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For college coaches and big league execs, tying MLB draft to Omaha, CWS ‘made perfect sense’

A collaborative group of baseball policymakers were brainstorming nearly five full years ago when an idea began to crystallize with Omaha as its centerpiece.

What if the city celebrated for its decades-long embrace of the College World Series could also play a role in the advancement of the professional game?

The wheels started turning on that January day inside a Chicago hotel conference room, when top Major League Baseball officials, veteran front office executives and high-profile college coaches gathered to develop innovative strategies to address challenges within the sport. Omaha has been a part of those discussions ever since. And it appears now that their vision for Omaha is being realized.

Multiple media outlets citing anonymous sources have reported that the 2020 Major League Baseball draft will take place in Omaha ahead of the CWS. An official announcement is expected to be made this week, although representatives from MLB, the NCAA and Omaha’s Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority all declined to comment when reached Tuesday.

The expected announcement comes on the heels of last summer’s MLB event in Omaha, when the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers faced off in a sold-out TD Ameritrade Park. It was the first time a regular season major league game had been played in Nebraska.

“I’m just really ecstatic to see that this is where we landed,” said longtime Virginia coach Brian O’Connor, a Council Bluffs native who played on Creighton’s 1991 CWS team. “It’s a win for the major league executives, it’s a win for college baseball.”

O’Connor took part in those meetings back in 2015. First in Chicago. Then during a series of phone conversations. Then in Raleigh, North Carolina.

It was O’Connor, Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, Oklahoma State’s Josh Holliday and UCLA’s John Savage. The executive director of the baseball coaches association, Craig Keilitz, was there, as were officials from USA Baseball. MLB brought in a member of its top brass, Chris Marinak, to lead the discussions. Several others from the commissioner’s office took part. A handful of general managers were on hand as well, including Jim Hendry, the onetime Creighton coach who’s currently an adviser to New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

They talked about everything — from pitch counts, to pace of play, to the participation rates of minority ballplayers.

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The MLB draft was one of the pressing matters.

The annual three-day baseball draft doesn’t come with the fanfare or acclaim of its NFL or NBA draft counterparts. There are 40 rounds of selections. In recent years, only the first couple of rounds were televised.

Even if hardcore baseball fans do celebrate the potential of their teams’ new prospects, there’s an understanding that players won’t be in the big leagues right away, instead assigned to low-level minor league affiliates.

Draftees don’t wear tailored suits as they walk across an MLB-branded stage on draft day. The high school kids are at home with their families. Many of the college players are competing in the sport’s postseason — Creighton star Will Robertson was traveling on an airplane with his Bluejay team when he learned he’d been selected in the MLB’s fourth round this past summer.

Simply put, the circumstances surrounding the draft haven’t been ideal — the top baseball minds chatting together in 2015 all agreed on that.

Then someone mentioned Omaha, and suddenly the event’s potential began to come into focus. After all, many of the draftees already are in town for the CWS, as well as a built-in fan base.

“It made perfect sense,” Hendry said. “There’s such an interest in the month of June in the College World Series that I think it made perfect sense to try to attach (the draft) to it.”

There were still debates on the logistics, though.

Before or after the CWS? Could the CWS be pushed back? Was there even enough hotel space in Omaha? Were NCAA officials truly comfortable having a championship linked to this sort of professional venture?

College baseball leadership had its priorities. MLB’s operating out of its own framework. Omaha organizers had a part to play.

The NCAA’s former head of the CWS, Damani Leech, told Baseball America in 2015 that obstacles still had to be cleared. New leadership cycled in at all levels. Then MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred came to town in 2018 to announce the MLB game, and he indicated then that bringing the MLB draft to Omaha was still on the table. Manfred said it again last summer.

“This is probably a long time coming,” said Corbin, whose Vanderbilt program tied an SEC-record with 13 draft picks last summer before it won the CWS title. “Omaha is the focus of college baseball at that time of year, but it’s such a great venue for the celebration of professional baseball as well.”

MLB No. 1 overall draft picks since 2000

Photos: MLB No. 1 overall draft picks since 2000

Ben Sasse calls for more international attention to Iran's crackdown on protesters

WASHINGTON — Iran’s violent crackdown on protesters should be garnering more attention, sparking more outrage and bolstering international support for the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against that country’s regime.

That’s the view of Sen. Ben Sasse, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Nebraska Republican said in an interview this week that Iran’s leaders have shown themselves to be both incompetent and corrupt — from their mishandling of domestic oil prices that helped create the recent protests to the way in which Iranian security forces gunned down those in the streets.

“This is a terror attempt by the regime to scare people against ever protesting, against ever having assembly, against ever having voice,” Sasse told The World-Herald.

Brian Hook, U.S. special representative for Iran, has said Iran may have killed more than 1,000 people and wounded many more.

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While Iran has cast those protesters as dangerous rioters, independent sources suggest that those demonstrating were civilians moved to action by the spike in oil prices.

The unrest comes as Republicans and Democrats continue to spar over the Trump administration’s approach to Iran, particularly its decision to exit the nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration.

The Iran nuclear deal was denounced by Sasse and most other Capitol Hill Republicans as fatally flawed.

Some Democrats who initially opposed the agreement, such as Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, have suggested that the Trump administration’s move to abandon it was misguided.

While Iran was violating international standards in many other ways, they argue, it was essentially complying with the nuclear provisions of the deal before Trump took office.

During a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iran, Cardin suggested to Hook that the withdrawal weakened U.S. credibility with its European allies.

“So, when you talk about a maximum pressure campaign, it seems to me, we gave up that maximum pressure when we pulled out of the (nuclear deal) and isolated America,” Cardin said.

Sasse, who supported withdrawing from the agreement, noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been frustrated at the way skepticism from European allies such as Germany and France has undermined the U.S. pressure campaign.

Sasse said that’s why it’s important that Americans come to a bipartisan consensus supporting Pompeo’s effort to persuade European countries to adopt a harder line.

“It ought to be the U.S. with one voice — legislature and executive, Republicans and Democrats,” Sasse said.

Sasse said there are many reasons for Americans to oppose Iran, including its duplicity about its efforts to get nuclear weapons, its recent crackdowns on peaceful civilians and its rocket attacks against bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed.

The senator lamented that U.S. politics have evolved to a point where Republicans and Democrats are seen as split in particular ways on Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“We should have big, nuanced debates about Saudi Arabia, because it’s a complicated drunken fraternity party of a nation, but Iran should be something that all Americans stand against, and our European allies would hear that if there was less internal dissent,” Sasse said.

For his part, Trump has sent somewhat conflicting signals about his intentions toward Iran.

The president recently reiterated his strong criticisms of nuclear deal, said that Iran funds violence and chaos throughout the Middle East, and declared that it can never have a nuclear weapon.

But he also thanked Iran for a “very fair” negotiation on a prisoner exchange over the weekend and said it’s possible that the two countries will make a deal.

Sasse said he wasn’t immediately sure what to make of Trump’s talk about making a deal with Iran.

“I will definitely be asking Pompeo to translate that for me,” Sasse said.

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Democrats unveil articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power, obstruction of Congress

WASHINGTON — House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment Tuesday against President Donald Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — pushing toward historic votes over charges he corrupted the U.S. election process and endangered national security in his dealings with Ukraine.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of the impeachment inquiry committees, stood at the Capitol for what she called a “solemn act.” Voting is expected in a matter of days in the Judiciary Committee and by Christmas in the full House. Trump insisted he did nothing wrong and his reelection campaign called it “rank partisanship.”

“He endangers our democracy; he endangers our national security,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the Judiciary chairman announcing the charges before a portrait of George Washington. “Our next election is at risk. … That is why we must act now.”

Trump tweeted ahead of the announcement that impeaching a president with a record like his would be “sheer Political Madness!”

The outcome, though, appears increasingly set as the House prepares for voting, as it has only three times in history against a U.S. president. Approval of the charges would send them to the Senate in January, where the Republican majority would be unlikely to convict Trump.

Democratic leaders say Trump put his political interests above those of the nation when he asked Ukraine to investigate his rivals, including Democrat Joe Biden, and then withheld $400 million in military aid as the U.S. ally faced an aggressive Russia. They say he then tried obstructed Congress by stonewalling the House investigation.

In drafting the articles of impeachment, Pelosi faced a legal and political challenge of balancing the views of her majority while hitting the Constitution’s bar of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Some liberal lawmakers wanted more expansive charges encompassing the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Centrist Democrats preferred to keep the impeachment articles more focused on Trump’s actions toward Ukraine. House Democrats have announced two articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

When asked during a Monday evening event if she had enough votes to impeach the Republican president, Pelosi said she would let House lawmakers vote their conscience.

“On an issue like this, we don’t count the votes. People will just make their voices known on it,” Pelosi said at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “I haven’t counted votes, nor will I.”

Trump, who has declined to mount a defense in the actual House hearings, tweeted Tuesday just as the six Democratic House committee chairmen prepared to make their announcement.

“To Impeach a President who has proven through results, including producing perhaps the strongest economy in our country’s history, to have one of the most successful presidencies ever, and most importantly, who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness! #2020Election,” he wrote on Twitter.

The House report on the Trump impeachment inquiry, explained

The president also spent part of Monday tweeting against the impeachment proceedings. He and his allies have called the process “absurd.”

The next steps emerged in the swiftly moving proceedings as Pelosi convened a meeting of the impeachment committee chairmen at her office in the Capitol late Monday following an acrimonious, nearly 10-hour hearing at the Judiciary Committee, which could vote as soon as this week.

“I think there’s a lot of agreement,” Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee, told reporters as he exited Pelosi’s office. “A lot of us believe that what happened with Ukraine especially is not something we can just close our eyes to.”

At the Judiciary hearing, Democrats said Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate rival Joe Biden while withholding U.S. military aid ran counter to U.S. policy and benefited Russia as well as himself.

“President Trump’s persistent and continuing effort to coerce a foreign country to help him cheat to win an election is a clear and present danger to our free and fair elections and to our national security,” said Dan Goldman, the director of investigations at the House Intelligence Committee, presenting the finding of the panel’s 300-page report of the inquiry.

Republicans rejected not just Goldman’s conclusion of the Ukraine matter; they also questioned his very appearance before the Judiciary panel. In a series of heated exchanges, they said Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, should appear rather than sending his lawyer.

From the White House, Trump tweeted repeatedly, assailing the “Witch Hunt!” and “Do Nothing Democrats.”

Nadler was blunt as he opened Monday’s hearing, saying, “President Trump put himself before country.”

Trump’s conduct, Nadler said at the end of the daylong hearing, “is clearly impeachable.”

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, said Democrats are racing to jam impeachment through on a “clock and a calendar” ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“They can’t get over the fact that Donald Trump is the president of the United States, and they don’t have a candidate that can beat him,” Collins said.

In one testy exchange, Republican attorney Stephen Castor dismissed the transcript of Trump’s crucial call with Ukraine as “eight ambiguous lines” that did not amount to the president seeking a personal political favor.

Democrats argued vigorously that Trump’s meaning could not have been clearer in seeking political dirt on Biden, his possible opponent in the 2020 election.

The Republicans tried numerous times to halt or slow the proceedings, and the hearing was briefly interrupted early on by a protester shouting, “We voted for Donald Trump!” The protester was escorted from the House hearing room by Capitol Police.

The White House is refusing to participate in the impeachment process. Trump and and his allies acknowledge he likely will be impeached in the Democratic-controlled House, but they also expect acquittal next year in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority.

The president focused Monday on the long-awaited release of the Justice Department report into the 2016 Russia investigation. The inspector general found that the FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia and that the FBI did not act with political bias, despite “serious performance failures” up the bureau’s chain of command.

Democrats say Trump abused his power in a July 25 phone call when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a favor in investigating Democrats. That was bribery, they say, since Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine depended on to counter Russian aggression.

Pelosi and Democrats point to what they call a pattern of misconduct by Trump in seeking foreign interference in elections from Mueller’s inquiry of the Russia probe to Ukraine.

In his report, Mueller said he could not determine that Trump’s campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election. But Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump of obstructing justice in the probe and left it for Congress to determine.

Trump, House Democrats reach agreement on new North American trade deal

WASHINGTON — Rep. Cindy Axne has heard the same message again and again as she travels across southwest Iowa — her constituents want the new North American trade deal known as USMCA.

So the first-term congresswoman was all smiles Tuesday as she joined fellow Democrats to announce that U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is finally moving forward.

“I couldn’t go anywhere without it being said to me, ‘We’ve got to pass USMCA,’ ” Axne told reporters as she left the announcement. “So I’m very glad that today came, because this is the most important thing for our state at this moment.”

Indeed, Midlands lawmakers offered a bipartisan chorus of hallelujahs in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement — albeit one mixed with pointed remarks from Republicans about how the announcement is long overdue.

The Trump administration, after all, struck this deal with Mexico and Canada over a year ago. But House Democrats insisted on changes regarding rules on biologic drugs, labor protections and other provisions.

As behind-the-scenes negotiations dragged on, Republicans ramped up their complaints about the delays and Democrats representing competitive districts grew restless.

Axne has been among those Democrats publicly calling on her party’s leaders to get things moving. On Tuesday, she noted the agreement’s importance to farm states such as Iowa and across the Midwest.

“My voice was to make sure that we moved this agenda along as quickly as possible, made sure that we protected labor so that we could pay our folks here well and ensure that we have good prices for our products,” Axne said.

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The pact contains provisions designed to nudge manufacturing back to the United States. For example, it requires that 40% to 45% of cars eventually be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States and Canada and not in Mexico.

The original North American Free Trade Agreement badly divided Democrats, but the new pact is more protectionist and labor-friendly, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is confident that it won’t divide the party, though some liberal activists took to social media to carp about the agreement.

Passage of USMCA would represent a significant political victory for President Donald Trump, who made NAFTA renegotiation a key campaign pledge.

Among Nebraska’s all-Republican House delegation, the press releases were brimming with support:

Don Bacon said the deal “is a major win for farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and workers, and gives businesses the opportunity to sell more of Nebraska’s leading exports such as processed foods, agriculture products and machinery.”

Jeff Fortenberry said USMCA would be a “great deal for Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers” and ensures strong labor and environmental standards, and Adrian Smith said it’s “great for Nebraska agriculture.”

Republican senators from Nebraska and Iowa were also fully on board:

Joni Ernst said the deal will provide “an economic boon,” and Chuck Grassley called it a “significant win for farmers, workers and all Americans.”

Deb Fischer said it’s time to finalize the deal to “help bring certainty to our farmers and ranchers,” and Ben Sasse said the deal will let “Nebraska keep feeding the world.”

Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds noted that Mexico and Canada are the state’s top trading partners.

“USMCA is a strong, balanced, and modern trade agreement that will create opportunities for Iowa families, farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses by expanding markets for our world-class exports,” Reynolds said.

And Nebraska’s GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts celebrated the bipartisan support for the “historic” deal.

“Approval of this trade agreement will expand opportunities for Nebraska’s farm families, and we look forward to its final approval,” Ricketts said.

A House vote is likely before Congress adjourns for the holidays. Senate action would follow in early 2020.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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