AP News in Brief at 6:04 p.m. EDT

US opens COVID vaccine to little kids, shots begin next week

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. on Saturday opened COVID-19 vaccines to infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

The shots will become available next week, expanding the nation’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 6 months.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccines for the littlest children, and the final signoff came hours later from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director.

“We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” Walensky said in a statement.

While the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines, it’s the CDC that decides who should get them.

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Biden’s optimism collides with mounting political challenges

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are going to hold onto the House after November’s midterm elections. They will pick up as many as four seats in the Senate, expanding their majority and overcoming internal dissent that has helped stifle their agenda.

As the challenges confronting President Joe Biden intensify, his predictions of a rosy political future for the Democratic Party are growing bolder. The assessments, delivered in speeches, fundraisers and conversations with friends and allies, seem at odds with a country that he acknowledged this week was “really, really down,” burdened by a pandemic, surging gas prices and spiking inflation.

Biden’s hopeful outlook tracks with a sense of optimism that has coursed through his nearly five-decade career and was at the center of his 2020 presidential campaign, which he said was built around restoring the “soul of America.” In a lengthy Oval Office interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Biden said part of his job as president is to “be confident.”

“Because I am confident,” he said. “We are better positioned than any country in the world to own the second quarter of the 21st century. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact.”

While presidents often try to emphasize the positive, there is a risk in this moment that Biden contributes to a dissonance between Washington and people across the country who are confronting genuine and growing economic pain.

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Bitcoin drops below $20,000 as crypto selloff quickens

NEW YORK (AP) — Bitcoin fell below the psychologically important threshold of $20,000 on Saturday for the first time since late 2020, in a fresh sign that the selloff in cryptocurrencies is deepening.

The price of the most popular cryptocurrency had plunged by as much as 12% to less than $18,100 by late afternoon on the East Coast, according to the cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk.

The last time bitcoin was at that level was in November 2020, when it was on its way up to an all-time high of nearly $69,000, according to CoinDesk. Many in the industry had believed it would not fall under $20,000.

Bitcoin has now lost more than 70% of its value since reaching its peak.

Ethereum, another widely followed cryptocurrency that has been sliding in recent weeks, took a similar tumble Saturday.

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In Ukraine, funeral for activist killed and mourned in war

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Poppies, the blood-red flowers that cover the battlefields of Europe’s two world wars, were lain in mourning Saturday on the coffin of yet another dead soldier, this one killed in yet another European war, in Ukraine.

The hundreds of mourners for Roman Ratushnyi, 24, included friends who had protested with him during months of demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russia leader in 2014 and who, like him, took up arms when Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbor this February.

The arc of his shortened life symbolized that of Ukraine’s post-independence generations that are sacrificing their best years in the cause of freedom. First, with defiance and dozens of lives against brutal riot police during Ukraine’s Maidan protests of 2013-2014 and now with weapons and even more lives against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops.

“Heroes never die!” friends, family and admirers shouted in Ukrainian as Ratushnyi’s coffin was loaded aboard a hearse on a square in the Ukrainian capital now decorated with destroyed Russian tanks and vehicles. Their charred hulks contrasted with the shiny gold domes of an adjacent cathedral where priests had earlier sung prayers for Ratushnyi, who was well-known in Kyiv for his civic and environmental activism.

From the square, the mourners then walked in a long silent column behind his coffin to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square. The vast plaza in central Kyiv gave its name to the three months of protests that overthrew then President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 and which helped fuel the political and patriotic awakening of Ukrainians born after independence in 1991.

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Brazil: police arrest 3rd suspect in Amazon shooting deaths

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s federal police said Saturday that a third suspect in the deaths of British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira has been arrested. The pair, whose remains were found after they went missing almost two weeks ago, were shot to death, according to an autopsy.

Phillips was shot in the chest and Pereira was shot in the head and the abdomen, police said in a statement. It said the autopsy indicated the use of a “firearm with typical hunting ammunition.”

Police said the third suspect, Jefferson da Silva Lima, known as Pelado da Dinha, turned himself at the police station in Atalaia do Norte in the Amazon.

Police said the suspect will be referred to a custody hearing.

Two other men are already in prison for alleged involvement in the killings: Amarildo Oliveira, known as Pelado, and his brother, Oseney de Oliveira, known as Dos Santos.

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Jan. 6 witnesses push Trump stalwarts back to rabbit hole

One by one, several of Donald Trump’s former top advisers have told a special House committee investigating his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection that they didn’t believe his lies about the 2020 election, and that the former president knew he lost to Joe Biden.

But instead of convincing Trump’s most stalwart supporters, testimony from former attorney general Bill Barr and Trump’s daughter Ivanka about the election and the attack on the U.S. Capitol is prompting many of them to simply reassert their views that the former president was correct in his false claim of victory.

Barr’s testimony that Trump was repeatedly told there was no election fraud? He was paid off by a voting machine company, according to one false claim that went viral this week. Ivanka Trump saying she didn’t believe Trump either? It’s all part of Trump’s grand plan to confuse his enemies and save America.

The claims again demonstrate how deeply rooted Trump’s false narrative about the election has become.

“It’s cognitive dissonance,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor who has studied how Trump used social media and advertising to mobilize his base. “If you believe what Trump says, and now Bill Barr and Trump’s own daughter are saying these other things, it creates a crack, and people have to fill it.”

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Herschel Walker says he ‘never denied’ having 4 children

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker said Saturday that he “never denied” the existence of children he hadn’t publicly disclosed before, telling conservative Christians that his kids “knew the truth.”

Speaking before a friendly audience at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual “Road to Majority” conference, Walker said the revelations about his children had only emboldened his campaign.

“Well, first of all, they knew the truth. You know, I’ve never denied any of my kids and I love them more than I love anything,” he said. “And they didn’t do anything, which just makes me want to fight harder because I’m tired of people misleading the American people. I’m tired of people misleading my family.”

Walker’s comments came after The Daily Beast reported that the former football star has four children, including two sons and a daughter whom he had never discussed publicly. Walker has repeatedly criticized absentee fathers over the years and has called on Black men in particular to play an active role in the children’s lives, holding up his relationship with his older son, Christian Walker, as an example.

Walker, who was interviewed on stage in Nashville, Tennessee, by coalition chair Ralph Reed, said he “knew what I signed up for when I got into this and they don’t realize that.”

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Floods in India, Bangladesh leave millions homeless, 18 dead

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Army troops were called in to rescue thousands of people stranded by massive floods that have ravaged northeastern India and Bangladesh, leaving millions of homes underwater and severing transport links, authorities said Saturday.

In India’s Assam state, at least nine people were killed in the floods and 2 million saw their homes submerged, according to the state disaster management agency. Lightning strikes in parts of neighboring Bangladesh have left at least nine dead since Friday.

Both countries have asked their militaries for help as more flooding looms with rains expected to continue over the weekend.

In Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh, on the banks of the Surma River, children sat on a window of an inundated house while other family members gathered on a bed inside their flooded home, some wondering how to make it through the ordeal.

“How can we eat (in this condition)?” said Anjuman Ara Begum, standing in the water inside her kitchen. “We are living on muri (puffed rice) and chira (flattened rice) and other things given by people. What else can we do? We can’t cook.”

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Yellowstone flooding rebuild could take years, cost billions

Created in 1872 as the United States was recovering from the Civil War, Yellowstone was the first of the national parks that came to be referred to as America’s best idea. Now, the home to gushing geysers, thundering waterfalls and some of the country’s most plentiful and diverse wildlife is facing its biggest challenge in decades.

Floodwaters this week wiped out numerous bridges, washed out miles of roads and closed the park as it approached peak tourist season during its 150th anniversary celebration. Nearby communities were swamped and hundreds of homes flooded as the Yellowstone River and its tributaries raged.

The scope of the damage is still being tallied by Yellowstone officials, but based on other national park disasters, it could take years and cost upwards of $1 billion to rebuild in an environmentally sensitive landscape where construction season only runs from the spring thaw until the first snowfall.

Based on what park officials have revealed and Associated Press images and video taken from a helicopter, the greatest damage seemed to be to roads, particularly on the highway connecting the park’s north entrance in Gardiner, Montana, to the park’s offices in Mammoth Hot Springs. Large sections of the road were undercut and washed away as the Gardner River jumped its banks. Perhaps hundreds of footbridges on trails may have been damaged or destroyed.

“This is not going to be an easy rebuild,” Superintendent Cam Sholly said early in the week as he highlighted photos of massive gaps of roadway in the steep canyon. “I don’t think it’s going to be smart to invest potentially, you know, tens of millions of dollars, or however much it is, into repairing a road that may be subject to seeing a similar flooding event in the future.”

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Drag story hour hosts, under attack, dig in their heels

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Protesters pray outside a library in New York City as Flame, a drag queen sporting a bright wig and a red gown, entertains the children inside by singing the ABCs, leading a coloring activity and reading books about how it’s OK to be different.

Outside Chicago, protesters harass parents attending storytime with their children and proclaim that the staff operating the event came “from the devil.”

And in a San Francisco suburb, men invade Panda Dulce’s reading at a library’s Drag Queen Story Hour, shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs.

After focusing on transgender athletes and youths, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is now targeting drag storytimes — conceived as a way to educate and entertain children by appealing to their imaginations — with interruptions and other protests reported across the country in the past two weeks, since Pride Month began.

Organizers of the story hours say that social media accounts are fueling the backlash and that opponents claiming they want to protect children are actually scaring and endangering them. The organizers said they will enhance security but won’t stop their programs.