AP News in Brief 03-04-18

  • A large wave crashes into a seawall in Winthrop, Mass. on Saturday, a day after a nor’easter pounded the Atlantic coast. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

Communities pick up pieces as deadly nor’easter recedes

BOSTON — Coastal communities in the Northeast experienced damaging high tide flooding and the lingering effects of powerful, gusting winds Saturday even as residents tried to shake off a nor’easter that had already inundated roads and basements, snapped trees and knocked out power to more than 2 million homes and businesses from Virginia to Maine.


All along Massachusetts’ heavily populated coast that includes Boston and Cape Cod, Saturday’s midday high tide saw roaring, white-capped waves crashing onto shorelines, the churning surf battering beachfront homes, dousing docks and harbors and taking huge chunks out of the eroding coastline.

“We’ve been here a long time and we’ve never seen it as bad as this,” said Alex Barmashi, as he took in the fearsome spectacle along Cape Cod Bay in Bourne, Massachusetts.

Up the coast in Scituate, Massachusetts, Becky Smith assessed the damage wrought in the coastal town near Boston, where on Friday powerful ocean waves dumped mounds of sand and rubble on roads and winds uprooted entire trees. “It looks like a war zone,” she said. “Just a lot of debris, big rocks and pieces of wood littering the streets.”

Residents elsewhere bailed out basements and surveyed the damage while waiting for power to be restored, a process that power companies warned could take days in parts.

Vulnerable lawmakers answer a noisy gun debate with silence

NEW YORK — They crowded around the White House conference table this past week, lawmakers from California, Connecticut, Texas and Florida, eager to share their state’s painful experience with gun violence.

One key state was not represented. No one from Nevada, home to the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history just five months ago, attended the televised discussion with the president.

But in the politics of gun control, even those who say the least have considerable sway. Despite a clamor for action in the wake of the Florida school shooting, a powerful group of vulnerable lawmakers — both Republicans and Democrats — have pointedly avoided the national conversation about guns.

They often choose strategic silence rather than get crosswise with the National Rifle Association’s die-hard supporters on the right or the growing movement of passionate gun control advocates on the left.

The office of Nevada’s senior senator, Republican Dean Heller, would not say why did he did not attend the White House meeting. Heller, who is facing a tough re-election fight, has avoided the spotlight in the subsequent days as well, declining to address specifics about his positions on gun legislation.

Florida lawmakers debate school-safety bill in rare session

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate spent hours debating a bill to increase school safety and restrict gun purchases in a rare Saturday session that often turned into a debate on gun control and arming teachers in the aftermath of last month’s Parkland school shootings.

The Senate spent nearly eight hours debating dozens of amendments to the 100-page bill before finally approving the legislation for a final vote on Monday. Democratic proposals to ban assault rifles and large-capacity magazines were rejected, as was a Democratic proposal to strip language from the bill that would create a program to arm teachers who have gone through law-enforcement training if school districts choose to take part in the so-called marshal plan.

The Senate began the session at 10 a.m. and was originally supposed to wrap up discussion by 1 p.m. But senators extended the session and didn’t wrap up until after 6 p.m.

It was clear that senators were divided on the bill, and not just on party lines. While crafted by Republicans, some GOP senators still opposed it because they don’t agree with raising the minimum age to guy a rifle from 18 to 21 or requiring a waiting period to buy the weapons.

Democrats believe the legislation doesn’t go far enough in some ways and too far in others. And while some oppose the bill, others believe it’s at least a first step toward gun safety.


Official Washington, press trade humorous jabs at Gridiron

WASHINGTON — Long the subject of barbed tweets from President Donald Trump, members of the Washington press corps sharpened their wits for musical and rhetorical takedowns of the president, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and others Saturday night at the annual dinner of the Gridiron Club and Foundation.

Trump accepted an invitation to the 133rd anniversary dinner, his first given that he declined to attend last year. The event traces its history to 1885, the year President Grover Cleveland refused to attend. Every president since has come to at least one Gridiron.

“Rest assured, Mr. President, this crowd is way bigger than Cleveland’s,” Club President David Lightman, congressional editor for McClatchy News, told the white-tie audience at the Renaissance Washington Hotel, according to prepared remarks released ahead of the event.

Cleveland skipped the dinner because “he thought our columns were filled with ‘mean and cowardly lies,’” Lightman said. “He did, however, have a soft spot for ‘Fox &Friends.’”

Rebuttals were scheduled from one Republican, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and one Democrat, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.


Kansas voting rights trial has national implications

WICHITA, Kan. — A conservative Republican who has supported President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that millions of illegal votes cost Trump the popular vote in 2016 will have to prove Kansas has a problem with voter fraud if he’s to win a legal challenge to voter registration requirements he’s championed.

The case headed to trial starting Tuesday has national implications for voting rights as Republicans pursue laws they say are aimed at preventing voter fraud but that critics contend disenfranchise minorities and college students who tend to vote Democratic and who may not have such documentation readily available. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is running for governor and was part of Trump’s now-disbanded commission on voter fraud , has long championed such laws and is defending a Kansas requirement that people present documentary proof of citizenship — such as a birth certificate, naturalization papers or a passport — when they register to vote.

“Kansas is the site of the major showdown on this issue, and Kris Kobach has been such a prominent advocate for concerns about noncitizens voting and other fraudulent behavior. He essentially led the Trump commission on vote fraud and integrity and he has been a lightning rod — which makes him a hero to people on his side of the argument in trying to tighten up voting laws, but makes him kind of a mischief-maker and a distraction for people who are on the other side,” said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Courts have temporarily blocked Kobach from fully enforcing the Kansas law, with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver calling it “a mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.”

The trial before U.S District Judge Julie Robinson in Kansas City, Kansas, centers on the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the Motor Voter Law, which allows people to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license. Robinson will decide whether Kobach has legal authority to demand such citizenship paperwork, and a key consideration will be whether Kansas has a significant problem with noncitizens registering to vote.


Trump’s tariff talk provokes rarely seen urgency among GOP

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have learned to ignore President Donald Trump’s policy whims, knowing whatever he says one day on guns, immigration or other complicated issues could very well change by the next.

But Trump’s decision to seek steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports has provoked rarely seen urgency among Republicans, now scrambling to convince the president that he would spark a trade war that could stall the economy’s recent gains if he doesn’t reverse course.

The issue pits Trump’s populist promises to his voters against the party’s free trade orthodoxy and the interests of business leaders. Unlike recent immigration and gun policy changes that require legislation, Trump can alter trade policy by executive action. That intensifies the pressure on Republican lawmakers to change his mind before he gives his final approval for the penalties as early as this coming week.

Trump on Saturday showed no sign of backing away, threatening on Twitter to impose a tax on cars made in Europe if the European Union responds to the tariffs by taxing American goods. He also railed about “very stupid” trade deals by earlier administrations and said other countries “laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Trump after the president’s surprise announcement, and continues to hope the White House will reconsider the decision. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and others have offered the president their own private counsel. Some are appealing to his desire for a robust stock market and warning that the trade penalties could unravel some of the gains they attribute to the tax bill he signed last year.


Virginia student’s murder sparks bid to expand DNA databank

RICHMOND, Va. — Before Jesse Matthew killed 18-year-old University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, authorities say he left a trail of DNA evidence linking him to a 2005 rape and the 2009 slaying of another female student.

That link could have been uncovered when Matthew was convicted of trespassing in 2010, but authorities didn’t take a DNA sample. Virginia law didn’t call for it.

For Sue Graham, that’s one of the most painful aspects of her daughter’s slaying: knowing that her killer could have been locked up and unable to prey on her if only police had been able to take that DNA sample.


Graham and her husband, John, have been lobbying Virginia lawmakers to add trespassing and several other misdemeanors to the list of crimes that trigger mandatory DNA collection. It’s part of a nationwide movement to expand DNA databanks by including misdemeanors ranging from shoplifting to trespassing to destruction of property.

Currently, 42 states and the District of Columbia collect DNA for certain sexual misdemeanor convictions. At least 26 states, including Virginia, collect DNA for a limited number of non-sexual misdemeanors. Three states — New York, Wisconsin and Utah — collect DNA for large numbers of misdemeanors.