AP Top News at 11:59 p.m. EST
Propelled in part by the wildly contagious omicron variant, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 hit 900,000 on Friday, less than two months after eclipsing 800,000. The two-year total, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University, is greater than the population of Indianapolis, San Francisco, or Charlotte, North Carolina. The milestone comes more than 13 months into a vaccination drive that has been beset by misinformation and political and legal strife, though the shots have proved safe and highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. “It is an astronomically high number. If you had told most Americans two years ago as this pandemic was getting going that 900,000 Americans would die over the next few years, I think most people would not have believed it,” said Dr.
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Winter Olympics open Friday night, inviting the world back — sort of — for the pandemic era’s second Games, this time as an emboldened and more powerful nation whose government’s authoritarian turn provoked some countries’ leaders to stay home. China used its first Olympics in 2008 to amplify its international aspirations. This time, in a ceremony held in the same lattice-encased Bird’s Nest stadium that hosted the inaugural event of that year’s summer Games, it presented a more confident, and defiant, face to the world. Athletes Zhao Jiawen and Dinigeer Yilamujiang delivered the Olympic flame.
Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday directly rebutted Donald Trump’s false claims that he somehow could have overturned the results of the 2020 election, saying that the former president was simply “wrong.” In a speech to a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in Florida, Pence addressed Trump’s intensifying efforts this week to advance the false narrative that, as vice president, he had the unilateral power to prevent President Joe Biden from taking office. “President Trump is wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election.” Pence’s declaration marked his most forceful response yet to Trump, who has spent his post-presidency fueling the lie that the 2020 campaign was stolen from him.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minneapolis mayor imposed a moratorium on no-knock warrants Friday, two days after a SWAT team entered a downtown apartment and killed Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man who his parents said was “executed” after he was startled from a deep sleep and reached for a legal firearm to protect himself. Mayor Jacob Frey said while the moratorium is in place, he and police leadership will review and revise department policy with the help of two experts who helped shape Breonna’s Law, the ban on no-knock warrants that was imposed in Louisville, Kentucky, following the death of Breonna Taylor in a botched raid at her home in 2020.
His collar turned up against the cold, the head of the International Olympic Committee looked out over the stadium and spoke of the ideals that had brought together athletes from all over the world. “In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world that it is possible to be fierce rivals while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together,” Thomas Bach, a gold-medalist fencer nearly 40 years ago, said Thursday at the Winter Games’ opening ceremony. The Olympic mission is clear, he said: “Always building bridges, never erecting walls.” Critics of Bach and the IOC say those ideals are nonsense, and talk of respect and bridge-building is overshadowed by Olympic officials cozying up to some of the world’s most powerful authoritarian rulers.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Republican National Committee censured two GOP lawmakers on Friday for participating on the committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 insurrection and assailed the panel for leading a “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” GOP officials took a voice vote to approve censuring Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois at the party’s winter meeting in Salt Lake City. The censure was approved a day after an RNC subcommittee watered down a resolution that had recommended expelling the pair from the party. The censure accuses Cheney and Kinzinger of “participating in a Democrat-led persecution.” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel denied that the “legitimate political discourse” wording in the censure was referring to the violent attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump and said it had to do with other actions taken by the House committee investigating the Jan.
WASHINGTON (AP) — That bleak jobs report the White House had been bracing for never arrived Friday. Instead, President Joe Biden got the pleasant surprise that the U.S. economy had powered through the omicron wave of the coronavirus and posted 467,000 new jobs in January — along with strong revisions to job gains in the two prior months. It showed just how much the pandemic’s grip on the economy has faded, though the nation is still grappling with high inflation. “Our country is taking everything that COVID has to throw at us, and we’ve come back stronger,” Biden declared at the White House.
BEIJING (AP) — A freak of nature. A beast. Ironman. The Arnold Schwarzenegger of skiing. Aleksander Aamodt Kilde has been called each of those names and more for his unusually high ability to withstand pain and set lifting records in the weight room. It’s a big part of what makes the Norwegian the favorite for gold in the Olympic downhill on Sunday. “He’s always been like that,” teammate Kjetil Jansrud said. “For all the years that he’s been on the team he’s been the leading star when it comes to this whole kind of physical side of our training. … That gives him an advantage.
MIAMI (AP) — A court in Venezuela has upheld long prison sentences for six American oil executives detained in the South American country on corruption charges for more than four years. Venezuela’s supreme court announced the ruling late Friday, disappointing family members who had hoped the surprise decision last fall to hear the appeal, and a recent jailhouse visit by a top State Department official, signified President Nicolás Maduro’s government was looking to release the men as part of a gesture to engage the Biden administration in talks over U.S. sanctions. The court didn’t provide any information on its decision, and the order itself was not immediately available.