Senate OKs landmark gun violence bill, House passage is next
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate easily approved a bipartisan gun violence bill Thursday that seemed unthinkable a month ago, setting up final approval of what will be Congress’ most far-reaching response in decades to the nation’s run of brutal mass shootings.
After years futile Democratic efforts to curb firearms, 15 Republicans joined with them as both sides decided inaction was untenable after last month’s rampages in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. It took weeks of closed-door talks but senators emerged with a compromise embodying incremental but impactful movement to curb bloodshed that has come to regularly shock — yet no longer surprise — the nation.
The $13 billion measure would toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged dangerous. It would also fund local programs for school safety, mental health and violence prevention.
“Families in Uvalde and Buffalo, and too many tragic shootings before, have demanded action. And tonight, we acted,” President Joe Biden said after passage. He said the House should send it to him quickly, adding, “Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it.”
The election-year package fell far short of more robust gun restrictions Democrats have sought and Republicans have thwarted for years, including bans on the assault-type weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the slayings in Buffaloand Uvalde. Yet the accord let leaders of both parties declare victory and demonstrate to voters that they know how to compromise and make government work, while also leaving room for each side to appeal to its core supporters.
Hearing: Trump told Justice Dept. to call election ‘corrupt’
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump hounded the Justice Department to pursue his false election fraud claims, striving in vain to enlist top law enforcement officials in his desperate bid to stay in power and relenting only when warned in the Oval Office of mass resignations, according to testimony Thursday to the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Three Trump-era Justice Department officials recounted persistent badgering from the president, including day after day of directives to chase baseless allegations that the election won by Democrat Joe Biden had been stolen. They said they swept aside each demand from Trump because there was no evidence of widespread fraud, then banded together when the president weighed whether to replace the department’s top lawyer with a lower-level official eager to help undo the results.
All the while, Republican loyalists in Congress trumpeted the president’s claims — and several later sought pardons from the White House after the effort failed and the Capitol was breached in a day of violence, the committee revealed Thursday.
The hearing, the fifth by the panel probing the assault on the Capitol, made clear that Trump’s sweeping pressure campaign targeted not only statewide election officials but also his own executive branch agencies. The witnesses solemnly described the constant contact from the president as an extraordinary breach of protocol, especially since the Justice Department has long cherished its independence from the White House and looked to steer clear of partisan considerations in investigative decisions.
“When you damage our fundamental institutions, it’s not easy to repair them,” said Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general in the final days of the Trump administration. “So I thought this was a really important issue, to try to make sure that the Justice Department was able to stay on the right course.”
COVID vaccines saved 20M lives in 1st year, scientists say
Nearly 20 million lives were saved by COVID-19 vaccines during their first year, but even more deaths could have been prevented if international targets for the shots had been reached, researchers reported Thursday.
On Dec. 8, 2020, a retired shop clerk in England received the first shot in what would become a global vaccination campaign. Over the next 12 months, more than 4.3 billion people around the world lined up for the vaccines.
The effort, though marred by persisting inequities, prevented deaths on an unimaginable scale, said Oliver Watson of Imperial College London, who led the new modeling study.
“Catastrophic would be the first word that comes to mind,” Watson said of the outcome if vaccines hadn’t been available to fight the coronavirus. The findings “quantify just how much worse the pandemic could have been if we did not have these vaccines.”
The researchers used data from 185 countries to estimate that vaccines prevented 4.2 million COVID-19 deaths in India, 1.9 million in the United States, 1 million in Brazil, 631,000 in France and 507,000 in the United Kingdom.
After Supreme Court gun decision, what’s next?
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court issued its biggest gun rights ruling in more than a decade Thursday. Here are some questions and answers about what the decision does and does not do:
WHAT EXACTLY WAS THE SUPREME COURT RULING ON GUNS?
The Supreme Court said that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. That’s important because about half a dozen states have conditioned getting a license to carry a gun in public on the person demonstrating an actual need — sometimes called “good cause” or “proper cause” — to carry the weapon. That limits who can carry a weapon in those states.
In its decision, the Supreme Court struck down New York’s “proper cause” requirement, but other states’ laws are expected to face quick challenges. About one-quarter of the U.S. population lives in states expected to be affected by the ruling.
The last time the court issued major gun decisions was in 2008 and 2010. In those decisions the justices established a nationwide right to keep a gun for self-defense in a person’s home. The question for the court this time was just about carrying a gun outside the home.
European Union makes Ukraine a candidate for EU membership
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union agreed Thursday to put Ukraine on a path toward EU membership, acting with uncharacteristic speed and unity to pull the embattled country further away from Russia’s influence and bind it more closely to the West.
Meeting at a summit in Brussels, leaders of the EU’s 27 nations mustered the required unanimous approval to grant Ukraine candidate status. That sets in motion a membership process that could take years or even decades.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his gratitude and declared: “Ukraine’s future is within the EU.”
“It’s a victory. We have been waiting for 120 days and 30 years,” he said on Instagram, referring to the duration of the war and the decades since Ukraine became independent upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. “And now we will defeat the enemy.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pronounced it a “good day for Europe.”
Afghans bury dead, dig for survivors of devastating quake
GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) — Villagers rushed to bury the dead Thursday and dug by hand through the rubble of their homes in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan that state media reported killed 1,000 people. Residents appeared to be largely on their own to deal with the aftermath as their new Taliban-led government and the international aid community struggled to bring in help.
Under a leaden sky in Paktika province, the epicenter of Wednesday’s earthquake where hundreds of homes have been destroyed, men dug several long trenches on a mountainside overlooking their village. They prayed over around 100 bodies wrapped in blankets and then buried them.
In villages across Gayan district, toured by Associated Press journalists for hours Thursday, families who had spent the previous rainy night out in the open lifted pieces of timber of collapsed roofs and pulled away stones by hand, looking for missing loved ones. Taliban fighters circulated in vehicles in the area, but only a few were seen helping dig through rubble.
There was little sign of heavy equipment — only one bulldozer was spotted being transported. Ambulances circulated, but little other help to the living was evident.
Many international aid agencies withdrew from Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power nearly 10 months ago. Those that remain are scrambling to get medical supplies, food and tents to the remote quake-struck area, using shoddy mountain roads made worse by damage and rains.
Uvalde victim’s sister pleads for tougher gun laws in Texas
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Well before the sun came up Thursday, Jazmin Cazares sat on her sister’s bed and wept for the 9-year-old killed in the Uvalde school rampage one month ago.
Then the teenager with purple-streaked hair got up for the four-hour drive to the Texas Capitol, where she tearfully pleaded with lawmakers to pass tougher gun laws and questioned why so many security measures failed.
“I shouldn’t have to be here right now. I should be at home watching a movie with my sister,” she said through sniffles. “I’m here begging for you guys to do something or to change something, because the people that were supposed to keep her safe at school didn’t, they failed.”
Her sister Jacklyn — a tough-minded and compassionate girl who dreamed of visiting Paris and becoming a veterinarian — was one of 19 children shot to death inside Robb Elementary School on May 24 before police stormed the classroom and killed the gunman. Two teachers also died.
The massacre and a string of recent mass killings in the U.S. have renewed the debate over gun laws, school safety and how to stop the violence. In Texas, lawmakers have responded to several mass shootings in recent years by making it easier to carry guns, rather than to clamp down.
Hong Kongers reflect on Taiwan, an imperfect exile
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — For Lam Wing-kee, a Hong Kong bookstore owner who was detained by police in China for five months for selling sensitive books about the Communist Party, coming to Taiwan was a logical step.
An island just 640 kilometers (400 miles) from Hong Kong, Taiwan is close not just geographically but also linguistically and culturally. It offered the freedoms that many Hong Kongers were used to and saw disappearing in their hometown.
Lam’s move to Taiwan in 2019, where he reopened his bookstore in Taipei, the capital, presaged a wave of emigration from Hong Kong as the former British colony came under the tighter grip of China’ s central government and its long-ruling Communist Party.
“It’s not that Hong Kong doesn’t have any democracy, it doesn’t even have any freedom,” Lam said in a recent interview. “When the English were ruling Hong Kong, they didn’t give us true democracy or the power to vote, but the British gave Hong Kongers a very large space to be free.”
Hong Kong and Chinese leaders will mark next week the 25th anniversary of its return to China. At the time, some people were willing to give China a chance. China had promised to rule the city within the “one country, two systems” framework for 50 years. That meant Hong Kong would retain its own legal and political system and freedom of speech that does not exist in mainland China.
Summer swelter: Persistent heat wave breaks records, spirits
From the normally chilly Russian Arctic to the traditionally sweltering American South, big swaths of the Northern Hemisphere continued to sizzle with extreme heat as the start of summer more resembled the dog days of August.
In the United States a heat dome of triple digit temperatures in many places combined with high humidity oscillated from west to east. On Thursday, at least eight states hit 100 degrees (37.8 degrees Celsius) and at least nine high temperature marks were set or broken, according to the National Weather Service, which held 30 million Americans under some kind of heat advisory.
The extreme discomfort of Thursday came after 12 states broke the 100-degree mark on Wednesday and 21 records were tied or broken. Since June 15, at least 113 automated weather stations have tied or broken hot-temperature records. Scientists say this early baking has all the hallmarks of climate change.
“It’s easy to look at these figures and forget the immense misery they represent. People who can’t afford air conditioning and people who work outdoors have only one option, to suffer,” said Texas A&M climate scientist Andrew Dessler, who was in College Station, where the temperature tied a record at 102 degrees (38.9 degrees Celsius) Thursday. “Those of us with air conditioning may not physically suffer, but we are prisoners of the indoors.”
After three deaths, Chicago has changed its cooling rules.
Magic take Banchero 1st, Holmgren, Smith follow in NBA draft
NEW YORK (AP) — The question for weeks leading into the NBA draft was whether the first pick would be Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren or Jabari Smith Jr.
The answer finally came Thursday night — and even Banchero didn’t know it until moments before the announcement of the Orlando Magic’s selection.
“I had a feeling from the information I was being told is that it was just kind of up in the air,” Banchero said. “Orlando wasn’t really sure yet, and just to be ready for whatever,
“I didn’t find out, though, that I was actually getting picked until about 20 seconds before the commissioner got on the stage. I didn’t even have time to really think about it or anything. It just kind of happened. I can’t believe it, but I’m ready. I’m ready.”
After leading the Blue Devils to the Final Four in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season, the 6-foot-10 forward was called first by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to begin the draft, beating out fellow first-year forwards Smith and Holmgren.
The Associated Press