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Republicans vow to block Obama’s apex court pick

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Senate Republicans are in major  confrontation with President Barack Obama as they have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nominee to replace a dead conservative judge amid a tense battle for the White House.

Democrats blasted the “obstructionist and unprecedented” move setting the stage for a major confrontation between America’s finest African-American president and a Republican controlled legislature.

“I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everyone in my conference is that the nomination should be made by the president who the people elect in the election that is underway right now,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday.

“In short, there will not be action taken,” he said outraging the Democrats.

Obama has said he intends to nominate a judge to take the place of Justice Antonin Scalia on the nine judge bench and expects the Senate to hold hearings and a vote to confirm the new justice, but Republicans say the next president should make the nomination.

Scalia’s February 13 death has left the nine judge bench now evenly divided 4-4 among liberal and conservative judges.

McConnell’s comments came shortly after Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Senate leader saying no hearings will be held until Obama leaves office.

“Senator McConnell and the Republican leaders said point-blank they are not going to exercise their Constitutional responsibilities,” Senator Dick Durbin, Assistant Minority Leader said criticising the move.

“This has never happened before — never … and now, McConnell is going to have to wear the collar for it.”

Major cases before the apex court include access to abortion, and an Obama policy to prevent the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have children who are US citizens or lawful residents.

If the court splits 4-4, the decision of the lower court stands, but does not become nationwide precedent.

Meanwhile, a Fox News poll released earlier this month found that registered voters want Obama and Senate leaders to “take action to fill the vacancy now” by a margin of 62 percent to 34 percent.

A Pew Research Centre poll released on Monday found a majority of Americans (56 percent) say the Senate should hold hearings and vote on Obama’s choice to fill the vacancy, with 38 percent saying they should not hold hearings until the next president takes office.

Health

Boris Johnson spends second night in intensive care

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Boris Johnson

London, April 8 : UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spends a second night in intensive care as he continues to receive treatment for coronavirus.

The PM is being kept at St Thomas’ Hospital in London “for close monitoring”, Downing Street said, the BBC reported.

Johnson’s condition is “stable” and he remains in “good spirits”, his spokesman added on Tuesday evening.

Speaking at Tuesday’s Downing Street coronavirus briefing, he said Johnson was receiving standard oxygen treatment and was breathing without any assistance, such as mechanical ventilation or non-invasive respiratory support.

It is understood there will not be a further update on Mr Johnson’s condition until later on Wednesday.

Downing Street also confirmed that the planned review into whether the UK’s coronavirus lockdown measures could be eased would not go ahead this Monday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the PM, has said he was “confident” the PM would recover from this illness, describing him as a “fighter”.

Prime Minister was originally admitted to St Thomas’ on Sunday, on the advice of his doctor, after continuing to display symptoms of cough and high temperature 10 days after testing positive for the virus.

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America

COVID19 attack rate 14 in 1,000 in New York City: White House

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COVID-19 cases

New York, April 8 : The coronavirus continues to attack nearly 14 in 1,000 people in New York City and 7 in 1000 across New York State on a day when this COVID-19 hotspot recorded its biggest single-day surge in death toll from the pandemic that has killed more than 12,700 Americans and sickened nearly 400,000 across 50 states.

Despite the sobering numbers, America’s top infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci remains confident that America will have the COVID-19 pandemic “under control” by Fall 2020.

New York State reported 731 new coronavirus deaths, taking the state toll to nearly 5,500 since its first COVID-19 death on March 13. The spike comes even as hospital admissions and intubations are slowing, which suggest that the city may be close to its peak death tally and levelling off.

The death tally is a “lagging indicator” that reflects the loss of people hospitalised around the time social distancing rules came into play.

New York City’s death toll from the coronavirus rose past 3,200 Tuesday, which is way more than those killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

“That’s 731 people who we lost. Behind every one of those numbers is an individual. There’s a family, there’s a mother, there’s a father, there’s a sister, there’s a brother. So a lot of pain again today for many New Yorkers,” Cuomo said at a briefing Tuesday.

Later on the same day, White House coronavirus co-ordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said the attack rate in New York continues to be the country’s highest.

She was speaking at the daily White House task force briefing.

Beyond the New York border, the numbers drop but remain concerning, she said.

The drop off in the attack rate in a series of communities outside the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas are creating “much flatter curves”, according to Birx.

New Jersey is at 4 per 1000, Louisiana 3 per 1000, Massachusetts and Connecticut are 2 per 1000, Michigan, Washington DC and Baltimore are at 1.5 per 1000, Pennsylvania is at 1 per 1000.

“We see across the country a different curve parameter,” Birx said. “It shows the amazing activity of Americans in those cities, following social distancing guidelines.”

Birx called for “less socialisation between households” and urged Americans not to go out for non-essential tasks for as long as they could avoid it. “Let’s do this as a mark of respect for our amazing frontline health care workers,” she said.

When asked about the next school season, Fauci cautioned that COVID-19 “is not going to disappear” but also said he remains optimistic that “we’ll be in good shape”.

By Fall 2020, Fauci said the decisions around re-opening schools and businesses will depend on the country’s ability to “identify, isolate, to contact trace”.

“By that time, with the antibody tests, we’ll have a better sense of the actual penetrance of this in society. How many people have really been infected? How many are vulnerable? All of these things are going to go into the decision on how much back to the normal you can go back to.”

According to Fauci, America’s new normal when it emerges from the worst phase of the crisis will be something “very different to what we are going through now”.

“When we go back to normal, we’ll go back to a way of life where we can function as a society. If you want to get to pre-coronavirus, that might not ever happen because the threat is there,” he said.

Fauci has cautioned that COVID-19 is showing all the signs that it could hit on a seasonal cycle and that a vaccine is the ultimate gamechanger. According to him, the most aggressive timeline could deliver a vaccine in “12-18 months”.

(Nikhila Natarajan can be contacted at @byniknat)

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Health

Trump threatens to stop WHO funding as NY deaths pass 9/11 fatalities

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Donald Trump

In his regular press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday evening, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed displeasure with the World Health Organization (WHO), saying it was too “China-centric.”

Trump then threatened to withhold U.S. funding because they disagreed with him on his coronavirus travel ban.

But when pressed by reporters afterward, Trump said, “I’m looking at it.”

The president said that the United States might be getting to the top of the “curve” of the coronavirus outbreak and said he did not see an early written warning about the pandemic from a top White House aide.

Trump further added that evidence shows African Americans are having higher rates of COVID-19 infection in the United States and his administration is actively engaging on the problem of increased impacts on the African American community.

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