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July 16, 2019

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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Updated Thursday, July 11, 2019 | 9:04 p.m.

Trump abandons bid to include citizenship question on census

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump abandoned his controversial bid to inject a citizenship question into next year's census Thursday, instead directing federal agencies to try to compile the information using existing databases.

He insisted he was "not backing down," declaring in a Rose Garden announcement that the goal was simple and reasonable: "a clear breakdown of the number of citizens and non-citizens that make up the United States population."

But the decision was clearly a reversal, after the Supreme Court blocked his effort by disputing his administration's rationale for demanding that census respondents declare whether or not they were citizens. Trump had said last week that he was "very seriously" considering an executive order to try to force the question. But the government has already begun the lengthy and expensive process of printing the census questionnaire without it, and such a move would surely have drawn an immediate legal challenge.

Instead, Trump said Thursday that he would be signing an executive order directing every federal department and agency to provide the Commerce Department with all records pertaining to the number of citizens and noncitizens in the country.

Trump's efforts to add the question on the decennial census had drawn fury and backlash from critics who complained that it was political, meant to discourage participation, not only by people living in the country illegally but also by citizens who fear that participating would expose noncitizen family members to repercussions.

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New Orleans area braces for first hurricane of the season

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Thousands of Louisianans broke out sandbags or fled to higher ground Thursday as Tropical Storm Barry threatened to turn into the first hurricane of the season and blow ashore with torrential rains that could pose a severe test of New Orleans' improved post-Katrina flood defenses .

National Guard troops and rescue crews in high-water vehicles took up positions around the state as Louisiana braced for the arrival of the storm Friday night or early Saturday.

Barry could have winds of about 75 mph (120 kph), just barely over the 74 mph threshold for a hurricane, when it comes ashore, making it a Category 1 storm, forecasters said.

But it is expected to bring more than a foot and a half (0.5 meters) of rain in potentially ruinous downpours that could go on for hours as the storm passes through the metropolitan area of nearly 1.3 million people and pushes slowly inland.

President Donald Trump on Thursday night declared a federal declaration of emergency for Louisiana, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

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Dow Jones industrials cross 27,000 points for first time

A turbulent day on Wall Street ended in the record books Thursday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed above 27,000 for the first time and the S&P 500 index hit another all-time high.

The milestones came on a day when the S&P 500 briefly moved above 3,000 for the second straight day before an early rally lost some of its momentum.

The market lost some ground after an auction of long-term U.S. government bonds failed to drum up strong demand. That pulled bond prices lower, sending yields sharply higher.

Banks and technology stocks led the broad gains, offsetting losses in real estate and communications services companies.

The latest gains extended a winning streak for stocks into its third day. Stocks have been trending higher for much of the week as investors have grown more confident that the Federal Reserve may cut interest rates for the first time in a decade as soon as the end of this month.

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Trump applauds far-right social media provocateurs

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump used a White House conference Thursday to applaud far-right social media provocateurs even as he conceded that some of them are extreme in their views.

Trump, who has weaponized social media to eviscerate opponents and promote himself, led a "social media summit" of like-minded critics of Big Tech, excluding representatives from the very platforms he exploits.

The president used the event to air grievances over his treatment by Big Tech, but also to praise some of the most caustic voices on the right, who help energize Trump's political base.

"Some of you guys are out there," he told them. "I mean it's genius, but it's bad."

Trump singled out for praise James O'Keefe, the right-wing activist whose Project Veritas organization once tried to plant a false story in The Washington Post. In May 2010, O'Keefe and three others pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor in a scheme in which they posed as telephone repairmen in Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans district office.

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Hospital fires 23 workers in case of excessive doses, deaths

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio hospital system where excessive painkiller doses were given to dozens of patients who died fired 23 nurses, pharmacists and managers Thursday and said it is changing leadership, a sign that professional fallout from the scandal has expanded far beyond the intensive care doctor accused of ordering the drugs.

The announcement by the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System comes five weeks after that doctor, William Husel, pleaded not guilty to murder charges in 25 of the deaths, marking one of the biggest cases of its kind against an American health care professional.

The newly fired employees include five physician, nursing and pharmacy management team members, President and CEO Ed Lamb said in a statement.

Mount Carmel said the other 18 fired were among the nurses and pharmacists who had been on administrative leave during its internal review.

One employee remains on administrative leave, and 11 are being given the chance to return to work if they complete additional training, Lamb said. Mount Carmel didn't specify whether those employees are nurses and pharmacists who administered or approved the excessive doses.

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Race becomes new flashpoint with Pelosi, Ocasio-Cortez

WASHINGTON (AP) — The debate between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other House Democrats over migrant children in detention at the border was wrenching enough. Then it became about race.

First, the freshman's chief of staff compared more centrist Democrats to 1940s segregationists. Then Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of "singling out" her and fellow newcomers, all women of color.

By Thursday, the rhetoric escalated, overshadowing the agenda and pushing House Democrats way off message with the most divisive upheaval since they took control of the chamber this year. Longtime lawmakers were stunned.

"How dare they try to play the race card at this point," said Rep. William Lacy Clay, an African-American Democrat from Missouri who faces a primary challenge backed by allies of Ocasio-Cortez. He called those making the claims "ignorant" of racial history. "It shows the weakness of their argument. It's damaging to this party and the internal workings of the Democratic party."

Rep. John Lewis, the Civil Rights icon, shared his view.

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Renowned forensic scientist's testimony comes under question

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Forensic scientist Henry Lee, who became famous for his testimony in the O.J. Simpson trial and his work on other high-profile murder cases, defended his reputation Thursday after lawyers this week again questioned the accuracy of blood-evidence testimony he gave decades ago.

Wendall Hasan has been in prison since 1986 for the murder of George Tyler, of Darien, Connecticut. Hasan's lawyers filed court papers Tuesday arguing he should be freed after tests done in 2014 found no blood on a pair of sneakers that Lee testified were bloodstained.

That move came after the Connecticut Supreme Court criticized Lee last month when it overturned the convictions of two men for a 1985 murder.

"I stand behind my scientific merit," Lee said during a news conference at the University of New Haven's Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science. "If the person's really innocent, definitely, they should set them free. But, just trying to smear my reputation to get (their appeal) advanced, that shouldn't happen."

Lee said, for example, that the blood from the shoes in the Hasan case likely was used up during his earlier testing, though he acknowledged he has not been able to review the file. It's also possible, he said, that any other blood on the pair of Pumas might have degraded over the decades.

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AP source: Russell Westbrook going to Rockets for Chris Paul

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Russell Westbrook and James Harden are together again, and Chris Paul is leaving Houston to make that reunion happen.

A person with knowledge of the situation says the Oklahoma City Thunder have traded Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Paul in a swapping of top point guards. The Thunder also are getting first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, plus the right to swap first-rounders in two other seasons, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because the trade has not been announced.

ESPN first reported the agreement.

Paul is a nine-time All-Star, Westbrook an eight-time selection. Paul has 9,181 career assists, the most among active players. Westbrook has 138 triple-doubles, tied with Magic Johnson for second-most in NBA history behind only Oscar Robertson's 181. Both members of Houston's new glitzy backcourt are recent MVPs: Westbrook won it in 2017, Harden won it in 2018. And the trade means that the NBA's two highest scorers over the last five seasons — Harden with 11,958 points, Westbrook with 10,025 — are now teammates.

Westbrook and Harden were Thunder teammates for three seasons, the last of those being the 2011-12 campaign when that duo and Kevin Durant took Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals. They lost in five games to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, and Harden departed that summer for Houston — where he's been an All-Star ever since.

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Turbulence injures dozens on Air Canada flight to Australia

HONOLULU (AP) — Intense turbulence struck an Air Canada flight to Australia on Thursday and sent unbuckled passengers flying into the ceiling, forcing the plane to land in Hawaii.

The flight from Vancouver to Sydney encountered "un-forecasted and sudden turbulence," about two hours past Hawaii when the plane diverted to Honolulu, Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said in a statement.

"The plane just dropped," passenger Stephanie Beam told The Associated Press. "When we hit turbulence, I woke up and looked over to make sure my kids were buckled. The next thing I knew there's just literally bodies on the ceiling of the plane."

A woman behind her hit the ceiling so hard that she broke the casing of an oxygen mask, said Beam, of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Of the 37 passengers and flight crew members injured, nine had serious injuries, emergency responders said. Thirty people were taken to hospitals.

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Trump administration plans immigration enforcement operation

CHICAGO (AP) — The Trump administration is moving forward with a nationwide immigration enforcement operation targeting migrant families, despite loud opposition from Democrats and questions over whether it's the best use of resources given the crisis at the border.

The operation could happen as soon as this weekend after being postponed by President Donald Trump late last month. It would pursue people with final deportation orders, including families whose immigration cases were fast-tracked by judges in 10 major cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

The plan has sparked outrage and concern among immigrant-rights advocates and lawmakers.

"Our communities have been in constant fear," Estela Vara, a Chicago-area organizer said Thursday at a rally outside the city's Immigration and Custom Enforcement offices where some activists chanted "Immigration Not Deportation!"

The sweep remains in flux and could begin later, according to two administration officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The American Civil Liberties Union pre-emptively filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to protect asylum seekers.