Now that 2020 is underway, China and the United States are expected to "work towards a relationship of coordination, cooperation, and stability," a senior Chinese diplomat has said.
In a welcome speech at a gala dinner celebrating the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls on Saturday, Chinese Consul General in New York Huang Ping expressed his good wishes and expectations for the two countries and their peoples in the Year of the Rat.
Noting that he considers 2020 "a year of new beginnings and renewals," he hopes both China and the United States make new progress together, with their bilateral relationship taking "a new turn for more positive and win-win results."
"As we hail the Year of the Rat, I hope our two peoples can move up on a pleasant note, and the two nations can work towards a relationship of coordination, cooperation, and stability," he said.
Speaking about his resolutions for the year ahead, the diplomat expects the U.S. and China to show more mutual trust, enhance understanding of each other, and create happier lives for their respective peoples.
"Forty years into diplomatic ties, our relationship has been continuously enriched by different shades of exchanges, and still enjoys great potential for growth. In this New Year of the Rat, let's keep up our efforts for the mission of our friendship, and bring new tangible benefits to our two peoples and beyond," Huang added.
A spectacular fireworks display followed the gala dinner, lighting up the sky above the Hudson River as part of the evening's celebrations.
The Trump administration is coming out with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting "birth tourism," in which women travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport.
Visa applicants deemed by consular officers to be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth will now be treated like other foreigners coming to the U.S. for medical treatment, according to State Department guidance sent Wednesday and viewed by The Associated Press. The applicants will have to prove they are coming for medical treatment and they have the money to pay for it.
The State Department planned to publicize the rules Thursday, according to two officials with knowledge of the plans who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. The rules will take effect Friday.
The practice of coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
The Trump administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but the president has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship — anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. He has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it's not so easy to do.
Regulating tourist visas for pregnant women is one way to get at the issue, but it raises questions about how officers would determine whether a woman is pregnant to begin with, and whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be just by looking at her.
Consular officers right don't have to ask during visa interviews whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. But they would have to determine whether a visa applicant would be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth.
Birth tourism is a lucrative business in both the U.S. and abroad. American companies take out advertisements and charge up to $80,000 to facilitate the practice, offering hotel rooms and medical care. Many of the women travel from Russia and China to give birth in the U.S. The U.S. has been c racking down on the practice since before Trump took office.
There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.
The draft rule is "intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry," a State Department spokesperson said.
The White House says President Donald Trump will become the first president to attend the annual anti-abortion gathering in Washington called the March for Life.
Trump has made it a priority to embrace social conservatives, particularly on the issue of abortion. In past years, he has sent members of his administration to speak at the march and has spoken via a video link. He's going in person to this week's event.
"See you on Friday ... Big Crowd!" Trump tweeted Wednesday as he returned to the White House after a trip to Switzerland.
"We are so excited for him to experience in person how passionate our marchers are about life and protecting the unborn," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life.
This year's rally comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court hears its first major abortion case since the addition of two justices appointed by Trump. The case is likely to reveal whether the court — more conservative since the arrival of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — is now willing to weaken the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.
The western monarch butterfly population wintering along California's coast remains critically low for the second year in a row, a count by an environmental group released Thursday showed.
The count of the orange-and-black insects by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates, recorded about 29,000 butterflies in its annual survey. That's not much different than last year's tally, when an all-time low 27,000 monarchs were counted.
"We had hoped that the western monarch population would have rebounded at least modestly, but unfortunately it has not," said Emma Pelton, a monarch conservation expert with the Xerces Society.
By comparison, about 4.5 million monarch butterflies wintered in forested groves along the California coast in the 1980s. Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in the Western United States due to the destruction of their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases.
Researchers also have noted the effect of climate change. Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch's threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile (4828-kilometer) migration synched to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers.
Western monarch butterflies head south to California each winter, returning to the same sites and even the same trees where they cluster to keep warm. The monarchs generally arrive in California at the beginning of November and spread across the country once warmer weather arrives in March.
On the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, another monarch butterfly population travels from southern Canada and the northeastern United States across thousands of miles to spend the winter in central Mexico. Mexican officials said last year the butterfly population wintering there was rebounding but they have not yet released this year's count.
A 2017 study by Washington State University researchers found the species likely will go extinct in the next few decades if nothing is done to save it.
The monarch is now under government consideration for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The decision on whether the butterfly will be listed as threatened is expected by December.
While helping the western butterflies could seem daunting, Pelton said the fact that the population didn't shrink any further is encouraging.
Pelton said people can help by planting early-blooming flowers and milkweed to fuel migrating monarchs on their paths to other states.
The Xerces Society is working with the state of California to protect the butterflies' wintering sites and develop new sites in state parks.
"There are still thousands of monarchs (wintering) along the coast, so we can take heart that it's not too late to act," Pelton said.
So much for the Senate's quaint rules and tradition.
Almost immediately after Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled in Wednesday's session of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, bored and weary senators started openly flouting some basic guidelines in a chamber that prizes decorum.
A Democrat in the back row leaned on his right arm, covered his eyes and stayed that way for nearly a half-hour. Some openly snickered when lead prosecutor Adam Schiff said he'd only speak for 10 minutes. And when one of the freshman House prosecutors stood to speak, many of the senator-jurors bolted for the cloak rooms, where their phones are stored.
"I do see the members moving and taking a break," observed freshman Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, one of the House prosecutors, in mid-speech at the center podium. "I probably have another 15 minutes."
The agony of the senator-jurors had begun to show the night before, with widespread but more subtle struggles to pay attention to opening arguments. Gum-chewing, snacking, yawning and alleged napping could be seen throughout the cramped chamber.
Around midnight, things got looser. Senators paced and chatted near the wall. Then the prosecutors and Trump's defense team got into a back-and-forth over who was lying and making false allegations about Trump's pressure on Ukraine to help him politically.
Roberts admonished everyone to tone it down. The Senate, he reminded those gathered, is the "world's greatest deliberative body," functioning, for now, as a court of impeachment. It has a tradition of civility — and for grave and rare impeachment trials, specific rules: No coffee or snacking on the floor. No pacing, note-passing, working on other matters or chit-chat. Technically, only water is allowed in the Senate chamber, but there have been exceptions in years past for milk and even eggnog.
"There's coffee, but it's miserable coffee" in the cloakrooms, according to Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. "I mean you would wish it on a Democrat, no one else," he said, adding, "Just joking."
It's all designed to focus the senator-jurors on the issues at hand. So napping is not, in theory, part of the plan.
But for many, Wednesday hurt. Roberts had gaveled Tuesday's session closed at 1:50 a.m.
Fewer than 12 hours later, the senators were back, with little sleep, for more of the same impeachment story, told by Schiff and his team in exhaustive detail. Even with Roberts' scolding still fresh, many senators were in no mood for rules or traditions.
Well into Schiff's second hour of opening arguments, he moved on from discussing the first of two charges against Trump.
"Now let me turn to the second article," Schiff said. That prompted several senators to shift in their seats and smile at each other in apparent bemusement. It also sparked a small exodus for the cloakroom, especially on the Republican side, including Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Within the first hour, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia could be seen at his desk in the back row, leaning on his right arm with a hand covering his eyes. He stayed that way for around 20 minutes, then shifted to rest his chin in the same hand, eyes closed, for about five more minutes. Despite the late-night votes, Warner's day had started as scheduled at a 10 a.m. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
Crow, a military veteran speaking on the impact of Trump's holdup of military aid to Ukraine, had trouble holding the Senate's attention. Some senators left their seats and headed to cloakrooms, stood in the back or openly yawned as he spoke. At one point during his address, more than 10 senators' seats were empty.
Crow wondered aloud if the Senate wanted to take a recess.
No dice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there would be no break until dinner, more than an hour later.
The water-only practice seemed to be one guideline the senators could get around by tradition.
Cotton, R-Ark., for example, was seen drinking a glass of milk early in the day. Spokeswoman Caroline Tabler said Cotton was drinking skim milk — a nice complement to the chocolate snacks he and other senators were getting in their cloakroom and from one lawmaker's desk.
Like so much about the fusty Senate, even the beverage exceptions are rooted in history. Cassidy told reporters that milk joined water as the officially permitted drinks in the Senate chamber in the 1950s. Cassidy, a doctor, said that at the time, milk was believed to be a treatment for stomach ulcers.
According to the Senate Historical Office, Sen. Robert LaFollette, R-Wis., drank eggnog during a 1908 filibuster, and Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, while still a Democrat in 1957, drank orange juice during his record 24-hour filibuster against the Civil Rights Act.
Factoids aside, the novelty of the impeachment trial had clearly worn off Wednesday. Senators had heard the Trump-Ukraine story before, many times. Their boredom, one Republican senator suggested, had become a challenge to the prolific House managers' strategy. Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said the less wordy president's legal team had "read the Senate" better.
"It was a long day and the House managers did a lot of repeating the same material," Rounds told reporters. "I've got 20 pages of notes, and towards the end, we were basically hearing the same thing over again. It was a diatribe."