Man sets self on fire outside New York court where Trump trial underway

new york — A man set himself on fire on Friday outside the New York courthouse where Donald Trump’s historic hush-money trial was taking place as jury selection wrapped up, but officials said he did not appear to have been targeting Trump.

The man burned for several minutes in full view of television cameras that were set up outside the courthouse, where the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president is being held.

“I see a totally charred human being,” a CNN reporter said on the air.

Officials said the man survived and was in critical condition at a local hospital.

Witnesses said the man pulled pamphlets out of a backpack and threw them in the air before he doused himself with a liquid and set himself on fire. One of those pamphlets included references to “evil billionaires” but portions that were visible to a Reuters witness did not mention Trump.

The New York Police Department said the man, who they identified as Max Azzarello of St. Augustine, Florida, did not appear to be targeting Trump or others involved in the trial.

“Right now, we are labeling him as sort of a conspiracy theorist, and we are going from there,” Tarik Sheppard, a deputy commissioner with the police department, said at a news conference.

In an online manifesto, a man using that name said he set himself on fire and apologized to friends, witnesses and first responders. The post warns of “an apocalyptic fascist coup” and criticizes cryptocurrency and U.S. politicians, but it does not single out Trump in particular.

Witnesses said they were disturbed by his actions.

“He was on fire for quite a while,” one witness, who declined to give his name, told reporters. “It was pretty horrifying.”

The smell of smoke lingered in the plaza shortly after the incident, according to a Reuters witness, and a police officer sprayed a fire extinguisher on the ground. A smoldering backpack and a gas can were visible.

The downtown Manhattan courthouse, heavily guarded by police, drew a throng of protesters and onlookers on Monday, the trial’s first day, though crowds have dwindled since then.

The shocking development came shortly after jury selection for the trial was completed, clearing the way for prosecutors and defense attorneys to make opening statements next week in a case stemming from hush money paid to a porn star.

How South and Central Asia’s footprint in US population is growing

Washington — The U.S. immigrant population from South and Central Asia has swelled to new heights over the past decade and continues to grow rapidly.

Between 2010 and 2022, the number of immigrants from these regions residing in the United States soared to nearly 4.6 million from 2.9 million — a jump of almost 60%, according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The surge dwarfs the 15.6% rise in the overall “foreign-born” population of the U.S. during the same period, the data show.

Jeanne Batalova, a demographer at the Migration Policy Institute, said the rise was “incredible.”

“We’re talking about a rate of growth of four times higher,” Batalova said in an interview with VOA.

The Census Bureau defines “foreign-born” as anyone who was not a U.S. citizen at birth, including naturalized citizens and lawful permanent residents.

The total foreign-born population of the U.S. was 46.2 million, or nearly 14% of the total population, in 2022, compared with 40 million, or almost 13% of the total population, in 2010, the Census Bureau reported April 9.

The Census Bureau data underscore just how much immigration patterns have changed in recent years. While Latin America was once the main source of migration to the U.S. and still accounts for half of the foreign-born population, more immigrants now come from Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.     

Between 2010 and 2022, the foreign-born population from Latin America rose by 9%, while the flow from Asia swelled at three times that rate, with South and Central Asia accounting for the bulk of the surge.

“We are reaching out to a broader spectrum of countries than we were before,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “The old image of immigration to the U.S. as being lots of Latin Americans and Mexicans coming to the U.S. only is wrong.”

To understand immigration trends from South and Central Asia, VOA dove into the census data and spoke with demographers. Here is a look at what we found.

How many immigrants from South and Central Asia live in the U.S.?

The Census Bureau puts 10 countries in its South and Central Asia bucket: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.

The agency’s foreign-born population estimates are based in part on an annual survey known as the American Community Survey. Each estimate comes with a margin of error.

In 2022, the foreign-born population from South and Central Asia was estimated at 4,572,569, up from 3,872,963 in 2010. The margin of error was plus or minus about 55,000.

Numbering more than 2.8 million, Indians made up by far the largest foreign-born group from the region. That was up from nearly 1.8 million in 2010.

The second largest group came from Pakistan — nearly 400,000, up from nearly 300,000 12 years prior — followed by Iran with 407,000, up by more than 50,000.

But in percentage terms, several other communities from the region posted considerably larger increases.

The number of foreign-born Afghans jumped to 194,742 in 2022 from 54,458 in 2010, an increase of 257%. Batalova said much of that was due to the flood of refugees triggered by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“In terms of speed of change, [Afghanistan] outpaces all other countries in South and Central Asia,” she said.

Foreign-born Nepalese posted the second highest percentage increase, rising from 69,458 to 191,213 — a 175% jump.

There were increases of 91% and 60% respectively among immigrants from Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.

When and how did immigrants from South and Central Asia arrive in the country?

While Indians have been immigrating to the U.S. for decades, a significant proportion of immigrants from South and Central Asia are recent arrivals.

More than 42% of them entered the U.S. in 2010 or later, outpacing the nearly 27% of the total foreign-born population that settled during the same period, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Batalova noted that immigrants from South and Central Asia follow distinct paths to the United States. Indians, for instance, largely rely on student and work visas and family reunification.

Many Central Asians gain entry through the diversity visa program, with about 36% of Uzbek green card holders benefiting from the scheme. Bangladeshis, too, took advantage of the so-called “Green Card Lottery” before Bangladesh became ineligible for the program in 2012 after 50,000 Bangladeshis immigrated to the U.S. over a five-year period.

As for the recent influx of Afghan immigrants, most were admitted into the country under special immigrant visa and humanitarian parole programs following the Taliban takeover of the country.

How do educational levels and other characteristics of South and Central Asians compare with the overall foreign-born population?

Immigrants from South and Central Asia tend to have higher levels of education than the general population and are more likely to work in sought-after professional jobs.

More than 70% had a bachelor’s or higher degree, compared with nearly 34% for the overall foreign-born population, according to Census Bureau estimates for the 2018-2022 period.

Nearly 68% worked in management, business, science and the arts, compared with 36% for all immigrants.

Immigrants from India, especially, tend to enjoy high levels of education and professional jobs. Nearly 48% of Indians had graduate or professional degrees, while more than 77% worked in management, business, science, and the arts.

Where do most immigrants from South and Central Asia live?

More than half of immigrants in the United States live in just four states: California, Texas, Florida and New York.

For immigrants from South and Central Asia, however, the top four states of residence are New Jersey, California, New York and Virginia.

In New Jersey, located south of New York state, foreign-born South and Central Asians made up 3.6% of the state’s population of 9 million. In California, they account for 2.31% of the state’s population of 39 million.

How large are the diaspora communities?

The foreign-born population from South and Central Asia should not be confused with the number of U.S. residents claiming ancestry from the region.

Including second- and third-generation immigrants, the diaspora community represents a larger number.

Demographers from the Migration Policy Institute estimate that about 5.2 million people in the U.S. identify as “South Asian Indians.” About 250,000 claim Afghan ancestry.

The 2020 U.S. census found that 687,942 people identified as “Pakistani alone” or in a combination with other groups, far surpassing the estimated 400,000 foreign-born Pakistanis in the U.S.

As for the other diaspora communities from the region, “they would not be much [larger] than the total immigrant populations just because they’re more recent immigrant groups,” Batalova said.

25 years after Columbine, trauma shadows survivors of school shooting

Denver, Colo. — Hours after she escaped the Columbine High School shooting, 14-year-old Missy Mendo slept between her parents in bed, still wearing the shoes she had on when she fled her math class. She wanted to be ready to run.

Twenty-five years later, and with Mendo now a mother herself, the trauma from that horrific day remains close on her heels. 

It caught up to her when 60 people were shot dead in 2017 at a country music festival in Las Vegas, a city she had visited a lot while working in the casino industry. Then again in 2022, when 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed in Uvalde, Texas. 

Mendo had been filling out her daughter’s pre-kindergarten application when news of the elementary school shooting broke. She read a few lines of a news story about Uvalde, then put her head down and cried. 

“It felt like nothing changed,” she recalls thinking. 

In the quarter-century since two gunmen at Columbine shot and killed 12 fellow students and a teacher in suburban Denver — an attack that played out on live television and ushered in the modern era of school shootings — the traumas of that day have continued to shadow Mendo and others who were there. 

Some needed years to view themselves as Columbine survivors since they were not physically wounded. Yet things like fireworks could still trigger disturbing memories. The aftershocks — often unacknowledged in the years before mental health struggles were more widely recognized — led to some survivors suffering insomnia, dropping out of school, or disengaging from their spouses or families. 

Survivors and other members of the community plan to attend a candlelight vigil on the steps of the state’s capitol Friday night, the eve of the shooting’s anniversary. 

April is particularly hard for Mendo, 39, whose “brain turns to mashed potatoes” each year. She shows up at dentist appointments early, misplaces her keys, forgets to close the refrigerator door. 

She leans on therapy and the understanding of an expanding group of shooting survivors she has met through The Rebels Project, a support group founded by other Columbine survivors following a 2012 shooting when a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in the nearby suburb of Aurora. Mendo started seeing a therapist after her child’s first birthday, at the urging of fellow survivor moms. 

After she broke down over Uvalde, Mendo, a single parent, said she talked to her mom, took a walk to get some fresh air, then finished her daughter’s pre-kindergarten application. 

“Was I afraid of her going into the public school system? Absolutely,” Mendo said of her daughter. “I wanted her to have as normal of a life as possible.” 

Researchers who’ve studied the long-term effects of gun violence in schools have quantified protracted struggles among survivors, including long-term academic effects like absenteeism and reduced college enrollment, and lower earnings later in life. 

“Just counting lives lost is kind of an incorrect way to capture the full cost of these tragedies,” said Maya Rossin-Slater, an associate professor in the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Health Policy. 

Mass killings have recurred with numbing frequency in the years since Columbine, with almost 600 attacks in which four or more people have died, not including the perpetrator, since 2006, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. 

More than 80% of the 3,045 victims in those attacks were killed by a firearm. 

Nationwide hundreds of thousands of people have been exposed to school shootings that are often not mass-casualty events but still traumatic, Rossin-Slater said. The impacts can last a lifetime, she added, resulting in “kind of a persistent, reduced potential” for survivors. 

Those who were present at Columbine say the years since have given them time to learn more about what happened to them and how to cope with it. 

Heather Martin, now 42, was a Columbine senior in 1999. In college, she began crying during a fire drill, realizing later that a fire alarm had gone off for three hours when she and 60 other students hid in a barricaded office during the high school shooting. She couldn’t return to that class and was marked absent each time, and says she failed it after refusing to write a final paper on school violence, despite telling her professor of her experience at Columbine. 

It took 10 years for her to see herself as a survivor, after she was invited back with the rest of the class of 1999 for an anniversary event. She saw fellow classmates having similar struggles and almost immediately decided to go back to college to become a teacher. 

Martin, a co-founder of The Rebels Project, named after Columbine’s mascot, said 25 years has given her time to struggle and figure out how to work out of those struggles. 

“I just know myself so well now and know how I respond to things and what might activate me and how I can bounce back and be OK. And most importantly I think I can recognize when I am not OK and when I do need to seek help,” she said. 

Kiki Leyba, a first-year teacher at Columbine in 1999, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder soon after the shooting. He felt a strong sense of commitment to return to the school, where he threw himself into his work. But he continued to have panic attacks. 

To help him cope, he had sleeping pills and some Xanax for anxiety, Leyba said. One therapist recommended chamomile tea. 

Things got harder for him after the 2002 graduation of Mendo’s class, the last cohort of students who lived through the shooting since they had been through so much together. 

By 2005, after years of not taking care of himself and suffering from lack of sleep, Leyba said he would often check out from family life, sleeping in on the weekends and turning into a “blob on the couch.” Finally, his wife Kallie enrolled him in a one-week trauma treatment program, arranging for him to take the time off from work without telling him. 

“Thankfully that really gave me a kind of a foothold … to do the work to climb out of that,” said Leyba, who said breathing exercises, journaling, meditation and anti-depressants have helped him. 

Like Mendo and Martin, he has traveled around the country to work with survivors of shootings. 

“That worst day has transformed into something I can offer to others,” said Leyba, who is in Washington, D.C. this week meeting with officials about gun violence and promoting a new film about his trauma journey. 

Mendo still lives in the area, and her 5-year-old daughter attends school near Columbine. When her daughter’s school locked down last year as police swarmed the neighborhood during a hostage situation, Mendo recalled worrying things like: What if my child is in danger? What if there is another school shooting like Columbine? 

When Mendo picked up her daughter, she seemed a little scared, and she hugged her mom a little tighter. Mendo breathed deeply to stay calm, a technique she had learned in therapy, and put on a brave face. 

“If I was putting down some fear, she would pick it up,” she said. “I didn’t want that for her.” 

Security agencies warn election officials to brace for attacks on US presidential race

washington — U.S. intelligence and security agencies are trying to prepare election officials for a wave of new attacks aiming to destroy voter confidence in November’s presidential election, just as a series of reports warn some familiar adversaries are starting to ramp up their efforts.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the FBI, issued a new warning on Wednesday that “the usual suspects” — Russia, China and Iran — are looking for ways to stoke tensions and divide American voters.

All three countries, the guidance said, are “leveraging influence operations exploiting perceived sociopolitical divisions to undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.”

The new guidance warned that the three countries are using fake online accounts and various proxies, including state-sponsored media organizations, to spread disinformation and sow doubt.

It also cautioned that Russia, China and Iran are using real people, including social media influencers, “to wittingly or unwittingly promote their narratives.”

“The elections process is the golden thread of American democracy, which is why our foreign adversaries deliberately target our elections infrastructure with their influence operations,” CISA senior adviser Cait Conley said in a statement to reporters. “CISA is committed to doing its part to ensure these [state and local] officials — and the American public — don’t have to fight this battle alone.”

Agency warns of new tactics

The latest guidance, posted on CISA’s website, warns that in addition to resorting to familiar tactics, Russia, China and Iran are likely to employ new tricks to try to  confuse U.S. voters and erode confidence in the election process.

One such technique is voice cloning — using a fake recording of a public official or figure to try to cause confusion. The agencies cited an example from last year’s election in the Slovak Republic, when a fake recording of a key party leader purported to show him discussing how to rig the vote.

The guidance also warned that Iran could try to employ “hack and leak” cyberattacks in the U.S., using lessons learned from similar operations against Israel in recent months.

And it said Russia and China have separately sought to spark alarm among voters by spreading fake documents alleging to show evidence of security incidents impacting physical buildings or computer systems.

China denied the allegations.

“China has always adhered to noninterference in other countries’ internal affairs,” Liu Pengyu, the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in an email to VOA.

“Speculating or accusing China of using social media to interfere in the U.S. politics is completely groundless and malicious,” Liu added.

VOA also contacted representatives for the Russian and Iranian governments, who have yet to respond.

For now, CISA, ODNI and the FBI are advising U.S. election officials that they can try to mitigate the impact of election meddling attempts by creating trusted portals for information, such as official U.S. government websites, and by proactively debunking false information.

But the challenge is likely to grow.

Russia already interfering, says Microsoft

Tech giant Microsoft warned on Wednesday it is seeing signs that Russia, at least, is already ramping up its election interference efforts.

“The usual Russian election influence actors kicked into gear over the last 45 days,” according to a report by Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center.

The Russian effort so far, the report said, “employs a mix of themes from 2020 with a renewed focus on undermining U.S. support for Ukraine.”

Microsoft further warned that Russia, China and Iran have “leveraged some form of generative AI [artificial intelligence] to create content since last summer.”

“We anticipate that election influence campaigns will include fakes — some will be deep, most shallow — and the simplest manipulations, not the most complex employment of AI, will likely be the pieces of content that have the most impact,” the report added.

At the same time, there is concern about domestic extremists impacting the presidential election.

“There is a serious risk of extremist violence,” the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in a report issued Wednesday.

“While the risk of far-right election-related violence is greater, the possibility of far-left extremist violence cannot be dismissed,” it said, pointing to the possibility of attacks on pre-election political events or gatherings, on polling places during Election Day, and against election offices in the days following the election.

Such warnings are consistent with those issued by U.S. officials in recent months.

“Some DVEs [domestic violent extremists], particularly those motivated by conspiracy theories and anti-government or partisan grievances, may seek to disrupt electoral processes,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned in a threat assessment issued this past September.

“Violence or threats could be directed at government officials, voters, and elections‑related personnel and infrastructure, including polling places, ballot drop box locations, voter registration sites, campaign events, political party offices and vote-counting sites,” it said.

American RFE/RL reporter marks 6 months jailed in Russia

washington — An American journalist jailed in Russia will mark six months behind bars on Thursday over charges that press freedom groups have condemned as bogus and politically motivated.

Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor at the Tatar-Bashkir Service of VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was arrested on October 18, 2023, and has been held in pretrial detention since then.

The dual U.S.-Russian national stands accused of failing to register as a “foreign agent” and spreading what Moscow views as false information about the Russian military.

Kurmasheva and her employer reject the charges against her, which carry a combined sentence of 15 years in prison.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy told VOA in an emailed statement that cases of all U.S. citizens detained in Russia have her full attention.

“Six months in, we remain deeply concerned by Alsu’s continued detention,” Tracy said. “We have been outspoken in condemning the Kremlin’s continued attempts to silence, intimidate and punish journalists, civil society voices and ordinary Russians who speak out against the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.”

International press freedom groups have widely called for Kurmasheva’s immediate release.

“The six-month anniversary of Alsu’s detention is important because she shouldn’t have been jailed even for a single day. It’s an absolutely unjust, absurd case with fabricated charges,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.

“Alsu should be freed from jail immediately and be able to travel back to Prague and see her family,” she told VOA from New York.

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Emergency visit

Based in Prague, Kurmasheva traveled to Russia in May 2023 for a family emergency. Her passports were confiscated when she tried to leave the country in June, and she was waiting for them to be returned when she was arrested about four months later.

Earlier in April, Kurmasheva’s pretrial detention was again extended, this time until June.

“It’s not a legal process, it’s a political ploy, and Alsu and her family are unjustifiably paying a terrible price. Russia must end this sham and immediately release Alsu without condition,” RFE/RL President Stephen Capus said in a statement about the latest extension.

The Russian government labeled RFE/RL as an “undesirable organization” in February.

At her recent court hearing, Kurmasheva told reporters she was “not very well physically” and that she was receiving “minimal” medical care. The living conditions in the prison “are very bad,” she said, adding that a hole in the floor of her cell functions as the toilet.

That description has press freedom advocates concerned.

“The living conditions are quite bad, and we’re worried about the deterioration of her health,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the Paris-based head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, or RSF.

To date, the Russian government has denied the U.S. Embassy’s requests for consular access to Kurmasheva.

“We are deeply concerned about Alsu Kurmasheva’s detention in Russia,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “The charges against Ms. Kurmasheva are another sign of the weakness of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime.”

RFE/RL’s parent organization, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, or USAGM, has also advocated for Kurmasheva’s immediate release.

“Alsu’s time in detention is unlike anything anyone could imagine,” USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett told VOA in an emailed statement. “Russia’s delaying and obfuscating shows this is purely a political stunt to advance the Kremlin’s agenda. She is being treated like a bargaining chip as opposed to a human being.”

First to be targeted

Kurmasheva is the first person to be targeted by Russia for not self-registering as a foreign agent, according to press freedom experts. Her arrest has had a chilling effect on other journalists in Russia who fear they could be targeted next.

“Russian laws, and Russian repressive legislation more specifically, is broad by nature. It’s conceptualized as something intentionally broad and vague,” said Karol Luczka, who leads the International Press Institute’s work on Eastern Europe. He cited Russia’s foreign agent law as an example.

“Most anyone these days in Russia can be considered a foreign agent because of any past activity. So, it’s very significant that they weaponize this legislation, because it shows that even when they have no real charges against anyone, they will always be able to find something,” said Luczka, who is based in Vienna.

For months, press freedom groups have called on the State Department to declare Kurmasheva wrongfully detained, which would open up additional resources to help secure her release.

Earlier this month, Roger Carstens, the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, told VOA that U.S. officials were still deciding whether to declare Kurmasheva wrongfully detained.

“We’ve been looking at her case very closely. It’s not yet been decided that she’s wrongfully detained,” Carstens said. “But it’s something that we’re still sussing out.”

“The Department of State continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful,” a State Department spokesperson said in response to a detailed list of questions, in a statement identical to ones previously sent to VOA.

“When making assessments, the department conducts a legal, fact-based review that looks into the totality of the circumstances for each case individually,” the statement said.

Kurmasheva is one of two American journalists jailed in Russia. The second, The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich, has been declared wrongfully detained by the State Department.

That determination came less than two weeks after Russian authorities arrested Gershkovich and accused him of espionage in late March 2023. Like Kurmasheva, the 32-year-old is still being held in pretrial detention.

Gershkovich, his employer and the U.S. government deny the charges against him. The reporter marked one year behind bars last month.

In November 2023, Washington made a prisoner swap offer to the Russian government to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another U.S. citizen jailed in Russia and declared wrongfully detained. Moscow rejected that offer.

Carstens told reporters earlier this month that the U.S. government was putting together a new offer.

“We are working exceedingly hard and creatively to cobble together that offer,” he said.

Kurmasheva and Gershkovich count themselves among 22 journalists jailed in Russia, according to CPJ data from the end of 2023.

Russia ranks fourth in the world in terms of journalist jailings, but it has the most jailed foreign journalists. Of the 22 journalists imprisoned in Russia, 12 are foreign nationals. Beyond Kurmasheva and Gershkovich, Moscow has jailed 10 Ukrainian reporters, according to the CPJ.

Pressure stepped up

Tracy said Moscow’s repression has only intensified since the Russian army invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“Authorities have shuttered dozens of outlets using fines and repressive legislation, censored thousands of websites and continue to persecute journalists,” she said. 

“This trend is deeply concerning, and the U.S. will continue to call for respect for Russians’ fundamental freedoms — including freedom of speech — that are guaranteed in Russia’s own constitution.”

One of the main factors that unites the cases of Gershkovich and Kurmasheva is that trials won’t be what ultimately gets them free, according to Said.

“There is no way for their lawyers to prove their innocence through court, because courts are not independent in Russia. Political solutions and diplomatic solutions are the only way to get them free,” she said.

“That’s why it’s important that the U.S. uses all it has to put pressure on the Russian authorities and to get them free,” she said.

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

NASA chief warns of Chinese military presence in space

Washington — China is bolstering its space capabilities and is using its civilian program to mask its military objectives, the head of the U.S. space agency said Wednesday, warning that Washington must remain vigilant.

“China has made extraordinary strides especially in the last 10 years, but they are very, very secretive,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson told lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space program is a military program. And I think, in effect, we are in a race,” Nelson said.

He said he hoped Beijing would “come to its senses and understand that civilian space is for peaceful uses,” but added: “We have not seen that demonstrated by China.”

Nelson’s comment came as he testified before the House Appropriations Committee on NASA’s budget for fiscal 2025.

He said the United States should land on the moon again before China does, as both nations pursue lunar missions, but he expressed concern that were Beijing to arrive first, it could say: “‘OK, this is our territory, you stay out.'”

The United States is planning to put astronauts back on the moon in 2026 with its Artemis 3 mission. China says it hopes to send humans to the moon by 2030.

Nelson said he was confident the United States would not lose its “global edge” in space exploration.

“But you got to be realistic,” he said. “China has really thrown a lot of money at it and they’ve got a lot of room in their budget to grow. I think that we just better not let down our guard.”

Schumer says he’ll move to end Mayorkas’ impeachment trial in Senate as soon as it begins

Washington — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that he will move to dismiss impeachment charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a move that would end the Senate trial before arguments even begin.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the two articles of impeachment brought against the secretary over his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border “fail to meet the high standard of high crimes and misdemeanors” and could set a dangerous precedent. 

“For the sake of the Senate’s integrity and to protect impeachment for those rare cases we truly need it, senators should dismiss today’s charges,” Schumer said as he opened the Senate. 

An outright dismissal of House Republicans’ prosecution of Mayorkas, with no chance to argue the case, would be an embarrassing defeat for House Republicans and embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, who made the impeachment a priority. And it is likely to resonate politically for both Republicans and Democrats in a presidential election year when border security has been a top issue. 

Republicans argue that President Joe Biden has been weak on the border as arrests for illegal crossings skyrocketed to more than 2 million people during the last two years of his term, though they have fallen from a record-high of 250,000 in December amid heightened enforcement in Mexico. Democrats say that instead of impeaching Mayorkas, Republicans should have accepted a bipartisan Senate compromise aimed at reducing the number of migrants who come into the U.S. illegally. 

The House narrowly voted in February to impeach Mayorkas for his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, arguing in the two articles that he “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws. House impeachment managers appointed by Johnson, R-La., delivered the charges to the Senate on Tuesday, standing in the well of the Senate and reading them aloud to a captive audience of senators. 

As Johnson signed the articles Monday in preparation for sending them across the Capitol, he said Schumer should convene a trial to “hold those who engineered this crisis to full account.” 

Schumer “is the only impediment to delivering accountability for the American people,” Johnson said. “Pursuant to the Constitution, the House demands a trial.” 

Once the senators are sworn in on Wednesday, the chamber will turn into the court of impeachment, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington presiding. Murray is the president pro tempore of the Senate, or the senior-most member of the majority party who sits in for the vice president. 

The entire process could be done within hours after the trial is called to order. Schumer said he will seek an agreement from Republicans for a period of debate — an offer they are unlikely to accept — and then allow some Republican objections. He will them move to dismiss the trial and hold a vote. 

To win that vote, Schumer will need the support of all of the Senate’s Democrats and three independents. 

In any case, Republicans would not be able to win the support of the two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office — Democrats control the Senate, 51-49, and they appear to be united against the impeachment effort. Not one House Democrat supported it, either. 

While most Republicans oppose quick dismissal, some have hinted they could vote with Democrats. 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said last week he wasn’t sure what he would do if there were a move to dismiss the trial. “I think it’s virtually certain that there will not be the conviction of someone when the constitutional test has not been met,” he said. 

At the same time, Romney said he wants to at least express his view that “Mayorkas has done a terrible job, but he’s following the direction of the president and has not met the constitutional test of a high crime or misdemeanor.” 

Mayorkas, who was in New York to launch a campaign for children’s online safety, reiterated that he’s focused on the work of his department. “The Senate is going to do what the Senate considers to be appropriate as that proceeds,” he said. “I am here in New York City on Wednesday morning fighting online sexual exploitation and abuse. I’m focused on our mission.” 

The two articles argue that Mayorkas not only refused to enforce existing law but also breached the public trust by lying to Congress and saying the border was secure. The House vote was the first time in nearly 150 years that a Cabinet secretary was impeached. 

Since then, Johnson delayed sending the articles to the Senate for weeks while both chambers finished work on government funding legislation and took a two-week recess. Johnson had said he would send them to the Senate last week, but he punted again after Senate Republicans said they wanted more time to prepare. 

House impeachment managers previewed some of their arguments at a hearing with Mayorkas on Tuesday morning about President Joe Biden’s budget request for the department. 

Tennessee Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the House Homeland Security panel, told the secretary that he has a duty under the law to control and guard U.S. borders, and “during your three years as secretary, you have failed to fulfill this oath. You have refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress, and you have breached the public trust.” 

Mayorkas defended the department’s efforts but said the nation’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken, and only Congress can fix it.” 

Other impeachment managers are Michael McCaul of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ben Cline of Virginia, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Michael Guest of Mississippi, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Laurel Lee of Florida, August Plfuger of Texas and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. 

If Democrats are unable to dismiss or table the articles, they could follow the precedent of several impeachment trials for federal judges over the last century and hold a vote to create a trial committee that would investigate the charges. While there is sufficient precedent for this approach, Democrats may prefer to end the process completely, especially in a presidential election year when immigration and border security are top issues. 

If the Senate were to proceed to an impeachment trial, it would be the third in five years. Democrats impeached President Donald Trump twice, once over his dealings with Ukraine and a second time in the days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times. 

At a trial, senators would be forced to sit in their seats for the duration, maybe weeks, while the House impeachment managers and lawyers representing Mayorkas make their cases. The Senate is allowed to call witnesses, as well, if it so decides, and it can ask questions of both sides after the opening arguments are finished.