Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Published:

House votes to extend Treasury's borrowing authority as Republicans drop push for concessions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unwilling to spook the markets and divided among themselves, House Republicans backed away from a battle over the government's debt limit Tuesday and permitted President Barack Obama's Democratic allies to drive quick passage of a measure extending Treasury's borrowing authority without any concessions from the White House.

The 221-201 vote came hours after Speaker John Boehner announced that his fractured party would relent.

Just 28 Republicans voted for the measure, including Boehner and his top lieutenants. But 193 Democrats more than compensated for the low support among Republicans.

Senate Democrats hoped to vote on the legislation as early as Wednesday and send it to Obama for his signature.

The move was denounced by many conservative groups but came after most Republicans in the House made clear they had no taste for another high-stakes fight with Obama over the nation's debt ceiling, which must be raised so the government can borrow money to pay all of its bills.

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Air Force's push to fix what ails the nuclear missile force features ideas tried 5 years ago

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Five years ago the Air Force considered a series of proposals to boost morale and fix performance and security lapses in its nuclear missile corps, according to internal emails and documents obtained by The Associated Press. But many fell short or died on the vine, and now, with the force again in crisis, it's retracing those earlier steps.

The new effort is more far-reaching, on a tighter timetable and backed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. So it appears to hold more promise for an Air Force under scrutiny after a variety of embarrassing setbacks and missteps raised questions about whether some of the world's most fearsome weapons are being properly managed.

The earlier approach, shown in internal Air Force documents and emails from 2008-09, included some of the ideas being floated again today by a new set of Air Force leaders, including bonus pay and other incentives to make more attractive the work of the men and women who operate, maintain and secure an Air Force fleet of 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear-tipped missiles. Then, as now, the Air Force also looked for ways to eliminate the most damaging "disincentives" -- parts of the job that can make missile duty onerous.

"Keep the faith," one commander wrote to his ICBM troops in an email in early 2009.

Faith, however, seemed to falter.

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10 Things to Know for Wednesday

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

1. HOUSE VOTES TO RAISE DEBT CEILING

The measure passes easily as Republicans make clear they've got no taste for another high-stakes fight with Obama over the issue.

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Voters decide to keep rental rules designed to limit illegal immigration in Nebraska city

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) -- Residents of a small Nebraska city voted Tuesday to keep regulations that require all renters to swear they have legal permission to live in the U.S., likely pushing the city back into the forefront of the immigration debate.

Fremont voters decided to keep an ordinance that they originally adopted in 2010. Critics had said the rules were less effective and more costly than anyone expected and were damaging the city's image. But 59.6 of local voters -- more than the 57 percent in favor four years ago -- sided Tuesday with supporters, who say Fremont needed to take a stand against illegal immigration.

The conservative agricultural hub near Omaha that is home to about 26,000 residents is one of a handful of cities that have acted on their own over the last decade to curb illegal immigration. Most of those efforts, including ones in Hazelton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Texas, have become mired in costly court battles.

The same is true in Fremont, where the ordinance -- which requires immigrants seeking rental property to swear they have permission to live in the U.S. -- was put on hold after it was first adopted while courts reviewed the law.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld most of the ordinance in 2013, and the city was getting ready to enforce the housing restrictions for the first time last fall when elected officials decided to schedule another vote.

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Attorney general urges states to restore voting rights to former prison inmates

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Eric Holder called on a group of states Tuesday to restore voting rights to ex-felons, part of a push to fix what he sees as flaws in the criminal justice system that have a disparate impact on racial minorities.

"It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision," Holder said, targeting 11 states that he said continue to restrict voting rights for former inmates, even after they've finished their prison terms.

"Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans -- 5.8 million of our fellow citizens -- are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions," Holder told a symposium on criminal justice at Georgetown University.

Now into his fifth year as attorney general and hinting that this year might be his last, Holder survived political controversies that, early on, placed him on the defensive. Now, he is doubling down on the kinds of issues that have long held his interest during a career in law enforcement -- prison overcrowding, overly harsh mandatory drug sentences and school disciplinary policies that he says push kids into street crime.

Congress used to be the place that highlighted Holder's problems, including a plan to try terrorists in New York City and the failed Justice Department investigation of gun smuggling in Arizona that ended in the death of a border patrol agent.

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Defense ministry: Algerian military plane crash kills 77 people but 1 soldier survives

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- An Algerian military transport plane slammed into a mountain Tuesday in the country's rugged eastern region, killing 77 people and leaving just one survivor, the defense ministry said.

Air traffic controllers lost radio and radar contact with the U.S.-built C-130 Hercules turboprop just before noon and dispatched helicopters to try to find it. The plane was discovered in pieces on Mount Fortas near the town of Ain Kercha, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Constantine, the main city in eastern Algeria.

The plane was heading to Constantine from the southern Saharan city of Tamanrasset, which has a massive military presence due to its proximity to the country's unstable southern borders. It was at least 24 years old, according to sales information supplied by its maker, Lockheed Martin Corp.

The plane carried 74 passengers and four crew members, the military said in its statement, blaming poor weather for the crash.

Earlier in the day, Algerian government officials and Algerian state media had reported that the plane had 99 passengers, making for a much higher death toll.

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On frigid night, Obamas cozy up to French president at state dinner flush with A-listers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Michelle and Barack Obama found just the right spot to seat a gent going stag to Tuesday's state dinner: They plopped French President Francois Hollande down right between them in a giant party tent, and put the pshaw to all that drama about his solo trip to the U.S. after a very public breakup from his first lady.

The A-list guest roster for the biggest social event of Obama's second term -- flush with celebrities, Democratic donors, politicians and business types -- mostly tried not to go there, tactfully avoiding talk about "l'affaire Hollande."

"I don't get involved in those things," demurred actress Cicely Tyson, who at age 80 said she's been to plenty of state dinners over the years.

Former NAACP official Ben Jealous was nothing but admiring of the French intrigue.

"I think the French are way cooler than we are on a whole lot of fronts," he said, including "way better gossip."

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Fisherman who drifted more than a year on Pacific in small boat returns to native El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- Jose Salvador Alvarenga returned late Tuesday to the place where he learned to love the sea, bringing with him a fish tale for the ages.

The 37-year-old, who says he survived more than a year on a small boat drifting from Mexico across the Pacific Ocean to the Marshall Islands, arrived in his native El Salvador to a media throng, a daughter who didn't remember him and a mother who thought he was dead.

Alvarenga, wearing a dark blue T-shirt, khaki trousers and white tennis shoes, was wheeled in a wheelchair before a crush of more than 100 mostly foreign journalists, intending to speak. But when Foreign Minister Jaime Miranda handed him the microphone, he held it in silence.

Then he put his hands to his face and appeared to cry.

"We ask for your understanding. He's had a very exhausting trip," Miranda told the crowd.

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Atlanta, other parts of South brace for ice storm; 4 killed in accidents in Texas

ATLANTA (AP) -- The city dodged the first punch of a dangerous winter storm Tuesday, but forecasters warned of a potentially "catastrophic" second blow in a thick layer of ice that threatened to bring hundreds of thousands of power outages and leave people in their cold, dark homes for days.

The streets and highways in metro Atlanta were largely deserted as people in the South's business hub heeded advice from officials to hunker down at home, especially after the snow jam two weeks ago saw thousands of people stranded on icy, gridlocked roads for hours when 2 inches of snow fell.

"Last time I was totally unprepared, I was completely blindsided," said Lisa Nadir, of Acworth, who sat in traffic for 13 hours and then spent the night in her car when the storm hit Jan. 28. "I'm going to be prepared from now on for the rest of my life."

Nadir was telecommuting from home Tuesday and she had kitty litter in her trunk in case she needed to put it down on icy roads for extra traction.

The forecast drew comparisons to an ice storm in the Atlanta area in 2000 that left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power and an epic storm in 1973 that caused an estimated 200,000 outages for several days. In 2000, damage estimates topped $35 million.

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Veteran NBC newsman Tom Brokaw diagnosed with cancer; doctors optimistic about treatment

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Veteran TV newsman Tom Brokaw has been diagnosed with cancer, NBC News said Tuesday.

The Mayo Clinic discovered last summer that Brokaw has multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting blood cells in the bone marrow, NBC News said. His doctors are optimistic about his treatment and encouraged by his progress since the August diagnosis, the network division said.

In a statement released by NBC, Brokaw said he remains, in his words, "the luckiest guy I know."

"With the exceptional support of my family, medical team and friends, I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work and adventures still to come," he said.

The former national anchor, now an NBC News special correspondent, has continued to work on projects during his treatment and is contributing to NBC Sports coverage of the Winter Olympics, NBC said.