In Brief: February 5, 2021

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

Dem-led House, drawing a line, kicks Greene off committees

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WASHINGTON — A fiercely divided House tossed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene off both her committees Thursday, an unprecedented punishment that Democrats said she’d earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.

Underscoring the political vise her inflammatory commentary has clamped her party into, nearly all Republicans voted against the Democratic move but none defended her lengthy history of outrageous social media posts.

Yet in a riveting moment, the freshman Republican from a deep-red corner of Georgia took to the House floor on her own behalf. She offered a mixture of backpedaling and finger-pointing as she wore a dark mask emblazoned with the words “FREE SPEECH.”

The chamber’s near party-line 230-199 vote was the latest instance of conspiracy theories becoming pitched political battlefields, an increasingly familiar occurrence during Donald Trump’s presidency. He faces a Senate trial next week for his House impeachment for inciting insurrection after a mob he fueled with his false narrative of a stolen election attacked the Capitol.

Thursday’s fight also underscored the uproar and political complexities that Greene — a master of provoking Democrats, promoting herself and raising campaign money — has prompted since becoming a House candidate last year.

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Trump rejects Dems’ request to testify at impeachment trial

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Thursday asked Donald Trump to testify under oath for his Senate impeachment trial, challenging him to respond to their charge that he incited a violent mob to storm the Capitol. A Trump adviser said the former president won’t testify.

Although Democrats might not have the power to force Trump’s testimony, the request from House impeachment managers is part of their overall effort to put the violent events of Jan. 6 on the record for history and hold him accountable for his words. Democrats will look to use his refusal to testify against him as they argue that the ex-president has avoided responsibility for his actions.

Hours after the Democrats’ request was revealed, Trump adviser Jason Miller dismissed the trial as “an unconstitutional proceeding” and said the former president would not testify. Separately, Trump’s lawyers denounced the request as a “public relations stunt.”

The impeachment trial starts Feb. 9. Trump, the first president to be impeached twice, is charged with inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters broke into the Capitol to interrupt the electoral vote count. Five people died. Before the riot, Trump had told his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat.

Democrats have said a trial is necessary to provide a final measure of accountability for the attack. If Trump is convicted, the Senate could hold a second vote to disqualify him from seeking office again.

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J&J asks US regulators to OK its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine

Johnson & Johnson asked U.S. regulators Thursday to clear the world’s first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, an easier-to-use option that could boost scarce supplies.

J&J’s vaccine was safe and offered strong protection against moderate to severe COVID-19, according to preliminary results from a massive international study.

It didn’t appear quite as strong as two-dose competitors made by Pfizer and Moderna — a finding that may be more perception than reality, given differences in how each was tested.

But the Food and Drug Administration is asking its independent advisers to publicly debate all the data behind the single-dose shot — just like its competitors were put under the microscope — before it decides whether to green light a third vaccine option in the U.S. The panel will meet Feb. 26.

Dr. Peter Marks, FDA’s vaccine chief, has cautioned against making comparisons before the evidence is all in.

Myanmar junta arrests senior member of ousted ruling party

YANGON, Myanmar — A senior member of Myanmar’s deposed ruling party has become the latest prominent politician arrested as the country’s new military government confronts continuing resistance to its seizure of power.

Win Htein, 79, is a longtime confidante of the ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and had publicly called for civil disobedience in opposition to Monday’s coup.

He was arrested at his home in Yangon and and taken to the capital Naypyitaw, Kyi Toe, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, said Friday on his Facebook page.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 133 officials or lawmakers and 14 civil society activists had been detained by the military in connection with its takeover. The NLD has said Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint are being held under charges that allow for their detention until mid-February.

Win Htein told the Myanmar-language service of Britain’s BBC radio in a call early Friday that he was being detained for sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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Biden strikes tough tone on Russia in diplomatic push

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday said the days of the U.S. “rolling over” to Russian President Vladimir Putin are gone as he called for the immediate release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

During his first visit to the State Department as president, Biden issued his strongest condemnation of Putin as large protests have broken out throughout Russia following the jailing of Navalny. Thousands of protesters have been arrested.

The new American president was also seeking to make clear to the world that he’s making a dramatic turn away from Putin following the presidency of Republican Donald Trump, who avoided direct confrontation and often sought to downplay the Russian leader’s malign actions.

Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin’s most determined political foe, was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from a five-month convalescence in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning, which he has blamed on the Kremlin.

“I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions — interfering with our election, cyber attacks, poisoning its citizens— are over,” said Biden, who last week spoke to Putin in what White House officials called a tense first exchange. “We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people.”

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Biden ending US support for Saudi-led offensive in Yemen

President Joe Biden announced Thursday the United States was ending support for a grinding five-year Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, calling the move part of restoring a U.S. emphasis on diplomacy, democracy and human rights.

“This war has to end,” Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict had created a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”

The Yemen reversal is one of a series of steps Biden laid out Thursday that he said would mark a course correction for U.S. foreign policy. That’s after President Donald Trump — and many Republican and Democratic administrations before his — often sided with authoritarian leaders abroad, in the name of stability.

The announcement on Yemen fulfills a campaign pledge. But it also shows Biden putting the spotlight on a major humanitarian crisis that the United States has helped aggravate. The reversal of policy also comes as a rebuke to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has been conciliatory in its response to rebuffs from Biden, who as a candidate blasted the kingdom’s current rulers for rights abuses and as president has made clear he intends to distance his administration from Saudi leaders. But the Biden administration also says it will help the kingdom boost its defenses against outside attacks, as part of maintaining key security, counterterrorism and military ties with Saudi Arabia, a strategic partner and global oil giant. Saudi state media focused on that part of Biden’s announcements Thursday.

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Election officials say combating lies will be big challenge

After an election season dominated by conspiracy theories and false claims about voting, top election officials across the country say they already are bracing for what comes next.

They are grappling with ways they can counter waves of misinformation in the 2022 midterms and beyond related to voting procedures and the accuracy of election results.

A major topic in virtual gatherings this week of the National Association of Secretaries of State and National Association of State Election Directors is how to deal with voters who have lost faith in elections because of the misinformation surrounding the 2020 presidential election.

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“There are some folks who are never going to believe anything I say, and I’m not trying to convince those people otherwise,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said. “It’s unfortunate that is the case that we have now.”

Jared Dearing, executive director for the State Board of Elections in Kentucky, said people still contact his office believing the presidential election was rigged. Voter fraud is exceedingly rare and virtually impossible to be used to sway a federal election, given that elections are overseen by the states and run by counties or other local jurisdictions.

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