Impeachment, Brexit, ‘The Good Place’: Your Thursday Evening Briefing

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Good evening. Here’s the latest.

Credit…Calla Kessler/The New York Times

1. The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump is marching toward a swift end.

The second and final day of cross-examination is in its final hours. In one of the tenser moments, Chief Justice John Roberts blocked a question from Senator Rand Paul that would have revealed the identity of the whistle-blower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry.

And Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House impeachment manager, above, jumped on a question about the Trump team’s broad interpretation of executive power.

“What we have seen over the last couple days is a descent into constitutional madness,” Mr. Schiff said.

Senators are expected to vote on Friday about whether to hear new witnesses, and Republicans appeared confident they would have enough support to block any new testimony and ultimately acquit Mr. Trump. But Democrats are hinting at a gambit to frustrate the Republicans’ plans.

2. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus spreading from China a global health emergency. Above, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Many countries have already taken emergency measures. Nearly 8,000 cases have been reported worldwide, including the first U.S. case of person-to-person virus transmission.

“We understand that this may be concerning,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “But our assessment remains that the immediate risk to the American public is low.”

Elsewhere, Russia partly closed its Chinese border and thousands were trapped on a cruise ship in Italy as fears spread about the coronavirus. And from Asia to Australia, Canada and France, the panic has unleashed anti-Chinese sentiment.

3. It’s finally happening: Britain will leave the European Union on Friday night.

The bloc’s 27 remaining member nations signed off on Britain’s departure, officially ending nearly four years of impassioned wrangling over whether, when and how it would happen. In typically low-key, bureaucratic style, it was completed by email.

4. While the impeachment trial continued on Capitol Hill, it was business as usual at the White House.

The Trump administration continued to weaken a century-old law protecting migratory birds by dropping the threat of punishment for companies that kill birds “incidentally” in the course of operations. Above, oil-slicked birds in 2015.

The administration also said it would let states cap some Medicaid spending, a long-held conservative goal aimed at curbing federal contributions. The change will most likely diminish the number of people covered. A legal challenge is almost certain.

Separately, preliminary data released by the Commerce Department showed that U.S. economic growth was steady and in line with expectations last quarter. But overall growth in 2019 was weaker than the previous year, hurt by trade tensions and Boeing’s troubles.

5. Joe Biden is gambling big on Iowa.

His campaign has redirected funds from other early primary states to buy nearly $9 million in ads in Iowa ahead of Monday’s caucuses.

But there are three other Democratic candidates bunched into the top tier there: Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren. Mr. Biden’s fund-raisers, allies and campaign officials say that a disappointing finish could dampen his online fund-raising at a crucial juncture.

Unsure which candidate best reflects your views and priorities? Take this quiz to see which could be your match. The answer might surprise you.

6. Life expectancy, the most basic measure of the health of a society, rose slightly in 2018 in the U.S., after a rare and troubling decline driven by the opioid epidemic.

That dip, from 2015 to 2017, worried demographers, who had not seen an outright decline since 1993, during the AIDS epidemic. They now caution that it’s too early to tell if the country has turned the corner with opioid overdoses.

Improvements in cancer mortality rates represented the single largest share of the life expectancy gain in 2018, at about 30 percent.

7. There may be no more familiar image of Los Angeles than the helicopters that buzz constantly overhead. And Kobe Bryant was one of the area’s most frequent fliers.

Back in his playing days, Bryant was known to use helicopters to shuttle between his home in Orange County and the Lakers’ arena downtown to maximize time at home rather than on the freeway. His death on Sunday underscores the ubiquity of the helicopter in this sprawling and traffic-choked metropolis.

8. How can one be a decent person in a fallen world? It’s a question “The Good Place” and “BoJack Horseman” have tried to answer — in very different ways.

As both shows end this week, our critic reflects on how TV’s two great moral comedies — one about the perils of Hollywood and the other about the afterlife — showed us that doing the right thing is a group effort.

The creator of NBC’s “The Good Place” (the finale is tonight at 8:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, and 7:30 Central), talked to us about political parallels, silly tortures and what the show had to say about “the impossibility of being alive.”

9. The Super Bowl halftime show demands a pop unicorn. This year, that unicorn is Jennifer Lopez.

More than 20 years into a music career that doesn’t always get enough credit, and a recent Oscar snub for her work in “Hustlers,” she seems to have finally found validation in her pop career. Taking center stage on Sunday night, alongside Shakira, is a role she was born to play, our writer argues.

Looking back, perhaps the most bizarre halftime show in Super Bowl history happened 25 years ago. It had snakes, it had Indiana Jones, it had Patti LaBelle dressed as a temple goddess. It was a circus.

10. And finally, 20 reds under $20.

As of October, the Trump administration put a 25 percent tax on all wines under 14 percent alcohol from France, Spain and Germany. Sparkling wines are excluded, a leftover from the old distinction between table and dessert wines. The administration has further threatened a 100 percent tariff on all wines from the E.U.

Needless to say, the wine world is anxious. Right now, however, the market is still full of options.

Our wine critic, who has long argued that “the best values are found in the historic wine cultures of Europe,” selected a snapshot of what’s out there, from Chile to Italy. Even the wine has something to say about it.

À votre santé.

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