Nation and World briefs for April 4

Trump claims he wasn’t seeking pre-election health care vote

WASHINGTON — Amid blowback from Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump switched gears again Wednesday, suggesting he never wanted Congress to vote to replace the Affordable Care Act until after the 2020 election.

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Trump’s new tweets shifted his rationale for the “Obamacare” fight. First he said it was his choice to push off the health care votes. Then he said he never expected there to be any votes at all until after 2020.

Trump claimed Wednesday he had never intended to reopen old wounds. But in keeping the issue at the forefront, the president put fresh attention on the GOP’s long-running and thus far unsuccessful effort to end ACA.

“I was never planning a vote prior to the 2020 Election on the wonderful HealthCare package that some very talented people are now developing for me & the Republican Party,” Trump tweeted, adding, “I never asked Mitch McConnell for a vote before the Election.”

That’s not how congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader McConnell, understood Trump’s sudden shift to the issue last week.

House Judiciary panel approves subpoenas for Mueller report

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee approved subpoenas Wednesday for special counsel Robert Mueller’s full Russia report as Democrats pressure the Justice Department to release the document without redactions.

The committee voted 24-17 to give Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., permission to issue subpoenas to the Justice Department for the final report, its exhibits and any underlying evidence or materials prepared for Mueller’s investigation. Nadler has not yet said if he’ll send the subpoenas, which would be the first step in a potentially long fight with the Justice Department over the materials.

The Judiciary panel also voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas related to five of President Donald Trump’s former top advisers, stepping up a separate, wide-ranging investigation into Trump and his personal and political dealings.

On the Mueller report, House Democrats had given Attorney General William Barr until Tuesday to provide an unredacted verson to Congress, along with underlying materials. The Justice Department ignored that deadline, with Barr telling committee chairmen in a letter last week that he was in the process of redacting portions of the almost 400-page report and it would be released by mid-April, “if not sooner.”

The vote further escalates the Democrats’ battle with the Justice Department over how much of the report they will be able to see, a fight that could eventually head to court if the two sides can’t settle their differences through negotiation. Democrats have said they will not accept redactions and want to see the evidence unfiltered by Barr.

UK’s May has ‘constructive’ Brexit talks with Labour

LONDON — Britain’s Brexit drama went into overtime Wednesday as Prime Minister Theresa May and the country’s main opposition sought a compromise deal to prevent an abrupt British departure from the European Union at the end of next week.

In an about-face that left pro-Brexit members of May’s Conservative Party howling with outrage, May sought to forge an agreement with left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn after failing three times to win Parliament’s backing for her Brexit deal.

May also said she would ask the EU for a further delay to Britain’s departure date — postponed once already — to avert a chaotic and economically damaging no-deal Brexit on April 12.

“The country needs a solution, the country deserves a solution, and that’s what I’m working to find,” May told lawmakers before meeting with Corbyn for about two hours.

Afterward, both the government and Labour called the meeting “constructive” and said their teams would hold more in-depth talks Thursday.

Creeping floodwaters threaten Washington’s cherry blossoms

WASHINGTON — Washington’s cherry blossom season has gone well this year, thanks to warm weather that has coincided perfectly with the annual blooming that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each spring.

But officials are claiming that Washington’s iconic trees are under a looming threat that requires emergency action.

Decades of wear and tear from foot traffic, combined with rising sea levels and a deteriorating sea wall, have created a chronic flooding problem in the Tidal Basin . The 107-acre man-made reservoir borders the Jefferson Memorial and is home to the highest concentration of cherry blossom trees.

“The Tidal Basin is at a pivotal moment,” said Jeff Reinbold, acting superintendent for the National Mall and Memorial Parks division of the National Park Service. “The area was never designed for the kind of use it sees today.”

The National Park Service, along with the Trust for the National Mall and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is undertaking a campaign to save the Tidal Basin. In addition to rebuilding the battered sea wall and addressing the flooding problem, the groups want to improve walkways and update security systems.

Face recognition researcher fights Amazon over biased AI

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Facial recognition technology was already seeping into everyday life — from your photos on Facebook to police scans of mugshots — when Joy Buolamwini noticed a serious glitch: Some of the software couldn’t detect dark-skinned faces like hers.

That revelation sparked the Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher to launch a project that’s having an outsize influence on the debate over how artificial intelligence should be deployed in the real world.

Her tests on software created by brand-name tech firms such as Amazon uncovered much higher error rates in classifying the gender of darker-skinned women than for lighter-skinned men.

Along the way, Buolamwini has spurred Microsoft and IBM to improve their systems and irked Amazon, which publicly attacked her research methods. On Wednesday, a group of AI scholars, including a winner of computer science’s top prize, launched a spirited defense of her work and called on Amazon to stop selling its facial recognition software to police.

Her work has also caught the attention of political leaders in statehouses and Congress and led some to seek limits on the use of computer vision tools to analyze human faces.

US investigates seizure risk with electronic cigarettes

WASHINGTON — U.S. health officials are investigating whether electronic cigarettes may trigger seizures in some people who use the nicotine-vaping devices.

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it has reviewed 35 reports of seizures among e-cigarettes users, mainly in young people. Regulators stressed it’s not yet clear whether vaping is responsible. But they said they’re concerned and encouraged the public to report information about the issue.

These cases warrant “investigation into whether there is in fact a connection,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Gottlieb is stepping down on Friday after nearly two years heading the agency.

Cases go back to 2010 and were reported to the FDA or poison control centers around the country. Regulators said they detected an uptick in reports beginning mid-2018. While they represent a tiny fraction of Americans who have used e-cigarettes, many safety issues with foods, supplements and other consumer products can go unrecognized because reporting is voluntary.

Most e-cigarettes heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor. The battery-powered devices have grown into a multibillion dollar industry though there are few standards, including how much nicotine they deliver. Additionally, many refillable e-cigarettes can be used with nicotine formulas of varying strength.

Judge imposes first jail terms in Penn St. frat death case

A judge has sentenced three former Penn State fraternity members to jail in the 2017 death of a pledge, the first defendants ordered to serve time behind bars in a case that rewrote Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law.

Centre County Judge Brian Marshall sentenced former Beta Theta Pi members Tuesday for hazing surrounding the death of sophomore engineering major Tim Piazza, 19, of Lebanon, New Jersey.

The sentences were 30 days to six months for Michael Bonatucci, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia; two months to six months for Luke Visser, 21, of Encinitas, California; and three months to nine months for Joshua Kurczewski, 20. A fourth defendant, Joseph Sala, 21, received three months to 10 months of house arrest. Kurczewski and Sala live in Erie.

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Each was also fined and given a probation term. They were all sentenced for hazing and conspiracy to commit hazing, and Kurczewski also pleaded guilty to furnishing alcohol to minors.

Kurczewski defense attorney Jeffrey Veitch said they can apply to do their time on home monitoring, but it will be up to the judge to determine if they are eligible. Lawyers for the three others did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday.

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