Impeachment, China Virus, France: Your Tuesday Briefing

Impeachment, China Virus, France: Your Tuesday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering the start of President Trump’s impeachment trial, the spread of a deadly virus in Asia and a study of fish oil’s effects on sperm quality.

President Trump is expected to speak today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, just as his impeachment trial begins in earnest in Washington.

U.S. senators are bracing for a rancorous debate over the trial’s ground rules, which will determine how Democrats prosecute Mr. Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress linked to his Ukraine pressure campaign.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, angered Democrats on Monday by unveiling trial rules that would limit each side’s arguments to 24 hours over two days, and require a separate vote to admit evidence unearthed in the fall by the House of Representatives.

Analysis: Mr. Trump’s lawyers have not contested the basic facts of the case, and scholars say their central argument — that the impeachment charges are invalid because the president has not been accused of committing an ordinary crime — defies a long-established legal consensus.

Go deeper: The trial will include some of the same faces that animated President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial 21 years ago. But Mr. Clinton did not command his own party the way Mr. Trump does now.

Related: The business and political elites who gather each year at Davos appear to be warming to Mr. Trump, even if some may roll their eyes behind his back, writes our DealBook columnist, Andrew Ross Sorkin. (One reason? He may be in office for another four years.)

A new pneumonialike illness that has killed four people in China and infected more than 200 others in the country and elsewhere in Asia is now capable of spreading from person to person, a leading Chinese scientist said on Monday.

The fear is that the virus — which has spread to Japan, South Korea and Thailand — could set off a broader pandemic as millions of Chinese travel for the seven-day Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Friday.

Experts say the severity of the outbreak will now depend on how many people, on average, a person with the virus could infect. The World Health Organization will hold a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the virus is a “public health emergency of international concern,” a designation it has given to previous outbreaks of Ebola and other diseases.

Background: The illness, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan, is a coronavirus, a family of viruses that affect the respiratory tract and range from the common cold to severe diseases like SARS. Animals are thought to be the most likely primary source, and complications can include pneumonia, kidney failure or death.

Go deeper: The current outbreak has echoes of the deadly SARS outbreak of 2002 and 2003 that infected more than 8,000 people — one that China initially tried to cover up. Experts say the authorities are trying to be more transparent this time, but many in China are skeptical.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Monday that he and President Trump would work together on a deal to avoid an escalation of tariffs linked to a French proposal to tax digital services provided by American tech giants.

Mr. Macron wants to avoid retaliatory U.S. tariffs on French products like wine, cheese, handbags and other luxury goods. We have a timely profile of Brune Poirson, above, France’s de facto fashion minister and a negotiator in the so-called handbag war.

Details: Mr. Macron and Mr. Trump agreed on Monday to hold off on any tariffs until the end of the year, while negotiators at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development continue talks on developing a broader framework for digital taxes.

Domestic politics: Philippe Martinez, the leader of France’s most militant union, has emerged as the face of the country’s longest-ever transport strike — and as a foil to Mr. Macron’s business-friendly vision.

A woman from a Norwegian-Pakistani family moved to Syria in 2013, marrying twice in Islamic State territory and having two children. Now she’s back in Norway, and her mere presence threatens to bring down the country’s government.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg has said that the woman, 29, who returned over the weekend after being plucked out of a Kurdish-controlled detention camp in Syria, was allowed to re-enter Norway so her 5-year-old could receive medical treatment. The police have not raised the terrorism threat level as a result.

But many Norwegians say the woman poses a security threat. And in a gesture of protest, the anti-immigrant Progress Party resigned on Monday from the four-party, center-right coalition that has governed since 2013.

Quotable: “We do not want her kind in Norway, and we certainly don’t want Norwegian authorities spending enormous resources getting them to Norway,” a Progress Party spokesman, Jon Engen-Helgheim, said last week.

What’s next: The Progress Party said it would continue to support the governing coalition. The woman has been charged with “participation in a terrorist organization” and faces up to six years in prison.

An American airstrike in Afghanistan killed the poet Zaheer Ahmad Zindani’s father, and one of his three sisters burned to death when a Taliban roadside bomb hit a bus he was traveling in.

The bomb also robbed Mr. Zindani, above, of his eyesight, prompting the family of his teenage love to reject him. But his mother, a polio vaccinator, was determined to find him a match.

A correspondent in our Kabul bureau traveled to Kandahar to hear Mr. Zindani’s story.

Boeing crash: A Times review of evidence from the deadly 2009 crash of a 737 in the Netherlands reveals striking parallels with two recent crashes of a newer model of the aircraft — the 737 Max — and similar pushback, from the company and American safety officials, against criticism of Boeing.

Russia: President Vladimir Putin prompted new speculation about his future role when he proposed constitutional amendments on Monday that would empower a previously toothless advisory council that he now leads.

Serbia-Kosovo flights: The two Balkan countries agreed to resume flights between their capitals for the first time in more than two decades, a step toward reconciliation.

How warm was your town? Scientists said 2019 was the second-warmest year on record, and an AccuWeather database of 3,500 cities showed that more than 80 percent experienced average temperatures that were higher than normal last year. See how your city compares.

Snapshot: Above, Elaine Lau at her noodle shop in Hong Kong. It’s one of many so-called yellow shops in the restive Chinese territory that openly support the city’s democracy movement. (“Blue” ones, by contrast, support the police.)

Sperm health: Young men who took fish oil supplements had higher sperm counts, greater sperm volume and larger average testicular size, a study in Denmark found.

What we’re reading: This piece in Taste about a food specialty known to few outside a small subset of Italian-Americans. “It has come to my attention that some of you do not know the first blessed thing about lard bread,” tweeted our food critic Pete Wells. “Max [Falkowitz] is here to guide you into the light of lardy knowledge.”

A hundred years ago this month, the U.S. embarked on a 13-year official prohibition on the “manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors” anywhere within the country.

It didn’t go well.

Bootlegging liquor operations proliferated, as did the illicit bars known as speakeasies. And the drink of choice: the cocktail, which spread out the hooch or disguised its sometimes bad flavors. The boom far outlasted Prohibition. Sidecar, anyone?

Dave Wondrich, a drinks historian, tracked down the source of the word “cocktail.” In the second edition of his landmark reconstruction of mixed drinks, “Imbibe!,” he notes that prospective horse sellers in England would give old or droopy specimens a rectal dose of ginger to make them cock their tails for a younger, zippier appearance.

From there it was just a short jump to the zingy drinks that made humans perk up, at least at the start of their alcoholic forays.

That’s it for this briefing. Bottoms up.

— Mike

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, the Briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at

“The Daily” is off for the Martin Luther King holiday in the U.S. Try listening to the latest “Modern Love” podcast, in which the actress Rebecca Hall reads an essay about dating while bipolar.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: Overhead (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Times is always looking for talent. Check out our international and U.S. job postings.

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