GOP wins slim House majority, complicating ambitious agenda
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans won control of the U.S. House on Wednesday, returning the party to power in Washington and giving conservatives leverage to blunt President Joe Biden’s agenda and spur a flurry of investigations. But a threadbare majority will pose immediate challenges for GOP leaders and complicate the party’s ability to govern.
More than a week after Election Day, Republicans secured the 218th seat needed to flip the House from Democratic control. The full scope of the party’s majority may not be clear for several more days — or weeks — as votes in competitive races are still being counted.
But they are on track to cobble together what could be the party's narrowest majority of the 21st century, rivaling 2001, when Republicans had just a nine-seat majority, 221-212 with two independents. That’s far short of the sweeping victory the GOP predicted going into this year’s midterm elections, when the party hoped to reset the agenda on Capitol Hill by capitalizing on economic challenges and Biden’s lagging popularity.
Instead, Democrats showed surprising resilience, holding on to moderate, suburban districts from Virginia to Minnesota and Kansas. The results could complicate House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy’s plans to become speaker as some conservative members have questioned whether to back him or have imposed conditions for their support.
McCarthy, R-Calif., celebrated his party having “officially flipped” the House on Twitter on Wednesday night, writing, “Americans are ready for a new direction, and House Republicans are ready to deliver.”
Same-sex marriage legislation clears key Senate hurdle
WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriages crossed a major Senate hurdle Wednesday, putting Congress on track to take the historic step of ensuring that such unions are enshrined in federal law.
Twelve Republicans voted with all Democrats to move forward on the legislation, meaning a final vote could come as soon as this week, or later this month. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill ensuring the unions are legally recognized under the law is chance for the Senate to “live up to its highest ideals” and protect marriage equality for all people.
“It will make our country a better, fairer place to live,” Schumer said, noting that his own daughter and her wife are expecting a baby next year.
Senate Democrats are quickly moving to pass the bill while the party still controls the House. Republicans won the House majority Wednesday and are unlikely to take up the issue next year.
In a statement after the vote, President Joe Biden said that he sign the bill once it is passed.
The AP Interview: Pence says voters want new leadership
NEW YORK (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that voters are “looking for new leadership” following the disappointing midterm elections for Republicans, who are now openly debating whether his onetime boss, Donald Trump, should maintain a leading role in the party.
In an interview with The Associated Press just hours after Trump announced another White House run, Pence declined to say whether the thinks the former president is fit to return to his old job. But he implicitly positioned himself as a potential alternative for Republicans seeking conservative leadership without the chaos of the Trump era.
”I think we will have better choices in 2024," Pence said. “I’m very confident that Republican primary voters will choose wisely.” He said that he and his family will gather over the holidays “and we’ll give prayerful consideration to what our role might be in the days ahead.”
Asked whether he blamed Trump for this week's Republican losses, he said, "Certainly the president’s continued efforts to relitigate the last election played a role, but ... each individual candidate is responsible for their own campaign.”
Pence, while considering a presidential campaign of his own, has been raising his profile as he promotes his new memoir, “ So Help Me God,” which was released on the same day that Trump made official his long-teased White House bid. If Pence moves forward, he would be in direct competition with Trump, a particularly awkward collision for the former vice president, who spent his four years in office defending Trump, refusing to criticize him publicly until after Jan. 6, 2021.
Poland, NATO say missile strike wasn't a Russian attack
PRZEWODOW, Poland (AP) — NATO member Poland and the head of the military alliance both said Wednesday that a missile strike in Polish farmland that killed two people appeared to be unintentional and was probably launched by air defenses in neighboring Ukraine. Russia had been bombarding Ukraine at the time in an attack that savaged its power grid.
“Ukraine’s defense was launching their missiles in various directions, and it is highly probable that one of these missiles unfortunately fell on Polish territory," said Polish President Andrzej Duda. “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, to suggest that it was an intentional attack on Poland.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, at a meeting of the 30-nation military alliance in Brussels, echoed the preliminary Polish findings. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, disputed them and asked for further investigation.
The assessments of Tuesday's deadly missile landing appeared to dial back the likelihood of the strike triggering another major escalation in the nearly 9-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine. If Russia had targeted Poland, that could have risked drawing NATO into the conflict.
Still, Stoltenberg and others laid overall but not specific blame on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war.
Prosecutor: Witness told police UVA suspect targeted victims
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A witness who saw a University of Virginia student open fire onboard a bus returning from a field trip told police the gunman targeted specific victims — many of them football players — shooting one as he slept, a prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
The details emerged during the suspect's first court appearance, the same day students returned to classes and the university announced it was canceling its Saturday football game in the wake of the deadly shooting.
A witness who was shown a photo of the shooting suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., identified him as the gunman, the prosecutor said. The violence Sunday night left three football players dead and one player and another student wounded.
Jones, a former football player, appeared by video link from a local jail for the court hearing Wednesday. He did not enter a plea to the numerous charges he faces and said he plans to hire an attorney. A judge ordered him held without bond and appointed a public defender to represent him until he secures private counsel.
University officials and police have said Jones, who turns 23 on Thursday, joined a group of about two dozen others on a field trip Sunday from the Charlottesville campus to see a play in the nation’s capital, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) away. When their bus arrived back on campus, authorities have said Jones opened fire, killing Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.
Seoul: North Korea fires ballistic missile toward sea
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile Thursday toward its eastern waters, South Korea’s military said, hours after the North threatened to launch “fiercer” military responses to the U.S. bolstering its security commitment to its allies South Korea and Japan.
South Korea’s military detected the launch from the North’s eastern coastal Wonsan area at 10:48 a.m., the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. It said South Korea has boosted its surveillance of North Korea while maintaining a military readiness and a close coordination with the United States.
It was North Korea’s first ballistic missile firing in eight days and the latest in its barrage of tests in recent months. North Korea previously said some of the tests were simulations of nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets. Many experts say North Korea would eventually want to enhance its nuclear capability to wrest bigger concessions from its rivals.
Earlier Thursday, North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui warned that a recent U.S.-South Korea-Japan summit accord on the North would leave tensions on the Korean Peninsula “more unpredictable.”
Choe’s statement was North Korea’s first official response to U.S. President Joe Biden’s trilateral summit with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of a regional gathering Sunday in Cambodia. In their joint statement, the three leaders strongly condemned North Korea’s recent missile tests and agreed to work together to strengthen deterrence, while Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea and Japan with a full range of capabilities, including its nuclear arms.
Myanmar releasing 4 foreigners in broad prisoner amnesty
BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar's military-controlled government announced Thursday it was releasing and deporting an Australian academic, a Japanese filmmaker, an ex-British diplomat and an American as part of a broad prisoner amnesty to mark the country’s National Victory Day.
Australian Sean Turnell, Japan's Toru Kubota, Briton Vicky Bowman, and American Kyaw Htay Oo, as well as 11 local Myanmar celebrities, were among a total of 5,774 prisoners who were being released, Myanmar's state-run MRTV reported.
The imprisonment of the foreign nationals had been a source of friction between Myanmar's leaders and their home governments, which had been lobbying for their release.
Japan's Foreign Ministry confirmed they had been informed of Myanmar's plans to release Kubota, but had no further details, other than that the 26-year-old Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker was reportedly in good health.
Britain's embassy in Yangon said Bowman had not yet been released from prison. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had no immediate comment, and the U.S. Embassy in Yangon did not immediately respond to a request for information.
US home births increased in pandemic but are still uncommon
U.S. home births increased slightly in the pandemic’s second year, rising to the highest level in decades, according to a government report published Thursday.
Among almost 4 million births in 2021, nearly 52,000 occurred at home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed. That's up about 12% from 2020, following a 22% rise from 2019 to 2020.
Increases were seen across races and ethnicities, although home births were much less common among Hispanic women than others.
Elizabeth Gregory, the report’s lead author, said reasons for the increases are unknown, but they occurred when COVID-19 rates were high and vaccinations were either unavailable or not widely used. Other reports have shown that many people avoided hospital and doctor visits early in the pandemic.
Other possible reasons: Women lacked health insurance or lived far from a hospital and couldn’t make it there in time. Previous research suggests that about 1 in 4 home births are unplanned.
Amazon begins mass layoffs among its corporate workforce
NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon has begun mass layoffs in its corporate ranks, becoming the latest tech company to trim its workforce amid rising fears about the wider economic environment.
On Tuesday, the company notified regional authorities in California that it would lay off about 260 workers at various facilities that employ data scientists, software engineers and other corporate workers. Those job cuts would be effective beginning on Jan. 17.
Amazon would not specify how many more layoffs may be in the works beyond the ones confirmed through California's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, also known as WARN, which requires companies to provide 60 days’ notice if they have 75 or more full-time or part-time workers. Amazon employs more than 1.5 million workers globally, primarily made up of hourly workers.
The online retail giant, like other tech and social media giants, saw sizable profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, as homebound shoppers purchased more items online. But revenue growth slowed as the worst of the pandemic eased and consumers relied less on ecommerce.
The Seattle-based company reported two consecutive losses this year, driven mainly by write-downs of the value of its stock investment in electric vehicle start-up Rivian Automotive. The company returned to profitability during the third quarter, but investors were gloomy about its weaker-than-expected revenue and lackluster projections for the current quarter, which is typically good for retailers due to the holiday shopping season.
Shake it off? Parents come up short for Taylor Swift tickets
NEW YORK (AP) — They were supposed to be birthday presents. They were supposed to be Christmas presents. They were supposed to be the most special of special treats for young fans of Taylor Swift.
Instead, for many parents, the hours-long Ticketmaster debacle they endured Tuesday trying to score concert seats left them empty-handed and frustrated — and their kids disappointed.
“I was trying to buy tickets so my best friend and I could take our pre-teens to their first concert and waited literally all day to finally get in to buy tickets and not one ticket was left,” Micah Woods, who lives near Little Rock, Arkansas, said Wednesday.
Others who did battle on computers eventually scored, some after being kicked out of the online queue numerous times or struggling with error messages.
“I was pretty worn out afterwards. Just the stress of it,” said Natasha Mitchner in Dayton, Ohio. “But it's worth it. She puts on a good show.”
The Associated Press