel that Cuba has been, and remains, the chief antagonist to freedom and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere; that the United States’ failure to deal with the Cubans has allowed them to act as a nefarious force across the region; and that the liberation of Cuba from Communist rule ― and thus the liberation of the people in countries influenced by Cuba ― should figure prominently in any U.S. president’s agenda. He has devoted his career to that cause.
After a brief stint as a Treasury Department lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, Claver-Carone launched a career as a Cuba policy lobbyist. It was a fraught time for pro-embargo interests. Public opinion in the U.S. had begun to shift, Congress had taken small steps toward loosening the restrictions, and the largest pro-embargo institution in Washington had splintered, leaving a void on the hardline side of the aisle. 
Claver-Carone’s first act as executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates — a new nonprofit group launched by two wealthy Cuban American businessmen who wanted to fill that hardline void — was to commission a poll gauging support among Cuban American voters for the effort to ease restrictions on Cuba. The poll found that most respondents opposed any change in the U.S. approach to the island; in fact, it found that nearly half of young Cuban Americans wanted the U.S. to take military action against Castro. The survey earned media attention in Miami, though not all of it positive. Noting that the survey’s questions were overly leading, a polling expert derided it in the pages of Miami’s largest newspaper as “useless in determining attitudes toward Cuban policy.”
Claver-Carone also led the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a political action committee that throughout the 2000s has helped to blunt every bit of momentum toward loosening the embargo. Between 2004 and 2015, the PAC raised more than $4 million and made contributions to more than 600 campaign committees.
The first time the new Democratic Congress voted on Cuba in 2007, 66 Democrats — including multiple members of party leadership — voted down an effort to weaken the embargo. Fifty-two of them had received donations from Claver-Carone’s group.
By 2009, 18 members of Congress had changed their position on the embargo after receiving money from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, according to Public Campaign, a nonprofit that advocated for campaign finance reform. Between 2003 and 2009, the PAC’s supporters, individually and through the PAC, showered nearly $11 million on congressional candidates, Public Campaign said.
A third Claver-Carone-led organization, Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy Corp., was paid more than $250,000 to lobby Congress on various pieces of Cuba-related legislation between 2006 and 2016.
Claver-Carone’s efforts drew legal and ethical complaints from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal nonprofit watchdog, which alleged in four separate campaign finance complaints that the groups Claver-Carone oversaw had broken various laws. The most explosive claim was that the three organizations he led were improperly intertwined. But even as the Federal Election Commission raised concerns about practices in multiple cases, it never found Claver-Carone or the groups guilty of major violations, and it cleared him in the biggest case that CREW brought. So he pressed on.
Barack Obama won Florida in 2008 despite promising to meet with Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother and successor, and carried the state again as he won reelection four years later. But Claver-Carone ― who had hosted a 2012 fundraiser at which GOP nominee Mitt Romney promised that, if he won, “Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet” ― was always a thorn in Obama’s side as the president moved to normalize relations with Cuba. 
Alongside his lobbying and other political activities, Claver-Carone ran Capitol Hill Cubans, a now-shuttered blog that was for years a must-read for anyone following U.S. policy on Cuba. He updated the blog daily as well as operating an email listserv to blast news to anyone who signed up. The site went offline when Claver-Carone joined the Trump administration. He also blogged for HuffPost: In 2015 he wrote that Obama’s policy of “talking for the sake of talking” had only “served as a useful distraction for the world” while the Castro regime strengthened “its political and economic grip over the Cuban people and their future.”

Almost everything [President Trump] did got terrible reviews in the press, except for Venezuela.
A former Trump administration official

Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser who ran point on the Obama administration’s Cuba efforts, always kept a close eye on Claver-Carone’s daily newsletters and blog posts. So, too, did the rest of the administration.
“I would read his blog and his blast emails because I found them to be the best barometer of what the furthest hardline reaction was to what we were doing,” Rhodes recalled. “We were very aware of him.”
“I thought of him as kind of a troll,” Rhodes said.
Others in the Cuban policy community were even harsher in their assessment. 
“He is a flamethrower who makes everything personal and political,” said James Williams, the executive director of Engage Cuba, a nonprofit that opposes the embargo. “If you view the U.S. embargo as an ineffective policy, you are going to be labeled very viciously by him as a Castro sympathizer, a regime lobbyist, a Castro bootlicker.” 
By 2015, the grassroots politics of Cuba policy had changed. In Florida, even the Cuban American community had soured on a harsh approach to the island, polls showed. But Claver-Carone’s lobbying firm ramped up its efforts, his PAC increased its contributions to candidates between 2014 and 2016, and congressional legislation to fully lift the embargo never progressed.
For Claver-Carone and his allies, the 2016 election presented a chance to elect a Republican who would unwind Obama’s limited rapprochement with Cuba and turn up the heat on the island government’s efforts to wield more influence across the hemisphere — especially in Venezuela.

Like many of the most senior officials in the current administration, Claver-Carone had not intended to work for Trump. At the outset of the 2016 GOP primary, he vocally backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime Capitol Hill ally, and Jeb Bush, the state’s former governor.
Either candidate, Claver-Carone believed, would immediately reverse Obama’s historic 2015 agreements with Cuba and further the goal of finally taking out the Castro regime.
It wasn’t just that Claver-Carone preferred his two fellow Floridians. He loathed Trump. Claver-Carone denounced the GOP front-runner on his blog as someone who “would place the moral, international leadership of the United States at risk” and savaged him in Twitter posts. He feared that Trump, who had once explored potential business opportunities in Havana and had never publicly displayed a particularly aggressive stance toward Cuba, would be an unreliable ally in the struggle against the Castros. Claver-Carone and the South Florida hardline community he came out of believed that the Castro regime could only be defeated with more pressure than the U.S. had ever applied, not less. 

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Trump administration has piled sanctions on Venezuela in hopes of pushing the military to break with Maduro or fomenting a popular uprising against him.

Yet once it was clear that Trump would be the GOP nominee, Claver-Carone worked himself into the candidate’s good graces. He joined the Trump campaign as an adviser and began to influence the future president. In September 2016, Trump told a roaring Miami crowd that he would roll back Obama’s “concessions” to Cuba “unless the Castro regime meets our demands.” 
“Those demands are religious and political freedom for the Cuban people. And the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump said. 
“Is that right?” he asked the crowd.
It was. Trump’s language “could have come directly from Claver-Carone’s Capitol Hill Cubans blog,” USA Today later observed.
After Trump became president, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson blocked Claver-Carone, who’d worked on the transition team, from landing a job at the State Department, multiple sources said. Claver-Carone settled for a post at the Treasury Department. Later, he moved to the International Monetary Fund’s executive board. 
Meanwhile, some of Trump’s initial foreign policy advisers favored a more confrontational approach to Venezuela and Cuba than Obama had, especially as Venezuela’s economic collapse and hyperinflation threatened many of its people with poverty and starvation and sparked the refugee crisis that sent millions fleeing the country. But they were also hesitant to go along with the president’s harshest whims, including his suggestions that the U.S. just invade Venezuela to take out Maduro or his request for military options to do so. 
The U.S. instead focused on crafting a diplomatic approach that put a coalition of Latin American governments — known now as the Lima Group — out front in dealing with Maduro. And Trump, despite his campaign promises, only partially reversed Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.
By August 2017, though, the administration had begun ramping up its own pressure campaign against Maduro with a new round of sanctions on key Venezuelan officials, which built on those Obama had imposed. While the sanctions weren’t the immediate success Trump had desired, they brought him good press. Many of the president’s earliest policy moves — immigration crackdowns, a ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority nations — had earned him judicial rebukes and sparked massive protests. So Trump, who is famously obsessed with how the media covers him, enjoyed the response on Venezuela. 
“Almost everything the president did got terrible reviews in the press, except for Venezuela,” a former Trump administration official said. “The Muslim ban — go down the list — they got slammed. And then when they started sanctioning Venezuelans, they got rapturous press. To some extent, they saw sanctions as the gift that keeps on giving.”
In March 2018, Trump suddenly fired both Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster. His decision to hire Bolton to replace McMaster drove several more moderate voices on Venezuela, including some holdovers from the Obama administration, to leave the White House. Similarly, advisers who’d favored diplomatic approaches to the crisis left the State Department either just before or immediately after Tillerson’s ouster. Several months later, Trump and Bolton installed Claver-Carone as the NSC’s senior-most adviser on the Western Hemisphere.

An old U.S. foe was fingered as a key culprit in Venezuela’s problems: the Cubans.

It was a victory for hardliners in Washington and Florida who had been disappointed in Trump’s initial slow-walking on Cuba and his lack of forceful action on Venezuela. Rubio, an ardent Cuba critic, had repaired his relationship with Trump and become something of a shadow secretary of state for the White House. Then in May 2018, Maduro won reelection in a race marked by irregularities, including his banishment of some opposition parties. The U.S. called the election “an insult to democracy” and hardliners believed it presented an opening for more aggressive action against the Venezuelan leader. 
Trump had “been very slow to act” in his efforts to “correct some (but not all) of the errors of the Obama administration” in Cuba and Venezuela, said Everett Briggs, a Reagan-era ambassador to Panama and Honduras and a prominent figure in the Cuba hardline community. The early days of Trump’s presidency were marked by a “general lassitude,” Briggs said, in making sure key positions were staffed “with individuals sharing the president’s outlook.”
Claver-Carone would help fix those problems, and more. To the hardline crowd, his hyperfocused career in Washington was proof not that he was inexperienced but that he was just what Trump needed.

On Jan. 23, 2019, Guaidó, the new leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself the country’s legitimate constitutional president as well, citing fraud in the May 2018 election. 
The United States, which alongside the European Union and the United Nations had refused to recognize Maduro’s reelection, immediately and officially backed Guaidó’s claim of legitimacy ― a move that Bolton and Claver-Carone had urged Trump to take. More than 50 other nations, including influential Latin American governments, soon joined the White House. The international community was increasingly concerned about Maduro’s authoritarian tactics ― including violent crackdowns by secret police on opposition protests and imprisonment of political opponents ― and about the exploding refugee crisis in which more than 4 million Venezuelans have left the country, according to U.N. estimates.
The emergence of sympathetic right-wing governments in Brazil and other parts of the region also bolstered the Trump administration’s efforts, and it pushed the maximum pressure strategy harder. The U.S. piled more sanctions on specific Maduro officials, the Venezuelan government generally, and the pillars of the Venezuelan economy, including the state-owned oil company PDVSA. The idea was simple: Sanctions would force military officials loyal to Maduro to break with his regime. Or they would foment a popular uprising against him among angry Venezuelans.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Juan Guaidó declared himself the country’s legitimate leader on Jan. 23, 2019, and has since led the effort to oust Maduro.

An old U.S. foe, meanwhile, was fingered as a key culprit in Venezuela’s problems: the Cubans. During Trump’s February 2019 speech in Miami, a tirade ostensibly aimed at Venezuela that painted the fight to oust Maduro as a hemispheric struggle against socialism, Trump mentioned Cuba 18 times.
There is little doubt that Cuba has played some role in keeping Maduro afloat. The extent of Cuban involvement is the subject of debate across Washington, however, and few of the experts and officials who spoke to HuffPost for this story agreed with the White House’s view of the situation.
But since Claver-Carone joined the NSC, the Trump administration has missed no opportunity to steer Cuba policy hard to the right. It rolled back Obama’s normalization plans last summer, reinstating the travel ban for U.S. citizens and sanctions on the island itself. It even blocked Major League Baseball’s deal with Cuba to ensure the safe transfer of defecting players to the United States, and it tried to enlist the league in pushing Cuba to end support for Maduro.
Claver-Carone is not solely responsible for crafting the administration’s strategy, nor is he the only hardliner in charge: Just days after he recognized Guaidó, Trump appointed Elliott Abrams, the veteran neoconservative diplomat, as the State Department’s special envoy on Venezuela. 
But many in the hardline crowd, including those close to the White House, have credited Claver-Carone with crafting the administration’s more aggressive approach. With much of Trump’s foreign policy team, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, focused primarily on other threats, real or perceived, from North Korea and Iran, there was “a vacuum” on Latin America that Claver-Carone helped fill, said Otto Reich, the veteran hardliner who served as ambassador to Venezuela in the late 1980s.
Rubio, the Florida senator who has been credited with pulling the strings on Trump’s Latin America policy and who helped install Claver-Carone at the NSC, agreed with that sentiment last January. “Once Mauricio went in, the policy went on hyperdrive,” he told The New York Times.

To me, if you try a policy and after 60 years it doesn’t work, you shouldn’t try to replicate that policy.
Fernando Cutz, a former National Security Council official

And Claver-Carone’s influence has only grown in the months since Bolton’s firing. That influence is apparent to foreign diplomats, too. In November, Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S. was caught on tape complaining that the State Department had lost much of its ability to shape Latin American policy and that “policy decisions are now primarily made” by Claver-Carone. 
Claver-Carone “has facilitated all of the processes inside the White House to increase the level of pressure” on Maduro, said Carlos Vecchio, Guaidó’s ambassador in Washington. “He’s one of the most important allies inside the administration.”

Survey foreign policy experts and former officials — from this administration and those previous — on what “victory” in Venezuela means to the White House, and various theories emerge. Few of them believe that the primary focus for Trump or his team is on alleviating a regional humanitarian crisis and restoring democracy in Venezuela, as the president and his officials so often insist.
Instead, some suggest that the White House sees the effort to oust Maduro as the first step toward finally breaking Communist rule in Cuba. Others posit that it’s a plot to energize Cuban and Venezuelan expats in South Florida ahead of the 2020 election. “Mauricio is a political operative,” another former senior Trump administration official said dismissively of Claver-Carone this past fall. Trump has tried to politicize the Venezuelan crisis: In the February 2019 speech in Miami, he lambasted Democrats as socialists and pointedly suggested that electing a Democrat in 2020 risked bringing “Venezuela-style socialism” to the United States. 
Whatever the motivation, there is little doubt that Claver-Carone has been successful in implementing the more aggressive approach that both he and the president favor. Last February, over the objections of the United Nations and the Red Cross, the U.S. launched a propagandistic humanitarian mission across the Colombian border into Venezuela that resulted in violent clashes between Guaidó supporters and the Venezuelan military. On April 30, 2019, the U.S. backed Guaidó’s failed military uprising against Maduro. In August, the Trump administration placed yet another round of sanctions on Venezuela, enacting everything short of a full embargo on the country. A month later, at the behest of the U.S., nations across the Americas invoked the Rio Treaty, a Cold War-era defense pact, in order to cooperate on sanctions against Maduro. In early December, they moved to make those sanctions even more aggressive, and the U.S. has called on Europe to toughen its sanctions as well. (“We need to increase the level of pressure from the international community,” Vecchio said.)
So far, the pressure hasn’t worked. Guaidó can generate anti-Maduro rallies with a single tweet, but he hasn’t been able to foster a sustained movement, and even though he remains popular among Venezuelans, much of the energy behind his efforts to dislodge Maduro seems to have fizzled. 
The U.S., meanwhile, appears to have overestimated the willingness of top Maduro officials to switch sides and underappreciated the complexities of the crisis. Maduro looks to be no closer to losing his grip on power today than he was three years ago, most of the experts who spoke to HuffPost agreed, a position that was bolstered when pro-Maduro lawmakers blocked Guaidó from entering the assembly and announced a new National Assembly leader this month.
The United States declared the leadership election illegitimate ― a position Abrams staked out even before the new year began, when he warned of fraud in the process during a December press conference at the State Department ― and said it still considers Guaidó to be the country’s constitutional leader. Regardless, it’s clear that Guaidó’s grip on the assembly has weakened one year after his declaration of legitimacy first suggested that Venezuela’s “new day” was imminent. 
The White House has continually pushed back on claims that Trump and other top U.S. officials believed the fight to oust Maduro would be an easy one. To hear them tell it, the problem is that their pressure cooker hasn’t reached its maximum yet. 
But many outside observers see an administration running thin on options with a strategy that isn’t all that strategic. “It’s maximum pressure for the sake of maximum pressure,” said Mark Feierstein, who served in Claver-Carone’s position on the NSC under Obama, echoing concerns that others have had from the outset. “There’s no strategy behind it.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Maduro opponent carrying a Venezuelan flag covers his face against the tear gas fired during an attempted military uprising to oust the president on April 30, 2019.

Foreign policy observers have long warned that the United States’ excessive reliance on sanctions may have rendered them toothless, especially as their primary effect is to hurt ordinary people instead of the leaders they’re intended to punish or topple. And Maduro can look to other sanctioned regimes — in Iran, North Korea and, yes, Cuba — to see signs that he can outlast the Americans. 
“U.S. sanctions are a very effective way to demonstrate moral opprobrium, but historically they have not been an effective way to get regime change in other states,” said Daniel Erikson, a former State Department official and the author of “The Cuba Wars,” a detailed look at U.S. policy toward that nation. “If they want to demonstrate their extreme distaste and distrust for Venezuela and Cuba, sanctions can do that. What they can’t do is produce the policy outcome they want.”
The primary effect of the Venezuelan sanctions has been to exacerbate the human rights crisis for ordinary citizens. Continued food and medical shortages have forced ever more people to flee. The number of refugees could reach an estimated 8 million by the end of 2020, making this the worst migrant crisis in Latin American history.
U.S. officials have recently pushed back on the idea that sanctions are hurting the Venezuelan population. The administration that once emphasized swift action has also started to shift its focus to the long haul. Speaking of Venezuela in December, Pompeo noted that it took the Soviet Union more than 40 years to collapse and that U.S. efforts didn’t work “until they did.” 
There are key differences between Venezuela and Cuba, not least of which is that the United States is not isolated in its approach to Maduro the way it has been for decades in its anti-Castro strategy. Still, there is a growing risk that the administration’s strategy could turn Venezuela into a quagmire similar to the one that has occupied Claver-Carone throughout his life: with a sanction-heavy pressure campaign that remains in place because of political inertia and fears of appearing “soft” on an authoritarian regime, and not because it’s effective at alleviating the suffering of a crisis-stricken population or addressing the problems that may spread across the rest of the Americas. 
And the longer this strategy plays out, the harder it will be to change course for Trump — or anyone else, including a potential Democratic successor, most of whom support the broad outlines of the current approach. 
“To me, if you try a policy and after 60 years it doesn’t work, you shouldn’t try to replicate that policy,” said Cutz, the former NSC official. “We could have very well put ourselves in the box where 60 years from now, we have the same policies in place, everybody’s asking why we don’t like Venezuela, and no one can remember.”
“That’s the nightmare scenario,” Cutz added, “but I fear it might be heading in that direction.”
Claver-Carone and the president he serves are undeterred. In early January, the administration slapped even more restrictions on travel to Cuba. Pompeo said the United States made the move, in part, because of Cuba’s “unconscionable support” for Maduro and Venezuela.
It was yet another indication that the administration remains committed to its approach. The only problem Trump and his team appear to see with their maximum pressure strategy is that the “maximum” that will really do the job always lies just over the horizon.

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