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In Brief: Nation & World: 3-20-17

Updated: 
March 20, 2017 - 12:05am

Former dairy farmer leads Trump-Russia investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Devin Nunes once said all he wanted to do was work on a dairy farm.

Now the Republican from the rural Central Valley of California is running one of the most scrutinized, complex and politically fraught congressional investigations in recent memory.

As chairman of the House intelligence committee, which holds its first public hearing on Monday, Nunes is at the helm of a probe of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 campaign and the murky web of contacts between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. It’s a potentially sprawling enterprise that spans continents, plumbs spycraft and dominates international headlines.

He’s a long way from raising cattle.

“I’m not asking for any profile,” Nunes told The Associated Press, when asked about his new place in the spotlight.

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Tillerson lauds China-US contacts in meeting with leader Xi

BEIJING (AP) — The United States is looking forward to the first meeting between President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday, on the final day of a swing through Asia dominated by concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

In talks with Xi in Beijing, Tillerson said Trump places a “very high value” on communications with the Chinese president.

Trump looks forward to “the opportunity of a visit in the future,” Tillerson said, in an apparent reference to unconfirmed reports of plans for the two leaders to meet in Florida next month.

While few details of his talks have been released, Tillerson appeared to strike a cordial tone during his meetings in Beijing, in contrast to Trump’s tough talk on Chinese economic competition during his presidential campaign.

Xi told Tillerson that China considered his meetings Saturday with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and top diplomat Yang Jiechi to have been productive and constructive.

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Chuck Berry’s spirit lives on through countless songs

NEW YORK (AP) — Behind so many great rock bands and rock songs looms the music of Chuck Berry.

Like the time a teenage Keith Richards ran into a childhood friend, Mick Jagger, at a train station in England and discovered they were musical soul mates.

“You know I was keen on Chuck Berry and I thought I was the only fan for miles,” Richards wrote to a relative in April 1962. “I was holding one of Chuck’s records when a guy I knew at primary school … came up to me. He’s got every Chuck Berry ever made and all his mates have, too.”

Berry died Saturday at age 90, leaving behind not only a core of rock classics such as “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” but countless descendants in songs clearly indebted to him in sound and in spirit.

You could assemble a heavenly mix tape just of the hits built around his guitar work. You can hear it overtly in the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” which closes with a near-verbatim homage to “Johnny B. Goode,” in Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver” and the Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun,” or in brief passages to songs that might not otherwise remind anyone of Berry, like the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” or the Who’s “Who are You.”

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For many older Americans, costs rise under GOP health plan

NEW RINGGOLD, Pa. (AP) — Among the groups hardest hit by the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act is one that swung for Donald Trump during last year’s presidential race — older Americans who have not yet reached Medicare age.

Many of those who buy their own health insurance stand to pay a lot more for their coverage. That is especially true for the nearly 3.4 million older Americans who have enrolled through the government marketplaces, many of whom receive generous federal subsidies through the health care law enacted under former President Barack Obama.

Health care experts predict those older adults will end up buying skimpier plans with lower coverage and higher deductibles because that’s all they will be able to afford. The Republican plan replaces the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, which mostly benefit low- and middle-income earners, with a flat tax credit that does not take into account income or local insurance prices.

On top of that, the GOP plan allows insurers to charge older people five times what they charge younger customers, compared to three times under Obama’s health care law.

The Republican plan is still evolving, and many GOP lawmakers have said they want to see changes that reduce the impact on older consumers before they can support it.

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West Mosul battle looks to be deadliest yet for Iraqis

MOSUL, Iraq (AP) — As Iraqi forces pushed into southwestern Mosul, four Islamic State fighters moved into Omar Khudair’s home and took up positions on the roof.

The 17-year-old, his parents and siblings took cover in his aunt’s house next door, and for the next half hour they huddled in a back room as the battle raged overhead. Then the airstrikes came, blowing up a cluster of houses, killing not only the fighters, but 18 members of Khudair’s extended family. The teen was one of the few to survive, left covered in burns and shrapnel wounds.

The fight for the western half of Mosul could the deadliest yet for civilians. Iraqi forces have increasingly turned to airstrikes and artillery to clear heavily populated, dense urban terrain, and residents running out of food and supplies are fleeing their homes at higher rates than previously seen in the Mosul operation.

More than 750 civilians have been killed or wounded since the fight for western Mosul began a month ago, front-line medics say, a number they expect to spike as Iraqi forces push into the old city. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

By comparison, some 1,600 civilians were killed or wounded during the 100 days of fighting to recapture Mosul’s less densely populated east, according to reports from nearby hospitals. Mosul’s east was declared fully liberated in January.

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Jimmy Breslin, chronicler of wise guys and underdogs, dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Jimmy Breslin scored one of his best-remembered interviews with President John F. Kennedy’s grave-digger and once drove straight into a riot where he was beaten to his underwear.

In a writing career that spanned six decades, the columnist and author became the brash embodiment of the street-smart New Yorker, chronicling wise guys and big-city power brokers but always coming back to the toils of ordinary working people.

Breslin, who died Sunday at 88, was a fixture for decades in New York journalism, notably with the New York Daily News, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for pieces that, among others, exposed police torture in Queens and took a sympathetic look at the life of an AIDS patient.

“His was the triumph of the local, and to get the local right, you have to get how people made a living, how they got paid, how they didn’t get paid, and to be able to bring it to life,” said Pete Hamill, another famed New York columnist who in the 1970s shared an office with Breslin at the Daily News.

“Jimmy really admired people whose favorite four-letter word was work,” said Hamill, speaking from New Orleans.

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Trump escapes the Beltway as challenges mount

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — President Donald Trump is returning to the road, rallying supporters to recapture the enthusiasm of his campaign and reassuring them about his tumultuous early days in the White House.

It’s a welcome distraction for a president whose first months in office have been dominated by self-inflicted controversy and roadblocks, courtesy of federal courts and a divided Congress.

“We have done far more, I think maybe more than anybody’s done in this office in 50 days, that I can tell you,” Trump said to cheers from thousands of supporters at a campaign rally in Nashville, Tennessee.

In Trump’s rally telling, things in Washington are going great. He’s been cracking down on illegal immigration, is “way ahead of schedule” on his southern border wall and is on the verge of passing a new health care plan that “does so much for you.”

He railed against a federal judge for once again stymieing what he called a “watered-down version” of his travel ban an hour before he took the stage, but assured supporters he’d take the case to the Supreme Court and win. The crowd roared.

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Tests find drugs, alcohol in blood of Paris airport attacker

PARIS (AP) — Blood tests determined Sunday that a suspected Islamic extremist consumed drugs and alcohol before a frenzied spree of violence that ended when he took a soldier hostage at Paris’ Orly Airport and was shot dead by her fellow patrolmen.

The Paris prosecutors’ office said toxicology tests conducted as part of an autopsy found traces of cocaine and cannabis in the blood of the suspect, Ziyed Ben Belgacem.

He also had 0.93 grams of alcohol per liter of blood when he died Saturday, the prosecutors’ office said. That is nearly twice the legal limit for driving in France.

The 39-year-old Frenchman with a long criminal record of drugs and robbery offences stopped at a bar in the wee hours Saturday morning, around four hours before he first fired bird shot at traffic police. Then, 90 minutes later, he attacked the military patrol at Orly, causing panic and the shutdown of the French capital’s second-biggest airport.

Yelling that he wanted to kill and die for Allah, Belgacem wrestled away a soldier’s assault rifle but was shot to death by two other soldiers before he could fire the military-grade weapon in Orly’s busy South Terminal, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said.

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AP Explains: Senate confirmation and Supreme Court pick

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thirteen months after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Senate is finally holding confirmation hearings to fill the vacancy, considering President Donald Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch for the high court.

Republicans refused to even grant a hearing to former President Barack Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, insisting the next president should decide. Now, the Senate will exercise its “advice and consent” role, a politically fraught decision with liberals pressuring Democrats to reject Gorsuch.

The Senate has confirmed 124 Supreme Court justices since the United States was founded.

The process is arduous, with dozens of one-on-one meetings with senators in recent weeks giving way to days of testimony starting Monday. Gorsuch and the Judiciary Committee’s 20 members will give opening statements that day. Gorsuch will answer questions Tuesday and Wednesday, and outside witnesses will testify Thursday.

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