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  • 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.

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  • More than 5.4 million people worldwide – including at least 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 Monday, May 25, continue below: Florida reports lowest number of daily deaths since late March Update 5:04 a.m. EDT May 25: Florida health officials on Sunday reported five new coronavirus-related deaths statewide since Saturday – the lowest day-to-day increase since March 29, records show. According to Orlando’s WFTV, officials also reported 740 additional cases of the virus statewide since Saturday. As of Sunday, the total number of cases in the state was at 50,867, with 2,237 deaths. Read more here. ‘Person of interest’ identified in bias crimes against Asians in Seattle Update 3 a.m. EDT May 25: Police in Seattle are investigating a growing number of crimes targeting Asians during the outbreak. Seattle officers said the attacks started late Saturday afternoon in the heart of Ballard and moved to Golden Gardens Park. They believe one man is responsible for all the incidents. A victim at Golden Gardens Park said the man spat in his face. The workers at Thai Thani Restaurant said the man threw things at them while demanding to know if they are Chinese. “I hear some noise, and I see some guy angry, yelling,' Umboom Moore told Seattle’s KIRO-TV. That was the first time she knew something unusual was happening Saturday night at the restaurant where she works. “Just like some crazy guy,” she said. “So I just started taking pictures.” Her co-worker, Natthiya Chumdee, said he was yelling at her. “Right over there, he smashed the window,” she said. When he asked if she is Chinese, she told him everyone there is Thai. He asked her to kneel and swear to it. “Well, I’m not going to do that,” she said. “He’s starting [to] lose control. And he comes here, and he says, ‘You know, I’m going to slam the door, this table to you.’” The night before, Tonya McCabe got the brunt of his anger. “He said, ‘Are you Chinese?’” she said. “And I said, ‘No, we’re not.’ And he still kept yelling at us. And I said, ‘If you’re not going to leave, I’m going to call 911.’ And then he said, ‘Better [expletive] call 911.’” Just last week, a man was captured on camera shoving an Asian couple as they walked by. They told Seattle police he spat on them, too. The man in these latest attacks is described as white, 5 feet, 10 inches tall, in his mid-20s to mid-30s and is of a muscular build. He was wearing a white shirt and shorts. It is the same suspect description in two attacks at Golden Gardens Park on Saturday night. “I stand back there, and ... yell to him, ‘Get out, leave!’” said McCabe. It has McCabe and the others working at this restaurant finding a different way to get around this city that is now their home. “I’m afraid to like walk on the street or take a bus,” said McCabe. They told KIRO that the man also approached other Asian-owned businesses in the area before apparently heading to Golden Gardens Park. Anyone who recognizes him is asked to call Seattle police. 17-year-old Georgia boy becomes youngest in state to die from COVID-19 Update 2:24 a.m. EDT May 25: The Georgia Department of Public Health said Sunday that a 17-year-old boy has died of the coronavirus, marking the youngest fatality and first pediatric death in the state. Nancy Nydam with the department confirmed the information to Atlanta’s WSB-TV on Sunday. The teen was from Fulton County and had an underlying condition, according to officials. His identity has not been released. More than 1,800 people have died of COVID-19 in Georgia since the outbreak began, with the median age of deaths at 73.6 years old, according to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of COVID-19 in children have typically been less severe, though there has been growing concern and a new warning about a rare condition recently seen in dozens of children nationwide. A spokesperson for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta confirmed that a team of infectious disease and cardiology experts are evaluating several cases in metro Atlanta of children who exhibited Kawasaki-like symptoms and inflammation. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta physician specialists stressed that it appears to be a rare finding with a low rate in Georgia. New York health officials have already issued a warning about a rare inflammatory syndrome that has infected at least 64 children in that state. A spokesperson for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said they have experts for treating the symptoms regardless of a potential link to COVID-19. Families should contact their doctor or visit an emergency room if their child develops signs of illness such as high fever, rash, red eyes, abdominal pain and swelling of the face, hands or feet. US coronavirus cases top 1.6M, deaths near 98K Published 12:43 a.m. EDT May 25: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 1.6 million early Monday 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 1,643,238 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 97,720 deaths. The hardest-hit states remain New York, with 361,515 cases and 29,141 deaths, and New Jersey, with 154,154 cases and 11,138 deaths. Massachusetts, with 92,675 cases, has the third-highest number of deaths with 6,372, while Illinois has the third-highest number of cases with 110,304. Only 16 states and territories have confirmed fewer than 5,000 cases each. Seven other states have now confirmed at least 42,000 novel coronavirus cases each, including: • California: 94,020 cases, resulting in 3,754 deaths • Pennsylvania: 71,563 cases, resulting in 5,136 deaths • Texas: 55,861 cases, resulting in 1,528 deaths • Michigan: 54,679 cases, resulting in 5,228 deaths • Florida: 50,867 cases, resulting in 2,237 deaths • Maryland: 46,313 cases, resulting in 2,277 deaths • Georgia: 42,902 cases, resulting in 1,827 deaths Meanwhile, Connecticut has confirmed at least 40,468 cases; Louisiana, Virginia, Ohio and Indiana each has confirmed at least 31,000 cases; Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota and Tennessee each has confirmed more than 20,000 cases; Washington, Iowa, Arizona and Wisconsin each has confirmed at least 15,000 cases; Alabama and Rhode Island each has confirmed more than 14,000 cases; Mississippi, Missouri and Nebraska each has confirmed at least 12,000 cases; South Carolina has confirmed at least 10,000 cases; Kansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Utah and the District of Columbia each has confirmed at least 8,000 cases, followed by Nevada with more than 7,000; New Mexico and Oklahoma each has confirmed at least 6,000 cases, followed by Arkansas with more than 5,000; South Dakota and New Hampshire each has confirmed at least 4,000 cases; and Oregon and Puerto Rico each has confirmed at least 3,000 cases. Click here to see CNN’s state-by-state breakdown.
  • A South Carolina soldier has died in Afghanistan, WPDE reported. The U.S. Department of Defense announced Thursday that 25-year-old 1st Lt. Trevarius Ravon Bowman of Spartanburg died May 19 at Bagram Air Force Base. He died in a non-combat-related incident. A department news release said the incident is under investigation but didn’t provide details. Bowman was in Afghanistan supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. He was assigned to a unit attached to the 228th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade of the South Carolina National Guard. “It is with heavy hearts and deepest condolences that we announce the passing of 1st Lt. Trevarius Bowman. This is never an outcome we as soldiers, leaders and family members wish to experience,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, the adjutant general for South Carolina. “Please keep the service members in his unit in your thoughts and prayers, as well as his family as they work through this difficult time.”
  • The Republican National Committee and other conservative groups filed a lawsuit Sunday to stop California from mailing ballots to all voters ahead of the November general election. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier this month that the state would mail all registered voters a ballot, while in-person voting would still remain an option, CNN reported. 'Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Gov. Newsom's executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections,' RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement, CNN reported. The lawsuit, filed by the RNC, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the California Republican Party challenges the expansion of absentee voting. '(It) violates eligible citizens' right to vote,' the lawsuit claims. '(And) invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting.' State officials stand by the move. “California will not force voters to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said. “We are meeting our obligation to provide an accessible, secure and safe election this November. Sending every registered voter a ballot by mail is smart policy and absolutely the right thing to do during this COVID-19 pandemic.” The lawsuit is one of nearly a dozen across the country challenging Democrat-led vote-by-mail expansion. The RNC has pored $20 million into the nationwide legal effort, CNN reported. Some states, including Republican-heavy Utah, already conduct their elections completely by mail. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud linked to voting-by-mail, CNN reported.
  • Thousands of convicted felons will be eligible to vote in Florida after a federal court ruled that a law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting is unconstitutional. The law, SB 7066, required people with past convictions to pay all outstanding legal fees, costs, fines and restitution before regaining their right to vote. The law undermined Floridians’ 2018 passage of Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to more than a million people who completed the terms of their sentence, including parole or probation. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle found that conditioning voting on payment of legal financial obligations a person is unable to pay violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by discriminating on the basis of wealth. He said that requiring the payment of costs and fees violates the 24th Amendment, which prohibits poll taxes and violates the National Voter Registration Act. “This is a historic win for voting rights. Judge Hinkle told the state of Florida what the rest of America already knows. You can’t make wealth a prerequisite for voting. This ruling opens the way for hundreds of thousands of Floridians to exercise their fundamental right to vote this November, and our democracy will be stronger for their participation,' said Sean Morales-Doyle, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.
  • A temporary field hospital built for $21 million as the coronavirus outbreak threatened to overrun medical facilities in New York has closed without ever seeing a patient. Plans to transform the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal into a temporary 670-bed hospital were announced March 31, a day after the USNS Comfort hospital ship arrived to help coronavirus patients. Officials also announced a tennis center in Queens would be converted into a 350-bed facility. At that time, there were about 8,400 patients in hospitals citywide being treated for the coronavirus, The City reported. The tennis center opened as a medical facility April 11 when there were 12,184 patients in hospital beds being treated across the city. It cost $19.8 million to renovate and revert the tennis center. It closed earlier this month after taking in 79 patients. The Brooklyn hospital, built by SLSCO, a Texas-based construction company, was supposed to open in April but was not ready for patients until May 4, The City reported. By then, hospital use had been sliced in half, to about 6,000 patients. It closed last week without ever having a patient. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to pay the costs for both hospitals. The two field hospitals were not the only emergency medical facilities in New York that saw limited use. The Comfort left New York after about a month and treating 182 patients, of which about 70% had the coronavirus. Several other field hospitals were built across New York for nearly $350 million. They closed in April without seeing any patients, The Associated Press reported. Built for worst-case scenarios, some of the unused facilities will be kept on stand by for a possible second wave. “As part of our hospital surge, we expanded capacity at a breakneck speed, ensuring our hospital infrastructure would be prepared to handle the very worst. We did so only with a single-minded focus: saving lives,” city spokesperson Avery Cohen told The New York Post. 'Over the past few months, social distancing, face coverings, and other precautionary measures have flattened the curve drastically, and we remain squarely focused on taking that progress even further.” The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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