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News Brief: Impeachment Trial, Coronavirus, Taal Volcano


Good morning on what will be an historic day in Washington, D.C.


That's right. Today the Senate will start the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is working to finalize the rules. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is fighting to allow witnesses. Here's what Schumer said yesterday about how McConnell is going to manage the proceedings.


CHUCK SCHUMER: It is now certain that Leader McConnell is going along with President Trump's cover-up - hook, line and sinker.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell with us this morning. Hi, Kelsey.


MARTIN: So before the trial actually begins, senators have to approve the rules for how it's going to go. Right? McConnell has a plan that he released last night. Explain what's in it.

SNELL: So this kind of establishes the rules for how much time can be used and the rules for witnesses and evidence. You know, we heard for weeks that McConnell wanted to model his rules entirely on the 1999 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. And now this follows some of that but not entirely. Yeah, it includes 24 hours of arguments on each side, which was part of the Clinton trial. But not like the Clinton trial, they only have two days to make those arguments. So we can do the math there - two days to do 24 hours of arguments means 12 hours a day of arguments from each side.

And Republicans say that should be sufficient because they're not actually limiting the time available. But that's a very fast process. And as, you know, the rules say, they're supposed to start trial every day at 1 p.m. So if they use up the entirety of their time, that means arguments well into the middle of the night. And you know, as expected, this rule also tries to push the question of evidence and witnesses until after those arguments and the questions from senators are done.

MARTIN: Also, there's word that Mitch McConnell isn't going to allow all the evidence that was uncovered in the House inquiry.

SNELL: So the clarification that we received last night from Republicans is that, basically, they're just not starting at the baseline of the evidence of the House report. They are saying that both sides can submit whatever evidence or whatever - they can basically argue from any starting point they want, which really opens it up for the White House to bring in argument on things that aren't contained in what was uncovered in the House investigation.

MARTIN: So Democrats - I mean, we heard that clip from Chuck Schumer. Democrats are not happy with how McConnell is formatting these proceedings. Do they have any leverage to change these rules?

SNELL: Right. Democrats are basically angry about everything in this rule. It's kind of - probably good to remember that the Senate is usually a pretty polite place. Even when people disagree, there's kind of a lot of choreography and orchestration to get anything done. They usually have to get a lot of agreement, even between leaders, to just proceed in the Senate. And this rule is anything but that.

The biggest fight will be about witnesses. And they're trying to recruit - Democrats are trying to recruit at least four Republicans to come to their side to vote to include witnesses at the outset, before they even move on to the trial, as part of an amendment to this McConnell resolution. But Democrats have 47 seats in the Senate, and they need 51 votes to get any changes approved. And that's a pretty high bar.

MARTIN: Right. So just tick off, quickly, the names of those senators who there's going to be a lot of focus on on the Republican side.

SNELL: Well, we know about three - Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - who've signaled an openness to witnesses. But to be clear, they say witnesses should be considered after they go through the entirety of the arguments. But we still don't know who that fourth person is. And that's pretty important.

MARTIN: All right. The White House and House Democrats have spent the last several days laying out their arguments for the trial on paper - lots of legal briefs. You, Kelsey Snell, have been reading them.

SNELL: (Laughter).

MARTIN: When you look at these arguments, what has stood out to you?

SNELL: I would watch the obstruction of Congress argument. The White House is essentially saying that the House didn't exhaust all of their abilities to go to the court. And they can't really call obstruction of Congress until they do that.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell for us, laying out what we're expected to see as the Senate gavels in the impeachment trial for President Trump today. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.


MARTIN: OK. Airports in big cities, including New York, San Francisco, LA - they are all screening passengers for a potentially life-threatening new virus strain.

KING: That's right. Health officials think the coronavirus strain originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Chinese authorities now say it can spread from person to person. Before, they thought it might spread only through contact with animals. At least four infected people have died so far. Almost 300 people are infected. And the World Health Organization is going to hold an emergency meeting on this virus tomorrow.

MARTIN: OK. We've got NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien with us this morning. Good morning, Jason. Can you just start off by explaining what we do know about this virus and where it came from?

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Yeah. I mean, this is what's concerning about it - is that we don't know a lot about it. That's - you know, this was not even identified until last month, this disease. But over the last couple of days, two key things have come out. It's clear that it can spread from humans to humans. Originally, the thinking was - oh, it's just from this meat/seafood market in Wuhan. People are getting infected there. They're getting sick. That seems to be the problem.

But now we're seeing that it can spread from human to human. And the concern with that is that diseases that can do that can basically go viral. It allows these chains of transmission to spread much more widely. The other key thing is that it's capable and they've seen reported cases that it is spreading in medical environments. Fifteen of the cases in Wuhan are among health care workers. This, like, sets off alarm bells amongst public health officials because these are, presumably, people who are making a real effort to not get infected...

MARTIN: Right.

BEAUBIEN: ...You know, if they're health care workers, they're, you know, working. They're in the prime of their life. These are people who are not sick or already have some underlying condition. So that makes people very concerned about what this virus is capable of doing.

MARTIN: So with all that in mind, I mean, what's the Chinese government doing to try to contain this? What can they do?

BEAUBIEN: Well, local officials in Wuhan have announced some entry/exit controls for the city. And they've limited tour groups. And they're trying to screen people who might be moving, you know, chickens and livestock or other wild animals in and out of the city. But you know, that's sort of at the very local level. At the larger level - at the national level, they have very aggressively tried to get this under control. They've come up with a new test for the virus, which is part of the reason, potentially, that we're seeing more confirmed cases. They've got a new test now for it.

They are calling on people, if you've got flu-like symptoms, get in, get tested; you know, calling on people to take just basic measures to prevent spread of a flu. You know, cover your mouth if you're coughing or sneezing. Wear masks if you're feeling like you're getting flu-like symptoms. But again, it's fairly early, and they're trying to get it under control.

MARTIN: I mean, it's hard not to think about SARS. Right? I mean, stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. We remember those headlines. It killed nearly 800 people during the outbreak in 2002, 2003. It was another coronavirus strain, right?

BEAUBIEN: That's right. So that is what is concerning is that this is from the same family of virus as SARS. And the concern is that this could do just like that. That rapidly spread around the globe to 37 different countries. You know, as you mentioned, about 800 people got killed by SARS.

MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll see what comes out of this World Health Organization meeting tomorrow about this. NPR's Jason Beaubien. Thanks. We appreciate it.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.


MARTIN: OK. So the Taal Volcano in the Philippines that you've probably heard about is still very unstable.

KING: Yeah, that's right. Since January 12, there's been this ongoing eruption of ash and steam and lava flows that has displaced hundreds of thousands of Filipinos. Now, scientists say this intense seismic activity indicates that magma is shifting underneath the volcano. And they're warning that a violent eruption is possible.

MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy got on a Philippines air force helicopter this morning and, as a result, got a very close view of the volcano. She's here with us this morning to tell us what she saw. Hi, Julie.


MARTIN: What'd it look like?

MCCARTHY: Well, we flew over in this open-door helicopter. And the views, I have to say, were spectacular. It was extraordinary. There are acres and acres of undisturbed ash on this volcanic island. And it looks like someone has thrown a cashmere blanket over the slopes. It has this smooth appearance except for these tiny little track marks. Some animal looks like he's scurried across this vast sea of beige. And then you bank around the other side, and that surface is strafed with fissures, openings...


MCCARTHY: ...And there's no life left. The trees, the shrubs, the brush - they're stripped; they're motionless. It looks like the vestiges of an atomic explosion.


MCCARTHY: And on this flyover, I also saw hundreds of fish cages busted up along the shores of Taal Lake in which the volcano sits. The agriculture department announced today, though, that Taal Lake fish are safe for consumption if caught alive. And there's 300 metric tons of fish caught from Taal Lake every day. But compare that to the health department, just days ago, who warned not to buy fish or eat it from Taal Lake because it poses risks to health. So confusing public messaging.

MARTIN: Right. So as a result, I mean, there've been these evacuation orders - sweeping evacuation orders. Anyone around the area has been forced to leave. What do those people make of that order? I mean, do they see it as necessary?

MCCARTHY: Well, some do; some don't. You have a quarter of a million people displaced; 171,000 of them are in evacuation centers. Another 94,000 are outside the centers, staying with relatives. But many of those are showing up at shelters to eat. Imagine that you're one of them and you're turned away from one of these shelters. All you can think about is getting home, right?


MCCARTHY: But the authorities have imposed a strict lockout of towns within the danger zone of the volcano. And one vice mayor said he's going to openly defy it. He wants residents to resume what he calls their normal lives. But those in charge took a very hard line today with mayors trying to skirt the stay-away order, threatening them with show cause orders. So that public message is, don't go home.

MARTIN: So what are you hearing about the chances that this volcano erupts again?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, the scientists are monitoring the volcano, saying that Taal is swelling, northeast corner of it has sunk. The landscape is changing. And I asked one geologist surveying the shorelines of Taal Lake what he thought. And he said he was extremely worried. He saw deformities, and there was certainly the possibility of a major eruption.

MARTIN: OK, NPR's Julie McCarthy reporting from the Philippines on the volcano, its eruption and the aftermath. Thanks, Julie.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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