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World News

    Health officials confronted tough questions and doubts Thursday about testing to intercept the fast-spreading virus, with scrutiny focused on a four-day delay in screening an infected California woman despite her doctors’ early calls to do so. The questions are global: not just who, when and how to test for the illness, but how to make sure that working test kits get out to the labs that need them. All those issues apparently came in to play in the treatment of the woman in northern California, a case officials say may be the first community-spread instance of the disease in the U.S. “This was a clear gap in our preparedness, and the virus went right through the gap,” said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska College of Public Health. In the wake of the latest California case, U.S. health officials on Thursday expanded their criteria for who should get tested, and took steps to increase testing. The debate over testing has taken on added urgency as the number of cases worldwide climbed past 82,000, including 2,800 reported deaths. The rapid spread pushed officials in Saudi Arabia to cut travel to Islam's holiest sites, triggered tougher penalties in South Korea for people who break quarantines and ratcheted up pressure on investors as U.S. stock markets extended their week-long plunge. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank nearly 1,200 points Thursday, it's worst one-day drop since 2011. With the illness rippling across 47 nations in every continent but Antarctica, public health officials emphasized the need for rapid intervention. “Aggressive early measures can prevent transmission before the virus gets a foothold,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. He cited a study in China of more than 320,000 test samples that enabled health officials to zero in on the 0.14 percent that screened positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. But catching the disease early will require countries to invest in rapid diagnostics, said Dr. Gagandeep Kang, a microbiologist who heads the Translational Health Science And Technology Institute in India. Test kits used by the World Health Organization cost less than $5 each, said Michael Ryan, the group's emergencies programs director. But that figure does not include the expense of medical staff and validation screening, and making such investments effective goes well beyond the expense involved. 'As we can see from the new sparks on Italy, Iran, Korea, is that early identification of cases is crucial. There, the first persons with infection were missed,' said Marion Koopmans of the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands. Doctors at the University of California Davis Medical Center were mindful of the need for early identification when the hospital admitted a female patient on a ventilator and showing symptoms of a viral infection on Feb. 19. They asked federal officials to test her for the new coronavirus, but were told she did not fit federal testing criteria, according to an email hospital officials sent to their employees. The test was not done until four days later, on Feb. 23, and the results did not come back until Wednesday, a full week after she was admitted. Part of the problem is that the number of people being tested in the U.S. has been limited to those who, in addition to showing symptoms, have a history of travel to countries affected by the disease or contact with those who have done so, said Lauren Sauer, director of operations at Johns Hopkins University’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response. “In the U.S., people are sticking pretty closely to that definition,” Sauer said. But the increasing cases on other continents “are demonstrating we need to do a better job than just where the outbreak originated.” On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its testing criteria on its website — a move that had been in the works for days, according to a federal official familiar with the change. The CDC will continue to advise testing people who have traveled to certain outbreak areas and have fever and certain other symptoms. But now testing is also appropriate if such symptoms exist and flu and other respiratory illnesses have been ruled out and no source of exposure has been identified. As part of that, CDC has expanded the list of countries that are red flags for testing to include not only China but Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan. Last month, the CDC said it had developed a test kit that could be sent to state and big city public health labs, so they could broaden testing to more people. Early this month, the agency got authorization to begin distribution of the kit to government public health labs in the 50 states and some cities and counties. But most of the kits proved to be faulty, providing inconclusive results to test samples that should have tested positive. The problem was blamed on one of three reagents used in the testing. CDC said it was trying to manufacture new reagents, but gave no firm timetable for when that would occur. Only about a half dozen state and local public health labs had fully functional kits as of early this week. As weeks passed, the problem became more and more frustrating, said Scott Becker, the chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. On Monday, Becker's organization sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, basically asking permission for state labs to develop their own tests. On Wednesday, FDA officials responded that labs would be allowed to rely on the two other reagents, meaning that as many as 40 state and local labs could be up and running with their tests in the next few days, Becker said. The California case, and remarks by Italian officials that they were rethinking how to classify people who test positive for the illness but show no symptoms, highlighted the questions that surround large-scale screening for the disease. The test being used by U.S. health officials takes just four to six hours to perform once it’s in a lab. But up to now, those tests have been sent to federal testing centers, often significantly extending the time to get results. “Testing protocols have been a point of frustration,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday. He said federal officials had assured their state counterparts that capacity to test will be growing “exponentially” in the next few days, but he wasn’t more specific. Federal official likely limited testing early on because of concerns about a deluge of false positives, which could panic communities and become counterproductive, said Khan, a former top disease investigator for the CDC. But he suggested that a tiered testing system might be the answer, in which a positive test would have to be verified by another lab before a case is diagnosed and counted. The challenge is complicated by a slowness to distribute test kits. Newsom said Thursday the state had just 200 testing kits on hand and “that’s simply inadequate.” He said he spoke to CDC officials and they assured him they were working to make testing more broadly available in California. In Italy, where an outbreak has depressed tourism and fueled panic, officials said Thursday they would change their reporting and testing practices in ways that could lower the country's reported caseload. Italian authorities plan from now on to distinguish between people who test positive for the virus and patients showing symptoms, since the majority of the people in Italy with confirmed infections aren’t actually sick. They said they would follow urging by the WHO and hold off on certifying cases screened only at a regional level, until they can be confirmed by national officials. “The cases that emerge from the regions are still considered suspect and unconfirmed,” said Walter Ricciardi, a WHO adviser to the Italian government. But U.S. experts said the crisis requires more rapid testing, and a willingness by officials to revise their criteria. Sauer pointed to a case in Canada, where officials zeroed in on a traveler from Iran with COVID-19 soon after that country announced its first cases. “Let our really smart doctors do what they do really well,' Khan said. 'If they are really suspicious that a pneumonia or influenza-like illness does not quite look like an influenza-like illness, allow them to test!” ___ Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard in Washington, Frank Jordans and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi, Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco, and Frances D’Emilio and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.
  • A Turkish official said early Friday 22 Turkish soldiers have been killed in an air strike by Syrian government forces. Rahmi Dogan, the governor of Hatay, the Turkish province bordering Syria's Idlib region, said the soldiers were killed Thursday. He said several seriously wounded troops were being treated in hospitals. A total 25 Turkish soldiers were killed in Syria Thursday, with another three reported dead in a separate incident earlier in the day.
  • Nine Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in northeast Syria late Thursday, a Turkish official said. Hatay Governor Rahmi Dogan said other soldiers were severely wounded in the attack by Syrian government forces and were being treated at hospitals in Turkey. Hatay borders the Syrian province of Idlib. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called an emergency security meeting in Ankara, broadcaster NTV reported. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg by telephone, according to state-run Anadolu news agency. The deaths are the largest number of fatalities suffered by Turkish forces in a single day since Ankara started sending thousands of troops into Idlib in recent weeks in a bid to halt an advance by Syrian forces that has sent hundreds of thousands of displaced people towards the Turkish border.
  • French authorities on Thursday reported twenty new cases of people infected with the new virus in the past 24 hours, bringing the total in the country to 38, including two deaths. The jump in figures prompted concern as French President Emmanuel Macron warned earlier that the country was bracing for an epidemic. The head of France's national health agency, Jerome Salomon, said 24 people were in hospital Thursday, while 12 others have been cured. French health authorities have found that 12 of the new patients, including three working on a military base, are all connected to two previous cases in the Oise region, north of Paris: a 60-year-old Frenchman who died this week and another Frenchman who is in intensive care in the northern city of Amiens. French authorities are still trying to determine how they contracted the virus since they did not travel to a risk zone. The man who died this week was a teacher in a middle school in the Oise region. He had not been in contact with schoolchildren for the past two weeks. Amid other new cases are people coming back from Italy and others who take part in a group tour to Egypt. Health Minister Olivier Veran said French authorities' priority was now to get the spread of the virus under control, as neighboring Italy was the site of Europe's biggest cluster of cases. The new figures come as French President Emmanuel Macron visited a Paris hospital Thursday and warned that “we are facing a crisis, an epidemic that is coming.” He later traveled to Naples, in southern Italy, for a bilateral summit. The first death in France was an 80-year-old tourist from China.
  • One month after a gas tanker leak triggered fires and explosions that killed 30 people in the Peruvian capital, traumatized survivors and relatives of victims are still waiting to know who was responsible. They include Paola Lizeta, whose 13-year-old son, Jean Francis Álvarez, ran back toward his house to try to rescue his dog and died a week later after suffering severe burns. The dog, Lester, survived. “Sometimes he wants me to pick him up,” Lizeta said of the dog. “I embrace him with all my strength.” Some 14 people were also injured in the blaze that swept through the Sector 6 neighborhood of the Villa El Salvador district in Lima on Jan. 23. While prosecutors say they are working hard to close their investigation, grief and disillusionment have overwhelmed the neighborhood. “Nobody has been jailed. There's no justice,” said 26-year-old Vanesa Meza, who lost her aunt and four nieces in the disaster. Four of Meza's nephews - the youngest is a baby - remain hospitalized with burns over half their bodies. Visible as a white cloud, liquefied gas leaked from a tanker after its pump hit a sharply angled speed bump at an intersection, according to a police report. Residents rushed away from the cloud, but someone started a car and a spark ignited the gas, Lizeta said. Prosecutor Humberto Durán is investigating the tanker driver, the gas distribution company, Lima Mayor Jorge Muñoz, Villa El Salvador Mayor Kevin Iñigo and other officials. The administrations of Muñoz and Iñigo blame each other for the lack of road maintenance at the intersection where the disaster happened. In addition, the tanker driver, 72-year-old Luis Guzmán, wasn't authorized to transport liquefied gas and had been fined five times for transporting dangerous cargo without observing safety protocols. On. Jan 23, Guzmán should have had a colleague with him, but was driving solo. His vehicle didn't have proper fenders or a system that would automatically prevent the gas from escaping into the air. Emergency services were slow to arrive at the scene to help victims and put out the flames. Firefighters admitted later that a fire engine was out of order after a road accident. Wilder Félix, a water distributor, was passing through the area and pitched in with supplies from his truck to fight the fire consuming people, homes and vehicles. Authorities have promised to rebuild two homes and help fix 23 others, but civil defense officials say the damage is much more extensive. Today, the Sector 6 neighborhood still smells of ashes. Some residents prefer to walk at night so they don't see the debris from the fire. For a while, there were funerals of victims almost every day. The neighborhood knows about suffering. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Shining Path guerrilla group staged attacks and killings of local leaders in the area. Jean Francis Álvarez didn't find his dog after rushing back to his home to look for the mixed breed pet, which had escaped by another route. His mother, Lizeta, later received a call saying he was in the emergency room. The boy had been burned over 80% of his body. She found her son sitting with his feet in a container full of water, strips of skin hanging from him. “Son, give yourself to God,” Lizeta recalled saying. “I'm cold, mummy, cover me,” Jean Francis said. That was the last time they spoke. The boy later died from septic shock.
  • Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Thursday that he wants to “make the truth be known” at his fraud trial in Paris. Fillon is facing charges after he used public funds to pay his wife and children for work they allegedly never performed. Fillon, 65, has denied wrongdoing. In his first statement to the court, Fillon said he had already been sentenced by the “media court.' “The goal was clear: To prevent me from running in normal conditions in the presidential election,” Fillon said. “Damages are irreparable.” French media broke the scandal in January 2017, just three months before a presidential election in which Fillon was considered the front-runner. The revelations crushed his campaign. He was eliminated from the race after finishing third in the first round, behind centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine le Pen. Fillon is suspected of having given jobs as parliamentary aides, involving no sustained work, to his wife and two of their children from 1998 to 2013. Altogether, the aide work brought the family more than 1 million euros ($1.08 million). Fillon explained his lack of documentation proving the work done by his wife by saying that he kept no archives of his parliamentary work in his electoral district, in the rural Sarthe region in western France. Welsh-born Penelope Fillon has always kept a low profile. She told the court that her mission consisted mostly in handling her husband's mail, helping him prepare events and speeches, and providing information on local issues. She said she never worked at the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, to where her husband was first elected in 1981. Asked about her well-paid job, she said repeatedly that her husband was in charge of taking those types of decisions. She said she didn't remember well the successive contracts she had as a parliamentary aid. Francois Fillon insisted that, according to the principle of separation of powers, the justice system cannot interfere with a lawmaker's choices and how he organizes work at his office. Fillon served as prime minister under president Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012. The trial is scheduled to last until March 11. If convicted, Fillon and his wife face up to ten years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros.
  • A British judge refused Thursday to let WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange move from a glass-enclosed dock and sit with his lawyers during a London court hearing on whether he should be extradited to the United States. Assange complained of struggling to hear and concentrate during the first four days of the hearing at London’s high-security Woolwich Crown Court. He also said he cannot easily communicate with his legal team from the secure defendants' dock at the back of the courtroom. His lawyers described Assange a “vulnerable person” who has suffered from depression. But District Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is presiding over the extradition hearing, denied the request for a different seating plan. “I have not been told of any particular aspect of your condition which requires you to leave the dock and sit with your legal team,' she said. Assange, 48, is wanted in the U.S. on spying charges over the leaking of classified government documents a decade ago. American prosecutors accuse him of conspiring with U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a password, hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange maintains he was acting as a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection. His lawyers have argued the U.S. charges of espionage and computer misuse were politically motivated and an abuse of power. His extradition hearing is due to resume May 18, when both sides will present evidence to back up their cases. If convicted in the U.S., he faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison. Assange has been held at London’s Belmarsh Prison since April 2019, when he was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He jumped bail and took refuge in the embassy seven years earlier to avoid being sent to Sweden over allegations of rape and sexual assault.
  • Prague has renamed a square in front of the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov, honoring the slain Russian opposition leader. The change did not immediately draw an angry response from Moscow, as did some other recent moves in the Czech capital, such as a plan to remove the statue of a World War II Soviet commander, Marshall Ivan Stepanovic Konev. Nemtsov was an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was murdered near the Kremlin five years ago. Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib unveiled the new street sign on Thursday, a few days after the municipality approved the modification. “I understand the new name is an expression of solidarity with the opposition in Russia and the human rights movement,” Hrib said. Nemtsov's daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, thanked Prague during the ceremony. “Boris Nemtsov was a representative of humanism in Russian politics,” Nemtsova said. “We had only few of them in history, unlike many tyrants,” she said through a translator. Washington D.C. and Lithuania’s capital city of Vilnius have also honored Nemtsov in the same way in recent years.
  • African leaders have decided to work on deploying 3,000 troops to West Africa’s troubled Sahel region as extremist attacks surge, an African Union official said Thursday. The force would be a significant new player in the sprawling, arid region south of the Sahara Desert where fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group killed thousands of people last year — at times working together in an unprecedented move. The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems. That has sparked pressure from worried security allies including France and regional countries as well as a rare bipartisan outcry among lawmakers in Washington. Smail Chergui, the African Union commissioner for peace and security, relayed the new troop decision that was taken at the recent AU summit during a meeting Thursday with visiting European Union officials. The AU continental body is expected to work with the West African regional counterterror force G5 Sahel as well as the West African regional body ECOWAS, which has formed peacekeeping units in the past, Chergui said. ECOWAS in September announced what Chergui called a “very bold” plan to counter extremism in the region, including mobilizing up to $1 billion through 2024. “As you see and recognize yourself, the threat is expanding and becoming more complex,” Chergui said. “Terrorists are now even bringing a new modus operandi from Afghanistan and al-Shabab” in Somalia. It was not immediately clear what the next steps would be in forming the AU force for the Sahel, which has become the most active region in Africa for extremist attacks. The force would join France's largest overseas military operation, the 5,100-strong Barkhane, and the 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, one of the hardest-hit countries in the attacks along with Burkina Faso and Niger.
  • El Salvador's congress has passed a law allowing judges to reduce sentences for crimes committed during the country's 1980-1992 civil war, drawing criticism from the president and rights activists. President Nayib Bukele vowed to veto the law, saying it did not contain the key elements of “truth, justice and reparation.' In 2016, the country's Supreme Court struck down a 1993 amnesty law and ordered the assembly to draw up a new bill including those three principles. Congressman Juan José Martell said the bill had “been drawn up behind the backs of victims' and was a “disguised amnesty law.” The 84-seat unicameral National Assembly approved the bill in a 44-11 vote on Wednesday. The 12-year conflict between the government and leftist guerrillas killed more than 75,000 people.
  • U.S. sales of new homes jumped 7.9% in January to the fastest pace in more than 12 years, a positive sign for economic growth. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 764,000 last month. That’s the highest sales rate since July 2007, shortly before the U.S. economy slumped into the Great Recession. Half of January’s sales gains came from people buying homes that have yet to be constructed, possible evidence that low mortgage rates may be driving their decisions to purchase. Borrowing costs for home loans have tumbled since 2018. But a shortage of properties on the market means that prices are also rising quickly. The median price of a new home surged 14% from a year ago to $348,200.
  • With less than 48 hours until the polls open on Saturday for the South Carolina Primary, several of the top candidates in the Democratic Party race on Thursday decided to leave the Palmetto State behind, and jump ahead to some of the 14 states which vote on Super Tuesday. Bernie Sanders was hitting two Super Tuesday states on Thursday, holding a late morning rally in Winston Salem, North Carolina, before going on to Richmond, Virginia, two states which vote next week. Sanders finishes Thursday with a rally at Wofford College in Spartanburg. Unlike the past few days on the stump in South Carolina, where Sanders has thrown elbows at Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden, Sanders in North Carolina instead focused his ire on President Donald Trump. 'I believe that Donald Trump is a hoax,' Sanders said, criticizing the President for his views on climate change. Along with Sanders, Elizabeth Warren was also taking a day off from the Palmetto State, as she had a rally in San Antonio. Part of Super Tuesday, Texas has not attracted a great deal of campaign attention until now, even though 228 delegates are at stake in the Lone Star State - more than the 155 delegates awarded from the first four contests combined in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. While both Warren and Sanders were going to return to South Carolina, the calculus was a bit different for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who has now wrapped up her campaign in South Carolina, and moved on to Super Tuesday states. The Minnesota Democrat started her Thursday with a voting rights roundtable in Greensboro, North Carolina. 'As much as maybe the debates may have seemed like slugfests, I want to you to remember what an exciting time this is in our politics,' Klobuchar said. “Call your friends, tell them what you heard today,” Klobuchar said at a second event in the Tar Heel State. “It is not about the biggest bank account,” Klobuchar said of the campaign.  “That's been shown time and time again.” Klobuchar will campaign Friday and Saturday in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee - all three states are on the docket for Super Tuesday.  While Klobuchar, Warren, and Sanders spent time outside South Carolina, Tom Steyer, Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg were still doing campaign events in the Palmetto State on Thursday. The latest poll from Monmouth University showed a growing lead for Biden.
  • Adding another item to their election year list of grievances about President Donald Trump, the candidates for the Democratic Party nomination have stepped up their criticism of the White House response to the Coronavirus, arguing it is emblematic of what they charge is the President's haphazard method of governing. 'I am deeply concerned not just by the rise of cases of Coronavirus worldwide, but by the inadequate and incompetent response we have seen from Donald Trump and his administration,' said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 'He has done an absolutely terrible job of responding,' Tom Steyer said of the President at a campaign stop on Wednesday in Georgetown, South Carolina.  'He is incompetent,' added Steyer, as Democrats blasted the President for proposing cuts at the Centers for Disease Control. 'The Trump administration is absolutely bungling the response,' said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as she accused the President of 'putting our public health and our economy at risk.' In a CNN televised town hall on Wednesday night in Charleston, Mike Bloomberg joined in ridiculing the White House response. 'Number one, he fired the pandemic team two years ago,' Bloomberg said. 'Number two, he's been defunding Centers for Disease Control. So, we don't have the experts in place that we need.' The comments came as Bloomberg has already put up a campaign ad saying that he would be the perfect politician to handle such a crisis. In a separate CNN town hall, Joe Biden said the U.S. needs to challenge the Chinese more on how the government is handling the situation. 'I would not be taking China's word for it,' Biden said. “I just hope the President gets on the same page as the scientists.' Asked about the President putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the Coronavirus response, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said there might have been better choices. “I would think, usually, you might put a medical professional in charge,” Klobuchar said to laughter from the audience at a CNN town hall.
  • A day after a raucous final debate before Saturday's key primary in the Palmetto State, Joe Biden rolled out a major endorsement from the most influential black Democrat in South Carolina, while Bernie Sanders said Biden does not have the ability to defeat President Trump in November. 'Jim, you better hope I don't win because you're going to be the busiest man in the world,' Biden told Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), just before Clyburn officially weighed in on behalf of Biden. 'I know Joe Biden. I know his character, his heart, and his record,' Clyburn said, as he urged black voters to back the former Vice President this weekend. 'We know Joe. But more importantly, he knows us,' Clyburn added. During a stop in Georgetown, a small port town up the coast from Charleston, Biden urged voters to turn out and vote on Saturday. “Take back the country - now,” Biden said, his voice rising. Before a group of local officials and voters, Biden made clear his dislike for President Trump - 'he's more George Wallace than George Washington' - and gently chided Bernie Sanders with familiar jabs on health care and gun control. 'God Bless Bernie,' Biden said, reminding voters that Sanders has made big promises which cost trillions of dollars. 'I'm not picking on Bernie or those who are for Medicare For All, I just think it's a little bit of honesty about what in fact, things are going to cost - who is going to pay for it,' Biden said. While Biden looked to consolidate his support among African-American voters, Sanders rushed across the state to sign up more people for his election crusade. 'Some of you may have recently heard that the establishment is getting very, very nervous about our movement,' Sanders said at a rally in North Charleston. While Sanders mainly focused on President Trump, the independent Senator from Vermont also added in some new jabs at Biden to Wednesday's stump speech. 'Same old, same old, is not going to do it,' Sanders said, making the argument that Biden is not going to bring enough new voters into the Democratic Party to defeat President Trump in November. 'And I say to my good friend, Joe Biden - Joe, you can't do it,' Sanders added, making the case that he is the only candidate who can win the White House. 'Joe is a friend of mine and a decent guy, but that is not the voting record or the history that is going to excite people, bring them into the political process, and beat Trump,' Sanders added. Polls in South Carolina show Biden and Sanders far ahead of the field, with only Tom Steyer - who has spent large amounts of money on advertising in this state - in striking distance of the two leaders. Steyer and Biden were about four blocks from each other in Georgetown, as Steyer spoke to a small, racially mixed crowd at a black church several blocks from the water. 'I've been here more than anyone else,' Steyer said of his attention to South Carolina, as his visits combined with a lot of television ads have propelled him into the mix here - unlike any other state so far. Steyer rattled off his work on impeachment and blasted President Trump at every opportunity, calling him incompetent. 'He stinks on the economy,' Steyer said. Only a few blocks away, both men had essentially the same message for their audiences in Georgetown. 'South Carolina gets a huge voice on Saturday,' Steyer said. 'Get up and take back the country!' Biden implored.
  • Los Angeles County firefighters responded to a large refinery fire that temporarily closed all lanes of the 405 Freeway Tuesday night in the city of Carson. KTLA-TV reports that massive flames could be seen burning from the Marathon Petroleum Corporation located 13 miles south of downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Fire Department said the fire sparked about 10:50 p.m. An explosion went off before the fire began burning in a cooling tower at the refinery, the department said. Personnel from the refinery were keeping the flames in check through “fixed ground monitors” while working to depressurize the system, fire officials said. Authorities secured a perimeter around the refinery and did not anticipate needing to evacuate residents, officials said. Marathon is the largest refinery on the West Coast with a crude oil capacity of 363,000 barrels per calendar day, according to the company’s website. It manufactures gasoline and diesel fuel, along with distillates, petroleum coke, anode-grade coke, chemical-grade propylene, fuel-grade coke, heavy fuel oil and propane, the website says. Authorities could not immediately confirm what sparked the fire. No injuries have been reported so far.

Washington Insider

  • With less than 48 hours until the polls open on Saturday for the South Carolina Primary, several of the top candidates in the Democratic Party race on Thursday decided to leave the Palmetto State behind, and jump ahead to some of the 14 states which vote on Super Tuesday. Bernie Sanders was hitting two Super Tuesday states on Thursday, holding a late morning rally in Winston Salem, North Carolina, before going on to Richmond, Virginia, two states which vote next week. Sanders finishes Thursday with a rally at Wofford College in Spartanburg. Unlike the past few days on the stump in South Carolina, where Sanders has thrown elbows at Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden, Sanders in North Carolina instead focused his ire on President Donald Trump. 'I believe that Donald Trump is a hoax,' Sanders said, criticizing the President for his views on climate change. Along with Sanders, Elizabeth Warren was also taking a day off from the Palmetto State, as she had a rally in San Antonio. Part of Super Tuesday, Texas has not attracted a great deal of campaign attention until now, even though 228 delegates are at stake in the Lone Star State - more than the 155 delegates awarded from the first four contests combined in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. While both Warren and Sanders were going to return to South Carolina, the calculus was a bit different for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who has now wrapped up her campaign in South Carolina, and moved on to Super Tuesday states. The Minnesota Democrat started her Thursday with a voting rights roundtable in Greensboro, North Carolina. 'As much as maybe the debates may have seemed like slugfests, I want to you to remember what an exciting time this is in our politics,' Klobuchar said. “Call your friends, tell them what you heard today,” Klobuchar said at a second event in the Tar Heel State. “It is not about the biggest bank account,” Klobuchar said of the campaign.  “That's been shown time and time again.” Klobuchar will campaign Friday and Saturday in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee - all three states are on the docket for Super Tuesday.  While Klobuchar, Warren, and Sanders spent time outside South Carolina, Tom Steyer, Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg were still doing campaign events in the Palmetto State on Thursday. The latest poll from Monmouth University showed a growing lead for Biden.
  • Adding another item to their election year list of grievances about President Donald Trump, the candidates for the Democratic Party nomination have stepped up their criticism of the White House response to the Coronavirus, arguing it is emblematic of what they charge is the President's haphazard method of governing. 'I am deeply concerned not just by the rise of cases of Coronavirus worldwide, but by the inadequate and incompetent response we have seen from Donald Trump and his administration,' said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 'He has done an absolutely terrible job of responding,' Tom Steyer said of the President at a campaign stop on Wednesday in Georgetown, South Carolina.  'He is incompetent,' added Steyer, as Democrats blasted the President for proposing cuts at the Centers for Disease Control. 'The Trump administration is absolutely bungling the response,' said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as she accused the President of 'putting our public health and our economy at risk.' In a CNN televised town hall on Wednesday night in Charleston, Mike Bloomberg joined in ridiculing the White House response. 'Number one, he fired the pandemic team two years ago,' Bloomberg said. 'Number two, he's been defunding Centers for Disease Control. So, we don't have the experts in place that we need.' The comments came as Bloomberg has already put up a campaign ad saying that he would be the perfect politician to handle such a crisis. In a separate CNN town hall, Joe Biden said the U.S. needs to challenge the Chinese more on how the government is handling the situation. 'I would not be taking China's word for it,' Biden said. “I just hope the President gets on the same page as the scientists.' Asked about the President putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the Coronavirus response, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said there might have been better choices. “I would think, usually, you might put a medical professional in charge,” Klobuchar said to laughter from the audience at a CNN town hall.
  • A day after a raucous final debate before Saturday's key primary in the Palmetto State, Joe Biden rolled out a major endorsement from the most influential black Democrat in South Carolina, while Bernie Sanders said Biden does not have the ability to defeat President Trump in November. 'Jim, you better hope I don't win because you're going to be the busiest man in the world,' Biden told Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), just before Clyburn officially weighed in on behalf of Biden. 'I know Joe Biden. I know his character, his heart, and his record,' Clyburn said, as he urged black voters to back the former Vice President this weekend. 'We know Joe. But more importantly, he knows us,' Clyburn added. During a stop in Georgetown, a small port town up the coast from Charleston, Biden urged voters to turn out and vote on Saturday. “Take back the country - now,” Biden said, his voice rising. Before a group of local officials and voters, Biden made clear his dislike for President Trump - 'he's more George Wallace than George Washington' - and gently chided Bernie Sanders with familiar jabs on health care and gun control. 'God Bless Bernie,' Biden said, reminding voters that Sanders has made big promises which cost trillions of dollars. 'I'm not picking on Bernie or those who are for Medicare For All, I just think it's a little bit of honesty about what in fact, things are going to cost - who is going to pay for it,' Biden said. While Biden looked to consolidate his support among African-American voters, Sanders rushed across the state to sign up more people for his election crusade. 'Some of you may have recently heard that the establishment is getting very, very nervous about our movement,' Sanders said at a rally in North Charleston. While Sanders mainly focused on President Trump, the independent Senator from Vermont also added in some new jabs at Biden to Wednesday's stump speech. 'Same old, same old, is not going to do it,' Sanders said, making the argument that Biden is not going to bring enough new voters into the Democratic Party to defeat President Trump in November. 'And I say to my good friend, Joe Biden - Joe, you can't do it,' Sanders added, making the case that he is the only candidate who can win the White House. 'Joe is a friend of mine and a decent guy, but that is not the voting record or the history that is going to excite people, bring them into the political process, and beat Trump,' Sanders added. Polls in South Carolina show Biden and Sanders far ahead of the field, with only Tom Steyer - who has spent large amounts of money on advertising in this state - in striking distance of the two leaders. Steyer and Biden were about four blocks from each other in Georgetown, as Steyer spoke to a small, racially mixed crowd at a black church several blocks from the water. 'I've been here more than anyone else,' Steyer said of his attention to South Carolina, as his visits combined with a lot of television ads have propelled him into the mix here - unlike any other state so far. Steyer rattled off his work on impeachment and blasted President Trump at every opportunity, calling him incompetent. 'He stinks on the economy,' Steyer said. Only a few blocks away, both men had essentially the same message for their audiences in Georgetown. 'South Carolina gets a huge voice on Saturday,' Steyer said. 'Get up and take back the country!' Biden implored.
  • For the first time in the 2020 Democratic Party race for President, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took the brunt of the attacks on stage, as the front runner was bluntly accused of being so liberal on a variety of issues that a Sanders nomination would cause more moderate Democrats in Congress to lose their seats in Congress. 'They are running away from your platform as fast as they possibly can,' Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg said to Sanders, drawing cheers from the debate audience. The verbal battle got so heated at times - as the CBS moderators struggled to keep control of the debate - that Buttigieg, Sanders, and others simply talked over each other repeatedly, making it hard to hear what was going on. Here's a quick look at how each of the seven candidates fared on stage Tuesday night. + BERNIE SANDERS. Sanders might have been bloodied, but he certainly wasn't beaten down by the other Democrats on stage, though the independent Vermont Senator seemed to be tiring of the attacks late in the debate, as he yelled more and more loudly. 'Hey, Amy,' he roared at one point, trying to push back at Amy Klobuchar. 'Really?' Sanders said as he was jeered at one point by the audience - another time Sanders was booed when he criticized Joe Biden while debating gun control. But whether it was his words about Fidel Castro and Cuba, or his plans for Medicare For All, Sanders was not apologizing for where he's been - or where he wants to go. + JOE BIDEN. Biden did not mince any words when pressed about how he needed to do on Saturday in South Carolina. 'I will win,' the former Vice President said, in a Joe Namath Super Bowl victory guarantee. It may have been Biden's best debate so far, as he jabbed at Sanders repeatedly - 'Bernie in fact hasn't passed much of anything' - and again raised questions about how Sanders has dealt with gun control legislation. When the debates began last summer, Biden would always nicely follow the rules and stop talking when his time was up. But by debate number ten on Tuesday night, he was done with that. 'Why am I stopping? No one else stops,' Biden told the CBS moderators. + ELIZABETH WARREN. Warren had the most unique game plan at the debate, as she spent very little time talking about why she would be good as President, but spent a lot of time trashing former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Every chance Warren got, she turned a topic into a referendum on Bloomberg. Why hasn't he released his taxes. What about non-disclosure agreements with his employees. She accused Bloomberg of racism on housing. In fact, Warren's attacks went so far that some in the crowd jeered her at one point as she launched a new attack on Bloomberg. The closest she got to saying anything bad about Sanders was when she said, 'Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better President than Bernie.' + PETE BUTTIGIEG. Maybe the most effective in leading the charge against Sanders in the debate was Buttigieg, as the two often talked over each other in a battle of wits between the 78 year old Senator and the 38 year old Mayor. Buttigieg mocked the idea that Sanders could win in November, portraying his nomination as a toxic brew which could cost Democrats control of the House, and the defeat of dozens of more moderate Democratic lawmakers elected in 2018. 'Stop acting like the presidency is the only office that matters,' Buttigieg chastised Sanders. One thing Buttigieg did not repeat from last week in Las Vegas was his mini battles with Amy Klobuchar. + AMY KLOBUCHAR. While Amy Klobuchar repeatedly tried to explain how she had been working on issues big and small in the Congress, she did not pull any punches about Bernie Sanders, joining attacks from others that Sanders could be a big liability in November up and down the ballot. 'I like Bernie,' Klobuchar said. 'But I do not believe this is the best person to lead the ticket.'  Klobuchar will campaign in South Carolina on Wednesday, but then leave the state to look for votes in some of the states which vote on Super Tuesday, March 3. + TOM STEYER. While Steyer is not a major force around the country, he has been polling strongly in third place here in the Palmetto State - which means that his debate effort could have a bigger impact on Saturday's vote. Steyer has also made some inroads in the black community in South Carolina, maybe grabbing some votes away from Joe Biden. Both men will be campaigning within a few blocks of each other on Wednesday. + MICHAEL BLOOMBERG. In his second debate, Bloomberg did not repeat his first debate performance, which was widely panned, though he struggled to deliver some one liners which fell flat.  During this debate, Bloomberg again found himself under fire from Elizabeth Warren, but tried to use his time on the debate stage to raise questions about Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump instead. Remember - Bloomberg is not even on the ballot in South Carolina, as he is focused on the Super Tuesday states of March 3.
  • While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took the most flak at Tuesday night's Democratic Party debate in South Carolina, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) ran against the grain of others on stage, repeatedly attacking Michael Bloomberg as she did in a debate last week in Nevada. 'I don't care how much money Mayor Bloomberg has,' Warren said at one point in the debate. 'The core of the Democratic Party will never trust him.' 'Is Warren running to win the nomination or to be Bernie’s wingman?' tweeted political analyst Stu Rothenberg, as Warren spent more time attacking Bloomberg than talking about why she should be President. 'Warren can slay Bloomberg, but what does she get out of it?' said Joe Lockhart, a former White House Press Secretary under President Barack Obama. In one exchange with Bloomberg, Warren pressed the former New York mayor so much that some in the crowd began jeering the Massachusetts Senator. As the debate began, Warren made the case that she was the better progressive choice than Sanders, but did not try to tear down the Independent Senator from Vermont. 'Bernie and I agree on a lot of things, but I think I would make a better president than Bernie,' Warren said. 'Progressives have got one shot. And we need to spend it with a leader who will get something done,' Warren added, as the closest she came to criticizing Sanders directly came as she accused Sanders aides of attacking her. 'And then Bernie's team trashed me for it,' Warren said. But after that - it was almost all about Bloomberg. The polls in South Carolina have not shown much in the way of promise for Warren, as she's been mired in a battle for fourth place with Pete Buttigieg, well behind Joe Biden, Sanders, and Tom Steyer.