AP News in Brief 02-08-19

  • A Venezuelan migrant waves at Colombian police as he walks past in Los Patios, near Cucuta, Colombia, Thursday. Humanitarian assistance from the U.S. for Venezuela — over objections from President Nicolas Maduro — has arrived in Cucuta. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Virginia Democrats struggle with interlocking crises

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s Democrats struggled to find their way out of three interlocking political crises Thursday that could bring down the party’s top elected officials and put a Republican in the governor’s chair.

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With Gov. Ralph Northam’s career in peril over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, the state attorney general acknowledged on Wednesday that he put on blackface when he was in college, and a woman publicly accused the lieutenant governor of sexually assaulting her 15 years ago.

While nearly the entire Democratic establishment rose up against Northam over the past week to demand he resign, party members largely withheld judgment on the two latest developments, which threaten to cause a political chain reaction that could make a GOP legislative leader the governor.

President Donald Trump accused the Democrats of a double standard, tweeting: “If the three failing pols were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken.”

Some clarity on the way forward could come from Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus, which was preparing a statement on the crisis. The caucus has been calling for Northam’s resignation but was silent about Attorney General Mark Herring and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would become Virginia’s second black governor if Northam stepped down.

France recalls ambassador to Italy after yellow vest meeting

PARIS — France recalled its ambassador to Italy on Thursday amid rising tensions after Italy’s deputy prime minister met with French anti-government protesters and Italian leaders made critical public comments about French President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said the ambassador was being brought back for “consultations” and urged Italy in a statement to work to restore friendly relations worthy of “our common destiny.”

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio met with supporters of France’s yellow vest protest movement running as candidates for the European Parliament. Di Maio has said the populist 5-Star Movement he leads was ready to help the French protesters and has accused France of fueling Europe’s immigration difficulties.

That came after Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called Macron “a terrible president” in January. He said he hoped French voters would send Macron a message during the European elections by showing their support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with whom Salvini is allied in European politics.

Von der Muhll called the incidents an “unacceptable” interference in French democracy, and said they were unprecedented since the two neighbors joined together after World War II to help create the European Union.

Dems turn focus to tax returns — and Trump’s loom largest

WASHINGTON — The new Democratic-controlled House is looking at proposals to compel presidents and presidential candidates to make public years of their tax returns. But the burning question is what Democrats might do more immediately to get such files from President Donald Trump.

That goal has been high on their list of priorities since they won control of the House in November’s midterm elections, but asking for Trump’s returns is likely to set off a huge legal battle with his administration.

The Democrats tried and failed several times to obtain Trump’s returns as the minority party in Congress. Their newly energized leftward wing is pushing the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., to set the quest in motion, and fast. The organization funded by billionaire investor and Democratic activist Tom Steyer has run a TV ad in Neal’s home district calling on him to subpoena Trump’s tax records, as a prelude to starting impeachment proceedings.

The issue comes to the fore in a hearing Thursday by the Ways and Means oversight subcommittee.

“I think overwhelmingly the public wants to see the president’s tax returns. They want to know the truth, they want to know the facts,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader, said at a news conference Thursday. But she warned that the move cannot be made in haste.

US emergency aid for Venezuela arrives at Colombian border

CUCUTA, Colombia — Trucks carrying U.S. humanitarian aid destined for Venezuela arrived Thursday at the Colombian border, where opposition leaders vowed to bring them into their troubled nation despite objections from embattled President Nicolas Maduro.

Two semi-trailers loaded with boxed emergency food and medicine rolled into the Colombian border city of Cucuta, which is just across the river from Venezuela.

“The United States is prepositioning relief items — including food, nutritional supplements, hygiene kits and medical supplies — in Colombia so they are available to reach those most in need in Venezuela, as soon as possible,” said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.

The focus of Venezuela’s political fight now hinges on whether Maduro will allow the aid to enter the country, a move anticipated in coming days.

Maduro denies a humanitarian crisis exists and says Venezuela is not a country of beggars. The Venezuelan military has barricaded a bridge between the two nations with a tanker and two cargo trailers in an apparent attempt to block the aid.

From wire sources

Fish pass mirror test, but does it mean they’re self-aware?

NEW YORK — Scientists report that a fish can pass a standard test of recognizing itself in a mirror — and they raise a question about what that means.

Does this decades-old test, designed to show self-awareness in animals, really do that?

Since the mirror test was introduced in 1970, scientists have found that relatively few animals can pass it. Most humans can by age 18 to 24 months, and so can chimps and orangutans, says the test’s inventor, evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. of Albany College in New York.

Outside of ape species, many researchers say there’s also good evidence for passing the test in bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants and European magpies, although Gallup is skeptical of those results.

The test exposes animals to a mirror and looks for reactions that indicate some recognition of themselves. For example, do the animals do unusual things to see if the image copies them? Do they appear to use the mirror to explore their own bodies? And if researchers mark an animal in a place the creature can observe only in the mirror, does the animal try to remove it?

Grammys, Ariana Grande trade words about axed performance

LOS ANGELES — Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich said the show had multiple conversations with Ariana Grande about possibly performing Sunday but the singer “felt it was too late for her to pull something together,” but Grande accused Ehrlich of lying.

Grande fired back on Twitter on Thursday, saying “i’ve kept my mouth shut but now you’re lying about me.”

Ehrlich told The Associated Press that Grande isn’t performing at the Grammys and that the Recording Academy wanted her to perform after having “conversations over the past month or so.”

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“As it turned out when we finally got the point where we thought maybe it would work, she felt it was too late for her to pull something together for sure,” Ehrlich said in an interview Thursday.

But Grande wrote on Twitter that she “can pull together a performance over night and you know that, Ken.”