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

Kavanaugh confirmation all but sure after long, bitter fight

WASHINGTON (AP) — After weeks of shocking accusations, hardball politics and rowdy Capitol protests, a pair of wavering senators declared Friday they will back Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation, all but guaranteeing the deeply riven Senate will elevate the conservative jurist to the nation’s highest court on Saturday.

The announcements by Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia ended most of the suspense over a political battle that has transfixed the nation — though die-hard Democrats insisted on arguing through the night to a mostly empty Senate chamber.

Some of them continued raising concerns that Kavanaugh would push the court further to the right, including with possible sympathetic rulings for President Donald Trump, the man who nominated him. But the case against Kavanaugh had long since been taken over by allegations that he sexually abused women decades ago — accusations he emphatically denied.

In the pivotal moment Friday, Collins, perhaps the chamber’s most moderate Republican, proclaimed her support for Kavanaugh at the end of a Senate floor speech that lasted nearly 45 minutes. While she was among a handful of Republicans who helped sink Trump’s quest to obliterate President Barack Obama’s health care law last year, this time she proved instrumental in delivering a triumph to Trump.

Collins told fellow senators that Christine Blasey Ford’s dramatic testimony last week describing Kavanaugh’s alleged 1982 assault was “sincere, painful and compelling.” But she said the FBI had found no corroborating evidence from witnesses whose names Ford had provided.

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Officer convicted of murder in slaying of Laquan McDonald

CHICAGO (AP) — A white Chicago officer was convicted of second-degree murder Friday in the 2014 shooting of a black teenager that was captured on shocking dashcam video that showed him crumpling to the ground in a hail of 16 bullets as he walked away from police.

The video, some of the most graphic police footage to emerge in years, stoked outrage nationwide and put the nation’s third-largest city at the center of the debate about police misconduct and use of force. The shooting also led to a federal inquiry and calls to reform the Chicago Police Department.

Jason Van Dyke, 40, was the first Chicago officer to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting in about 50 years. He was taken into custody moments after the verdict was read.

The second-degree verdict reflected the jury’s finding that Van Dyke believed his life was in danger but that the belief was unreasonable. The jury also had the option of first degree-murder, which required finding that the shooting was unnecessary and unreasonable. A first-degree conviction, with enhancements for the use of a gun, would have carried a mandatory minimum of 45 years.

Second-degree murder usually carries a sentence of less than 20 years, especially for someone with no criminal history. Probation is also an option. Van Dyke was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet.

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Man charged after toxic letters sent to Trump, other leaders

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Navy veteran was charged Friday with threatening to use a biological toxin as a weapon by sending letters to President Donald Trump and other leaders containing ground castor beans, the substance from which the poison ricin is derived.

William Clyde Allen III, 39, told investigators he wanted the letters to “send a message,” though he did not elaborate, FBI investigators said in documents filed in U.S. District Court of Utah. Authorities zeroed in on Allen after finding his return address on the envelopes, according to the complaint.

The envelopes that tested positive for ricin also had a note that said “Jack and the Missile Bean Stock Powder,” the documents said.

U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber declined to comment on Allen’s mental state, but said the case is “no laughing matter.”

“When you’re dealing with suspected ricin, this is nothing to trifle with,” Huber said.

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2 Republican senators, 2 divergent paths on Kavanaugh

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski turned against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh quietly, uttering a single word: “No.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, her longtime friend and fellow moderate Republican, spoke on the Senate floor for 45 minutes, explaining her support for Kavanaugh in detail.

Though they reached opposite conclusions, both women had faced similar political pressure heading into Friday’s key vote on Kavanaugh’s high court nomination. As moderates who support abortion rights, their joint opposition could have been enough to sink Kavanaugh, whose nomination was thrust into uncertainty following sexual assault allegations.

Ultimately, it was Collins who put Kavanaugh on the brink of a lifetime appointment. Minutes after she finished speaking, West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he, too, would back Kavanaugh, ensuring at least 51 “yes” votes in the Senate.

All three senators — along with Arizona Republican Jeff Flake — had been publicly undecided for weeks as they faced unrelenting pressure from both sides.

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US unemployment falls to 3.7 percent _ lowest since 1969

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. unemployment rate fell in September to 3.7 percent, the lowest since 1969, when young men were being drafted to fight in Vietnam and the American auto industry and the space program were going full blast.

The Labor Department reported Friday that the rate edged down from 3.9 percent the month before as employers added 134,000 jobs — a figure that was probably depressed by the effects of Hurricane Florence in the South. Still, it extended an extraordinary 8½-year streak of monthly job growth, the longest on record.

That run has added nearly 20 million people to the nation’s payrolls since the Great Recession, which cost nearly 9 million their jobs.

The ultra-low jobless rate — the best in nearly 49 years — reflects a healthy economy driven by strong consumer and business spending. In fact, hiring is so strong that employers are having trouble filling openings and some are being forced to offer higher pay.

Despite the similar unemployment rates, today’s economy is vastly different from that of 1969. Back then, one-third of Americans worked in manufacturing; now it is barely 9 percent. Strong economic growth back then was propelled by huge government spending on the Vietnam War and newly created Great Society social programs. And women were much less likely to work.

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Interpol president reported missing during trip to China

PARIS (AP) — He left his home in Lyon, France, for a visit to his homeland, and then vanished — putting the International Criminal Police Organization, best known as Interpol, at the center of its own missing persons case.

Meng Hongwei, Interpol’s president, boarded a plane and arrived in China, according to a French judicial official. But then, nothing. His wife, who put out a call on Friday, said she hasn’t heard from her 64-year-old husband since the end of September, the official said.

To make matters murkier, Meng is not just the head of Interpol: He’s also a vice minister for public safety in China.

Interpol, based in Lyon, would say only that reports that its president is missing is “a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China.”

France launched its own investigation on Friday morning, according to the judicial official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and asked for anonymity.

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In Syria’s Sweida, young men take up arms to defend villages

SWEIDA, Syria (AP) — Maysoun Saab’s eyes filled with tears as she recalled finding her parents bleeding to death on the ground outside their home, minutes after they were shot by Islamic State militants on a killing spree across once tranquil villages they infiltrated in a southeastern corner of Syria.

Within an hour, she had lost her mother, father, brother and 34 other members of her extended family. Overall, more than 200 people were killed and 30 hostages abducted in the coordinated July 25 attacks across Sweida province.

It was one of the biggest single massacres of the Syrian civil war and the worst bloodshed to hit the province since the conflict began in 2011, underscoring the persistent threat posed by the Islamic State group, which has been largely vanquished but retains pockets of territory in southern and eastern Syria.

More than two months after the attack, tensions over the missing hostages — all women and children — are boiling over in Sweida, a mountainous area which is a center for the Druze religious minority. Anger is building up, and young men are taking up arms. This week, the militants shot dead one of the women, 25-year-old Tharwat Abu Ammar, triggering protests and a sit-in outside the Sweida governorate building by relatives enraged at the lack of progress in negotiations to free them.

It’s a stark change for a usually peaceful province that has managed to stay largely on the sidelines of the seven-year Syrian war, and where most villagers work grazing livestock over the surrounding hills.

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Mormon no more: Tabernacle Choir renamed in big church shift

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be singing the same tune but under a new name.

The choir was renamed Friday to strip out the word Mormon in a move aimed at ending shorthand names for the religion that have been used for generations by church members and others.

The singers will now be called the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement . It’s a nod to the home of the choir for the last 150 years, the Tabernacle, located on church grounds known as Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City.

The group had been known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir since 1929, when it began broadcasting a weekly radio program to a wide audience.

Church President Russell M. Nelson announced guidelines in August requesting that people stop using “Mormon” or “LDS” as substitutes for the church’s full name. He said “Latter-day Saints” was acceptable shorthand.

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Therapy dogs can spread superbugs to kids, hospital finds

NEW YORK (AP) — Therapy dogs can bring more than joy and comfort to hospitalized kids. They can also bring stubborn germs.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were suspicious that the dogs might pose an infection risk to patients with weakened immune systems. So they conducted some tests when Pippi, Poppy, Badger and Winnie visited 45 children getting cancer treatment.

They discovered that kids who spent more time with the dogs had a 6 times greater chance of coming away with superbug bacteria than kids who spent less time with the animals. But the study also found that washing the dogs before visits and using special wipes while they’re in the hospital took away the risk of spreading that bacteria.

The results of the unpublished study were released Friday at a scientific meeting in San Francisco.

One U.S. health official said the findings add to the growing understanding that while interactions with pets and therapy animals can be beneficial, they can also carry risk.

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Judge: Trump administration can’t tie funding to immigration

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A U.S. judge in California struck down an immigration law Friday that the Trump administration has used to go after cities and states that limit cooperation with immigration officials.

The ruling by Judge William Orrick also directed the U.S. Department of Justice to give California $28 million that was withheld over the state’s immigration policies.

It was at least the third decision by a U.S. district court judge in recent months declaring the immigration law unconstitutional.

However, none of the three rulings immediately invalidated enforcement of the law nationwide. The law at issue forbids states and cities from blocking officials from reporting people’s immigration status to U.S. authorities.

Orrick’s ruling Friday in lawsuits by California and San Francisco may be the most significant yet because it applies to a major target of the administration’s opposition to sanctuary jurisdictions. Orrick forbid Attorney General Jeff Sessions from enforcing the immigration law against California or any of its cities or counties.

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