AP MORNING WIRE
Good morning. In today's AP Morning Wire:
- Inauguration Day: Facing crush of crises, Biden takes helm as president.
- US virus deaths top 400,000 under Trump's watch as he leaves office.
- Trump pardons ex-strategist Bannon, dozens of others in final flurry.
- Vaccinations in Brazil's Amazon; China has new cases, defends response.
- AP-NORC poll: Virus, economy swamp other priorities for US.
DEPUTY DIRECTOR – GLOBAL NEWS COORDINATION, LONDON
AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON
Facing a crush of crises, Joe Biden will take helm as president; US virus deaths surpass 400,000 under Trump's watch; Analysis: For Biden, chance to turn crisis into opportunity
With much of America and the world watching, Joe Biden swears the oath of office at noon today to become the 46th president of the United States in one of its most troubled eras over nearly 245 years.
The president-elect will take the helm of a deeply divided nation and inherit a confluence of crises arguably greater than any faced by his predecessors, Jonathan Lemire reports.
The very inaugural ceremony in which presidential power is transferred will be a jarring reminder of the challenges Biden faces. It will unfold at a U.S. Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks ago, encircled by security forces evocative of those where armed conflict is prevalent and devoid of crowds because of the pandemic.
Hours away from his inauguration, Biden paused on what might have been his triumphal entrance to Washington to mark instead the national coronavirus tragedy. At the Lincoln Memorial last night, he declared that “to heal, we must remember,” and he called the nation to mourn in collective grief for all the Americans lost, Bill Barrow and Amer Madhani report. Hours earlier, the nation reached the bleak milestone of 400,000 COVID-19 victims.
US Virus Deaths: The death toll from has surpassed 400,000 under Donald Trump's watch, providing a grim coda to his presidency. The milestone comes almost exactly a year after health officials diagnosed the nation's first case, and after months of efforts by Trump to downplay the threat and his administration's responsibility to confront it. The number of dead is greater than the population of New Orleans, Cleveland or Tampa. By week's end, the toll is likely to staggeringly surpass the number of Americans killed in World War II. Adam Geller and Janie Har report.
Analysis: Biden will be sworn in facing a historic collision of crises: the pandemic, economic uncertainty and deep political divisions that erupted in a violent insurrection.
Historians have put the challenges he faces on par with, or even beyond, what confronted Abraham Lincoln when he was inaugurated in 1861 to lead a nation splintering into civil war or Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he was sworn in during the depths of the Great Depression in 1933. But Lincoln and Roosevelt's presidencies are also a blueprint for the the ways American leaders have turned crises into opportunities, pulling people past the partisan divisions or ideological forces that can halt progress, AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace writes.
Day One Executive Orders: In his first hours as president, Biden will aim to strike at the heart of Trump’s policy legacy, signing a series of executive actions that reverse his predecessor’s orders on immigration, climate change and handling of the pandemic. You can follow all that coverage here.
Inauguration Security: The ceremony will take place in a Washington on edge, after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol unleashed a wave of fear and unmatched security concerns. And law enforcement officials are contending not only with the potential for outside threats but also with rising concerns about an insider attack by troops. There have been no specific threats made against Biden, but the nation’s capital is essentially on lockdown. More than 25,000 troops and police have been called to duty. The U.S. Secret Service is in charge of the event and says it is prepared, James LaPorta, Lolita C. Baldor and Michael Balsamo report.
Biden-Where He Stands: The president-elect is pledging a new path for the nation after Trump’s four years in office. That starts with confronting the pandemic and extends to sweeping plans on health care, education, immigration and more. It’s an unapologetically liberal program reflecting Biden’s argument that the federal government exists to help solve big problems. Persuading enough voters and Congress to go along will test another core Biden belief: that he can unify the country into a consensus, Bill Barrow reports.
Kamala Harris: Her inauguration as vice president will mark an expansion of what's possible in American politics. When Harris takes the oath of office, she will be the first female vice president in the nation's history, as well as the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold the role. She's expected to deliver remarks late Wednesday at the Lincoln Memorial, a symbolic choice during a deeply divided period in U.S. history. She'll be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Kathleen Ronayne and Alexandra Jaffe report.
India Harris: A tiny, lush-green Indian village surrounded by rice paddy fields is beaming with joy hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office as U.S. vice president. People are jubilant in her maternal grandfather’s hometown, 215 miles from the southern coastal city of Chennai, Rishi Lekhi and Aijaz Rahi report.
AP PHOTO/DAVID PHILLIP
Trump's exit: One-term divisive president leaves office with legacy of chaos; Trump pardons ex-strategist Steve Bannon, dozens of others in final flurry
The hallowed passing-of-the-torch traditions that have been the American touchstones of the peaceful democratic transition of power from one administration to the next will be absent in a few hours when President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath to become the crises-wracked nation's 46th president.
Donald Trump, a one-term president fueled by baseless grievances over an election he decisively lost, is boycotting Biden’s inauguration.
His fury and falsehoods led to a second, and unprecedented, impeachment, for inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago as states' Electoral College votes were being tallied for the final certification of Biden's victory.
Trump will walk out of the White House and board Marine One for the last time as president this morning, leaving behind a legacy of chaos and a nation bitterly divided, Jill Colvin reports.
After standing on stage at his own inauguration in 2017 and painting a dire picture of “American carnage,” Trump will depart the office twice impeached, with millions of people out of work and 400,000 others dead from the coronavirus.
He will be forever remembered for the final major act of his presidency: inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol that left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and horrified the nation.
AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s farewell falsehoods. In his farewell remarks, Trump claimed credit for things he didn’t do and twisted his record on jobs, taxes, the pandemic and much more. Hope Yen, Christopher Rugaber and Calvin Woodward report.
Trump Pardons: He pardoned former chief strategist Steve Bannon as part of a late flurry of clemency action, including rap stars and former members of Congress. The pardons and commutations for 143 people, including Bannon, were announced after midnight in the final hours of Trump’s White House term.
Although other presidents have issued controversial pardons, perhaps none has so enjoyed using the authority to benefit not only friends and acquaintances but also celebrity defendants and those championed by allies. Critics say such decisions result in far more deserving applicants being passed over.
“Steve Bannon is getting a pardon from Trump after defrauding Trump’s own supporters into paying for a wall that Trump promised Mexico would pay for,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said. “Thank God we have only 12 more hours of this den of thieves.”
Trump Impeachment: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell explicitly blames Trump for the deadly riot at the Capitol, saying the mob was “fed lies” and the president and others “provoked” those intent on overturning Biden’s election. Ahead of Trump's historic second impeachment trial, McConnell's remarks were his most severe, public rebuke of Trump. The GOP leader set a tone as Republicans weigh whether to convict Trump on the impeachment charge that will soon be sent over from the House: “incitement of insurrection.” Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick report.
AP PHOTO/EDMAR BARROS
Oxygen-starved city in Brazil’s Amazon starts immunization; China records dozens of new virus cases, defends response
The oxygen-starved Amazonian city of Manaus in Brazil began administering vaccines, providing a ray of hope for the rainforest’s biggest city whose health system is collapsing amid an increase in virus infections and dwindling oxygen supplies.
Brazil began rolling out its national immunization program with 6 million doses of CoronaVac in almost a dozen states, and hopes to receive 46 million doses up to April to distribute among states, Marcelo Silva De Sousa reports. CoronaVac is a vaccine developed by Beijing-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac.
Amazonas has recorded at least 232,000 infections since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures. The state is in the midst of a devastating resurgence of infections and lacks enough oxygen to keep struggling virus patients alive.
Hospitals in Manaus have admitted few new COVID-19 patients, causing many to suffer at home and some to die. And many doctors in Manaus have had to choose which COVID-19 patients can breathe while desperate family members searched for oxygen tanks for their loved ones.
Mexico Oxygen: Thefts of oxygen are mounting as the country posted a record one-day confirmed virus death toll of 1,584. Thefts of oxygen occurred in central and northern Mexico, while the Defense Department says four doses of vaccine were stolen at a public hospital in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City, probably by a hospital employee. Mexico has received only about 750,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and people have been caught cutting lines to get doses reserved for front-line medical personnel.
China Infections: Beijing recorded another seven coronavirus cases amid a lingering outbreak in the country’s north. Dozens of other cases were reported in northern provinces and around Beijing. China is hoping to vaccinate 50 million people against the virus by mid-February and is also releasing schools early and telling citizens to stay put during the Lunar New Year travel rush that begins in the coming days.
Poll: Priorities in America
Containing the relentless coronavirus outbreak and repairing the severe economic devastation it has wrought are the top priorities for Americans as Joe Biden prepares to take office.
Overall, 53% of Americans name COVID-19 as one of the top five issues they want the government to tackle this year, and 68% mention in some way the economy, which is still reeling.
In an open-ended question, those priorities far outpace others, like foreign affairs, immigration, climate change or racial inequality, Nicholas Riccardi and Hannah Fingerhut report. The findings suggest Biden’s political fate is riding on his administration’s response to pandemic.
Forty-three percent of Black Americans mention racism and racial inequality as a priority for 2021, compared with 22% of white Americans and 21% of Hispanics. Still, even that issue takes a backseat to COVID-19.
“There's no point reforming police and racism if we're all dead,'' says one Black construction worker in Texas who lost his job last year after the virus stuck and has been making do with temporary work.
One Detroit college student captured a prevalent mood: “I just want to be through it,” he said . He had move back home when the pandemic shuttered his campus and lost his grandfather to the disease.
Other Top Stories
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spent much of his long career casting Israel’s Arab minority as a potential fifth column led by terrorist sympathizers. Now, he's openly courting their support as he seeks reelection. Few Arabs are likely to heed his call. But the relative absence of incitement against the community in this campaign and the potential breakup of an Arab party alliance could dampen turnout. At the same time, given the complexities of Israel’s coalition system, a breakaway Arab party could gain outsized influence if it were willing to work with Netanyahu or other traditionally hostile leaders.
Migrant smugglers in the Western Sahara recently pulled out a boat that was buried in the Sahara sand. It was a made-to-order vessel built to carry migrants from the North African coast to Spain’s Canary Islands. That's a journey the European Union calls “the most dangerous migratory route in the world.” The AP witnessed the recent boat handover, a crucial but little-seen piece of the migrant smuggling business. The smuggling business thrived last year as the pandemic plunged many Africans into poverty, causing migration to the Canary Islands to jump to its highest-ever rate.
Grocery stores, gas stations and other shops are reopening in a quake-hit Indonesian city where debris still covers the streets and searchers still dig in the rubble for more victims. Disaster officials say immediate food and water needs have been met and the local government has started to function again in the hardest-hit city of Mamuju and the neighboring district of Majene on Sulawesi island. But thousands are living in shelters or sleeping outdoors, fearing aftershocks. Security officers in a van with a loudspeaker urged people to observe COVID-19 health protocols as reopened markets attracted large crowds.
China’s highest-profile entrepreneur, e-commerce billionaire Jack Ma, has appeared in a video posted online, ending a 2 1/2-month disappearance from public view that prompted speculation about his status and his business empire’s future. In the 50-second video, Ma congratulated teachers supported by his charitable foundation and made no mention of his absence from public view and the scrutiny of his Alibaba Group and Ant Group by Chinese regulators. The normally voluble, press-friendly Ma was last seen in public after criticizing financial regulators in a speech in October.