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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Last Updated Aug 8, 2020 at 10:14 pm MDT

Trump order allows some unemployment pay, defers payroll tax

BEDMINSTER, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump has bypassed the nation’s lawmakers as he claimed the authority to defer payroll taxes and replace an expired unemployment benefit with a lower amount after negotiations with Congress on a new coronavirus rescue package collapsed.

Trump’s orders on Saturday encroached on Congress’ control of federal spending and seemed likely to be met with legal challenges. The president cast his actions as necessary given that lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement to plunge more money into the stumbling economy, which has imperiled his November reelection.

Trump moved to continue paying a supplemental federal unemployment benefit for millions of Americans out of work during the outbreak. However, his order called for up to $400 payments each week, one-third less than the $600 people had been receiving. How many people would receive the benefit and how long it might take to arrive were open questions.

The previous unemployment benefit, which expired on Aug. 1, was fully funded by Washington, but Trump is asking states to now cover 25%. He is seeking to set aside $44 billion in previously approved disaster aid to help states, but said it would be up to states to determine how much, if any of it, to fund, so the benefits could be smaller still.

Many states already faced budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic and would have difficulty assuming the new obligation.

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Vote-by-mail worries: A ‘leaky pipeline’ in many states

BOSTON (AP) — Brace yourself for what’s expected to be the first U.S. presidential election conducted mostly by mail. It could be messy.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, voting by mail in a contactless and socially distant way seems like a no-brainer. States have made the option widely available — only 10 now require voters to provide an excuse beyond fear of COVID-19 when requesting a ballot by mail — and some three in four Americans are expected to embrace the option for the Nov. 3 presidential election, up from one in four in the 2018 contest.

But running a vote-by-mail election is surprisingly complicated, and there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong. Validating and counting a deluge of posted ballots in an open and accountable way presents a major challenge, one that only about a half dozen states are fully prepared for.

It doesn’t help that President Donald Trump has waged a vigorous offensive against the idea via a barrage of baseless tweets alleging the imminence of massive voting fraud. Turmoil in the U.S. Postal Service has only heightened concerns surrounding the ability of the nation’s myriad election systems to manage a presidential vote.

Oregon, Colorado and Washington have held successful all-mail elections for years and others including Florida and California expanded capacity long before the pandemic. Nearly everywhere else, the technical and logistical challenges loom large for budget-squeezed election officials with limited experience.

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Schools face big virus test as students return to classroom

Reopening schools is easy. Keeping them open will be the hard part.

As educators prepare to welcome students back to class for the first time in months, schools’ ability to quickly identify and contain coronavirus outbreaks before they get out of hand will be put to the test in thousands of districts around the country.

Newly reopened schools in Mississippi, Indiana and Georgia have already reported infections just days into the academic year, triggering virus protocols that include swiftly isolating infected students, tracing their contacts and quarantining people they exposed.

“It doesn’t matter if you open schools in July, like we did, or if you open in August, September or October. All schools are going to have to deal with the issue of positive COVID-19 test results,” said Lee Childress, superintendent of Corinth School District in Mississippi, where more than 100 students are quarantined at home after being exposed to a handful of infected classmates.

Schools are trying to mitigate the risk of transmission by spreading desks apart, serving meals in the classroom and keeping groups of students together throughout the day. Many schools — but not all — will require students and staff to wear masks, which health experts say is critical to cutting down on spread.

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Fury over Beirut blast fuels protests, clashes with police

BEIRUT (AP) — Public fury over this week’s massive explosion in Beirut took a new turn Saturday night as protesters stormed government institutions and clashed for hours with security forces, who responded with heavy volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.

One police officer was killed and dozens of people hurt in the confrontations, which played out in streets that were wrecked from Tuesday’s blast at the port that devastated much of the city and killed nearly 160 people. Dozens were still missing and nearly 6,000 people injured.

The disaster has taken popular anger to a new level in a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and near bankruptcy.

Activists who called for the protest set up symbolic nooses at Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to hang politicians whose corruption and negligence they blame for the explosion.

The blast was fueled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the port for more than six years. Apparently set off by a fire, the explosion was by far the biggest in Lebanon’s troubled history and caused an estimated $10 billion to 15 billion in damage, according to Beirut’s governor. It also damaged 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

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Oregon trooper injured, 24 arrested in Portland protests

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Protesters in Portland, Oregon, defied police orders to disperse and threw rocks, frozen or hard-boiled eggs and commercial-grade fireworks at officers as unrest in the Northwest city continued early Saturday.

An Oregon State Police Trooper was struck in the head by a large rock and suffered a head injury, police said in a release. The trooper’s condition was not immediately known.

Some demonstrators filled pool noodles with nails and placed them in the road, causing extensive damage to a patrol vehicle, police said. Oregon State Police worked with Portland officers to clear the protesters.

“Officers are having rocks and chunks of concrete thrown at them,” police said on Twitter. “Individuals in the crowd are shining lasers trying to blind officers.”

Since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, protests over racial injustice and police brutality have occurred nightly for 70 days.

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Biden risks alienating young Black voters after race remarks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden’s controversial remarks about race this week risk alienating young Black voters who despise President Donald Trump but are not inspired by his Democratic rival.

When pressed by Errol Barnett of CBS News on whether he’d taken a cognitive test, Biden responded that the question was akin to asking the Black reporter if he would take a drug test to see if “you’re taking cocaine or not? … Are you a junkie?”

In a later interview with National Public Radio’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Biden seemed to draw distinctions between Black and Hispanic populations in the U.S. “Unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things,” he told the Latina reporter.

He later walked back the comment.

Black voters as a whole delivered the Democratic nomination to Biden, powering his commanding win in the South Carolina primary, which rescued his floundering campaign. But that success was heavily dependent on older Black voters. In a general election where Democrats say no vote can be taken for granted, young Black activists and elected officials say this week’s missteps could make it harder to get their vote.

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Brazil makes grim milestone — 100,000 deaths from COVID-19

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil surpassed a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday night, and five months after the first reported case the country has not shown signs of crushing the disease.

The nation of 210 million people has been reporting an average of more than 1,000 daily deaths from the pandemic since late May and reported 905 for the latest 24-hour period.

The Health Ministry said there had been a total of 3,012,412 confirmed infections with the new coronavirus — death and infection tolls second only to the United States. And as in many nations, experts believe that both numbers are severe undercounts due to insufficient testing.

In a tribute to COVID-19 victims Saturday morning, the non-governmental group Rio de Paz placed crosses on the sand on the famed Copacabana beach and released 1,000 red balloons into the sky.

“It’s very sad. Those 100,000 represent various families, friends, parents, children,” said Marcio do Nascimento Silva, a 56-year-old taxi driver who lost his children in the pandemic and joined the tribute.

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s false push on preexisting conditions

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is teasing the possibility of executive action to require health insurance companies to cover preexisting medical conditions, something that he says “has never been done before.”

It’s been done before.

People with such medical problems have health insurance protections because of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Trump is trying to dismantle.

A look at Trump’s claim during a news conference Friday evening in Bedminster, New Jersey:

TRUMP: “Over the next two weeks, I’ll be pursuing a major executive order requiring health insurance companies to cover all preexisting conditions for all customers. That’s a big thing. I’ve always been very strongly in favour. … This has never been done before.”

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Bikers descend on Sturgis rally with few signs of pandemic

STURGIS, S.D. (AP) — The coronavirus may be changing the world, but there aren’t many signs of the pandemic at the massive annual motorcycle rally being held this week at a small city along Interstate 90 in western South Dakota.

The scene Saturday at the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was familiar to veterans of the event, with throngs of maskless bikers packing the streets.

Motorcyclist Kevin Lunsmann, 63, rode more than 600 miles (965 kilometres) to the rally from Big Lake, Minnesota, with several friends. Lunsmann said he has attended the Sturgis event every year since 2003 and didn’t want to miss the 80th, despite being “somewhat” concerned about the coronavirus.

Still, the crowds of people and rows of bikes surprised him. He said there was no difference from previous years “other than a few people wearing masks.”

Lunsmann said he was avoiding the bars and nightclubs that line the city’s main drag this year, but many others were not. They were filled with revelers as the sun set Friday.

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Dustin Johnson emerges from a pack to lead PGA Championship

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Dustin Johnson supplied the birdies, eight of them Saturday at the PGA Championship, the most he has ever made in his 157 rounds of major championship golf for a 5-under 65 and a one-shot lead.

Brooks Koepka supplied the needle.

Koepka recovered from three straight bogeys to salvage a 69 and stay within two shots of a leaderboard more crowded than any of San Francisco’s congested highways. At stake is a chance to become only the seventh player to win the same major three straight times. He surveyed the cast of contenders, and focused on the guy at the top.

“I like my chances,” Koepka said. “When I’ve been in this position before, I’ve capitalized. He’s only won one. I’m playing good. I don’t know, we’ll see.”

As he stepped away from the microphone, Koepka smiled and said to Jason Day, “How about that shade?” They laughed.

The Associated Press