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AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EDT

| October 25, 2020 6:30 PM

Early vote total exceeds 2016; GOP chips at Dems' advantage

With nine days before Election Day, more people already have cast ballots in this year's presidential election than voted early or absentee in the 2016 race as the start of in-person early voting in big states led to a surge in turnout in recent days.

The opening of early voting locations in Florida, Texas and elsewhere has piled millions of new votes on top of the mail ballots arriving at election offices as voters try to avoid crowded places on Nov. 3 during the coronavirus pandemic.

The result is a total of 58.6 million ballots cast so far, more than the 58 million that The Associated Press logged as being cast through the mail or at in-person early voting sites in 2016.

Democrats have continued to dominate the initial balloting, but Republicans are narrowing the gap. GOP voters have begun to show up as early in-person voting, a sign that many heeded President Donald Trump's unfounded warnings about mail-voting fraud.

On Oct. 15, Democrats registrants cast 51% of all ballots reported, compared with 25% from Republicans. On Sunday, Democrats had a slightly smaller lead, 51% to 31%.

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Trump aide says 'we're not going to control the pandemic'

LONDONDERRY, N.H. (AP) — The coronavirus has reached the upper echelons of the White House again, with an outbreak among aides to Vice President Mike Pence just over a week from Election Day. A top White House official declared: “We’re not going to control the pandemic.”

Officials on Sunday also scoffed at the notion of Pence dialing back in-person campaigning despite positive tests among several people in his office. Pence, who leads the White House’s coronavirus task force, has an aggressive travel schedule planned for the final days of the campaign.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, pressed to explain why the pandemic cannot be reined in, said, “Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” He told CNN's ”State of the Union" that the government was focused on getting effective therapeutics and vaccines to market.

Pence, who tested negative on Sunday, according to his office, held a rainy early evening rally in Kinston, North Carolina, a state that Trump won in 2016 and is crucial to his reelection hopes. Meanwhile, the president held a rally in New Hampshire and visited an orchard in Levant, Maine, where he signed autographs and assured a crush of mostly unmasked supporters that a “red wave" was coming on Nov. 3. He and first lady Melania Trump wrapped up the busy weekend by hosting costumed children for a socially distanced Halloween trick-or-treating on the White House grounds.

Democrat Joe Biden attended church and planned to participate in a virtual get-out-the-vote concert at night. He said in a statement that Meadows was effectively waving “the white flag of defeat” and “a candid acknowledgement of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis.”

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Fear and anxiety spike in virus hot spots across US

Preslie Paur breaks down in tears when she thinks of her state’s refusal to mandate face masks.

The South Salt Lake City, Utah, woman can’t work at her special education job due to an autoimmune disease. Her husband, also a special ed teacher, recently quit because his school district would not allow him to work remotely to protect her and their 5-year-old son, who has asthma.

“I feel forgotten,” Paur said. “We’re living in a world we no longer fit in. We did everything right. We went to college, we got jobs, we tried to give back to our community, and now our community is not giving back to us. And I’m very scared.”

As President Donald Trump barnstorms the swing states, often downplaying the coronavirus pandemic before largely unmasked crowds, the nation continues to lurch toward what his opponent Joe Biden, citing health experts, warned will be a “dark winter” of disease and death.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN on Sunday that “we’re not going to control the pandemic.” Asked why, he said it’s “because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.”

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Black contractor braves threats in removing Richmond statues

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Devon Henry paced in nervous anticipation, because this was a project like nothing he’d ever done. He wore the usual hard hat — and a bulletproof vest.

An accomplished Black businessman, Henry took on a job the city says others were unwilling to do: lead contractor for the now-completed removal of 14 pieces of Confederate statuary that dotted Virginia’s capital city. There was angry opposition, and fear for the safety of all involved.

But when a crane finally plucked the equestrian statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson off the enormous pedestal where it had towered over this former capital of the Confederacy for more than a century, church bells chimed, thunder clapped and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Henry’s brother grabbed him, and they jumped up and down. He saw others crying in the pouring rain.

“You did it, man,” said Rodney Henry.

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Senate votes to advance Barrett; confirmation expected Mon

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly Sunday to advance Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett toward final confirmation despite Democratic objections, just over a week before the presidential election.

Barrett's confirmation on Monday was hardly in doubt, with majority Republicans mostly united in support behind President Donald Trump's pick. But Democrats were poised to keep the Senate in session into the night in attempts to stall, arguing that the Nov. 3 election winner should choose the nominee to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Republicans are excited by the chance to install a third Trump justice on the court, locking in a conservative majority for years to come. Barrett's ascent opens up a potential new era of rulings on abortion, gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act. A case against the Obama-era health law scheduled to be heard Nov. 10.

"The Senate is doing the right thing," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, vowing to install Barrett to the court by Monday.

The 51-48 vote launched 30 hours of Senate debate. Two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, voted against advancing the nominee, and all Democrats who voted were opposed. California Sen. Kamala Harris, the vice presidential nominee, missed the vote while campaigning in Michigan.

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Pence to keep up travel despite contact with infected aides

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence plans to maintain an aggressive campaign schedule this week despite an apparent outbreak of the coronavirus among his senior aides, the White House says.

Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, and “a couple of key staff surrounding the vice president” have tested positive for the virus, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday.

The vice president, who along with his wife, Karen, tested negative on Sunday, according to his office, is considered a “close contact” of the aides under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria but will not quarantine, his spokesman said.

Devin O’Malley said Pence decided to maintain his travel schedule “in consultation with the White House Medical Unit" and "in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.” Those guidelines require that essential workers exposed to someone with the coronavirus closely monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and wear a mask whenever around other people.

O’Malley said Pence and his wife, Karen, both tested negative on Saturday “and remain in good health.”

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New storm Zeta a hurricane threat to Mexico, US Gulf Coast

MIAMI (AP) — Newly formed Tropical Storm Zeta strengthened Sunday in the western Caribbean and will probably become a hurricane before hitting Mexico's resort-dotted Yucatan Peninsula and the U.S. Gulf Coast in coming days.

Zeta was the earliest named 27th Atlantic storm recorded in an already historic hurricane season.

The system was centered about 275 miles (445 kilometers) southeast of Cozumel island early Sunday evening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The storm was nearly stationary, though forecasters said it was likely to shear the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula or westernmost Cuba by late Monday or early Tuesday and then close in on the U.S. Gulf Coast by Wednesday, but could weaken by then.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph), and forecasters said Zeta was expected to intensify into a hurricane Monday.

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FBI investigating fire set in Boston ballot drop box

A fire was set Sunday in a Boston ballot drop box holding more than 120 ballots in what Massachusetts election officials said appears to have been a “deliberate attack,” now under investigation by the FBI.

The fire that was set around 4 a.m. in a ballot drop box outside the Boston Public Library downtown, Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin's office said.

There were 122 ballots inside the box when it was emptied Sunday morning, and 87 of them were still legible and able to be processed, Galvin’s office said. The box had last been emptied around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

In a joint statement, Galvin and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called it a “disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime.”

"Our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process and ensuring transparency and trust with our voters, and any effort to undermine or tamper with that process must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," they said in the emailed statement. "We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act, and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election.”

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Black D.C. archbishop's rise marks a historic moment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory is set to become the first Black U.S. prelate to assume the rank of cardinal in the Catholic Church, a historic appointment that comes months after nationwide demonstrations against racial injustice.

Gregory’s ascension, announced on Sunday by Pope Francis alongside 12 other newly named cardinals, elevates a leader who has drawn praise for his handling of the sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the church. The Washington-area archbishop also has spoken out in recent days about the importance of Catholic leaders working to combat the sin of racial discrimination.

The 72-year-old Gregory, ordained in his native Chicago in 1973, took over leadership of the capital’s archdiocese last year after serving as archbishop of Atlanta since 2005. The ceremony making his elevation official is slated for Nov. 28.

“With a very grateful and humble heart, I thank Pope Francis for this appointment which will allow me to work more closely with him in caring for Christ’s Church,” Gregory said in a statement issued by the archdiocese.

Gregory helped shape the church’s “zero tolerance” response to the sexual abuse scandal while serving as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004. During that period, the bishops adopted a charter designed to govern its treatment of sexual abuse allegations made by minor children against priests. The church’s efforts since 2004 have helped achieve a sharp reduction in child-sex abuse cases. But some abuse continues to occur, and the church’s procedures for addressing abuse continue to incur criticism from those who feel there’s a lack of consistency and transparency.

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Passenger in Offset's car arrested for concealed weapon

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — A passenger in a car driven by Migos rapper Offset was arrested in Beverly Hills, California Saturday evening on charges of carrying a concealed, loaded firearm in public, police said.

The Beverly Hills Police Department tweeted that 20-year-old Marcelo Almanzar is being held on a $35,000 bail.

Offset livestreamed himself being questioned by police on his Instagram account. The video has since been deleted and he was later released.

Police said they received information from a passerby about a person who pointed a weapon at him from a vehicle, which patrol units stopped and investigated.

Officials added that reports that Offset had been arrested were inaccurate.