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GOP rallies solidly against Democrats’ virus relief package

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans rallied solidly Wednesday against Democrats’ proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill as lawmakers awaited a decision by the Senate’s parliamentarian that could bolster or potentially kill a pivotal provision hiking the federal minimum wage.

Despite their paper-thin congressional majorities, Democratic leaders were poised to push the sweeping package through the House on Friday. They were hoping the Senate, where changes seem likely, would follow quickly enough to have legislation on President Joe Biden’s desk by mid-March.

By late Wednesday, not one Republican in either chamber had publicly said he or she would back the legislation. GOP leaders were honing attacks on the package as a job killer that does too little to reopen schools or businesses shuttered for the pandemic and that was not only wasteful but also even unscrupulous.

“I haven’t seen a Republican yet that’s found something in there that they agree with,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “I think all Republicans believe in three simple things: They want a bill that puts us back to work, back to school and back to health. This bill is too costly, too corrupt and too liberal.”

The hardening opposition suggested that Biden’s first major legislative initiative could encounter unanimous GOP opposition. That was a counterpoint to the new president’s refrain during his campaign about bringing the country together and a replay of the Republican wall that new President Barack Obama encountered in 2009 and most of his administration.

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Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine works well in big ‘real world’ test

A real-world test of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in more than half a million people confirms that it’s very effective at preventing serious illness or death, even after one dose.

Wednesday’s published results, from a mass vaccination campaign in Israel, give strong reassurance that the benefits seen in smaller, limited testing persisted when the vaccine was used much more widely in a general population with various ages and health conditions.

The vaccine was 92% effective at preventing severe disease after two shots and 62% after one. Its estimated effectiveness for preventing death was 72% two to three weeks after the first shot, a rate that may improve as immunity builds over time.

It seemed as effective in folks over 70 as in younger people.

“This is immensely reassuring … better than I would have guessed,” said the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Gregory Poland.

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Chief: Capitol Police were warned of violence before riot

WASHINGTON (AP) — Capitol Police knew armed extremists were primed for violence at the iconic building on Jan. 6 and even provided officers with assault rifles to protect lawmakers, the acting chief acknowledged Wednesday. But the wild invasion of the Capitol was far worse than police expected, leaving them unprepared to fight it off.

A day earlier, her predecessor as chief testified that police expected an enraged but more typical protest crowd of Donald Trump supporters. But Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said intelligence collected ahead of the riot prompted the agency to take extraordinary measures, including the special arming of officers, intercepting radio frequencies used by the invaders and deploying spies at the Ellipse rally where President Donald Trump was sending his supporters marching to the Capitol to “fight like hell.”

Pittman’s testimony, submitted ahead of a House hearing on Thursday, provides the most detailed account yet of the intelligence and preparations by U.S. Capitol Police ahead of the insurrection when thousands of pro-Trump rioters invaded the Capitol aiming to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory over Trump.

Three days earlier, On Jan. 3, Capitol Police distributed an internal intelligence assessment warning that militia members, white supremacists and other extremist groups were likely to participate, that demonstrators would be armed and that it was possible they would come to the Capitol to try to disrupt the vote, Pittman says.

“Based on the assessment, the Department understood that this demonstration would be unlike the previous demonstrations held by protesters with similar ideologies in November and December 2020,” Pittman says in her prepared remarks.

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El Chapo’s wife goes from obscurity to celebrity to arrest

CULIACAN, Mexico (AP) — Despite her status as the wife of the world’s most notorious drug boss, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, Emma Coronel Aispuro lived mostly in obscurity — until her husband went to prison for life.

Then, suddenly, she was a presence on social media. There was talk of launching a fashion line. Even an appearance on a reality show dedicated to the families of drug traffickers.

Coronel’s actions did not go unnoticed. And in the wake of her arrest Monday on charges that she had conspired to distribute drugs, there were those who wondered: In embracing the limelight, had Coronel put a target on her own back?

Her behavior was notable in part because she had lived a relatively sheltered life until her part in a grueling trial that drew international attention. But her actions violated unwritten rules about family members, especially wives, keeping a low profile.

Until the trial, “Emma had remained anonymous like practically all of partners of Sinaloa cartel capos,” said Adrián López, executive editor of Sinaloa’s Noroeste newspaper. Then, “she begins to take on more of a celebrity attitude. … This breaks a tradition of secrecy and a style specifically within the leadership of the Sinaloa cartel.”

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Prude’s family says videos show crime; Officers say no

Joe Prude watched in angry disbelief as New York state’s top prosecutor announced there would be no criminal charges against the police officers seen on video pinning his younger brother to the street until he was on the cusp of death.

Prude said Wednesday that videos recorded by Rochester Police officers’ body cameras after they caught up with Daniel Prude, naked on a frigid night last March, are irrefutable proof of a crime.

But attorneys for the seven police officers applauded a grand jury’s decision Tuesday not to charge them, and insisted the videos are only evidence of the officers doing their jobs correctly.

“Murder, manslaughter, something,” is what Joe Prude said he wanted to hear from Attorney General Letitia James nearly a year after his brother died following the fatal encounter with police. Daniel Prude, who was visiting from Chicago, had irrationally bolted from his brother’s home, under the influence of PCP, and it was Joe Prude who called police asking for their help.

“How are you the attorney general and there’s still no charges brought up?” Prude said he recalled thinking as he watched James’ announcement Tuesday, livestreamed from Rochester’s Aenon Missionary Baptist Church, not far from where Daniel Prude died.

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Australia passes law to make Google, Facebook pay for news

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s law forcing Google and Facebook to pay for news is ready to take effect, though the laws’ architect said it will take time for the digital giants to strike media deals.

The Parliament on Thursday passed the final amendments to the so-called News Media Bargaining Code agreed between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday.

In return for the changes, Facebook agreed to lift a ban on Australians accessing and sharing news.

Rod Sims, the competition regulator who drafted the code, said he was happy that the amended legislation would address the market imbalance between Australian news publishers and the two gateways to the internet.

“All signs are good,” Sims said.

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Biden nominates 3 to postal board as delays persist

President Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated three postal experts to the governing board of the U.S. Postal Service, a move that could alter the course of an agency grappling with delivery delays and rumored cuts under its embattled Republican leader.

If confirmed by the Senate, the Board of Governors nominees would bring additional Democratic scrutiny on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major GOP donor whose tenure has been mired by slow service and politicization.

The nominees are Ron Stroman, a former deputy postmaster general; Amber McReynolds, a mail voting advocate who leads the nonprofit National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union. A White House announcement of the move came just after a long and sometimes tense congressional hearing with DeJoy about the agency’s ailing financial health.

“President Biden is committed to the USPS’ success, and these experienced and tested leaders will ensure the USPS is running at the highest of service standards and that it can effectively and efficiently serve all communities in our country,” a White House statement read.

Democrats have been pressing Biden to nominate a slate of potential governors who could oust DeJoy. The six members who currently comprise the board were nominated by President Donald Trump. A spokesman for the Postal Service said it “will welcome all qualified members to the Board of Governors.”

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FDA says single-dose shot from J&J prevents severe COVID

WASHINGTON (AP) — Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19, according to an analysis released Wednesday by U.S. regulators that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic.

The long-anticipated shot could offer the nation a third vaccine option and help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two. Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85% effective against the most serious illness. The agency also said J&J’s shot is safe.

The analysis is just one step in the FDA’s evaluation. On Friday, the agency’s independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the shot. With that advice, the FDA is expected to make a final decision within days.

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. topped 500,000 this week, and the vaccination drive has been slower than hoped, hampered by logistical and weather delays. So far, about 44.5 million Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine made by Pfizer or Moderna, and nearly 20 million of them have received the second dose required for full protection.

Tests showed the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 95% effective at protection against symptomatic COVID-19.

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Amid surge, US tries to expedite release of migrant children

HOUSTON (AP) — With its long-term facilities for immigrant children nearly full, the Biden administration is working to expedite the release of children to their relatives in the U.S.

U.S. Health and Human Services on Wednesday authorized operators of long-term facilities to pay for some of the children’s flights and transportation to the homes of their sponsors. Under the agency’s current guidelines, sponsors can be charged for those flights and required to pay before the government will release children, even if the sponsors have been vetted by the government.

Those costs can sometimes exceed $1,000 per child.

An internal memo sent Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press authorizes facility operators to use government funding for transport fees “in the event that a sponsor is not able to pay fees associated with commercial airfare, and a child’s physical release would be otherwise delayed.” HHS declined to say how many flights would be funded.

HHS has drastically cut its capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly all of the department’s 7,100 beds for immigrant children are full. Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are apprehending an average of more than 200 children crossing the border without a parent per day. Most Border Patrol facilities aren’t equipped for long-term detention, with children forced to sleep on mats in cells where the lights stay on around the clock.

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AP FACT CHECK: Biden on virus deaths, Kerry’s climate crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and his team are getting the numbers wrong when they talk about the enormity of the mounting COVID-19 death toll and the looming climate change threat.

A look at the claims:

BIDEN: “Each day, I receive a small card in my pocket that I carry with me in my schedule. It shows the number of Americans who have been infected by or died from COVID-19. Today, we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead. That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War One, World War Two and the Vietnam War combined.” — remarks Monday.

BIDEN: “As of yesterday, there are 500,071 people who have died from this — 500. That’s more people that died in World War One, World War Two and Vietnam combined, in a year — in a year.” — remarks Tuesday in roundtable with Black essential workers.

THE FACTS: His list of three wars is wrong. Based on conventional measures, coronavirus deaths in the U.S. currently do not exceed those from World War I, World War II and the Vietnam conflict.