Briefs: Debating a national crisis

Members of the media gather for a walk-through of the stage set-up for the first democratic debate, Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Ten presidential candidates, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are set to converge on the debate stage on the first night of Democratic debates to offer their pitches to the American people and attempt a breakout moment for their campaigns. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Associated Press

Stage is set for a debate like no other in history

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — In an election year like no other, the first debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, could be a pivotal moment in a race that has remained stubbornly unchanged in the face of historic tumult.

The Tuesday night debate will offer a massive platform for Trump and Biden to outline their starkly different visions for a country facing multiple crises, including racial justice protests and a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs.

The health emergency has upended the usual trappings of a presidential campaign, lending heightened importance to the debate. But amid intense political polarization, comparatively few undecided voters remain, raising questions as to how, or if, the debate might shape a race that has been defined by its bitterness and, at least so far, its stability.

Biden will step onto the Cleveland stage holding leads in the polls — significant in the national surveys, closer in the battleground states — but facing questions about his turn in the spotlight, particularly considering Trump's withering attacks. And Trump, with only 35 days to change the course of the race, will have arguably his best chance to try to reframe the campaign as a choice election and not a referendum over his handling of a virus that has killed more people in America than any other nation.

"This will be the first moment in four years that someone will walk on stage as co-equal to Trump and be able to hold him to account for the malfeasance he has shown leading the country," said Steve Schmidt, senior campaign aide for John McCain's 2008 Republican presidential bid and a frequent Trump critic. "If Biden is unable to indict Trump for all that he has done, (that) would be profound failure. There is no spinning that away."

Ethics experts see national security concern in Trump's debt

WASHINGTON — Revelations that President Donald Trump is personally liable for more than $400 million in debt are casting a shadow that ethics experts say raises national security concerns he could be manipulated to sway U.S. policy by organizations or individuals he's indebted to.

New scrutiny of Trump, who claims great success as a private businessman, comes after The New York Times reported that tax records show he is personally carrying a staggering amount of debt — including more than $300 million in loans that will come due in the next four years. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was blunt about the potential implications. "He may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power and God knows what else," said Warren, a frequent Trump critic.

The Times said the tax records also show that Trump did not pay any federal income taxes in 11 years between 2000 and 2018, raising questions about the fairness of a president — who purports to be a billionaire — paying less in taxes than most Americans.

The politically damaging revelations about Trump's tax avoidance, however, are perhaps less concerning than word the president is holding hundreds of millions of dollars of soon-to-mature debt, ethics experts said. 

They wanted disruption in 2016. Now they're Trump defectors

Shawna Jensen's moment of reckoning came in March, as she sat in her suburban Fort Worth, Texas, living room next to her fireplace. Her laptop was open to a Zoom happy hour with five girlfriends. She sucked in a breath, gripping her glass of red wine.

"Hey, guys, I gotta tell you something," she said. The women, all white, Republican, suburban moms, stared back at her. 

Jensen's heart raced. How would they react? What would they think? She never dreamed she would utter these words aloud.

"I'm not voting for Trump this year. My heart will not let me do it. I can't vote for someone who is that ugly to other people."

An uncomfortable pause descended over the screen. "Oh, OK," one woman said, in a strained voice.

Analysis: In debate, a last chance for Trump to define Biden

WASHINGTON — As a presidential candidate in 2016, Donald Trump seized control of the White House race and never let go. He masterfully defined and denigrated his opponents with cutting nicknames and a say-anything debate style, and repeatedly drew his rivals into the controversies he created.

That's proven far more difficult for Trump in the 2020 race. Though he may still be the most visible and visceral force in the White House contest, he has repeatedly struggled to control the contours of the campaign against Democrat Joe Biden. 

The president's attacks on Biden have been scattershot and inconsistent, frustrating some Republicans who believe he has squandered repeated opportunities to define his rival. His efforts to move past the coronavirus pandemic and onto issues he views as more favorable for his reelection prospects, including law enforcement and the economy, have failed to convince many voters that the public health crisis is any less of a concern or that his leadership during the pandemic has been effective. 

Even Trump's rollout of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee on Saturday, a pick aimed at energizing conservative voters, was overshadowed the very next day by bombshell revelations in The New York Times about his personal finances. 

Tuesday's first presidential debate between Trump and Biden offers the president one of his last opportunities to reshape the race and color voters' impressions of the former vice president. But with just five weeks until Election Day, voting already underway in some battleground states, and partisan views among many voters deeply entrenched, some Republicans say Trump may have effectively run out of time. 

A viral march across the planet, tracked by a map in motion

On a Thursday night in early January, the disease that would become known as COVID-19 claimed its first victim, a 61-year-old man who succumbed to the newly identified coronavirus in the city of Wuhan, in the People's Republic of China. 

Nine months later, the pandemic took its millionth life. And while the vagaries of record-keeping mean we may never know who that victim was, the fact remains: COVID has killed a million people.

Tens of millions of things undone. Daughters and sons unborn, works of genius uncreated. Pieces of communities — excised. Entire residential complexes filled with older people — ravaged. Human contribution melted away, with no way of ever knowing or chronicling what was lost. Accounting for what's missing when people die is never an easy task; now it is one multiplied by an entire million.

A new Associated Press interactive map of the coronavirus' spread — represented by the lives it has claimed — blends data and geography in a way that forces us to see what has happened to the world. And what is still happening to it.

Like so many things in the world, it started small. At first, the map shows only one splash of color: China, the place where the coronavirus silently began its march.

Dying winds give crews hope in Northern California fires

SAN FRANCISCO — Firefighters say they hoped dying winds would enable them to bear down on a wildfire that exploded in the Northern California wine country, prompting tens of thousands of evacuations while a second blaze killed at least three people.

The Glass Fire raged through Napa and Sonoma counties on Monday, tripling in size to around 56.6 square miles (146.59 square kilometers) without any containment.

Some two dozen homes had burned, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The fire north of San Francisco was driving through brush that hadn't burned for a century, even though surrounding areas were incinerated in a series of blazes in recent years.

But dry winds that gave the flames a ferocious push appeared to have eased by Monday evening and firefighters were feeling "much more confident," said Ben Nicholls, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire.

COVID-19 death toll tops 1 million

NEW DELHI — Joginder Chaudhary was his parents' greatest pride, raised with the little they earned farming a half-acre plot in central India to become the first doctor from their village.

For the coronavirus, though, he was just one more in a million.

After the virus killed the 27-year-old Chaudhary in late July, his mother wept inconsolably. With her son gone, Premlata Chaudhary said, how could she go on living? Three weeks later, on Aug. 18, the virus took her life, too — yet another number in an unrelenting march toward a woeful milestone.

Now, 8 1/2 months after an infection doctors had never seen before claimed its first victims in China, the pandemic's confirmed death toll has eclipsed 1 million, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University.

That is partly due to the virus's quickening spread through India, where reported deaths have topped 96,000 and cases are increasing at the fastest rate in the world. 

Bubble hockey champions: Tampa Bay Lightning win Stanley Cup

EDMONTON, Alberta — The joyful yells from the bench could be heard in the empty arena in the final seconds and the roar from players when Commissioner Gary Bettman called for Steven Stamkos to accept the Stanley Cup echoed even louder.

The triumph of winning the NHL championship in a bubble was certainly no less sweet for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Brayden Point scored his playoff-best 14th goal and the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Game 6 on Monday night to finish off the most unusual NHL postseason in history, staged nearly entirely in quarantine because of the pandemic. 

The clock hitting zeros with no fans in attendance set off a celebration for a team that endured years of playoff heartbreak and two months in isolation — and their fans outside Amalie Arena in Tampa celebrated right along with them.

"It takes a lot to be in a bubble for 80 days or whatever long it was," said defenseman Victor Hedman, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. "But it's all worth it now. We're coming home with the Cup."

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