AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST News Staff

Biden unveils $1.9T plan to stem COVID-19 and steady economy

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan Thursday to end “a crisis of deep human suffering” by speeding up vaccines and pumping out financial help to those struggling with the pandemic’s prolonged economic fallout.

Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, and advance his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. On a parallel track, it delivers another round of aid to stabilize the economy while the public health effort seeks the upper hand on the pandemic.

“We not only have an economic imperative to act now — I believe we have a moral obligation,” Biden said in a nationwide address. At the same time, he acknowledged that his plan “does not come cheaply.”

Biden proposed $1,400 checks for most Americans, which on top of $600 provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill would bring the total to the $2,000 that Biden has called for. It would also extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.

And it shoehorns in long-term Democratic policy aims such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding paid leave for workers, and increasing tax credits for families with children. The last item would make it easier for women to go back to work, which in turn would help the economy recover.

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Impeachment complicates the early days of Biden’s presidency

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden already faces the daunting task of steering a newly announced $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill through a closely divided Congress as the pandemic and its economic fallout grow.

Now Biden will have to do it with President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial beginning potentially as soon as his first day in office.

The confluence of events amounts to one of the most politically and logistically complicated openings to a new administration in modern history, requiring Biden to try to move the country into a post-Trump era even as senators debate Trump’s most divisive acts.

“It’s going to be incredibly challenging,” said former Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat. “There’s only so much bandwidth in the Congress.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who will have a significant role to play in ushering Biden’s agenda through the Senate as chair of the Budget Committee, underscored how much is on Democrats’ plate during Biden’s first few months in office.

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FBI tracking ‘extensive’ online chatter about armed protests

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is tracking an “extensive amount of concerning online chatter,” including calls for armed protests leading up to next week’s presidential inauguration, Director Chris Wray said Thursday.

Wray, in his first public appearance since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, said in a security briefing for Vice-President Mike Pence that the FBI remains concerned about the potential for violence at protests and rallies in Washington and in state capitols around the country.

Those events could bring armed individuals near government buildings and elected officials, Wray warned, while also noting, “One of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what’s aspirational versus what’s intentional.”

Wray said the FBI was receiving a “significant” amount of information that it was pushing out to other law enforcement agencies ahead of the inauguration. Information-sharing is critical before any significant public event like the inauguration, but the issue is receiving particular scrutiny because of signs law enforcement was unprepared for the violent, deadly surge at the Capitol by loyalists of President Donald Trump.

Federal officials have warned local law enforcement agencies that the riot at the Capitol is likely to inspire others with violent intentions.

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Expanded vaccine rollout in US spawns a new set of problems

The rapid expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations to senior citizens across the U.S. has led to bottlenecks, system crashes and hard feelings in many states because of overwhelming demand for the shots.

Mississippi’s Health Department stopped taking new appointments the same day it began accepting them because of a “monumental surge” in requests. People had to wait hours to book vaccinations through a state website or a toll-free number Tuesday and Wednesday, and many were booted off the site because of technical problems and had to start over.

In California, counties begged for more coronavirus vaccine to reach millions of their senior citizens. Hospitals in South Carolina ran out of appointment slots within hours. Phone lines were jammed in Georgia.

“It’s chaos,” said New York City resident Joan Jeffri, 76, who had to deal with broken hospital web links and unanswered phone calls before her daughter helped her secure an appointment. “If they want to vaccinate 80% of the population, good luck, if this is the system. We’ll be here in five years.”

Up until the past few days, health care workers and nursing home patients had been given priority in most places around the U.S. But amid frustration over the slow rollout, states have thrown open the line to many of the nation’s 54 million senior citizens with the blessing of President Donald Trump’s administration, though the minimum age varies from place to place, at 65, 70 or higher.

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Earthquake sets off landslides, flattens homes in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A strong, shallow earthquake shook Indonesia’s Sulawesi island just after midnight, causing landslides and sending people fleeing from their homes in the nighttime darkness. At least 10 people were confirmed dead and more than 200 injured but authorities were still collecting information from devastated areas.

In a video released by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, a girl trapped in the wreckage of a house cried out for help and said she heard the sound of other family members in the rubble but unable to move out. “Please help me, it hurts,” the girl told rescuers, who replied that they desperately wanted to help her.

In the video, the rescuers said an excavator was needed to save the girl and others trapped in collapsed buildings. Other images showed a severed bridge, damaged and even flattened houses. TV stations reported the earthquake damaged part of a hospital and patients were moved to an emergency tent outside.

Another video showed a father crying, asking for help to save his children buried under tons of rubble after their house toppled. “My children there … they are trapped inside, please help,” he cried in panic.

Thousands of displaced people were evacuated to temporary shelters. The magnitude 6.2 quake early Friday was centred 36 kilometres (22 miles) south of West Sulawesi province’s Mamuju district, at a depth of 18 kilometres (11 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

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US executes Virginia gang killer despite COVID-19 infection

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — The U.S. government executed a drug trafficker Thursday for his involvement in a series of slayings in Virginia’s capital city in 1992, despite claims by his lawyers that the lethal injection would cause excruciating pain due to lung damage from his recent COVID-19 infection.

Corey Johnson, 52, was the 12th inmate put to death at the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, since the Trump administration restarted federal executions following a 17-year hiatus.

He was pronounced dead at 11:34 p.m.

Johnson’s execution and Friday’s scheduled execution of Dustin Higgs are the last before next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes the federal death penalty and has signalled he’ll end its use. Both inmates contracted COVID-19 and won temporary stays of execution this week for that reason, only for higher courts to allow the lethal injections to move forward.

Lawyers have previously argued the lethal injections of pentobarbital caused flash pulmonary edema, where fluid rapidly fills the lungs, sparking sensations akin to drowning. The new claim was that fluid would rush into the inmates’ COVID-damaged lungs immediately while they were still conscious.

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Hot again: 2020 sets yet another global temperature record

Earth’s rising fever hit or neared record hot temperature levels in 2020, global weather groups reported Thursday.

While NASA and a couple of other measurement groups said 2020 passed or essentially tied 2016 as the hottest year on record, more agencies, including the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, said last year came in a close second or third. The differences in rankings mostly turned on how scientists accounted for data gaps in the Arctic, which is warming faster than the rest of the globe.

“It’s like the film ‘Groundhog Day.’ Another year, same story — record global warmth,” said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, who wasn’t part of the measurement teams. “As we continue to generate carbon pollution, we expect the planet to warm up. And that’s precisely what we’re seeing.”

Scientists said all you had to do was look outside: “We saw the heat waves. We saw the fires. We saw the (melting) Arctic,” said NASA top climate scientist Gavin Schmidt. “We’re expecting it to get hotter and that’s exactly what happened.”

NOAA said 2020 averaged 58.77 degrees (14.88 degrees Celsius), a few hundredths of a degree behind 2016. NASA saw 2020 as warmer than 2016 but so close they are essentially tied. The European Copernicus group also called it an essential tie for hottest year, with 2016 warmer by an insignificant fraction. Japan’s weather agency put 2020 as warmer than 2016, but a separate calculation by Japanese scientists put 2020 as a close third behind 2016 and 2019. The World Meteorological Organization, the British weather agency and Berkeley Earth’s monitoring team had 2016 ahead.

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Amazon city scrambles to provide oxygen to COVID-19 patients

SAO PAULO (AP) — Hospital staff and relatives of COVID-19 patients rushed to provide facilities with oxygen tanks just flown into the Amazon rainforest’s biggest city as doctors chose which patients would breathe amid dwindling stocks and an effort to airlift some of them to other states.

As heavy rain poured down Thursday in Manaus, Rafael Pereira carried a small tank containing five cubic meters of oxygen for his mother-in-law at the 28 de Agosto hospital. He didn’t want to be interviewed because of his stress, but he looked relieved when the tank — which he said would aid her breathing for an additional two hours — was taken inside.

Health workers at the Hospital Universitario Getulio Vargas took empty cylinders to its oxygen provider in the hopes there would be some to retrieve. Usually, the provider picks up the cylinders and brings newly refilled ones.

Despairing patients in overloaded hospitals waited as oxygen arrived to save some, but came too late for others. At least one of the cemeteries of Manaus, a city of 2.2 million people, had mourners lining up to enter and bury their dead. Brazilian artists, soccer clubs and politicians used their platforms to cry for help.

Brazil’s health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, said Thursday that a second plane with medical supplies — including oxygen — would arrive Friday, and four others later. The local government’s oxygen provider, multinational White Martins, said in a statement that it was considering diverting some of its supply from neighbouring Venezuela. It wasn’t immediately clear whether this would be sufficient to address the spiraling crisis.

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Lingering questions about how Trump will finish out his term

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Donald Trump’s term comes to a close, his unconventional approach to the office lingers over the usually carefully choreographed transfer of power. Here are six questions for his final six days in office.

WILL HE SPEAK WITH BIDEN?

Trump has announced he will be the first incumbent president in more than a century to skip his successor’s swearing-in, but he could still take steps to avoid giving his successor the cold shoulder. Trump did not make a concession phone call or invite Biden to the White House after his victory. In fact, he has not spoken to Biden since their contentious final debate in October. But last week the White House invited Biden to spend the night of Jan. 19 at Blair House.

Officials do not expect Trump to invite Biden to the White House for the traditional pre-inauguration tea on Wednesday, but they said it is still a remote possibility. They also wondered what — if anything — Trump would write to his successor in the customary note left in the Oval Office for the next occupant.

WHEN WILL HE LEAVE TOWN?

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Joanne Rogers, widow of TV’s famed Mister Rogers, dies at 92

Joanne Rogers, an an accomplished concert pianist who celebrated and protected the legacy of her husband, the beloved children’s TV host Mister Rogers, has died in Pittsburgh. She was 92.

Rogers died Thursday, according to the Fred Rogers Center. No cause of death was given. The centre called her “a joyful and tender-hearted spirit, whose heart and wisdom have guided our work in service of Fred’s enduring legacy.”

Joanne and Fred Rogers were married for more than 50 years, spanning the launch and end of the low-key, low-tech “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which presented Fred Rogers as one adult in a busy world who always had time to listen to children. His pull as America’s favouriteneighbour never seemed to wane before his death in 2003.

“I can’t think of a time when we’ve needed him so much,” Joanne Rogers told The Associated Press in 2018. “I think his work is just as timely now as it was when it came out, frankly.”

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers produced the pioneering show at Pittsburgh public television station WQED beginning in 1966, going national two years later. He composed his own songs for the show.

The Associated Press

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