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Smooth Psaki shows new tone in first Biden press briefing

NEW YORK (AP) — If there's one thing clear after White House press secretary Jen Psaki's first session with reporters on Wednesday, it's that she's determined to minimize drama in the briefing room.Her 31-minute news conference stood in stark contrast to Sean Spicer's first time before reporters four years earlier. Spicer made the plainly false claim that President Donald Trump's inauguration crowd was the largest in history, which he later said he regretted.Psaki's session was sedate, even boring at times, due at least in part to the newness of the administration.She promised to make the sessions a weekday routine ("not Saturday and Sunday. I'm not a monster"). The 42-year-old Psaki (pronounced SOCK-eee) was a State Department spokesperson and White House communications director in former President Barack Obama's administration.She didn't see it as a choice when asked by Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller whether she saw her job as promoting Biden's interests or providing the unvarnished truth on issues to the American people.“His objective and his commitment is to bring transparency and truth back to government and to share the truth even when it's hard to hear,” she said, “and that's what I hope to do.”Psaki handled questions with no outward nervousness, even displaying a practiced ability to duck. NBC's Peter Alexander had to ask a second time whether Biden had confidence in FBI director Christopher Wray, before Psaki said she'd check with the president and come back with an answer at another time.When Miller asked if Biden believed that Trump should be barred from holding public office again, she didn't directly answer, although she said Biden ran because he didn't believe Trump could do the job capably.Fox News Channel's Peter Doocy wondered, given Biden's call for unity in his inaugural address, whether the president thought the Senate should move forward with an impeachment trial for Trump.“His view is the way to bring the country together is to address the problems we're facing,” she said.Psaki, who double-masked before taking them off to answer questions, threw subtle shade at the notably lax mask-wearing habits of Trump and many in his administration.“The president has also asked us to be models for the American people,” she said.A relentless ability to stay on message produced at least one cringe-worthy line: “The issue that he wakes up every day focused on is getting this pandemic under control. The issue he goes to bed every night focused on is getting this pandemic under control,” she said.Psaki showed a bone-dry wit when one reporter asked if Biden planned to keep the new color scheme that Trump ordered for Air Force One.“This is such a good question,” Psaki said. “I have not had the opportunity to dig into that today.”It was the first White House press briefing since Dec. 15, 2020, when Kayleigh McEnany held the last of her 42 sessions for Trump, according to journalist Mark Knoller.After Psaki was done, observers on both CNN and Fox News Channel agreed that briefing's tone was markedly different from those during the Trump administration.They disagreed on why, though.CNN's chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, pointed to the lack of attacks on reporters coming from the podium. Fox's Brian Kilmeade said Psaki was composed and experienced, but faced cordial questions.“Not overly easy, but cordial,” Kilmeade said. “This is the way it should have been for four years with President Trump. Not one day did any of her predecessors have that tone” from reporters, he said.

Biden's first Cabinet member to lead battered intel agencies

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, giving President Joe Biden the first member of his Cabinet and placing the first woman in charge of the nearly two-decade old agency. Haines, a former deputy director of the CIA and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, was confirmed with an overwhelming 84-10 vote, signaling a bipartisan desire for confirming Biden's national security nominees and installing strong leadership after four turbulent years for the intelligence community. Former President Donald Trump spent much of his presidency criticizing intelligence officials, doubting them and installing loyalist leaders — retribution for a probe into his ties to Russia that began before he was elected. In her confirmation hearing Tuesday, Haines made clear she intends to end the Trump administration's practice of pressuring officials to shape their analysis to the president’s liking. “When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee. Haines said she sees the job as speaking “truth to power” and delivering accurate and apolitical intelligence even if it was uncomfortable or inconvenient for the administration. She said China would be a major focus.Suspicious of leaks and backstabbing, Trump nominated and installed close allies to head the agency in his final year, further battering morale and creating suspicion within the community and in Congress, where leaders in both parties suspected they were not always getting the intelligence they were legally entitled to receive. “The last four years have been hard on the intelligence community,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee after Democrats took the majority on Wednesday. Warner said Haines is “clear eyed” and “the right woman to repair this damage.” Warner said Haines “will support the men and women of the IC, and protect them from political pressure. She will insist that they tell us their best analysis and not shy away from telling decision-makers that their cherished beliefs are wrong.” Haines also won support from the committee’s top Republican, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who said he looks forward to working with her. “Our adversaries will not stand by and wait for the new administration to staff critical positions,” Rubio said. The Senate was able to vote quickly on the nomination and bypass a committee vote, just hours after Biden’s inauguration, when Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton dropped his objection to the nomination Wednesday evening. Cotton had said he did not want the Senate to move forward on her nomination until he had assurances from her that she would not re-open investigations into Bush-era interrogation programs, citing comments she made at the hearing. He said Wednesday evening that Haines had clarified that she “had no intention to open up those investigations and expose operations officers inside the CIA to criminal prosecution.”

Ovechkin on COVID list, Caps fined $100K; Canes games off

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin and three other Washington Capitals players were added to the NHL's COVID-19 list Wednesday and the team was fined $100,000 by the league for violating coronavirus protocols, including a gathering in a hotel room.In addition to three-time MVP Ovechkin — one of just eight players in NHL history with more than 700 goals — the Capitals joining the COVID-19 list were center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and top goalie Ilya Samsonov.“I regret my choice to spend time together with my teammates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas,” Ovechkin said in a statement issued by the Capitals. “I will learn from this experience.”The Capitals themselves said they were “disappointed by our players' choice to interact in their hotel room and outside of team approved areas.” Saying it accepts the NHL's decision, the team vowed to “reiterate the COVID-19 protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward.” Five players from the Carolina Hurricanes also are on the league's COVID-19 list, and that team’s games were called off by the league through “at least” Saturday.The postponements were announced Wednesday, a day before the Hurricanes were set to host the Florida Panthers in their home opener. The teams were scheduled to play again Saturday.The NHL said the Hurricanes’ training facilities are closed and will stay that way “until further notice.” The league is reviewing and revising Carolina’s schedule.The Capitals were punished by the league for “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings."This is the first instance this season of Capitals players appearing on the NHL’s COVID-19 list, which could include those who test positive, have a potential exposure or face quarantine requirements.Being on that list would make Ovechkin and the others unavailable for practice, but it is possible that they could be allowed back with the team in time to play in Washington's next game, which is Friday against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.Washington has played four games so far, going 2-0-2.This is not the first postponement involving the Hurricanes: Their game at Nashville on Tuesday was the the NHL’s first postponement since the season began this month. The league didn’t specify which team prompted that night’s postponement, although four Hurricanes players — Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo Teravainen — were added to the daily COVID-19 list later Tuesday afternoon.Captain Jordan Staal had been on the list since Friday, with the Hurricanes losing at Detroit on Saturday, then winning at Nashville on Monday. The league’s statement said the team has followed recommended health and safety guidelines.The Capitals share an arena in downtown Washington with the NBA’s Wizards and both teams are owned by Ted Leonsis.The Wizards were cleared to return to practice Wednesday night after essentially being shut down because of a COVID-19 outbreak.Their past five games have been postponed during a stretch in which six Wizards players tested positive for the illness caused by the coronavirus and three others were sidelined after contact tracing determined they might have been exposed.___ AP Sports Writer John Nicholson in Phoenix contributed to this report.___More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Trump pardons in California extend to former congressman

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When then-Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham admitted in 2005 to accepting $2.4 million in illegal gifts from defense contractors in exchange for government contracts and other favors, it was considered the largest bribery scandal in congressional history. The disgraced former San Diego congressman received one of the pardons issued Wednesday by President Donald Trump in the final hours of his term, which included several others with California connections. RANDY “DUKE” CUNNINGHAMCunningham parlayed his feats as a Navy flying ace during the Vietnam War into a career in the U.S House. It ended ignominiously, after he pleaded guilty to receiving a luxury house, a yacht, a Rolls-Royce, lavish meals and $40,000 in Persian rugs and antique furniture from companies in exchange for steering lucrative government contracts their way. He was released from prison in 2013. Trump granted him a conditional pardon, saying Cunningham tutored inmates while in prison and now volunteers for a local fire department. The administration said the pardon was strongly supported by Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.ELLIOTT BROIDYTrump granted a full pardon to Broidy, of Beverly Hills, a major Trump fundraiser and former Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman. Prosecutors said Broidy collected millions of dollars in a back-channel but ultimately unsuccessful lobbying scheme aimed at getting the Trump administration to drop an investigation into embezzlement from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund and to extradite a Chinese dissident wanted by the government in Beijing. He pleaded guilty last fall to acting as an unregistered lobbyist and was awaiting sentencing. The administration said he is known for numerous philanthropic efforts, including on behalf of law enforcement and the Jewish community. Those supporting the pardon included California Republican Reps. Devin Nunes and Ken Calvert.ROBERT ZANGRILLOZangrillo, a Miami developer and investor, was arrested in March 2019 in a college admissions bribery scheme. Federal prosecutors in Boston accused him of paying $250,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a transfer in 2018. Zangrillo was scheduled to stand trial in September. Trump granted him a full pardon, and the administration said his daughter did not have others take standardized tests for her and she is currently earning a 3.9 GPA at USC. MAHMOUD REZA BANKIThe Iranian-born, Ivy League-trained U.S. citizen has been on a long-running quest to clear his name after a a 2011 conviction — later overturned — on a charge of violating the Iran trade embargo and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. In 2016, he was hoping for a pardon from then-President Barack Obama for two convictions that remain on his record for making false statements to a federal agency, which never came. The Trump administration said the felony charges for making false statements have prevented Banki from resuming a full life, and noted that he has “dedicated himself to his community and maintained a sincere love and respect for the United States.” He was granted a full pardon. Banki was born in Tehran and came to the U.S. when he was 18, going on to earn two degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, then a doctorate in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 2006. The administration said the pardon was supported by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.ADRIANA SHAYOTATrump commuted the sentence of Shayota. The administration said she had served more than half of her 24-month sentence, after being convicted of conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, commit copyright infringement and introduce misbranded food into interstate commerce in a scheme selling counterfeit energy drinks. At the time of her conviction, authorities said millions of fake 5-Hour Energy shots were mixed from unregulated ingredients by day laborers under unsanitary conditions, then sold. The administration said she is a mother and a deeply religious woman who had no prior convictions and displayed “an extraordinary commitment to rehabilitation.”

Where Biden stood, reminders of a failed insurrection

WASHINGTON (AP) — The reminders of the siege were everywhere.On the very spot where President Joe Biden delivered his inaugural address, an insurrectionist mob had tried — and failed — to overturn his election just two weeks before. Nearby, at the West Terrace doors, a Capitol police officer was brutally assaulted with a flagpole in a one of the siege's most chaotic moments.And from the podium, the starkest sight of all: a National Mall mostly empty, dotted with troops, the usual crowd of spectators replaced by a silent field of American flags.The Associated Press has the privilege of a seat on the inaugural platform every four years in a tradition dating as far back as anyone can remember. But there had never been a ceremony quite like this, in the still-fresh aftermath of a violent challenge to the peaceful transition of power that the inaugural is designed to celebrate.Solemn in purpose and demeanor, Biden did not work the room — not much, anyway. He was on a clock. At noon, he would become president.And at that moment, the Democratic-heavy crowd gave the new president hearty applause, with some of the House lawmakers in attendance audibly voicing relief.Unlike Trump's 2017 inauguration, which featured a speech that promised an end to decades of “American carnage," Biden returned again and again to a theme of national unity.“I thought that inaugural ceremony today was so filled with energy, spirit and love,” said Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and a losing presidential candidate in 2008 and 2016. She praised young poet laureate Amanda Gorman and entertainers who performed.The global superstars included Lady Gaga, whose soaring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner" left some in the audience agape. Garth Brooks, a country legend and Republican with a huge following in Trump strongholds, led the group in “Amazing Grace."The blue jean-clad Brooks, obviously elated, almost danced away, but not before greeting the new president and three ex-presidents — with an oops-I-almost-forgot-about-the-pandemic hug with former President George W. Bush.“He just said, ‘I love you guys,'" Clinton said. “And we said, ‘We love you too, Garth.'"Republican Sen. James Lankford, from Brooks' native Oklahoma, said the message of grace is just what a riven nation needs.“He made time when he finished singing to then go personally greet every one of the former presidents there and give them a very non-socially distanced hug to be able to touch base with everybody and to try to set an example for people to say, ‘Hey, let's figure out if we can actually extend some grace to each other during this time.'"Biden delivered his 21-minute address before a teleprompter in a stand of photographers. It ensured a quick pace and gave Biden helpful hints such as a reminder to “build" to the finish. Biden had just a handful of small verbal stumbles and couldn’t resist adding an unscripted “folks” — a Biden trademark — toward the end.Before the ceremony, a morning mist left the platform icy. The wind whipped throughout. There were just enough snow flurries to tell stories about. And by the end, the sun came out and shown brilliantly.

United Airlines posts $1.9 billion loss in pandemic-laden 4Q

United Airlines said Wednesday that it finished one of the worst years in its history by losing $1.9 billion in the last three months of 2020, and it predicted more of the same in the first quarter of this year.The loss was wider than analysts expected. The number of U.S. airline passengers had been building slowly since May but was hammered again when COVID-19 cases began surging in the fall, causing health experts to beg people to stay home.United lost $7.1 billion in 2020, an amount exceeded only in 2005, when bankruptcy-related costs pushed the company to a $21 billion loss. Including debt and severance payments, the airline burned through $33 million in cash per day.Revenue plunged 69% in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier. United predicted a similar decrease — between 65% and 70% — in the first quarter of 2021, a slightly more pessimistic view than the one expressed by Delta Air Lines last week. Analysts believe that Americans who have been cooped up since March are eager to travel again once it is safer. But the slow pace of vaccinating Americans against COVID-19 and concern about new variants of the virus are hurting airline bookings. Chicago-based United tried to reassure investors that it is laying the groundwork for a gradual recovery once the coronavirus outbreak is contained.United said that it starting to cut $2 billion in annual structural costs from its operations. At the same time, the airline expressed confidence that crucial business travel will eventually bounce back, although not as quickly as leisure travel.The combination will result in higher profit margins in 2023 than United saw in 2019, before the pandemic, the company predicted.“Aggressively managing the challenges of 2020 depended on our innovation and fast-paced decision making," CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement. “But, the truth is that COVID-19 has changed United Airlines forever.”Peter McNally, an analyst for market-research firm Third Bridge, said United's revenue forecast for the first quarter “is a little disappointing," and he wants United to say more precisely when it might stop losing money. On the plus side, he noted that United has raised $26 billion from government and private sources and has nearly $20 billion in liquidity left to survive the pandemic.“They are not running out of money,” McNally said. “There's one thing we've learned from this crisis: The market doesn't stop giving these airlines money.”Excluding some one-time gains, United said its fourth-quarter loss worked out to $7 per share. That was worse than the $6.62 per share loss predicted, on average, by 19 analysts in a FactSet survey. In the same quarter of 2019, United earned $641 million.Revenue tumbled to $3.41 billion, nearly matching the $3.42 billion that was forecast by analysts. Revenue from international flights plunged 83%, compared with a 72% drop in domestic revenue. About 56% of seats were sold on the average flight in the fourth quarter, and that was after United cut thousands of flights because of weak demand.Cargo was a rare bright spot, with revenue up 77% from a year earlier, but cargo makes up a tiny part of United's overall business. The company scheduled a conference call with analysts on Thursday.Shares of United Airlines Holdings Inc. rose 1% to $45.18 in regular trading before the financial results were released. During extended trading, they were down about 2%. ___David Koenig can be reached at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter

AP PHOTOS: Pandemic, threat of violence taint Biden's debut

WASHINGTON (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic and the risk of civil unrest made the inauguration of the 46th president one of the most unusual in American history.Some 200,000 American, state and territorial flags were planted on the National Mall to represent people who could not attend because of COVID-19, which has killed 400,000 people in the United States. In the past, the Capitol was packed with thousands trying to witness history.This year, VIPs were seated several feet apart, and they wore facial masks to prevent the spread of the virus. In 1961, the world could see every expression on President John F. Kennedy’s face. Biden’s face was covered with a mask except for when he spoke.The Capitol, the epicenter of democracy that was invaded by violent loyalists of former President Donald Trump just two weeks ago, was surrounded with multiple rings of heavy steel fencing, topped with razor wire. Streets and bridges were closed. Intersections were blocked with dump trucks.Instead of throngs of waving Americans lining the streets, an estimated 25,000 armed National Guard members patrolled the eerily quiet city. The inaugural parade was abbreviated, most of it held virtually. When Biden walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and into the White House, his mask hid his emotion, a stark comparison to the toothy smile former Jimmy Carter displayed when he arrived as president in 1977.

Biden repudiates white supremacy, calls for racial justice

After taking the oath of office Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued a rare repudiation of white supremacy and domestic terrorism seen on the rise under his predecessor’s watch.In his inaugural address, Biden denounced the “racism, nativism, fear, demonization,” that propelled the assault on Capitol Hill by an overwhelmingly white mob of Donald Trump supporters who carried symbols of hate, including the Confederate battle flag.“A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us,” Biden said in the nearly 23-minute-long speech promising to heal a divided nation. “A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.”Compared to his immediate predecessors, three of whom attended Wednesday's inauguration, Biden is the first president to directly address the ills of white supremacy in an inaugural speech. In his second inaugural address in 1997, former President Bill Clinton called out racial divisions as “America’s constant curse,” but stopped short of naming culprits.Biden’s words follow months of protests and civil unrest over police brutality against Black Americans, as well as a broader reckoning on the systemic and institutional racism that has plagued nonwhite Americans for generations.“To be perfectly clear, it was incredibly powerful,” Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, a national racial justice organization, told The Associated Press. “We shouldn’t underestimate the cultural change that had to take place, in order for that to happen on one of the biggest political stages in the world.”“I think it’s just really important that, as a result of our movement, racial justice became a majoritarian issue this summer,” Robinson added. “Now the work begins in translating that rhetorical issue into a governing issue.”Biden delivered his inaugural address on the very platform that the insurrectionist mob scaled two weeks ago to breach the Capitol building, vandalizing federal property and taking selfies on the Senate floor. The riot left at least five people dead, including a Capitol police officer. The rioters, some espousing racist and anti-Semitic views and conspiracy theories, were incited by baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the November presidential election. Some attempted to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College results, in which Black and Latino voters played a significant role in handing victory to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.Voter suppression, along with other forms of systemic racism, are top of mind for civil rights groups and supporters of Black Lives Matter, which last year became the largest protest movement in U.S. history.“To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words,” Biden said in his speech. “It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy. Unity.”Biden also highlighted the historic nature of the swearing in of Harris, the first woman and first Black and South Asian person to hold that office.“It is exciting to see a Black woman become vice president, and yet we must hold her and President Biden accountable to ensure Black liberation and the eradication of white supremacy,” said Patrisse Cullors, co-founder and executive director of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.“We must heal from anti-Black racism and the heavy health and economic impacts from COVID-19,” Cullors said in a statement. “Then, we can focus on thriving Black lives through investments in health, education, housing, and environmental justice.”Biden began addressing some of these issues in a series of executive orders signed after the inauguration.They order federal agencies to prioritize racial equity and review policies that reinforce systemic racism, which the BLM foundation said mirrors a proposal contained in the BREATHE Act, proposed legislation championed by the foundation and the Movement for Black Lives. It calls for sweeping federal reforms, including overhauling police, the criminal justice system and immigration enforcement.Susan Rice, Biden’s incoming domestic policy adviser, said the new president would also revoke the just-issued report of Trump’s “1776 Commission,” downplaying the historic legacy of slavery in the United States. The commission was created in response to The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which highlights the long-term consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.Biden's remarks also came a day after the nation marked yet another grim milestone surpassing 400,000 deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has disproportionately killed Black Americans and other people of color and laid bare longstanding racial disparities in the country’s health system.“We are entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” Biden said. “We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”In his speech, Biden invoked Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation committing to freeing enslaved Africans during the Civil War. “When he put pen to paper, the president said, and quote, ‘If my name ever goes down into history, it will be for this act and my whole soul is in it. My whole soul is in it,’” Biden said.“Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this,” he declared.____Stafford reported from Detroit and Morrison reported from New York City.—-Stafford and Morrison are members of the AP's Race & Ethnicity team. Follow Morrison on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison. Follow Stafford on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/kat__stafford.

Some COVID-19 mutations may dampen vaccine effectiveness

Scientists are reporting troubling signs that some recent mutations of the virus that causes COVID-19 may modestly curb the effectiveness of two current vaccines, although they stress that the shots still protect against the disease. Researchers expressed concern Wednesday about the preliminary findings, in large part because they suggest that future mutations could undermine vaccines. The research tested coronaviruses from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, and was led by Rockefeller University in New York with scientists from the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere.A different, more limited study out Wednesday gave encouraging news about one vaccine's protection against some of the mutations. One way vaccines work is to prompt the immune system to make antibodies that block the virus from infecting cells. The Rockefeller researchers got blood samples from 20 people who had received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and tested their antibodies against various virus mutations in the lab. With some, the antibodies didn't work as well against the virus -- activity was one-to-threefold less, depending on the mutation, said the study leader, Rockefeller’s Dr. Michel Nussenzweig. “It’s a small difference but it is definitely a difference,” he said. The antibody response is “not as good” at blocking the virus. Earlier research established that the two vaccines are about 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 illness. The latest findings were posted late Tuesday on an online website for researchers and have not yet been published in a journal or reviewed by other scientists. Nussenzweig is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports science coverage at The Associated Press. The university has applied for a patent related to his work.The coronavirus has been growing more genetically diverse, and scientists say the high rate of new cases is the main reason. Each new infection gives the virus a chance to mutate as it makes copies of itself. Recent variants, or versions of the virus that emerged in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil seem to spread more easily and scientists say that will lead to more cases, deaths and hospitalizations. The new variants do not seem to cause more serious disease but their ability to eventually undercut vaccines is a concern.E. John Wherry, an immunology expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Rockefeller scientists are “among the very best in the world" at this work and their results are concerning.“We don’t want people thinking that the current vaccine is already outdated. That’s absolutely not true,” he said. “There’s still immunity here ... a good level of protection,” but the mutations “do in fact reduce how well our immune response is recognizing the virus.”The news comes at “a really important time in the pandemic,” said Dr. Buddy Creech, a vaccine specialist at Vanderbilt University, “We’ve got an arms race between the vaccines and the virus. The slower we roll out vaccine around the world, the more opportunities we give this virus to escape” and develop mutations, he said.Dr. Matthew Woodruff, an immunology researcher at Emory University, agreed.“This is going to be kind of a slow walk of evolution. We’re going to have to have tools that slowly develop with it,” such as treatments that offer combinations of antibodies rather than one, he said.Dr. Drew Weissman, a University of Pennsylvania scientist whose work helped lead to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, said the antibody findings are worrisome, but noted that vaccines also protect in other ways, such as spurring responses from other parts of the immune system. The new work involved only 20 people and not a huge range of ages or races, “and all of that matters” in how generalizable the results are, he said.On Wednesday, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech reported a second round of reassuring findings about its vaccine against one of the variants.Earlier this month, Pfizer and researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch said that the vaccine remained effective against a mutation called N501Y from new variants found in the U.K. and South Africa. Likewise, there was no sign of trouble when they tested some additional mutations.The latest work tested all the mutations from the variant from the U.K. at once rather than one-by-one. Tests from 16 vaccine recipients showed no big difference in the ability of antibodies to block the virus, the researchers said in a repor t. Pfizer didn’t immediately comment about the Rockefeller findings, but its chief scientific officer, Dr. Philip Dormitzer, previously said next steps include testing the vaccine against additional mutations found in the variant from South Africa.Moderna and AstraZeneca, which makes a different type of COVID-19 vaccine used in some countries, also have been testing how their vaccines hold up against different mutations.If the virus eventually mutates enough that the vaccine needs adjusting — much like flu shots are altered most years — tweaking the recipe wouldn’t be difficult for vaccines made with newer technologies. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with a piece of the virus genetic code that is simple to switch.It’s “wishful thinking” to believe that first-generation vaccines will be enough, or that vaccines alone will solve our problems, said Mayo Clinic vaccine expert Dr. Gregory Poland. “We are shooting ourselves in the foot by allowing unmitigated transmission of this virus” and not doing “common sense” measures such as mandating mask-wearing as some other countries are doing, he said. “How can the bars and restaurants be full? It’s like ‘what pandemic?’ We’ve reaped the seeds we’ve sown," he said.___Medical writer Lauran Neergaard contributed reporting.__The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Immigrants cheered by possible citizenship path under Biden

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Immigrants cheered President Joe Biden's plan to provide a path to U.S. citizenship for about 11 million people without legal status, mixing hope with guarded optimism Wednesday amid a seismic shift in how the American government views and treats them. The newly inaugurated president moved to reverse four years of harsh restrictions and mass deportation with a plan for sweeping legislation on citizenship. Biden also issued executive orders reversing some of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies, such as halting work on a U.S.-Mexico border wall and lifting a travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries. He also ordered his Cabinet to work to keep deportation protections for hundreds of thousands of people brought to the U.S. as children. "This sets a new narrative, moving us away from being seen as criminals and people on the public charge to opening the door for us to eventually become Americans,” said Yanira Arias, a Salvadoran immigrant with Temporary Protected Status who lives in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. Arias is among about 400,000 people given the designation after fleeing violence or natural disasters. “It sets a more hopeful future for immigrants in the U.S., but it all depends on the Congress, especially the Senate,” Arias, a national campaigns manager for the immigrant advocacy group Alianza Americas, said of the citizenship effort. Success of the legislation is far from certain in a divided Congress, where opposition is expected to be tough. The most recent immigration reform attempts on a similar scale failed — in 2007 under then-President George W. Bush and in 2013 under then-President Barack Obama. Ofelia Aguilar, who watched Biden's inaugural address on TV with four other female farmworkers in agricultural Homestead, Florida, said she nevertheless felt positive about prospects for immigration reform. “I am hopeful that he'll give us legal status,” said Aguilar, who was pregnant and alone when she came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1993. She worked in the fields for years before starting her own business farming jicama root. “Hope has opened!” Aguilar cried out after Biden was sworn in. “So many people have suffered.”Some of the farmworkers at the backyard gathering about 35 miles (56 kilometers) south of Miami said they were disappointed Biden didn't mention immigration reforms in his speech. “I only have hope in God, not in presidents,” said Sofía Hernández, an agricultural worker who has lived in the U.S. without legal status since 1989. “So many have said they are going to do things, and I don't see any results."Hernandez came from Mexico, seeking economic opportunity. Her three children were born in the U.S. and she regularly sent money to her family back home before her parents died. “My dream is to go and see my family and come back to stay with my children,” Hernandez said. In New York, Blanca Cedillos said she also was disappointed Biden did not mention immigration during the speech she watched with a half-dozen other masked immigrants at the Workers Justice Project. “I was hoping he would say something,” said Cedillos, a Salvadoran who lost her job as a nanny during the coronavirus pandemic and now gets by with a few housecleaning jobs and a weekly food box from the nonprofit that offers services to immigrants. Cedillos has lived in the U.S. without authorization for 18 years and hopes to eventually visit her four children in Central America, then return legally to the U.S. “I have told them that that trip may happen now. Hopefully, if this new president gives me the opportunity,” she said. Guatemalan construction worker Gustavo Ajché, who came to the U.S. in 2004, watched the Spanish language broadcast with Cedillos.“I don’t want to get too excited because I might get frustrated afterward, like has happened in the past,” Ajché said. “I have been here many years, I have paid my taxes, I am hoping something will be done.”In Phoenix, Tony Valdovinos, a local campaign consultant who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a small child, said he isn't celebrating yet. He's among those who have benefited from the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which protects immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. “It's hard to put your heart into it when these things have failed in the past,” Valdovinos said. “We've been beaten down so much.”Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition in Miami, said she feels much the same way.“I’m so happy and relieved, but we are still afraid of getting our hearts broken again,” she said. “We’ve been through this so many times, but we really need to bring through a solution that goes forward.”Los Angeles janitor Anabella Aguirre wants that solution not only for herself, but for her two daughters, both DACA recipients now starting their careers. “Like thousands of mothers and fathers, I want for my daughters to have something better in this country,” Aguirre said. "We hope that today, this dawn, brings hope.” ___Torrens reported from New York, and Snow from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Amy Taxin contributed from Orange County, California.