Half a million dead in US, confirming virus’s tragic reach

For weeks after Cindy Pollock began planting tiny flags across her yard — one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed by COVID-19 — the toll was mostly a number. Until two women she had never met rang her doorbell in tears, seeking a place to mourn the husband and father they had just lost. Then Pollock knew her tribute, however heartfelt, would never begin to convey the grief of a pandemic that has now claimed 500,000 lives in the U.S. and counting. “I just wanted to hug them,” she said. “Because that was all I could do.” After a year that has darkened doorways across the U.S., the pandemic surpassed a milestone Monday that once seemed unimaginable, a stark confirmation of the virus's reach into all corners of the country and communities of every size and makeup.

AP PHOTOS: US pandemic toll: In 1 year, half a million lives

Just one year ago, America had no idea. Life in February 2020 still felt normal. Concern was building about a mystery respiratory illness that had just been named COVID-19. There was panic buying, and a sense of trepidation. Yet it was tempered by a large dose of American optimism. The coronavirus still felt like a foreign problem, even as U.S. authorities recorded the country’s first known death from the virus. Precisely a year later, America has surpassed a horrifying milestone of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. A relentless march of death and tragedy has warped time and memory. It became easy to forget the shocking images, so many day after day, of scenes once unthinkable in a country of such wealth and power.

Supreme Court won't halt turnover of Trump's tax records

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a significant defeat for former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to step in to halt the turnover of his tax records to a New York state prosecutor. The court’s action is the apparent culmination of a lengthy legal battle that had already reached the high court once before. Trump’s tax records are not supposed to become public as part of prosecutors' criminal investigation, but the high court’s action is a blow to Trump because he has long fought on so many fronts to keep his tax records shielded from view. The ongoing investigation that the records are part of could also become an issue for Trump in his life after the presidency.

Biden mourns 500,000 dead, balancing nation's grief and hope

WASHINGTON (AP) — With sunset remarks and a national moment of silence, President Joe Biden on Monday confronted head-on the country's once-unimaginable loss — half a million Americans in the COVID-19 pandemic — as he tried to strike a balance between mourning and hope. Addressing the “grim, heartbreaking milestone” directly and publicly, Biden stepped to a lectern in the White House Cross Hall, unhooked his face mask and delivered an emotion-filled eulogy for more than 500,000 Americans he said he felt he knew. “We often hear people described as ordinary Americans. There's no such thing," he said Monday evening. “There's nothing ordinary about them.

Centrist Democrats flex muscles, create headaches for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — A moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia is suddenly one of the most powerful people in Washington. Sen. Joe Manchin has had multiple one-on-one phone calls with President Joe Biden. He can send the White House into a tailspin with a single five-minute interview or three-sentence statement. And he may have already derailed some of the administration’s policy priorities and a Cabinet nominee. And it’s not just Manchin who’s wielding outsize influence over Biden’s agenda. With a 50-50 split in the Senate leaving little room for error on tough votes, other moderate Democrats like Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Jon Tester of Montana also hold significant political clout in Biden's Washington, making for a muscular counterweight to the progressives who make up the party’s base.

In Texas, attention turns to storm repairs, political peril

DALLAS (AP) — The seam that split in a pipe under Nora Espinoza’s sink during the frigid cold that gripped Texas was narrower than the edge of a dime. Her kitchen appeared mostly undamaged, but the plumber that cut into Espinoza’s wall found water had been pouring in underneath the floor. She expects the repairs to cost $15,000. Espinoza, a 56-year-old Dallas resident, is among those still getting a sense of the wreckage left by the icy blast that hit Texas and much of the Deep South last week, knocking out power to millions and contributing to nearly 80 deaths. Soaked drywall and carpet is being pulled back to give a fuller view of the destruction, and the political peril for elected leaders and energy officials who were unable to keep the heat on in places unaccustomed to freezing cold.

Wife of drug kingpin 'El Chapo' arrested on US drug charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — The wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested Monday in the United States and accused of helping her husband run his multibillion-dollar cartel and plot his audacious escape from a Mexican prison in 2015. Emma Coronel Aispuro, a 31-year-old former beauty queen, was arrested at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and is expected to appear in federal court in Washington on Tuesday. She is a dual citizen of the United States and Mexico. Her arrest is the latest twist in the bloody, multinational saga involving Guzman, the longtime head of the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Interior nominee Haaland vows 'balance' on energy, climate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oil and natural gas will continue to play a major role in America for years to come, even as the Biden administration seeks to conserve public lands and address climate change, President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Interior Department pledges. Deb Haaland, a New Mexico congresswoman named to lead the Interior Department, said she is committed to “strike the right balance” as the agency manages energy development and seeks to restore and protect the nation's sprawling federal lands. Biden's agenda, including the possible creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, “demonstrates that America’s public lands can and should be engines for clean energy production" and “has the potential to spur job creation," Haaland said in testimony prepared for her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

EXPLAINER: Why a plane's engine exploded over Denver

The investigation into an engine explosion on a jetliner taking off from Denver is focusing on a fan blade that appeared to be weakened by wear and tear, a development reminiscent of a fatal failure on board another plane in 2018. These and other recent engine failures raise questions over long-held assumptions about how long fan blades last and whether they are being inspected often enough. A Boeing 777 operated by United Airlines had to make an emergency landing in Denver after one of its engines blew apart, spewing huge chunks of wreckage that landed in neighborhoods and sports fields. Passengers captured video of the crippled engine, wobbling and still on fire, as pilots made a safe return to the airport minutes after the plane bound for Hawaii took off.

NASA releases Mars landing video: 'Stuff of our dreams'

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA on Monday released the first high-quality video of a spacecraft landing on Mars, a three-minute trailer showing the enormous orange and white parachute hurtling open and the red dust kicking up as rocket engines lowered the rover to the surface. The footage was so good — and the images so breathtaking — that members of the rover team said they felt like they were riding along. “It gives me goose bumps every time I see it, just amazing,” said Dave Gruel, head of the entry and descent camera team. The Perseverance rover landed last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life.