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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Wednesday it plans to ban the sale of non-tobacco-flavored electronic cigarettes amid a vaping crisis.

“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”

Speaking to reporters following an Oval Office meeting with Azar and Ned Sharpless, the FDA’s acting commissioner, President Donald Trump said vaping has been very profitable and has become a giant business in a very short period of time.

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“A lot of people think vaping is wonderful, is great … It’s really not,” Trump said. “We have to find out the extent of the problems… it’s so new … but we’re going to find out.”

Trump pledged “strong rules and regulations” and said he would report back in the next couple of weeks.

The American Vaping Association said it was disappointed in the president’s decision to take direction from “anti-vaping activists,” such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“A ban will remove life-changing options from the market that have been used by several million American adults to quit smoking,” the association said.

The governor of Michigan, which last week became the first state to prohibit sales of most flavored e-cigarettes to curb the underage vaping epidemic, applauded the administration for following its lead, calling it “a bold step.”

“This is great news for our kids, our families, and our overall public health,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “Right now, companies are getting our kids hooked on nicotine by marketing flavors like apple juice, bubble gum, and candy.

The ban in Michigan, which will take effect in a few weeks, will cover both online and in-store sales of all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco.

San Francisco was the first major U.S. city to ban e-cigarettes, in a measure city supervisors passed unanimously in June.

Federal health authorities have reported an outbreak of mysterious illnesses tied to the popular devices.

The number of vaping-related illnesses jumped to at least 450 cases in 33 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which cautioned people against using e-cigarettes, especially those bought off the street in a warning Friday.

At least six deaths linked to the vaping-related respiratory illness have been reported.

The administration meeting comes as members of Congress and lawmakers are calling for strong action.

On Tuesday, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the FDA should consider recalling e-cigarettes as it continues to investigate recent deaths and illnesses related to vaping.

“I’m increasingly concerned that a generation of young people has been deceived into thinking e-cigarettes are safe,” he tweeted.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will advance legislation to ban flavored e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.

“The rise in vaping-associated illnesses is a frightening public health phenomenon,” Cuomo said on Monday.

First lady Melania Trump also weighed in on the matter in a statement this week.

“I am deeply concerned about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use in our children,” she wrote. “We need to do all we can to protect the public from tobacco-related disease and death, and prevent e-cigarettes from becoming an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”

Welker and Jackson reported from Washington, Griffith reported from New York.

Adam Edelman contributed.



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Democrats’ impeachment report cites Trump obstruction and withholding aid, warns of ‘grave harm’

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WASHINGTON — The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee released a report Tuesday containing a summary of the evidence it has collected in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

The 300-page report cited two instances of misconduct by the president: obstruction of the House inquiry and withholding an official White House meeting and U.S. military aid from Ukraine on the condition of investigating a Trump political rival.

“This report chronicles a scheme of the President of the United States to coerce an ally, Ukraine, that is at war with an adversary, Russia, into doing the president’s political dirty work,” said Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., at a press conference outlining his committee’s findings.

The House Intelligence Committee voted 13-9 in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday evening to send the report to the Judiciary, which will start proceedings on Wednesday.

While the report, which was also prepared by the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, didn’t explicitly include recommendations of articles of impeachment, it strongly implies that obstruction could be one. The report noted that past presidents who were the subject of impeachment inquiries, unlike Trump, complied with subpoenas and requests for information from Congress.

On obstruction, which was described as a “campaign of intimidation,” the report cast Trump’s efforts to “flout” congressional oversight as unprecedented because of his refusal to hand over documents and make certain witnesses available. But it also noted that “the House gathered overwhelming evidence of his misconduct from courageous individuals who were willing to follow the law.”

“No other President has flouted the Constitution and power of Congress to conduct oversight to this extent,” the report said.

“If left unanswered, President Trump’s ongoing effort to thwart Congress’ impeachment power risks doing grave harm to the institution of Congress, the balance of power between our branches of government, and the Constitutional order that the President and every Member of Congress have sworn to protect and defend.”

The report also constructed a detailed timeline of Trump’s alleged efforts to withhold military assistance to Ukraine, as well as an official invitation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet with Trump in the White House. The timeline was based on the testimony of various aides and diplomats who have been questioned by impeachment investigators.

Ukraine “desperately wanted and needed” U.S. security assistance as well as a White House meeting between its president, Zelenskiy, and Trump, Schiff said.

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“At the same time, there was something President Trump desperately wanted and believed that he needed — and that was an investigation that would damage the rival that he feared the most, Joe Biden, as well as an investigation into a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in our last election,” he said.

The report included a number of new details that stemmed from AT&T phone records obtained by the House, which showed someone who was using a phone number associated with the Office of Management and Budget called the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in early August during the period when the U.S. aid to Ukraine was frozen. That same day, call records show Giuliani also called the White House Situation Room five times as well as the OMB number.

To freeze the security assistance — which was announced to Trump administration officials on July 18, and not reversed until Sept. 11 — Trump inquired about the aid starting in mid-June and around July 12 “directed that a hold be placed” on the aid to Ukraine, the report said.

“In making the decision to move forward, we were struck by the fact that the President’s misconduct was not an isolated occurrence, nor was it the product of a naïve president,” the report said.

“President Trump does not appear to believe there is any such limitation on his power to use White House meetings, military aid or other official acts to procure foreign help in his re-election.”

The president’s conduct, which put “his own personal and political interests above the interests of the American people,” Schiff said, is “exactly why they prescribed a remedy as extraordinary as the remedy of impeachment.”

“We have a very difficult decision ahead of us to make,” said Schiff, who explained that it will be a decision made by the House Judiciary Committee in conjunction with the House Democratic Caucus.

The report puts the White House summary of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president at the center of the inquiry, calling it “stark evidence of misconduct” and “a demonstration of the President’s prioritization of his personal political benefit over the national interest.”

But, the report claimed, this conversation was “neither the start nor the end of President Trump’s efforts to bend U.S. foreign policy for his personal gain.”

“Rather, it was a dramatic crescendo within a months-long campaign driven by President Trump in which senior U.S. officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Acting Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Energy, and others were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the President,” the report said.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the impeachment inquiry

During his Tuesday remarks, Schiff said Americans should care deeply about whether the president is “betraying their trust in him” and betraying the oath he took to the Constitution.

“If we don’t care about this, we can darn well be sure the president will be back at it doing this all over again,” he said.

The release came ahead of a Tuesday evening meeting scheduled for the panel to consider and vote on adopting the report. The report, along with views provided by Republicans, will then be sent to the House Judiciary Committee, which is taking over the next phase of the inquiry.

Much of the evidence came from 17 closed-door interviews with key witnesses, and over two weeks of public hearings last month with a dozen of those witnesses.

In their public testimony, a number of those 12 witnesses confirmed and elaborated on the efforts allegedly made by Trump, his associates and administration officials to get Ukraine to announce investigations into those two issues, and why they believed delayed U.S. aid to Ukraine would only be released once that nation followed through on those demands.

Republicans on the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees released a 123-page minority report Monday evening that argues that Democrats have failed to establish any impeachable offenses by Trump. They said that they didn’t find that Trump engaged in any wrongdoing, and that there was no quid pro quo.

Republicans said there was no evidence that Trump improperly withheld $391 million in military aid to Ukraine or pressured Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden to help benefit his 2020 re-election campaign, arguing that much of Trump’s action regarding Ukraine actually stems from his “longstanding” skepticism of the country due to “its history of pervasive corruption.”

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its first impeachment hearing, which its chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said will “explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against President Trump.”

Nadler extended an invitation to Trump and his counsel to participate in Wednesday’s hearing, but the White House said Sunday that they had declined the offer. The president is in London this week for the 2019 NATO summit.

It has not yet been decided how many hearings Judiciary might hold or what charges potentially might be wrapped into articles of impeachment. Some lawmakers have recently raised the possibility that other cases could be considered, such as those stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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Corbyn tax grab: How Labour will hijack YOUR holidays by adding HUNDREDS to air fares

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JEREMY CORBYN’S plans to pile huge taxes onto Britons to pay for the Labour’s Party’s multi-billion pound spending spree could soon include a measure that would cost you hundreds of pounds more just to fly abroad for a holiday.

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Joe Biden’s eventful week leaves him looking more durable than before

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WASHINGTON — Some days, as we’ve written over the past few months, Democratic co-frontrunner Joe Biden looks much weaker than the conventional wisdom suggests.

Other days, he looks much more durable than what you read on Twitter.

And this week, Biden’s been in the latter category — he’s looked pretty strong when it comes to the fundamentals on paper. Certainly stronger than in his debate performances.

On Tuesday, Kamala Harris suspended her presidential campaign, underscoring Biden’s almost unmovable strength with African-American voters.

On Wednesday, his campaign released a blistering ad/video on President Trump’s reception and performance on his most recent overseas trip.

On Thursday, he picked up the endorsement from former Obama Secretary of State and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry, who campaigns with Biden today in Iowa.

And last night, the Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg camps began to fight each other, leaving Biden above the fray (at least for now).

Speaking of the fray, however, what also stands out for Biden this week was his confrontation with that Iowa voter yesterday.

There are two ways to look at it: One, Biden took tough/hostile/inaccurate questions to an 11 on the dial, when it probably needed to be only a six or a seven. (“You’re a damn liar, man…Let’s do push-ups together here, man, let’s run… Get your words straight, Jack.”) Remember, Biden’s campaign pledge has been to offer “strong, steady, stable leadership.”

Two, he showed voters some fight that they might not have seen recently, especially when the conversation turns to his family.

Impeachment inquiry update: Deadline for the White House

Today at 5:00 pm ET is the deadline for the Trump White House to decide if it will mount a defense in the House’s impeachment inquiry, NBC’s Geoff Bennett says.

Bennett reminds us that, in his Dec. 1 letter, White House counsel Pat Cipollone refused to participate in Wednesday’s House Judiciary hearing but left open the possibility of participating in future impeachment hearings if Democrats made certain concessions.

As for yesterday’s big impeachment development, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she asked key Democratic chairmen to begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Trump.

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and our heart full of love for America, today, I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she said, per NBC News.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Warren vs. Buttigieg — it’s on

After polls showing how Pete Buttigieg has eaten into Elizabeth Warren’s earlier support among white Democrats with college degrees, the two campaigns began engaging on Thursday – 60 days out from the Iowa caucuses.

Asked by reporters whether Buttigieg should release more information from his time as a consultant at McKinsey, Elizabeth Warren responded with an eager yes, per NBC’s Deepa Shivaram.

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“I think that voters want to know about possible conflicts of interests. It is even more important that the candidates expose possible conflicts of interests right now and that means for example, that the mayor should be releasing who is on his finance committee; who are the bundlers who are raising big money for him; who he has given titles to and made promises to. And he should open up the doors so that the press can follow the promises that he is making in these big-dollar fundraisers.”

Top Buttigieg communications adviser Lis Smith fired back, “If @ewarren wants to have a debate about transparency, she can start by opening up the doors to the decades of tax returns she’s hiding from her work as a corporate lawyer – often defending the types of corporate bad actors she now denounces.”

On the campaign trail today: It’s another big day in Iowa

Joe Biden stumps with John Kerry… Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and John Delaney all attend a farmers union presidential forum in Grinnell… And Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Julian Castro and Tom Steyer attend a U.S. Conference of Mayors forum in Waterloo… Before he’s in Iowa, Buttigieg stumps in New Hampshire… As do Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Bennet… Michael Bloomberg speaks with CBS’ Gayle King… And Andrew Yang raises money in Dallas.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

While campaigning in New Hampshire, Tulsi Gabbard was indirectly asked about rhetoric that’s inferred she’s a preferred candidate of leaders like Vladimir Putin, NBC’s Julia Jester reports:

Gabbard: We are at great risk of nuclear catastrophe but there is no shelter. Within my first week as President, I will call for a summit between the United States and Russia and China to begin the talks necessary to deescalate these tensions [applause] and work to end this new cold war to begin to try to put back together some of these treaties that were put in place to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world that have been so eroded or torn apart or thrown in the trash can —

Audience member: They’re gonna call you a Russian.

Gabbard: They already are.

Audience member: I know.

Gabbard: My interest is the safety, security, and future of the American people and it doesn’t matter what kind of rhetoric is being put out, nothing will detract me from that mission.

And a confirmation from three of our embeds: Jester, Gary Grumbach and Amanda Golden — Bernie Sanders will receive an endorsement from the New Hampshire Postal Union on Friday. It will be the second largest union to endorse Sanders so far this cycle.

Data Download: The number of the day is … three

Just three.

That’s the number of House Democrats who have endorsed Pete Buttigieg. No U.S. senators or governors have said they’re backing him so far, either, putting the South Bend mayor significantly behind his fellow top Democratic contenders in the endorsement race.

More, from NBC’s Sami Sparber: “Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the field, with 30 total endorsements from House members, senators and governors, according to NBC News’ tally of FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker. Meanwhile, the other members of the Top 4 – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – clock in at 12 and six major endorsements, respectively. Before she dropped out of the race Tuesday, California Sen. Kamala Harris had racked up 19 major endorsements, putting her in second place. With 13 endorsements, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker actually leads both Warren and Sanders.”

The Lid: I know you are, but what am I?

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at new polling that shows where Americans lay the blame for political polarization.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

New phone records showing Rudy Giuliani’s frequent contact with the White House have security experts worried that foreign intelligence services may be listening in to the president’s calls.

Administration officials are questioning the accuracy of some of those call logs.

The New York Times digs into Buttigieg’s time at McKinsey.

John Kerry endorsed Biden yesterday.

Trump Agenda: No other choice

Nancy Pelosi says the president left Democrats “no choice but to act” on impeachment.

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer is blocking a resolution on an Armenian genocide measure for now — at the White House’s request.

Another House Republican is calling it quits.

2020: Joe versus the farmer

Here’s Mike Memoli’s full look at Joe Biden’s heated exchange with an Iowa farmer yesterday.

The Washington Post looks at how Democratic senators who are running for president are up against a big impeachment scheduling question.

Cory Booker is making a new diversity push on the campaign trail.

The House Ethics Committee says Duncan Hunter shouldn’t vote on the House floor after his guilty plea.

Democrats are still trying to get Steve Bullock to run for Senate.

Michael Bloomberg is out with a big new gun control plan.



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