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Nation and World briefs for December 7

Franken’s support fades as Democrats call for resignation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Al Franken, his political career in shambles amid sexual misconduct allegations, lost the support of his Democratic colleagues Wednesday and faced new pressures to resign over what a fellow senator said was a “clear pattern” of abuse.

Franken’s support in the Senate crumbled after another woman emerged saying he forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006, bringing to seven the number of women accusing him of sexual impropriety. More than a half dozen female Democratic senators and some men called on him to resign.

The Minnesota Democrat scheduled an announcement for Thursday, and while his office didn’t specify the topic, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he expected Franken to resign at that time.

“I’m shocked and appalled by Sen. Franken’s behavior,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “It’s clear to me that this has been a deeply harmful, persistent problem and a clear pattern over a long period of time. It’s time for him to step aside.”

“Obviously, there were new allegations today, and enough is enough,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told reporters. “We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is OK, none of it is acceptable and we, as elected leaders, should absolutely be held to a higher standard.”

Putin announces 2018 re-election bid, ends long speculation

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he would seek re-election next year in a race he is poised to win easily, putting him on track to become the nation’s longest-serving ruler since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Putin’s approval ratings regularly top 80 percent, making him all but certain to win the March election by a broad margin. While few doubted the 65-year-old leader would run, the delay in his declaring so fueled some conspiracy theories and was seen as the Kremlin’s political maneuvering.

The 65-year-old Russian leader’s potential rivals include several luckless candidates from past contests and a notable newcomer — TV host Ksenia Sobchak, 36, the daughter of Putin’s one-time boss.

The president chose to make his re-election announcement at the GAZ automobile factory in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. The factory is a symbol of Russian’s industrial might, and Putin found an enthusiastic audience in the blue-collar workers who make up the core of his base.

“I couldn’t find a better place and moment,” he said to massive applause at the plant. “Thank you for your support. I will run for president.”

For months, Putin fended off questions about his plans for 2018, fueling speculation about why he would not say if he would seek re-election. Some theorized he might step down and name a preferred successor.

Trump says government shutdown possible, blames Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump warned Wednesday that a government shutdown was possible this weekend because Democrats were demanding to have “illegal immigrants pouring into our country,” tossing incendiary rhetoric onto a partisan showdown that had been showing signs of easing.

Trump’s comments risked roiling a White House meeting with congressional leaders of both parties planned for Thursday aimed at averting a shutdown and sorting through year-end disputes over the budget, immigration and other issues.

With money for federal agencies running out at midnight Friday, Republican leaders plan to push a bill through Congress this week financing the government through Dec. 22. That would give bargainers time to work through their disagreements, but they will need Democratic votes to succeed.

Democrats have been using their leverage to insist on spending boosts for health care, infrastructure and other domestic programs that would match increases Republicans want for defense.

Democrats are also seeking an agreement to extend protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. Trump ended safeguards against deportation three months ago but has expressed an openness to restoring them.

House OKs GOP bill expanding gun owners’ rights

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans rammed a bill through the House on Wednesday that would make it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, the first significant action on guns in Congress since mass shootings in Nevada and Texas killed more than 80 people.

The House approved the bill, 231-198, largely along party lines. Six Democrats voted yes, while 14 Republicans voted no.

The measure would allow gun owners with a state-issued concealed-carry permit to carry a handgun in any state that allows concealed weapons. It now goes to the Senate.

Republicans said the reciprocity measure, a top priority of the National Rifle Association, would allow gun owners to travel freely between states without worrying about conflicting state laws or civil suits.

Opponents, mostly Democrats, said the bill could endanger public safety by overriding state laws that place strict limits on guns.

6 women file lawsuit alleging ‘Weinstein Sexual Enterprise’

NEW YORK (AP) — Six women sued Harvey Weinstein and men who served on the board of his film company Wednesday, accusing them of functioning like an organized crime group that used agents, producers and others to prey on young women seeking a break in a breakneck industry.

The racketeering lawsuit in federal court in New York sought to represent “dozens, if not hundreds” of women who say they were assaulted by Weinstein after being isolated in close quarters such as a hotel room after bystanders were sent away.

Lawyers for the women say Weinstein used his company to supply himself with a steady stream of victims, and to cover up his misbehavior — an effort they dubbed the “Weinstein Sexual Enterprise.”

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, mirrored one filed in Los Angeles last month that did not identify plaintiffs by name.

It said the “proverbial ‘casting couch’ was Harvey Weinstein’s office of choice” in an arrangement condoned by defendants Miramax LLC, The Weinstein Co. Holdings LLC. It said the companies had a duty to stop Weinstein from groping, harassing or assaulting women seeking employment in their films.

Doctors find brain abnormalities in victims of Cuba mystery

WASHINGTON (AP) — Doctors treating the U.S. embassy victims of suspected attacks in Cuba have discovered brain abnormalities as they search for clues to explain hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, The Associated Press has learned.

It’s the most specific finding to date about physical damage, showing that whatever it was that harmed the Americans, it led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors fueling growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved.

Medical testing has revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate, several U.S. officials said, describing a growing consensus held by university and government physicians researching the attacks. White matter acts like information highways between brain cells.

Loud, mysterious sounds followed by hearing loss and ear-ringing had led investigators to suspect “sonic attacks.” But officials are now carefully avoiding that term. The sounds may have been the byproduct of something else that caused damage, said three U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. They weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity.

Physicians, FBI investigators and U.S. intelligence agencies have spent months trying to piece together the puzzle in Havana , where the U.S. says 24 U.S. government officials and spouses fell ill starting last year in homes and later in some hotels. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he’s “convinced these were targeted attacks ,” but the U.S. doesn’t know who’s behind them. A few Canadian Embassy staffers also got sick.

 

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