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Pelosi bars Trump allies from Jan. 6 probe; GOP vows boycott

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rejected two Republicans tapped by House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to sit on a committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, a decision the Republican denounced as “an egregious abuse of power.”

McCarthy said the GOP won’t participate in the investigation if Democrats won’t accept the members he appointed.

Pelosi cited the “integrity” of the probe in refusing to accept the appointments of Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, picked by McCarthy to be the top Republican on the panel, or Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. The two men are outspoken allies of former President Donald Trump, whose supporters laid siege to the Capitol that day and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s win. Both of them voted to overturn the election results in the hours after the siege.

Democrats have said the investigation will go on whether the Republicans participate or not, as Pelosi has already appointed eight of the 13 members — including Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Trump critic — and that gives them a bipartisan quorum to proceed, according to committee rules.

Pelosi said she had spoken with McCarthy and told him that she would reject the two names.

US virus cases nearly triple in 2 weeks amid misinformation

COVID-19 cases nearly tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.

“Our staff, they are frustrated,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, a Florida hospital that is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, up from a low of 16 in mid-May.

“They are tired. They are thinking this is déjà vu all over again, and there is some anger because we know that this is a largely preventable situation, and people are not taking advantage of the vaccine.”

Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Health officials blame the delta variant and slowing vaccination rates. Just 56.2 percent of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Louisiana, health officials reported 5,388 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the third-highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since mid-June.

Tokyo Games boast equal gender participation for first time

Grace Luczak had left competitive rowing and taken a job in the private sector when a move toward gender equity at the Tokyo Games lured her back into a boat.

A women’s rowing event was added to create a more inclusive Olympics, which meant four additional seats on the U.S. team and a spot for Luczak.

“It’s really hard to make the decision to come back, to plan financially to be out of work for a year,” Luczak said. She thought a second consecutive Games wasn’t possible for a veteran until the seats were added.

“There are four more seats. Four. And it’s the first gender-equal Olympics. How can you not try?”

Most of the public attention goes to the big sports — gymnastics, swimming, track and field — but away from the spotlight, women from niche sports are being recognized and given an Olympics chance.

Infrastructure bill fails first vote; Senate to try again

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Senate Republicans rejected an effort Wednesday to begin debate on the big infrastructure deal that a bipartisan group of senators brokered with President Joe Biden. But supporters in both parties remained hopeful of a better chance soon.

Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York had scheduled the procedural vote that he described as a step to “get the ball rolling” as talks progress. But Republicans mounted a filibuster, saying the bipartisan group needed more time to wrap up the deal and review the details. They sought a delay until Monday.

“We have made significant progress and are close to a final agreement,” the informal group of 22 senators, Republicans and Democrats, said in a joint statement after the vote.

They said they were working to “get this critical legislation right” and were optimistic they could finish up “in the coming days.”

The nearly $1 trillion measure over five years includes about $579 billion in new spending on roads, broadband and other public works projects — a first phase of Biden’s infrastructure agenda, to be followed by a much broader $3.5 trillion second measure from Democrats next month.

PORTLAND, Ore.

Smoke and ash from massive wildfires in the American West clouded the sky and led to air quality alerts Wednesday on parts of the East Coast as the effects of the blazes were felt 2,500 miles away.

Strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states all the way to other side of the continent. Haze hung over New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The nation’s largest wildfire, Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, grew to 616 square miles — just over half the size of Rhode Island. Fires also burned on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada and in Washington state and other areas of the West.

The smoke blowing to the East Coast was reminiscent of last fall, when large blazes burning in Oregon’s worst wildfire season in recent memory choked the local sky with pea-soup smoke but also affected air quality several thousand miles away. So far this year, Seattle and Portland have largely been spared the foul air.

People in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere with heart disease, asthma and other health issues were told to avoid the outdoors. Air quality alerts for parts of the region were in place through Thursday.

WASHINGTON

Lagging vaccination rates among nursing home staff are being linked to a national increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths at senior facilities, and are at the center of a federal investigation in a hard-hit Colorado location where disease detectives found many workers were not inoculated.

The investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of facilities in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area raises concerns among public health doctors that successes in protecting vulnerable elders with vaccines could be in peril as the more aggressive delta variant spreads across the country.

Nationally about 59 percent of nursing home staff have gotten their shots, about the same as the overall percentage of fully vaccinated adults — but significantly lower than the roughly 80 percent of residents who are vaccinated, according to Medicare. And some states have much lower vaccination rates of around 40 percent.

Some policy experts are urging the government to close the gap by requiring nursing home staffers get shots, a mandate the Biden administration has been reluctant to issue. Nursing home operators fear such a move could backfire, prompting many staffers with vaccine qualms to simply quit their jobs.

To be sure, the vast majority of fully vaccinated people who become infected with the delta variant suffer only mild symptoms.

— The Associated Press

-- The Associated Press