In Brief: May 21, 2020

Trump threatens funds for states easing voting in pandemic

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to hold up federal funds for two election battleground states that are trying to make it easier and safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic. He backed away from that threat but stuck with his unsupported claim that widespread voting by mail promotes “a lot of illegality.”

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The president targeted Michigan with a false tweet on its voting plans and also went after Nevada in the latest — and the most confused — episode in his campaign against voting by mail. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it as a safe option during the pandemic.

Trump has said repeatedly, without evidence, that mailed ballots allow widespread fraud and has worried publicly that wide availability could lead so many people to vote that Republicans would lose in November. GOP allies have fought changes to voting in court and opposed funding to expand mail-in voting in Congress.

Wednesday marked the first time Trump has tried to use federal aid money to beat it back.

Trump began by going after Michigan, misstating Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s announcement that she would send applications for absentee ballots to every voter in the state. Though Republican secretaries of state have taken this step elsewhere, Trump pounced on the move in a state key to his reelection hopes.

From wire sources

Cyclone left deaths, much destruction in India, Bangladesh

NEW DELHI — A powerful cyclone that slammed into coastal India and Bangladesh has left damage difficult to assess Thursday and about 20 deaths.

In Bangladesh up to eight people have died, and 12 deaths were estimated in West Bengal state in India. The deaths in Odisha state are still being assessed. Most of the deaths were due to the collapse of walls, drowning and falling of trees in both countries.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said Wednesday night the damage was difficult to assess immediately, pointing out that entire islands had been cut off from the mainland and many areas were left without electricity or phone connectivity.

Banerjee said densely populated regions of south Bengal were among the worst to be damaged.

“We are facing three crises: the coronavirus, the thousands of migrants who are returning home and now the cyclone,” said Banerjee, who is an opposition leader and one of the fiercest critics of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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AP source: Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen to be released from prison

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen will be released from federal prison Thursday and is expected to serve the remainder of his sentence at home, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

Cohen has been serving a federal prison sentence at FCI Otisville in New York after pleading guilty to numerous charges, including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress.

He will be released on furlough with the expectation that he will transition to home confinement to serve the remainder of his sentence at home, the person said. Cohen, 53, began serving his sentence last May and was scheduled to be released from prison in November 2021.

The person could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Prison advocates and congressional leaders have been pressing the Justice Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates ahead of a potential outbreak, arguing that the public health guidance to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from other people is nearly impossible behind bars.

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Watchdog cites persistent infection lapses in nursing homes

WASHINGTON — Before COVID-19 killed thousands of nursing home residents, about 4 in 10 homes inspected were cited for infection control problems, according to a government watchdog report Wednesday that finds a “persistent” pattern of lapses.

In light of the pandemic, seemingly minor cutting of corners such as an employee caring for residents while battling a cold has taken on new significance.

“Warning signs were ignored and nursing homes were unprepared to face a pandemic,” said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on a committee that oversees Medicare and Medicaid. “There need to be big changes in the way nursing homes care for seniors.”

The report from the Government Accountability Office found that state inspectors who help enforce federal nursing home standards classified the overwhelming majority of violations as not severe, generally meaning there was no actual harm to residents. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services carried out enforcement actions for 1% of violations classified as not severe from 2013-2017, the report said.

Nursing homes ended up bearing the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak. About 1.4 million people live in some 15,500 facilities in the United States. Most of those people were already at higher risk due to age and medical history, and they also shared dining rooms, recreation areas, bathrooms and sleeping quarters.

Astronauts arrive for NASA’s 1st home launch in decade

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for NASA arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.

It will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.

NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew to Florida from their home base in Houston aboard one of the space agency’s jets.

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“It’s an incredible time for NASA and the space program, once again launching U.S. crews from Florida and hopefully in just a week from about right now,” Hurley told reporters minutes after arriving.

Hurley was one of the four astronauts who arrived at Kennedy on July 4, 2011, for the final space shuttle flight, “so it’s incredibly humbling to be here to start out the next launch from the United States.”

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