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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

November 22, 2020 - 8:04 PM

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team's planning.

Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.

In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.

Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Coons’ departure from the Senate would have come as other Democratic senators are being considered for administrative posts and the party is hoping to win back the Senate. Control hangs on the result of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.

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Trump's legal team cried vote fraud, but courts found none

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As they frantically searched for ways to salvage President Donald Trump's failed reelection bid, his campaign pursued a dizzying game of legal hopscotch across six states that centred on the biggest prize of all: Pennsylvania.

The strategy may have played well in front of television cameras and on talk radio to Trump's supporters. But it has proved a disaster in court, where judges uniformly rejected their claims of vote fraud and found the campaign's legal work amateurish.

In a scathing ruling late Saturday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann — a Republican and Federalist Society member in central Pennsylvania — compared the campaign's legal arguments to “Frankenstein's Monster,” concluding that Trump's team offered only “speculative accusations," not proof of rampant corruption.

The campaign on Sunday filed notice it would appeal the decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a day before the state's 67 counties are set to certify their results and send them to state officials. And they asked Sunday night for an expedited hearing Wednesday as they seek to amend the Pennsylvania lawsuit that Brann dismissed.

Trump's efforts in Pennsylvania show how far he is willing to push baseless theories of widespread voter fraud, even as the legal doors close on his attempts to have courts do what voters would not do on Election Day and deliver him a second term.

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In Wisconsin recount, Trump challenges pile up, slow tally

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin recount observer Ardis Cerny stretched her neck as far as she could toward a Plexiglas divider separating her from two vote counters, eagle-eyeing them as they scrutinized ballot papers one by one.

When one tabulator told the ardent supporter of President Donald Trump she was leaning too far over a yellow line on a Milwaukee conference-hall floor meant to keep observers 3 feet away, Cerny bristled.

“I know you don’t want us to see the ballots,” she said. “You think we’ll find something.”

Cerny is part of a large contingent of pro-Trump observers participating in a recount the president requested and paid $3 million for in the state’s two biggest and most liberal counties, Milwaukee and Dane, in a long shot bid to erase Democrat Joe Biden’s more than 20,000-vote lead after the initial count.

With no precedent to erase such a large margin, it's widely expected that Trump's eventual plan in Wisconsin is litigation over thousands of absentee ballots that he argues were improperly cast.

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Inequality 'baked into' virus testing access as cases surge

The day after Amanda Serulneck found out she might have been exposed to COVID-19, she visited a rapid testing centre in New Jersey but was turned away because they ran out of tests.

She returned at 7 a.m. the next day. After waiting for an hour, officials said they had run out again. On her third try, Serulneck and her friend called several testing centres before driving for an hour to one with availability.

Lines for free COVID-19 tests stretch for blocks and hours in cities where people feel the dual strain of the coronavirus surge and the approaching holidays. But an increasing number of pop-up clinics promise visitors instant results — at a cost. Some charge $150 or more for a spot at the front of the queue.

While her friend who lacked insurance had to pay $125 for the test, Serulneck’s price was only $35. The real cost came from the two days she had to take off from work, she said.

“People are just trying to get by, and they can’t be taking off work for a week to wait for results,” said Serulneck, who works at a spa. "People need rapid testing to be available and affordable.”

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Virus News: G-20 leaders vow to make vaccines available

Here's what's happening on Sunday with the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and around the world:

THREE THINGS TO KNOW TODAY

—Leaders of the world’s most powerful nations vowed to ensure affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines as they wrapped up a Group of 20 summit. The two-day meeting, held virtually, focused on battling the coronavirus and supporting the global economy as it suffers from a pandemic that has killed at least 1.38 million people and plunged millions more into poverty. The group vowed “to spare no effort to protect lives," but did not directly address how it would come up with the billions of dollars needed for mass manufacturing, procurement and delivery of vaccines around the world.

—Crowding at U.S. airports as people travel for Thanksgiving has the nation’s top infectious disease expert worried. Dr. Anthony Fauci told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that infections spreading as people travel “are going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now." He says the new cases won’t show up for weeks, but could hit at the worst time: during the December holiday season as the weather grows cold.

—A potential date for the rollout of the first coronavirus vaccine has been set for Dec. 12. The head of the U.S. effort to produce a vaccine said he hopes vaccinations could begin two days after a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee meets Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer Inc.’s request for an emergency use authorization for developing its vaccine.

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Jury duty? No thanks, say many, forcing trials to be delayed

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Jury duty notices have set Nicholas Philbrook’s home on edge with worries about him contracting the coronavirus and passing it on to his father-in-law, a cancer survivor with diabetes in his mid-70s who is at higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19.

Philbrook and his wife, Heather Schmidt, of Camarillo, California, have been trying to convince court officials that he should be excused from jury duty because her father lives with them. But court officials told him that is not a valid reason and he must appear in court early next month.

“My main concern is you still have to go into a building, you still have to be around a set number of people,” said Philbrook, 39, a marketing company editor. “In an enclosed space, how safe are you? It just doesn’t feel like a right time still to be doing that kind of stuff on a normal basis.”

People across the country have similar concerns amid resurgences of the coronavirus, a fact that has derailed plans to resume jury trials in many courthouses for the first time since the pandemic started.

Within the past month, courts in Hartford, Connecticut, San Diego and Norfolk, Virginia, have had to delay jury selection for trials because too few people responded to jury duty summonses. The non-response rates are much higher now than they were before the pandemic, court officials say.

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Trump election challenges sound alarm among voters of colour

DETROIT (AP) — When longtime Detroit community advocate Frank McGhee watched two Republican canvassers vote against certifying election results in the majority Black city, he was furious.

McGhee, 58, has spent more than two decades working with Detroit youth and educating them on the electoral process. He said it was “outrageous” to see hard-fought Black voter-mobilization efforts threatened.

"I thought, these are the ultimate executioners, if you will, put in place so that quietly they could take what belongs to us,” he said.

President-elect Joe Biden was in part powered to victory in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia by Black voters, many of them concentrated in cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta where he received a significant share of their support. Since Election Day, President Donald Trump and his allies have sought to expose voter fraud that simply does not exist in these and other overwhelmingly Black population centres.

Such a plainly racist strategy to contest the election could erode Black voters’ trust in elections. Voting-rights advocates say they stand ready to beat back any efforts to water down the Black vote. But fears persist that Trump’s allies will undermine democracy and disenfranchise Black Americans and other voters of colour.

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Trump team making false argument about his 2016 transition

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s not just President-elect Joe Biden’s transition that’s under a microscope.

President Donald Trump and his allies are harking back to his own transition four years ago to make a false argument that his own presidency was denied a fair chance for a clean launch. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany laid out the case from the White House podium last week and the same idea has been floated by Trump's personal lawyer and his former director of national intelligence.

The comparisons are part of a broader attempt by Trump and his team to undermine the legitimacy of Biden’s election and his right to an orderly transition by unspooling mistruths about both this election season and Trump’s treatment four years ago.

“It’s worth remembering that this president was never given an orderly transition of power. His presidency was never accepted,” McEnany told reporters who questioned the Trump administration’s refusal to co-operate with the Biden transition.

But the situations are far different.

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Trump slams global climate agreement Biden intends to rejoin

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump railed against the Paris climate accord on Sunday, telling world leaders at a virtual summit that the agreement was designed to cripple the U.S. economy, not save the planet.

“To protect American workers, I withdrew the United States from the unfair and one-sided Paris climate accord, a very unfair act for the United States,” Trump said in a video statement from the White House to the Group of 20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. His comments came during a discussion among the world's largest economies on safeguarding the Earth.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office in January, has said he will rejoin the global pact that the U.S. helped forge five years ago.

Trump contended the international accord was “not designed to save the environment. It was designed to kill the American economy."

Trump, who has worked to undo most of President Barack Obama’s efforts to fight climate change, said that since withdrawing from the climate agreement, the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any nation.

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Ethiopia warns civilians of 'no mercy' in Tigray offensive

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia’s military is warning civilians in the besieged Tigray regional capital that there will be “no mercy” if they don’t “save themselves” before a final offensive to flush out defiant regional leaders — a threat that Human Rights Watch on Sunday said could violate international law.

“From now on, the fighting will be a tank battle,” spokesman Col. Dejene Tsegaye said late Saturday, asserting that the army was marching on the Tigray capital, Mekele, and would encircle it with tanks. “Our people in Mekele should be notified that they should protect themselves from heavy artillery.”

He accused the Tigray leaders of hiding among the population of the city of roughly a half-million people and warned civilians to “steer away” from them.

But “treating a whole city as a military target would not only unlawful, it could also be considered a form of collective punishment,” Human Rights Watch researcher Laetitia Bader tweeted Sunday.

“In other words, war crimes,” former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice tweeted.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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