Nation & World briefs: 12-28-17

  • FILE- In this Dec. 21, 2017, file photo, Mariko Hirose, right, a litigation director at the Urban Justice Center, addresses reporters as Mark Hetfield, president & CEO of HIAS, left, and Rabbi Will Berkowitz, Jewish Family Service of Seattle CEO, look on in front of a federal courthouse after speaking with media in Seattle. The government has asked a federal judge to change his order that partially lifted a Trump administration refugee ban. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Government seeks change to order lifting Trump refugee ban

SEATTLE — Lawyers with the Department of Justice have asked a federal judge to change his order that partially lifted a Trump administration refugee ban.

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Just before Christmas, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle imposed a nationwide injunction that blocks restrictions on reuniting refugee families and partially lifted a ban on refugees from 11 mostly Muslim countries. Robart limited that part of the injunction to refugees who have a bona fide relationship with people or entities in the United States. He also said that refugees who have formal agreements with refugee resettlement agencies were covered under his order.

The government does not want to include resettlement agencies.

Government lawyers filed a motion Wednesday saying that although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has interpreted the “bona fide relationship” to include connections to resettlement agencies, the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed that ruling. That means the highest court indicates it disagrees with the appeals court on that point, the lawyers say.

Attorneys for refugee support organization HIAS and Jewish Family Service say the government’s claims are wrong.

“The Supreme Court was clear in its earlier order protecting refugees with bona fide relationships to the US from the last temporary refugee ban,” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of New York-based HIAS, said Thursday. “Yet in its latest ban, the Trump administration not only ignored this admonition, but went even further to explicitly prevent refugees in the U.S. from reuniting with their spouse or minor children.”

‘Obamacare’ sign-up tally dips slightly to 8.7M

WASHINGTON — More than 8.7 million people signed up for coverage next year under the Obama-era health care law, the government reported Thursday, as the program that President Donald Trump has repeatedly pronounced “a disaster” exceeded expectations.

The final tally for the 39 HealthCare.gov states showed about 80,000 fewer sign-ups than an initial count provided last week, before the Christmas holiday. A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the slight dip was due to late cancellations.

Still, HealthCare.gov enrollment reached nearly 95 percent of last year’s level, outperforming projections in a show of consumer demand, despite a shortened sign-up season and big cuts in the ad budget.

Ahead of open enrollment, analysts had predicted somewhere around 1-2 million fewer people would sign up for subsidized private coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

But the latest numbers indicate that new customers kept showing up as the Dec. 15 enrollment deadline closed. More than 66,000 new customers were added since the pre-Christmas enrollment report.

Democrat Jones officially declared winner over Roy Moore

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Democrat Doug Jones’ historic victory over Republican Roy Moore was declared official Thursday as Alabama election officials certified him the winner of the special Senate election, despite Moore’s last-minute lawsuit claiming voter fraud.

Jones defeated Moore on Dec. 12 by 21,924 votes in a stunning victory in a traditionally red state, becoming the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate victory in a quarter-century. The win came after Moore, best known for stands against gay marriage and the public display of the Ten Commandments, was dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct involving teenage girls that occurred decades ago.

Jones said in a statement that he looked forward to going to work for the people of Alabama in the new year.

“As I said on election night, our victory marks a new chapter for our state and the nation,” he said. “I will be an independent voice and work to find common ground with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get Washington back on track and fight to make our country a better place for all.”

Jones will be sworn in on Jan. 3, narrowing the GOP’s advantage in the U.S. Senate to 51-49. He takes over the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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Often at odds, Trump and GOP relish tax win, court picks

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s unpredictable, pugnacious approach to the presidency often worked against him as Republicans navigated a tumultuous but ultimately productive year in Congress.

Trump’s major accomplishments, confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and a major tax cut, actually came with relatively little drama. But Republicans often struggled to stay on the rails, particularly with a big pratfall on health care and repeated struggles to accomplish the very basics of governing.

Several shutdown deadlines came and went, and a default on the government’s debt was averted, thanks to a momentary rapprochement with top Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer. But a promised solution to the plight of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as infants or children was delayed, while a routine reauthorization of a program providing health care to 9 million low-income kids stalled as well.

Often it seemed as if Trump were more interested in picking fights on Twitter than the nuts and bolts of legislating.

A catchall spending deal in May got relatively little attention for what it accomplished, overshadowed by Trump’s threat to shut the government down if he didn’t get a better deal the next time. But there was no next time — and about $1.2 trillion in unfinished agency budgets got punted into the new year.

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Rising energy costs eyed amid brutal cold snap gripping US

PORTLAND, Maine — Plunging temperatures across half the country on Thursday underscored a stark reality for low-income Americans who rely on heating aid: Their dollars aren’t going to go as far this winter because of rising energy costs.

Forecasters warned people to be wary of hypothermia and frostbite from an arctic blast that’s gripping a large swath from the Midwest to the Northeast, where the temperature, without the wind chill factored in, dipped to minus 32 on Thursday morning in Watertown, New York.

Even before the cold snap, the Department of Energy projected that heating costs were going to track upward this winter, and many people are keeping a wary eye on their fuel tanks to ensure they don’t run out.

The burden caused by higher prices and higher energy usage is felt by all Americans, especially those who struggle to stay warm.

Elizabeth Parker, 88, of Sanford, Maine, said she lives in fear of running out of heating fuel and remains vigilant in monitoring the gauge outside her trailer. She said she is allowed to request a fuel delivery thanks to federal aid, but only when her gauge dips to one-eighth of a tank.

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Trump lashes out at Vanity Fair over Clinton video

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump is lashing out at Vanity Fair, after the magazine said an online video mocking Hillary Clinton “missed the mark.”

On Twitter on Thursday, Trump said the magazine was “bending over backwards in apologizing for the minor hit.”

The video posted over the weekend shows editors of Vanity Fair’s Hive website offering toasts and New Year’s resolutions for Clinton, including that she vow to take up knitting, volunteer work or any hobby that would keep her from running again for president.

The backlash was swift. Among those to respond was actress Patricia Arquette, who tweeted her own proposal — stop telling women what they should or can do.

In a statement Wednesday, the magazine said the video was an attempt at humor that regrettably “missed the mark.”

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Don’t help the homeless, critics say – it hurts them

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mohammed Aly does not see any reason why he shouldn’t try to ease the lives of Orange County’s homeless. But the authorities — and many of his neighbors — disagree.

Aly, a 28-year-old lawyer and activist, has been arrested three times as he campaigned on behalf of street people. Recently, he was denied permission to install portable toilets on a dried-up riverbed, site of an encampment of roughly 400 homeless.

“Put yourself in their position: Would you want a toilet, or would you not want a toilet?” he asked. “It is a question of basic empathy.”

But his detractors — engaged in a dispute that rages up and down America’s West Coast, as the region struggles to cope with a rising tide of homelessness — say Aly and other do-gooders are doing more harm than good. However well-meaning, critics say, those who provide the homeless with tents and tarps, showers and toilets, hot meals and pet food, are enabling them to remain unsheltered.

And not coincidentally, they note, nuisances of homelessness like trash and unsanitary conditions fester and aberrant behavior continues.

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Islamic State kills 41 in attack on Afghan cultural center

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Islamic State suicide bomber struck a Shiite cultural center in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 41 people and underscoring the extremist group’s growing reach in Afghanistan even as its self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria has been dismantled.

The attack may have targeted the pro-Iran Afghan Voice news agency housed in the two-story building. The Sunni extremists of IS view Shiite Muslims as apostates and have repeatedly attacked Afghanistan’s Shiite minority and targets linked to neighboring Iran.

The attack wounded more than 80 people, many of whom suffered severe burns.

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Local Shiite leader Abdul Hussain Ramazandada said the bomber slipped into an academic seminar at the center and blew himself up among the participants. More bombs went off just outside the center as people fled.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said four bombs were used in the assault, one strapped to the suicide attacker. It said the center was funded by Iran and used to propagate Shiite beliefs.