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News briefs: China counts 170 virus deaths

Trump's defense shifts to not 'impeachable' even if true

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a striking shift from President Donald Trump's claim of "perfect" dealings with Ukraine, his defense asserted at his Senate trial that a trade of U.S. military aid for political favors — even if proven — could not be grounds for his impeachment.

Trump's defenders relied on retired professor Alan Dershowitz, a member of their team, who told senators that every politician conflates his own interest with the public interest. "It cannot be impeachable," he declared Wednesday.

Democrats pressed hard to force the Senate to call more witnesses to testify, but Republicans appeared intently focused on bringing the impeachment trial to a vote of acquittal, possibly in a matter of days. Even new revelations from former national security adviser John Bolton were countered by the president's lawyers, who used Wednesday's unusual question-and-answer session to warn off prolonging the proceeding, insisting senators have heard enough. 

Democrats argued Bolton's forthcoming book cannot be ignored. It contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden — the abuse of power charge that is the first article of impeachment. 

The vote on calling witnesses is expected by Friday.

China counts 170 virus deaths, new countries find infections

BEIJING (AP) — China counted 170 deaths from a new virus Thursday and more countries reported infections, including some spread locally, as foreign evacuees from China's worst-hit region returned home to medical observation and even isolation.

India and the Philippines reported their first cases, in a traveler and a student who had both been in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the new type of coronavirus first surfaced in December. South Korea confirmed a case that was locally spread, in a man who had contact with a patient diagnosed earlier. 

Locally spread cases outside China have been a worrying concern among global health officials, as potential signs of the virus spreading more easily and the difficulty of containing it. The World Health Organization is reconvening experts on Thursday to assess whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency. 

The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, another type of coronavirus.

Thursday's figures for mainland China cover the previous 24 hours and represent an increase of 38 deaths and 1,737 cases for a total of 7,711. Of the new deaths, 37 were in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, and one was in the southwestern province of Sichuan. 

Wary of irking China, Trump offers rosy take on virus threat

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump had plenty to talk about during his latest big campaign rally, regaling a friendly crowd in New Jersey with his thoughts about impeachment, the economy, the border wall, local politics and much more.

But the president was conspicuously quiet about one big issue that has much of the globe on pins and needles: the spread of a deadly new type of coronavirus.

A self-described germaphobe, Trump has had little to say in public about the new virus that so far has killed more than 170 people in China, sickened thousands more there and led to a handful of confirmed cases in the U.S. 

And he speaks in broad terms when he does talk about it.

"We're very much involved with them, right now, on the virus that's going around," Trump said of China before signing a trade deal at the White House on Wednesday. He said he had discussed the situation with Chinese President Xi Jinping and added, "We're working very closely with China." 

Vanessa Bryant statement: 'We are completely devastated'

Vanessa Bryant made her first public comment Wednesday since the helicopter crash that killed her husband Kobe Bryant, one of their daughters and seven others, taking to Instagram to thank people for the global outpouring of support since the tragedy.

She also announced the formation of a fund to help support the other families that were affected by the crash.

"Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them," Vanessa Bryant wrote. "We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately."

The Bryants would have celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary this April. They had four daughters including Gianna, the 13-year-old who died in the crash.

"There aren't enough words to describe our pain right now," Vanessa Bryant wrote. "I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon."

Biden under pressure to prove he can thwart new GOP attacks

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — With five days until the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden is fending off a new onslaught of GOP attacks over his son's business overseas and facing piling pressure to show Democratic voters he can handle the incoming. 

As Republicans amplified their allegations against the former vice president, accusing him of nepotism and worse in a series of charges stemming from the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the Biden campaign promised an aggressive and direct counterstrategy ahead of Monday's first nominating contest. Biden planned an address Thursday in Iowa at the same time Trump was to stage a rally in Des Moines. 

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The Biden campaign was mindful that the last-minute GOP meddling in the Democratic race provides something of a preview of the election ahead should Biden be the party's nominee. As such, it was a test of whether Iowa voters would see strength or weakness in Biden's response. 

Biden made his case Wednesday by openly mocking Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican, for running a digital ad in Iowa that repeats Trump's discredited theories about Biden's work in Ukraine as vice president and his son's private business dealings there. The ad came a day after Trump's impeachment defense team repeatedly framed Hunter Biden's tenure on an energy firm's governing board as the real corruption in need of investigation. 

"A senator from Florida, sitting in Washington, has decided to start running negative ads against Joe Biden just days before the Iowa caucus," the elder Biden told several hundred Iowa voters in Sioux City. "What do you think that's about? Look, it's simple," he said, returning to an oft-used line: "They're smearing me ... because they know if I'm the nominee, I'm going to beat Donald Trump like a drum." 

Brain injuries in Iraq put attention on invisible war wounds

WASHINGTON (AP) — The spotlight on brain injuries suffered by American troops in Iraq this month is an example of America's episodic attention to this invisible war wound, which has affected hundreds of thousands over the past two decades but is not yet fully understood.

Unlike physical wounds, such as burns or the loss of limbs, traumatic brain injuries aren't obvious and may take time to diagnose. The full impact may not be evident for some time, as studies have shown links between TBI and mental health problems. They cannot be dismissed as mere "headaches" — the word used by President Donald Trump as he said the injuries suffered by the troops in Iraq were not necessarily serious.

"TBI is a serious injury and one that cannot be taken lightly," said William Schmitz, national commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "TBI is known to cause depression, memory loss, severe headaches, dizziness and fatigue," sometimes with long-term effects. 

The VFW called on Trump to apologize for his "misguided remarks."

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., a New Jersey Democrat and founder of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, faulted Trump for displaying "a clear lack of understanding of the devastating impacts of brain injury."

Do masks offer protection from new virus? It depends

SEATTLE (AP) — People around the world are buying up protective face masks in hopes of keeping the new virus from China at bay. Some companies have required them for employees. Schools in South Korea have told parents to equip their children with masks and hand sanitizer when they return from winter vacation.

But do the masks work? It depends.

All viruses are small enough to get through a typical strap-on medical mask, but the germs don't generally spread through the air one at a time, said Dr. Mark Denison of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Denison studies SARS and MERS, which are coronaviruses, the same family as the new virus.

Instead, viruses ride from person to person on droplets from a sneeze or cough. Those droplets land on hands and other surfaces, where they are touched by others, who then touch their own eyes, noses or mouths.

Masks can block large droplets from a sneeze or cough. That means they have some value, Denison said.

Brexit ends election roles for expat Britons

SAINT-MARTIAL-SUR-ISOP, France (AP) — For many Britons living in towns and villages across Europe, the stroke of midnight Friday will mean losing the right to vote and run for office, with Brexit acting as an electoral guillotine on those privileges.

From being active participants in the communities where they have sunk roots and pay taxes, British expatriates in France, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union will suddenly find themselves on the outside, with no say.

Andrew Nixey must give up his seat on the elected council in Saint-Martial-sur-Isop, the village in west-central France where he has lived and raised cattle for 20 years.

"The fact that we can't vote is illogical," he said in an interview in the kitchen of his lovingly restored farmhouse, after a lunch of homemade bread, soup and British cheeses. "We pay taxes, why should we not vote?"

In the German village of Brunsmark, Brexit is forcing Scotsman Iain Macnab to cut short his third term as mayor that wasn't due to end until 2023. German authorities told him last year that his voting rights and, with them, his mayorship of the village of 170 people must end with Britain's EU exit.

Katie Sowers trailblazer as 1st woman coach at Super Bowl

MIAMI (AP) — Katie Sowers answered questions on topics ranging from whether it hurt getting her ears pierced (no) to if she wants to be an NFL head coach one day (yes). 

For the full 60 minutes of the San Francisco 49ers' portion of media night on Monday, Sowers talked with reporters from around the world on making history as the first woman and first openly gay coach to work the Super Bowl. 

"I'm waiting for someone to tell me that this is all a joke, and they're going to be like 'Psych! You're not really there. You're not really a football coach,'" Sowers said. "It's one of those things that you really start to look around you and take advantage of every single day, especially with things happening in the news. You really appreciate the moment."

Being the first woman to coach in the Super Bowl may be surreal. Sowers makes very clear she hopes she's blazing a path for many more to follow. 

"I feel like a broken record, but what I want to continue to say is that even though I'm the first, the most important thing is I'm not the last and we continue to grow it," Sowers said.