In Brief: September 19, 2020

Stopgap bill to prevent shutdown held up over farm funding

WASHINGTON — Efforts to fashion a temporary spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month ran aground Friday amid a fight over farm bailout funding that’s a key priority of President Donald Trump and Capitol Hill Republicans.

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A House Appropriations Committee spokesman said the measure, which aides had predicted would be released Friday evening, won’t be unveiled until next week. The measure needs to be passed by the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 to prevent a shutdown of nonessential government functions.

A tentative proposal by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to permit Trump to keep awarding agricultural funds this campaign season in exchange for food aid for the poor ran into severe turbulence with both House and Senate Democrats.

The evolving measure is a lowest-common-denominator, bare-minimum bill that befits a deeply polarized Congress. Even so, it took intense efforts at the highest levels of Washington to get the measure this far, but a negotiating flurry Friday fell apart. Neither side wants a partial government shutdown.

Aides following the talks closely said Pelosi initially denied an administration request to add routine flexibility to rules governing Trump’s farm bailout efforts, which would freeze his ability to dole out subsidy payments until after the election. Trump is using the funding, over which he has much control, to try to shore up his support in farm country, which has been hit hard by low commodity prices and higher tariffs he himself imposed.

Trump and Biden hit unlikely battleground state of Minnesota

DULUTH, Minn. — A solidly blue state for the past half century, Minnesota became an unquestioned presidential battleground on Friday as President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden fought for working-class voters in dueling events that marked the beginning of early voting.

Their campaigning was knocked off front pages and broadcasts in the state and nationally Friday night by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, But before that, their contrasting styles and stances during the day and evening gave fresh signs of the campaign to come in the final weeks before Election Day.

The candidates steered clear of the state’s most populated areas near Minneapolis to focus on blue-collar voters, some of whom shifted to Republicans for the first time in 2016. Trump went to Bemidji, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, while Biden campaigned in a suburb of Duluth, on the banks of Lake Superior and close to the Wisconsin border.

Biden railed against Trump’s inability to control the pandemic, casting the president’s reluctance to embrace more serious social distancing safeguards as “negligence and selfishness” that cost American lives. Trump, before leaving the White House, said as he has many times that “we’ve done a phenomenal job” against the virus and predicted mass vaccinations by spring.

Biden, at a carpenter union’s training hall in Minnesota, emphasized his plans to boost American manufacturing.

Firefighters battle exhaustion along with wildfire flames

BEAVERCREEK, Ore. — They work 50 hours at a stretch and sleep on gymnasium floors. Exploding trees shower them with embers. They lose track of time when the sun is blotted out by smoke, and they sometimes have to run for their lives from advancing flames.

Firefighters trying to contain the massive wildfires in Oregon, California and Washington state are constantly on the verge of exhaustion as they try to save suburban houses, including some in their own neighborhoods. Each home or barn lost is a mental blow for teams trained to protect lives and property.

And their own safety is never assured. Oregon firefighter Steve McAdoo’s shift on Sept. 7 seemed mostly normal, until late evening, when the team went to a fire along a highway south of Portland.

“Within 10 minutes of being there, it advanced too fast and so quick … we had to cut and run,” he said. “You can’t breathe, you can’t see.”

That happened again and again as he and the rest of the crew worked shifts that lasted two full days with little rest or food. They toiled in an alien environment where the sky turns lurid colors, ash falls like rain and towering trees explode into flames, sending a cascade of embers to the forest floor.

More migrant women say they didn’t OK surgery

HOUSTON — Sitting across from her lawyer at an immigration detention center in rural Georgia, Mileidy Cardentey Fernandez unbuttoned her jail jumpsuit to show the scars on her abdomen. There were three small, circular marks.

The 39-year-old woman from Cuba was told only that she would undergo an operation to treat her ovarian cysts, but a month later, she’s still not sure what procedure she got. After Cardentey repeatedly requested her medical records to find out, Irwin County Detention Center gave her more than 100 pages showing a diagnosis of cysts but nothing from the day of the surgery.

“The only thing they told me was: ‘You’re going to go to sleep and when you wake up, we will have finished,’” Cardentey said this week in a phone interview.

Cardentey kept her hospital bracelet. It has the date, Aug. 14, and part of the doctor’s name, Dr. Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist linked this week to allegations of unwanted hysterectomies and other procedures done on detained immigrant women that jeopardize their ability to have children.

An Associated Press review of medical records for four women and interviews with lawyers revealed growing allegations that Amin performed surgeries and other procedures on detained immigrants that they never sought or didn’t fully understand. Although some procedures could be justified based on problems documented in the records, the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises severe legal and ethical issues, lawyers and medical experts said.

Census layoffs ordered despite judge’s ruling

ORLANDO, Fla. — Two weeks after a federal judge prohibited the U.S. Census Bureau from winding down the 2020 census, a manager in Illinois instructed employees to get started with layoffs, according to an audio of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

During a conference call Thursday, the Chicago area manager told supervisors who report to him that they should track down census takers who don’t currently have any cases, collect the iPhones they use to record information, and bid them goodbye. The manager did not respond to an email from the AP.

“I would really like to get a head start on terminating these people,” he said. “All of these inactives that we have, we need to get rid of them. So hunt down your inactives, collect their devices, get them terminated and off of our lists.”

It was unclear whether such actions would violate U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh’s temporary restraining order prohibiting the Census Bureau from winding down field operations while she considers a request to extend the head count by a month.

Earlier this week, the judge, who is in San Jose, California, held a hearing on other possible violations of the order, but no action was taken after a Census Bureau official said in a declaration that they were unsubstantiated or the result of miscommunication. The judge extended the order for another week on Thursday.

Hundreds of thousands still without power in Sally cleanup

LOXLEY, Ala. — Hundreds of thousands of people were still without power Friday along the Alabama coast and the Florida Panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Sally as officials assessed millions of dollars in damage that included a broken bridge in Pensacola and ships thrown onto dry land.

While the cleanup pressed on, the record-shattering hurricane season notched another milestone: Forecasters ran out of traditional names for storms after three new systems formed in about six hours. That forced them to begin using the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s.

In Loxley, Alabama, Catherine Williams lost power and some of her roof to Sally. The storm also destroyed three pecan trees in her yard that she used to try to make ends meet.

“There’s no food, no money. I took my last heart pill today,” said Williams, who has been laid off twice from her job as a cook because of the economic problems caused by COVID-19. She hoped that the Red Cross would soon show up at her home.

Two people in Alabama were reported killed — a drowning and a death during the cleanup in Baldwin County. In Florida, authorities were looking for a missing kayaker who was feared dead in Escambia County.

Donor cash surges to Harrison, the Democrat taking on Graham

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It won’t be known until Election Day if a poll showing a tightening contest between Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison portends an upset — but the gains are real enough in the Democrat’s campaign account.

On the heels of a Quinnipiac University poll that has him tied with Graham among likely voters in South Carolina, Harrison’s campaign has marked two back-to-back fundraising days of $1 million apiece, bringing his total fundraising to over $30 million.

It’s a staggering sum, unheard of for a Democrat competing in this conservative state, and matches what Graham has also raised in his pursuit of a fourth term. It also dwarfs the $10 million figure Harrison previously told The Associated Press he thought necessary to win.

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The influx of cash for Harrison — a Democratic National Committee associate chair and former state party chair — is providing a rare opportunity to blanket the airwaves in a place where Democrats haven’t won a statewide contest in 15 years, bolstering the party in their fight to win back the Senate majority.

On Labor Day, the pro-Harrison political action committee Lindsey Must Go flew a banner plane along the South Carolina coast deriding Graham’s stance on offshore drilling, a day before President Donald Trump expanded a moratorium on the practice. This week, the PAC announced it would spend $300,000 on a Charleston-area television ad on the same topic.

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