Update on the latest news, sports, business and entertainment:

Posted January 13


Congress approves first step toward repeal of health care law

Congress has approved the first step toward dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law.

Republicans have pushed a budget through Congress that provides an early but crucial victory in the effort.

The budget prevents Democrats from using a Senate filibuster to derail a bill annulling and replacing the law. That's critical because it takes 60 votes to end filibusters, while Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority.

The real work lies ahead. Republicans must decide which parts of Obama's statute to erase, what a new version should look like and how to protect 20 million people getting health coverage under the 2010 law.

The House approved the budget Friday by a near party-line 227-198 vote.

The Senate approved the measure Thursday. It does not need the president's signature.


Personalized IRS letters nudge uninsured to get coverage

If you haven't signed up for health insurance, you may soon be getting a not-too-subtle nudge from the taxman.

The IRS is sending personalized letters to millions of taxpayers who might be uninsured, reminding them that they could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars in fines under the federal health care law if they don't sign up soon.

Republicans say the $4 million letter-writing campaign is a waste of money, since Congress is already moving to repeal the law.

The administration is hoping reminders from the IRS will help boost sign-ups before open enrollment ends Jan. 31. They're betting that the more people get covered, the harder it will be for Republicans to unravel the law.

Drafts of the letters were obtained by The Associated Press.


Congress clears way to let Mattis run Pentagon

Congress is sending the White House a bill to let retired Marine Gen. James Mattis run the Pentagon in the Trump administration.

The House passed the bill on a vote of 268-151.

A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama would sign the bill if Congress passed it before he leaves office.

The measure grants a one-time exception for Mattis from a law that bars former service members who have been out of uniform for less than seven years from holding the top Pentagon job.

The restriction is meant to preserve civilian control of the military. The 66-year-old Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in 2013.

The Senate overwhelmingly cleared the bill on Thursday.


Trump unconcerned if Cabinet picks disagree

President-elect Donald Trump says he's unconcerned some of his Cabinet picks have contradicted him at their confirmation hearings.

"I told them, 'Be yourself and say what you what to say. Don't worry about me,'" Trump told journalists in the lobby of Trump Tower on Friday.

He says potential disagreements "all get worked out."

Trump's plans to build a Mexican border wall, reintroduce torture and to ignore the impact of climate change all were disputed by his picks this week on Capitol Hill.

Trump appeared with the comedian Steve Harvey. Harvey said they discussed mutual friends, television shows and their respective golf games.

Trump repeated his advice to his nominees, saying, "I say, 'Be yourself. Wouldn't you say, Steve?'" Harvey smiled but did not answer that question.


Russia won't confirm contacts with Trump adviser

The Russian embassy in Washington will neither confirm nor deny reports of frequent contacts between a top aide to President-elect Donald Trump and Moscow's ambassador.

A senior official said Friday there were multiple phone calls between Trump aide Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador the same day Obama imposed sanctions as punishment for Russia trying to meddle in U.S. elections. The official was not authorized to confirm the contacts publicly and insisted on anonymity.

A Trump spokesman said a call took place a day earlier to exchange "logistical information."

A Russian embassy spokesman told the Interfax news agency on Friday: "The embassy isn't commenting on multiple contacts with our counterparts here, which take place on a daily basis in line with the diplomatic practice."


Veteran congressman, civil rights leader, won't attend inauguration, says Trump not legitimate

Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia says he doesn't view Donald Trump as a legitimate president and will be skipping next Friday's inauguration.

Lewis tells NBC's "Meet the Press with Chuck Todd" that the Russians helped Trump get elected.

It will be the first inauguration Lewis has missed since he began serving in Congress three decades ago. Lewis says, "You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right." Lewis testified this week against Trump's attorney general nominee, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona also says he will stay home to protest what he calls "disrespect" shown to Americans by the incoming administration and by actions in Congress. He says the majority of voters rejected Trump, and they deserve respect.


Paris meeting marks end to Obama's failed Mideast diplomacy

The Obama administration's eight years of unsuccessful Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy will come to a crashing end this weekend, with chances for a Mideast peace deal at perhaps their lowest ebb in a generation.

A Paris peace conference attended by Secretary of State John Kerry isn't expected to produce any tangible progress.

At a time when President-elect Donald Trump's administration is promising a fundamental shift toward Israel, the State Department says Kerry is only participating in the French-hosted event to ensure America's interest in a two-state solution to the conflict is preserved.

The blunt statement reinforced the dwindling hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner says Kerry feels obligated to attend "because we have an interest in advancing a two-state solution."


Obama to bid farewell to staff at end of last week in office

President Barack Obama will bid farewell to administration staffers at Andrews Air Force Base just after President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated.

The White House is disclosing Obama's public schedule for his last week as president. He'll start Monday by hosting the Chicago Cubs to celebrate their World Series victory. He'll also attend a Martin Luther King Jr. Day service event.

Obama will hold his final news conference Wednesday at the White House. He'll spend his last full day as president Thursday packing.

Inauguration Day activities will start with Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosting Trump and wife Melania for tea and a small reception. Then Obama and Trump will go together by motorcade to the Capitol for the ceremony.


Chicago commits to police reforms

The Justice Department and the city of Chicago have signed a joint statement in which the nation's third largest city commits to police reforms under a court-enforced agreement, called a consent decree.

The document was released Friday along with the findings of a yearlong Justice Department civil rights investigation of the police force. It found that the police department has violated the constitutional rights of residents for years, permitting racial bias against blacks, using excessive force and killing people who didn't pose a threat.

The agreement in principle provides only broad outlines for reform, including commitments to improved transparency, training and accountability for bad officers. Officials from the Justice Department and city will negotiate a final settlement.

Those talks will take place under the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.


Takata pleads guilty, to pay $1B for hiding air bag defect

Takata Corp. has agreed to plead guilty to a single criminal charge and will pay $1 billion in fines and restitution for concealing a deadly defect in its air bag inflators.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit announced the plea deal on Friday.

Takata will pay a $25 million criminal fine, $125 million to individuals who were injured by the air bags and $850 million to automakers that purchased the inflators. The U.S. district court in Detroit has appointed attorney Kenneth Feinberg to distribute restitution payments.

Payments to individuals must be made soon. Money due to automakers must be paid within five days of Takata's anticipated sale or merger. Takata is expected to be sold to another auto supplier or investor sometime this year.


EPA says it can't pay damages from mine spill

The Environmental Protection Agency won't repay claims totaling over $1.2 billion for economic damages from a mine waste spill the agency accidentally triggered in Colorado, saying the law prohibits it.

The EPA said Friday the claims could be refiled in federal court, or Congress could authorize payments.

But government attorneys concluded the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.

An official announcement is planned later Friday. The Associated Press was provided outlines of the decision in advance.

The 2015 spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater into Colorado, New Mexico and Utah rivers.

Those filing claims included farmers, rafting companies and their employees who lost income and wages while the rivers were unusable for irrigation, livestock and recreation.


Stocks finish higher

Gains in bank stocks left indexes mostly higher on Wall Street.

The Nasdaq composite set another all-time high Friday even as the Dow Jones industrial average edged lower.

JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America rose about 0.5 percent and Wells Fargo rose 1.5 percent after reporting earnings that were higher than analysts expected.

Banks were also benefiting from an upward move in bond yields, which will lead to higher interest rates on loans.

Real estate and materials companies fell.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 4 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,274.

The Nasdaq composite gained 26 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,574. The Dow industrials fell 5 points, less than 0.1 percent, to 19,885.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.39 percent.


Notorious 'pillowcase rapist' loses freedom; re-hospitalized

A judge has ordered a notorious serial rapist who muffled victim's screams with a pillowcase back to a California state mental hospital because he violated terms of his release.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said Friday that a judge in Northern California revoked the conditional release of Christopher Hubbart.

Lacey says the judge recommitted Hubbart to Coalinga State Hospital for at least a year.

Lacey says the 65-year-old who raped dozens of women between 1971 and 1982 remains a danger and needs additional treatment.

Hubbart was taken into custody at his Los Angeles County residence in August after failing five polygraph tests.

Hubbart's release in 2014 was widely criticized and protesters routinely demonstrated outside his house in a sparsely populated desert area.


Police: Woman kidnapped as newborn 18 years ago is alive

Tears of joy are flowing freely today in Jacksonville, Florida, where young woman who was stolen at birth 18 years ago has been able to meet her birth family, in a video call on Facetime.

The paternal grandmother of the young woman who just learned her birth name — Kamiyah Mobley — says she looks just like her daddy. Velma Aiken says that when they spoke over video chat, the young woman acted like she had been talking with them throughout the years, and said she would soon meet them in person.

Aiken knows that her long-lost granddaughter will need time to come to terms with her new identity, but she says her prayers have already been answered. She says she always asked God, "Don't let me die before I see my grand baby'."


Deputy who tossed student wants to work again

The lawyer for a South Carolina deputy fired after being videotaped tossing a South Carolina high school student sitting in her desk says the officer wants to work in law enforcement again.

Attorney Scott Hayes says deputy Ben Fields felt vindicated when federal prosecutors announced Friday that they would not charge him with civil rights violations. State prosecutors cleared him of criminal charges last year.

Hayes says Fields has always felt he used a justifiable amount of force because the student hit him in the face after she refused to give up her cellphone at Spring Valley High School in Columbia in October 2015.

Hayes says Fields is a good officer and he hopes the deputy gets a chance to work in law enforcement again.

Fields was fired after Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott saw the video and said he wanted to throw up.


Search for slain-officer suspect expands to small city

Authorities in a small central Florida city located 40 miles southwest of Orlando are warning residents that a fugitive wanted for the fatal shooting of an Orlando police officer may be hiding in the area.

The Haines City police posted on social media Friday that 41-year-old Markeith Loyd is believed to have family in the area. A reward of $100,000 is being offered for information that leads to his arrest.

Authorities have been searching for Loyd since Master Sgt. Debra Clayton was killed Monday in the parking lot of an Orlando Wal-Mart.

Clayton's funeral service is planned for Saturday.

A police motorcade escorted a hearse with her body through downtown Orlando.

Orlando Police Department workers lined the street outside as the motorcade passed headquarters.


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