AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT - 1310 NEWS
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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Last Updated Sep 22, 2017 at 11:20 pm EDT

GOP’s ‘Obamacare’ repeal all but dead; McCain deals the blow

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John McCain declared his opposition Friday to the GOP’s last-ditch effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” dealing a likely death blow to the legislation and, perhaps, to the Republican Party’s years of vows to kill the program. It was the second time in three months the 81-year-old McCain emerged as the destroyer of his party’s signature promise to voters.

“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” McCain said of the bill, co-written by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, his best friend in the Senate, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

McCain, who is battling brain cancer in the twilight of a remarkable career, said he could not “in good conscience” vote for the legislation. That all but ensured a major setback for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and appeared likely to deepen rifts between congressional Republicans and a president who has begun making deals with Democrats out of frustration with his own party’s failure to turn proposals into laws.

During the election campaign Trump had pledged to quickly kill President Barack Obama’s health care program — “It will be easy,” he contended — and he has publicly chided McConnell for not winning passage before now.

With the Arizona senator’s defection, there are now two declared GOP “no” votes on the repeal legislation, the other being Rand Paul of Kentucky. With Democrats unanimously opposed, that’s the exact number McConnell can afford to lose. But Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins said Friday she, too, is leaning against the bill, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was also a possible “no,” making it highly unlikely that McConnell can prevail.

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Federal government notifies 21 states of election hacking

The federal government on Friday told election officials in 21 states that hackers targeted their systems before last year’s presidential election.

The notification came roughly a year after U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials first said states were targeted by hacking efforts possibly connected to Russia. The states that told The Associated Press they had been targeted included some key political battlegrounds, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The AP contacted every state election office to determine which ones had been informed that their election systems had been targeted. The others confirming were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

Being targeted does not mean that sensitive voter data was manipulated or results were changed. A hacker targeting a system without getting inside is similar to a burglar circling a house checking for unlocked doors and windows.

Even so, the widespread nature of the attempts and the yearlong lag time in notification from Homeland Security raised concerns among some election officials and lawmakers.

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Does NKorean H-bomb threat push US closer to war?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Would exploding a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, as North Korea has threatened, push the current war of words between the U.S. and North Korea closer to actual war?

As with much that has transpired lately in the U.S.-North Korea nuclear crisis, no one can be sure where this would lead or whether the North will even carry out its threat. It does, however, raise many questions, including: How would the North undertake such a nuclear test, what risks might it pose to Japan and how would the U.S. respond?

After the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, said President Donald Trump would “pay dearly” for threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. were forced to defend itself or its allies against a North Korean attack, Kim’s foreign minister told reporters his country’s response to Trump “could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific.”

All six of North Korea’s nuclear tests thus far, dating to 2006, have been conducted in underground tunnels.

Experts say the most likely way the North would conduct an atmospheric test over the Pacific is to launch a long-range missile — probably overflying Japan — and have its nuclear warhead detonate in the skies over a remote part of the Pacific.

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Dam failing as scope of Puerto Rico’s disaster becomes clear

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rican officials rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people downstream of a failing dam and said they could not reach more than half the towns in the U.S. territory as the massive scale of the disaster wrought by Hurricane Maria started to become clear on Friday.

Government spokesman Carlos Bermudez said that officials had no communication with 40 of the 78 municipalities on the island more than two days after the Category 4 storm crossed the island, toppling power lines and cellphone towers and sending floodwaters cascading through city streets.

Officials said 1,360 of the island’s 1,600 cellphone towers had been downed, and 85 per cent of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may be worse than they know.

“We haven’t seen the extent of the damage,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters in the capital.

More than 15 inches (nearly 40 centimetres) of rain fell on the mountains surrounding the Guajataca Dam in northwest Puerto Rico after Maria left the island Wednesday afternoon, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam.

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‘Little Rock Nine’ members mark school’s 1957 desegregation

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — When she saw images unfold from a deadly white supremacist rally this summer in Virginia, Minnijean Brown Trickey immediately thought about the angry mob she and eight other black students faced when they integrated an all-white high school in Little Rock 60 years ago.

“That triggered me so much and watching the mindless mob action just touched me, and I thought, ‘This is 60 years later. I can’t believe this happened in this time,'” Trickey said Friday, referring to the violence that erupted at a rally of white nationalists opposed to the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“So where did I see it last? In Virginia or wherever people coalesce into mindless violence,” she added.

Trickey and the seven other surviving members of the “Little Rock Nine” — who were escorted by federal troops into Little Rock’s Central High School in September 1957 — gathered at the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service for a joint news conference to kick off a series of events commemorating the desegregation anniversary. Some of the surviving members said 60 years ago, they tried to focus more on having the opportunity to attend the school rather than the mobs screaming threats and insults at them.

“The crowd was there, but I ignored them,” Carlotta Walls LaNier said. “It was ignorance, in my view, that was across the street in all of the harassment and name-calling and all of that sort of stuff. But I just dismissed it, to be honest with you. I just wanted to go to school.”

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Hurricane pushes long-suffering Puerto Rico to the edge

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A tired and discouraged Rosa Maria Almonte cleaned steel pots with bleach inside her darkened cafe as her daughter cooked up rice, beans and pork chops on a gas stove to feed people desperate for a hot meal in their storm-ravaged city.

She has run El Buen Cafe for 21 years and seen some tough times, but the damage from Hurricane Maria, with no running water, no electricity and the prospect of a grinding recovery that could take weeks or months, had her wondering whether there was any point in staying.

“I don’t know if I can keep going,” the 73-year-old cafe owner said Friday after mopping up water that seeped into her shop, the awning sitting in a heap on her counter. “What am I doing here?”

It’s a lament echoing across Puerto Rico at the moment.

Even before the storm, Puerto Rico was in dire condition, reeling from a decade-long economic slide that was far deeper than the Great Recession on the mainland and that many here feel was largely ignored by Washington. Now, nearly all 3.4 million people on the island are sitting in the dark amid widespread pessimism about the future of this tropical U.S. territory and whether they should expect much help.

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Families of missing in Mexico quake still hold out hope

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Hope mixed with fear Friday on a 60-foot stretch of a bike lane in downtown Mexico City, where families huddled under tarps and donated blankets, awaiting word of their loved ones trapped in the four-story-high pile of rubble behind them.

On Day 4 of the search for survivors of the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that brought down the seven-floor office building and many others, killing at least 293 people, hope rose and fell on the small things. A change in the weather, word that Japanese rescuers — strangers from half a world away — had joined the recovery effort, officials’ assurances that people remained alive inside, a call from a familiar number.

For Patricia Fernandez Romero, who spent the morning on a yellow folding stool under a handwritten list with the names of the 46 missing, it was remembering how badly her 27-year-old son, Ivan Colin Fernandez, sang and realizing how much she wanted to hear him again.

“There are moments when you feel like you’re breaking down,” Fernandez said. “And there are moments when you’re a little calmer. … They are all moments that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

The families have been camped out since the quake hit Tuesday. More than half of the dead —155 — perished in the capital, while another 73 died in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico State, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

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Trump promises Alabama Sen. Strange will ‘drain the swamp’

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — President Donald Trump implored his supporters Friday to get behind an establishment-backed incumbent in a Republican runoff race in Alabama, arguing that Sen. Luther Strange will “drain the swamp” and doesn’t know the Senate Majority Leader “at all.”

Acknowledging he was putting his own political capital on the line, the president insisted to thousands of cheering fans in Huntsville, Alabama, that backing Strange — who was appointed in February to temporarily fill the seat that opened up when Jeff Sessions became attorney general — would help further the Trump agenda.

“We can only win the fights and we can only drain the swamp if we have smart, tough, tenacious leaders who know who they are and know how to deliver,” Trump said. “Luther Strange is our man.”

Despite Trump’s endorsement and heavy spending by a super political action committee tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Strange remains locked in a tight race against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a jurist known for opposing gay marriage and pushing unsuccessfully for the public display of the Ten Commandments. The runoff vote will be held Tuesday.

Trump said Strange had wrongly been branded an establishment insider, saying people have unfairly claimed Strange is “friendly with Mitch.” Trump called that a “bum rap.”

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Cuban official: Still no clue on US diplomat health mystery

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Cuba hasn’t unearthed any information so far about who or what caused a mysterious series of health problems that have affected U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana, its top diplomat said Friday.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the U.N. General Assembly that early results from its investigation have to date “found no evidence whatsoever that could confirm the causes or the origin” of the incidents, though the inquiry is continuing.

“It would be unfortunate if a matter of this nature is politicized,” Rodriguez added in a speech that also laid into U.S. President Donald Trump as a leader with a “supremacist vision” of “America First.” Trump had slammed Cuba’s leadership as “corrupt and destabilizing” in his own General Assembly speech Tuesday.

At least 21 Americans and several Canadians in Havana’s diplomatic community have suffered hearing loss and other symptoms believed to have come from some sort of sonic attack.

Some of the Americans have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, The Associated Press has reported.

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Trump weighs new travel restrictions as ban nears expiration

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is weighing the next iteration of his controversial travel ban, which could include new, more tailored restrictions on travellers from additional countries.

The Department of Homeland Security has recommended the president impose the new, targeted restrictions on foreign nationals from countries it says refuse to share sufficient information with the U.S. or haven’t taken necessary security precautions. The restrictions could vary by country, officials said.

Trump’s ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority nations, which sparked protests and a flurry of lawsuits, is set to expire this coming Sunday, 90 days after it took effect.

“The acting secretary has recommended actions that are tough and that are tailored, including restrictions and enhanced screening for certain countries,” Miles Taylor, counsellor to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, told reporters on a conference call Friday.

But officials refused to say how many countries — and which countries — might be affected, insisting the president had yet to make a final decision on how to proceed. Trump huddled with Duke, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his director of national intelligence and his national security adviser Friday to discuss the issue, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

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