Alabama governor signs near-total abortion ban into law
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s Republican governor signed the most stringent abortion legislation in the nation Wednesday, making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.
“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.
The bill’s sponsors want to give conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court a chance to gut abortion rights nationwide, but Democrats and abortion rights advocates criticized the bill as a slap in the face to women voters.
“It just completely disregards women and the value of women and their voice. We have once again silenced women on a very personal issue,” said Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, a Birmingham Democrat.
The abortion ban is set to go into effect in six months, but is expected to face a lawsuit to block it from halting abortion access.
Alabama law moves abortion to the center of 2020 campaign
WASHINGTON (AP) — Alabama’s new law restricting abortion in nearly every circumstance has moved one of the most polarizing issues in American politics to the center of the 2020 presidential campaign.
The state’s legislation — the toughest of several anti-abortion measures that have passed recently, with the only exception being a serious risk to the woman’s health — prompted an outcry from Democratic presidential candidates, who warned that conservatives were laying the groundwork to undermine the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The White House, meanwhile, didn’t comment on the Alabama bill, signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, as President Donald Trump tries to balance his conservative base against the potential of antagonizing women who are already skeptical of his presidency.
The furor over abortion quickly took over on the Democratic campaign trail. Rallying supporters in New Hampshire, Sen. Kamala Harris said she would back a legal challenge to Alabama and Georgia’s restrictive abortion laws. She also vowed to make a commitment to upholding the Roe decision a “significant factor” in any Supreme Court nominees she might choose as president, though she declined to go as far as presidential rival Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has promised to only nominate judges ready to preserve the 1973 ruling that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.
“I respect every woman’s right to make a decision about what’s in the best interest of herself and her family,” Harris said.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved abortion bans once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. None of these laws are yet in force, either because of later effective dates or legal challenges that have blocked them. But supporters have openly predicted that the laws could spark court fights that will eventually lead the Supreme Court to revisit its Roe decision.
Trump’s Iran moves trigger warnings, demands from Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers from both parties in Congress demanded more information on the White House’s claims of rising threats in the Middle East, warning President Donald Trump off a dangerous escalation with Iran.
The top leaders in Congress — the so-called Gang of Eight— are to receive a classified briefing from the administration on Thursday. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the White House has resisted a wider presentation for all lawmakers, part of what Democrats say is a pattern of stonewalling. Some Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, sought out their own briefings as the administration called U.S. personnel home from Iraq and sent military might to the Persian Gulf, claiming unspecified threats linked to Iran.
Pelosi said Trump has “no business” moving toward a Middle East confrontation without approval from Congress.
“We have to avoid any war with Iran,” she told fellow Democrats in a meeting, according to a person in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss comments from the private gathering.
On Wednesday, the U.S. ordered all nonessential personnel to leave Iraq, and last week an aircraft carrier group and other resources were shifted to the Persian Gulf region. In public and in private, officials are sticking by the administration’s warnings of serious threats from Iranian-backed forces in the region, yet they reject the idea that the U.S. moves are a prelude to war. Trump himself denied a report Tuesday that the administration had reviewed a plan to send 120,000 troops.
Trump pardons author of flattering Trump biography
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday granted a full pardon to Conrad Black, a former newspaper publisher who has written a flattering political biography of Trump.
Black’s media empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Telegraph of London. He was convicted of fraud in 2007 and spent three and a half years in prison. An appeals court reversed two convictions, but left two others in place.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Black “has made tremendous contributions to business, and to political and historical thought.”
In 2018, Black published “Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.” He wrote a column Wednesday in Canada’s National Post describing how Trump called him and revealed the pardon.
“He could not have been more gracious and quickly got to his point: he was granting me a full pardon,” wrote Black, who used much of the rest of the column to explain the case. He called it a long ordeal that was “never anything but a confluence of unlucky events, the belligerence of several corporate governance charlatans, and grandstanding local and American judges, all fanned by an unusually frenzied international media showing exceptional interest in the case because I was a media owner.”
Venezuelan government, opposition to talk in Norway
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Representatives of the Venezuelan government and opposition traveled to Norway for talks on resolving the crisis in the South American country, officials said Wednesday, opening a new chapter in a political stalemate after months of street demonstrations and a failed opposition call for a military uprising.
The development appeared to reflect a recognition that neither side had been able to prevail in the struggle for power, leaving Venezuela in a state of paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine. It was also a policy reversal for the opposition, which has accused President Nicolás Maduro of using previous negotiations to play for time.
Senior members of both sides will be involved in the exploratory discussions in Oslo, said members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. Delegations from the two opposing camps had received separate invitations from a group of Norwegians, one official said.
The representatives include Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez on the government side and Stalin González, a leading member of the National Assembly, the officials said.
Maduro did not directly comment on the talks during televised remarks, but he said Rodríguez was on a “very important” mission outside Venezuela.
Trump to launch new immigration overhaul push
WASHINGTON (AP) — After years of setbacks and stalemates, President Donald Trump will lay out yet another immigration plan on Thursday as he tries to convince the American public and lawmakers that the nation’s legal immigration system should be overhauled.
The latest effort, spearheaded by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, focuses on beefing up border security and rethinking the green card system so that it would favor people with high-level skills, degrees and job offers instead of relatives of those already in the country.
A shift to a more merit-based system prioritizing high-skilled workers would mark a dramatic departure from the nation’s largely family-based approach, which officials said gives roughly 66% of green cards to those with family ties and only 12% based on skills.
But the plan, which has yet to be embraced by Trump’s own party — let alone Democrats — faces an uphill battle in Congress, where efforts to overhaul the immigration system have gone nowhere for three decades amid deeply divided Republicans and Democrats. Prospects for an agreement seem especially bleak as the 2020 elections near, though the plan could give Trump and the GOP a proposal to rally behind, even if talks with Democrats go nowhere.
The plan does not address what to do about the millions of immigrants already living in the country illegally, including hundreds of thousands of young “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children — a top priority for Democrats. Nor does it reduce overall rates of immigration, as many conservative Republicans would like to see.
Abortion ban aims for high court, but won’t get there soon
WASHINGTON (AP) — Alabama’s virtual ban on abortion is the latest and most far-reaching state law seemingly designed to prod the Supreme Court to reconsider a constitutional right it announced 46 years ago in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
But Chief Justice John Roberts may prefer a more incremental approach to reining in abortion rights than the frontal attack Alabama’s new law or the “fetal heartbeat” measures enacted by other states present.
The passage of abortion restrictions in Republican-led states and a corresponding push to buttress abortion rights where Democrats are in power stem from the same place: Changes in the composition of the high court. The retirement of abortion-rights supporter Justice Anthony Kennedy and the addition of President Donald Trump’s appointees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, may make the court more willing to cut back on the right to abortion, if not take it away altogether.
Several state restrictions already are pending before the justices, and it seems likely that at least one abortion case will be on the court’s calendar next term, with a decision likely in the midst of the 2020 presidential campaign.
Some questions and answers on the legal fight over abortion rights and how the Supreme Court could respond:
US abstains from global pledge to curb online violence
PARIS (AP) — The White House is not endorsing a global pledge to step up efforts to keep internet platforms from being used to spread hate, organize extremist groups and broadcast attacks, citing respect for “freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
The statement came Wednesday after World leaders led by French President Emmanuel Macron and executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech companies gathered in Paris to compile a set of guidelines dubbed the “Christchurch Call,” named after the New Zealand city where 51 people were killed in a March attack on mosques. Much of the attack was broadcast live on Facebook, drawing public outrage and fueling debate on how to better regulate social media. Facebook said before the meeting that it was tightening rules for livestream users.
In a statement, the White House said it will “continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online” while also protecting free speech.
The Christchurch Call “is a global response to a tragedy that occurred on the shores of my country but was ultimately felt around the world,” said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, who has played a leading role pushing for globally coordinated efforts to eliminate online extremism.
“Fundamentally it ultimately commits us all to build a more humane internet, which cannot be misused by terrorists for their hateful purposes,” she said at a joint news conference with Macron.
White House escalates resistance to House probes
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House sharply escalated its resistance to congressional attempts to investigate President Donald Trump , notifying the House Judiciary panel Wednesday that it would refuse to comply with sweeping requests for documents and witness testimony while declaring that the legislative branch had no right to a “do-over” of the special counsel’s Russia probe.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone sent a 12-page letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., labeling congressional investigations as efforts to “harass” Trump in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference. Current and former administration officials will not be permitted to testify, according to the White House, and the administration will fight subpoenas as Congress moves to step up investigations into Trump’s presidency and finances.
Cipollone offered what has become a new favored talking point among Trump’s allies: that Congress is a legislative, not law enforcement, body and does not have a right to pursue most investigations.
“Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice,” Cipollone wrote.
The White House counsel stopped short of invoking blanket executive privilege, but he said the White House would only cooperate with narrow requests from Nadler if Congress explained the legislative purposes behind them.
‘Time for us to live for him’: Hundreds honor slain student
HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (AP) — Nearly 2,000 people turned out Wednesday for a memorial service to honor the Colorado teenager who was killed while charging one of the two gunmen who opened fire inside a high school and shot nine people just days before graduation.
A line of Jeeps and trucks stretched along a Highlands Ranch roadway ahead of the service for Kendrick Castillo, 18, who was a Jeep and off-road vehicle enthusiast. His casket was draped with yellow and blue flowers that represented the colors of the STEM School Highlands Ranch, and the stage of the church where the service was held was adorned with symbols of his passion for science, the outdoors and his faith.
His father, John Castillo, said it was no surprise to him and his wife, Maria, that their son acted as he did on May 7, when he and two classmates disarmed one of the suspects. He urged those in attendance to be more like his son and put love and compassion for others first.
“We love our community,” Castillo said. “We’re a family of three and a little dog, but you know, I feel the love of thousands.”
Speaker after speaker praised the young man, focusing on his character and the accomplishments of his short life. References to the shooting were few, including one by Dakota Mann, who was on the school robotics team with Castillo.
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