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

September 10, 2020 - 8:04 PM

Stunned residents tour Oregon town devastated by wildfires

PHOENIX, Ore. (AP) — Stunned residents of the small Oregon town of Phoenix walked through a scene of devastation Thursday after one of the state's many wildfires wiped out much of their community, including a mobile home park, houses and businesses.

But even as residents in southern Oregon near the California border were assessing their losses, other wildfires in the northwest part of the state were growing, with more people told to flee for their lives.

By Thursday evening, the number of people evacuated statewide because of fires had climbed to an estimated 500,000, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management reported. That's more than 10% of the state's 4.2 million population.

A fire approaching Molalla triggered a mandatory evacuation order for the community of about 9,000 people 30 miles (48 kilometres) south of Portland. A women's prison less than a mile from Interstate 5 in Portland's southern suburbs was being evacuated “out of an abundance of caution,” the Oregon Department of Corrections said.

Some firefighters in Clackamas County, which includes Molalla, had been told to disengage because of dangerous fire activity as two large fires in the area were believed to be merging, according to the state fire marshal’s office.

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Trump revels in packed Michigan crowd amid book fallout

FREELAND, Mich. (AP) — Reeling from another crisis of his own making, President Donald Trump tried to refocus attention on his Democratic rival at a rally in battleground Michigan Thursday as he pushed to move past revelations that he purposefully played down the danger of the coronavirus last winter.

But the virus controversy followed him as he faced new pushback from local officials worried about the growing size of his rallies and his campaign's repeated flouting of public health guidelines intended to halt the COVID-19 spread. That includes Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who raised alarms about Thursday’s event, warning it would make recovery harder.

Trump, however, reveled in the crowd of several thousand, packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a cavernous airport hangar, mostly without masks — with Air Force One on display as his backdrop.

“This is not the crowd of a person who comes in second place,” Trump declared to cheers as he railed against Whitmer for current state restrictions.

“Tell your governor to open up your state!” he demanded, saying Michigan would be better if it “had a governor who knew what the hell she was doing."

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10 now dead in massive Northern California wildfire

GRIDLEY, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California wildfire became the state’s deadliest of the year Thursday when authorities announced seven more deaths, bringing the total to 10 and there was the unnerving prospect the toll would climb as searchers looked for 16 missing people.

Butte County sheriff’s deputies and detectives found seven bodies on Thursday, a day after three other victims were discovered. Among those unaccounted for are Sandy Butler and her husband, who called their son to say they were going to try to escape the flames by finding shelter in a pond.

“We’re still hoping and praying for good news,” said Jessica Fallon, who has two children with the Butler’s grandson and considers them her own grandparents. “Everything is replaceable, but not my grandparents’ lives. I’d rather lose everything than those two. They kind of held the family together.”

More bodies could be found as crews manage to make their way into devastated areas. A team of anthropologists from Chico State University were helping in the search, sheriff's Capt. Derek Bell said.

The weeks-old fire was about 50% contained when winds thrashed it into explosive growth on Tuesday, driving it through rugged Sierra Nevada foothills and destroying much of the town of Berry Creek.

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Virus bill blocked in Senate as prospects dim for new relief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package on Thursday as the parties argued to a standstill over the size and scope of the aid, likely ending hopes for coronavirus relief before the November election.

The mostly party-line vote capped weeks of wrangling that gave way to election-season political combat and name-calling over a fifth relief bill that all sides say they want but are unable to deliver. The bipartisan spirit that powered earlier aid measures is all but gone.

Democrats said the measure shortchanged too many pressing needs. Republicans argued it was targeted to areas of widespread agreement, but the 52-47 vote fell well short of what was needed to overcome a filibuster. All the present Democrats opposed it, while conservative Rand Paul, R-Ky., cast the only GOP “nay” vote. The Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, was campaigning in Miami and missed the vote.

“It’s a sort of a dead end street, and very unfortunate,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “But it is what it is.”

The $650 billion measure is significantly smaller than legislation promoted by Republican leaders this summer. But that version was too big for most conservatives, so the GOP bill was instead stripped back to focus on school aid, jobless benefits and help for small businesses. That maximized Republican support even as it alienated Democrats, who say such a piecemeal approach would leave out far too many vulnerable people.

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Dem report: Medicare chief used fed money to bolster image

WASHINGTON (AP) — Private consultants to the federal official who oversees Medicare billed taxpayers almost $6 million in less than two years to bolster her personal image, including efforts to win awards, place her on lists of powerful women and arrange meetings with influential people, a report by congressional Democrats said Thursday.

The consultants, many with Republican Party ties, billed taxpayers up to $380 per hour on work largely aimed at polishing the profile of Medicare administrator Seema Verma, the investigators wrote.

One contractor, Pam Stevens, who’s done extensive work for the GOP, charged up to $330 hourly to pursue ideas like asking publications including “Oprah Magazine” and “Garden and Gun” to write articles about Verma. Stevens also seemed to bill at least $1,117 to arrange an interview that resulted in a Verma profile in AARP The Magazine, the report said.

The contractors were “handpicked” by Verma's aides, the report said, creating “a shadow operation" that sidelined the communications staff of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The consultants' work often had nothing to do with running Medicare, Medicaid and other massive health programs that the agency operates, said the 56-page report, which was backed by over 1,700 pages of documents. Verma has run the agency since 2017.

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Climate change largely missing from campaign as fires rage

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Historic fires are raging across the western United States ahead of what scientists say is the typical peak of wildfire season. Hurricane Laura devastated parts of the Gulf Coast last month, while swaths of Iowa are recovering from a derecho that brought hurricane force winds to the Midwest.

The streak of disasters has left millions of Americans reeling. But it's barely had an impact on the campaign for the White House, in part because of the vulnerabilities it highlights for President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

The president is already facing multiple challenges, including the pandemic, joblessness and social unrest, and can ill afford another one. When he talks about California, where fires have killed at least a dozen people and threatened thousands of homes, it's mostly to blast the state's Democratic leaders.

And for Biden, the spreading fires are a reminder to the party's progressive base that he doesn't embrace some of the most liberal elements of the Green New Deal, the grand plan for tackling climate change.

“The Biden campaign understands that a full embrace of an aggressive climate change agenda could create problems for them in Upper Midwest,” said Dan Schnur, who served as an adviser to former California Gov. Pete Wilson and Arizona Sen. John McCain. “Trump has shown no desire to talk about California beyond using it as a liberal punching bag to make his case to his conservative base.”

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India, China agree to disengage thousands of border troops

NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian and Chinese foreign ministers agreed their troops should disengage from a tense border standoff, maintain proper distance and ease tensions in the cold-desert Ladakh region where the two sides had their deadliest clash in decades in June.

India’s S. Jaishankar and China’s Wang Yi met in the Russian capital on Thursday night and concurred that "the current situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side,” according to the joint statement issued Friday.

Since last week, the Asian giants have accused each other of sending soldiers into the rival’s territory and firing warning shots for the first time in 45 years, threatening a full-scale military conflict.

They did not set any any timeline for the disengagement of tens of thousands of troops in a standoff since May, but agreed that "both sides shall abide by all the existing agreements and protocol on China-India boundary affairs, maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas and avoid any action that could escalate matters.”

Earlier this week, Jaishankar described the current situation along the Line of Actual Control as “very serious” and said the state of the border cannot be separated from the state of the relationship.

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Judges: Trump can't exclude people from district drawings

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Saying the president had exceeded his authority, a panel of three federal judges on Thursday blocked an order from President Donald Trump that tried to exclude people in the country illegally from being counted when congressional districts are redrawn.

The federal judges in New York, in granting an injunction, said the presidential order issued in late July was unlawful. The judges prohibited Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, from excluding people in the country illegally when handing in 2020 census figures used to calculate how many congressional seats each state gets.

According to the judges, the presidential order violated laws governing the execution of the once-a-decade census and also the process for redrawing congressional districts known as apportionment by requiring that two sets of numbers be presented — one with the total count and the other minus people living in the country illegally.

The judges said that those in the country illegally qualify as people to be counted in the states they reside. They declined to say whether the order violated the Constitution.

“Throughout the Nation’s history, the figures used to determine the apportionment of Congress — in the language of the current statutes, the ‘total population' and the ‘whole number of persons' in each State — have included every person residing in the United States at the time of the census, whether citizen or non-citizen and whether living here with legal status or without," the judges wrote.

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Russian hackers targeting U.S. campaigns, Microsoft says

BOSTON (AP) — The same Russian military intelligence outfit that hacked the Democrats in 2016 has renewed vigorous U.S. election-related targeting, trying to breach computers at more than 200 organizations including political campaigns and their consultants, Microsoft said Thursday.

The intrusion attempts reflect a stepped up effort to infiltrate the U.S. political establishment, the company said. “What we’ve seen is consistent with previous attack patterns that not only target candidates and campaign staffers but also those who they consult on key issues,” Tom Burt, a Microsoft vice-president, said in a blog post. U.K. and European political groups were also probed, he added.

Most of the hacking attempts by Russian, Chinese and Iranian agents were halted by Microsoft security software and the targets notified, he said. The company would not comment on who may have been successfully hacked or the impact.

Although U.S. intelligence officials said last month that the Russians favour President Donald Trump and the Chinese prefer his Democratic challenger, former Vice-President Joe Biden, Microsoft noted Thursday that Chinese state-backed hackers have targeted “high profile individuals associated with the election,” including people associated with the Biden campaign.

China's hackers largely gather intelligence for economic and political advantage, while Russia tends to weaponize stolen data to destabilize other governments.

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The Latest: Texans lead Chiefs 7-0 in NFL opener

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Latest from the opening game of the NFL season between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans (all times local):

8 p.m.

David Johnson ran 19 yards for a touchdown to give the Houston Texans a 7-0 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs after the first quarter in the opening game of the NFL season.

The Chiefs appeared to strike first after forcing the Texans to punt and then marching downfield. Demarcus Robinson nearly hauled in a 36-yard pass from Patrick Mahomes, but the touchdown call was overturned by a video review.

The Texans answered with an 80-yard march that Johnson finished off.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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