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House moves toward second impeachment; vote could come today

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House rushed ahead Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice president to push him out first. Trump showed no remorse, blaming impeachment itself for the “tremendous anger” in America.

Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.

The House convened Tuesday night to vote on urging Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump with a Cabinet vote. But shortly before that, Pence said he would not do so in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

He said that it would not be in the best interest of the nation or consistent with the Constitution and that it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”

Meanwhile, three three Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced they would vote to impeach Trump on Wednesday, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the bloody siege, they were bracing for more violence ahead of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Jan. 20.

“All of us have to do some soul searching,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, imploring other Republicans to join.

Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said.

In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

With Pence’s agreement to invoke the 25th Amendment ruled out, the House will move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.

Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.

During an emotional debate ahead of the House action, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., urged her Republican colleagues to understand the stakes, recounting a phone call from her son as she fled during the siege.

“Sweetie, I’m OK,” she told him. “I’m running for my life.”

But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Trump ally just honored this week at the White House, refused to concede that Biden won the election outright.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., tied such talk to the Capitol attack, interjecting, “People came here because they believed the lie.”

Two Republicans, Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran, announced they, too, would vote to impeach.

A handful of other House Republicans could join in the impeachment vote, but it’s not clear there would be a the two-thirds vote needed to convict from the narrowly divided Senate, though some Republicans say it’s time for Trump to resign.

The unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest. The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration and Capitol Police warned lawmakers to be on alert. The inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol will be off limits to the public.

Lawmakers were required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters. Some Republican lawmakers complained about it.

A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.

In the Senate, Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, did not go that far, but on Tuesday called on Trump to address the nation and explicitly urge his supporters to refrain from further violence. If not, he said, Trump “will bear responsibility.”

No member of the Cabinet has publicly called for Trump to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment.

Biden has said it’s important to ensure that the “folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage -- that they be held accountable.”

Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down Biden’s first days in office, the president-elect is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID relief while also conducting the trial.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer suggested in a letter to colleagues Tuesday the chamber would do both.

As Congress resumed, an uneasiness swept the halls. More lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering during the siege. Many lawmakers were voting by proxy rather than come to Washington, a process that was put in place last year to limit the health risks of travel.

One of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was among those echoing the president, saying “impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together.”

House Democrats say they have the votes for impeachment. The impeachment bill drafted by Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Lieu of California, during the riot lockdown, and joined by Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden.

Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

The impeachment legislation also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes, as well as his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters last Wednesday to “fight like hell” and march to the building.

The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Jill Colvin, Ellen Knickmeyer and Bill Barrow contributed to this report.


Coronavirus
Relief package includes new round of paycheck protection

More help is on the way for East Texas businesses crippled by the pandemic as applications open for a new federal Paycheck Protection Program.

“Applications are online, funding has started and it will go quickly,” Angelina College Small Business Development Center Director Dianne Amerine warned during a conference call hosted Tuesday by the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce.

The federal relief package signed into law Dec. 27 included a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, which has been nicknamed PPP2. Applications for the original program closed in August.

Like the first version, the program offers forgivable loans to small business impacted by the pandemic, particularly for those overlooked in the first round. Those who received a loan the first go-round can also apply as long as they have 300 or fewer employees, used up their first round of funding and can show a revenue decline of 25% or more in any quarter of 2020.

Amerine described the rollout of the initial Paycheck Protection Program as chaotic.

“Everything was pulled together very quickly,” she said. “It really put a big burden on the banks, a burden on everyone because we didn’t have time to adequately prepare.”

The requirements for applications are essentially the same as the first program, Amerine said, adding the process should be less confusing the second time.

“Customers and bankers both have been thrown into the processing of PPP applications — bankers want to help and see the value of putting these funds into customers’ hands,” said BancCorpSouth branch manager Juan Gonzalez. “It’s a joint effort and there needs to be a lot of communication between bankers and customers.”

The Small Business Development Center is also available to answer questions or explain application terminology.

“Most people don’t speak government-ese,” Amerine said. “I think a lot of times (it helps) if people can make a phone call and are able to talk to a live person.”

The Small Business Development Center has advisers available to answer questions about the program at 936-633-5400.

Information on Chamber events and COVID-19 resources for businesses is available on the Nacogdoches County Chamber’s website, www.nacogdoches.org.


Gallery
Winter storm knocks out power, forces closings

The effects of a powerful winter storm that rolled over the Pineywoods on Sunday were still being felt two days later, as thousands of people remained without power.

Oncor spokesman Roger Lindsey said Nacogdoches County and the immediately surrounding area suffered the brunt of the storm, which left some 12,000 customers without power at the height of the event.

“Right about 5:00 Sunday afternoon it started,” Lindsey said Tuesday. “We’ve been going ever since.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, about 2,400 out of Oncor’s 24,290 customers in Nacogdoches County were still without power, he said.

San Augustine-based Deep East Texas Electric Coop had more than 4,000 customers in Nacogdoches County alone without power as of Tuesday morning, according to the company.

Across the company’s Deep East Texas area, the storm knocked out utilities for between 17,000 and 20,000 customers.

Across the co-operative’s service area, which includes San Augustine, Sabine, Shelby, Cherokee, Angelina, Jasper, Panola, Rusk and Newton counties, some 16,000 people lost power at the height of the storm’s damage.

Lindsey said line workers from surrounding areas and even out of state were brought in to help clean up from the storm, which he said was akin to a hurricane in how it affected the power grid.

“This is one of the toughest storms we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “This did damage across the system. Heavy, wet snow is not our friend.”

The preliminary snowfall total for Nacogdoches County was 4.7 inches, though as much as 6 inches was reported in the Appleby area, according to the National Weather Service in Shreveport.

That accumulation was responsible to toppling tree limbs onto power lines and causing hazardous road conditions.

From Sunday to Monday, Nacogdoches firefighters received nine reports of downed power lines and a smattering of electrical issues. In the county, sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a slew of road-hazard calls and vehicle crashes and stalls, including a major wreck at the intersection of U.S. 259 and state Hwy. 204.

Around 6:20 p.m., deputies were dispatched to the area around U.S. 259 and CR 910 — near the large, long hill south of Camp Tonkawa Road — in response to a stalled-vehicle call that involved multiple vehicles, according to the office’s activity log from that day.

More than four and a half hours elapsed between the initial report of the stalled vehicles and when the last deputy logged the call completed, according to the log.

Deputies weren’t just called on to assist with traffic calls, but even to aid people facing difficulties brought about by the power outages.

In one incident, they helped a woman start her power generator, according to the Jan. 12 activity log.

School districts across the county suspended classes Monday as a safety precaution.

Six of the county’s nine public schools delayed opening Tuesday as a precaution against predicted hazardous road conditions caused by another cold Monday night — a move also taken by Stephen S. Austin State University and county and city offices. Three of the county’s public school districts canceled classes outright for Tuesday, citing the road hazards and power outages.

Rising temperatures predicted throughout the rest of the week are expected to quickly erode the lingering snow.

Oncor’s Lindsey said most of the repair work was expected to be completed by Tuesday evening, though some work might continue Wednesday, while the Deep East Texas Electric Co-op expected full restoration of power by Wednesday evening.

Lindsey encouraged residents to report any potentially unsafe or questionable conditions they see to Oncor by calling 1-888-313-4747.


Coronavirus
Visitor restrictions announced as cases, hospitalizations rise

Nacogdoches Medical Center this week announced tightened visitor restrictions as COVID-19-related hospitalizations continue to climb.

Visitors are limited pre-approved parents of young patients, a designated support person in Pediatric and Women’s Services, end-of-life situations and others evaluated on a case-by-case basis, hospitals officials announced. No visitors will be allowed in the COVID-19 patient care area, a press release from NMC Health Network states.

Both patients and visitors are being screened for exposure and symptoms of the coronavirus as they enter Nacogdoches Medical Center. Similar measures are in place at Memorial Hospital, where visitors are prohibited except those related to end-of-life, labor coaches or pediatric caregivers. NMC visitors must be age 16 and up, while those at Memorial must be 18 or older.

Hospitalizations in the seven-county Deep East Texas region that includes Nacogdoches have remained above 15% since mid-December, according to the Department of State Health Services. Per order of the governor, the region’s hospitalization rate must drop below 15% for seven straight days for non-essential businesses to expand to 75% capacity and hospitals to resume elective surgeries.

The local hospitalization rate is about 22%, says Jessica Sowell, spokeswoman for the County Emergency Management Office, which has been inundated with calls from those asking about the vaccine.

“The county and the city and SFA have been working together to figure out where we can support our providers,” she said during a Tuesday update.

Emergency Management recently coordinated a vaccine effort at the County Expo Center, a facility large enough to get vaccines administered safely to a large amount of people over a short period.

“It was a way for the city and county to help get vaccines out as fast as possible — we’re going to continue to do that when there is another provider who needs space, who needs manpower and coordination,” she said.

The best way to get the vaccine for those 65 and up who qualify is to register ahead of time with their doctor or pharmacy, she said.

Department of State Health Services on Tuesday confirmed 24 new cases of the virus since its last update Monday afternoon. Active cases — those confirmed and considered contagious — have reached 478, surpassing the prior peak of 442 estimated on Aug. 7.

A 14-day trendline released by the County Emergency Management Office Tuesday shows average new cases have risen above 20 per day, still below the mid-summer peak of 27 per day.

A local COVID-19 call center remains open to answer questions at 936-468-4787.


Local
Unknowns cloud redistricting as session begins

If the coronavirus pandemic and a shrinking budget weren’t enough, Texas legislators this session will have to take on the ultra-contentious process of redrawing maps for the state’s congressional, legislative and state board of education districts.

But how and when redistricting will happen remains uncertain after the opening gavels for the Texas House and Senate sounded at noon Tuesday.

“I have not gone though a redistricting session, but by all accounts of those who have, it can be a very bare-knuckled, aggressive process that can test patients and make tempers flare,” State Rep. Clardy told members of Rotary Club of Nacogdoches last week before heading to Austin. “In one way I’m looking forward to this process and hopefully we can get through it. We’ll see how that goes.”

The 2020 Census count is in the books, but the numbers aren’t expected to be available by the time the regular session ends in May. Some lawmakers have said they expect a special session to redraw district maps, but Clardy doesn’t agree.

“By constitution we are required to draw those maps during regular session, which is a defined term. If we don’t have the census we can’t draw the maps. If we get out of regular session and into special session I think that would also be subject to challenge in the courts,” he said. “The one thing we know about redistricting is that it will be in the courts. That is a drawn out process. We still have cases pending from the last set of maps drawn.”

Every 10 years, a U.S. census is conducted to count every resident in the country. After that, state and local governments use the new population data to draw new congressional and state legislative maps.

The point is to draw roughly equally populated districts to reflect population growth and guarantee equal voter representation.

The Texas Legislature has a fixed number of seats — 31 in the Senate and 150 in the House. So Texas’ legislative districts change every 10 years, but the total number of lawmakers doesn’t. But the number of Texas congressional districts can change every 10 years relative to the state’s share of the U.S. population. Texas has grown faster than most other states over the last decade, adding close to 4 million people since 2010. That means the state’s allotted U.S. House seats will likely grow to 38 or 39 — up from 36 current seats.

That growth will likely mean legislators will pick up more constituents, Clardy said. Currently, House members represent about 170,000 people, which is expected to to jump to 200,000.

State senators represent a much larger area — around 806,000 people each.

While every state has its own redistricting procedures, all states must also abide by guidelines set forth by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to combat racial discrimination in the voting process. This includes redistricting techniques like “packing and cracking,” which either divide large minority communities across several districts to weaken their voting impact or pack them into a few heavily concentrated districts to avert their voting power from the remainder of the region or state. On top of the Voting Rights Act’s redistricting rules, all legislative, congressional and SBOE districts must meet two basic criteria outlined in the U.S. Constitution and federal law: equal or near-equal populations and preservation of the right to vote regardless of race, color or language.

For U.S. House districts, populations must be close to equal, while Texas House and Senate districts may deviate by up to 10% from the ideal district population, which is the number of residents if all districts were populated equally.

During the session, the Senate and House Redistricting Committees, each made up of 15 members, must work together to redraw the maps fairly and equally. They’ll also work alongside expert mapmakers and the Texas Legislative Council and receive input from the public.

The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.


Coronavirus
Lawmakers facing $1 billion shortfall

Texas lawmakers entered the 87th Legislature on Tuesday dealing with a $1 billion deficit from the previous biennium and less money to go around for the next two years.

Legislators should have about $112.5 billion to work with for the 2022-23 biennium, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Monday. That’s a 0.4% decline from funds available over the past two years.

“In the context of a $250 billion budget, it’s manageable, but it’s going to require some hard decisions,” state Rep. Travis Clardy said.

The billion-dollar shortfall estimate, while still astronomical, comes as welcome news after Hegar predicted in July a deficit of nearly $4.6 billion.

“In any case, the Legislature will again face some difficult choices to balance the budget. While savings from agency spending cuts and federal funding could help erase the projected shortfall for this biennium, a substantial supplemental appropriations bill could increase it, thereby reducing revenue available for the next biennium,” Hegar said.

Clardy told members of Rotary Club of Nacogdoches last week that those difficult choices would not include raising taxes.

“I do not see anything the state is going to do to increase your tax burden. I do not see, nor will I support, any vote to raise taxes,” he said. “There are places that we can cut and trim up and lean up in the state. It’s going to cut across all agencies. It’ll cut across places like Stephen F. Austin State University, which is near and dear to our hearts, which I fight for and look after at every turn. But it’s going to require a little belt tightening.”

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday challenged lawmakers to achieve the same success they found in 2019.

“Now new challenges await us this session. Over the past year Texans have been challenged like never before, but Texans are resilient and Texans will emerge from this episode stronger than ever before,” he said in an address to state senators.

The budget shortfall, pandemic response, expanding broadband internet and the ever-contentious process of redistricting are expected to dominate the session. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has already told senators not to introduce as many pieces of legislation as in normal sessions.

“We’re going to try to narrow down legislation to ‘must pass’ legislation,” Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville told the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce last month.

Last week, Clardy told Rotary Club of Nacogdoches that he does not have any major bills that are “critical to the district,” like in previous sessions where his legislation helped renovate the Fredonia Hotel and expand Rusk State Hospital. Still he has reservations about the limited amount of bills that could be taken up by the state senate.

“I think members should be able to move legislation they think is necessary. In reality I don’t think we’re going to see much legislation passed,” Clardy said.

The $112.5 billion available for general purpose spending that lawmakers will have to work with includes $119.6 billion in general revenue related funds,” Hegar said. These collections will be offset by an expected 2020-21 ending balance of negative $946 million. In addition, $5.8 billion must be reserved from oil and natural gas taxes for 2022-23 transfers to the Economic Stabilization Fund — also known as the rainy day fund — and the state highway fund; another $271 million must be set aside to cover a shortfall in the state’s original prepaid college tuition plan, the Texas Tomorrow Fund.

Sales tax collections make up the state’s largest source (62%) of revenues in 2022-23. The state projects sales tax revenues will increase by 5.1% from the 2020-21 biennium, reaching $64.1 billion for the 2022-23 biennium after $5 billion is allocated to the highway fund.

Other significant sources of revenue in 2022-23 include:

■ motor vehicle-related taxes, including sales, rental and manufactured housing taxes, which are expected to reach $10.1 billion, up 5.1% from 2020-21;

■ oil production tax collections, which are projected to generate $6.5 billion, up 10.1% from 2020-21;

■ natural gas tax collections, which are expected to raise $3.5 billion, up 66.9% from 2020-21; and

■ franchise tax collections, which are projected to generate $6.3 billion, up 5.1% from 2020-21; for all funds, franchise tax revenue is estimated to generate $9 billion, up 4.4 percent from 2020-21.

The state’s rainy day fund currently contains about $10.5 billion, not counting currently outstanding spending authority. Absent any legislative appropriations, the balance is expected to total $11.6 billion at the end of 2022-23.

“We must keep an eye on several things that could impact this forecast, including the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the possibility of renewed reduction in customer-facing economic activity,” Hegar said. “In addition, we must carefully monitor the nascent recovery in energy markets as further shocks on either the demand or supply side could threaten recent positive developments for prices and production.”


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