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

‘This is not a game’: Global virus death toll hits 2 million

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The global death toll from COVID-19 topped 2 million Friday, crossing the threshold amid a vaccine rollout so immense but so uneven that in some countries there is real hope of vanquishing the outbreak, while in other, less-developed parts of the world, it seems a far-off dream.

The numbing figure was reached just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The number of dead, compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is about equal to the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna. It is roughly equivalent to the Cleveland metropolitan area or the entire state of Nebraska.

“There’s been a terrible amount of death,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, a pandemic expert and dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. At the same time, he said, “our scientific community has also done extraordinary work.”

In wealthy countries including the United States, Britain, Israel, Canada and Germany, millions of citizens have already been given some measure of protection with at least one dose of vaccine developed with revolutionary speed and quickly authorized for use.

But elsewhere, immunization drives have barely gotten off the ground. Many experts are predicting another year of loss and hardship in places like Iran, India, Mexico and Brazil, which together account for about a quarter of the world’s deaths.

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Governors complain over pace of COVID-19 vaccine shipments

Governors bitterly accused the Trump administration Friday of deceiving the states about the amount of COVID-19 vaccine they can expect to receive as they ramp up vaccinations for senior citizens and others. But the government attributed the anger to confusion and misguided expectations on the part of the states.

Meanwhile, the race between the vaccine and the virus may be about to heat up: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the new, more infectious variant first seen in Britain will probably become the dominant version in the U.S. by March.

The CDC said the variant is about 50% more contagious than the virus that is causing the bulk of cases in this country.

“We want to sound the alarm,” said Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases.

The clash over the pace of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine allotments threatens to escalate tensions between the Trump administration and some states over who is responsible for the relatively slow start to the vaccination drive against the scourge that has killed over 390,000 Americans.

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Feds back away from claim of assassination plot at Capitol

PHOENIX (AP) — Federal prosecutors who initially said there was “strong evidence” the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week aimed to “capture and assassinate elected officials” backed away from the allegation after the head of the investigation cautioned Friday that the probe is still in its early stages and there was no “direct evidence” of such intentions.

The accusation came in a court filing by prosecutors late Thursday in Phoenix in the case against Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man who took part in the insurrection while sporting face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns.

“Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States Government,” a prosecutor wrote in a memo urging the judge to keep Chansley behind bars. But at a hearing for Chansley later in the day in Phoenix, another prosecutor, Todd Allison, struck the line from the memo.

Allison said the statement may very well end up being appropriate at Chansley’s trial, but said prosecutors didn’t want to mislead the court and don’t have to rely on the stricken statement to argue that he should remain in jail. Ultimately, a judge on Friday ordered Chansley to be jailed until his trial.

Earlier on Friday, Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, backed away from the assassination claims, saying they have “no direct evidence at this point of kill, capture teams.”

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Trump trial pending, McConnell calls it ‘vote of conscience’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is likely to start after Joe Biden’s inauguration, and the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is telling senators their decision on whether to convict the outgoing president over the Capitol riot will be a “vote of conscience.”

The timing for the trial, the first of a president no longer in office, has not yet been set. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear Friday that Democrats intend to move swiftly on President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID aid and economic recovery package to speed up vaccinations and send Americans relief. Biden is set to take the oath of office Wednesday.

Pelosi called the recovery package a “matter of complete urgency.”

The uncertainty of the scheduling, despite the House’s swift impeachment of Trump just a week after the deadly Jan. 6 siege, reflects the fact that Democrats do not want the Senate trial proceedings to dominate the opening days of the Biden administration.

With security on alert over the threat of more potential violence heading into the inauguration, the Senate is also moving quickly to prepare for confirming Biden’s nominee for National Intelligence Director, Avril Haines. A committee hearing is set for the day before the inauguration, signalling a confirmation vote to install her in the position could come swiftly once the new president is in office.

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NRA declares bankruptcy, plans to incorporate in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The National Rifle Association announced Friday it has filed for bankruptcy protection and will seek to incorporate the nation’s most politically influential gun-rights group in Texas instead of New York, where a state lawsuit is trying to put the organization out of business.

The announcement came months after New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the NRA, seeking its dissolution over claims that top executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts for associates and other questionable expenditures.

The coronavirus pandemic has also upended the NRA, which last year laid off dozens of employees. The group cancelled its national convention and scuttled fundraising. The NRA’s bankruptcy filing listed between $100 million and $500 million in assets and between $100 million and $500 million in liabilities. Still, the NRA claimed in announcing the move that the organization was “in its strongest financial condition in years.”

The NRA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Dallas and said it planned to incorporate in Texas, where records show it formed a limited liability corporation, Sea Girt LLC, in November 2020. Sea Girt LLC made a separate bankruptcy filing Friday, listing few assets and fewer than $100,000 in liabilities.

In its filing, the NRA said its longtime leader, Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre, made the decision to file for bankruptcy protection in consultation with a committee of three NRA officials formed in September to oversee its legal strategies. The NRA board voted Jan. 7 to clarify LaPierre’s employment agreement, giving him the power to “reorganize or restructure the affairs” of the organization.

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Damaged roads, lack of gear hinder Indonesia quake rescue

MAMUJU, Indonesia (AP) — Damaged roads and bridges, power blackouts and lack of heavy equipment on Saturday hampered Indonesia’s rescuers after a 6.2 magnitude earthquake left at least 45 dead and hundreds injured on Sulawesi island.

Operations were focused on about eight locations in the hardest-hit city of Mamuju, where people are still believed trapped following Friday’s nighttime quake, said Saidar Rahmanjaya, who heads the local search and rescue agency.

Cargo planes carrying food, tents, blankets and other supplies from Jakarta landed late Friday for distribution in temporary shelters. Still, thousands spent the night in the open fearing aftershocks and a possible tsunami.

Forty-five bodies were sent to a police hospital for identification by relatives, after rescuers retrieved 36 victims in Mamuju and nine others in neighbouring Majene district, said West Sulawesi police spokesperson Syamsu Ridwan.

More than 200 people are receiving treatment in the Bhayangkara police hospital and several others in Mamuju alone. Another 630 have been hurt in Majene, said the National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s chief Doni Monardo.

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Biden: We’ll ‘manage the hell’ out of feds’ COVID response

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden pledged Friday to boost supplies of coronavirus vaccine and set up new vaccination sites to meet his goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. It’s part of a broader COVID strategy that also seeks to straighten out snags in testing and ensure minority communities are not left out.

“Some wonder if we are reaching too far,” Biden said. “Let me be clear, I’m convinced we can get it done.”

The real payoff, Biden said, will come from uniting the nation in a new effort grounded in science.

Biden spoke a day after unveiling a $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to confront the virus and provide temporary support for a shaky economy. About $400 billion of the plan is focused on measures aimed at controlling the virus. Those range from mass vaccination centres to more sophisticated scientific analysis of new strains and squads of local health workers to trace the contacts of infected people.

“You have my word: We will manage the hell out of this operation,” Biden declared. He underscored a need for Congress to approve more money and for people to keep following basic precautions, such as wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and frequently washing their hands.

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States declare emergencies, close capitols ahead of rallies

Responding to warnings of potentially violent demonstrations, governors across the nation are calling out National Guard troops, declaring states of emergency and closing their capitols to the public ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week.

Though details remain murky, demonstrations are expected at state capitols beginning Sunday and leading up to Biden’s succession of President Donald Trump on Wednesday. State officials hope to avoid the type of violence that occurred Jan. 6, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, leaving a Capitol Police officer and four others dead.

The FBI has warned of the potential for violence at all state capitols and has said it is tracking an “ extensive amount of concerning online chatter, ” including calls for armed protests.

Governors across the country are sending thousands of National Guard troops to Washington, D.C., where the National Mall has been closed to the general public as part of an intense security effort. More than a dozen governors also have called out the Guard to protect their own state capitols and aid local law enforcement officers.

“We are prepared for the worst, but we remain hopeful that those who choose to demonstrate at our Capitol do so peacefully, without violence or destruction of property,” Michigan State Police Col. Joe Gasper said Friday, as Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the Guard’s role.

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AP EXCLUSIVE: Maduro ally presses for dialogue with Biden

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said Friday he’s hopeful the Biden administration will roll back a “cruel” sanctions policy and instead give room for diplomacy that could lead to the reopening of the U.S. Embassy and the release of several jailed American citizens.

Jorge Rodríguez’s comments came in his first interview since taking the helm of Venezuela’s National Assembly over strong protests from the U.S., European Union and domestic opponents.

Rodriguez, extending an olive branch to the incoming U.S. president, said the ruling socialist party is eager for a new start after four years of endless attacks by the Trump administration that he believes not only exacerbated suffering among Venezuelans and failed to unseat Maduro but also punished U.S. investors who historically have been important in the OPEC nation.

“All points and all issues are on the table,” he said, including the future of six Venezuelan-American oil executives arrested on corruption charges and two former Green Berets caught in a failed attempt to overthrow Maduro.

It’s unclear if the Biden administration will accept the overture or continue with the hardline policy of regime change it inherits. A lot hinges on its treatment of Juan Guaidó, head of the outgoing congress, whom the Trump administration recognizes as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

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Trump to leave Washington on morning of Biden’s inauguration

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will leave Washington next Wednesday morning just before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration to begin his post-presidential life in Florida.

Refusing to abide by tradition and participate in the ceremonial transfer of power, Trump will instead hold his own departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland before his final flight aboard Air Force One.

Officials are considering an elaborate send-off event reminiscent of the receptions he’s received during state visits abroad, complete with a red carpet, colour guard, military band and even a 21-gun salute, according to a person familiar with the planning who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement.

Trump will become only the fourth president in history to boycott his successor’s inauguration. And while he has said he is now committed to a peaceful transition of power — after months of trying to delegitimize Biden’s victory with baseless allegations of mass voter fraud and spurring on his supporters who stormed the Capitol — he has made clear he has no interest in making a show of it.

He has not invited the Bidens to the White House for the traditional bread-breaking, nor has he spoken with Biden by phone. Vice-President Mike Pence has spoken with his successor, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, calling her on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance, according to two people familiar with the call. Pence will be attending Biden’s inauguration, a move Biden has welcomed.

The Associated Press

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