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Associated Press briefs

Updated: 
October 21, 2017 - 12:05am

Charges, insults fly after Trump aide assails congresswoman

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday rushed to defend chief of staff John Kelly after he mischaracterized the remarks of a Democratic congresswoman and called her an “empty barrel” making noise. A Trump spokeswoman said it was “inappropriate” to question Kelly in light of his stature as a retired four-star general.

The administration also insisted it’s long past time to end the political squabbling and insult trading over President Donald Trump’s compassion for America’s war dead, even as it lobbed fresh vilification at Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson.

She kept the barbed exchanges going, adding a new element by suggesting a racial context.

Taking cues from a president who hates to back down, the administration staunchly defended Kelly, who a day before had denounced Wilson’s criticism of Trump — and added his condemnation of past remarks she had made at a Miami event.

Kelly said she delivered a 2015 speech at an FBI field office dedication in which she “talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building,” rather than keeping the focus on the fallen agents for which it was named. Video of the speech contradicted his recollection.

Vegas shooting doesn’t change opinions on guns

ATLANTA — The slaying of five dozen people in Las Vegas did little to change Americans’ opinions about gun laws.

The nation is closely divided on whether restricting firearms would reduce such mass shootings or homicides, though a majority favor tighter laws as they have for several years, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The massive divide on stricter limits remains firmly in place.

The survey was conducted from Oct. 12-16, about two weeks after 64-year-old Stephen Paddock fired on a crowded musical festival taking place on across the street from his hotel room, killing 58 and wounding more than 540 before killing himself. It’s the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

In this latest survey, 61 percent said the country’s gun laws should be tougher, while 27 percent would rather see them remain the same and 11 percent want them to be less strict. That’s similar to the results of an AP-GfK poll in July 2016.

Somalia’s death toll hits 358 as ‘state of war’ planned

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Thousands of anguished Somalis gathered to pray Friday at the site of the country’s deadliest attack, while the toll rose to 358 and dozens remained missing. Somalia’s president will announce a “state of war” against the al-Shabab extremist group blamed for the bombing, the prime minister said.

The United States is expected to play a supporting role in the new offensive that President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is set to launch on Saturday, a Somali military official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

Somalia’s army spokesman Capt. Abdullahi Iman said the offensive involving thousands of troops will try to push al-Shabab fighters out of their strongholds in the Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions where many deadly attacks on Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, and on Somali and African Union bases have been launched.

Also Friday, the U.S. military said it had resumed its fight against al-Shabab with a drone strike.

The extremist group has not commented on Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu, which Somali intelligence officials have said was meant to target the city’s heavily fortified international airport where many countries have their embassies.

From wire sources

The massive bomb, which security officials said weighed between 600 kilograms and 800 kilograms (1,300 pounds and 1,700 pounds), instead detonated in a crowded street after soldiers opened fire and flattened one of the truck’s tires.

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Trump: Considering Powell and Taylor for Fed’s top 2 posts

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signaled Friday that he is considering dual nominations for the Federal Reserve’s top two jobs.

Trump may appoint Jerome Powell, a member of the Fed’s board, potentially as chairman, and John Taylor, a Stanford University economist, as vice chairman, according to a transcript of an interview with Trump distributed by Fox Business.

Asked about that possibility, Trump said, according to Fox Business: “It is in my thinking, and I have a couple of others things in my thinking but I like talent and they’re both very talented people. It’s a hard decision.”

The interview is to air Sunday.

Speculation about Trump’s choice has intensified on Wall Street and in Washington as several candidates have met with the president in recent weeks.

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Q&A on the GOP effort to overhaul the nation’s tax system

WASHINGTON — Divided Republicans in Congress are tackling an ambitious overhaul of the nation’s tax system that would deeply cut levies for corporations and double the standard deduction used by most average Americans.

Despite controlling Congress and the White House, Republicans failed to carry out their years-long promise to dismantle and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law. They say the nearly $6 trillion tax plan, to bring the first major revamp in three decades, is their once-in-a-generation opportunity. President Donald Trump sets it as his highest legislative priority.

But can they deliver? What are the next steps for Congress? How would the changes affect the average taxpayer? Some questions and answers:

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WHAT DOES THE TAX PLAN DO? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

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New Battle of the Alamo is brewing over Texas shrine revamp

SAN ANTONIO — Remember the Alamo? A new Texas battle is brewing over how best to do so.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush is overseeing a 7-year revamp of the shrine where 189 Texas independence fighters were killed by Mexican Gen. Santa Anna’s troops in 1836. The site’s size would quadruple after excavation and restoration of historical structures, the closing of nearby streets and the building of a more than 100,000-square foot museum to house artifacts and guide visitors through the Alamo’s history.

The project has raised the ire of some conservatives, who worry that the Battle of the Alamo will be sanitized by “political correctness” at a time when Confederate monuments are being removed across the country. Even though the Alamo battle was well before the Civil War, some of the participants were slaveholders.

A flashpoint has been the fate of the Cenotaph, a 60-foot (18.29-meter) granite monument near the Alamo completed in 1940 and engraved with the names of those killed during the battle. The city of San Antonio wants to move it to a site somewhat farther away. But critics fear the Cenotaph will suffer the fate of some Confederate monuments and be banished.

Hundreds of protesters showed up at the Alamo last weekend, some wearing colonial costumes and holding signs reading “Leave the Alamo Alone.”

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Trump promises tax cuts as Senate GOP paves way with budget

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump promised tax cuts Friday “which will be the biggest in the history of our country” following Senate passage of a $4 trillion budget that lays the groundwork for Republicans’ promised tax legislation.

Republicans hope to push the first tax overhaul in three decades through Congress by year’s end, an ambitious goal that would fulfill multiple campaign promises but could run aground over any number of disputes. Failure could cost the GOP dearly in next year’s midterm elections.

The budget plan, which passed on a near party-line vote late Thursday, includes rules that will allow Republicans to get tax legislation through the Senate without Democratic votes and without fear of a Democratic filibuster. Nonetheless, the GOP’s narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate will be difficult for leadership to navigate, as illustrated by the Republicans’ multiple failures to pass legislation repealing and replacing “Obamacare.”

The final vote on the budget was 51-49 with deficit hawk Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky the lone opposing GOP vote.

Trump insisted over Twitter on Friday that Paul would be with him in the end on taxes, even though the senator has been critical of the tax package as it’s emerged thus far.

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Suicide bombings in Afghanistan hit mosques, killing 63

KABUL, Afghanistan — Suicide bombers struck two mosques in Afghanistan during Friday prayers, a Shiite mosque in Kabul and a Sunni mosque in western Ghor province, killing at least 63 people at the end of a particularly deadly week for the troubled nation.

The Afghan president issued a statement condemning both attacks and saying that country’s security forces would step up the fight to “eliminate the terrorists who target Afghans of all religions and tribes.”

In the attack in Kabul, a suicide bomber walked into the Imam Zaman Mosque, a Shiite mosque in the western Dashte-e-Barchi neighborhood where he detonated his explosives vest, killing 30 and wounding 45, said Maj. Gen. Alimast Momand at the Interior Ministry.

The suicide bombing in Ghor province struck a Sunni mosque, also during Friday prayers and killed 33 people, including a warlord who was apparently the target of the attack, said Mohammad Iqbal Nizami, the spokesman for the provincial chief of police.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for either attack, the latest in a devastating week that saw Taliban attacks kill scores across the country.

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White nationalist undeterred by boos on latest college stop

BATON ROUGE, La. — The hostile audience drowned out white nationalist Richard Spencer with anti-Nazi chants. They booed him off the stage under the watchful eye of police officers in riot gear.

In other words, Spencer sees his speech Thursday at the University of Florida as a smashing success.

“I’m very happy with what happened in the sense of the (public relations) victory,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. “But at the same time, it’s a little frustrating and a little sad that I wasn’t able to talk to people.”

Once an obscure figure in a fringe movement, Spencer has become a household name thanks in part to his infamous “Hail Trump!” toast, a videotaped punch to his head and the bloodshed at a Virginia rally where he was a headliner.

But his notoriety, amplified by social media and mainstream news coverage, far exceeds his modest following of tiki torch-bearing racists and anti-Semites.

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