Obama to send Congress gun proposals in January, says time for action overdue
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Declaring the time for action overdue, President Barack Obama promised on Wednesday to send Congress broad proposals in January for tightening gun laws and curbing violence after last week's schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut.
Even before those proposals are drafted, Obama pressed lawmakers to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, close loopholes that allow gun buyers to skirt background checks and restrict high-capacity ammunition clips.
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said in his most detailed comments on guns since Friday's killing of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence."
Gun control measures have faced fierce resistance in Congress for years but that may be changing now because of last week's violence. Since then, Obama has signaled for the first time in his presidency that he's willing to spend political capital on the issue and some prominent gun-rights advocates on Capitol Hill -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- have expressed willingness to consider new measures.
Still, given the long history of opposition to tighter gun laws, there is no certainty the legislation Obama backed Wednesday or the proposals he will send to Congress next month will become law.
Obama, Boehner swap charges but leave room for further fiscal cliff talks as deadline nears
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fiscal cliff talks at a partisan standoff, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner swapped barbed political charges on Wednesday yet carefully left room for further negotiations on an elusive deal to head off year-end tax increases and spending cuts that threaten the national economy.
Republicans should "peel off the war paint" and take the deal he's offering, Obama said sharply at the White House. He buttressed his case by noting he had won re-election with a call for higher taxes on the wealthy, then added pointedly that the nation aches for conciliation, not a contest of ideologies, after last week's mass murder at a Connecticut elementary school.
But he drew a quick retort from Boehner when the White House threatened to veto a fallback bill drafted by House Republicans that would prevent tax increases for all but million-dollar earners. The president will bear responsibility for "the largest tax increase in history" if he makes good on that threat, the Ohio Republican declared.
In fact, it's unlikely the legislation will get that far, as divided government careens into the final few days of a struggle that affects the pocketbooks of millions and blends lasting policy differences with deep political mistrust.
Boehner expressed confidence the Republicans' narrow, so-called Plan B bill would pass the House on Thursday despite opposition from some conservative, anti-tax dissidents. The leadership worked to shore up the measure's chances late in the day by setting a vote on a companion bill to replace across-the-board cuts in the Pentagon and some domestic programs with targeted reductions elsewhere in the budget, an attempt to satisfy defense-minded lawmakers.
10 Things to Know for Thursday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Thursday:
1. COMING IN JANUARY: OBAMA'S GUN CONTROL PROPOSAL
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," the president says.
Shattered Conn. town buries more children, teachers as residents try to make sense of tragedy
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- One by one by one by one, each with fresh heartbreak, hearses crisscrossed two New England towns on Wednesday, bearing three tiny victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre and a heroic teacher in a seemingly never-ending series of funeral processions.
"The first few days, all you heard were helicopters," said Dr. Joseph Young, an optometrist who attended one funeral and would go to several more. "Now at my office all I hear is the rumble of motorcycle escorts and funeral processions going back and forth throughout the day."
As more victims from the slaughter of 20 children and six adults were laid to rest, long funeral processions clogged the streets of Newtown, where Christmas trees were turned into memorials and a season that should be a time of joy was marked by heart-wrenching loss.
At least nine funerals and wakes were held Wednesday for those who died when gunman Adam Lanza, armed with a military-style assault rifle, broke into the school Friday and opened fire on their classrooms. Lanza killed his mother at her home before the attack and committed suicide at the school as police closed in.
At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, mourners arrived for Caroline Previdi, an auburn-haired 6-year-old with an impish smile, before the service had even ended for Daniel Barden, a 7-year-old who dreamed of being a firefighter.
As relatives mourn Newtown shooting victims, scam artists move in for a profit
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- The family of Noah Pozner was mourning the 6-year-old, killed in the Newtown school massacre, when outrage compounded their sorrow.
Someone they didn't know was soliciting donations in Noah's memory, claiming that they'd send any cards, packages and money collected to his parents and siblings. An official-looking website had been set up, with Noah's name as the address, even including petitions on gun control.
Noah's uncle, Alexis Haller, called on law enforcement authorities to seek out "these despicable people."
"These scammers," he said, "are stealing from the families of victims of this horrible tragedy."
It's a problem as familiar as it is disturbing. Tragedy strikes -- be it a natural disaster, a gunman's rampage or a terrorist attack -- and scam artists move in.
In wake of Conn. shooting, parents buy armored backpacks for kids and gun enthusiasts stock up
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The reaction to the deadly Connecticut school shooting can be seen at gun stores and self-defense retailers across the nation, with anxious parents buying armored backpacks for children and firearms enthusiasts stocking up on assault weapons in anticipation of tighter gun control measures.
A spike in gun sales is common after a mass shooting, but the latest rampage has generated record sales in some states, particularly of rifles similar to the AR-15 the gunman used in an attack Friday on Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 people, including 20 children.
Colorado set a single-day record for gun background check requests the day after the shootings, while Nevada saw more checks in the two days that followed than any other weekend this year. Records were also set in Tennessee, California and Virginia, among others.
Some gun shop owners stopped selling their remaining stock of military-style rifles, anticipating only more interest and value after President Barack Obama on Wednesday instructed his administration to create concrete proposals to reduce gun violence.
Robert Akers, a Rapid City, S.D., gun seller who specializes in such rifles, said the rush of customers had transformed his Rapid Fire Firearms store into a "madhouse" and that he's not actively selling the guns and has turned off his phone.
State Department security chief, 3 others resign after scathing Benghazi attack report
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Four State Department officials resigned under pressure Wednesday, less than a day after a damning report blamed management failures for a lack of security at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, where militants killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on Sept. 11.
The resignations came as lawmakers expressed anger and frustration over the findings of an independent review panel, and the State Department struggled to find a balance between protecting its diplomats while allowing them to do their jobs connecting with people in high-risk posts.
Obama administration officials said those who had stepped down included Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security; Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security; and Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the department had accepted the resignations of four people: Boswell as well as two others in the bureau of diplomatic security and one in the bureau of Near East Affairs. She would not name the other three officials.
Some of those who resigned may have the option of being reassigned to other duties, the officials said.
Intimidation, fear keep Egypt's Christians away from polls on disputed charter
ASSIUT, Egypt (AP) -- A campaign of intimidation by Islamists left most Christians in this southern Egyptian province too afraid to participate in last week's referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution they deeply oppose, residents say. The disenfranchisement is hiking Christians' worries over their future under empowered Muslim conservatives.
Around a week before the vote, some 50,000 Islamists marched through the provincial capital, Assiut, chanting that Egypt will be "Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians." At their head rode several bearded men on horseback with swords in scabbards on their hips, evoking images of early Muslims conquering Christian Egypt in the 7th Century.
They made sure to go through mainly Christian districts of the city, where residents, fearing attacks, shuttered down their stores and stayed in their homes, witnesses said.
The day of the voting itself on Saturday, Christian voting was minimal -- as low as seven percent in some areas, according to church officials. Some of those who did try to head to polling stations in some villages were pelted by stones, forcing them to turn back without casting ballots, Christian activists and residents told The Associated Press this week.
The activists now see what happened in Assuit as a barometer for what Christians' status will be under a constitution that enshrines a greater role for Shariah, or Islamic law, in government and daily life. Even under the secular regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's Christians complained of discrimination and government failure to protect them and their rights. They fear it will be worse with the Islamists who have dominated Egypt's political landscape since Mubarak's ouster in February 2011.
In final chapter of auto bailout, government prepares to sell General Motors stock
DETROIT (AP) -- The U.S. government's short stint in the auto business is coming to an end.
The Treasury Department said Wednesday that it will sell its remaining stake in General Motors by early 2014, writing the final chapter of a $50 billion bailout that saved the auto giant but stoked a heated national debate about the government's role in private industry.
Taxpayers are sure to lose billions of dollars in the deal, even though GM has bounced back from the darkest days of 2008, when it almost ran out of cash.
The company has racked up $16 billion in profits during the past three years and added more than 2,000 American workers. Now GM is looking forward to the day when it can shed the stigma of government ownership and bury the derisive moniker of "Government Motors," which it says kept customers away from dealerships.
"This is very attractive to the company and to our shareholders," GM Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann said. The deal is "obviously good for the business in terms of continuing to remove the perception of government involvement in the company, which is going to be good for sales."
Robert Bork would have changed Supreme Court; his nomination defeat altered judicial selection
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Conservatives wanted Robert H. Bork on the Supreme Court. They wound up with Anthony Kennedy, the key vote in reaffirming a woman's right to an abortion.
The fight over Bork's failed Supreme Court nomination redefined the Senate confirmation process and made him a symbol of the nation's culture wars. The political battle that erupted over Bork has now, years later, expanded to stall nominees for far lesser judicial posts, and nominees themselves have curbed their responses to questioning to avoid his fate.
Had Bork, who died Wednesday at age 85, prevailed and become a justice, his vote would have dramatically changed the court.
President Ronald Reagan's choice of Bork in 1987 to replace Justice Lewis Powell was intended to cement conservative control of the court for decades. And Bork gave both his supporters and opponents every reason to believe, through scholarly writings and judicial decisions, that he would be a consistent conservative vote on a range of key issues. That would include, perhaps most importantly, one day delivering the decisive blow to undo the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that declared a woman's right to an abortion.
He was a staunch critic of the court's Griswold v. Connecticut decision in 1965 that found a right to privacy in the Constitution that trumped a state law prohibiting even married couples from using birth control. The ruling was a precursor to decisions in favor of abortion rights and gay rights, including some authored by Kennedy.