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

Last Updated Nov 18, 2020 at 12:12 am EST

Michigan GOP backtracks after blocking vote certification

DETROIT (AP) — In an abrupt about-face, Michigan’s largest county on Tuesday night unanimously certified election results showing Democrat Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump, hours after Republicans first blocked formal approval of voters’ intentions.

The initial move was quickly condemned by Democrats, election experts and spectators at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers online meeting as a dangerous attempt to block the results of a free and fair election.

“We depend on democratic norms, including that the losers graciously accept defeat. That seems to be breaking down,” said Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky.

The state vote certification process is usually a routine task, and the ultimate resolution in Wayne County propels Biden toward formal victory in Michigan. Still, Tuesday’s chaotic developments are likely to sow more doubt among Trump’s supporters in the election results and could galvanize Republicans in other states to try to look for ways to slow down the final steps in making his loss official.

Republicans are also trying to stop formal certification of the election results in other swing states, including Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

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States plead for more federal help as virus outbreak worsens

With more shutdowns looming and a vaccine months away from wide distribution, governors across the U.S. are pleading for more help from Washington ahead of what is shaping up to be a bleak winter.

Renewed restrictions on indoor businesses, overloaded hospitals and the coming end of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans have led governors to paint a dire picture of the months ahead unless the federal government steps in with more money and leadership to help them shore up their damaged budgets and beat back the resurgence of the coronavirus.

Between now and June 2022, state and local governments could be facing a shortfall of $400 billion or more by some estimates.

On a conference call Tuesday of Democratic governors from the Midwest, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers called for a sequel to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act adopted by Congress in March.

“There are workers and families and farmers and small businesses that are going to need our help, and frankly, we can’t do it alone,” he said. “We’re going to need a robust federal support system to help our states and economies recover beyond the federal CARES funds that expire at the end of the year.”

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Trump fires agency head who vouched for 2020 vote security

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired the nation’s top election security official, a widely respected member of his administration who had dared to refute the president’s unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and vouch for the integrity of the vote.

While abrupt, the dismissal of Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, was not a surprise. Since his loss, Trump has been ridding his administration of officials seen as insufficiently loyal and has been denouncing the conduct of an election that led to an embarrassing defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.

That made Krebs a prime target. He had used the imprimatur of Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security, where his agency was based, to issue a stream of statements and tweets over the past week attesting to the proper conduct of the election and denouncing the falsehoods spread by the president and his supporters — without mentioning Trump by name.

Krebs stood by those assertions after his ouster.

“Honoured to serve. We did it right,” he said in a brief statement on Twitter. “Defend Today, Secure Tomorrow.”

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Biden’s DIY transition proceeds without Trump assistance

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s refusal to co-operate with his successor is forcing President-elect Joe Biden to seek unusual workarounds to prepare for the exploding public health threat and evolving national security challenges he will inherit in just nine weeks.

Blocked from the official intelligence briefing traditionally afforded to incoming presidents, Biden gathered virtually on Tuesday with a collection of intelligence, defence and diplomatic experts. None of the experts are currently affiliated with the U.S. government, raising questions about whether Biden is being provided the most up-to-date information about dangers facing the nation.

Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris received a more formal briefing on Tuesday as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, though still has relatively limited information about the specific threats Biden will inherit.

And as the worst pandemic in a century bears down on the U.S. with renewed ferocity, the current administration is blocking Biden from collaborating with its response team. Biden’s representatives instead plan to meet directly with pharmaceutical companies this week to determine how best to distribute at least two promising vaccines to hundreds of millions of Americans, the biggest logistical challenge to face a new president in generations.

The moves reflect how Biden is adjusting to a historically tense transition. With no sign that Trump is prepared to facilitate soon a peaceful transfer of power, Biden and his team are instead working through a series of backup options to do the best they can to prepare for the challenges he will face as soon as he takes office in January.

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Pentagon to cut troop levels to 2,500 in Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) — Acting Defence Secretary Christopher Miller said Tuesday the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills President Donald Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America’s long wars even as Republicans and U.S. allies warn of the dangers of withdrawing before conditions are right.

The plan will accelerate troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan in Trump’s final days in office, despite arguments from senior military officials in favour of a slower, more methodical pullout to preserve hard-fought gains. Trump has refused to concede his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who takes office Jan. 20, just five days after the troop withdrawals are to finish.

Miller, who refused to take questions from reporters after reading a prepared statement before TV cameras at the Pentagon, said the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.

Speaking a week after taking over for former Defence Secretary Mark Esper, who was fired by Trump, Miller notably did not say that the drawdown plan had been recommended or endorsed by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or by other senior military officers. He said only that military commanders had agreed to execute it.

Miller said the U.S. remains ready to respond if conditions in Afghanistan or Iraq deteriorate.

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Hurricane Iota bashes Nicaragua, Honduras after Eta floods

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Hurricane Iota battered Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast and flooded some stretches of neighbouring Honduras that were still under water from Hurricane Eta two weeks earlier, leaving authorities struggling to assess damage after communications were knocked out in some areas.

By late Tuesday, Iota had diminished to a tropical storm and was moving inland over northern Nicaragua and southern Honduras, but forecasters warned that its heavy rains still posed a threat of flooding and mudslides. It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph) and was spinning westward at 12 mph (19 kph).

The storm passed about 25 miles (40 kilometres) south-southwest of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, where rivers were rising and rain was expected to intensify. In mountainous Tegucigalpa, residents of low-lying, flood-prone areas were being evacuated in anticipation of Iota’s rains, as were residents of hillside neighbourhoods vulnerable to landslides.

Along Honduras’ remote eastern coast, people had to leave damaged and flooding homes.

“What affected us most here was the flooding. The Barra Patuca sector has been flooded for the last two weeks,” said Teonela Paisano Wood, mayor of the Honduran town of Brus Laguna. “We are in danger if it keeps raining.”

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Sen. Grassley, 87, says he tested positive for coronavirus

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the longest-serving Republican senator and third in the line of presidential succession, said Tuesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Grassley, 87, had announced earlier Tuesday that he was quarantining after being exposed to the virus and was waiting for test results. On Tuesday evening, he tweeted that he had tested positive.

“I’ll b following my doctors’ orders/CDC guidelines & continue to quarantine. I’m feeling good + will keep up on my work for the ppl of Iowa from home,” he tweeted.

Grassley said he looks forward to “resuming my normal schedule soon.”

The Iowa Republican, who was in the Senate and voting on Monday, did not say how he had been exposed. His office said that he was not experiencing any symptoms and was isolating in his Virginia home.

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Toilet paper limits, empty shelves are back as virus surges

NEW YORK (AP) — Looking for toilet paper? Good luck.

A surge of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. is sending people back to stores to stockpile again, leaving shelves bare and forcing retailers to put limits on purchases.

Walmart said Tuesday it’s having trouble keeping up with demand for cleaning supplies in some stores. Supermarket chains Kroger and Publix are limiting how much toilet paper and paper towels shoppers can buy after demand spiked recently. And Amazon is sold out of most disinfectant wipes and paper towels.

A similar scene played out back in March, when the pandemic first hit and people hunkered down in their homes.

But Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, formerly the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said he doesn’t expect things to be as bad this go-around since lockdowns are being handled on a regional basis and everyone is better prepared.

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Historic deal revives plan for largest US dam demolition

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An agreement announced Tuesday paves the way for the largest dam demolition in U.S. history, a project that promises to reopen hundreds of miles of waterway along the Oregon-California border to salmon that are critical to tribes but have dwindled to almost nothing in recent years.

If approved, the deal would revive plans to remove four massive hydroelectric dams on the lower Klamath River, creating the foundation for the most ambitious salmon restoration effort in history. The project on California’s second-largest river would be at the vanguard of a trend toward dam demolitions in the U.S. as the structures age and become less economically viable amid growing environmental concerns about the health of native fish.

Previous efforts to address problems in the Klamath Basin have fallen apart amid years of legal sparring that generated distrust among tribes, fishing groups, farmers and environmentalists, and the new agreement could face more legal challenges. Some state and federal lawmakers criticized it as a financially irresponsible overreach by leaders in Oregon and California.

“This dam removal is more than just a concrete project coming down. It’s a new day and a new era,” Yurok Tribe chairman Joseph James said. “To me, this is who we are, to have a free-flowing river just as those who have come before us. … Our way of life will thrive with these dams being out.”

A half-dozen tribes across Oregon and California, fishing groups and environmentalists had hoped to see demolition work begin as soon as 2022. But those plans stalled in July, when U.S. regulators questioned whether the non-profit entity formed to oversee the project could adequately respond to any cost overruns or accidents.

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FDA allows 1st rapid virus test that gives results at home

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. regulators on Tuesday allowed emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed entirely at home and delivers results in 30 minutes.

The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration represents an important step in U.S. efforts to expand testing options for COVID-19 beyond health care facilities and testing sites. However, the test will require a prescription, likely limiting its initial use.

The FDA granted emergency authorization to the single-use test kit from Lucira Health, a California manufacturer.

The company’s test allows users to swab themselves to collect a nasal sample. The sample is then swirled in a vial of laboratory solution that plugs into a portable device. Results are displayed as lights labeled positive or negative.

To date, the FDA has authorized nearly 300 tests for coronavirus. The vast majority require a nasal swab performed by a health professional and must be processed at laboratories using high-tech equipment. A handful of tests allow people to collect their own sample at home — a nasal swab or saliva — that’s then shipped to a lab, which usually means waiting days for results.

The Associated Press