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Here is the latest news from The Associated Press 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s pick for health secretary is facing two days of contentious Senate hearings. Republicans are portraying the Californian as unfit. But Democrats are unfazed, accusing the GOP of playing politics despite the pandemic. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, will be grilled by two panels beginning Tuesday. Republicans say he’s a radical, but Democrats shrug that off as “flailing.” If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino to head the Department of Health and Human Services. The $1.4 trillion agency carries a broad portfolio that includes health insurance programs, drug safety and approvals, advanced medical research and the welfare of children.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s GOP chairman Drew McKissick tells The Associated Press that Donald Trump is backing him for a third term. The move shows Trump’s determination to play an active part in the future of the Republican Party as he works to maintain the local party framework in places that backed his presidency. McKissick, a longtime Republican activist and consultant, since 2017 has chaired the GOP in South Carolina. Republicans control both legislative chambers, all statewide offices and all but one congressional seat in the state. Trump’s 2016 GOP primary win helped cement his status as the party’s frontrunner.

NEW YORK (AP) — At least 160 Confederate symbols were taken down or moved from public spaces in 2020. That’s according to a new count the Southern Poverty Law Center shared with The Associated Press ahead of releasing it. The law center, which keeps a raw count of nearly 2,100 statues, symbols, placards, buildings and public parks dedicated to the Confederacy, plans to release on Tuesday the latest figures from its “Whose Heritage?” database. It has been tracking a movement to take down the monuments since 2015, when a white supremacist entered a South Carolina church and killed nine Black parishioners.

NICE, France (AP) — A year into the coronavirus pandemic, doctors are striving to better understand and treat patients who lose their sense of smell. Called anosmia, the condition is a common symptom of COVID-19. It is non-lethal but terribly vexing for the small minority of long-term sufferers who many weeks after infection still cannot taste food or smell the things they love. In the southern French city of Nice, COVID-19 olfactory disorders are being studied by medical researchers who were previously using scents in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. They have also used fragrances to treat post-traumatic stress in children after a terror attack. They’re now lending their expertise to help post-COVID-19 patients recover their sense of smell.

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices surged at the fastest pace in nearly seven years in December, fueled by low mortgage rates and Americans moving from urban apartments to houses in the suburbs. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, released Tuesday, climbed 10.1% in December from a year earlier. The year-end jump was the biggest since April 2014 and follows a strong 9.2% year-over-year gain in November. Home prices climbed 14.4% in Phoenix, 13.6% in Seattle and 13% in Seattle. But prices were rising all over. Chicago, which recorded the slowest price gain, saw a 7.7% uptick. Detroit was not included in the annual figures because of record-keeping delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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