AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

As investigations swirl, Trump team ready to fight, distract

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House has beefed up its legal team. Its political team is ready to distract and disparage. And President Donald Trump is venting against Democratic prying.

Trump’s plan for responding to the multiplying congressional probes into his campaign, White House and personal affairs is coming into focus as newly empowered Democrats intensify their efforts. Deploying a mix of legal legwork and political posturing, the administration is trying to minimize its exposure while casting the president as the victim of overzealous partisans.

“It’s a disgrace, it’s a disgrace for our country,” Trump said at the White House on Tuesday as he accused Democrats of “presidential harassment.”

Typically used to setting the national or global agenda, presidents are by definition on their back foot when they come under investigation. And the latest fusillade of requests for information has the Trump White House, already increasingly focused on the twin challenges of dealing with the probes and the 2020 election, in a reactive position.

Trump’s response points to his increasing frustration with Congress and his intention to seize on the investigations as evidence that he is under siege in Washington.

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Record-breaking family migration overwhelming border agency

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of migrant families crossing the southwest border is again breaking records, and the crush is overwhelming border agents and straining facilities, officials said Tuesday.

More than 76,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last month, more than double the number from the same period last year. Most were families coming in ever-increasingly large groups — there were 70 groups of more than 100 people in the past few months, and they cross illegally in extremely rural locations with few agents and staff. There were only 13 large groups during the previous budget year, and only two the year before.

The system “is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said a press conference Tuesday.

The new figures reflect the difficulties President Donald Trump has faced as he tries to cut down on illegal immigration, his signature issue. But it could also help him make the case that there truly is a national emergency at the border — albeit one built around humanitarian crises and not necessarily border security. The Senate is expected to vote next week and join the House in rejecting his national emergency declaration aimed at building border walls, but Trump would almost certainly veto the measure and the issue is likely to be settled in the courts.

After the deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody, Customs and Border Protection stepped up medical screenings. They also announced sweeping changes including more rigorous interviews as migrants come into the system.

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China says new law will bar demands for technology handover

BEIJING (AP) — China will bar government authorities from demanding overseas companies hand over technology secrets in exchange for market share, a top economic official said Wednesday, addressing a key complaint at the heart of the current China-U.S. trade dispute.

The provision is contained in a foreign investment law to be debated at the current annual session of the National People’s Congress, Ning Jizhe, vice chairman of the Cabinet’s economic planning agency told reporters at a news conference.

The law will “clarify the system for advancement and protection of foreign investment,” Ning said. The legal system will ensure that foreign businesses “cannot be required to transfer technology by administrative means, providing a more encompassing and beneficial legal guarantee,” he said.

Ning’s statement came a day after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a robust annual economic growth target and promised in a speech to the congress’ opening session that foreign companies will be “treated as equals” with their Chinese competitors.

Accusations that China demands the disclosure of technology secrets are a key stumbling point in the U.S.-China trade dispute that has significantly disrupted commerce between the world’s two largest economies, affecting farmers, liquor exporters and China’s key manufacturing industries.

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Teen tells Senate why he defied his mom to get vaccinated

WASHINGTON (AP) — An Ohio teen defied his mother’s anti-vaccine beliefs and started getting his shots when he turned 18 — and told Congress on Tuesday that it’s crucial to counter fraudulent claims on social media that scare parents.

Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, said his mother’s “love, affection and care is apparent,” but that she was steeped in online conspiracies that make him and his siblings vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases like the ongoing measles outbreaks.

“I grew up under my mother’s beliefs that vaccines are dangerous,” Lindenberger told a Senate health committee. He’d show her scientific studies but said she instead turned to illegitimate sources that “instill fear into the public.”

Last December, despite his mother’s disapproval and realizing that “my school viewed me as a health threat,” Lindenberger began catching up on his missed immunizations. He told lawmakers it’s important “to inform people about how to find good information” and to remind them how dangerous these diseases really are.

This year is shaping up to be a bad one for measles as already, the U.S. has counted more than 200 cases in 11 states — including about 70 in an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest.

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Aftermath: Alabama’s tornado dead range in age from 6 to 89

BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — The youngest victim was 6, the oldest 89. Relatives said one extended family lost 10 members.

The 23 people killed in the nation’s deadliest tornado in nearly six years came into focus Tuesday with the release of their names by the coroner.

They included 6-year-old Armando Hernandez Jr., known as “AJ,” torn from his father’s arms two days after singing in his first-grade class musical; 10-year-old Taylor Thornton, who loved horses and was visiting a friend’s home when the twister struck; and Jimmy Lee Jones, 89, who perished along with his wife of six decades, Mary Louise, and one of their sons.

“Just keep those families in your prayers,” Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said, two days after the disaster.

The search for victims, pets and belongings in and around the devastated rural community of Beauregard continued amid the din of beeping heavy machinery and whining chain saws. But Sheriff Jay Jones said the list of the missing had shrunk from dozens to just seven or eight.

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R. Kelly tells CBS ‘I didn’t do this stuff’ in interview

CHICAGO (AP) — In his first interview since being charged with sexually abusing four people, including three underage girls, R. Kelly says he “didn’t do this stuff” and he’s fighting for his life.

The R&B singer, out on bail after his Feb. 22 arrest in Chicago, gave the interview to Gayle King of “CBS This Morning,” with excerpts airing Tuesday night. More of the interview will air Wednesday and Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”

In an excerpt, Kelly tells King that rumors of him having sex with and abusing underage girls are, “Not true.

“Whether they’re old rumors, new rumors, future rumors, not true,” Kelly said.

When King asked Kelly if he has held women against their will, he replied “That’s stupid!”

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Venezuela’s adversaries seek to show resolve in crisis

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Appearing a day after his rival returned home to a tumultuous welcome, President Nicolas Maduro denounced his opponents in a speech Tuesday at a military ceremony but did not refer by name to opposition leader Juan Guaido. The man who says he is the rightful president, meanwhile, escalated his campaign to topple Maduro with an appeal for support from state unions, long reliant on government handouts.

The dueling scenes, evidence of the rift in a country in crisis, came as Venezuelans and the world awaited the next moves of two adversaries maneuvering for an edge in what could be a protracted struggle. The Maduro government’s decision not to move against Guaido upon his return to Venezuela on Monday reflects the intense pressure Maduro faces and, possibly, a calculation that restraint is the best tactic for now.

Still, Maduro was defiant during a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of the death of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, belittling a “minority of opportunists and cowards.” He said government supporters would hold a rally on Saturday, a “day of anti-imperialism” in his words, and a counter to U.S.-backed Guaido’s plans to hold nationwide protests the same day.

Maduro also pinned medals on members of the security forces involved in a crackdown on Guaido’s failed Feb. 23 attempt to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia. Maduro has described the attempt, backed by the U.S. and its allies, as part of a plot to overthrow his government.

Hours earlier, Guaido said police officials were among those at a meeting that he held with leaders of public employee unions, which rely heavily on subsidies from Maduro’s government to get by in a country suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of food and other necessities.

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Mind-altering, ketamine-like drug OK’d for severe depression

WASHINGTON (AP) — A mind-altering medication related to the club drug Special K won U.S. approval Tuesday for patients with hard-to-treat depression, the first in a series of long-overlooked substances being reconsidered for severe forms of mental illness.

The nasal spray from Johnson & Johnson is a chemical cousin of ketamine, which has been used for decades as a powerful anesthetic to prepare patients for surgery. In the 1990s, the medication was adopted as a party drug by the underground rave culture due to its ability to produce psychedelic, out-of-body experiences. More recently, some doctors have given ketamine to people with depression without formal FDA approval.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Spravato as a fast-acting treatment for patients who have failed to find relief with at least two antidepressants. Up to 7.4 million American adults suffer from so-called treatment-resistant depression, which heightens the risk of suicide, hospitalization and other serious harm, according to the FDA.

The drug will cost between $590 and $885 depending on the dosage and before various insurance discounts and rebates.

There have been no major pharmaceutical innovations for depression since the launch of Prozac and related antidepressants in the late 1980s. Those drugs target the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, and can take weeks or months to kick in.

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Sanders vs. Clinton: 2016 rivalry proves hard to overcome

NEW YORK (AP) — Bernie Sanders was minutes away from walking onto a Brooklyn stage last weekend to launch a second presidential campaign that he insisted would be all about the future. The problem: Some of his allies were still fighting Hillary Clinton.

Shaun King, the activist and writer who was introducing the Vermont senator, hinted at what might have been had Sanders won the 2016 Democratic nomination.

“In 2016, like so many of you, I campaigned hard for Bernie to be president. And to this day, I still believe that he would have beaten Donald Trump,” King told a cheering crowd gathered on a snowy college lawn and waving signs with the same logo that Sanders’ campaign used in 2016.

The 2020 Democratic primary may be in full swing, but the bruising 2016 contest between Sanders and Clinton never ended for some. In the opening days of Sanders’ latest campaign, Clinton’s supporters have warned that he will drag the party to the extreme left and have threatened to reveal unsavory details about him. Sanders and some of his backers have been strikingly dismissive of the first woman to be a major party’s presidential nominee. In the process, the entire Democratic field risks getting bogged down in the last campaign instead of positioning themselves to beat President Donald Trump.

“One of the biggest cliches in politics is that elections are about the future, not the past, and there’s a reason that cliches are cliches — because they’re true,” said Mo Elleithee, a former Clinton spokesman who now leads Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service. “To sit here and relitigate what happened in the 2016 Democratic primary means we’re not talking about the 2020 Democratic primary. How’s that good for anybody?”

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‘Rock star for a day’: New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — From children clamoring for tossed strands of beads, to revelers dressed up as “blind referees” poking fun at the NFL, to high school bands marching down the street, people in New Orleans celebrated Fat Tuesday with flair and fun.

Mardi Gras season began Jan. 6 and featured weeks of parades, fancy-dress balls, king cakes and generalized frivolity citywide. Fat Tuesday is the culmination of Carnival. The festivities kicked off in Tuesday’s pre-dawn hours with the Northside Skull and Bone Gang in skeleton costumes waking people to celebrate the day. The fun continued throughout the day and across the city with parades, costumes and balls.

“I feel like a rock star for a day,” said Van Bender, carrying a sequined replica of the Death Star from the Star Wars movies and joined by friends carrying sequined images of Darth Vader, Boba Fett and a Stormtrooper. He said there’s a sense of joy on Fat Tuesday. “It feels like peace on Earth. Everyone’s filled with love. Everyone gets along. Everyone helps each other.”

After rainy weather affected some parades Sunday, Tuesday dawned cold but sunny. People — some of whom came out before sunrise to stake a good spot along the parade route — bundled up under multiple layers. Lorenzo Bridgewater of Slidell, Louisiana, got out at about 4:30 a.m.

“I doubled up my jeans, doubled up my socks. I’m wearing a sweater underneath this and underneath that a thermal with a shirt over it. So I’m pretty layered up,” he said.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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