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


With careful staging, Obama backs Clinton, nudges Sanders

WASHINGTON (AP) — Testifying to Hillary Clinton’s grit and experience, President Barack Obama endorsed his former secretary of state’s bid to succeed him on Thursday and urged Democrats to line up behind her. It was all part of a carefully orchestrated pressure campaign aimed at easing Clinton rival Bernie Sanders toward the exit and turning fully to the fight against Republican Donald Trump.

Obama’s long-expected endorsement, delivered via an online video, included a forceful call for unity and for “embracing” Sanders’ economic message, which has fired up much of the liberal wing of his party. Obama sought to reassure Democrats that Clinton shares their values and is ready for the job.

“Look, I know how hard this job can be. That’s why I know Hillary will be so good at it,” Obama said. “I have seen her judgment. I have seen her toughness. I’ve seen her commitment to our values.”

Obama’s testimonial came less than an hour after the president met privately with Sanders at the White House to discuss the future of the senator’s “political revolution” — one that will not include him taking up residence at the White House. Sanders emerged from the meeting subdued and indicated he had gotten the message.

Although he stopped short of endorsing Clinton, the Vermont senator told reporters he planned to press for his “issues” — rather than victory — at the party’s July convention and would meet with Clinton “in the near future” to discuss ways to defeat Trump.

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AP Interview: Billionaire Koch fed up with politics as usual

WASHINGTON (AP) — Billionaire Charles Koch, one of America’s most influential conservative donors, said he is fed up with the vitriol of the presidential race and will air national TV ads that call on citizens to work together to fix a “rigged” economy that leaves behind the poor.

Koch, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, described Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of personality politics at its worst. He said that’s why neither he nor the political and policy groups he controls are playing much of a role in the presidential election. Instead, in an unusual strategy, the ads will be paid for by his private company, Koch Industries.

“Both the primaries and the general (election) seems it’s more, ‘You’re the enemy, you’re evil, or you’re stupid,’ or whatever ad hominem attacks on each other,” Koch said, “rather than trying to find common ground so different opposing views can learn from each other and we can find better solutions.”

Democrats, who have spent years vilifying Charles and David Koch, are unlikely to see them as unifiers. The brothers steer hundreds of millions of dollars — their own money and from like-minded donors whose identities are largely kept private — into electoral politics and mostly Republican efforts at all levels of government.

While the Kochs have supported most of the previous GOP presidential nominees, they have a far less favorable view of Trump. A billionaire himself, Trump wrote on Twitter last year that most of his GOP rivals were “puppets” of the Kochs. The bad blood reflects the tensions between Trump and some of the Republicans’ biggest donors, which could hurt his fundraising efforts.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. OBAMA BACKS CLINTON

It is all part of a campaign aimed at easing the former secretary of state’s rival Bernie Sanders toward the exit and turning fully to the fight against Republican Donald Trump.

2. WHO IS FED UP WITH POLITICS AS USUAL

Billionaire Charles Koch turns his attention away from the presidential race and directs his private company to begin airing ads that encourage Americans to work together to fix the economy.

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UN chief took Saudis off blacklist over threat to stop funds

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he temporarily removed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen from a U.N. blacklist for violating child rights because its supporters threatened to stop funding many U.N. programs.

Ban said he had to consider “the very real prospect” that millions of other children in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and many other places “would suffer grievously” if U.N. programs were defunded.

“This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” he said.

U.N. secretary-generals are always subject to pressure from the 193 member nations. But in a rare rebuke, Ban said in this case some unnamed countries had gone too far, declaring “it is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure.”

The secretary-general was responding to what he called the “fierce reaction” to his decision, which was denounced by human rights groups. They accused the U.N. chief of caving in to Saudi Arabia and said the U.S.-backed coalition belongs on the list for its attacks on children, schools and hospitals.

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Official: US moving to expand airstrikes in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) — After months of debate, the U.S. is close to a decision to expand the military’s authority to conduct airstrikes against the Taliban as the violence in Afghanistan escalates, a senior U.S. defense official said Thursday.

The official said a final decision has not been made, but the discussions are in their final stages. There is a broad desire across the Obama administration to give the military greater ability to help the Afghans fight and win the war. The official said the U.S. is likely to expand the authority of U.S. commanders to strike the Taliban and do whatever else is necessary with the forces they have to support the Afghan operations.

The 9,800 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, however, would still not be involved in direct combat.

The official was not authorized to talk publicly about the discussions so spoke on condition of anonymity.

The expected decision comes as the Afghans struggle with a resurgent Taliban, particularly in the south. But it is fraught with political sensitivities because President Barack Obama had made clear his commitment to get U.S. forces out of Afghanistan. That effort, however, has been stalled by the slow pace of the development of the Afghan military and the resilience of the Taliban.

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House passes bill to help ease Puerto Rico’s debt

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a rescue package for debt-stricken Puerto Rico, clearing a major hurdle in the ongoing effort to bring relief to the U.S. territory of 3.5 million Americans.

The strong bipartisan vote was 297-127 for the legislation that would create a financial control board and allow restructuring of some of Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt. The measure now heads to the Senate, just three weeks before the territory must make a $2 billion payment.

In a rare display of political unity, the bill had the support of President Barack Obama, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“The Puerto Rican people are our fellow Americans. They pay our taxes, they fight in our wars. We cannot allow this to happen,” Ryan said in imploring lawmakers, especially reluctant conservatives in the GOP caucus, to back the bill during debate.

The legislation would allow the seven-member control board to oversee negotiations with creditors and the courts over reducing some debt. It does not provide any taxpayer funds to reduce that debt.

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Setbacks seen for Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, Libya

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed fighters in Syria converged from three sides on an Islamic State stronghold near the Turkish border Thursday, while Iraqi special forces pushed deeper into Fallujah, one of the last bastions of the militant group in western Iraq.

In Libya, IS militants were fleeing their stronghold of Sirte as forces loyal to a U.N.-brokered government advanced, with some fighters reportedly cutting off beards and long hair to blend in with civilians.

The anti-IS offensives posed a significant challenge to the extremist group as it tries to stave off multiple attacks across parts of Syria and Iraq, where it declared a so-called caliphate in 2014, and in more recently seized territory in chaotic Libya.

If the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces capture Manbij, it will be the biggest strategic defeat for IS in Syria since July 2015, when it lost the border town of Tal Abyad, a major supply route to the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa.

Manbij, which had a prewar population of 100,000, is one of the largest IS-held urban areas in northern Aleppo province and is a waypoint on an IS supply line between Raqqa and the Turkish frontier.

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Court: No right to carry concealed weapons in public

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Dealing a blow to gun supporters, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Americans do not have a constitutional right to carry concealed weapons in public.

In a dispute that could ultimately wind up before the Supreme Court, a divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said local law enforcement officials can place significant restrictions on who is allowed to carry concealed guns.

By a vote of 7-4, the court upheld a California law that says applicants must cite a “good cause” to obtain a concealed-carry permit. Typically, people who are being stalked or threatened, celebrities who fear for their safety, and those who routinely carry large amounts of cash or other valuables are granted permits.

“We hold that the Second Amendment does not preserve or protect a right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public,” Circuit Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the majority.

The ruling overturned a 2014 decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that said applicants need only express a desire for personal safety.

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WHO says delaying pregnancy option for women in Zika areas

WASHINGTON (AP) — The World Health Organization says women who live in areas where Zika is spreading should consider delaying pregnancy, since there’s no other sure way to avoid the virus’ devastating birth defects.

The WHO stopped short of recommending that couples put pregnancy on hold.

“It’s not saying they should delay. They should be given the information about it and offered that as an option,” WHO spokeswoman Nyka Alexander said Thursday.

Zika is rapidly spreading through Latin America and the Caribbean, and health officials in several affected countries have made similar recommendations. But the WHO’s guidelines, updated last week, could affect millions of couples who live in outbreak areas.

Zika causes only a mild and brief illness, at worst, in most people. But it can cause fetal death and severe brain defects in the children of women infected during pregnancy.

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Ali remembered in prayer as an icon who pushed for unity

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — As the faithful chanted a Muslim prayer in unison, dignitaries and fans stood shoulder to shoulder to honor a man who used his celebrity to push for peace among races, religions and cultures.

On phones and screens around the globe, thousands more joined the service from afar through streams and broadcasts, watching a traditional Muslim funeral ceremony play out for one of their heroes.

The prayer service Thursday, known as Jenazah, began two days of memorials that Muhammad Ali crafted himself in exacting detail years before his death Friday. He designed them with the intent to make them open to the world and to offer a view into a faith many Americans know little about.

“Ali was the people’s champion and champion he did the cause of his people,” said Sherman Jackson, a Muslim scholar who spoke at the service. Jackson said Ali did more to normalize the Islamic faith than anyone else, both in his life and in his death.

“Ali made being a Muslim cool,” he said. “Ali made being a Muslim dignified.”

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