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    Rep. Steve King is fighting for his political life — but not because he's compared immigrants crossing the border illegally to cattle. His Republican opponents in next week's primary aren't raking him over the coals for making light of rape and incest. His chief rival's ads don't mention the time he wondered when the term “white supremacist” became offensive. Instead, the nine-term congressman known for his nativist politics is fighting to prove he can still deliver for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. Since Republican leaders stripped him of his committee assignments, in a rare punishment, King has been dogged by questions over whether he's lost all effectiveness. Some longtime supporters are turning away, not because of his incendiary remarks but because they think he can no longer do the job. “We all want to feel that we’re being represented in Washington, D.C., that we have a voice,” said Iowa state Sen. Annette Sweeney, a former King supporter. Establishment Republicans in Iowa and Washington, some of whom share King's policy views and have long tolerated his provocative remarks, have largely abandoned the congressman, throwing their weight behind Randy Feenstra, a conservative state senator. That sets up the June 2 primary, a five-way fight in a GOP-heavy district, as a test of whether the establishment can effectively police the party and distance itself from racist and far-right voices who critics say have been amplified in recent years. But Republican activists in King's district, a sprawling swath of corn, soybeans and towering wind turbines, haven't been quick to accept the influence from outsiders. “He’s not what he’s portrayed to be by certain media outlets,” said Barb Clayton, a leading GOP activist in the district. Clayton says she “respects” King and believes his comments about white supremacy were taken out of context. Still, she's backing one of his four opponents, though she won't say whom, because she's worried King's diminished influence would cost him in November. “My primary issue is being able to hold the seat. It makes it more difficult to do that when he’s lost his committees,' she said. Sweeney, who has endorsed Feenstra, offered only glancing criticism of King. “His comments at times were just off the cuff,' she said. “Sometimes some of them might have been him trying to be funny or cute, though some weren't. In fact, some were repulsive.' Still, Sweeney hosted two fundraisers at her home for King in 2012, when he faced what was expected to be a competitive challenge from former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack, a Democrat. King won decisively. By then, King had a reputation for controversial statements about race, immigration and religion. In 2006, King proposed electrifying the U.S.-Mexico border fencing to curb illegal border crossings, saying, “We do that with livestock all the time.” In 2013, he said for every one well-intended “Dreamer,” immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, 100 more “weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling drugs across the desert. In recent years, King received scrutiny for his overtures to foreign, right-wing extremists. The outreach prompted the House campaign committee to pull its financial backing in 2018. King was stripped of his membership on the House judiciary and agriculture committees the following January after he was quoted in the New York Times seeming to defend white nationalism. The punishment sidelined King from defending President Donald Trump during the impeachment hearings, a spotlight King would have relished. It also silenced him on agriculture policy, a blow in a district that ranks second nationally in agricultural production, according to federal statistics. But it hasn't muted King. He's continued to defend his hard-right abortion stance with provocative comments. Asked in August about his opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest, he wondered whether there would be “any population of the world left” if not for births stemming from rape and incest. Feenstra has called the comments “bizarre' but hasn't made them the focus of his critique of King. Instead, the 51-year-old former candy company executive promotes his work in the statehouse on big issues such as tax cut legislation and attacks King for a lack of sway on farming and agribusiness issues. “Steve King, the congressman who couldn't,” the narrator says in Feenstra's television ads. “Steve King couldn't protect our farmers and couldn't protect President Trump from impeachment.” It's a tack Iowa Republicans say is working, in part because it doesn't shame Iowans who have long defended King. “You move away from the argument that he’s an embarrassment and into an argument of effectiveness — when you get into that zone, people say this matters,' said Iowa Republican strategist John Stineman, who's unaffiliated with any campaign in the race. King argues that establishment Republicans have targeted him for being such an effective defender of conservative causes. “It’s no single thing,' King said. 'But it gets back to their argument that this is part of a pattern with me they are uncomfortable with.” But Feenstra's focus on King's diminished role also appears to have hit a nerve. In recent candidate forums, King started telling voters he has struck a deal with House leaders to resume his committee posts if he wins reelection. King told The Associated Press that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he would vouch for him when King appeals to his GOP colleagues for reinstatement. McCarthy has dismissed King’s claim. “Congressman King’s comments cannot be exonerated, and I never said that,” McCarthy told reporters last week. “He’ll have the opportunity to make his case, talking to the members of the Steering Committee. I think he’ll get the same answer that he got before.” If King pulls out a primary win, McCarthy could have another headache on his hands. Some fear mainstream Republicans might leave the ballot empty rather than vote for King, allowing Democrat J.D. Scholten, who lost by 2 percentage points in 2018, to win. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the GOP's congressional campaign arm, declined Friday to say whether it would support King in November or opt for a second time to withhold support. ___ Associated Press writer Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report. ___ This story has been corrected to show Sweeney hosted fundraisers in 2012, not 2014.
  • Republicans are brandishing the latest weapon in their uphill fight for House control this November: votes by moderate Democrats to pass a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill promising benefits for immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally. They're also celebrating their recent capture of a Democratic-held House seat north of Los Angeles. They say it shows they can win suburban districts whose centrist voters fled the GOP two years ago, costing it the chamber's majority. Moderate districts ringing American cities are still the key House battleground. Yet five months from Election Day, Republican prospects for winning control seem slim. GOP candidates are burdened by President Donald Trump’s lingering unpopularity with suburban voters, his slow and erratic handling of the pandemic and an economy with only the faintest heartbeat. They face a potentially crippling fundraising disadvantage against pivotal Democratic incumbents. Coping with those disadvantages is all the more difficult for GOP congressional candidates in the era of Trump, who overshadows messaging by down-ballot contenders. “For many voters, the 2020 election will be a referendum on the president. That’s the bad news,” said former Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. GOP operatives see an opening with the massive coronavirus bill crafted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. It passed the House with support by just one Republican. Citing its direct payments for immigrant workers in the U.S. illegally and other “asinine provisions,” the House Republican campaign arm all but promised attack ads. The House bill is dead in the GOP-led Senate and opposed by Trump. Underscoring the discomfort it produced, 10 of the 30 Democrats from districts Trump carried in the 2016 election voted against the legislation. “For the Trump 30, anything Trump-related is in the danger zone,” said Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior political strategist. Yet Pelosi stuffed the bill with priorities Democrats could embrace, including nearly $1 trillion to help financially struggling local governments. “My ‘yes’ vote shows I’m trying to get $612 million back to my district,” said freshman Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., citing the share he said his communities would receive. Kim represents a central New Jersey district Trump won in 2016. Also buoying Democrats is moderate voters' unremitting dislike for Trump's abrasive behavior and harsh policies. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll this month found 61% of suburban voters disapprove of Trump, little changed over three years. To counter that, Republicans have sought House candidates like Mike Garcia, who won this month's Los Angeles-area special election. He's a businessman, retired Navy fighter pilot and son of a Mexican immigrant. Garcia represents a nod toward diversity for the overwhelmingly white House GOP. Republicans have sought more female candidates, too, hoping to improve an embarrassing look: Just 13 of the 198 House Republicans are women, and two are retiring. Garcia has no prior political record for Democrats to attack, flipping the script on dozens of freshman Democrats seeking reelection who now must defend two years of congressional votes. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who leads his chamber’s GOP campaign arm, wrote colleagues that Republicans can regain the House by “exploiting the legislative records of our opponents with our diverse field of candidates.” But money shortfalls are a problem. All 53 remaining House Democrats in seats the GOP targeted last year, mostly from Trump-won districts and freshmen, have outraised their Republican challengers. In all but 10 of those races, the Democrat had at least a 2-1 advantage. “For Republican challengers who don't have high name ID, that kind of financial disadvantage is almost insurmountable,” said former Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who like Dent clashed with Trump. Only about four dozen of the House’s 435 districts seem seriously competitive. Republicans must gain 17 seats to win control. Since Republicans have more challengers than Democrats, they’ve been hurt more by the coronavirus shutdown. The lack of face-to-face events has complicated attracting public attention and badly impaired fundraising, especially for little-known upstarts. Despite virtual fundraisers and digital solicitations, both parties’ operatives say the ailing economy and lack of physical gatherings have significantly cut contributions. Democratic consultant Sarah Elizabeth Pole estimates a potential 50% drop in giving to congressional candidates this quarter, varying by campaign. “Some people may not be writing as big a check as they would have three months ago,” said Ashley Hinson, a Republican Iowa state legislator challenging Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer. Still, Hinson raised a healthy $1.6 million through March. And she said she’s “having the conversation” about possibly holding physical campaign events in late summer. Wide-ranging Republican attacks on Democrats have included accusations that they're socialists and blasts for backing Pelosi to become speaker, impeaching Trump and not blaming China for the pandemic. With Trump and the economy setting the background tone, Democrats have focused on health care, which carried them to victory in 2018. They're emphasizing Republican efforts to end former President Barack Obama’s health care law, which guarantees coverage for millions of Americans. “House Democrats are the firewall against Republican efforts to take away health care during this worldwide pandemic,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., who leads her party's House political team. Democrats must defend more seats, including from upstate New York and New York City's Staten Island; Oklahoma City; Salt Lake City; Charleston, South Carolina; Iowa; and Virginia. Houston-area Democratic freshman Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, who is white, faces a well-funded GOP challenger in Wesley Hunt, a black Army veteran. In California's Orange County, freshman Rep. Gil Cisneros, who's Latino, has a rematch against Young Kim, a Korean American former state assemblywoman. Republicans seem certain to lose two North Carolina seats with redrawn district lines and could lose another in west Texas. They're defending vulnerable seats in Pennsylvania; central Illinois; Syracuse, New York; and suburban Atlanta, Dallas and Houston. Higher November turnout may help Democrats oust Garcia in California. Whatever campaigning looks like, Democrats have been drawn to the formulation Republican Ronald Reagan used to help win the 1980 presidential election. “I ask people, ‘Do you like being sicker, poorer and weaker than you were four years ago?'” said Sri Kulkarni, a Democrat seeking a suburban Houston seat vacated by a Republican. “Because that's the situation we're in right now.
  • The coronavirus pandemic accelerated across Latin America on Friday, bringing a surge of new infections and deaths, even as curves flattened and reopening was underway in much of Europe, Asia and the United States. The region's two largest nations — Mexico and Brazil — reported record counts of new cases and deaths almost daily this week, fueling criticism of their presidents, who have slow-walked shutdowns in attempts to limit economic damage. Brazil reported more than 20,000 deaths and 300,000 confirmed cases, making it the third worst-hit country in the world by official counts. Experts consider both numbers undercounts due to the widespread lack of testing. The virus “does not forgive. It does not choose race or if you are rich or poor, black or white. It’s a cruel disease,” Bruno Almeida de Mello, a 24-year-old Uber driver, said at his 66-year-old grandmother’s burial in Rio de Janeiro. Infections rose and intensive-care units were also swamped in Peru, Chile and Ecuador, countries lauded for imposing early and aggressive business shutdowns and quarantines. Many experts said the rising death toll across Latin America showed the limits of government action in a region where millions labor in informal jobs and many police forces are weak or corrupt and unable to enforce restrictions. Many governments — even those where the virus is still on the rise — say they must shift their focus to saving jobs that are vanishing as quickly as the disease can spread. In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, unemployment is soaring. The Federal Reserve chairman has estimated that as many as 1 in 4 Americans could be jobless, while in China analysts estimate around a third of the urban workforce is unemployed. Meanwhile, the virus is roaring through countries ill-equipped to handle the pandemic, which many scientists fear will seed the embers of a second global wave of infections. India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls. Most new Indian cases are in Bihar, where thousands returned home from jobs in the cities. For over a month, some walked among crowds for hundreds of miles. Back in Brazil, Vandelma Rosa had all the virus’ symptoms, but her death certificate reads “suspected of COVID-19,” according to her grandson, because her hospital lacked tests to confirm. That means her passing did not figure into the death toll, which marked its biggest single-day increase Thursday: 1,181. President Jair Bolsonaro has scoffed at the seriousness of the virus and actively campaigned against state governors’ attempts to impose limits on citizens’ movements and commerce. Bolsonaro fired his first health minister for siding against him in backing governors’ stay-at-home recommendations and restrictions on activity. His second minister resigned about a month later after openly disagreeing with Bolsonaro about chloroquine, the predecessor of the anti-malarial often touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a viable coronavirus treatment. “In Rio de Janeiro, you see people going out normally, without a mask, in some neighborhoods. They aren’t believing in this disease. And it’s sad that in other countries people believe, but not here,” de Mello said. “You need to lose someone in your family to be able to believe.” On Thursday, opposition lawmakers and other detractors protested in front of Congress in the capital, Brasilia. They called for Bolsonaro’s impeachment, alleging criminal mishandling of virus response. Two of them displayed a Brazilian flag, defaced with hundreds of tiny black crosses to represent the dead. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador downplayed the threat the virus posed for weeks as he continued to travel the country after Mexico’s first confirmed case. He let his health advisers take the lead on the crisis, but continued insisting that Mexico was different, that its strong family bonds and work ethic would pull it through. Mexico passed 6,000 confirmed deaths on Wednesday. The country has recently reported more than 400 deaths a day, and new infections still have not peaked. Many deaths categorized as “atypical pneumonia” are suspected of being COVID-19 but not included in the official count. The true count may be several times higher. Armando Sepulveda, manager of San Cristobal Mauseleum in the massive Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, said his burial and cremation business has doubled in recent weeks. “The crematoriums are saturated,” Sepulveda said Thursday. “All of the ovens don’t have that capacity.” Families scour the city looking for funeral services that can handle their dead “in desperation,” because the hospitals cannot hold the dead for long, he said. The Mexican government has shifted its attention to reactivating the economy. Mining, construction and parts of the North American automotive supply chain were allowed to resume operations this week, but analysts predict a massive economic contraction in an economy that had already entered a technical recession before the pandemic. The pandemic reaches from Latin America’s mega-cities deep into the Amazon jungle. The Colombian town of Leticia, which lies along the Amazon River at the border of Brazil and Peru, has nearly 1,300 cases. Residents are reeling from both the illness and a sudden loss of income, much of which came from tourism. Families have begun placing red cloth flags outside humble homes with tin roofs to show they are going hungry. Authorities in Colombia have pointed a finger at Brazil to explain the sudden rise in infections there, and President Iván Duque has imposed strict measures aimed at keeping cases out, including militarizing the border. But with many informal crossing points, it is nearly impossible to completely seal Colombia off. In Chile, more than 90% of intensive care beds were full last week in the capital, Santiago, where the main cemetery dug 1,000 emergency graves to prepare for a wave of deaths despite a strict, early quarantine. Ecuador’s government declared a 2 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew in March, among other measures, but cases have swamped medical and mortuary services in the city of Guayaquil and, now, in the capital, Quito. Hundreds of people can be seen violating the curfew daily in Ecuadorian cities, many selling goods on the streets to earn enough to buy food. Other rule-breakers aren’t needy. A doctor treating coronavirus in a hospital in northern Quito said he had treated members of a family who threw a Mother’s Day barbeque despite the restrictions. The family's mother and her brother died of coronavirus, and seven relatives are hospitalized. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press. Peru has 2.5 intensive-care beds per 100,000 people, one quarter of the global standard. With almost 109,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,100 dead as of Thursday night, Peruvian media showed images of patients slumped in wheelchairs receiving oxygen. Doctors say most patients are shopkeepers, taxi drivers or street vendors. ___ Sherman reported from Mexico City. Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker in Washington; Franklin Briceño in Lima, Peru; Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador; Eva Vergara in Santiago, Chile; and Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed. ___ Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.
  • As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, Americans’ views of the federal and state government response to the crisis are starting to sour — yet President Donald Trump’s personal approval rating has remained steady. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 41% of Americans approve of the president’s job performance, while 58% disapprove. That’s consistent with opinions of Trump before the pandemic, as well as throughout his more than three years in office. The survey highlights one of the remarkable features of Trump’s tenure as president: Despite a steady drumbeat of controversies, an impeachment trial and now a historic public health crisis, few Americans have changed their views of him. He’s failed to increase his support in any measurable way, yet he also has retained the approval of his core backers, including the overwhelming majority of Republicans. “The Trump presidency is a perfect example of the Rorschach test of politics,” said Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist who worked for Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “People that want to see that the president is doing a good job will see that regardless of where the chips fall. If they want to see that he’s doing a crappy job, they will see that regardless of what happens.” Less than six months from his Election Day face-off against Democrat Joe Biden, the consistency of Trump’s support appears to leave him with the same narrow path to victory that first propelled him to the White House in 2016, even as the pandemic and resulting economic crisis upend nearly every aspect of American life. Biden's campaign believes Trump's uneven handling of the crisis will ultimately cost him his job in November. “The scale of the loss is staggering and it’s infuriating,” Biden said this week. “But more than that, it’s heartbreaking to think how much fear, how much loss, how much agony could have been avoided if the president hadn’t wasted so much time and taken responsibility.' The AP-NORC survey comes as the death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 nears 100,000 people. Robust testing remains a challenge, and a vaccine is months or years away. Yet the scope of the economic toll — nearly 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since March — has also increased the urgency in many states to begin reopening businesses. Overall, the poll shows that 39% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the virus. Just 31% of Americans approve of the federal government's response. Forty-eight percent disapprove, including 20% of Trump's supporters — suggesting that some view the president apart from the sprawling federal apparatus he oversees. Approval ratings for the federal government have slipped as the pandemic has stretched on, from 40% approval one month ago to 31% now. State governments continue to get higher marks from the public, though support there is slipping as well. About half of Americans — 51% — say they approve of the job being done by their states, down from 63% in April. State governments have ultimate control over when and how restrictions on businesses, schools and public transportation are lifted. In hard hit areas like New York City, strict limitations remain in place. In other parts of the country, including Texas and Georgia, restaurants, malls and other businesses have started to welcome back customers. Majorities of Americans continue to favor stay-at-home orders and other virus restrictions, though that support has ebbed over the last month. Trump pushed aggressively for states to start reopening businesses almost from the start of the crisis, outraging many Democrats and frustrating even some Republicans who feared he was dismissing the advice of public health experts and struggling to show empathy with those who were sick or had lost loved ones to the virus. He’s also embraced dangerous and controversial remedies for combating COVID-19, musing in a televised briefing that drinking bleach could help combat the virus. He announced this week that he was taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to ward off COVID-19, despite warnings from the Food and Drug Administration about potentially fatal side effects. The AP-NORC survey shows that 62% of Americans say Trump isn’t listening to health experts enough as he navigates the pandemic response. Among Democrats, 91% say he is not listening to the experts enough. Three in 10 Republicans also say he isn't listening enough, while a majority — 59% — think he is doing about right. “He almost takes pride in doing that,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist. “That is dangerous for everyone.” The federal government's handling of the crisis still ranks above that of Congress: Just 23% of Americans approve of the congressional leaders' response. In March, Congress approved a $2 trillion rescue plan that sent direct payments to millions of Americans and provided loans to both small businesses and large corporations. Work was expected to quickly start on an additional round of rescue money, and the Democratic-led House approved a $3 trillion plan last week. However, the bill faced no prospects of passage in the GOP-controlled Senate, and negotiations on a compromise package appear to be slow-moving. ___ The AP-NORC poll of 1,056 adults was conducted May 14-18 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. ___ Online: AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/
  • A sharply divided Senate confirmed John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence on Thursday, with Democrats refusing to support the nomination over fears that he will politicize the intelligence community's work under President Donald Trump. All Democrats opposed Ratcliffe, making him the first DNI to be installed on a partisan vote since the position was created in 2005. The tally was 49-44. Ratcliffe will take over the agency at a tumultuous time. The nation faces threats from Iran and North Korea, Russian disinformation campaigns to interfere in the U.S. elections and tensions with China over rising competition and the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, Trump has viewed the intelligence agencies with distrust and ousted or fired multiple officials. The Texas Republican seemed unlikely to get the position when Trump in February announced plans to nominate him, as he had already been selected for the job last year and then withdrew after Republicans questioned his experience. But senators warmed to him as they grew concerned about the upheaval in the intelligence community and wanted a permanent, confirmed director. Ratcliffe will replace Richard Grenell, the current acting director who has overseen some of the personnel changes. Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, has a thin intelligence background and is seen as a loyalist to Trump. As acting director, Grenell made personnel changes and ordered reviews of the national intelligence director's office that critics feared were an attempt to clean house. Some members of the Senate intelligence committee said an acting director shouldn’t be engaging in reforming the intelligence apparatus. But Grenell’s office disputed fears of a purge and said some of the reforms he was considering or implementing had been recommended by past directors. The last Senate-confirmed intelligence director, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, was popular with his former colleagues in Congress but left the post last summer after clashing with the president. Democrats allowed a quick vote on Ratcliffe's nomination, dropping their usual procedural delays in a signal that despite their skepticism, they prefer him in the job over Grenell. Ratcliffe insisted during his confirmation hearing that he would be an independent leader, but faced skepticism. A member of the House intelligence and judiciary committees, he has been an ardent defender of the president through House impeachment and investigations into Russian interference. Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and a member of the Senate intelligence panel, said he has concerns that Ratciffe has limited experience in the intelligence community yet extensive experience in politics. “A dangerous combination,” he said. “Now more than ever it is vital that the DNI respect the critical firewall that must exist between intelligence and political calculations — especially if the truth isn’t what the boss wants to hear,” King said. Before being elected to Congress in 2014, Ratcliffe was mayor of Heath, Texas, and a U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Texas. When he was first nominated, senators questioned whether he had enough intelligence experience and whether he was picked because of his willingness to defend Trump. But given a second chance, Ratcliffe worked to separate himself from the president at his confirmation hearing, including by saying he believed Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, a conclusion Trump has resisted. He said he would communicate to Trump the intelligence community’s findings even if he knew Trump disagreed with them and might fire him. Still, the position carries unique challenges, given the president’s seeming inclinations to politicize intelligence and bend intelligence agencies to his will. Trump has openly rejected intelligence community assessments at odds with his own viewpoint, including on Russian election interference. Trump has also shown himself as eager to have intelligence agencies investigate matters that he hopes will support his political positions, with agencies seeking to determine whether the coronavirus was the result of an accident in a Chinese laboratory or if it began through contact with infected animals. In addition, the DNI in recent weeks has been declassifying information from the Russia investigation that Trump allies hope will cast senior Obama administration officials — including former vice president and 2020 Trump opponent Joe Biden — in a negative light. Last week, for instance, Senate Republicans released a declassified list of former Obama administration and intelligence officials who requested the identity of an American from intelligence reports. The American turned out to be former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn. On Tuesday, Republicans released a January 2017 email that Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, wrote to herself. The message memorialized a sensitive conversation about Flynn and his Russian contacts that she had participated in earlier that month with Obama and then-FBI Director James Comey. Grenell declassified the full memo after Republicans requested it. There also have been pushes from some Democrats, and even Flynn’s own lawyer, to release transcripts of phone calls during the presidential transition period between Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those communications, though the Justice Department has since moved to dismiss the case. “No lawyer for Flynn has ever seen it or heard the recording,' Flynn's lawyer, Sidney Powell, said in an email to The Associated Press. “I would want both.” Lisa Ruth, a former CIA officer, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the administration's expectations have made it a challenging time for an intelligence community that is supposed to be apolitical. “The administration has signaled that they see the intelligence community, as well as other agencies, as support for the administration,” Ruth said in a telephone interview. “It puts things in a very different paradigm than what the intelligence community was meant to be and was supposed to be.” -—- Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
  • The Senate is poised to vote Thursday on the nomination of Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence, potentially confirming him sooner than expected, as senators are eager to quickly fill the post. Democrats have been opposed to Ratcliffe's nomination, and most are expected to vote against it. But they dropped their usual objections to holding a quick vote as members of both parties want a Senate-confirmed nominee in the job. Democrats usually force procedural votes that slow the nomination process, but are allowing a quick vote Thursday before the Senate leaves town for the next week. The post is now filled by acting director Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist who has overseen a shakeup in the intelligence community and has raised concerns on Capitol Hill. While Ratcliffe has been similarly loyal to President Donald Trump, he promised in his Senate confirmation hearing to be an independent head of the nation's intelligence agencies and said he would keep Congress informed of important developments. Ratcliffe will replace former DNI Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator who had a good relationship with his former colleagues but frequently clashed with Trump. Since then, Trump, who has long been skeptical of the nation’s intelligence community, has installed acting heads and ousted and fired multiple intelligence officials. The Texas Republican was first picked by Trump for the post last summer, shortly after Coats’ resignation, but then withdrew after some Senate Republicans questioned his experience. GOP senators warmed to Ratcliffe after Trump unexpectedly nominated him again in February, as concerns grew about Grenell and the turnover in the intelligence community. Most Republicans have praised Ratcliffe since his second nomination. But Democrats have been skeptical that he will serve with the independence they say is crucial for the job. At his hearing, Ratcliffe worked to separate himself from the president, including by saying he believed Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, a conclusion Trump has often resisted. He said he would communicate to Trump the intelligence community’s findings even if he knew Trump disagreed with them and might fire him. Democrats were not convinced. The top Democrat on the panel, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, told Ratcliffe at the hearing that “I don’t see what has changed since last summer,” when his nomination was withdrawn. Ratcliffe’s nomination was approved 8-7 in a closed committee hearing Tuesday, with all Democrats voting against it, according to a committee aide. Ratcliffe sits on the House intelligence, judiciary and ethics committees. He was a member of Trump’s impeachment advisory team last fall and aggressively questioned witnesses during the House impeachment hearings. He also forcefully questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller last summer when Mueller testified about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
  • The Senate is poised to vote Thursday on the nomination of Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence, potentially confirming him sooner than expected, as senators are eager to quickly fill the post. Democrats have been opposed to Ratcliffe's nomination, and most are expected to vote against it. But they dropped their usual objections to holding a quick vote as members of both parties want a Senate-confirmed nominee in the job. Democrats usually force procedural votes that slow the nomination process, but are allowing a quick vote Thursday before the Senate leaves town for the next week. The post is now filled by acting director Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist who has overseen a shakeup in the intelligence community and has raised concerns on Capitol Hill. While Ratcliffe has been similarly loyal to President Donald Trump, he promised in his Senate confirmation hearing to be an independent head of the nation's intelligence agencies and said he would keep Congress informed of important developments. Ratcliffe will replace former DNI Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator who had a good relationship with his former colleagues but frequently clashed with Trump. Since then, Trump, who has long been skeptical of the nation’s intelligence community, has installed acting heads and ousted and fired multiple intelligence officials. The Texas Republican was first picked by Trump for the post last summer, shortly after Coats’ resignation, but then withdrew after some Senate Republicans questioned his experience. GOP senators warmed to Ratcliffe after Trump unexpectedly nominated him again in February, as concerns grew about Grenell and the turnover in the intelligence community. Most Republicans have praised Ratcliffe since his second nomination. But Democrats have been skeptical that he will serve with the independence they say is crucial for the job. At his hearing, Ratcliffe worked to separate himself from the president, including by saying he believed Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, a conclusion Trump has often resisted. He said he would communicate to Trump the intelligence community’s findings even if he knew Trump disagreed with them and might fire him. Democrats were not convinced. The top Democrat on the panel, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, told Ratcliffe at the hearing that “I don’t see what has changed since last summer,” when his nomination was withdrawn. Ratcliffe’s nomination was approved 8-7 in a closed committee hearing Tuesday, with all Democrats voting against it, according to a committee aide. Ratcliffe sits on the House intelligence, judiciary and ethics committees. He was a member of Trump’s impeachment advisory team last fall and aggressively questioned witnesses during the House impeachment hearings. He also forcefully questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller last summer when Mueller testified about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she called President Donald Trump “morbidly obese” because he's put down women for their weight. And besides, she suggested, the president could lose a few pounds himself as the coronavirus bears down on the nation's capital. “I gave him a dose of his own medicine. He’s called women one thing or another over time, and I thought he thinks that passes off as humor in certain cultures,' Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference. 'I was only quoting what doctors had said about him, so I was being factual in a very sympathetic way.” For the record, the president is obese, but not morbidly so. Pelosi on Monday called Trump “morbidly obese.” He responded by dismissing her as “a waste of time.” Pelosi's level of sympathy is unclear. Even as the virus ravages Americans and the U.S. economy, the two are barely speaking to each other. They have sparred since the beginning of the Trump presidency and more sharply since Pelosi ascended to the speakership in 2019, for the second time. The topics have ranged from the historic — a government shutdown and Trump's impeachment — to playground-quality name-calling and who has the last word. But really, it's always been about who has more power, a commodity never more critical than during a pandemic that has killed more than 92,000 in the U.S. and left more than 36 million people looking for work. The spread of the coronavirus, which poses a greater risk of death for older adults and people with health problems, is still significant in Washington. Trump, 73, and Pelosi, 80, are working from opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on what's expected to be another multitrillion-dollar rescue package. On that, there was little progress Wednesday. Pelosi's $3 trillion bill, which passed the House along party lines last week, got a chilly reception in the Republican-controlled Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed it as “unserious and so far left.” It took on rules, McConnell noted, governing marijuana policy during the pandemic. He's noted, too, that the House is out of session this week, while the Senate is in Washington. Pelosi, meanwhile, sent a letter to colleagues Wednesday morning triggering a 45-day period in which members can vote by proxy to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Asked about Trump on various topics, Pelosi several times referred to Trump's habit of showing disrespect toward women. The examples predate the 2016 presidential campaign. A 2006 People magazine article, for instance, quoted him as calling comedian Rosie O'Donnell “my nice fat little Rosie.” A decade later, there was the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, the effort to muzzle Trump's onetime paramours and his description of porn actress Stormy Daniels as “horseface.” Despite those details, Trump won the votes of about 39% of women in 2016, compared with about 52% of men, according to the Pew Research Center. His conflicts with women persist as the November election draws near. Recently, he's sparred on live television with female journalists who cover the White House. And he referred to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as “that woman from Michigan” — a critical presidential battleground state. In an average of AP-NORC polls released so far in 2020, 39% of women and 46% of men said they approved of how Trump is handling his job as president. Pelosi returned to those themes several times during her news conference. At one point, she repeated: “The comments he makes about women. The comments he makes about women. So inappropriate.” She lamented double standards. On the unfinished rescue package, Pelosi noted that Republicans went first in proposing the previous, massive version, which she said contained only the GOP's priorities. When she puts forward one with Democratic priorities, her move is cast as “partisan,” she said. And she resumed her criticisms of Trump. On Wednesday, Pelosi cast him as a child who comes in the house “with doggy doo on his shoes.” And she described him as a “confabulator,” a word that in some contexts means someone who fills in gaps in knowledge or memory with made-up stories. “But you know what?” she finished. “Forget about him.” ___ Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Emily Swanson contributed to this report. ___ Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily prevented the House of Representatives from obtaining secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The court's unsigned order granted the Trump administration's request to keep previously undisclosed details from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election out of the hands of Democratic lawmakers, at least until early summer. The court will decide then whether to extend its hold and schedule the case for arguments in the fall. If it does, it's likely the administration will be able to put off the release of any materials until after Election Day. Arguments themselves might not even take place before Americans decide whether to give President Donald Trump a second term. For justices eager to avoid a definitive ruling, the delay could mean never having to decide the case, if either Trump loses or Republicans regain control of the House next year. It's hard to imagine the Biden administration would object to turning over the Mueller documents or House Republicans would continue to press for them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objected to the high court's decision in a statement Wednesday evening. “The House’s long-standing right to obtain grand jury information pursuant to the House’s impeachment power has now been upheld by the lower courts twice,” Pelosi said. “These rulings are supported by decades of precedent and should be permitted to proceed.” The federal appeals court in Washington ruled in March that the documents should be turned over because the House Judiciary Committee’s need for the material in its investigation of Trump outweighed the Justice Department’s interests in keeping the testimony secret. Mueller’s 448-page report, issued in April 2019, “stopped short” of reaching conclusions about Trump’s conduct, including whether he obstructed justice, to avoid stepping on the House’s impeachment power, the appeals court said. The committee was able to persuasively argue that it needed access to the underlying grand jury material to make its own determinations about the president’s actions, the court said. The materials initially were sought last summer, but by the time the appeals court ruled in March, Trump had been impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate. The Justice Department said in its Supreme Court filings that the court’s action was needed in part because the House hasn’t given any indication it “urgently needs these materials for any ongoing impeachment investigation.” The House had opposed the delay on the grounds that its investigation of Trump was continuing, and that time is of the essence because of the approaching election. The current session of the House will end Jan. 3, and lawmakers elected in November will take their seats. The committee investigation “continues today and has further developed in light of recent events,” the House told the justices, citing the “possible exercise of improper political influence” on decisions to seek a shorter prison term for Trump confidant Roger Stone and end the prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, despite his two guilty pleas. Pelosi said Wednesday: “The Justice Department’s continued delay is part of a pattern of the Administration hiding the truth from the public. The American people deserve the truth.” The case is one of several ongoing court disputes between the Trump administration and Congress. The Supreme Court heard arguments last week over whether Trump’s accountants and banks must turn over financial records to House committees. The administration is not a party to the case, but is backing the president. The appeals court also is weighing whether former White House counsel Don McGahn must appear before the committee to answer questions related to the Mueller investigation. And the Justice Department has said it will ask the Supreme Court to step in and kill a lawsuit alleging that Trump is illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel. Mueller’s report detailed multiple interactions between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, and examined several episodes involving the president for potential obstruction of justice. Mueller said his team did not find sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin to tip the election, though pointedly noted that he could not exonerate the president for obstruction. Portions of the report were blacked out, including grand jury testimony and material that Mueller said could harm ongoing investigations or infringe on the privacy of third parties. Grand jury testimony is typically treated as secret, in part to protect the privacy of people who are not charged or are considered peripheral to a criminal investigation. But several exceptions allow for the material to be turned over, including if it is in connection with a judicial proceeding. Lower courts agreed with lawmakers that impeachment is considered a judicial proceeding, rejecting Justice Department arguments to the contrary.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Wednesday that prosecutors have opened a criminal inquiry into leaked tapes that allegedly feature the country's former leader discussing conditions for a $1 billion loan with former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The tapes, which are yet to be authenticated, were released on Tuesday by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, who long has aired unsubstantiated corruption accusations against Biden and his son, who used to serve on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The recordings don't appear to contain anything that would incriminate Biden or his son and were seen by some observers as a political effort to help U.S. President Donald Trump's reelection bid. The Ukrainian investigation was opened on treason and abuse of office charges, indicating it was mostly directed against former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Poroshenko rejected the tapes as a fabrication by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. There was no immediate sign that the probe could be directed against Biden. The Prosecutor General’s Office gave no further details. Trump last year pressured Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens in a phone call that triggered his impeachment. Zelenskiy, who carefully avoided taking sides in the U.S. impeachment inquiry, said his predecessor could be in trouble over the tapes. “They governed the country in such a way that they could face many twists and convictions,” said Zelenskiy, who has repeatedly accused Poroshenko of corruption, accusations the former president has categorically denied. In a Facebook statement, Poroshenko said the tapes were fabricated and described their release as part of a Kremlin-driven effort to “undermine bipartisan support of Ukraine in the United States.” He called Biden a “friend and ally of Ukraine” and criticized Zelenskiy for eroding Western support for Ukraine to Moscow’s benefit. Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has supported a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has killed 14,000 people in six years. The U.S. and the European Union have responded with a slew of sanctions against Russia. The Biden campaign declined to comment on the latest Ukraine developments. Derkach, an obscure figure who has repeatedly changed his political affiliation, doesn't belong to Zelenskiy's camp, but several lawmakers who are members of the governing party announced Wednesday that they would set up a parliamentary panel to conduct their own inquiry into the tapes. Derkach, the son of Ukraine's former security chief, has held a succession of official jobs after graduating from a spy academy in Moscow in 1993. He is reportedly linked to Ihor Kolomoiskiy, a billionaire who owns a TV channel that broadcast a sitcom that made former comedian Zelenskiy widely famous. Since his election, Zelenskiy has sought to distance himself from Kolomoiskiy, who hoped to regain control over his bank that was nationalized under Poroshenko's watch. The Ukrainian parliament recently passed a bill that outlawed the bank's return to private hands. In December, Derkach met with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Kyiv, a move widely seen as part of a campaign against Biden, now the presumptive Democratic nominee and Trump's rival in the 2020 presidential election. Derkach alleged Tuesday that Biden promised Poroshenko in 2015-16, when both were still in office, $1 billion in loan guarantees in exchange for “keeping Burisma's schemes and international corruption in place” by ousting then Prosecutor General Victor Shokin to prevent him from investigating the company. But on the tape Derkach released, the two men introduced as “Vice President Biden” and “President Poroshenko” discuss replacing Shokin as a condition for the loan guarantees, but make no mention of Burisma. Biden has previously said the loan was linked to the removal of Shokin as part of an anti-corruption effort backed by the U.S. government, EU and international lenders. In one of the edited fragments, “Poroshenko” says he convinced Shokin to resign as a “second step” of keeping the promises he made to Biden in a bid to get the loan guarantees. Shokin was eventually fired in March 2016. In another fragment, ”Biden' says that 'now that the new prosecutor general is in place, we’re ready to move forward in signing that new $1 billion loan guarantee.” Derkach said he obtained the recordings from unnamed “investigative journalists” and claimed they were made by Poroshenko. Commentators in Ukraine believe that Derkach was trying to help Trump win the 2020 election. “Derkach clearly plays for Trump,” Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the independent Kyiv-based Penta think tank, told the AP. Fesenko noted, however, that the tape doesn't offer anything incriminating. “There is nothing super sensational in these conversations. Where is the dirt on Biden? Where is the reference to Burisma?' he said. 'None of it is there. Instead these are conversations between a dependent foreign politician and his boss, which is a sad but natural reality for us here, but is unlikely to impress the Americans.”

The Latest News Headlines

  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is asking for victims to come forward after they made an arrest of a man on May 8. Tyler De La Cruz, 30, was arrested on four counts of extortion and three counts of sexual battery. According to JSO, Cruz would use social media as a way to contact people and ask for compromising photos. Once he would get the photos, Cruz would demand money and sexual acts. Police say that they believe there may be other victims. Anyone with any information is asked to contact JSO at 904-630-0500.
  • Commissioners from St. Johns County voted this morning to officially ask Elon Musk and the Tesla Company to move to St. Johns County. Earlier this month, Elon Musk was tweeting about how the stay-at home restrictions in Alameda County, California were “facist” and robbed people from their freedom of going back to work. Since then, several cities and states have reached out to Tesla saying they are more than welcome to relocate the car-making plant. That now includes St. Johns County. 'Tesla, Inc., is hereby respectfully and enthusiastically invited to consider St. Johns County, Florida, as a potential destination in the relocation of its headquarters or any future programs,' the resolution states. The resolution also states several facts about St. Johns County, listing why it would be a good place to relocate the headquarters. “St. Johns County, while we have experienced a devastating virus, we are still open for business and we have got to employ our residents so they can put food on the table,” Commissioner James Johns said. This vote was a followup to a discussion by the commissioners on May 19. 
  • More than 5.5 million people worldwide – including more than 1.6 million in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. While efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak continue, states have begun to shift their focus toward reopening their economies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the U.S. here. Live updates for Tuesday, May 26, continue below:  Officials urge people who crowded Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks to self-quarantine Update 12:55 p.m. EDT May 26: Leaders in Kansas City and St. Louis are urging people who partied close together at Lake of the Ozarks over the Memorial Day weekend to self-quarantine for two weeks. Big crowds were reported at swimming pools, bars and restaurants at the popular central Missouri lake. Postings showed people without masks partying and swimming together, seemingly ignoring guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and from the state, to keep at least 6 feet apart. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called it “reckless behavior.” He asked the county’s health department to issue a travel advisory, citing concerns raised by residents and employers just as the county was beginning to reopen after weeks of shutdown caused by the virus. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, both Democrats, took to Twitter to express their disappointment with the crowds at the lake, which draws from the metropolitan areas on both sides of the state, along with neighboring Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas and Iowa. “If you were part of a group that didn’t socially distance or wear masks, please, for the health of your family, coworkers and friends, stay home for the next 14 days,” Krewson said in a tweet. Kansas City Health Director Rex Archer echoed the call for a 14-day self-quarantine. 703 new cases of COVID-19 reported in New Jersey Update 12:45 p.m. EDT May 26: Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey said Tuesday that 703 new coronavirus infections have been reported, raising the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state to 155,764. Murphy noted that reports of new cases, which fell Tuesday below the more than 900 new cases reported one day earlier, might be delayed due to the long holiday weekend. “The key metrics from our hospitals continue to move in the right direction,” he said in a Twitter post. “We continue to see many positive signs that we can keep moving forward. We’re seeing many more good days than bad.' Officials also reported 54 more deaths associated with the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, 11,191 people have died statewide of COVID-19. Pence’s press secretary returns to work after recovering from COVID-19 Update 12:40 p.m. EDT May 26: Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, said Tuesday that she’s returned to work after recovering from a coronavirus infection. President Donald Trump said May 8 that Miller was diagnosed with COVID-19 “all of a sudden.” Miller said Tuesday that she tested negative three times for COVID-19 before returning to work. “Thank you to all my amazing doctors and everyone who reached out with support,” Miller wrote Tuesday in a tweet. “I couldn’t have done it without my amazing husband who took great care of his pregnant wife.” Miller is married to Stephen Miller, the president’s senior adviser. New Jersey allows professional sports teams return to training, competition Update 12:25 p.m. EDT May 26: Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey announced Tuesday that professional sports teams are now allowed to resume training and competition in the state. “While leagues make their own decisions about operations, I am confident that teams are equipped to practice and eventually play in a responsible manner, protecting the health and safety of players, coaches, and team personnel,” the governor said, according to NBC News. New York Gov. Cuomo to meet with President Trump on Wednesday Update 12:10 p.m. EDT May 26: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said he will meet Wednesday with President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. Cuomo said at a news conference Tuesday that he plans “to talk about a number of things” with the president, including the possibility of ramping up infrastructure projects to boost the economy. “There is no better time to build than right now,” Cuomo said. “You need to create jobs and you need to renew and repair this country’s economy and it’s infrastructure. Now is the time to do it. It’s especially the time to do it when some of the volume is lower.” Jacksonville, Florida mayor says city ‘would be honored’ to host RNC Update 12 p.m. EDT May 26: The mayor of Jacksonville, Florida said Tuesday that the city “would be honored to host the Republican National Convention” after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the convention from North Carolina due to the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. >> Read more on WFTV.com In a series of Twitter posts, Mayor Lenny Curry said his administration and Gov. Ron DeSantis “have created a regulatory framework that operates in (a) way that is attractive to significant events like these.” He offered up the city’s partnership with the UFC, which led to several fan-free shows at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena earlier this month, as evidence that the city “has strongly demonstrated the ability to host large events in a safe (and) responsible way.' Earlier Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said his state would be willing and able to safely host the RNC, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 at the Spectrum Center and Charlotte Convention Center. As of Tuesday morning, 50,916 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus infections in Florida and 2,259 people have died the viral infection. Officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health said 43,586 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed statewide as of Tuesday morning with 1,853 people killed by the viral infection. In North Carolina, officials said that as of Tuesday morning, 24,140 people had been diagnosed with coronavirus infections and 766 people have died statewide. 73 new fatal coronavirus cases reported in New York Update 11:35 a.m. EDT May 26: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said Tuesday that 73 more people have died of COVID-19 statewide. The number was slightly less than the 95 new fatal cases reported one day earlier. Georgia offers to host RNC after Trump threatens to pull convention from North Carolina Update 11:10 a.m. EDT May 26: Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia on Tuesday offered his state up as host of the Republican National Convention after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the RNC from it’s planned setting in North Carolina over the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention,' Kemp wrote in a post on Twitter. Trump said in a series of tweets published Monday that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper must immediately tell organizers whether or not they’ll be able to host the convention as expected from Aug. 24 to Aug. 27 at the Spectrum Center and Charlotte Convention Center. “Plans are being made by thousands of enthusiastic Republicans and others to head to beautiful North Carolina in August,” the president wrote. “They must be immediately given an answer by the governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied.” Cooper said Monday that state health officials are working with the Republican National Committee and reviewing their plans for holding the convention, WSOC-TV reported. “North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety,” Cooper said, according to WSOC-TV. As of Tuesday morning, 24,140 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus infections in North Carolina and 766 people have died, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health said 43,586 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed statewide as of Tuesday morning with 1,853 people killed by the viral infection. New Jersey to allow for socially distanced graduation ceremonies Update 10:45 a.m. EDT May 26: Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey announced Tuesday that schools will be allowed to begin holding outdoor graduation ceremonies in July provided they comply with social distancing measures. Murphy said the ceremonies will be allowed beginning July 6. The date is about two weeks later than graduations are typically held, according to North Jersey.com. 4,043 new coronavirus infections reported in the UK Update 10:35 a.m. EDT May 26: Officials in the United Kingdom reported 4,043 new coronavirus infections Tuesday morning, raising the country’s total number of infections to 265,227. Officials said that as of 5 p.m. local time Monday, the most recent date for which data was available, 37,048 people had died nationwide of COVID-19. Wall Street up as recovery hopes overshadow virus worries Update 9:50 a.m. EDT May 26: Wall Street opened sharply higher Tuesday as hopes for economic recovery overshadow worries over the coronavirus pandemic. The S&P 500 jumped to nearly a 3-month high, recovering much of its post-pandemic losses. Investors are shifting their focus to how various nations are adapting to getting back to business, while striving to keep new COVID-19 cases in check. Reassuring comments by the head of China’s central bank also helped spur buying. Benchmarks in Paris, London and Tokyo also gained on Tuesday. Brooklyn Nets allowed to begin voluntary player workouts, reopen training facility Update 9:05 a.m. EDT May 26: Officials with the Brooklyn Nets said the NBA team plans to reopen its practice training facility Tuesday, two days after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said professional sports teams in the state would be allowed to begin spring training statewide. In a statement obtained by CNN, team officials said they plan to reopen the HSS Training Center for voluntary player workouts beginning Tuesday. “The organization will strictly follow the protocols outlined by the NBA and infectious disease experts to ensure that all precautions are taken in order to maintain a safe and healthy environment for players and staff,” the statement said, according to CNN. Several Nets players, including Kevin Durant, tested positive for coronavirus infections in March. Global deaths near 347K, total cases soar past 5.5M Update 7:44 a.m. EDT May 26: The global death toll attributed to the novel coronavirus reached 346,700 early Tuesday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. In the four months since the virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, it has infected at least 5,518,905 people worldwide. Meanwhile, 13 nations now have total infection counts higher than China’s 84,102.  The 10 nations with the highest number of infections recorded to date are as follows: • The United States has reported 1,662,768 cases, resulting in 98,223 deaths. • Brazil has recorded 374,898 cases, resulting in 23,473 deaths. • Russia has confirmed 362,342 cases, resulting in 3,807 deaths. • The United Kingdom has reported 262,547 cases, resulting in 36,996 deaths. • Spain has confirmed 235,400 cases, resulting in 26,834 deaths. • Italy has reported 230,158 cases, resulting in 32,877 deaths. • France has confirmed 183,067 cases, resulting in 28,460 deaths. • Germany has reported 180,802 cases, resulting in 8,323 deaths. • Turkey has recorded 157,814 cases, resulting in 4,369 deaths • India has recorded 146,371 cases, resulting in 4,187 deaths. Colorado restaurant owners sue state over Mother’s Day license suspension Update 7:08 a.m. EDT May 26: The owners of a Colorado restaurant who defied statewide shutdown orders by allowing throngs of customers to dine on Mother’s Day have field suit against the state for having their license suspended. The suit was filed Friday by the owners of C&C Coffee & Kitchen in Castle Rock against Gov. Jared Polis; the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and its director; and the local tri-county health department in Douglas County District Court, The Washington Post reported. The suit alleges owners Jesse and April Arellano were denied their “livelihood and ability to operate their business after they simply allowed customers onto their premises to serve food and beverages.” More specifically, it claims that Polis’ statewide restrictions lack empirical evidence to accurately quantify the novel coronavirus pandemic’s toll because they are based on “fluctuating, often inaccurate projections,” the Post reported. Meanwhile, Polis announced Monday that Colorado restaurants will be allowed to reopen dining rooms beginning Wednesday but with strict capacity measures enforced, The Denver Post reported. Global coronavirus cases top 5.5 million Update 5:53 a.m. EDT May 26: The worldwide total of novel coronavirus cases eclipsed 5.5 million early Tuesday. According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, a total of 5,508,904 cases have now been diagnosed globally, resulting in at least 346,508 deaths. South Korea links nearly 250 coronavirus cases to popular Seoul entertainment district Published 4:41 a.m. EDT May 26: A popular nightlife district in South Korean capital Seoul has been linked officially to 247 novel coronavirus cases since social distancing restrictions were eased. According to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 83,000 tests have been performed specific to the Itaweon district outbreak, and about 30% of those who tested positive have remained asymptomatic. D.C. officials confident they can contain coronavirus by July Published 3:33 a.m. EDT May 26: The greater Washington, D.C., area could have enough testing equipment, laboratory capacity and contact tracers to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, but only if the public remains vigilant, The Washington Post reported. According to public health officials in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, the region is expected to reach peak capacity for testing and tracing by June or early July, the Post reported. Read more here. Largest Latin American airline files for bankruptcy amid coronavirus disruptions Update 2:14 a.m. EDT May 26: LATAM Airlines Group has filed for bankruptcy, and the largest Latin American airline cites the novel coronavirus pandemic as the primary cause. In a statement posted to its website, the company said it will reorganize operations under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States. Specifically, CEO Roberto Alvo said LATAM will refocus “on transforming our group to adapt to a new and evolving way of flying, with the health and safety of our passengers and employees being paramount.' No immediate impact is expected to affect reservations, employee pay, flight vouchers or passenger and cargo operations, according to the statement. US coronavirus cases approach 1.7M, deaths surpass 98K Update 1:08 a.m. EDT May 26: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States surged toward 1.7 million early Tuesday across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, there are at least 1,662,302 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 98,223 deaths.  The hardest-hit states remain New York with 362,764 cases and 29,229 deaths and New Jersey with 155,092 cases and 11,147 deaths. Massachusetts, with 93,271 cases, has the third-highest number of deaths with 6,416, while Illinois has the third-highest number of cases with 112,017. Only 16 states and territories have confirmed fewer than 6,000 cases each. Five other states have now confirmed at least 51,000 novel coronavirus cases each, including: • California: 96,400 cases, resulting in 3,769 deaths • Pennsylvania: 71,925 cases, resulting in 5,146 deaths • Texas: 56,409 cases, resulting in 1,533 deaths • Michigan: 54,881 cases, resulting in 5,241 deaths • Florida: 51,746 cases, resulting in 2,252 deaths Meanwhile, Maryland, Georgia and Connecticut each has confirmed at least 40,000 cases; Louisiana, Virginia, Ohio and Indiana each has confirmed at least 31,000 cases; Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota, Tennessee and Washington each has confirmed at least 20,000 cases; Iowa, Arizona and Wisconsin each has confirmed at least 15,000 cases; Alabama and Rhode Island each has confirmed at least 14,000 cases, followed by Mississippi with 13,458; Missouri and Nebraska each has confirmed at least 12,000 cases, followed by South Carolina with 10,178 and Kansas with 9,125; Delaware, Kentucky, Utah and the District of Columbia each has confirmed at least 8,000 cases; Nevada and New Mexico each has confirmed at least 7,000 cases; Oklahoma and Arkansas each has confirmed at least 6,000 cases. Click here to see CNN’s state-by-state breakdown. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The FBI is investigating after video surfaced early Tuesday that appeared to show a police officer holding a knee against a man’s neck as he struggled to breathe shortly before he was pronounced dead at a hospital. The 10-minute video was caught by Darnella Frazier, who was on her way to meet with friends Monday night when she saw a man on the ground near a police cruiser and began to record, The Washington Post reported. In the video, later posted on Facebook, the man on the ground can be heard shouting that he can't breathe. “Don’t kill me!” he said, according to the Post. In a news briefing early Tuesday with police Chief Medaria Arradondo, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the officer seen in the video with his knee to the man’s neck “failed in the most basic human sense,” according to KARE. 'For five minutes we watched as a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a black man,' he said. 'For five minutes.' Police said they were called around 8 p.m. Monday to a report of a forgery in progress on the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South. Officers who responded found a man in his 40s who was believed to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Police said officers ordered him to step away from his car and that afterward he “physically resisted officers.” 'Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress,' police said in a statement released after the incident. 'Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.' In video of the incident, bystanders can be heard questioning officers’ treatment of the man. “He’s not even resisting arrest right now, bro,” a bystander tells one of the two responding officers in the video, according to WCCO. “You’re (expletive) stopping his breathing right now, you think that’s cool?” The video shows when the man on the ground appears to lose consciousness. “Whatever the investigation reveals, it does not change the simple truth … that he should be with us this morning,” Frey said Tuesday, according to KARE. The two officers who responded to the incident have been placed on paid administrative leave as authorities investigate, according to WCCO. Neither the officers nor the man who died were identified.
  • Washington Insider Jamie Dupree first reported over the weekend that the President had raised the possibility of moving the GOP convention from North Carolina. Then Vice President Mike Pence floated Florida, Georgia and Texas as possible second choices.  And Politico reports that Jacksonville could make a pitch to serve as host.  Mayor Lenny Curry told Playbook that he’s interested in the convention and that his city has already shown it is ready, according to reporters Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon.  Meantime, Jamie Dupree reports that Democrats still haven’t figured out what they’re doing in Milwaukee in August. 

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