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WORLD BRIEFLY: Democrat Markey wins Mass. Senate seat

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | 8:52 p.m. CDT; updated 9:59 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Here are today's top national and world stories from The Associated Press.

Rep. Edward Markey wins U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey defeated Republican political newcomer Gabriel Gomez in a special election on Tuesday for the state's U.S. Senate seat long held by John Kerry, a race that failed to draw the attention that the state's 2010 special Senate election did.

Markey, 66, won the early backing of Kerry and much of the state's Democratic political establishment, which was set on avoiding a repeat of the stunning loss it suffered three years ago, when Republican state Sen. Scott Brown upset Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley in the election to replace the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Gomez, a 47-year-old businessman and former Navy SEAL, positioned himself as a moderate and Washington outsider who would challenge partisan gridlock, contrasting himself with Markey, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1976.

Markey had an advantage of about 8 percentage points over Gomez with most precincts reporting late Tuesday, according to unofficial returns. He took to Twitter to thank voters after his victory.

"Thank you Massachusetts!" he tweeted. "I am deeply honored for the opportunity to serve you in the United States Senate."

Obama opens climate change drive, urging action 'before it's too late'

WASHINGTON — Appealing for courageous action "before it's too late," President Barack Obama launched a major second-term drive Tuesday to combat climate change and secure a safer planet, bypassing Congress as he sought to set a cornerstone of his legacy.

Abandoning his suit jacket under a sweltering sun at Georgetown University, Obama issued a dire warning about the environment: Temperatures are rising, sea level is climbing, the Arctic ice is melting and the world is doing far too little to stop it. Obama said the price for inaction includes lost lives and homes and hundreds of billions of dollars.

"As a president, as a father and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act," Obama said. "I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing."

At the core of Obama's plan are new controls on new and existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide — heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. The program also will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures. Obama called for the U.S. to be a global leader in the search for solutions.

But Obama's campaign will face extensive obstacles, including a complicated, lengthy process of implementation and the likelihood that the limits on power plants will be challenged in court. Likewise, the instantaneous political opposition that met his plan made clear the difficulty the president will face in seeking broad support.

Putin to U.S.: Snowden free to travel wherever he wants

MOSCOW — Yes, he's at a Moscow airport, and no, you can't have him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the first official acknowledgment of the whereabouts of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Tuesday and promptly rejected U.S. pleas to turn him over.

Snowden, who is charged with violating American espionage laws, fled Hong Kong over the weekend, touching off a global guessing game over where he went and frustrating U.S. efforts to bring him to justice.

Putin said Snowden is in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport and has not passed through Russian immigration, meaning he technically is not in Russia and thus is free to travel wherever he wants.

After arriving Sunday on a flight from Hong Kong, Snowden registered for a Havana-bound flight Monday en route to Venezuela and then possible asylum in Ecuador, but he didn't board the plane.

GOP divided on immigration legislation as Senate passage nears

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are split over the immigration bill steaming toward approval at week's end, a divide that renders the ultimate fate of White House-backed legislation unpredictable in the House and complicates the party's ability to broaden its appeal among Hispanic voters.

To some Republicans, the strength of Senate GOP support for the bill is all but irrelevant to its prospects in the House. Conservatives there hold a majority and generally oppose a core provision in the Senate measure, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Any such impact is "greatly overrated," said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who previously served as chief vote counter for House Republicans.

But Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered a different view. A Senate vote Monday to toughen border security with thousands of new agents and billions of dollars in technology "obviously makes final legislation more likely," the party's 2012 vice presidential nominee said on CBS.

One prominent Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, also says House sentiment can be changed, particularly through the addition of strong border security measures of the kind that resulted from negotiations with previously uncommitted Republicans.

Watchdog: IRS credit cards used to buy wine for luncheon

WASHINGTON — Poor oversight by the Internal Revenue Service allowed workers to use agency credit cards to buy wine for an expensive luncheon, dorky swag for managers' meetings and, for one employee, romance novels and diet pills, an agency watchdog said Tuesday.

Two IRS credit cards were used to buy online pornography, though the employees said the cards were stolen. One of the workers reported five agency credit cards lost or stolen.

IRS employees used agency credit cards to make more than 273,000 purchases totaling nearly $108 million in 2010 and 2011, according to the report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration.

The vast majority of those purchases were legitimate, the report said. However, the report said the IRS has inadequate controls to prevent inappropriate purchases.

For example, investigators found that one IRS employee spent $2,655 on diet pills, romance novels, steaks, a smartphone and baby-related items, including bottles, games and clothes. The case was referred to the IG's office that investigates employee misconduct, the report said.

Army to cut brigades at 10 U.S. bases by 2017

WASHINGTON — The Army will eliminate at least 12 combat brigades, relocate thousands of soldiers and cancel $400 million in construction projects as the first wave of federal budget cuts takes aim at military communities around the country.

In a massive restructuring, Army leaders said Tuesday that they will slash the number of active duty combat brigades from 45 to 33, as the service moves forward with a longtime plan to cut the size of the service by 80,000. And they warned that more cuts — of as many as 100,000 more active duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers — could be coming if Congress allows billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts to continue next year.

The sweeping changes would eliminate brigades — which number from 3,500 to 5,000 troops — at 10 Army bases in the U.S. by 2017, including those in Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, New York, Kansas and Washington. The Army will also cut thousands of other jobs across the service, including soldiers in units that support the brigades, and two brigades in Germany have already been scheduled for elimination.

Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said one additional brigade will likely be cut, but no final decisions have been made.

"I know in the local communities it will have its impact," Odierno told reporters Tuesday. "But we've done our best to reach out to them so they understand what the impacts are. We've tried to make it as small an impact as possible for as many communities as we could."

Judge weighs whether to admit Zimmerman's previous calls to police

SANFORD, Fla. — Several times in six months, neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman called police to report suspicious characters in the gated townhouse community where he lived. Each time, when asked, he reported that the suspects were black males.

On Tuesday, the judge at Zimmerman's murder trial in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin listened to those five calls and weighed whether to let the jury hear them, too.

Prosecutors want to use them to bolster their argument that Zimmerman was increasingly frustrated with repeated burglaries and had reached a breaking point the night he shot the unarmed teenager.

The recordings show Zimmerman's "ill will," prosecutor Richard Mantei told Judge Debra Nelson.

"It shows the context in which the defendant sought out his encounter with Trayvon Martin," Mantei said.

Taliban attack on Kabul compound complicates peace process

KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban attack at the gates of the Afghan presidential palace cast a cold light Tuesday on the course of a war that Washington remains committed to ending.

A week after NATO forces handed all security operations to the Afghans, local forces fought off the attackers on their own, killing all eight militants without calling in any coalition help. But the assault also made clear that the Taliban's fighting spirit remains unbroken and demonstrated their ability to bluff their way past two checkpoints and storm a highly fortified zone of the capital.

The firefight took place in Ariana square, about 500 meters (yards) and several more checkpoints away from the presidential palace, where President Hamid Karzai was apparently preparing for a speech later in the morning.

The attack could complicate American efforts to try to get Karzai's government to sit down with the Taliban to talk peace. U.S. President Barack Obama later talked with Karzai in a video conference that lasted more than an hour and covered issues including the peace process and the newly opened Taliban political office in the Gulf nation of Qatar, Karzai's office said without giving further details.

The White House said Obama and Karzai affirmed that Afghanistan, not the U.S., must lead the reconciliation process. The leaders also said they still support meetings between Afghanistan's High Peace Council and Taliban representatives at a political office the Taliban recently opened in Qatar.


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