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

September 27, 2017 - 8:05 PM

Trump mulls cargo waiver for Puerto Rico as criticism builds

WASHINGTON (AP) — Under pressure to do more to help hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration was considering waiving a little-known federal law that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports.

Republicans and Democrats have pushed Trump to waive the Jones Act, saying it could help get desperately needed supplies delivered to the island more quickly and at less cost.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke waived the law earlier this month to help ease fuel shortages in the Southeast following hurricanes Harvey and Irma. That order included Puerto Rico, but expired last week shortly after Hurricane Maria struck.

The Trump administration has said a waiver is not needed this time, because there are enough U.S. flagged ships available to ferry goods to Puerto Rico. Officials at the Homeland Security Department, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue by name, said the bottleneck is with unloading cargo at the island's damaged ports and getting the supplies inland. They made the remarks in a background conference call with reporters to justify the administration's decision.

Asked about that decision as he left the White House to pitch his tax plan at an event in Indiana, however, Trump suggested he may be open to changing course. He said some U.S. shipping executives opposed a temporary waiver.


Trump, an uneven ally for GOP, tests his influence on taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — When President Donald Trump announced plans to go to Indiana Wednesday to sell the GOP tax overhaul plan, party leaders cheered his engagement on the high-stakes issue. When the White House said one of Trump's travelling companions would be Indiana's Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly — a top target in next year's midterm elections — the hopes turned to head-smacking disbelief.

The episode underscores the extent to which Trump has been an uneven — or at best, unpredictable — ally for his party, both on policy and politics. Time and again, Trump has complained about his party as loudly as he vents about Democrats, or shifted his position as Republicans leaned on him for support. The dysfunctional dynamic now stands at the centre of Republicans' last chance this year to prove they can pass major legislation — a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar tax cut that GOP officials believe is crucial to the party maintaining its congressional majority in the midterms.

"Literally, if they can't do this, they can't do anything," said Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota and head of the Financial Services Roundtable, a bank lobbying group. Trump is a constructive force in the effort, Pawlenty said, "if he can stay focused and stay on message."

The president this week repeatedly demonstrated his sometimes fickle friendship. As the party licked its wounds over the failure of its health care legislation, he floated working with Democrats on that issue, something he's already done on immigration and spending matters. While he agreed to requests from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to campaign for the establishment-backed candidate in Alabama's GOP primary, he undercut his impact by pondering aloud whether he'd made a mistake. Luther Strange, the candidate Trump backed, lost Tuesday to firebrand jurist Roy Moore by nine points.

Trump quickly endorsed Moore and his tweets backing Strange were deleted.


Migrant quest for Mexican dream cut short in quake

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The women working at ABC Toys on the second floor of a nondescript office building in Mexico City's working-class Obrera neighbourhood drew so little attention to themselves that when the building collapsed in last week's powerful quake few living nearby could recall them.

In death, they remained nearly as anonymous: Government officials identified them in a list of foreigners killed during the 7.1-magnitude quake as simply "four Taiwanese women."

But Helen Chin, Amy Huang, Carolina Wang and Gina Lai did have names — and stories that came to a sudden end under the rubble of the building at 168 Bolivar Street.

The glass-and-concrete building housing an assortment of Taiwanese toy and technology businesses, along with a clothing company run by an Argentine-born Jewish immigrant, is where nearly all the foreigners killed in the quake died. Aside from the four Taiwanese women, they include Jaime Askenazi, whose friends affectionately called "Che," and Pepe Lin, a Taiwanese-born father of two who made his way to Mexico after first moving as a young boy from Paraguay.

"He came here, like many people," Margarita Cohen, a distant relative said of Askenazi's arrival from Argentina. "To search for more luck."


House, Senate inviting social media giants to testify

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House and Senate intelligence committees are inviting tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet — the parent company of Google — to appear for public hearings as part of their investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned.

The House intelligence committee is planning to hold a hearing in October and the Senate intelligence committee has invited witnesses to appear Nov. 1. The announcements of public hearings come the day before Twitter is scheduled to hold closed-door staff briefings with both panels.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, confirmed the House hearing in an interview with the AP, though he noted a date had not yet been set.

In a joint statement, Schiff and Republican Rep. Mike Conaway from Texas, who is leading the House investigation, said they will hold an open hearing in the coming month "with representatives from tech companies in order to better understand how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election."

They added, "Congress and the American people need to hear this important information directly from these companies."


Iran FM scolds Trump for tweet, rules out nuke renegotiation

NEW YORK (AP) — Iran's top diplomat scolded President Donald Trump on Wednesday for a weekend tweet about a nonexistent Iranian missile launch and essentially ruled out renegotiating or launching follow-up talks to a landmark nuclear accord that Trump is threatening to dismantle.

"We need to check our facts before we make statements," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It worries me that people play with facts and produce alternative facts."

He also criticized a recent referendum on independence by Iraq's Kurdish minority as "dangerous" to stability in a Middle East already beset by efforts to defeat the Islamic State extremist group and civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

And Zarif seemed to float the possibility of a prisoner exchange for several detained Americans in Iran, responding to a question about their fate by raising the situation of several Iranians held or being pursued by the United States for sanctions violations.

But the minister reserved his sharpest scorn for Trump, who on Saturday blasted Iran in a Tweet that renewed criticism of its 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers including the United States.


Missouri murder rekindles debate over LGBT hate crime laws

Each year, for the past three years, LGBT advocacy groups have tallied the killings of more than 20 transgender people in the U.S. Yet state or federal hate crime laws are rarely used to prosecute the slayings.

Now many LGBT-rights groups are questioning the effectiveness of the laws, saying they sometimes focus too tightly on individual acts without addressing underlying bias or wider violence. The volatile issue was back in the spotlight this week as Missouri authorities investigated the killing of a transgender teen who was stabbed in the genitals and had her eyes gouged out.

Investigators insist — without specifying a motive — that Ally Lee Steinfeld's death was not the result of anti-transgender hate.

"You don't kill someone if you don't have hate in your heart," said James Sigman, the sheriff in Missouri's Texas County. "But no, it's not a hate crime."

Even if the case were deemed to fall under Missouri's hate crime law, it probably would not result in a heavier penalty, since first-degree murder is already punishable by execution or life imprisonment.


Russell homers, Cubs beat Cardinals 5-1 to clinch NL Central

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The last time the Cubs went to the post-season three straight years was in 1906-08. The World Series champions won the National Central for the second straight year with a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.

Under .500 and trailing Milwaukee in the division race at the All-Star break, the Cubs turned things around with a stellar second half.

"It was tough," starter John Lackey said. "It's always a challenge and we got a lot of people's best shots. We played well and we're back in the playoffs and we'll see what happens."

Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and Lackey pitched six strong innings for Chicago.

The Cubs are the first defending World Series champion to win their division the next season since the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies and the first defending champion to reach the playoffs the next season since the Cardinals won the wild card in 2012.


'Nothing, nothing.' Aid lags in hurricane-torn Puerto Rico

MONTEBELLO, Puerto Rico (AP) — Relatives helped Maribel Valentin Espino find shelter when Hurricane Maria roared through her community in northern Puerto Rico. Neighbors formed volunteer brigades to cut fallen trees and clear twisty mountain roads after the storm had passed. Now, friends and a local cattle ranch provide the water they need to survive in the tropical heat.

Valentin and her husband say they have not seen anyone from the Puerto Rican government, much less the Federal Emergency Management Agency, since the storm tore up the island Sept. 20, killing at least 16 people and leaving nearly all 3.4 million people in Puerto Rico without power and most without water.

"People say FEMA is going to help us," Valentin said Tuesday as she showed Associated Press journalists around the sodden wreckage of her home. "We're waiting."

Many others are also waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government. But the scope of the devastation is so broad, and the relief effort so concentrated in San Juan, that many people from outside the capital say they have received little to no help.

Valentin, her husband and teenage son live in one such area, Montebello, a 20-minute drive into what used to be lushly forested mountains near the northern coastal municipality of Manati. Hurricane Maria's Category 4 winds stripped the trees bare and scattered them like matchsticks. "It seemed like a monster," she recalled.


Louisville places Rick Pitino, AD on administrative leave

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Rick Pitino couldn't survive another scandal, as an angry interim Louisville president Wednesday placed the head men's college basketball coach and his boss on administrative leave amid a nationwide federal bribery investigation that has rocked the sport.

President Greg Postel's decision comes after the school acknowledged on Tuesday that the men's program is part of a federal investigation into alleged bribery of recruits. The 65-year-old coach was not named in the indictment that resulted in the arrest of 10 people including four assistant coaches at other schools and an Adidas executive.

Postel didn't stop with Pitino, he also sidelined athletic director Tom Jurich, putting him on paid administrative leave. And though Pitino isn't officially out of a job — he was placed on unpaid leave — the coach's attorney, Steve Pence, told the Courier-Journal that Louisville has "effectively fired" Pitino.

"I'm more angry than embarrassed," Postel said Wednesday at a news conference, adding that an interim coach would be announced within 48 hours. "We will be looking for someone with integrity. ... There's no reason this team can't have a good season."

The Cardinals have been winning under Pitino, who has a 416-143 record over 16 years at Louisville, including a 2013 NCAA championship. But there have been continuing off the court issues.


Baseball owners approve sale of Marlins to Derek Jeter group

MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Marlins are Derek Jeter's problem now.

Major league owners on Wednesday unanimously approved the sale of the woebegone franchise by Jeffrey Loria to an investment group led by Jeter and Bruce Sherman. The deal needed 75 per cent approval.

A signed $1.2 billion agreement was submitted to Major League Baseball last month to sell the Marlins to a group led by Sherman, a venture capitalist who will be the controlling owner. Jeter, the former New York Yankees captain, plans to be a limited partner in charge of the business and baseball operations.

The closing on the sale is expected within a few days.

"I congratulate Mr. Sherman on receiving approval from the Major League Clubs as the new control person of the Marlins," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, "and look forward to Mr. Jeter's ownership and CEO role following his extraordinary career as a player."

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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