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AP News in Brief at 6:04 p.m. EDT

| September 19, 2020 3:27 PM

AP source: Envelope addressed to White House contained ricin

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials intercepted an envelope addressed to the White House that contained the poison ricin, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Saturday.

The letter was intercepted at a government facility that screens mail addressed to the White House and President Donald Trump, the official said. A preliminary investigation indicated it tested positive for ricin, a poison found naturally in castor beans, the official said.

The official was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Federal investigators were working to determine where the enveloped originated and who mailed it. The FBI, the Secret Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service were leading the investigation.

In a statement, the FBI said agents were working to investigate “a suspicious letter received at a U.S. government mail facility” and that there is “no known threat to public safety.”

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Trump to Senate: Vote 'without delay' on his high court pick

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Saturday urged the Republican-run Senate to consider “without delay” his upcoming nomination to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just six weeks before the election.

One Republican senator opposing that move was Maine's Susan Collins, who is in a tough reelection battle. In a statement, Collins said she believed replacing Ginsburg should be the decision of the president who is elected Nov. 3. Three more defections from the GOP ranks would be needed to stop Trump's nominee from joining the court.

The White House was moving quickly to select a nominee, likely before the first presidential debate 10 days away, for the seat held by Ginsburg, who spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed on Friday night, hours after Ginsburg’s death, to call a vote for Trump's upcoming nominee. Democrats countered that Republicans should follow the precedent that GOP legislators set in 2016 by refusing to consider a Supreme Court choice in the run-up to an election.

Trump made his view clear in a tweet Saturday: “We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

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GOP senators confront past comments on Supreme Court vote

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators weighing what to do about the vacancy on the Supreme Court are facing questions about their own past comments amid complaints by Democrats that their views have shifted with changing political reality.

President Donald Trump has urged the GOP-run Senate to consider “without delay” his upcoming nomination to fill the seat vacated by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday. The move comes just six weeks before the election.

A look at what key Republican senators were saying in the past — and what they are saying now — about filling a seat on the Supreme Court during an election year.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, vowed in a statement Friday night, hours after Ginsburg’s death, to call a floor vote on Trump's nominee, although he did not specify a date. McConnell, who sets the calendar in the Senate, has made judicial appointments a top priority.

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'We (Heart) You RBG': NY celebrates Ginsburg, homegrown icon

NEW YORK (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life is being celebrated in her native New York City with plans for a statue, landmarks lit in blue and impromptu memorials at her childhood home in Brooklyn and the high school she attended.

Ginsburg died Friday of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87. A legal trailblazer and champion of women’s rights, she became the high court’s second female justice in 1993.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said a commission will choose an artist and oversee the selection of a location for a statue in Brooklyn that will serve as a physical reminder of Ginsburg’s “many contributions to the America we know today and as an inspiration for those who will continue to build on her immense body of work.”

Cuomo, a Democrat, also ordered state landmarks such as One World Trade Center, Kosciuszko Bridge and New York State Fairgrounds lit in blue — the color of justice and reportedly Ginsburg’s favorite color — for Saturday night.

Cuomo said that Ginsburg “selflessly pursued truth and justice in a world of division, giving voice to the voiceless and uplifting those who were pushed aside by forces of hate and indifference.”

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Pandemic retools diplomacy as world leaders gather virtually

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — With COVID-19 still careening across the planet, the annual gathering of its leaders in New York will be replaced this year by a global patchwork of prerecorded speeches, another piece of upheaval in a deeply divided world turned topsy-turvy by a pandemic with no endpoint in sight.

As U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike any in our lifetimes, and so this year’s General Assembly session will be unlike any other, too.”

This is the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations that there will be no in-person meeting. Gone will be the accompanying traffic jams, street closures for VIP motorcades, stepped-up security to protect leaders and noisy crowds in the halls of the sprawling United Nations complex overlooking New York’s East River.

Only one diplomat from each of the U.N.’s 193 member nations will be allowed into the vast General Assembly hall. All will be socially distanced and masked.

Guterres said the virtual meeting will see speeches from “the largest number of heads of state and government ever" — 171, according to the latest speakers list.

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Homes burned as winds push California fire into desert floor

JUNIPER HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Strong winds pushed a wildfire burning for nearly two weeks in mountains northeast of Los Angeles onto the desert floor and spread it rapidly in several directions, causing it to explode in size and destroy homes, officials said Saturday.

Meanwhile, officials were investigating the death of a firefighter on the lines of another Southern California wildfire that erupted earlier this month from a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used by a couple to reveal their baby’s gender.

The death occurred Thursday in San Bernardino National Forest as crews battled the El Dorado Fire about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.

In northern Los Angeles County, erratic winds pushed the Bobcat Fire onto the Mojave Desert community of Juniper Hills on Friday after churning all the way across the San Gabriel Mountains. The winds and thick smoke over the area grounded water-dropping aircraft most of the day. Meanwhile, crews on the ground shifted from attacking the blaze to protecting homes because they were “outflanked” by the flames, fire spokeswoman Kerry Gillibrand said.

The fire grew by nearly 20,000 acres to 142 square miles (368 square kilometers).

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Virus measures targeted by protesters despite case spikes

LONDON (AP) — Demonstrators took the streets of London, Tel Aviv and other cities on Saturday to protest coronavirus restrictions, decrying how the measures have affected daily life even with infection rates rising in many places and the global death toll approaching 1 million.

In the U.K., the latest official estimates released Friday showed that new infections and coronavirus hospital admissions have been doubling every seven to eight days. Britain has Europe’s highest death toll since the start of the pandemic, with 41,821 confirmed virus-related deaths.

The government recently banned social gatherings of more than six people in the hopes that it would help reverse a steep rise in COVID-19 cases and suggested that tougher restrictions could be coming.

Saturday's protest in Trafalgar Square, which was themed “Resist and Act for Freedom,” ended in clashes between demonstrators and London police, as officers tried to disperse hundreds of people holding banners and placards scrawled with anti-restriction messages such as “This is now Tyranny.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has warned that the city may add curfews, force pubs to close earlier and ban household visits to try to limit the city's sharp rise in new cases.

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How Ginsburg's death could reshape the presidential campaign

NEW YORK (AP) — A presidential campaign that was already tugging at the nation’s most searing divides has been jolted by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, potentially reshaping the election at a moment when some Americans were beginning to cast ballots.

For months, the contest has largely centered on President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus, the biggest public health crisis in a century that has badly damaged his prospects for reelection as the U.S. death toll nears 200,000 people.

But in a flash, Ginsburg's death on Friday added new weight to the election, with the potential that Trump or his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, could pick a successor who could decide abortion access, environmental regulations and the power of the presidency for a generation.

With early voting underway in five states and Election Day just over six weeks away, Democrats and Republicans were largely unified late Friday in praising Ginsburg as a leading legal thinker and advocate for women's rights. But strategists in both parties also seized on the moment to find an advantage.

Facing the prospect of losing both the White House and the Senate, some Republicans viewed the Supreme Court vacancy as one of the few avenues remaining for Trump to galvanize supporters beyond his most loyal core of supporters, particularly suburban women who have abandoned the GOP in recent years.

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Is 8 enough? Court vacancy could roil possible election case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death has left the Supreme Court shorthanded during a polarizing presidential campaign in which President Donald Trump has already suggested he may not accept the outcome and the court could be called on to step in and decide the fate of the nation.

It's the second time in four years that a justice has died during an election year, though that eight-justice court was not asked to referee any election disputes in 2016. Today, both sides have armies of lawyers ready to take the outcome to court.

The Supreme Court’s role, then, could be vital in deciding a contested election, as it was in 2000 when its 5-4 ruling effectively handed the presidential election to Republican George W. Bush.

Just moments after Ginsburg's death the prospect of a disputed election and the role of the court in deciding it was already causing anxiety across the political spectrum.

But the makeup of the court is significantly different today from what it was after Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in February 2016.

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Carpenters wow public with medieval techniques at Notre Dame

PARIS (AP) — With precision and boundless energy, a team of carpenters used medieval techniques to raise up — by hand — a three-ton oak truss Saturday in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, a replica of the wooden structures that were consumed in the landmark's devastating April 2019 fire that also toppled its spire.

The demonstration to mark European Heritage Days gave the hundreds of people a first-hand look at the rustic methods used 800 years ago to build the triangular frames in the nave of Notre Dame de Paris.

It also showed that the decision to replicate the cathedral in its original form was the right one, said Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who heads the cathedral's reconstruction.

“It shows … firstly that we made the right choice in choosing to rebuild the carpentry identically, in oak from France,” Georgelin said in an interview. “Secondly, it shows us the ... method by which we will rebuild the framework, truss after truss.”

A debate over whether the new spire should have a futuristic design or whether the trusses should be made of fireproof cement like in the Cathedral of Nantes, which was destroyed in a 1972 fire, ended with the decision in July to respect Notre Dame's original design and materials.