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GOP blocks bill to keep government going; new try ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators blocked a bill Monday night to keep the government operating and allow federal borrowing, but Democrats aiming to avert a shutdown pledged to try again — at the same time pressing ahead on President Joe Biden’s big plans to reshape government.

The efforts are not necessarily linked, but the fiscal yearend deadline to fund the government past Thursday is bumping up against the Democrats’ desire to make progress on Biden’s expansive $3.5 trillion federal overhaul.

It’s all making for a tumultuous moment for Biden and his party, with consequences certain to shape his presidency and the lawmakers' own political futures.

Success would mean a landmark accomplishment, if Democrats can helm Biden's big bill to passage. Failure — or a highly unlikely government shutdown and debt crisis — could derail careers.

“You know me, I’m a born optimist,” Biden told reporters Monday, as he rolled up his sleeve for a COVID-19 booster shot. “We’re gonna get it done.”


R&B superstar R. Kelly convicted in sex trafficking trial

NEW YORK (AP) — R. Kelly, the R&B superstar known for his anthem “I Believe I Can Fly,” was convicted Monday in a sex trafficking trial after decades of avoiding criminal responsibility for numerous allegations of misconduct with young women and children.

A jury of seven men and five women found Kelly, 54, guilty of all nine counts, including racketeering, on their second day of deliberations. Kelly wore a face mask below black-rimmed glasses, remaining motionless with eyes downcast, as the verdict was read in federal court in Brooklyn.

Prosecutors alleged that the entourage of managers and aides who helped Kelly meet girls — and keep them obedient and quiet — amounted to a criminal enterprise. Two people have been charged with Kelly in a separate federal case pending in Chicago.

He faces the possibility of decades in prison for crimes including violating the Mann Act, an anti-sex trafficking law that prohibits taking anyone across state lines “for any immoral purpose.” Sentencing is scheduled for May 4.

One of Kelly's lawyers, Deveraux Cannick, said he was disappointed and hoped to appeal.


Biden rule to shield 'Dreamers' seeks to bypass Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration on Monday renewed efforts to shield hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the United States as young children from deportation, the latest maneuver in a long-running drama over the policy’s legality.

The administration proposed a rule that attempts to satisfy concerns of a federal judge in Houston who ruled in July that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was illegal, largely because the Obama administration bypassed procedural requirements when it took effect in 2012. The new rule mirrors the Obama-era initiative, recreating the 2012 policy and seeking to put it on firmer ground by going through the federal regulatory process.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, an appointee of President George W. Bush, said the Obama administration overstepped its authority and did not properly seek public feedback. He allowed for renewals to continue but prohibited new enrollments. The Biden administration is appealing.

The 205-page proposal solicits public feedback to address Hanen's concern, though it is unclear if that would be enough. The proposed regulation will be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, triggering a 60-day comment period and ensuring that it is unlikely to take effect for several months.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who challenged DACA with eight other states before Hanen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Hospitals fear staffing shortages as vaccine deadlines loom

Hospitals and nursing homes around the U.S. are bracing for worsening staff shortages as state deadlines arrive for health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

With ultimatums taking effect this week in states like New York, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the fear is that some employees will quit or let themselves be fired or suspended rather than get the vaccine.

“How this is going to play out, we don’t know. We are concerned about how it will exacerbate an already quite serious staffing problem,” said California Hospital Association spokesperson Jan Emerson-Shea, adding that the organization “absolutely” supports the state's vaccination requirement.

New York health care employees had until the end of the day Monday to get at least one dose, but some hospitals had already begun suspending or otherwise taking action against holdouts.

Erie County Medical Center Corp. in Buffalo said about 5% of its hospital workforce has been put on unpaid leave for not being vaccinated, along with 20% of staff at its nursing home. And the state’s largest health care provider, Northwell Health, said it has begun removing unvaccinated workers from its system, though it said its workforce is nearly 100% vaccinated.


North Korea fires short-range missile to sea in latest test

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a short-range missile into the sea early Tuesday, its neighboring countries said, in the latest weapon tests by North Korea that has raised questions about the sincerity of its recent offer for talks with South Korea.

In an emergency National Security Council meeting, the South Korean government expressed regret over what it called “a short-range missile launch” by the North. South Korea’s military earlier said the object fired from North Korea’s mountainous northern Jagang province flew toward the waters off the North’s eastern coast.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the launch doesn’t pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies. But it said the missile launch “highlights the destabilizing impact of (North Korea's) illicit weapons program” and that the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad.”

Details of the launch were being analyzed by South Korean and U.S. authorities. But Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said North Korea fired “what could be a ballistic missile” and that his government stepped up its vigilance and surveillance.

A ballistic missile launch would violate a U.N. Security Council ban on North Korean ballistic activities, but the council typically doesn’t impose new sanctions on North Korea for launches of short-range weapons.


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UK readies soldiers to help ease gas shortages at pumps

LONDON (AP) — The British government put dozens of soldiers on standby Monday to help easy fuel supply problems caused by a shortage of truck drivers, a situation that has spurred panic buying of gasoline across the country.

As unions called for emergency workers to be given priority for fuel supplies, the government said it was placing British army tanker drivers in “a state of readiness in order to be deployed if required to deliver fuel to where it is needed most.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said Britain had “strong supplies of fuel.”

“However, we are aware of supply chain issues at fuel station forecourts and are taking steps to ease these as a matter of priority,” he said.

Long lines of vehicles have formed at many gas stations around Britain since Friday, causing spillover traffic jams on busy roads. Tempers have frayed as some drivers waited for hours.


EXPLAINER: What's behind all the drama in Congress?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The drama and deadlines driving action on Capitol Hill right now can be disorienting. Democrats are trying to pass more than $4 trillion in infrastructure and social programs at the center of President Joe Biden’s agenda — and at the same time avert a government shutdown and prevent a federal default that could send financial markets crashing.

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues over the weekend. That might be an understatement.

Adding to the challenges for Democrats are their thin advantages in both chambers, the end of the fiscal year and intraparty disagreements over the size and scope of Biden's signature social spending and climate legislation. Republican leaders have encouraged their members to reject almost all of it, leaving Democrats to go it alone.

Biden has been meeting with fellow Democrats as they navigate the political obstacle course.

“We’ve got three things to do: the debt ceiling, the continuing resolution and the two pieces of legislation,” Biden said Monday. “If we do that, the country’s going to be in great shape.”


China: 2 Canadians in prisoner swap freed for health reasons

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that two Canadians detained in late 2019 who were allowed to return to Canada in a prisoner swap were released on bail for health reasons.

A ministry spokesperson made the comment as Beijing sought to downplay the connection between their release and the return to China of a long-detained executive of Huawei Technologies.

Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in December 2019, days after Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities.

Many countries labeled China’s action “hostage politics,” while China accused Canada of arbitrary detention. The two Canadians were jailed for more than 1,000 days.

Meng fought the U.S. demand for extradition from Canada. She landed in China on Saturday after reaching a deal with the U.S. Justice Department that led to a prisoner swap.


Lower death rates for Black moms is goal of California bill

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has among the lowest death rates nationally among pregnant women and new mothers, but the numbers for Black mothers tell a different story.

They were six times more likely to die within a year of pregnancy than white women from 2014 to 2016 and had a higher rate of death than Black women nationally from 2014 to 2017, the most recent time frame for which data is available.

A bill before Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom aims to change that. Nicknamed the “Momnibus" bill, it would collect more details about pregnancy-related deaths, diversify the experts looking at that data and require them to recommend ways to reduce racial gaps. It also would expand access to doulas and midwives, whose presence can drive better care.

“If you really want to address the issue, it is going to take a serious investment and resources, whether that means providing every Black mother a doula or really investigating what’s happening when Black mothers die,” said Jen Flory, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which supports the bill.

Newsom backed past efforts to improve care for Black pregnant women by requiring implicit bias training for health care workers involved in perinatal care, and he’s made support for women and mothers a priority for his administration. But his Department of Finance opposes the bill because the $6.7 million price tag for expanded data collection wasn’t included in the state budget. Newsom hasn't said whether he'll sign it.


Ford to add 10,800 jobs making electric vehicles, batteries

GLENDALE, Ky. (AP) — Ford and a partner company say they plan to build three major electric-vehicle battery factories and an auto assembly plant by 2025 — a dramatic investment in the future of EV technology that will create an estimated 10,800 jobs and shift the automaker's future manufacturing footprint toward the South.

The factories, to be built on sites in Kentucky and Tennessee, will make batteries for the next generation of Ford and Lincoln electric vehicles that will be produced in North America. Combined, they mark the single largest manufacturing investment the 118-year-old company has ever made and are among the largest factory outlays in the world.

Notably, the new factories will provide a vast new supply of jobs that will likely pay solid wages. Most of the new jobs will be full time, with a relatively small percentage having temporary status to fill in for vacations and absent workers.

Together with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, Ford says it will spend $5.6 billion in rural Stanton, Tennessee, where it will build a factory to produce electric F-Series pickups. A joint venture called BlueOvalSK will construct a battery factory on the same site near Memphis, plus twin battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky, near Louisville. Ford estimated the Kentucky investment at $5.8 billion and that the company's share of the total would be $7 billion.

With the new spending, Ford is making a significant bet on a future that envisions most drivers eventually making the shift to battery power from internal combustion engines, which have powered vehicles in the United States for more than a century. Should that transition run into disruptions or delays, the gamble could hit the company's bottom line. Ford predicts 40% to 50% of its U.S. sales will be electric by 2030. For now, only about 1% of vehicles on America's roads are powered by electricity.

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