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‘Start Here’: McConnell tells senators he can’t yet block new witnesses in impeachment trial

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It’s Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Let’s start here.

1. Can I get a witness?

President Donald Trump’s legal team concluded their opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday, brushing off calls to hear from witnesses such as former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

But a battle over the issue continued to play out behind closed doors as a handful of Republican senators signaled a willingness to allow witnesses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his members on Tuesday that he did not have the votes to defeat a motion on Friday regarding witnesses.

“There’s no question that Republicans are very tense right now,” ABC News Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer tells “Start Here” today. “Leader McConnell has pushed a stay the course strategy for the party, trying to keep everybody together, and at the same time you’ve got this group of four, maybe five, six moderate Republicans who have some real concerns about this issue of witnesses.”

2. Trump’s peace plan

In the middle of the impeachment trial, the president unveiled his Middle East peace plan at the White House, proposing a Palestinian side but also allowing Israel to take control of a significant portion of the West Bank without any Palestinian input.

“I don’t think it’s a real serious plan because in order to have a peace process you need two sides negotiating, and the Palestinians here have no interest in negotiating,” ABC News’ Jordana Miller in Jerusalem says.

3. Going to California

More than 200 Americans are returning to the U.S. on a chartered flight from Wuhan, China– the city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak.

All travelers aboard the plane were screened for symptoms at the airport prior to departure, according to a State Department spokesperson, and when they land in Ontario, California, they will be subject to additional screening, observation and monitoring requirements by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell says he spoke to one American family in China that spent thousands to flee the outbreak, “If you’re in Wuhan and fear for your family’s life, you’ve got to pay to get out.”

“Start Here,” ABC News’ flagship podcast, offers a straightforward look at the day’s top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or the ABC News app. Follow @StartHereABC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for exclusive content and show updates.

Elsewhere:

‘Thinking about my freedom’: After spending a full 25-year sentence in prison for a crime he did not commit, a Bronx, New York, man was exonerated by the first prosecutorial conviction review unit on the East Coast.

‘Incredibly tragic’: Four children were among the eight people killed when a massive fire swept through an Alabama marina and destroyed 35 boats, some being used as permanent residences, authorities said on Tuesday.

‘First time I’ve ever seen that’: A 20-year-old man caused a stir in a Tennessee courthouse when he advocated for the legalization of marijuana and then proceeded to spark a joint in front of the judge.

‘They shot my son’: A Maryland police officer was charged with murder on Tuesday after fatally shooting a suspect who was handcuffed at the time, according to police.

From our friends at FiveThirtyEight:

‘Sanders is pulling closer To Biden’: With a 2 in 5 (41 percent) shot of winning a majority of pledged delegates, former Vice President Joe Biden still leads our forecast overall, but there’s now far less room separating him from Sanders.

Doff your cap:

While Iowa is gearing up for the Democratic caucuses next week and New Hampshire for the primaries a week later, one small town in Vermont is preparing to vote on a new mayor. The candidates? Lincoln the goat and Sammy the dog.

Residents in Fair Haven, Vermont, will take to the polls on Mar 3. to cast their votes for the position of “Pet Mayor” and they will choose between the incumbent, Lincoln the goat, a 4-year-old Nubian goat who won the mayor’s seat by only 3 votes last year, and the challenger, Sammy, a K9 officer with the Fair Haven Police Department.

It is expected to be a close race between Sammy the canine and Lincoln the hircine but whoever wins will have the position of mayor will have to fulfill responsibilities over the next year like marching in parades and making other public apperances.

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