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Biden challenges Senate on voting: 'Tired of being quiet!'

ATLANTA (AP) — Pounding his hand for emphasis, President Joe Biden challenged senators Tuesday to “stand against voter suppression” by changing Senate rules to pass voting rights legislation that Republicans are blocking from debate and votes.

Biden told a crowd in Atlanta gathered on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University that he'd been having quiet conversations with senators for months over the two bills — a lack of progress that has brought him criticism from activists in his own party.

“I’m tired of being quiet!" he shouted to cheers from the crowd.

In his remarks, Biden invoked the civil rights battles of the 1960s. He likened the wrongs of the past to modern-day efforts to subvert elections through the Capitol riot a year ago and a series of GOP-backed laws passed after former President Donald Trump lost in 2020 and then falsely claimed widespread voter fraud. Biden chastised Republicans for falling in line behind Trump's election lies.

“Today, we call on Congress to get done what history will judge," Biden said. "Pass the freedom to vote act.”

Omicron may be headed for a rapid drop in US and Britain

Scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically.

The reason: The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa.

“It’s going to come down as fast as it went up,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

At the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The plateauing or ebbing in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And weeks or months of misery still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals even if the drop-off comes to pass.

“There are still a lot of people who will get infected as we descend the slope on the backside,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, which predicts that reported cases will peak within the week.

How fleeting choices, circumstances doomed 17 in Bronx fire

NEW YORK (AP) — It started as just another January morning, the damp chill prompting a family on the third floor of a drafty Bronx apartment tower to run a space heater for extra warmth, as residents had done countless times before.

In the moment, that decision hardly deserved a second thought.

Soon, though, it would prove the first in a series of fleeting choices and troubling circumstances that combined to fuel a staggering tragedy.

If only the heat inside apartment 3N had been sufficient. If only the family, fleeing a fire sparked by the malfunctioning space heater, had pulled the door closed behind them. If only their neighbors, conditioned to ignore frequent alarms that nearly always proved false, had not disregarded them this time. If only the blaze hadn’t started near the bottom of the building, quickly turning the structure into a chimney that funneled impenetrable black smoke up stairwells and down hallways as scores struggled to escape.

If only so many seemingly minor factors had not aligned, then 17 people, including eight children, might now be alive.

Fed's Powell: High inflation poses a threat to job market

WASHINGTON (AP) — Warning that high inflation could make it harder to restore the job market to full health, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the Fed will raise interest rates faster than it now plans if needed to stem surging prices.

With America's households squeezed by higher costs for food, gas, rent, autos and many other items, the Fed is under pressure to rein in inflation by raising rates to slow borrowing and spending. At the same time, the economy has recovered enough that the Fed's ultra-low-interest rate policies are no longer needed.

“If we have to raise interest rates more over time, we will,” Powell said during a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, which is considering his nomination for a second four-year term.

The stark challenge for Powell if he is confirmed for a new term, as expected, was underscored by the questions he faced Tuesday from both Democratic and Republican senators. They pressed him to raise rates to reduce inflation, though without ramping up borrowing costs so much that the economy tumbles into a recession.

Fed officials have forecast three increases in their benchmark short-term rate this year, though some economists say they envision as many as four hikes in 2022.

Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Trump aide, 2 GOP strategists

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House panel investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection is demanding records and testimony from a former White House aide they say helped draft former President Donald Trump's Jan. 6 speech, along with two others it says were in communication with people close to Trump.

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democratic chairman of the panel, issued subpoenas on Tuesday to Andy Surabian and Arthur Schwartz, strategists who advised Donald Trump Jr., and Ross Worthington, a former White House official who the committee says helped draft the speech Trump gave at the rally directly preceding last year's attack.

“We have reason to believe the individuals we’ve subpoenaed today have relevant information and we expect them to join the more than 340 individuals who have spoken with the Select Committee as we push ahead to investigate this attack on our democracy and ensure nothing like this ever happens again," Thompson said in a letter Tuesday.

Worthington is a former Trump White House and campaign aide who served as a speechwriter and policy adviser. He had previously worked for former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally.

Surabian is a GOP strategist who has worked with Trump’s eldest son, Trump Jr., former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and others within the Trump orbit. The committee alleges he and Schwartz, another strategist who has worked with Trump Jr. and Bannon, communicated with people including Trump Jr. and his fiancée and Trump fundraiser Kimberly Guilfoyle regarding the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse.

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Brrr! Some schools close as extreme cold grips US Northeast

A mass of arctic air swept into the Northeast on Tuesday, bringing bone-chilling sub-zero temperatures and closing schools across the region for the second time in less than a week.

High temperatures were not expected to make it out of the teens and 20s in most spots, with single digits in many areas, especially northern New England, according to the National Weather Service. But things felt even worse because of the wind, which made it feel below zero for many.

Schools in Massachusetts' three largest cities — Boston, Worcester and Springfield — canceled classes, saying they did not want children standing outside for extended periods of time waiting for buses.

“There has been an increase of covid with transportation personnel, which would result in buses running up to 30 minutes late," according to a tweet from the Worcester public schools. “The safety of our students and staff are always the focus of our decisions."

Low temperatures can result in frostbite to exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

Democrat Cherfilus-McCormick to fill Florida US House seat

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Health care CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was elected to fill the seat of late Democratic Florida U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings on Tuesday, boosting the Democrats’ slim majority in the House.

Cherfilus-McCormick defeated Republican Jason Mariner in the 20th Congressional District, which is firmly Democratic. Hastings was the longest-serving member of the Florida delegation before he died in April of pancreatic cancer.

Democrats outnumber Republicans by a nearly 5-1 ratio in the district, which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Cherfilus-McCormick received 43,663 votes, or about 79%, while Mariner got 10,883 votes, or about 20%. About 55,000 people voted in the race — a turnout of just over 11%. Less than 9% of registered voters cast mail-in and in-person early voting ballots, with Democrats casting six times as many votes as Republicans.

Flanked by her husband and two children, Cherfilus-McCormick fought back tears as she celebrated her win with a small gathering of supporters at Smitty’s Wings in Fort Lauderdale.

US shoppers find some groceries scarce due to virus, weather

Benjamin Whitely headed to a Safeway supermarket in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to grab some items for dinner. But he was disappointed to find the vegetable bins barren and a sparse selection of turkey, chicken and milk.

“Seems like I missed out on everything,” Whitely, 67, said. “I’m going to have to hunt around for stuff now.”

Shortages at U.S. grocery stores have grown more acute in recent weeks as new problems — like the fast-spreading omicron variant and severe weather — have piled on to the supply chain struggles and labor shortages that have plagued retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The shortages are widespread, impacting produce and meat as well as packaged goods such as cereal. And they’re being reported nationwide. U.S. groceries typically have 5% to 10% of their items out of stock at any given time; right now, that unavailability rate is hovering around 15%, according to Consumer Brands Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman.

Part of the scarcity consumers are seeing on store shelves is due to pandemic trends that never abated - and are exacerbated by omicron. Americans are eating at home more than they used to, especially since offices and some schools remain closed.

FACT FOCUS: Federal agents didn't orchestrate Jan. 6

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection poked another hole in the pro-Trump conspiracy theory that federal agents orchestrated the attack, confirming on Tuesday that a man at the center of the claims said he’d never been an FBI informant.

Ray Epps, an Arizona man who was filmed encouraging others to enter the U.S. Capitol, testified that he wasn’t “employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan. 5th or 6th or at any other time,” the committee tweeted on Tuesday.

The committee issued its statement after numerous Republican lawmakers highlighted the fringe theory in recent weeks, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. Pressed by Cruz, a Justice Department official said she couldn’t say whether FBI agents participated in the insurrection because she couldn’t discuss “the specifics of sources and methods” of the FBI.

Meanwhile, the evidence indicates the mob that invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6 was overwhelmingly made up of Trump supporters who wanted to help the then-president.

Here’s a closer look at the facts:

Djokovic clarifies movements, Australian visa saga continues

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Novak Djokovic has moved to clarify how mistakes were made on the immigration document he submitted on his arrival in Melbourne last week, before his visa was revoked and then reinstated in a COVID-19 vaccination saga that has overshadowed the days leading up to the Australian Open.

A statement was posted on Djokovic’s social media accounts Wednesday while the men’s tennis No. 1 was in Rod Laver Arena holding a practice session against Tristan Schoolkate, a 20-year-old Australian.

The nine-time and defending Australian Open champion is in limbo before the year’s first tennis major starts next Monday. Djokovic won a legal battle on Monday allowing him to stay in the country, but he still faces the prospect of deportation because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Reports emerged that he’d been attending events in his native Serbia last month while infectious, and he’d made errors on an immigration form to enter Australia that could potentially result in the cancellation of his visa.

On the form, Djokovic said he had not traveled in the 14 days before his flight to Australia. The Monte Carlo-based athlete was seen in Spain and Serbia in that two-week period.

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