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

House Dems near truce, approach infrastructure win for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — Progressive and moderate lawmakers seemed near a truce Friday evening expected to result in quick House passage of a long-stalled $1 trillion infrastructure bill, clearing the way for a victory that President Joe Biden and his party are increasingly anxious to claim.

Under the agreement, brokered by Biden and top Democrats, progressives would end their roadblock against the package of road, water and other projects. In exchange, moderates who’ve balked at a separate 10-year, $1.85 trillion measure boosting social and environment programs would commit to backing it later this month if official estimates of its cost are in line with expectations.

The emerging pact came after a topsy-turvy day and was described by one Democrat who discussed it only on condition of anonymity.

A vote on the larger measure boosting health care, family services and climate change efforts is now expected later this month, an abrupt retreat from earlier plans to vote on it Friday. That scheduling shift represented a setback for Democrats, many of whom anticipated the day would give Biden a double-barreled triumph on the two pillars of his domestic agenda.

But moderates' apparent willingness to consider backing that measure stood as a significant step toward a House vote that would ultimately ship it to the Senate.

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Pfizer says COVID-19 pill cut hospital, death risk by 90%

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pfizer Inc. said Friday that its experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% in high-risk adults, as the drugmaker joined the race for an easy-to-use medication to treat the coronavirus.

Currently most COVID-19 treatments require an IV or injection. Competitor Merck’s COVID-19 pill is already under review at the Food and Drug Administration after showing strong initial results, and on Thursday the United Kingdom became the first country to OK it.

Pfizer said it will ask the FDA and international regulators to authorize its pill as soon as possible, after independent experts recommended halting the company’s study based on the strength of its results. Once Pfizer applies, the FDA could make a decision within weeks or months.

Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, researchers worldwide have been racing to find a pill to treat COVID-19 that can be taken at home to ease symptoms, speed recovery and keep people out of the hospital.

Having pills to treat early COVID-19 “would be a very important advance," said Dr. John Mellors, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the Pfizer study.

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More vaccines, fewer mask rules as US keeps fighting COVID

The United States is steadily chipping away at vaccine hesitancy and driving down COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to the point that schools, governments and corporations are lifting mask restrictions yet again.

Nearly 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated and the nation’s over-65 population, which bore the brunt of the pandemic when it started nearly two years ago, is enthusiastically embracing vaccines.

Nearly 98% of the over-65 population has received at least one COVID-19 shot and more than 25% of them have gotten boosters, just weeks after they were authorized. The improving metrics could get a boost from President Joe Biden’s workplace mandate unveiled Thursday and the launch of COVID-19 shots in elementary-age students.

Seniors also are playing a role in getting other family members vaccinated. Erin Lipsker plans to get her 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son vaccinated as soon as possible so they can see her parents and her 98-year-old grandmother. An added motivation is that Lipsker was treated for cancer two years ago, and her 8-year-old daughter, Kennedy, has asthma.

“The more children and adults are vaccinated, the quicker we will be able to resume a new normal. I want that for my kids. I want that for our planet,” said Lipsker, of Spokane, Washington. “I think I will feel much safer around our family. I have a 98-year-old grandmother that my kids adore. I will feel safer having my kids around her, and my parents.”

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Prosecutor in Andrew Cuomo's groping case seeks more time

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A prosecutor investigating accusations that former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo groped a woman asked a judge for more time to evaluate the evidence, saying the criminal complaint filed last week by the local sheriff was “potentially defective," according to a letter released Friday.

The request from Albany County District Attorney David Soares throws the high-profile case into further turmoil a week after Cuomo was charged with committing a misdemeanor sex crime. The one-page complaint filed in Albany City Court by a sheriff's office investigator accuses Cuomo of forcible touching by putting his hand under a woman’s shirt on Dec. 7.

Soares, who has said he was caught off guard by the filing, said in a letter to Judge Holly Trexler on Thursday that his office had been investigating the matter for several months.

“We were in the middle of that investigation when the Sheriff unilaterally and inexplicably filed a complaint in this court,” Soares wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, the filings in this matter are potentially defective in that the police-officer-complainant failed to include a sworn statement by the victim such that the People could proceed with a prosecution on these papers.”

The district attorney said the sheriff’s complaint, as filed, only included part of the woman's testimony, but left other parts out, including sections that could possibly be “exculpatory,” meaning potentially helpful to Cuomo’s defense.

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UN Security Council calls for end to Ethiopia hostilities

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council called for an end to the intensifying and expanding conflict in Ethiopia on Friday, and for unhindered access for humanitarian aid to tackle the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade in the war-torn Tigray region.

The U.N.’s most powerful body expressed serious concern about the impact of the conflict on “the stability of the country and the wider region,” and called on all parties to refrain “from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness.”

The press statement was approved by the 15 council members the day after the first anniversary of the war in the northern Tigray region that has killed thousands of people and displaced millions. It was only the council’s second statement on the conflict, and the first to address the worsening conflict.

“Today the Security Council breaks six months of silence and speaks again with one united voice on the deeply concerning situation in Ethiopia,” said Ireland’s U.N. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason. “For the first time, the Council clearly calls for a cessation of hostilities. We believe this should happen immediately, and that all civilians must be protected.”

The statement was drafted by Ireland, Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and St. Vincent and The Grenadines. Those countries and the United States had called for an open Security Council meeting on Ethiopia on Friday afternoon, but it was postponed until early next week, probably Monday. Diplomats said African Union representatives weren't available to participate so the meeting was delayed.

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Voting lawsuit keeps Texas, Biden administration at odds

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — More and more, Texas and the Biden administration are dragging each other to court.

First it was over immigration enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border. Then a Texas ban on most abortions. Then this week, just days after the Justice Department urged the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the nation's most restrictive abortion law, Attorney General Merrick Garland brought another lawsuit against America's biggest red state, this time over restrictive new voting rules.

With President's Joe Biden's own domestic priorities remaining stuck despite his party controlling Congress, his administration is simultaneously trying to knock down pillars of a hard-right agenda the Texas GOP muscled through over the last year. Doing so could provide a boost to Democrats, who are searching for a win as they confront an already stormy outlook heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

But putting up the fight is still short of sweeping federal legislation sought by Democrats, and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court could ultimately stand in the way.

Although the justices signaled on Monday they would allow Texas abortion providers to pursue a court challenge to a controversial law that has banned most abortions in the state since September, it was not clear whether they would let the restrictions remain in place for now.

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EXPLAINER: How the Arbery trial got a nearly all-white jury

The long-standing practice of allowing attorneys to dismiss prospective jurors without giving a reason has come under intense criticism after a nearly all-white jury was picked to decide whether three white men are guilty of murder for shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was jogging though a neighborhood in Georgia.

The selection of 11 white jurors and one Black man to decide the fate of the three defendants has drawn complaints from prosecutors and the victim's family that jury selection process was blatantly unfair.

Even the judge in the case agreed with prosecutors that the exclusion of Black potential jurors looked like intentional discrimination. Still, the judge said he had limited authority to intervene after defense attorneys gave reasons that were not about race for cutting jurors.

The trial has brought new attention to a debate and growing movement around the U.S. to do away “peremptory challenges,” which allow lawyers to summarily dismiss jurors. Critics say the practice is fraught with biases and creates racially imbalanced juries that make it harder to bring equal justice.

HOW DO STRIKES WORK?

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No toilet for returning SpaceX crew, stuck using diapers

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The astronauts who will depart the International Space Station on Sunday will be stuck using diapers on the way home because of their capsule's broken toilet.

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur described the situation Friday as “suboptimal" but manageable. She and her three crewmates will spend 20 hours in their SpaceX capsule, from the time the hatches are closed until Monday morning's planned splashdown.

“Spaceflight is full of lots of little challenges,” she said during a news conference from orbit. “This is just one more that we’ll encounter and take care of in our mission. So we’re not too worried about it."

After a series of meetings Friday, mission managers decided to bring McArthur and the rest of her crew home before launching their replacements. That SpaceX launch already had been delayed more than a week by bad weather and an undisclosed medical issue involving one of the crew.

SpaceX is now targeting liftoff for Wednesday night at the earliest.

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Brazilian singer and Latin Grammy winner dies in plane crash

SAO PAULO (AP) — Marília Mendonça, one of Brazil’s most popular singers and a Latin Grammy winner, died Friday in an airplane crash on her way to a concert. She was 26.

Mendonça’s press office confirmed her death in a statement, and said four other passengers on the flight also perished. Their plane crashed between Mendonça’s hometown Goiania and Caratinga, a small city in Minas Gerais state located north of Rio de Janeiro.

Minas Gerais state’s civil police also confirmed Mendonça’s death, without providing details about the cause of the accident, which occurred shortly before arrival. Photographs and videos show the plane laying just beneath a waterfall; Mendonça had posted a video this afternoon showing her walking toward the plane, guitar case in hand.

The rising star performed country music, in Brazil called sertanejo. She was known for tackling feminist issues in her songs, such as denouncing men who control their partners, and calling for female empowerment.

On Friday evening, the news triggered an outpouring of sadness on social media from all corners of Brazil, including fans, politicians, musicians and soccer players. Her Instagram account has 38 million followers.

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Rodgers sought treatments instead of COVID-19 vaccine

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Friday he sought alternative treatments instead of the NFL-endorsed COVID-19 vaccinations because he is allergic to an ingredient in two of the FDA-approved shots.

Speaking on SiriusXM’s “Pat McAfee Show,” Rodgers said: “I’m not an anti-vax, flat-earther. I have an allergy to an ingredient that’s in the mRNA vaccines. I found a long-term immunization protocol to protect myself and I’m very proud of the research that went into that.”

Rodgers, who turns 38 on Dec. 2, did not say what ingredient he was allergic to, or how he knows he is allergic.

Rodgers, who has been tested daily as part of NFL protocols for the unvaccinated, found out he contracted COVID-19 on Wednesday. The reigning NFL MVP said he didn't feel well on Thursday but was much better on Friday.

Rodgers can't rejoin the Packers for 10 days, missing Sunday's game at Kansas City. He must have a negative test to return to the team on Nov. 13.

News from © The Associated Press, 2021
The Associated Press

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