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The battle for the soul of the Republican Party is now underway

A high-stakes battle for the soul of the Republican Party is now underway, holding far-reaching implications for the near future of American politics.

One front in this battle opens up this week with the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump as Republicans grapple with just how far to go in defending a former president whose effort to overturn an election result ended in deadly tragedy amid the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

So far, those rare Republican lawmakers who’ve dared to criticize Trump have been harshly rebuked by his loyalists.

A case in point is congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of the few Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted last month to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” leading to this week’s trial, which begins Tuesday. She recently received a barrage of bad news from a party official back home in her district.

The first bit of bad news was that constituents who called the party offices were livid at Herrera Beutler.

Washington state lawmaker Jaime Herrera Beutler, shown in 2018, is among the five per cent of Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted on Jan. 13 to impeach Trump for ‘incitement of insurrection.’ (Don Ryan/The Associated Press)

“[We’ve gotten] dozens and dozens of calls,” said Joel Mattila, the Republican Party chair in Washington state’s Clark County, which is in Herrera Beutler’s district.

“People [are] just off-their-rocker angry.”

So were there any positive calls? Maybe one for every 25 or 30 angry ones, Mattila told CBC News.

Polling suggests Trump faction holds advantage

Based on polling, public comments and actions by party officials, the Trump-all-the-way faction appears to hold an advantage at this stage.

In fact, Republican supporters seem angrier with the 10 lawmakers in the House of Representatives who defied Trump and voted on Jan. 13 to impeach him a second time than they are with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected congresswoman from Georgia who has repeatedly pushed racist, violent, deranged and anti-government conspiracy theories.

Not only are those who voted to impeach being sanctioned by party members in South Carolina, Wyoming, Illinois and Michigan — they’re even being threatened. And in Washington state, the party is split over whether to simply condemn Herrera Beutler in a statement or formally censure her.

Another threat to these members comes from pro-Trump rivals hoping to unseat them in primary challenges before next year’s congressional midterm elections.

Joel Mattila, shown at the 2020 Republican convention on the White House lawn, is a party official in Washington’s Clark County who supports Trump and told his congresswoman, Herrera Beutler, her impeachment vote could end her career. (Joel Mattila)

That’s the other bad news Mattila delivered: that Herrera Beutler’s political career could be in jeopardy.

Asked how likely it is that Herrera Beutler will face a primary challenge, on a scale of 1 to 10, Mattila said it’s “like a 99.”

“I told her she’s in trouble,” he said.

“It’s the intensity level of the anger that I’m hearing from people that say, ‘I’ve always voted for her and I’m never gonna vote for her again. I hope you guys recruit a candidate, and we’re gonna support somebody else.'”

Here’s one final bit of troubling news for the congresswoman: Her county chair is against her, too.

Mattila said in his opinion, Trump never deserved to be impeached because he never explicitly called for an attack on the Capitol building at a rally on Jan. 6, the same day lawmakers were meeting inside to confirm that Joe Biden won November’s presidential election. And Mattila said he’s not ruling out running for Herrera Beutler’s seat himself.

The blowback for Cheney at home

A similar story is playing out in Wyoming.

Rep. Liz Cheney, the state’s highest-profile lawmaker, easily survived a vote among Republicans in Washington, D.C., to keep her leadership position after she voted in the House to impeach Trump.

A move to strip her of her role as conference chair was blocked by Republican lawmakers in a 145-61 vote. But that vote happened by secret ballot. And it was in Washington.

Things could get rougher back home in Wyoming.

Rep. Liz Cheney, shown in 2019, survived a challenge to her leadership position in Washington after she voted last month to impeach Trump. But she faces a challenge back home in Wyoming. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The Trump team has commissioned a poll suggesting that just 10 per cent of Republican primary voters in Cheney’s state planned to support her again.

She’s been censured by her own party in numerous counties. In one Wyoming county, the party vice-chair said people feel betrayed by Cheney and that he wished she’d lost her Washington leadership role.

He said he’s seeing 10 or 20 negative comments about Cheney for every positive one from local Republicans.

“I thought I knew her very well. But I’m sad to say, apparently, I didn’t,” said John Birbari, the party’s vice-chair in Wyoming’s Fremont County.

He predicted that Cheney’s next event in the county “would either be poorly attended or would be a little raucous.”

Birbari put the chances of a primary challenge against Cheney at “100 per cent,” with one bid already announced by a Wyoming state senator.

The church elder, former newspaper ad executive and radio host who was embroiled in a local controversy over anti-gay comments said he would personally support the primary challenger.

Defending Trump’s actions

But what about the serious allegations against Trump, which prompted all House Democrats and five per cent of Republicans to vote to impeach?

The charge: that Trump imperilled American democracy, spending weeks peddling unfounded conspiracy theories about his election loss, pressuring officials to overturn the result and finally — at a Jan. 6 rally, where his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, called for ‘trial by combat‘ — encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol.

Rioters outside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, the same day lawmakers were meeting inside to confirm that Joe Biden won November’s presidential election. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Birbari brushed it off, saying it’s unconstitutional for Trump’s impeachment trial to occur after he’s already left office — which is a matter of legal debate.

He also insisted that Trump was right about the election being rigged — despite the fact that dozens of judges and officials in a half-dozen swing states disagree.

What about Marjorie Taylor Greene: Do these same Republican officials have anything similarly negative to say about her? Birbari said he hasn’t followed the Taylor Greene story much, and Mattila also said he’s unfamiliar with the details.

Eleven House Republicans did vote with Democrats to expel the conspiracy-peddling congresswoman from her committee positions; by comparison, 45 voted to punish Cheney.

‘Strange, unknown, bad territory’ for U.S. politics

A scholar at the Washington-based Niskanen Center think-tank who has studied and written extensively about the history of the Republican Party said this is a strange moment without a clear precedent.

Geoffrey Kabaservice, the centre’s director of political studies, called it the end of an ideological conservative era and the start of an unpredictable and worrisome new one.

“It feels like we’re in strange, unknown, bad territory,” said Kabaservice, who is also the author of a book that examines the Republican Party’s evolution from a non-ideological coalition into a staunchly conservative party starting in the 1960s.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Georgia Republican, has repeatedly pushed racist, violent and anti-government conspiracy theories but has recently disavowed some of her past comments. She’s also taken a combative approach to politics. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

His book, Rule and Ruin, begins at the 1960 presidential convention, when the party had four main groups: progressives, the remaining heirs to trust-busters like Teddy Roosevelt; moderates; so-called stalwarts, who are slightly more nationalist and hawkish on issues such as trade; and conservatives.

Kabaservice said ideological conservatism grew to dominate the party but that Republicans are transforming again, and he described the emerging divide as: Who’s most willing to defend anything in pursuit of partisan gain?

He pointed to a metric used by political scientists to analyze American lawmakers’ ideology, the DW-Nominate system, as evidence that the most pro-Trump members of Congress aren’t necessarily the most conservative.

“[It’s becoming] reality versus craziness. Or normies versus freaks. It’s just strange and really hard to deal with — for the public, for members of the Republican Party in Congress,” he said. 

Despite losing last November’s election, Trump — shown at a campaign rally in Dalton, Ga., on Jan. 4, the day before Senate run-off elections — still maintains a hold on the Republican Party, and his critics acknowledge they face an uphill battle at his impeachment trial. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Kabaservice said one difference between today’s Republican grassroots and the Barry Goldwater conservatives of the 1960s is that the latter believed their movement was ascendant and were generally optimistic about their chances. 

He said today, many on the right voice the opposite view, echoing Trump that the game is rigged by some un-American enemy, and if that enemy cheats to win, the party needs to toughen up.

That leads to an approach to politics in which any means are justified, Kabaservice said.

The party chair in Washington’s Clark County, however, doesn’t sound pessimistic at all. Mattila notes that Republicans came close to winning both houses of Congress and predicts a dominant showing in next year’s midterm elections.

“There’s a red wave coming,” he said.

WATCH | Article of impeachment against Trump goes to U.S. Senate:

A second impeachment trial against former U.S. president Donald Trump is set to begin in two weeks and a growing number of Republican senators now oppose convicting Trump. 7:32

The question now for Republicans is what they want their party to look like — and should it emulate a former president who spent weeks using increasingly abnormal tactics to try overturning an election result?

This struggle has begun playing out on a variety of fronts, with moderates winning on Cheney’s leadership vote but losing badly in a vote to punish Taylor Greene. Next year’s primaries will be an epic showdown. But first, there’s the Senate impeachment trial and vote.

Trump’s critics acknowledge they face an uphill battle.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, said he lost good friends after voting to impeach Trump — his father’s cousins even sent him a certified letter saying they disowned him because he had joined the “devil’s army.”

Illinois Republican lawmaker Adam Kinzinger, who says relatives have disowned him over his vote to impeach Trump, believes the U.S. needs two healthy political parties. (Kevin Dietsch/The Associated Press)

But he said he’ll keep trying, for as long as he can, to prevent angry, conspiracy-peddling Trump worshippers from completely overtaking the party of Abraham Lincoln.

“It’s not going great at the moment,” Kinzinger told CNN. “But this is the beginning of it.”

‘Conservatism’ or ‘madness’

Kinzinger said all Americans, including Democrats, should be pulling for people like him even if they don’t agree with his conservative principles, because, he said, the country needs two healthy political parties.

One Republican defiantly stared down his own local activists.

In the face of a censure vote from Nebraska party officials over his criticism of Trump, Sen. Ben Sasse released a video essentially shrugging his shoulders at them.

In the video, Sasse characterized his accusers as enraged hyper-partisans out of sync with most Americans.

He also accused them of selling out their ideals.

“Something has definitely changed over the last four years. But it’s not me,” Sasse said.

“Personality cults aren’t conservative. Conspiracy theories aren’t conservative. Lying that an election has been stolen is not conservative. Acting like politics is a religion isn’t conservative,” he said.

A Trump supporter shares his views on President Joe Biden as he waits for the former president to arrive in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Jan. 20, Trump’s last day in office. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

“You are welcome to censure me again. But let’s be clear about why this is happening: It’s because I still believe, as you used to, that politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude. The party could purge Trump skeptics. But I’d like to convince you that not only is that civic cancer for the nation — it’s just terrible for our party.”

Sasse told Republicans that they have a choice to make: “Between conservatism and madness.”

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Donald Trump leaves office as a diminished force in the Republican Party

Donald Trump could have spent his final weeks in office boasting about his Republican administration’s achievements and trying to solidify his status as the most significant voice in the party and possible front-runner for the presidential nomination in four years.

Instead, the 45th president of the United States focused on fuelling conspiracy theories in a futile attempt to overturn his loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

In doing so, he departed the White House on Wednesday still under the cloud of his supporters’ riot in the Capitol building. He returns to private life as the only president to have been impeached twice, and with some senior members of a now significantly divided Republican Party seemingly turning their backs on him. 

“It was just an unmitigated disaster of missed opportunities and terrible judgment,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

He said Trump had an opportunity to spend these past weeks becoming the most successful lame duck president in history, by helping with coronavirus relief negotiations and supporting a defence policy that included raises for troops.

But Trump didn’t play a constructive role in either file, he said.

Missed opportunity in Georgia Senate races

Trump could have also tried to help Republicans win the two Senate run-off races in Georgia earlier this month instead of sabotaging the campaigns by casting doubt on the electoral process with unfounded fraud allegations, Jennings said. The Republicans ended up losing both run-offs and control of the Senate. 

“And, of course, he could have decided not to incite a violent insurrection at the U.S Capitol,” Jennings said, referring to the article of impeachment against Trump that is expected to go to the Senate for a trial. “When you consider all of the things that he could have done, it could have been a lot different for him.”

Trump’s behaviour was particularly counterproductive if you consider that he clearly wants to continue being involved in politics, Jennings said.

“Everything he did in the lame duck period drastically diminished that possibility.”

Had Trump conceded the election back in November, he may have been remembered as a disruptive but consequential president, said Matthew Connetti, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C.

For Republicans, the Trump administration’s list of achievements would include tax cuts; deregulation; brokering diplomatic deals in the Middle East; and, perhaps most importantly, the appointment of many conservative judges, including three Supreme Court justices.

“He would have been the undisputed front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination. But that’s not how things turned out,” Connetti said in an email to CBC News.

Impeachment trial looms

Although he is out of office, Trump faces the possibility of an impeachment trial and conviction in the Senate and a vote to bar him from running for office again.

“Trump’s refusal to concede, his increasingly desperate and dangerous attempts to overturn the election, his incitement of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and his decision not to welcome Joe Biden to the White House or to attend Biden’s inauguration nullified a record of policy accomplishments,” Connetti said.

Trump briefly stopped to speak with reporters before walking with wife Melania to board Marine One on the south lawn of the White House on Wednesday. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Trump still has a large base of support within the Republican Party and among the conservative grassroots. Millions of his supporters agree with the baseless claims that the presidential election was rigged and stolen. Still, there are clear signs Trump’s power within the party has diminished since the riot in the Capitol.

At his departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, only about 300 people were in attendance. His guests included his family, outgoing White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and other current and former aides, the Washington Post reported.

But there were notable absences among top-ranking Republican officials. McConnell, who has been openly critical of Trump’s role in the U.S. Capitol riot, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were no-shows, having opted to attend church with Biden before heading over to the inauguration.

Perhaps the most significant absence was that of Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, who also attended Biden’s inauguration. (Pence’s spokespeople had previously said logistical issues would prevent him from attending both events.)

Trump had blamed Pence for refusing to block congressional certification of the electoral college votes on Jan. 6 — a power Pence never actually had at his disposal. 

The New York Times reported that aides had tried to get more officials to come to Trump’s departure, but many were still upset over his post-election behaviour and how it overshadowed the administration’s achievements.

Some of his aides who had been with him the longest said they did not even watch the send-off on television, the paper reported.

WATCH | Trump delivers his final address as president:

U.S. President Donald Trump formally left the White House after a struggle to hang on to office by trying to overturn the results of a democratic election. 2:13

At the national level, the Republican Party is now split in two, said Michael Cornfield, a political scientist at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.

“And the traditional Republican Party went to [the inauguration]. But the loyalists came with him to the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base.

Connetti said there will always be a segment of the population that continues to believe Donald Trump was a great president.

“But it is a minority,” he said, “and now the Republican Party, as a result of Trump’s actions since November, is in a state of civil war.”

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party chooses new leader

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right party on Saturday chose Armin Laschet, the pragmatic governor of Germany’s most populous state, as its new leader — sending a signal of continuity months before an election in which voters will decide who becomes the new chancellor.

Laschet defeated Friedrich Merz, a conservative and one-time Merkel rival, at an online convention of the Christian Democratic Union. Laschet won 521 votes to Merz’s 466. A third candidate, prominent legislator Norbert Roettgen, was eliminated in a first round of voting.

Saturday’s vote isn’t the final word on who will run as the centre-right candidate for chancellor in Germany’s Sept. 26 election, but Laschet will either run for chancellor or will have a big say in who does.

Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, announced in late 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term. She also stepped down from the CDU leadership.

The decision ends an 11-month leadership limbo in Germany’s strongest party after outgoing leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who had failed to impose her authority on the party, announced her resignation. A vote on her successor was delayed twice because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lashcet, centre, narrowly won the leadership over Friedrich Merze, right. A third candidate, Norbert Roettgen, left, was eliminated in a first round of voting. The three are seen here on Jan. 8 attending a discussion at party headquarters in Berlin. (Filip Singer/Getty Images)

There had been no clear favourite going into Saturday’s convention, but the election of Merz would have marked at least a symbolic break with the Merkel era. Laschet will now have to work to secure party unity.

Laschet, 59, was elected in 2017 as governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, a traditional centre-left stronghold. He governs the region in a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats, the CDU’s traditional ally on the right, but would likely be able to work fairly smoothly with a more liberal partner. Current polls point to the environmentalist Greens as a possible key to power in the election.

Focus on trust, ‘continuity of success’

Laschet pointed Saturday to the value of continuity and moderation, and cited the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump as an example of where deliberate polarization can lead.

“Trust is what keeps us going and what has been broken in America,” he told delegates before the vote. “By polarizing, sowing discord and distrust, and systematically lying, a president has destroyed stability and trust.”

“We must speak clearly but not polarize,” Laschet said. “We must be able to integrate, hold society together.”

He said that the party needs “the continuity of success” and “we will only win if we remain strong in the middle of society.”

Laschet said that “there are many people who, above all, find Angela Merkel good and only after that the CDU.” He added that “we need this trust now as a party” and that “we must work for this trust.”

Saturday’s result will now be officially endorsed in a postal ballot — which is expected to be a formality but is required by German law.

Merkel earned positive pandemic reviews

The CDU is part of the Union bloc along with the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, and the two parties will decide together on the centre-right candidate for chancellor. The Union currently has a healthy poll lead, helped by positive reviews of Merkel’s handling of the pandemic.

CSU leader Markus Soeder, the governor of Bavaria, is widely considered a potential candidate after gaining in political stature during the pandemic. Some also consider Health Minister Jens Spahn, who supported Laschet and was elected as one of his deputies, a possible contender.

Polls have shown Soeder’s ratings outstripping those of Saturday’s CDU candidates. Laschet has garnered mixed reviews in the pandemic, particularly as a vocal advocate of loosening restrictions after last year’s first phase.

He shouldn’t expect much of a honeymoon as CDU leader. This year also features six state elections, the first two in mid-March.

Merkel, now 66, has steered Germany, and Europe, through a series of crises since she took office. She has also broken repeatedly with conservative orthodoxy, for example by accelerating Germany’s exit from nuclear energy and ending military conscription.

Her 2015 decision to allow in large numbers of migrants led to divisions on the centre-right and strengthened the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which entered Germany’s parliament two years later.

Alternative for Germany co-leader Joerg Meuthen said Laschet’s election means the CDU “will carry on Merkeling” and asserted that his party “remains the only conservative party in Germany.”

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Boston Dynamics Says Goodbye to 2020 With a Robot Dance Party

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One day, robots may be dancing on our graves, and they’re going to be surprisingly good at it! Boston Dynamics, the robotics firm once owned by Google and now a part of Hyundai, has posted another fascinating and mildly disconcerting video showing off the smooth movement and agility of its robots. This time, the company put together a little dance routine set to the 1962 hit track “Do You Love Me” by The Contours. 

The song, which peaked at number 3 on the Billboard charts, is less than three minutes long, but it’s jam-packed with robots. The video starts with Atlas, a 6-foot humanoid robot that has previously leaped on top of boxes and done a flip, getting down with its bad self. The clever thing about the video is how it ramps up. You start with the single robot, and just as you’re about to get bored, boom, there’s another Atlas dancing in lock-step with the first. They’ve got great rhythm — digital, I assume. 

Again, you don’t have time to truly come to terms with the lifelike movement of the humanoid robots, because here comes Spot just a minute later. This quadrupedal robot is the only product Boston Dynamics sells to the public — you can get your own for a mere $ 75,000. Although, I imagine it’s not easy to program it to dance like this. Still, this shows how limber Boston Dynamics’ robots can be with a skilled operator, similar to the “Uptown Funk” dance from 2018. Even the clunky-looking Handle box-lifting robot joins the fun, rolling around like Big Bird on wheels. 

Boston Dynamics says in the video description that the demo features its “whole crew,” but there’s no sign of the classic BigDog robot that was the company’s first online hit. Presumably, it means just the bots it’s still actively developing. BigDog probably wasn’t agile enough to get its dance on anyway. 

Hyundai recently acquired 80 percent of Boston Dynamics from SoftBank for $ 880 million. SoftBank kept a 20 percent stake in the company via an affiliate but won’t have any say on how the company is run. Hyundai hasn’t announced any plans for Boston Dynamics, but at least the new management hasn’t put a stop to Boston Dynamics’ cheeky YouTube videos. The videos will have to do until we can all have robotic servants that definitely won’t rise up and destroy humanity while dancing to “Do You Love Me.” To answer that question: We kind of do, but only so we don’t have to be afraid.

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Death of elderly woman who attended birthday party highlighted, as B.C. announces 234 new cases of COVID-19

A woman in her 80s who contracted COVID-19 at a birthday party is the latest person to die of the disease in B.C., a sobering reminder of the risk of small gatherings, as the province announced 234 more cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry highlighted the woman’s death as she urged British Columbians to get back on track, while cases — many tied to small gatherings in private homes — continue to climb.

“Somebody unknowingly brought COVID-19 and even though it was a small party in one person’s home, the majority of people who were in that home became infected with COVID-19,” Henry said of the Fraser Valley birthday party of fewer than 10 people.

“The tragedy of this death is one that I want to share with you because it is something that reminds us of how important the measures that we need to take right now can be in protecting lives.”

COVID-19 cases in the Fraser Health region are surging more than anywhere else in the province.

More than half of the identified cases in B.C. are in that region, despite only accounting for 39 per cent of the population.

The area encompasses 1.8 million people in diverse communities from Burnaby to the Fraser Canyon.

There are currently 2,344 active COVID-19 cases in B.C. with 86 people in hospital, 24 of whom are in intensive care. 

Public health is actively monitoring 5,714 people across the province who are in self-isolation due to COVID-19 exposure. 

There have been 14,109 cases of COVID-19 in B.C. since the pandemic began.

‘If we are doing trick-or-treating, it needs to be small’

A new outbreak has been declared at Good Samaritan Victoria Heights, an assisted living facility in New Westminster.

There are 25 active outbreaks in health-care facilities, with 24 of them in long-term care or assisted living facilities. 

Earlier this week, B.C. introduced new restrictions on private gatherings in homes in an effort to curb transmission, after a record 817 new cases were announced over the weekend.

The new provincial health order from Henry restricts get-togethers in private homes to no more than immediate household members and an additional “safe six.”

Some of the new cases are directly linked to gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend, particularly in the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland areas, Henry said.

When getting together with your “safe six,” Henry clarified, it must be the same six people and recommended socializing outside or somewhere with a COVID-19 safety plan instead of inside a home, where there isn’t always space for physical distancing. 

It can also be easy to lower your guard when gathering inside someone’s home, where there are likely no layers of protection like Plexiglass barriers and one-way pathways, Henry added. 

The virus can be transmitted in home environments before anyone shows symptoms, which can lead to a large ripple effect, she said. 

The provincial health officer also recommended British Columbians not hold Halloween parties this weekend and find new ways to celebrate with immediate household members.

“If we are doing trick-or-treating, it needs to be small.” 

“It can be done safely outside with small groups, making sure that we give the others the space to stay safe and also importantly, to respect those homes that are choosing not to participate this year.”

Most British Columbians are doing the right thing, but Henry urged extra vigilance in the coming weeks.

“This is what we have to do now. These are the choices that we need to make today,” Henry said.

“We need to do our part and particularly these next few weeks so that we can bend that curve back down across this province.”

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British PM resists calls from own party to sack top adviser who crossed U.K. during lockdown

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson backed his senior adviser Dominic Cummings on Sunday, despite calls from within his own Conservative Party for the aide to resign for driving 400 kilometres during the coronavirus lockdown.

Cummings, architect of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU, came under pressure when newspapers reported he had travelled from London to northern England in March when his wife was ill with COVID-19 symptoms during a nationwide lockdown.

With Johnson’s words that he had acted with integrity, Cummings was safe, at least for now. But the row in the governing Conservatives looks set to rumble on.

“I’ve had extensive face-to-face conversations with Dominic Cummings,” Johnson told a news conference, saying his aide had followed the “instincts of every father” when he traveled with his wife for help with childcare while isolating.

“I believe that in every respect he has acted responsibly and legally and with integrity.”

Johnson’s senior aid Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street in London on Sunday. (Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, described Johnson’s decision to take no action against Cummings as “an insult to the sacrifices made by the British people.”

“This was a test of the prime minister and he has failed it,” Starmer said in a statement.

A divisive figure, Cummings is seen by allies and enemies alike as Johnson’s most important and influential strategist.

Over the weekend, Downing Street and senior ministers all backed him, an early signal of their reluctance to succumb to the demands from several Conservatives, who said they had received angry messages from voters over the trips.

A person holds up a sign outside Cummings’s home in London on Sunday. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

Johnson’s office said Cummings made the 400 kilometre journey after his wife showed symptoms, to ensure his four-year-old son could be properly cared for by relatives if he too fell ill.

The newspapers have since reported that Cummings was seen in northern England on other occasions. The government has denied this and Johnson did not answer a question about whether he knew about the additional trips.

The trips have fuelled anger among the millions who have stuck to the government’s coronavirus guidelines that a person who displays symptoms must stay home for seven days, with the rest of that person’s household doing the same for 14 days.

A screen mounted on a vehicle plays a clip of Johnson explaining stay-at-home rules outside Cummings’s home in London on Sunday. (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

Johnson said he understood “why people might feel so confused” but “really having looked at what happened, I really think most people will understand what he was doing.”

Some Conservatives broke ranks on Sunday to call for Cummings to go. Several said they had been inundated with messages from furious constituents who had obeyed the rules under great personal hardship.

“As much as I despise any baying pitchfork-led trials by social media, I’m unconvinced by the PM’s defense of Cummings,” tweeted Conservative lawmaker David Warburton.

One prominent Conservative activist, Tim Montgomerie, said on Twitter: “Tonight, I’m really embarrassed to have ever backed Boris Johnson for high office.”

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Manchester City player breaks lockdown after having party involving two sex workers

England defender Kyle Walker is facing disciplinary action from English Premier League team Manchester City after appearing to break lockdown conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 29-year-old Walker apologized on Sunday after it was widely reported he held a party involving two sex workers at his home last week, breaking the government’s rules on social distancing. The country is in the middle of a three-week lockdown.

“I want to take this opportunity to issue a public apology for the choices I made last week which have resulted in a story today [Sunday] about my private life in a tabloid newspaper,” Walker’s statement read.

“I understand that my position as a professional footballer brings the responsibility of being a role model. As such, I want to apologize to my family, friends, football club, supporters and the public for letting them down.”

He added: “My actions in this matter are in direct contrast to what I should have been doing regarding the lockdown. And I want to re-iterate the message: Stay home, stay safe.”

City said it will now look into Walker’s conduct.

A club statement read: “Manchester City FC are aware of a story in a tabloid newspaper regarding the private life of Kyle Walker in relation to a breach of the UK lockdown and social distancing rules.

Team is ‘disappointed’ in Walker’s actions

“Footballers are global role models, and our staff and players have been working to support the incredible efforts of the NHS [National Health Service] and other key workers in fighting the effects of the COVID-19, in any way we can. Kyle’s actions in this matter have directly contravened these efforts.

“We are disappointed to hear the allegations, note Kyle’s swift statement and apology, and will be conducting an internal disciplinary procedure in the coming days.”

Walker, who has made 48 appearances for England, is the second high-profile EPL player to have been caught flouting the government’s guidelines after Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish.

The Villa captain went to a party last weekend and was pictured next to a road in slippers, just hours after he posted a video urging fans to stay safe at home on social media.

As of Sunday, Britain has recorded more than 4,900 virus deaths overall among nearly 48,000 reported cases.

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‘It’s going to be nasty’: The party of Trump won’t soon forget Romney’s desertion

No one was expecting a group hug after Sen. Mitt Romney’s emotional speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate announcing he’d be voting to remove U.S. President Donald Trump from office. But the swiftness with which the Utah senator was both exalted and vilified shows the depths of the country’s political tribalism.

Detractors called him a “sore loser,” a jealous, failed presidential candidate, an opportunistic flip-flopper, a bitter backstabber, a Judas, a Brutus, a Benedict Arnold and, most bizarrely, a “pu_ _y” who wears mom jeans.

In the eyes of his defenders, Romney was nothing short of a “true patriot,” a “profile in courage,” “an American hero,” a man of faith, conscience and principles who did what his Republican colleagues in the Senate were too cowardly to do.

Then there were those who felt he deserved neither hero nor pariah status, and also no credit for a death-bed conversion that could never wash away the sins of aligning with Trump on policy.

What’s certainly true is that as the sole Republican to vote against a president of his own party — twice if you count his call for more witnesses — Romney has de facto engineered his own exile from that party.

“He will be essentially excommunicated from the conservative movement, at least for the time being, because right now, your standing in the Republican Party and the conservative movement is dependent on one thing and one thing only, which is your loyalty to Donald Trump,” said Charles Sykes, a political commentator, Never Trumper and editor-at-large of the conservative website The Bulwark.

Romney is unlikely to face consequences in the Senate, where Republicans have a thin 53-47 majority and need his vote, or any official party censure, but attacks on his character and his motives are sure to continue.

One need look no further than Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton to see how the party handles dissent. The establishment Republican was ridiculed and vilified during the impeachment trial for essentially saying what legislators had been hearing for months: that Trump held up aid to Ukraine to pressure the country’s president to announce investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Sen. Mitt Romney flew back to his home state of Utah on Thursday to explain his impeachment vote to legislators and his constituents. (The Deseret News/The Associated Press)

Along that same road lie the political careers of Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and Ben Sasse — Trump critics within the party who’ve either left office or fallen silent.

“It’s going to be nasty [for Romney],” said Sykes. “Whatever you think it’s going to be, it will probably be worse, because given the nature of our politics, the attacks will be both political and very personal.”

Trump questions Romney’s sincerity

Within two hours of the vote to acquit Trump on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — the president had tweeted out an attack video labelling Romney, a Republican standard-bearer and former governor of Massachusetts, a “Democratic secret asset.”

Donald Trump, Jr. called for his expulsion from the party — although some Senate Republicans laughed off the idea, with Sen. John Cornyn saying retaliation wasn’t called for and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying only that he was “surprised and disappointed” by Romney’s vote, but that the Utah senator was supportive of “most everything we’ve tried to accomplish.”

The Utah Republican Party put out a statement saying it strongly disagreed with Romney and stood firmly behind the president.

Romney’s own niece distanced herself and professed fealty to Trump.

On Thursday, Trump obliquely called out Romney, a Mormon, at a bipartisan National Prayer Breakfast. “We have allies; we have enemies. Sometimes, the allies are enemies,” Trump said, expressing his dislike for “those who use faith as a justification for doing what they know is wrong.”

Later, at a White House press conference, Trump took a victory lap, praising by name the lawmaker “warriors” who helped him defeat impeachment and castigating and mocking those who didn’t. Here, again, he questioned Romney’s motive and alluded to his unsuccessful 2012 presidential run, which Trump endorsed at the time.

“You have some who used religion as crutch,” he told the adoring crowd. “Never heard him use it before. … But, you know, it’s a failed presidential candidate, so things can happen when you fail so badly running for president.”

WATCH | Trump calls out some of those who worked to impeach him:

U.S. President Donald Trump attacks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer during his White House victory speech. 1:01

It doesn’t matter that, as Romney himself said, he has voted with Trump on most issues — and on some, such as immigration, takes an even harder line. That won’t help inoculate him, said Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist with the firm Targeted Victory who served as Romney’s deputy press secretary during his presidential run.

“This is Trump’s Republican Party … [Romney’s] attacks on the president and his vote on impeachment basically make him persona non grata with Trump supporters. They’ll never forgive him for this.”

By Thursday night, there were reports of retribution for Lt.-Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in the House hearings and was singled out in Trump’s victory speech, as well as for White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who was among the first to inadvertently confirm a quid pro quo.

Why he did it

Romney said he was guided by God and the evidence presented at the impeachment trial in making his decision to vote for conviction on the abuse of power charge. He also said he expected to be “vehemently denounced” for it by the president and his supporters.

“Does anyone seriously believe that I would consent to these consequences other than from an inescapable conviction that my oath before God demanded of me?” he said on the floor of the Senate.

WATCH | Romney explains why he’s voting to convict Trump of abuse of power:

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney explains why he will break with his party and vote to convict U.S. President Donald Trump on the charge of abuse of power. 3:17

But he may also be thinking of his legacy, as well as that of his late father, a former Michigan governor who at one time also broke with the Republican Party, over its choice of presidential candidate.

Romney doesn’t want to be just another senator, said Ray La Raja, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Having already built a brand as a Trump critic, clashing publicly with him over the years and even starting a secret Twitter account with which to troll the president and promote himself, Romney may be looking to juxtapose himself with Trump’s dogged defender in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Romney’s plan is to be a pre-eminent senator who has his own power base,” said La Raja. “Trump might not win [in November], so now who’s going to be a pivot player if there’s a Democratic presidential candidate? It’s going to be someone who stood up to Trump.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was surprised and disappointed by Romney’s vote. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A calculated risk

If Romney’s decision was a political move, it was a bad one, said Williams.

“He is alienating not just the leader of his party, but the entire base of the Republican Party. He will be ostracized by some for his decision, and it will follow him throughout whatever remainder of his political career is,” he said.

Practically speaking, the political risk for Romney is relatively low. He is 72, not up for re-election until 2024, with a solid base of support in a strongly Mormon state that while voting for Trump in 2016 has bristled at some aspects of his character, and may not look too kindly on his attacks on Romney’s faith. (Trump won the state with 45.9 per cent of the vote in 2016; Romney got 62.6 per cent in 2018.)

Romney flew back to Utah Thursday to explain his decision to his constitutents and state legislators, at least one of whom has called for him to be censured. So far, it seems Romney has at least partial support in his home state.

“He’s got the status to do this. It’s taking a risk, although I think it’s a very calculated risk,” La Roja said.

A resident of Sat Lake City, the capital of Utah, expresses support for Romney. (The Associated Press)

United or Trump-whipped?

Republicans who may feel sympathy for Romney are not likely to defend him publicly. Moderates such as Susan Collins, who voted with Romney on the question of witnesses at the trial, still need the support of the Trump base to get re-elected.

“One of the goals of Trumpworld would be to make Romney an example so that other Republicans aren’t tempted to follow his lead,” Sykes said.

Sen. Susan Collins voted with Romney on the question of witnesses, but pronounced Trump not guilty on both charges. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Matthew Continetti, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., thinks there is room for policy disagreements within the party of Trump — just not on issues like impeachment.

“On the partisan questions, I think the Republican Party is as unified as it’s ever been,” he said. “And I think that that spells trouble for the Democrats in the fall, because right now, the Democrats are divided, and these divisions seem only to get worse in the coming months.”

Legacy of impeachment

For Democrats, Romney’s vote was a sliver of light in an otherwise dark and disappointing end to the impeachment trial. 

“I do want to salute Mitt Romney,” said Senate Minority Leader Chick Schumer after the final vote Wednesday. “The pressure on every Republican was enormous. Every Republican knows that this president is vindictive, vengeful, vicious sometimes, and they don’t want to oppose him.”

The usually fiery U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer seemed dejected Wednesday afternoon in the wake of the vote acquitting Trump, and lashed out at reporters for focusing on politics rather the substance of the trial. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Inside the Capitol building, the proceedings of the past two and a half weeks felt serious, impassioned and consequential. But by the end, even the usually indefatigable Schumer looked defeated. 

“You’re all asking these political questions,” he snapped at reporters during his final press conference of the trial. “Go ask Mitch McConnell. He’s interested in the politics of this. We’re interested in finding out the right thing, the truth, OK?”

The consensus among pundits, meanwhile, is that impeachment won’t really impact the election. Public opinion has barely budged since the trial began, and the issue was rarely mentioned on the campaign trail in Iowa — other than in complaints about the trial taking time away from campaigning.

“The issue is Donald Trump,” said Continetti. “This  — whether you like him or loathe him — is the crucial question in American politics, and he will be the issue in November.”

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