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

Last Updated May 23, 2020 at 1:10 am ADT

Trump declares churches ‘essential,’ calls on them to reopen

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday labeled churches and other houses of worship as “essential” and called on governors nationwide to let them reopen this weekend even though some areas remain under coronavirus lockdown.

The president threatened to “override” governors who defy him, but it was unclear what authority he has to do so.

“Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend,” Trump said at a hastily arranged press conference at the White House. Asked what authority Trump might have to supersede governors, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she wouldn’t answer a theoretical question.

Trump has been pushing for the country to reopen as he tries to reverse an economic free fall playing out months before he faces reelection. White evangelical Christians have been among the president’s most loyal supporters, and the White House has been careful to attend to their concerns throughout the crisis.

Following Trump’s announcement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for communities of faith on how to safely reopen, including recommendations to limit the size of gatherings and consider holding services outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.

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What you need to know today about the virus outbreak

Public health officials are warning Americans to follow social distancing and other measures that aim to stop the spread of the coronavirus as they head into the long Memorial Day weekend with millions of others emerging from lockdowns to celebrate the holiday at beaches and cookouts.

At the same time, President Donald Trump said Friday he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend.

The three-day weekend begins even as the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating across Latin America, Russia, India and Pakistan. So far, number of cases are flattening elsewhere as businesses start to reopen in much of Europe, Asia and the United States.

India saw its biggest single-day spike since the pandemic began, and Pakistan and Russia recorded their highest death tolls. Even so, many governments say they need to shift their focus to saving jobs.

In the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, the unemployment numbers are staggering. The Federal Reserve chairman has estimated that 25% of Americans could be jobless by June, while in China analysts estimate about a third of the urban workforce is unemployed.

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Biden says he was too ‘cavalier’ about black Trump backers

ATLANTA (AP) — Joe Biden declared he “should not have been so cavalier” on Friday after he told a prominent black radio host that African Americans who back President Donald Trump “ain’t black.”

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee quickly moved to address the fallout from his remark, which was interpreted by some as presuming black Americans would vote for him. In a call with the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce that was added to his public schedule, Biden said he would never “take the African American community for granted.”

“I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” Biden said. “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background.”

That was an acknowledgement of the stinging criticism he received in response to his comments, which he made earlier in the day on “The Breakfast Club,” a radio program that is popular in the black community.

The rebukes included allies of Trump’s reelection campaign — anxious to go on the offence after weeks of defending the Republican president’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — and some activists who warned that Biden must still court black voters, even if African Americans overwhelmingly oppose the president.

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Debt and coronavirus push Hertz into bankruptcy protection

Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, unable to withstand the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled global travel and with it, the heavily indebted 102-year-old car rental company’s business.

The Estero, Florida-based company’s lenders were unwilling to grant it another extension on its auto lease debt payments past a Friday deadline, triggering the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

Hertz and its subsidiaries will continue to operate, according to a release from the company. Hertz’s principal international operating regions and franchised locations are not included in the filing, the statement said.

By the end of March, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. had racked up $18.7 billion in debt with only $1 billion of available cash.

Starting in mid-March, the company — whose car-rental bands also include Dollar and Thrifty — lost all revenue when travel shut down due to the coronavirus. The company made “significant efforts” but couldn’t raise money on the capital markets, so it started missing payments to creditors in April, the filing said. Hertz has also been plagued by management upheaval, naming its fourth CEO in six years on May 18.

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San Francisco sanctions once-shunned homeless encampments

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco is joining other U.S. cities in authorizing homeless tent encampments in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move officials have long resisted but are now reluctantly embracing to safeguard homeless people.

About 80 tents are now neatly spaced out on a wide street near San Francisco City Hall as part of a “safe sleeping village” opened last week. The area between the city’s central library and its Asian Art Museum is fenced off to outsiders, monitored around the clock and provides meals, showers, clean water and trash pickup.

In announcing the encampment, and a second one to open in the famed Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, San Francisco’s mayor acknowledged that she didn’t want to approve tents, but having unregulated tents mushroom on sidewalks was neither safe nor fair.

“So while in normal times I would say that we should focus on bringing people inside and not sanctioning tent encampments, we frankly do not have many other options right now,” she said in a tweet last week.

Nicholas Woodward, 37, is camping at the safe sleeping site, but he said he preferred sleeping in his tent before the city stepped in; he finds the fencing belittling and the rules too controlling. His friend, Nathan Rice, 32, said he’d much rather have a hotel room than a tent on a sidewalk, even if the city is providing clean water and food.

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FBI director orders internal review of Flynn investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director Christopher Wray has ordered an internal review into possible misconduct in the investigation of former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, the bureau said Friday.

The after-action review will examine whether any current employees engaged in misconduct during the course of the investigation and evaluate whether any improvements in FBI policies and procedures need to be made.

In announcing the review, the FBI, a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s wrath, is stepping into a case that has become a rallying cry for Trump supporters — and doing so right as the Justice Department pushes back against criticism that its recent decision to dismiss the prosection was a politically motivated effort to do Trump’s bidding.

The announcement adds to the internal scrutiny over one of special counsel Robert Mueller’s signature prosecutions during his investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. It underscores how a case that was seemingly resolved by Flynn’s 2017 guilty plea has instead given way to a protracted, politically charged debate about FBI and Justice Department tactics during that investigation and the Russia probe more broadly.

The unusual review will be led by the bureau’s Inspection Division, which conducts internal investigations into potential employee misconduct. Trump has recently been sharply critical of the FBI, and suggested earlier this month that Wray’s fate as director could be in limbo. An FBI official said Friday that the review had been contemplated for some time and that the FBI has co-operated with multiple Russia-related internal inquiries.

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NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

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CLAIM: Michigan sent absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of primaries and the general election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue secretary of state.

THE FACTS: Michigan mailed applications for ballots to voters, not the ballots themselves. President Donald Trump, a Republican, on Wednesday falsely claimed on Facebook and Twitter that Michigan’s secretary of state mailed ballots to millions of voters in the state. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that the state mailed absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million registered voters ahead of Michigan’s August primary and November election. Benson said mailing the applications cost the state $4.5 million, which was covered with funds from the federal coronavirus relief package. Traditionally, Michigan voters have had to ask their local clerk for an absentee ballot. Benson’s announcement was criticized by some state Republicans who argued that local clerks should handle the requests and the money would have been better spent on protective equipment for polling places and election workers and on machines to more quickly process surging absentee ballots. In 2018, Michigan voters approved a statewide ballot initiative that eased election restrictions, including allowing voters to request an absentee ballot without reason.

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Pakistan jet with 98 aboard crashes in crowded neighbourhood

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A jetliner carrying 98 people crashed Friday in a crowded neighbourhood near the airport in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi after an apparent engine failure during landing. Officials said there were two survivors from the plane but they also found at least 57 bodies in the wreckage.

It was unknown how many people on the ground were hurt as the Pakistan International Airlines jet, an Airbus A320, plowed into an alley and destroyed at least five houses.

The pilot was heard transmitting a mayday to the tower shortly before the crash of Flight 8303, which was flying from Lahore to Karachi and carrying many travelling for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Video on social media appeared to show the jet flying low with flames shooting from one of its engines.

The plane went down about 2:39 p.m. northeast of Jinnah International Airport in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony between houses that were smashed by its wings. Police in protective masks struggled to clear away crowds amid the smoke and dust so ambulances and firetrucks could reach the crash site.

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Judge nixes bid to stop coal sales that Trump revived

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A judge threw out a lawsuit on Friday from a coalition of states, environmental groups and American Indians which sought to revive an Obama-era moratorium against U.S. government coal sales on public lands in the West.

U.S. District Judge Brian Morris said President Donald Trump’s administration had fixed its initial failure to consider the consequences for climate change from ending the moratorium. Acting under an earlier order in the case, the administration in February released an analysis that said the decision to resume coal sales would make little difference over time in greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, a contention critics said was flawed.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued the administration only considered emissions from a handful of leases and failed to capture the cumulative, long-term impact of the coal program.

But Morris declined to weigh in on the accuracy of the administration’s conclusions. He said the February analysis was enough to fulfil the administration’s immediate legal obligations. Any review of whether it was flawed would require a new lawsuit, he added.

“Plaintiffs remain free to file a complaint to challenge the sufficiency of the (environmental analysis) and the issuance of any individual coal leases,” the judge wrote in a 24-page opinion.

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NASCAR grabs much-needed momentum in return to live racing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR had been planning sweeping changes for 2021 in hopes of finding new fans and adding some energy to a staid, stale schedule.

The coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold and NASCAR is frantically trying to recover from a 10-week layoff.

So far, the stock car series is succeeding.

NASCAR came up with a health plan that allowed it to resume racing last Sunday at Darlington Raceway, the first of 20 events scheduled in seven Southern states through June 21. Although spectators are not permitted, making for eerie, empty venues, the racing itself has delivered.

Kevin Harvick scored his 50th career victory in NASCAR’s first race back with seemingly everyone watching to see if the safety protocols would work. The next event was the first Cup Series race on a Wednesday in 36 years and it was about as good as it gets for a series dependent on miles upon miles of left turns.

The Associated Press

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