AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST - InfoNews

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

January 24, 2019 - 8:04 PM

Senate rejects rival plans for ending shutdown; talks start

WASHINGTON (AP) — A splintered Senate swatted down competing Democratic and Republican plans for ending the 34-day partial government shutdown on Thursday, but the twin setbacks prompted a burst of bipartisan talks aimed at temporarily halting the longest-ever closure of federal agencies and the damage it's inflicting around the country.

In the first serious exchange in weeks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly called Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to his office to explore potential next steps for solving the vitriolic stalemate. Senators from both sides floated a plan to reopen agencies for three weeks and pay hundreds of thousands of beleaguered federal workers while bargainers hunt for a deal.

At the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters he'd support "a reasonable agreement." He suggested he'd also want a "prorated down payment" for his long-sought border wall with Mexico but didn't describe the term. He said he has "other alternatives" for getting wall funding, an apparent reference to his disputed claim that he could declare a national emergency and fund the wall's construction using other programs in the federal budget.

"At least we're talking about it. That's better than it was before," McConnell told reporters in one of the most encouraging statements heard since the shutdown began Dec. 22.

Even so, it was unclear whether the flurry would produce results.

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Trump makes rare cave on State of the Union speech

WASHINGTON (AP) — The counter-puncher caved.

President Donald Trump's decision to postpone his State of the Union address under pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi surprised allies, contradicted top aides who had been working on an alternative speech plan and left all of Washington trying to determine whether it signalled new willingness by Trump to make a deal to reopen the government.

"Well, it's really her choice," Trump said Thursday, acknowledging Pelosi had the upper hand when it came to scheduling the traditional presidential address to Congress. The speaker had made clear Trump could not deliver his speech from the House unless he waited until the government reopens.

So Trump, who is typically loath to show any sign of weakness, made a highly uncharacteristic about-face and one that highlighted the importance the president attaches to the type of symbolism and pageantry associated with a speech from the rostrum of the House.

The president concluded that there was no viable alternative that could match the gravitas of the traditional State of the Union address, in which all three branches of government come together under one roof, drawing the president's largest television audience of the year. An alternative speech or rally also would have been a hard sell for television networks, which took heat earlier this month for airing the president's prime-time Oval Office address in which he largely rehashed his case for a southern border wall.

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US faces tough choices as it weighs next moves on Venezuela

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says "all options are on the table" as the U.S. seeks to push Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to give up power. But the reality is much more complicated.

The U.S. still has tools to apply pressure on Maduro, even after years of tough rhetoric and increasing sanctions. But further targeted measures may do little to hurt the already-reeling South American country, and a major step like halting Venezuelan oil imports could damage the American economy. The most extreme step, direct military action, appears not to be under consideration, at least for now.

The U.S. and other nations on Wednesday took the highly unusual step of recognizing Juan Guaido, the opposition head of the National Assembly, as the interim president of Venezuela. Maduro, elected last year in a vote widely seen as fraudulent, still controls the military and security services and has support among at least a portion of the public. He's given no sign that he intends to step down.

On Thursday, 16 of the 34 nations in the Organization of American States recognized Guaido at an emergency session. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged members to oppose the "illegitimate" Maduro and pledged to make $20 million available for humanitarian assistance to the country.

"As a friend of the Venezuelan people, we stand ready to help them even more, to help them begin the process of rebuilding their country and their economy from the destruction wrought by the criminally incompetent and illegitimate Maduro regime," he said.

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AP Explains: What a Venezuelan oil embargo could mean for US

NEW YORK (AP) — Diplomatic relations between U.S. and Venezuela have hit a new low over President Donald Trump's decision to recognize the leader of the South American country's opposition as its legitimate president. But the two countries have long history of interdependency when it comes to oil that has endured through years of political tensions. Trump has long considered imposing sanctions that would block imports of Venezuela oil. Here's a look at how such a move might affect both countries.

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HOW DEPENDENT IS THE U.S. ON VENEZUELAN OIL IMPORTS?

Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S. have declined steadily over the years, falling particularly sharply over the past decade as its production plummeted amid its long economic and political crisis. The U.S. imported less than 500,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan crude and petroleum products in 2017, down from more than 1.2 million barrels a day in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration.

"Venezuela production has been rapidly collapsing, so many of the customers of Venezuela have already been adapting to that decline in supply, including in the U.S.," said Francisco Monaldi, fellow in Latin American energy policy at Rice University's Baker Institute.

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APNewsBreak: Iranian TV anchor says US jailed her as warning

WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent American-born anchorwoman for Iran's state television says she believes the U.S. government jailed her because of her work as journalist and her beliefs, and as a warning to her to "watch your step."

Marzieh Hashemi spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday, a day after being released from custody. She was not charged with a crime but was detained for 10 days as a material witness in a grand jury investigation in Washington. Details of the investigation are under seal, and Hashemi said she could not provide details. But she said it is not related to terrorism and has to do with her job and the fact that she lives in Iran.

Hashemi said her arrest was unnecessary because she would have voluntarily appeared for questioning and would have complied with a federal subpoena.

"I'm not sure what the meaning of 'Make America Great Again' is, but if it means just basically taking away human rights more and more every day, that doesn't seem to be a very great America to me," she said, in a reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan.

Responding to a request for comment, the Justice Department noted that federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be detained if the government can "demonstrate probable cause to believe that the witness can provide material evidence, and that it will be impracticable to secure the witness's attendance at the proceedings by means of a subpoena."

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Suspect in Florida bank attack dreamed of hurting classmates

SEBRING, Fla. (AP) — A man accused of fatally shooting five women at a small-town bank in Florida had dreamed of hurting classmates in high school and had long been fascinated with killing, police and a former girlfriend said Thursday.

The slayings did not appear to be part of a robbery, and Zephen Xaver had no apparent connection to the SunTrust branch or the four employees and one customer who were killed Wednesday, police said.

"We believe it was a random act," Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said Thursday at a news conference. "Aside from perhaps driving by and seeing it was a bank, we have no known evidence that he targeted this bank for any particular reason."

If the gunman had driven 10 seconds farther, just one more driveway, the victims might have been Carol Davis, who manages a hair salon and spa, and her staff and customers.

"He could have come here. He could have gone anywhere. It could happen anywhere," Davis said.

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Official: Asylum seekers to wait in Mexico starting Friday

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday will start forcing some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through U.S. courts, an official said, launching what could become one of the more significant changes to the immigration system in years.

The changes will be introduced at San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing, according to a U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because it was not yet publicly announced. San Ysidro is the nation's busiest crossing and the choice of asylum seekers who arrived to Tijuana, Mexico, in November in a caravan of more than 6,000 mostly Central American migrants.

The policy, which is expected to face a legal challenge, may be expanded to other crossings. It does not apply to children travelling alone or to asylum seekers from Mexico.

The details were finalized during bilateral talks in Mexico City over the last few days. It calls for U.S. authorities to bus asylum seekers back and forth to the border for court hearings in downtown San Diego, including an initial appearance within 45 days.

The Trump administration will make no arrangements for them to consult with attorneys, who may visit clients in Tijuana or speak with them by phone.

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Florida elections chief resigns when blackface photos emerge

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's top elections official abruptly resigned Thursday after a newspaper obtained pictures of him in blackface dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim at a 2005 party.

The revelation is a blow to new Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been trying to bridge racial divides after a bitterly fought election against a Democrat who was seeking to become the state's first black governor.

The Tallahassee Democrat obtained pictures taken at a Halloween party 14 years ago that show Secretary of State Michael Ertel in blackface while wearing earrings, a New Orleans Saints bandanna and fake breasts under a purple T-shirt with "Katrina Victim" written on it.

The photos were taken two months after the deadly storm ravaged the Gulf Coast region and eight months after Ertel was appointed Seminole County supervisor of elections. The newspaper hasn't said how it got the photos or identified the source.

Ertel, who had been on the job less than three weeks, resigned just hours after he testified about election lawsuits before a state legislative committee. He didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

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Bryan Singer keeps directing gig following allegations

NEW YORK (AP) — Following an expose that claimed Bryan Singer has seduced and molested several underage men, the film production company Millennium Films on Thursday said it is staunchly supporting the director.

In a statement, Avi Lerner, founder and chief executive of Millennium, said that the company is going forward with a remake of the fantasy adventure "Red Sonja" with Singer attached to direct.

"The over $800 million 'Bohemian Rhapsody' has grossed, making it the highest grossing drama in film history, is testament to his remarkable vision and acumen," said Lerner. "I know the difference between agenda driven fake news and reality, and I am very comfortable with this decision. In America people are innocent until proven guilty."

An article published Wednesday in The Atlantic alleged a pattern of predatory behaviour by Singer, including sex with a 15-year-old at a Beverly Hills, Calif., mansion in 1997. Three men spoke on the condition of anonymity and a fourth said he was molested by Singer on the set of 1998's "Apt Pupil" when he was in the seventh grade.

Singer has denied the claims. He called the article a "homophobic smear piece" that was "conveniently timed" to take advantage of the success of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

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High heat but no record: 2018 was 4th warmest year on Earth

WASHINGTON (AP) — While Earth was a tad cooler last year than the last couple of years, it still was the fourth warmest on record, a new analysis shows.

With the partial U.S. government shutdown, federal agency calculations for last year's temperatures are delayed. But independent scientists at Berkeley Earth calculate that last year's average temperature was 58.93 degrees (14.96 degrees Celsius).

That's 1.39 degrees (0.77 degrees Celsius) warmer than the average from 1951 to 1980 and about 2.09 degrees (1.16 degrees Celsius) warmer than pre-industrial times.

It's likely other temperature measuring groups will agree on 2018's ranking since they had it at fourth hottest through November, said Berkeley Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather. The Japanese Meteorological Agency has already calculated it at fourth. Record-keeping started in 1850.

Only 2016, 2017 and 2015 were warmer than last year, with only small differences among them. That was mostly because of natural yearly weather variations like El Nino and La Nina, Hausfather said. He said it would be foolish to call last year's slight dip a cooling trend.

News from © The Associated Press, 2019
The Associated Press

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