Biden's declaration: America's democracy 'is rising anew'

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden declared that "America is rising anew" as he called for an expansion of federal programs to drive the economy past the pandemic and broadly extend the social safety net on a scale not seen in decades.

Biden's nationally televised address to Congress, his first, raised the stakes for his ability to sell his plans to voters of both parties, even if Republican lawmakers prove resistant. The president is following Wednesday night's speech by pushing his plans in person, beginning in Georgia on Thursday and then on to Pennsylvania and Virginia in the days ahead.

In the address, Biden pointed optimistically to the nation's emergence from the coronavirus scourge as a moment for America to prove that its democracy can still work and maintain primacy in the world.

Speaking in highly personal terms while demanding massive structural changes, the president marked his first 100 days in office by proposing a $1.8 trillion investment in children, families and education to help rebuild an economy devastated by the virus and compete with rising global competitors. 

His speech represented both an audacious vision and a considerable gamble. He is governing with the most slender of majorities in Congress, and even some in his own party have blanched at the price tag of his proposals. 

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GOP's Sen. Scott suggests Dems use race as political weapon

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Tim Scott accused Democrats on Wednesday of dividing the country and suggested they're wielding race as "a political weapon," using the official Republican response to President Joe Biden's maiden speech to Congress to credit the GOP for leading the country out of its pandemic struggles and toward a hopeful future.

Scott, R-South Carolina, in his nationally televised rebuttal of Biden's address, belittled the new president's initial priorities — aimed at combating the deadly virus and spurring the economy — as wasteful expansions of big government.

"We should be expanding options and opportunities for all families," said Scott, who preaches a message of optimism while remaining a loyal supporter of former President Donald Trump, "not throwing money at certain issues because Democrats think they know best."

Citing the partisan battle over Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which Congress approved over unanimous GOP opposition, Scott said: "We need policies and progress that bring us closer together. But three months in, the actions of the president and his party are pulling us further apart."

But the Senate's only Black Republican saved some of his sharpest comments for the fraught subject of race. Scott recounted his rise from a low-income family and "the pain" of repeatedly being pulled over by police while driving but said, "Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country." 

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Analysis: Biden pitches big government as antidote to crises

WASHINGTON (AP) — Forty years ago, a newly elected American president declared government the source of many of the nation's problems, reshaping the parameters of U.S. politics for decades to come. On Wednesday night, President Joe Biden unabashedly embraced government as the solution. 

In an address to a joint session of Congress and the nation, Biden offered up government as both an organizing principle for the nation's democracy and an engine for economic growth and social well-being. He issued a pointed rejoinder to the fiscal philosophy espoused by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, arguing that "trickle-down economics has never worked," and offered in its place an eye-popping $4 trillion in new government spending to bolster infrastructure and remake a social safety net that buckled for many Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We have to prove democracy still works, that our government still works and can deliver for our people," Biden declared. 

One hundred days into his presidency, Biden is riding a wave of early momentum after securing passage of a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief fund and surging coronavirus vaccine supplies across the country. But his ability to enact the next phases of his domestic agenda is deeply uncertain given his narrow majorities in Congress, near-universal opposition thus far from Republicans and wariness from some moderate Democrats. 

Yet Biden, to the surprise of some lawmakers in both parties, has not responded to those political realities by curtailing or moderating his asks of Congress. While he made overtures to Republicans in his address Wednesday, particularly for partnership on infrastructure spending, he also made clear that he was willing to press forward without them, confident that a once-in-a-generation influx of government spending will yield results he can sell to the public in next year's midterm elections and perhaps in the 2024 campaign, if he seeks a second term. 

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India cases set new global record; millions vote in 1 state

NEW DELHI (AP) — India set another global record in new virus cases Thursday, as millions of people in one state cast votes despite rising infections and the country geared up to open its vaccination rollout to all adults amid snags.

With 379,257 new infections, India now has reported more than 18.3 million cases, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry also reported 3,645 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 204,832. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it's unclear by how much. 

India has set a daily global record for seven of the past eight days, with a seven-day moving average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge. And the country's already teetering health system is under immense strain, prompting multiple allies to send help. 

A country of nearly 1.4 billion people, India had thought the worst was over when cases ebbed in September. But mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events that were allowed to continue, and relaxed attitudes on the risks fed by leaders touting victory over the virus led to what now has become a major humanitarian crisis, health experts say. New variants of the coronavirus have also partly led the surge.

Amid the crisis, voting for the eighth and final phase of the West Bengal state elections began Thursday, even as the devastating surge of infections continues to barrel across the country with a ferocious speed, filling crematoriums and graveyards.

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'Clean out our insides': Ethiopia detains Tigrayans amid war

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia has swept up thousands of ethnic Tigrayans into detention centers across the country on accusations that they are traitors, often holding them for months and without charges, the AP has found.

The detentions, mainly but not exclusively of military personnel, are an apparent attempt to purge state institutions of the Tigrayans who once dominated them, as the government enters its sixth month of fighting in the Tigray region. Detainees, families and visitors spoke of hundreds or even more than 1,000 people in at least nine individual locations, including military bases and an agricultural college.

The government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed acknowledges that it has locked up a small number of high-level military officials from the Tigrayan minority. But the AP is reporting for the first time that the detentions are far more sweeping in scope and more arbitrary, extending even to priests and office workers, sometimes with ethnic profiling as the sole reason. 

A military detainee told the AP he is being held with more than 400 other Tigrayans, and lawyers are not allowed to contact them. Even families can't visit. The AP is not using his name for his safety but has seen his military ID. 

"They can do what they want," he said on a smuggled phone. "They might kill us….We are in their hands, and we have no choice but to pray." 

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US indicts 3 on hate crime charges in death of Ahmaud Arbery

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department brought federal hate crimes charges Wednesday in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, charging a father and son who armed themselves, chased and fatally shot the 25-year-old Black man after spotting him running in their Georgia neighborhood.

Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, were charged along with a third man, William "Roddie" Bryan, with one count of interference with civil rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels are also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

The case is the most significant civil rights prosecution undertaken to date by the Biden administration Justice Department and comes as federal officials have moved quickly to open sweeping investigations into troubled police departments as civil rights takes center stage among the department's priorities.

The indictment charges that the McMichaels "armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at Arbery, using their truck to cut off his route and threatening him with firearms." It also alleges that Bryan got into a truck and then chased Arbery, using the vehicle to block his path.

Arbery, 25, was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, by three close-range shotgun blasts after the McMichaels pursued him in a pickup truck as he was running through their neighborhood. Arbery had been dead for more than two months when a cellphone video of the shooting was leaked online and a national outcry erupted.

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AP FACT CHECK: Biden skews record on migrants; GOP on virus

WASHINGTON (AP) — Taking a swipe at his predecessor, President Joe Biden gave a distorted account of the historical forces driving migrants to the U.S. border, glossing over the multitudes who were desperate to escape poverty in their homelands when he was vice president.

In his speech to Congress on Wednesday night, Biden also made his spending plans sound more broadly supported in Washington than they are.

The Republican response to Biden's speech departed from reality particularly on the subject of the pandemic. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina tried to give the Trump administration credit for turning the tide on the coronavirus in what was actually the deadliest phase.

A look at some of the claims:

IMMIGRATION

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Feds raid Giuliani's home, office, escalating criminal probe

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal agents raided Rudy Giuliani's Manhattan home and office Wednesday, seizing computers and cellphones in a major escalation of the Justice Department's investigation into the business dealings of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer.

Giuliani, the 76-year-old former New York City mayor once celebrated for his leadership after 9/11, has been under federal scrutiny for several years over his ties to Ukraine. The dual searches sent the strongest signal yet that he could eventually face federal charges.

Agents searched Giuliani's Madison Avenue apartment and Park Avenue office, people familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press. The warrants, which required approval from the top levels of the Justice Department, signify that prosecutors believe they have probable cause that Giuliani committed a federal crime — though they do not guarantee that charges will materialize.

A third search warrant was served on a phone belonging to Washington lawyer Victoria Toensing, a former federal prosecutor and close ally of Giuliani and Trump. Her law firm issued a statement saying she was informed that she is not a target of the investigation.

The full scope of the investigation is unclear, but it at least partly involves Giuliani's dealings in Ukraine, law enforcement officials have told the AP.

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Young women, grown up without Taliban, dread their return

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Inside Ms. Sadat's Beauty Salon in Afghanistan's capital, Sultana Karimi leans intently over a customer, meticulously shaping her eyebrows. Make-up and hair styling is the 24-year-old's passion, and she discovered it, along with a newfound confidence, here in the salon.

She and the other young women working or apprenticing in the salon never experienced the rule of the Taliban over Afghanistan. 

But they all worry that their dreams will come to an end if the hard-line militants regain any power, even if peacefully as part of a new government. 

"With the return of Taliban, society will be transformed and ruined," Karimi said. "Women will be sent into hiding, they'll be forced to wear the burqa to go out of their homes." 

She wore a bright yellow blouse that draped off her shoulders as she worked, a style that's a bit daring even in the all-women space of the salon. It would have been totally out of the question under the Taliban, who ruled until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. In fact, the Taliban banned beauty salons in general, part of a notoriously harsh ideology that often hit women and girls the hardest, including forbidding them education and the right to work or even to travel outside their home unaccompanied by a male relative.

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China launches main part of its 1st permanent space station

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday launched the main module of its first permanent space station that will host astronauts long term, the latest success for a program that has realized a number of its growing ambitions in recent years. 

The Tianhe, or "Heavenly Harmony," module blasted into space atop a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan, marking another major advance for the country's space exploration. 

The launch begins the first of 11 missions necessary to complete, supply and crew the station by the end of next year. 

China's space program has also recently brought back the first new lunar samples in more than 40 years and expects to land a probe and rover on the surface of Mars later next month. 

Minutes after the launch, the fairing opened to expose the Tianhe atop the core stage of the rocket, with the characters for "China Manned Space" emblazoned on its exterior. Soon after, it separated from the rocket, which will orbit for about a week before falling to Earth, and minutes after that, opened its solar arrays to provide a steady energy source. 

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