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A pandemic Christmas: Services move online, people stay home

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A pandemic Christmas: Services move online, people stay home

“This year Christmas love is expressed at the door,” she said. “I’m glad that people will probably be with us next year with the vaccines. I can give up anything for that.”

With a child due in February, Song Ju-hyeon of Paju, South Korea, near Seoul, said home is the only place she feels safe. The government reported 1,241 new cases Friday, a new daily record for the country.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas anyway, there’s no carols being played on the streets,” she said.

“It’s Christmask,” the Daily Nation newspaper declared in Kenya, where a surge in cases led to doctors ending a brief strike Christmas Eve. Celebrations were muted in the East Africa hub as a curfew prevented overnight church vigils.

Pope Francis delivered his Christmas blessing from inside the Vatican, breaking with his traditional speech from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica to tens of thousands in St. Peter’s Square. Tourism in Italy has virtually vanished and the government’s coronavirus restrictions for the holidays foiled any plans by locals to flock to the square.

Citing a cause for optimism, Francis said the invention of Covid-19 vaccines shines “lights of hope” on the world. In a passionate appeal to leaders, businesses and international organizations, he said they must ensure that the most vulnerable and needy in the pandemic be first in line to receive the vaccines.

Bells rang out around Bethlehem as the traditional birthplace of Jesus celebrated. But the closure of Israel’s international airport to foreign tourists, along with Palestinian restrictions banning intercity travel in the areas they administer in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, kept visitors away.

In Beijing, official churches abruptly canceled Mass after China’s capital was put on high alert following two confirmed Covid-19 cases last week. Two new asymptomatic cases were reported Friday.

With economies reeling around the world, it wasn’t a year of lavish gifts. Robin Sypniewski of Middlesex County, New Jersey, was furloughed twice from her job serving school lunches and is now on reduced hours as her husband retires next week as a trash collector and her daughter wrestles with student debt.

Sypniewski, 58, bought her daughter pajamas, compared to a diamond bracelet last Christmas. Her husband got a $20 plaque describing his Polish heritage, compared to a tablet computer last year.

“The bills have to be paid this month and next month. With the reduced hours, it’s tough,” she said.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, taxi driver Dennys Abreu, 56, navigated the vast city overnight to cover the $300 monthly payment on his car, which he bought after losing a construction job. An estimated 14 million Brazilians are jobless.

“All I can do is to work as much as I can, get by and hope this damn virus disappears next year,” he said.

Church services shifted online. The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles celebrated five Masses at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, with attendance capped at 130 people, compared to a pre-pandemic capacity of about 3,000. All were livestreamed.

The Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, stuck with five services but in-person attendance was capped at 25 people, compared to as many 2,000 before the pandemic. A Christmas Eve pageant that is normally performed in person was recorded and shown online.

“I have to remember that Christians have been celebrating Christmas for hundreds of years in all sorts of circumstances,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Marie Melchionna, the church rector. “Some of the external appearances are different and yet the essence remains the same. What has not changed is that essential longing and celebration for love that is born at Christmas.”

In Paris, members of Notre Dame Cathedral’s choir sang inside the church for the first time since a 2019 fire, wearing hard hats and protective suits against construction conditions.

Border closures and bottlenecks foiled some plans. Thousands of drivers were stranded in their trucks at the English port of Dover, lacking the coronavirus tests that France demands amid rising concern about a new, apparently more contagious, virus variant. The British army and French firefighters were brought in to help speed up the testing and free food was distributed.

With Colombia closing its borders to prevent the virus from spreading, Venezuelan migrants couldn’t go home for the holidays. Yakelin Tamaure, a nurse who left economically-wracked Venezuela two years ago, wanted to visit her mother, who is nursing a broken foot.

“I try to send her money, but it’s not the same as being there,” she said.

Many took the restrictions in stride. A pre-pandemic Christmas in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for Kristin Schrader, 53, meant hosting a big dinner with appetizers for her brother who visits from Denver, her parents, who live in town, and friends who drop by. This year, she opted for a socially-distant outing with her husband and 13-year-old daughter to watch a man dressed as Santa Claus canoe down the Huron River with his dog. A low-key fondue dinner was also on the agenda.

“It’s just really hard when you’ve all be sitting in the same house to muster up a lot of excitement for the three of us when we’re just staring at each other for months and months on end,” she said.

The 70 residents at St. Peters, a nursing home in the northern Spanish town of El Astillero, held video chats or 30-minute visits with family, separated by a plexiglass wall.

“This terrible thing has come to us, so we must accept it and deal with it with patience,” said Mercedes Arejula, who met with her mother.

The nursing home allowed only one relative inside. A granddaughter blew kisses from outside.

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Politics

A Reaganesque Scheme for a GOP Reboot

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A Reaganesque Scheme for a GOP Reboot

If the party is going to survive Trump, it needs to cut the extremists loose and craft a broader message. Here’s how that succeeded before.

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Ivanka’s political future comes into sharper focus

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Ivanka’s political future comes into sharper focus

The president’s eldest son, Don Jr., is eyeing a future in politics as well, though allies say it’s unclear when or what office he’d seek after he passed on running for the Senate in Wyoming this last cycle. He and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle have also been scoping out real estate in Florida.

The newest and most-buzzed about possibility, however, surrounds the president’s daughter Ivanka. The senior White House adviser is set to decamp to Florida after her father’s presidency comes to a close. And though talk of her launching a primary challenge to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has given off the faint whiff of political fan-fick, in reality, Trump officials say, there have been machinations behind the scenes.

One person in contact with the president said that Jared Kushner is viewed as “working single-mindedly to protect and promote his wife’s ‘political career.’” And two sources, including one top GOP fundraiser, said that Trump ally and mega donor Tom Barrack had been pressing fellow Republican financiers to put together some type of operation that could lure Ivanka into entering the race.

“He’s calling people and trying to line them up saying Rubio is terrible, worthless, he’s probably going to lose, Ivanka is going to go there and we should all get together and pledge our support to her and get her to run,” the GOP fundraiser said.

Tommy Davis, a Barrack spokesman, said no chatter of challenging Rubio ever took place.

“It’s not true. He’s never made any comments like this about Marco and he’s not making these calls,” said Davis. “Maybe people are getting confused because we did as much work as we could for the Senate Leadership fund for the Georgia race. But that was before Christmas. But, no, nothing about Ivanka and nothing about Marco.”

And one person close to Trump said that Ivanka herself had denied having interest in running for office. But the president’s advisers are openly playing up her political potency.

“Ivanka only got into politics to help her father and help his agenda but what’s now clear is that Ivanka is a political powerhouse in her own right,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump.

Others in Trumpworld say the signs are evident that Ivanka is leaving the door open to elected office. In late October, Ivanka, who had been registered as a Democrat in the past, gave an interview in which she declared herself “unapologetically pro-life.” One top Florida Republican who is close to the Trumps and Rubio noted that she not only upped her appearances on the campaign trail during the 2020 cycle — both for her father and the two Republicans in the Georgia Senate runoff — but passed out food at a food distribution event in Miami before Christmas.

“We’re taking the possibility seriously,” the Republican official said. “And so is Marco. And that’s a good thing. But you never know. She’s a Trump and the Trumps move on their own timetables.”

And, perhaps most tellingly, in the last week, Steve Bannon, as he was renewing his contacts with Trump himself, began talking up Ivanka’s political resume.

“The second most fire breathing populist in the White House was Ivanka Trump,” the president’s one-time adviser said on a recent podcast of his. If, Bannon added, Rubio voted for the certification of Joe Biden’s election — and he did — then, “I strongly believe and would strongly recommend that Ivanka Trump immediately…. if she is not going to remain an assistant to the president, she should immediately file and run for the senate and primary Marco Rubio in Florida.”

American politics has seen its share of family dynasties before. And though Donald Trump’s standing may have taken a hit by his handling of his election loss — which included inciting a riot that led to violence on Capitol Hill, his ouster from major social media platforms, resignations from his Cabinet, public disgust from party leaders and his second impeachment — public polling still shows that his name remains the most dominant in Republican circles. Virtually everyone expects that to transfer to his children.

“Their brand was certainly stained and it’s a stain we’ll never be able to erase,” said one top Republican strategist. “At the same time, the name of the game is winning a primary and someone with the last name of Trump could win.”

But running in theory is different from running in practice. In Florida, Rubio’s standing has been considered largely stable up to this point. The senator was trashed by hardcore Trump supporters for his vote that certified the Electoral College results. But those close to him said he was expecting far worse. They also point to his solid support in Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most-populous, where 74 percent of the GOP voters are Hispanic and overwhelmingly Cuban-American like Rubio.

“We have nothing bad to say about Ivanka,” said a Rubio adviser. “He’s going to run his race. I’m not sure she really wants to run? She just finished working in the White House and she has three small children — and now she’s going to move to Florida and run against Marco Rubio in a Republican primary?”

For that reason, the expectation among Trump allies and even establishment Republicans is that Ivanka will take her time considering a run while Lara jumps in. One Republican operative who worked with both Lara and Ivanka Trump in 2020 noted that Ivanka was less interested in the rallies and retail politics that come with running for office.

Ivanka Trump is expected to take some time off after leaving the White House, according to one former White House official, and she is currently working on closing out her work, including mitigating the fallout of the riots on Capitol Hill. After that, her family is expected to pack up their home in Washington.

A person close to Lara Trump, meanwhile, said that she has not made any decisions on entering the race in North Carolina, although consultants have been “poking around” for her in the state.

“For [Ivanka] to take on Marco or Florida she’s gotta be ready to rock and roll,” the operative said. “Whereas with Lara, I get the vibe she is ready to go.”

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Feds back away from claim that Capitol rioters were looking to capture and assassinate officials

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Feds back away from claim that Capitol rioters were looking to capture and assassinate officials

“Right now, we don’t have any direct evidence of kill/capture teams,” Sherwin said.

Sherwin’s contention undercut the flat assertions made by federal prosecutors in Arizona, who described in a court filing Thursday what they called “strong evidence” that Capitol rioters intended “to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States Government.”

The D.C. prosecutor suggested those claims were the product of miscommunication or lack of coordination in what has become a sprawling investigation seeking to question and arrest suspects who have returned to their home states after traveling to Washington for the pro-Trump protest that turned violent on Jan. 6.

“There were other prosecutors. That may be a disconnect that may be adding information that’s not directly related to what we have,” Sherwin said.

Though Sherwin disclaimed specific knowledge of the rioters’ intent, he said investigators are carefully examining potential planning for the event. The prosecutor seemed to dismiss the notion of an overarching plan, but said officials are looking into the possibility that smaller groups may have coordinated in advance of and during the assault.

“There are breadcrumbs of organization in terms of what maybe was taking place outside the Capitol went inside with perhaps some type of communication with core groups of people ingressing into the Capitol and some coordination with individuals within the Capitol,” Sherwin said. “That is a tier one, top priority for both the U.S. Attorney’s office and our law enforcement partners to see, again, whether there was this command and control and whether there were indeed organized teams that were organized to breach the Capitol and perhaps try to accomplish some type of mission inside the Capitol.”

Sherwin did not back away from other explosive elements of the Arizona filing, which described the Capitol siege as an attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, and part of an “insurrection movement” that is still ongoing. The filing was submitted as part of a bid to deny bail to a QAnon conspiracy follower and self-described shaman charged in the riot, Jacob Chansley.

Sherwin said that as of Friday morning, 98 criminal cases have been filed related to the riot, most of them including felony charges. He said he expects that number to grow “exponentially” in the coming days and also to involve more serious charges against some alleged rioters — perhaps including seditious conspiracy charges.

Sherwin said he was particularly disturbed by the presence of current and retired law enforcement officers in the mob that fought with police. One Capitol Police officer died following the melee and dozens of other officers were injured.

So far, two off-duty police officers from Rocky Mount, Va., have been charged, along with a retired firefighter from Pennsylvania.

“Unfortunately, as this case goes on, we’re seeing indications that law enforcement officers, both former and current, maybe had been off duty and participating in this riot activity,” Sherwin said. “We don’t care what your profession is, who you’re who affiliated with. If you are conducting and you are engaged in criminal activity, we will charge you and you will be arrested.”

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