Briefs: Pressure mounts on divided Senate

People gather at the Supreme Court in Washington, to honor the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the high court's liberal justices, and a champion of gender equality. Her death leaves a vacancy that could be filled with a more conservative justice by President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Associated Press

News briefs for September 21st

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden hammered President Donald Trump and leading Senate Republicans for trying to rush a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as pressure mounted on senators to support or oppose a quick vote to fill the seat.

As the Senate returned to Washington on Monday, all eyes were on Republicans Mitt Romney of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa for clues to whether Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to confirm Ginsburg's replacement anytime soon. A day earlier, Biden had urged unnamed Republicans to join Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine in opposing a confirmation vote before the Nov. 3 election. It takes four GOP senators breaking ranks to keep Trump's nominee off the court.

"Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience," said Biden, speaking in Philadelphia on Sunday. "Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have engulfed our country."

Jamming the nomination through, Biden said, would amount to an "abuse of power." 

It was the latest round of ferocious maneuvering that has followed Ginsburg's death at 87 on Friday. Her passing upended a campaign that had, until then, focused on Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the nation's economic collapse and racial unrest that has stoked protests across U.S. cities.

2020 serves another blow as Ginsburg's death ignites fight

WASHINGTON — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death drew mourners to the steps of the Supreme Court, where they sang "Amazing Grace" in the dark. Fresh off a rally stage in Minnesota, President Donald Trump learned of the loss and praised Ginsburg as an "amazing" woman.

Such grace notes didn't last long. They were overwhelmed as swiftly as the sagebrush of Western wildfires, little boats in the hurricanes and hospitals at the height of infections in this year of calamity and a book named "Rage."

With a court seat open, yet another fiery fight is lit between partisans clashing over matters of racism, policing, masks, lockdowns, how to vote and for whom to vote, as one crisis after another pummels the country, bringing no unity and no common heroes, just another flashpoint.

How many more of them can America take? 

Perhaps not since Weather Underground radicals bombed buildings in a drive to "disrupt the empire" and the Nixon-era Southern Strategy seized on racism as a political tool has the country faced tension and turmoil from so many corners at once.

Ginsburg's death puts Roe v. Wade on the ballot in November

It's been a throwaway line in presidential campaigns for years: Roe v. Wade is on the ballot. 

This time it is very real.

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg so close to a presidential election and the vacancy it creates on the Supreme Court, coupled with President Donald Trump's political imperative to energize social conservatives in key states, urgently provided a new frame for Trump's case for a second term. And it has animated supporters of abortion rights at least as much. 

If Trump is able to install his nominee in that seat, both sides agree there's a better chance than ever that Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision established a nationwide right to abortion — could be overturned or gutted. 

"We have been apprehensive for years, but this is more worrisome — this is a seismic shift," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project.

Analysis: US to hit 200K dead; Trump sees no need for regret

WASHINGTON — As the coronavirus pandemic began bearing down on the United States in March, President Donald Trump set out his expectations. 

If the U.S. could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people, Trump said, it would indicate that his administration had "done a very good job." 

In the coming days, the number of U.S. deaths is set to clear the outer band of the president's projections: 200,000, according to the official tally, though the real number is certainly higher. The virus continues to spread and there is currently no approved vaccine. Some public health experts fear infections could spike this fall and winter, perhaps even doubling the death count by the end of the year. 

Yet the grim milestone and the prospect of more American deaths to come have prompted no rethinking from the president about his handling of the pandemic and no outward expressions of regrets. Instead, Trump has sought to reshape the significance of the death tally, trying to turn the loss of 200,000 Americans into a success story by contending the numbers could have been even higher without the actions of his administration. 

"If we didn't do our job, it would be three and a half, two and a half, maybe 3 million people," Trump said Friday, leaning on extreme projections of what could have happened if nothing at all were done to fight the pandemic. "We have done a phenomenal job with respect to COVID-19."

Born to prevent war, UN at 75 faces deeply polarized world

UNITED NATIONS  — Born out of World War II's devastation to save succeeding generations from the scourge of conflict, the United Nations officially marks its 75th anniversary Monday at an inflection point in history, navigating a polarized world as it faces a pandemic, regional conflicts, a shrinking economy and growing inequality.

Criticized for spewing out billions of words and achieving scant results on its primary mission of ensuring global peace, the U.N. nonetheless remains the one place that its 193 member nations can meet to talk. 

And as frustrating as its lack of progress often is, especially when it comes to preventing and ending crises, there is also strong support for its power to bring not only nations but people of all ages from all walks of life, ethnicities and religions together to discuss critical issues like climate change.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, looking back on the U.N.'s history in an AP interview in June, said its biggest accomplishment so far is the long period during which the most powerful nations didn't go to war and nuclear conflict was avoided. Its biggest failing, he said: its inability to prevent medium and small conflicts.

The United Nations marked its actual 75th anniversary — the signing of the U.N. Charter in San Francisco on June 26, 1945 by delegates from about 50 countries — on that date this year at an event scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Family, work and opera filled Ginsburg's final summer

WASHINGTON — She was seeing family. She was exercising. She was listening to opera. She was doing the work of the court. She even officiated at a wedding.

That's how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent the weeks before her death Friday at 87. Those who had been in touch with Ginsburg or her staff recently said she seemed to be coping with treatment for cancer and also making plans for events months away. So the announcement of her death came as something of a surprise, even to some close friends. 

Mary Hartnett, one of her two authorized biographers, visited Ginsburg in mid-August at her longtime home in the Watergate apartment complex next to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. She said Ginsburg was "plowing ahead" despite a cancer recurrence.

"She was trying very hard to treat this, and essentially her body just gave out," Hartnett said.

Hartnett, who wore a mask and tested negative for the coronavirus before visiting, said the justice was continuing to do court work. She also exercised, working out on a treadmill or using a tape made by her longtime trainer, Bryant Johnson. In the evenings, she'd watch "Live at the Met" operas, Hartnett said.

AP sources: Woman accused of sending ricin letter arrested

WASHINGTON — A woman suspected of sending an envelope containing the poison ricin, which was addressed to White House, has been arrested at the New York-Canada border, three law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. 

The letter had been intercepted earlier this week before it reached the White House. The woman was taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Peace Bridge border crossing near Buffalo and is expected to face federal charges, the officials said Sunday. Her name was not immediately released.

The letter addressed to the White House appeared to have originated in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have said. It was intercepted at a government facility that screens mail addressed to the White House and President Donald Trump and a preliminary investigation indicated it tested positive for ricin, according to the officials. 

The officials were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

There have been several prior instances in which U.S. officials have been targeted with ricin sent through the mail.

California wildfire likely to grow from wind, low humidity

LOS ANGELES — The destruction wrought by a wind-driven wildfire in the mountains northeast of Los Angeles approached 156 square miles (404 square kilometers) Sunday, burning structures, homes and a nature center in a famed Southern California wildlife sanctuary in foothill desert communities.

The blaze, known as the Bobcat Fire, is expected to grow through Sunday and Monday as critical fire weather conditions continued due to gusty wind and low humidity. Additional evacuation warnings were issued Sunday afternoon. 

Firefighters were, however, able to defend Mount Wilson this weekend, which overlooks greater Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains and has a historic observatory founded more than a century ago and numerous broadcast antennas serving Southern California.

The Bobcat Fire started Sept. 6 and has already doubled in size over the last week — becoming one of Los Angeles County's largest wildfires in history, according to the Los Angeles Times. No injuries have been reported.

The blaze is 15 percent contained as teams attempt to determine the scope of the destruction in the area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of downtown LA. Thousands of residents in the foothill communities of the Antelope Valley were ordered to evacuate Saturday as winds pushed the flames into Juniper Hills.

Tropical Storm Beta spurs hurricane worries for Texas

OKLAHOMA CITY — An exceptionally busy Atlantic hurricane season was churning along Saturday as the Texas coast prepared for a tropical storm that could strengthen into a hurricane before breaching its shores in the week ahead.

Both the city of Galveston and Galveston County on Saturday issued voluntary evacuation orders ahead of Tropical Storm Beta, as did the city of Seabrook to the north of Galveston.

Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown said in a statement that high tides and up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of expected rainfall would leave roads impassable, especially along the city's west end and low-lying areas.

County Judge Mark Henry said during a Saturday news conference that his concern is also based on rising waters creating a storm surge and that a mandatory evacuation is not expected.

"If you can survive in your home for three or four days without power and electricity, which we're not even sure that's going to happen, you're OK," Henry said. "If it's uncomfortable or you need life support equipment, maybe go somewhere else."

Tropical Storm Beta was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, 235 miles (375 kilometers) southeast of Galveston, Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. 

The system could approach hurricane strength as it approaches Texas on Monday, officials said. Forecasters issued a tropical storm warning from Port Aransas, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana. A storm surge warning was issued from Port Aransas, Texas, to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana.

If Beta makes landfall in Texas, it would be the ninth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. in 2020, tying a record set in 1916, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, where thousands of people remain without power more than three weeks after Hurricane Laura slammed into the coast, there are concerns that Beta could super-soak the region once again. Up to 20 inches of rain (15 centimeters) is possible in some parts of the area, Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Lake Charles, said in a Saturday briefing.

"A lot of people have been saying, 'Is this going to be like Harvey? Is this going to be like Imelda?'" Jones said. "We're not talking about rainfall totals yet that are on the orders of magnitude that we saw with that." Imelda, which struck southeast Texas in 2019, was one of the wettest cyclones on record. Harvey — which dumped more than 50 inches (127 centimeters) of rain on Houston in 2017. 

However, if the storm ends up moving a bit slower than what's being forecast now, rainfall totals could be even higher than 20 inches, Jones said.

"Harvey was a very specific and unique event, but we are talking about the same idea in terms of very heavy, heavy rainfall," he said.

Beta had maximum sustained winds at 60 mph (95 kph) and was moving north-northeast at 2 mph (4 kph) Saturday night.

Forecasters were predicting up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) of storm surge along parts of the Texas coast that included Baffin Bay, Corpus Christi Bay, Galveston Bay and more. Wind, heavy rainfall and life-threatening surf and rip current conditions were also expected with the storm.

Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy remained a powerful hurricane Saturday, with maximum sustained winds at 115 mph (185 kph) and moving northwest at 13 mph (20 kph). Teddy was centered 405 miles (655 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda less than a week after Hurricane Paulette made landfall in the wealthy British territory. 

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Bermuda. Large swells from Teddy were forecast to impact the Lesser Antilles, the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas and Bermuda, and were expected to impact the U.S. East Coast.

Parts of the Alabama coast and Florida Panhandle were still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sally, which roared ashore on Wednesday. At least two deaths were blamed on the system. Roughly 82,300 were still without power in the Florida Panhandle on Saturday. Gulf Power said 95% of its customers in hardest hit Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will have power restored by the end of the day Tuesday.

Meanwhile, residents in Springfield were warned to avoid contact with standing water after 5,000 gallons (about 19,000 liters) of raw sewage spilled into Lake Martin, according to county health officials.

The Salvation Army was distributing roughly 10,000 meals Saturday at 10 locations throughout the Panhandle. 

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