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

White House begins talks with lawmakers on COVID-19 relief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top aides to President Joe Biden on Sunday began talks with a group of moderate Senate Republicans and Democrats on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package as Biden faces increasing headwinds in his effort to win bipartisan backing for the initial legislative effort of his presidency.

Lawmakers on the right question the wisdom of racking up bigger deficits while those on the left are urging Biden not to spend too much time on bipartisanship when the pandemic is killing thousands of Americans each day and costing more jobs amid tightening restrictions in many communities.

At least a dozen senators met for an hour and 15 minutes in a virtual call with White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese and other senior White House officials. Many hope to approve a relief package before former President Donald Trump’s trial, which is set to begin in two weeks, overtakes Washington’s attention.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, called the opening talks a “serious effort.”

“There was not a hint of cynicism or lack of commitment to at least trying to work something out,” King said. “If they were just trying to jam this through, I don’t think it would have interrupted the Packers game.”

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Growing number of GOP senators oppose impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (AP) — A growing number of Republican senators say they oppose holding an impeachment trial, a sign of the dimming chances that former President Donald Trump will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the U.S. Capitol.

House Democrats, who will walk the impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” to the Senate on Monday evening, are hoping that strong Republican denunciations of Trump after the Jan. 6 riot will translate into a conviction and a separate vote to bar Trump from holding office again. But GOP passions appear to have cooled since the insurrection, and now that Trump’s presidency is over, Republican senators who will serve as jurors in the trial are rallying to his legal defence, as they did during his first impeachment trial last year.

“I think the trial is stupid, I think it’s counterproductive,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. He said that “the first chance I get to vote to end this trial, I’ll do it” because he believes it would be bad for the country and further inflame partisan divisions.

Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of Feb. 8. Leaders in both parties agreed to the short delay to give Trump’s team and House prosecutors time to prepare and the Senate the chance to confirm some of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Democrats say the extra days will allow for more evidence to come out about the rioting by Trump supporters who interrupted the congressional electoral count of Biden’s election victory, while Republicans hope to craft a unified defence for Trump.

An early vote to dismiss the trial probably would not succeed, given that Democrats now control the Senate. Still, the Republican opposition indicates that many GOP senators would eventually vote to acquit Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republicans — a high bar — to convict him.

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AP source: Lawmakers threatened ahead of impeachment trial

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.

The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump’s trial, the official said.

The shocking insurrection at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob prompted federal officials to rethink security in and around its landmarks, resulting in an unprecedented lockdown for Biden’s inauguration. Though the event went off without any problems and armed protests around the country did not materialize, the threats to lawmakers ahead of Trump’s trial exemplified the continued potential for danger.

Similar to those intercepted by investigators ahead of Biden’s inauguration, the threats that law enforcement agents are tracking vary in specificity and credibility, said the official, who had been briefed on the matter. Mainly posted online and in chat groups, the messages have included plots to attack members of Congress during travel to and from the Capitol complex during the trial, according to the official.

The official was not authorized to not discuss an ongoing investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

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Biden to reinstate COVID travel rules, add South Africa

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday will formally reinstate COVID-19 travel restrictions on non-U.S. travellers from Brazil, Ireland, the United Kingdom and 26 other European countries that allow travel across open borders, according to two White House officials.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the order, also confirmed Sunday that South Africa would be added to the restricted list because of concerns about a variant of the virus that has spread beyond that nation.

Biden is reversing an order from President Donald Trump in his final days in office that called for the relaxation of the travel restrictions as of Tuesday.

The decision to reverse the order is not surprising, but the addition of South Africa to the restricted travel list highlights the new administration’s concern about mutations in the virus.

The South Africa variant has not been discovered in the United States, but another variant — originating in the United Kingdom — has been detected in several states.

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2 in 5 Americans live where COVID-19 strains hospital ICUs

Straining to handle record numbers of COVID-19 patients, hundreds of the nation’s intensive care units are running out of space and supplies and competing to hire temporary travelling nurses at soaring rates. Many of the facilities are clustered in the South and West.

An Associated Press analysis of federal hospital data shows that since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. More than 40% of Americans now live in areas running out of ICU space, with only 15% of beds still available.

Intensive care units are the final defence for the sickest of the sick, patients who are nearly suffocating or facing organ failure. Nurses who work in the most stressed ICUs, changing IV bags and monitoring patients on breathing machines, are exhausted.

“You can’t push great people forever. Right? I mean, it just isn’t possible,” said Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom, who is among many hospital leaders hoping that the numbers of critically ill COVID-19 patients have begun to plateau. Worryingly, there’s an average of 20,000 new cases a day in Texas, which has the third-highest death count in the country and more than 13,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19-related symptoms.

According to data through Thursday from the COVID Tracking Project, hospitalizations are still high in the West and the South, with over 80,000 current COVID-19 hospital patients in those regions. The number of cases reported in the U.S. since the pandemic’s start surpassed 25 million on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Mexican president tests positive for COVID-19, symptoms mild

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he has tested positive for COVID-19, an announcement that comes as his country registers the highest levels of infections and deaths to date.

López Obrador, who has been criticized for his handling of Mexico’s pandemic and for not setting an example of prevention in public, said Sunday on his official Twitter account that his symptoms are mild and he is under medical treatment.

“I regret to inform you that I am infected with COVID-19,” he tweeted. “The symptoms are mild but I am already under medical treatment. As always, I am optimistic. We will all move forward.”

José Luis Alomía Zegarra, Mexico’s director of epidemiology, said the 67-year-old López Obrador had a “light” case of COVID-19 and was “isolating at home.”

Mexico’s president wrote that while he recovered Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero would be taking over for him in his daily news conferences, at which he usually speaks for two hours without breaks each weekday.

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Why Biden’s immigration plan may be risky for Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is confronting the political risk that comes with grand ambition.

As one of his first acts, Biden offered a sweeping immigration overhaul last week that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are in the United States illegally. It would also codify provisions wiping out some of President Donald Trump’s signature hard-line policies, including trying to end existing, protected legal status for many immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and crackdowns on asylum rules.

It’s precisely the type of measure that many Latino activists have longed for, particularly after the tough approach of the Trump era. But it must compete with Biden’s other marquee legislative goals, including a $1.9 trillion plan to combat the coronavirus, an infrastructure package that promotes green energy initiatives and a “public option” to expand health insurance.

In the best of circumstances, enacting such a broad range of legislation would be difficult. But in a narrowly divided Congress, it could be impossible. And that has Latinos, the nation’s fastest growing voting bloc, worried that Biden and congressional leaders could cut deals that weaken the finished product too much — or fail to pass anything at all.

“This cannot be a situation where simply a visionary bill — a message bill — gets sent to Congress and nothing happens with it,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which advocates for low-income immigrants. “There’s an expectation that they will deliver and that there is a mandate now for Biden to be unapologetically pro-immigrant and have a political imperative to do so, and the Democrats do as well.”

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Biden attends Mass at DC church where he worshipped as VP

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden attended Mass for the first time since taking office, worshipping Sunday at the church he frequented when he was vice-president.

Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, picked Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington’s Georgetown neighbourhood, a few miles from the White House. It’s where the nation’s only other Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, often went to Mass.

Biden entered through the front entrance, where a Black Lives Matter banner was hanging on one side and a banner with a quote from Pope Francis was on the other: “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life.”

The president, in a brief exchange with reporters, said the service was “lovely.” Biden was accompanied to church by his son, Hunter, and two of his grandchildren, Finnegan and Maisy.

His motorcade made a brief stop on the way back to the White House for carryout from Call Your Mother, a popular deli near the church. The president remained in his armoured vehicle, while his son picked up the order.

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Old (Brady), young (Mahomes), different Super Bowl 55 awaits

For Tom Brady, another trip to the Super Bowl — but this time, in a Tampa Bay uniform.

And for his new team, the Buccaneers, a first-of-its-kind home game, but without the usual home-field advantage.

To put a bow on this make-it-up-as-we-go NFL season — a campaign upended but never fully undone by the coronavirus pandemic — it comes as no surprise that there is no such thing as a straightforward storyline.

Because of restrictions in place due to COVID-19, Tampa Bay’s home stadium will only be about a quarter full when the Buccaneers host the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7 in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs opened as a 3.5-point favourite.

The 43-year-old Brady will expand on his record by playing in his 10th Super Bowl, hoping to expand on another record by winning a seventh title, but the first one in his new home of Tampa Bay.

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US police weigh officer discipline after rally, Capitol riot

For two Virginia police officers who posed for a photo during the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection, the reckoning has been swift and public: They were identified, charged with crimes and arrested.

But for five Seattle officers the outcome is less clear. Their identities still secret, two are on leave and three continue to work while a police watchdog investigates whether their actions in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6 crossed the line from protected political speech to lawbreaking.

The contrasting cases highlight the dilemma faced by police departments nationwide as they review the behaviour of dozens of officers who were in Washington the day of the riot by supporters of President Donald Trump. Officials and experts agree that officers who were involved in the melee should be fired and charged for their role.

But what about those officers who attended only the Trump rally before the riot? How does a department balance an officer’s free speech rights with the blow to public trust that comes from the attendance of law enforcement at an event with far-right militants and white nationalists who went on to assault the seat of American democracy?

An Associated Press survey of law enforcement agencies nationwide found that at least 31 officers in 12 states are being scrutinized by their supervisors for their behaviour in the District of Columbia or face criminal charges for participating in the riot. Officials are looking into whether the officers violated any laws or policies or participated in the violence while in Washington. A Capitol Police officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher as rioters descended on the building and many other officers were injured. A woman was shot to death by Capitol Police and three other people died after medical emergencies during the chaos.

The Associated Press

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