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House votes to impeach

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House for a historic second time Wednesday, charged with “incitement of insurrection” over the deadly mob siege of the Capitol .

With the Capitol secured by armed National Guard troops inside and out, the House voted 232-197 to impeach Trump. The proceedings moved at lightning speed, with lawmakers voting just one week after violent pro-Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol after the president’s calls for them to “fight like hell” against the election results.

Ten Republicans joined Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable. Democrats warned of a “clear and present danger” if Congress should leave him unchecked before Democrat Joe Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday.

The Capitol insurrection stunned and angered lawmakers, who were sent scrambling for safety as the mob descended, and it revealed the fragility of the nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power. The riot also forced a reckoning among some Republicans, who have stood by Trump throughout his presidency and largely allowed him to spread false attacks against the integrity of the 2020 election.

Trump watched the proceedings on TV from the White House. He has not taken any responsibility for the riot. However, he issued a statement urging “NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind” to disrupt Biden’s ascension to the White House.

In the face of the accusations against him and with the FBI warning of more violence, Trump said, “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers.”

Trump was first impeached by the House in 2019 over his dealings with Ukraine, but the Senate voted in 2020 to acquit. He is the first president to be impeached twice. None has been convicted by the Senate, but Republicans said Wednesday that could change in the rapidly shifting political environment as some officeholders, donors, big business and others distance themselves from Trump.

The soonest Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell would start an impeachment trial is next Tuesday, the day before Trump is already set to leave the White House, McConnell’s office said. The legislation is also intended to prevent Trump from ever running again.

McConnell believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and considers the Democrats’ impeachment drive an opportunity to reduce the divisive, chaotic president’s hold on the GOP, a Republican strategist told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

McConnell told major donors over the weekend that he was through with Trump, said the strategist, who demanded anonymity to describe McConnell’s conversations.

In a note to colleagues Wednesday, McConnell said he had “not made a final decision on how I will vote.”

Unlike his first time, Trump faces this impeachment as a weakened leader, having lost his own reelection as well as the Senate Republican majority.

Even Trump ally Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, shifted his position and said Wednesday that the president bears responsibility for the horrifying day at the Capitol.

In making a case for the “high crimes and misdemeanors” demanded in the Constitution, the four-page impeachment resolution approved Wednesday relies on Trump’s own incendiary rhetoric and the falsehoods he spread about Biden’s election victory, including at a rally near the White House on the day of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

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

The riot delayed the tally of Electoral College votes that was the last step in finalizing Biden’s victory. In the end, 121 House Republicans voted against Arizona’s certification of Biden’s victory — and 138 GOP lawmakers opposed Pennsylvania’s certification.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invoked Abraham Lincoln and the Bible before Wednesday’s impeachment vote, imploring lawmakers to uphold their oath to defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign “and domestic.”

She said of Trump: “He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”

Ten Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, voted to impeach Trump. Cheney, daughter of former GOP Vice President Dick Cheney, said Trump “summoned this mob” that attacked the Capitol and “there has never been a greater betrayal by a President” of his office.

Security was exceptionally tight at the Capitol, with tall fences around the complex. Metal-detector screenings were required for lawmakers entering the House chamber, where a week earlier lawmakers huddled inside as police, guns drawn, barricaded the door from rioters.

“We are debating this historic measure at a crime scene,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

During the debate, some Republicans repeated the falsehoods spread by Trump about the election and argued that the president has been treated unfairly by Democrats from the day he took office.

Other Republicans argued that the impeachment was a rushed sham and said there was a double standard applied to his supporters but not to the liberal left. Some simply appealed for the nation to move on.

Rep. Tom McClintock of California said, “Every movement has a lunatic fringe.”

Conviction and removal of Trump would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which will be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down his first days in office, Biden is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID-19 relief while also conducting the trial.

Nebraska opens vaccines to people 65-plus, will consider those with medical conditions
  • Updated

Nebraska will start vaccinating anyone 65 years old and older as part of its next phase in administering the COVID-19 vaccine.

But a top official in Nebraska’s vaccine effort cautioned that the shifting priority will add 300,000 to 400,000 people to the next vaccine group.

And one UNMC expert warns that the expanded rollout might not speed the effort and even could create more confusion.

Nebraska’s move comes after the vaccine guidance shifted Tuesday from the federal Operation Warp Speed effort.

The outgoing administration urged states to open up vaccines beyond the previously stated priority of people 75 years and older.

The new recommendation calls for vaccinating people 65 and older, along with younger people with documented medical conditions.

Asked about the changing guidance early Tuesday, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts declined to sign off on the change locally. He said the state would examine the guidance, but wanted to be sure Nebraska had its necessary supply to get people their recommended second doses.

Then later Tuesday, Angie Ling, incident commander with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said Nebraska will move the 65-and-older group into its next vaccine priority. That’s priority phase 1b.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, said: “Things are changing by the hour here.”

Ling and Anthone spoke during a tele-town hall organized by U.S. Rep. Don Bacon to address the overall vaccine rollout.

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Ricketts, speaking on CNBC Wednesday morning, also shifted his stance on the 65-and-older group: “Obviously with the CDC change in the guidelines yesterday, we are going to be looking at accelerating the 65-year-olds as part of our vaccine program.”

The second part of the shifting advice involves people with medical conditions. Ling said the state will work with health care officials to determine which high-risk medical conditions would qualify in the 1b group.

With a significant increase in the numbers for that priority group, Ling said it could take four months to vaccinate the group.

Dr. Mark Rupp, chief of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s infectious diseases division, said he understands the reasons for opening up the categories. But he added: “I don’t know that it’s going to solve much.”

Rupp said health officials are coming under increasing pressure because more vaccine is being sent out than is getting into people’s arms. In all, he said, the new guidance added another 53 million people across the country to the vaccine priority.

Rupp said a lot of people “are going to get frustrated because they won’t be able to (get the) vaccine that much more quickly.”

Behind the scenes, officials are still shaping Nebraska’s upcoming vaccination campaign. It’s unclear exactly how the next phase of vaccinations will go.

In parts of western Nebraska, public health districts and health care professionals already are vaccinating the very first of the 75-plus group — as the vaccination of health care workers wraps up and a separate effort to reach long-term care facilities makes steady progress.

Part of the challenge ahead is that the current vaccines are not simple to administer and the logistics of putting together a mass vaccination program are complex and difficult.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must be stored at lower temperatures than most shots, with the Pfizer vaccine requiring ultra-cold storage. Because of rare incidences of severe allergic reactions, vaccinators are observing those who get the shots for 15 minutes. Those with a history of allergies are observed for 30 minutes. Those receiving the shots are being kept socially distant, which adds to space requirements in vaccination locations. Drugs that can reverse an allergic reaction also must be on hand.

For all of those reasons, public health officials are trying to roll out the vaccine very carefully.

“I would just plead with folks to continue to have patience,” Rupp said. “We’re working through this as quickly as possible. And overall, the public health services are doing a really good job with this.”

Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021

Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021

MECA reports its 'worst year' after COVID disrupts 50 events at Omaha arena
  • Updated

Country music star Blake Shelton and crew were in Omaha’s CHI Health Center on March 12, making final preparations for an evening show, when they postponed the concert because of the coronavirus.

By year’s end, about 50 events scheduled at Omaha’s downtown arena and convention center were postponed or canceled, from musical acts like The Lumineers and The Weeknd to family-friendly events like The International Horse Jumping Show and the Harlem Globetrotters.

The pandemic took a big bite out of the CHI’s 2019-20 profits. The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority on Wednesday reported that the convention center and arena generated a $178,000 profit in the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020 — a sharp decrease from the $4.6 million profit reported the previous year. The reported profit is the figure before depreciation and amortization.

Diane Mills, MECA’s chief financial officer, called the financial year MECA’s “worst year of existence since the doors here opened.”

MECA has made a profit on the arena every year since it opened in 2003. Until last year, the arena had recorded at least $2.75 million in profit every year since 2011.

MECA manages the CHI Health Center and Omaha’s downtown baseball stadium, TD Ameritrade Park.


With the cancellation of the 2020 College World Series, the Big Ten baseball tournament and most of the Creighton baseball season, MECA absorbed a $100,000 loss related to TD Ameritrade Park.

With the cancellation of the 2020 College World Series, the Big Ten baseball tournament and most of the Creighton baseball season, MECA absorbed a $100,000 loss related to the ballpark. That’s calculated based on the terms of MECA’s agreement with the City of Omaha, which pays MECA to manage the ballpark.

The full impact of the CWS cancellation will become clearer after the 2021 CWS, at which time MECA will settle its expenses, Mills said.

Events with limited crowds, such as Creighton men’s basketball games, are already returning to the CHI Health Center, and officials are hopeful that events will pick back up this summer if vaccination efforts continue and virus numbers go down.

Roger Dixon, MECA’s president and CEO, said officials are preparing for the 2021 CWS and the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials as if the ballpark and arena will be at full capacity. But he’s not making any guarantees.

“My crystal ball is sometimes a little cloudy,” Dixon said.

MECA officials say the CHI Health Center was on track to have a record year before the pandemic hit. In the three pre-pandemic quarters of the 2019-20 year, the arena hosted acts like the Backstreet Boys, Post Malone and Chris Stapleton.

Along with dozens of concerts and other events, the arena was set to host games in the first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament and the Swim Trials. Officials expected total attendance to once again top one million people, as it has going back at least a decade.

But the NCAA canceled its March Madness tournament, and the Trials were pushed to 2021. MECA had to furlough employees and rely on capital reserves to conduct its daily work. About 585,000 people entered the convention center and arena’s doors from July 2019 to March 2020.

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In total, MECA earned about $60.1 million in operations revenue, a figure that includes revenues from the CHI Health Center, TD Ameritrade Park and construction of Omaha’s three downtown and riverfront parks. MECA is also overseeing construction of the parks.

The revenue total was up nearly 3% over the 2018-19 fiscal year, but more than half of that came from funding related to the $300 million parks project, which is being paid for by a mix of city and private dollars. MECA records the revenue it receives from those sources, even as it spends those dollars to continue building up the parks.

The overhaul of the parks was a “bright spot” of the fiscal year, Mills said. Construction continued unimpeded on the Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing. The parks will retain their individual names, but MECA is calling the entire project “The RiverFront.” Gene Leahy, the first park scheduled to reopen to the public, is on track to open in 2022.

MECA in the past several months completed about $5.8 million in maintenance and capital projects, including purchasing personal protective equipment for staff and guests, refurbishing arena seating and installing a new pitch clock at the ballpark.

Permanent security barriers were also installed on the corners of intersections near the CHI Health Center to protect pedestrians from cars. Future phases of the work call for barriers to line 10th Street in front of the arena and encircle the ballpark, Dixon said. That work will be done once MECA has built up its cash reserves.

Along with Creighton basketball games, the CHI Health Center has begun to host club sports and other events. Ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is still scheduled to perform in April, and the NCAA volleyball Final Four matches also are expected to be played in Omaha in April.

Soon after, the arena will begin prepping for the Swim Trials in the summer.

If vaccinations continue, virus numbers go down and people become comfortable at indoor events, “by next fall, we’ll be ramping up big time,” Dixon said.

Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021

Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021

Alabama site selected over Offutt for Space Command HQ, but Nebraska boosters haven't given up yet
  • Updated

The Air Force selected Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, as its “preferred” site for a new headquarters for U.S. Space Command — but the boosters of Offutt Air Force Base’s bid are not giving up hope yet.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, whose district includes Offutt, called the decision “a huge disappointment.”

“Offutt would have been an excellent host,” he said in his own statement. “We will examine the reasons for this decision and potentially launch an appeal.”

“I’m proud of the effort our team put forth in showcasing all that the base, the community, and our state have to offer,” Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer said in a statement.

Redstone was chosen over Offutt as well as current or former bases in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cape Canaveral, Florida; and San Antonio, Texas, though all of the other sites were rated as “acceptable” alternatives.

All six sites were rated based on factors related to mission, infrastructure capacity, community support and costs to the Department of Defense, according to an Air Force news release.

Huntsville bills itself as “Rocket City.” Redstone is home to several Army missile commands as well as NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Hundreds of thousands of young people have also attended a five-day youth space camp in Huntsville at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

Rep. Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general who now represents the Omaha area, said insiders told him Offutt offered the lowest construction costs but lacked the large space-related work force in Huntsville.

“I would love to have had the chance to build one, if they located here,” he said.

The U.S. Space Command was established in 1985 and located in Colorado Springs, which had been a major center for Air Force space operations.

In 2002, SpaceCom was folded into the Offutt-based U.S. Strategic Command as part of a reorganization. In 2019, it once again became an independent command. Its headquarters was re-established, temporarily in Colorado Springs.

SpaceCom includes members of all service branches and is separate from the U.S. Space Force, a new service branch established in 2019.

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The six finalists for the permanent SpaceCom headquarters were announced in mid-November.

Nebraska touted the state’s high-quality schools, low cost of living and strong support for the military. University of Nebraska President Ted Carter announced a space research and education alliance uniting NU with other universities in Kansas, North Dakota and Indiana.

As a pot-sweetener, the team offered $107 million in state, local and private-sector cash incentives to help build the estimated $1 billion headquarters, which will eventually employ about 1,400 people.

Offutt team members thought Colorado Springs and Omaha were the most likely choices, being the two locations that had previously hosted the command.

The sites were judged on a points system based on specific criteria. Tim Burke, immediate past chairman of the Greater Omaha Chamber, called for “full transparency” in the final review.

“No question, Offutt Air Force Base is the optimum location for USSPACECOM,” Burke said in a statement. “Nebraska exceeded criteria in all categories.”

“I look forward to seeing the objective evaluation results,” said retired Maj. Gen. Rick Evans, who heads the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s National Strategic Research Institute, a military research center.

Colorado officials suggested that politics influenced the decision. Alabama voters strongly backed President Donald Trump, who was impeached in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. Huntsville is in the district of Rep. Mo Brooks, a strong Trump supporter who spoke at the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally in Washington, just before some of those attending rioted and invaded the U.S Capitol.

Outgoing Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett made the choice on her next-to-last day on the job, and Offutt’s backers expect that it will be reviewed carefully by the incoming Biden administration.

The sites also must still undergo a lengthy environmental impact analysis. Once it is complete, the Air Force expects to make a final decision where to build in the spring of 2023.

“Nebraska will continue to make the case to the incoming administration for bringing USSPACECOM to the Heartland,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement. “When you look at the data and our competitive advantages, Nebraska remains the best place in the nation to locate this mission.”

Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021

Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021