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Pelosi wants trial details before Senate gets charges
House speaker demands information before she sends GOP-led chamber articles of impeachment

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted on Thursday that before she will send the Senate the articles of impeachment her chamber approved against President Donald Trump, Republican leaders must provide more detail about how they will handle the expected trial.

"We'd like to see a fair process, but we'll see what they have and will be ready for whatever it is," Pelosi said at the Capitol. "So far we haven't seen anything that looks fair to us."

She made the comments after the Democratic-controlled House approved the two charges that will be sent to the Senate. In that body, Trump will probably be acquitted by the Republican majority.

The parties' Senate leaders, Mitch McConnell for the Republicans and Chuck Schumer for the Democrats, met Thursday on trial arrangements but came to no agreement.

The two men have a tense relationship, and McConnell holds a tactical edge if he can keep his 53-member majority united.

Democrats are insisting on more witnesses, testimony and documents than McConnell appears willing to provide before they name the House "managers" who would prosecute Trump in the Senate.

"Sen. Schumer made clear to Sen. McConnell that the witnesses and documents are necessary to ensure a fair trial in the Senate," said Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman. "Schumer asked Sen. McConnell to consider Sen. Schumer's proposal over the holidays."

Wednesday night's vote, almost entirely along party lines, made the president just the third in U.S. history to be impeached. The House impeached Trump on two charges — abusing his presidential power and obstructing Congress — stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rival while U.S. aid was being withheld.

Pelosi's unexpected procedural delay in taking the next step — apparently in search of leverage in locking in trial arrangements — got a sour response from McConnell and from Trump himself.

McConnell said Democrats were "too afraid'' to send the charges to the Senate. Trump tweeted, "Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles."

He said if the Democrats didn't transmit the charges, "they would lose by default," though there is no constitutional requirement to send them swiftly, or at all.

The trial has been expected to begin in January.

Along with her tough talk, Pelosi appeared upbeat the day after the impeachment votes.

"We've been hearing from people all over the country," she told reporters. "Seems like people have a spring in their step because the president was held accountable for his reckless behavior."

Pressed about next steps, Pelosi wouldn't say.

"The next thing will be when we see the process that is set forth in the Senate," Pelosi said. "Then we'll know the number of managers we may have to go forward and who we would choose."

Pelosi and Schumer met privately Thursday at the Capitol after McConnell signaled in the strongest terms yet that his chamber intended to hold a swift trial and acquit the president of both charges.

McConnell denounced the "most unfair" House impeachment in modern history and reassured Trump and his supporters that "moments like this are why the United States Senate exists."

As for what the Senate would do, he said, "It could not be clearer which outcome would serve the stabilizing, institution-preserving, fever-breaking role for which the United States Senate was created and which outcome would betray it."

The Kentucky Republican described Trump's impeachment as "the most rushed, least thorough and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history."

Fighting back using McConnell's own words, Schumer said the Republican leader was plotting the "most rushed, least thorough and most unfair" impeachment trial in history by not agreeing to call witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, who declined to testify before the House.

"McConnell claimed the impeachment was motivated by partisan rage," Schumer said. "This from the man who said proudly, 'I am not impartial.' "

"What hypocrisy." Pelosi said McConnell "says it's OK for the foreman of the jury to be in cahoots with the lawyers of the accused. That doesn't sound right to us."

Complicating any decision to delay are House Democrats' arguments in recent weeks that Trump's impeachment was needed "urgently," arguing that his actions were a threat to democracy and the fairness of the 2020 election.

"We'd like to see a fair process, but we'll see what they have and will be ready for whatever it is."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Sen. Joni Ernst calls for EPA chief to be replaced, says ethanol rules fall short of biofuels target

WASHINGTON — Sen. Joni Ernst said Thursday that President Donald Trump should replace Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler if he fails to deliver on promised levels of federally mandated ethanol blending.

The Iowa Republican made her comments after the EPA released the final version of new ethanol rules, which falls short of the regulatory certainty the biofuels industry and its allies have sought.

Ernst said the administration has promised that 15 billion gallons of ethanol will be blended into the nation’s fuel supply annually going forward.

Joni Ernst

“If we’re not seeing that, then yes, the president needs to make a change,” Ernst said. “Then the president needs to find somebody else to work for him at EPA.”

It’s the latest chapter in a long-running dispute between oil and gas interests and the biofuels industry. Trump has tried — thus far in vain — to make both sides happy.

The decision is fraught with political implications, as it pits two Trump constituencies in key electoral battlegrounds against each other — rust belt refinery workers on one side and Midwestern grain farmers on the other.

At issue is the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refineries to blend a certain amount of corn-based ethanol and other biofuels into the fuel supply every year. The Trump administration has been granting exemptions to refineries at a pace ethanol backers say substantially reduces demand for their product and has idled ethanol plants.

Biofuels advocates coalesced around a plan to account for the lost gallons based on a three-year rolling average of refinery waivers.

But the EPA went with a plan that relies on averaging Department of Energy recommendations. The biofuels industry says the EPA has made a habit of ignoring those recommendations.

Ernst and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, issued statements criticizing the finalized rules.

Ernst said the EPA missed an opportunity to “restore the broken trust of farmers and to follow through on the president’s commitment.” Grassley said he understands “the hesitation from Iowans to trust the word of EPA to actually follow through on that commitment.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said in a press release that the final rule is an improvement over a previous version but that she understands Nebraskans are wary of the EPA.

“President Trump cares about farmers and has made big promises to rural America,” she said. “I will continue to work to make sure those promises are fulfilled.”

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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, both Republicans, issued statements vowing to hold the EPA accountable.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said in a press release that the EPA’s chosen approach means that the market can’t be sure what the actual blending levels will be until well into the future.

“Instead of certainty, we are essentially being told to trust the EPA to uphold the RFS in the future even though for the past three years the EPA has routinely undermined the program,” he said. “Every farmer and biofuel supporter I have talked to is deeply disappointed, frustrated, and quite frankly angry. I don’t think the White House truly understands the depth of discontent in farm country.”

It’s not clear that the new rule will satisfy refiners, either.

The Fueling American Jobs Coalition, which represents refineries and gasoline stations, issued a statement saying the RFS has been exposed as merely another subsidy for agribusiness companies, one that is zealously guarded by home-state politicians.

The entire concept of reallocating exempted gallons is flawed and will prompt court challenges, the group said.

“It will not go unnoticed that the administration has broken its promise to protect manufacturing workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and across the nation,” the statement said.

The move will also renew questions about the underlying value of the mandate, the group said.

“And just as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow over Iowa, biofuels interests will be back next year to ask for even more,” it said.

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'A real game-changer': $7.5 million gift gives Ralston's Hinge development a big boost

A longtime Ralston piano teacher known for her generous spirit has made the first major private investment in a plan to transform a stretch of the city into a vibrant, booming district.

LaDonna R. Johnson, who died in 2016, bequeathed $7.5 million to Ralston to further the Hinge project, which is the city’s plan to revitalize the area near the Ralston Arena on 72nd Street and attract people into downtown.

City leaders and those who conduct business in Ralston say the funds could spark more interest in the plan among developers now that they know the city can help bankroll its grand vision.

“We’re very grateful for LaDonna and the Johnson family for their (generosity) and commitment to our future,” Mayor Don Groesser said before a press conference announcing Johnson’s gift.

The Hinge project’s master plan, approved by the City Council last month, envisions Ralston’s future as one in which businesses fill empty retail spaces and in which parks and green spaces encourage residents to walk through downtown.

It lays out the need for modern, urban housing options that could attract new residents to the city of 7,300.

Michael Sanchez is a Ralston councilman who owns or has invested in restaurants across the Omaha metro area, such as Blackstone’s Mula and Benson’s Taco Co. He said his background has shown him that redevelopment projects like the Hinge — if done right — can attract entrepreneurs.

“If Ralston is to grow, we need to compete with the other areas in the metro and attract private-sector development that brings new money into our community,” Sanchez said.

Private developers have taken notice.

Todd Zimbleman of property management company Urban Waters said the city’s commitment and buy-in to transforming Ralston is encouraging. Urban Waters is currently in talks with Ralston to buy a city-owned parking lot that would become an apartment complex.

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“We think (the Hinge project) sets the stage for future development opportunities,” Zimbleman said.

Johnson’s gift has already funded the master plan for the project and multiple studies related to the Hinge. In the future, it will allow the city to do things like complete infrastructure improvements, acquire property and conduct streetscape work, Groesser said.

The Johnson family was well known in Ralston, Groesser said. LaDonna Johnson’s parents moved to the area in the 1950s and were active in multiple churches.

LeMoyne Johnson, LaDonna Johnson’s brother, said his sister started teaching piano lessons in the community while she was in high school, following in the footsteps of her mother, who was an organist for many decades. When LaDonna died of cancer in 2016 at the age of 73, her funeral featured dozens of former students.

“That was her livelihood and her life,” LeMoyne, 74, said of his sister’s love for the piano.

LeMoyne, of Bradenton, Florida, said he and his sister were taught the importance of giving back to the community from an early age by their parents. Her gift to Ralston exemplifies that, he said.

Rick Hoppe, Ralston’s new city administrator, noted that LaDonna Johnson specified in her bequest that the money is to be used to further the Hinge project. It cannot go to other city priorities, such as paying off the Ralston Arena’s debt.

The funds are being managed by the Ralston Community Foundation Fund, an affiliate of the Nebraska Community Foundation.

Bill Haas, a Ralston businessman who sits on the committee that will manage Johnson’s gift, knew her for many years. Her legacy, Haas said, will live on through her donation.

“I think this is a real game-changer for the Hinge project,” Haas said.

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House passes North American trade bill by wide bipartisan margin; Senate expected to do the same

WASHINGTON — Just one day after the sharply contentious impeachment debate, House members came together Thursday to pass a new North American trade deal in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion.

Every member from Nebraska and Iowa — Republican and Democrat alike — supported the agreement, which passed 385-41. It now goes to the Senate, where it is also expected to receive broad, bipartisan support.

Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa was among the impatient swing-district House Democrats pushing their party’s leaders to move forward on what has been dubbed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“I know my farmers, producers and agricultural workers are celebrating the passage of USMCA today,” she said.

The deal is a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the final version includes changes requested by Democrats and labor unions.

It represents a fulfilled campaign pledge for President Donald Trump, who heavily criticized NAFTA during his run for the White House.

It also gives Democrats such as Axne something to talk about besides impeachment.

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Backers of the new pact have touted the job creation and economic growth it will bring, although estimates about the magnitude of those gains vary somewhat.

But these days, any positive trade news is welcome to agricultural producers who rely heavily on international markets to sell their products and have been buffeted by ongoing tariff disputes.

Dairy farmers in particular are excited that it will be easier to get their products into the Canadian market.

Axne urged the Senate to move quickly on the deal.

She and half a dozen other freshman House members had even suggested that senators not leave town for the holiday recess until they pass it.

Of course, many Senate Republicans have been complaining bitterly for months about House Democrats holding on to the agreement.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., summed up the prevailing GOP attitude toward House passage when he said it was “about dang time” and criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for taking so long.

In fact, all members of the Nebraska and Iowa congressional delegations welcomed progress on the deal, as did Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, both Republicans.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will be responsible for handling the agreement on that side of the Capitol.

Grassley called the overwhelming House vote a historic victory for Trump and the country.

“It’s unfortunate that farmers, manufacturers and all American workers had to wait so long,” he said. “Impeaching the president and passing USMCA in the same week makes immediate action impossible. But I look forward to getting USMCA passed in the Senate and ratified early next year.”

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues.

He said in a statement that Trump correctly determined that NAFTA needed to be modernized.

“USMCA meets that standard by maintaining existing trade opportunities, creating new ones, and implementing enforcement standards which ensure our partners follow through on the promises they have made,” Smith said. “This historic trade agreement is a sign of good things to come for American trade.”

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