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    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says after the battle over health care, the administration will turn quickly to tax reform with the goal of getting a program approved by Congress by August. Mnuchin says the administration will tackle cutting both individual taxes and corporate taxes in the same bill rather than divide the issues into separate bills. He did not reveal whether the administration will include a contentious border adjustment tax that is in a House tax proposal, saying the proposal had positive and negative aspects. In a wide-ranging public interview event with the news site Axios, Mnuchin also said President Donald Trump's proposal to boost infrastructure spending would probably include $100 billion to $200 billion in federal money and depend on public-private ownerships to boost the total to $1 trillion.
  • Disney CEO Bob Iger says the upcoming 'Star Wars' sequel has not been changed due to the death of Carrie Fisher. Fisher completed filming her role as Princess Leia in 'The Last Jedi' before her death following a heart attack in December. Iger said in an interview at a University of Southern California tech conference Thursday that Fisher 'appears throughout' the film and her performance 'remains as it was.' Iger says Disney is discussing 'what could be another decade and a half of Star Wars stories.' Iger's remark came on the same day Disney ended speculation that he would retire this year by extending his contract one year to 2019. He says he and Disney's board thought they needed more time to work on a succession plan.
  • Greater demand for commercial aircraft helped U.S. businesses increase their orders for long-lasting manufactured goods in February, but a key category that tracks business investment plans slipped slightly. The Commerce Department said Friday that orders for durable goods rose 1.7 percent in February and an upwardly revised 2.3 percent in January. Orders so far this year are running 1.6 percent higher than in the first two months of 2016. The growth indicates that manufacturers are steadily recovering from a rough patch that began in 2015 when lower energy prices and slower economic growth worldwide cut into demand for U.S. factory goods. The report contained some weakness in a few sectors such as motor vehicles, but it is among several indicators that point to an ongoing rebound. 'Manufacturing surveys appear to promise much stronger numbers, so we're hoping for better news ahead,' said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. Today's report echoes the recent strength of the surveys in suggesting that ... business equipment investment has continued to rebound in the first quarter. Orders for commercial aircraft saw a 47.6 percent jump in February. Orders also rose for primary metals. But demand for motor vehicles slumped. Orders in a category that reflects business investment plans — and excludes aircraft and military goods — fell 0.1 percent last month after a modest gain in January. But that category remains stronger this year than during the opening months of last year. Other reports indicate that manufacturing is on an upswing. The Federal Reserve has said that U.S. factory output improved for the sixth consecutive month in February, rising a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent from January. And separately, the Institute for Supply Management said that factory activity improved at the strongest pace in more than two years. Its manufacturing index reached 57.7 last month, the best reading since October 2014. Any reading above 50 signals growth. Durable goods are items intended to last at least three years such as household appliances, computers and industrial machinery.
  • Germany's iconic gummy bear will soon be 'Made in USA.' Bonn-based Haribo, which invented the gummy bear nearly a century ago, said Friday it would open a U.S. factory in Wisconsin in 2020. Haribo, founded in 1920, has been in the U.S. since 1982 with a sales operation, and is already the top seller of gummy bears in the country, but says it wants to grow further. Company head Hans Guido Riegel says 'Haribo of America is the fastest growing confectionary company in the U.S.A., therefore the step of starting our own production there from 2020 is important for us.' The $242 million factory near Kenosha is expected to create 400 jobs. Haribo employs 7,000 people worldwide and produces 100 million gummy bears daily at 16 factories in ten countries.
  • Royal Dutch Shell's Nigeria subsidiary 'fiercely opposed' environmental testing and is concealing data showing thousands of Nigerians are exposed to health hazards from a stalled cleanup of the worst oil spills in the West African nation's history, according to a German geologist contracted by the Dutch-British multinational. An environmental study found 'astonishingly high' pollution levels with soil 'literally soaked with hydrocarbons,' geologist Kay Holtzmann wrote in a letter to the Bodo Mediation Initiative. The people of Bodo in the oil-producing southern Niger Delta should get urgent medical tests, Holtzmann wrote in the letter dated Jan. 26 and seen by The Associated Press. Shell did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The cleanup halted 17 months ago was part of a British out-of-court settlement in which Shell paid $83.5 million to 15,600 fishermen and farmers for damages from two oil spills caused by old pipelines in 2008 and 2009 that devastated thousands of hectares of mangroves and creeks. Lawyers alleged 500,000 barrels of oil spilled. Shell said it was only 1,640 barrels and initially offered the community $50,000 in compensation. The agreement was reached through British law firm Leigh Day, which said Friday it has received no response to a Jan. 30 letter to Shell asking for the data from Holtzmann, who was hired by Shell to manage the cleanup. 'Leigh Day has been pushing for the cleanup of Bodo, health screening of the population and testing of the water supply since 2011 - all to no avail,' it said. 'This letter shows that even those who were employed by Shell are deeply concerned by their behavior and their lack of transparency.' Holtzmann's letter warns that children bathing in creeks are in danger of harm from toxic substances, as are people who drink from hand-dug wells. Amnesty International called Shell 'deeply irresponsible ... Shell has a responsibility to share this information with the community to ensure they can take steps to protect themselves and their children,' a statement from the rights group said. Cleanup efforts overseen by the Dutch government began in June 2015 but were halted within months by community disputes and problems with contractors. Holtzmann's letter urges Bodo Mediation Initiative co-chair Inemo Samiama to publish the data, noting that the initiative's committee had insisted on the tests 'against fierce opposition from SPDC.' Shell Petroleum Development Co. is the subsidiary in which Nigeria's government is the majority shareholder. The country is one of Africa's largest oil producers. The environmental tests were carried out in August 2015 with support from Shell's headquarters in The Hague, the letter said. Holtzmann said his intent to publish the findings in a scientific magazine last year was quashed by Shell, which said his contract did not permit publication. Samiama said in a telephone interview that residents' health will be better served by getting on with the cleanup. After a challenging four-year process, 'we are on the verge of getting contractors back to the site,' he said. Bodo is part of Ogoniland, where the failure to clean up oil spills was called an environmental scandal in 2011 by the U.N. Environment Program. It reported contamination levels so high it could take 30 years to renew the land.
  • Germany's Parliament has passed a law introducing a road toll for passenger cars. The disputed law, which was passed Friday, had long been questioned by other European countries and European Union bodies who said it was discriminatory toward non-German car drivers as German owners of cars registered in Germany would have the toll deducted from their annual tax bill. Responding to criticism, the German transport minister introduced a compromise in December in which the toll will take into account how much any car pollutes the environment and there will also be short-term tariffs for foreign cars. Germany's Upper House still needs to vote on the law.
  • The Trump family is launching a new hotel chain in a bold expansion of a company that critics say is already too big and opaque for an enterprise whose owner sits in the Oval Office. The chain, called Scion, will feature the first Trump-run hotels not to bear the family's gilded name. The hotels will feature modern, sleek interiors and communal areas, and offer rooms at $200 to $300 a night, about half what it costs at some hotels in Trump's luxury chain. And they'll be dozens of them, possibly a hundred, opening across the country in just three years. Or at least that's the plan. 'It's full steam ahead. It's in our DNA. It's in the Trump boys' DNA,' said Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger. The 'boys' are Eric and Donald Jr., who are running their father's company while he is president. The bold expansion plan raises some thorny ethical questions. The Trump family won't be putting up any money to build the hotels. Instead, their company, the Trump Organization, plans to get local real estate developers and their investors to foot the bill, as do most major hotel chains. One of the first going up could be in Dallas. A development company there originally planned to raise money from unnamed investors in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Qatar, but recently told the Dallas Morning News that it now will tap only the company's U.S. partners. ETHICS CONCERNS Government ethics experts say turning to outside money, whether foreign or American, raises the specter of people trying to use their investment to gain favor with the new administration — like contributing to a political campaign, but with no dollar limits or public disclosure. 'This is the new version of pay-to-play, 'Get in there and do business with the Trump Organization,'' said Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush. The Trump family will have to overcome some political obstacles, too. Already, politicians in a few cities mentioned as possible sites have vowed to fight the first family, raising the prospect of a struggle to get zoning and other permits to start building. The son of German and Polish refugees from World War II, CEO Danziger is no stranger to long odds. He never went to college, instead taking a job as a bellman at a San Francisco hotel at 17. He worked himself up over the decades to CEO spots at several major hospitality companies. When Danziger led Starwood Hotels and Resorts in the 1990s, he expanded the number of hotels from 20 to nearly 600. The 62-year-old executive has similar ambitions for the Trump family. He said he hopes to open 50 to 100 Scions in three years, and already has letters of intent with more than 20 developers, the last three signed in just one week earlier this month. He said he also is planning to add to Trump's existing line of luxury hotels. Danziger took over Trump's hotel business in August 2015 with hopes of adding to the company's string of properties abroad. A review of trademark databases by The Associated Press shows the Trump family has applied for rights to use the Scion name in several countries, including China, Indonesia, Canada and 28 nations in Europe. An application for trademark rights in the Dominican Republic was approved as late as December. Then President Trump held a news conference the next month and basically killed the international plans. A week before he took office, he pledged that his company would strike 'no new foreign deals' while he was president to allay concerns that foreigners might try to influence U.S. policy by helping his business abroad. PROJECTS GET NEW LIFE Critics note that hasn't stopped his company from expanding one of its Scottish resorts, pursuing two Indonesian projects that are largely unbuilt and looking to revive an old deal for a beachfront Dominican Republic resort that appeared dead years ago. The company has said these were already in the works, so they don't fall under the president's pledge. At a panel discussion at a recent hotel industry conference, Danziger said the U.S. offers plenty of opportunity for expansion. As possible cities for new hotels, he mentioned Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and Dallas. That didn't go down well with some local power brokers. Mark Farrell, a San Francisco supervisor who heads the land use committee, scoffed at the idea of a Trump hotel getting permission to build in his city, telling a CBS affiliate 'Good luck with that.' In Seattle, councilmember Rob Johnson told the AP he'd be 'shocked' if any Trump hotels got built, calling his city 'ground zero' for Trump resisters. In January, thousands took to the streets there to protest the president's first attempt at a travel ban and the city council passed a unanimous resolution denouncing it. St. Louis, another possible Scion target, may prove a tough sell, too. A few days after the presidential election, protesters marched in front of a building that had been rumored as the site of a new Trump hotel as they chanted 'No to Trump Tower.' The developer of the St. Louis project, Alterra Worldwide, is also the company behind the possible Scion hotel in Dallas. It announced soon after the St. Louis protest that it would use the building there to open a hotel under the Marriott name. Despite the St. Louis trouble, Alterra President Mukemmel 'Mike' Sarimsakci said, he expects no trouble with his Dallas project. For starters, he appears to have much of the local approval needed to move forward. Both Sarimsakci and a Dallas city hall spokeswoman said Alterra is not seeking rezoning or tax incentives, which will avoid any need for a vote of the city council to approve the hotel. Sarimsakci doesn't think anti-Trump sentiment will hurt the Scion chain. 'I think it's passed. I think people had really strong feelings prior to the election,' he said. 'I don't see that as being an issue moving forward.' Sarimsakci spoke to the AP last month. He did not respond to requests to confirm that he no longer plans to use foreign investors. THE LURE OF TAX REVENUE, JOBS Danziger also shrugs off the danger from anti-Trump folks. Stopping a Scion from opening would hurt a city, he said, just as surely as it would hurt the Trumps. 'Why would a city because of political views, a city councilman's views, prohibit tax revenue from coming to the city and employment to the people?' Danziger said. 'It doesn't make sense.' He also expressed confidence Scion will avoid ethical trouble. He said any new investors in Scion go through an 'exhaustive, thorough' review to make sure, for instance, they're not offering sweetheart deals to the Trump family to curry favor with the president. Before Trump took office, he hired an outside lawyer to vet his deals for conflicts. Critics say his company shouldn't be striking any new deals at all and that he should follow the precedent of modern presidents by selling his interest in the company. He has refused to do so. Politics aside, Trump's new chain faces stiff business challenges. The U.S. president is a tiny hotel operator, with just 14 properties that he either owns or licenses his name to or manages for others, according to his company's website. This puts it at a disadvantage compared with, say, Marriott International, which has more than 6,000 hotels and can get deeper discounts when purchasing insurance and food and linens. The bigger companies have powerful loyalty programs to lure travelers, too. 'Why do people stay at Marriotts all the time?' said Bjorn Hanson, professor of hospitality and tourism management at New York University. 'They're earning points.' Trump's Scion chain also faces a fight for customers against an array of new chic 'lifestyle' chains from Marriott, Hilton and other rivals. Furniture retailers West Elm and Restoration Hardware are opening hotels to appeal to young travelers. Even the gym chain Equinox recently announced plans to enter the crowded field. Danziger said he's not worried. 'Every industry on the planet is crowded.' He won't name the developers with whom he has letters of intent, or where they hope to build, noting that they're tentative deals that could easily fall though. Pressed, though, he rattled off a long series of cities seemingly at random, including Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Louisville, Kentucky. 'The list of places Scion can go,' he said, 'is virtually limitless.' ___ Koenig reported from Dallas. Associated Press researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report. Condon can be reached at http://twitter.com/BernardFCondon.
  • Businesses across the 19-country eurozone, and particularly in France, are increasingly upbeat and hiring more people despite big uncertainties — including France's high-stakes presidential election. A closely watched survey of some 5,000 companies indicates that business activity is growing overall at the fastest rate in over six years. The so-called purchasing managers' index, which serves as a gauge of business activity, rose to 56.7 points in March, from 56 in February, confounding expectations for a modest decline. The index, published Friday by data providers IHS Markit, is on a 100-point scale, with 50 separating contraction from growth. The findings showed increases in orders for business, exports and hiring — a key point for a region with unemployment still close to 10 percent. Business activity in France reached the highest since May 2011, even surpassing that of Germany, despite concern that the country's right-wing, anti-euro National Front party is likely to do well in the presidential election. 'While elections remain a worry regarding the outlook, for now the business mood in France and across much of Europe is very positive,' said Chris Williamson, economist at IHS Markit. 'The eurozone economy's throttle opened further in March.' He said the data indicates that the eurozone economy grew 0.6 percent in the first quarter compared with the previous three months. There is evidence that wages are on the rise, as well as prices. That will be welcome news to the European Central Bank, which has a big stimulus program in place to bring inflation up to healthier levels.
  • In a gamble with monumental political stakes, Republicans set course for a climactic House vote on their health care overhaul after President Donald Trump claimed he was finished negotiating with GOP holdouts and determined to pursue the rest of his agenda, win or lose. House Speaker Paul Ryan set the showdown for Friday, following a nighttime Capitol meeting at which top White House officials told GOP lawmakers that Trump had decided the time for talk was over. 'We have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it's collapsing and it's failing families. And tomorrow we're proceeding,' Ryan tersely told reporters after scheduling what loomed as the most momentous vote to date for Trump and for the Wisconsin Republican's own speakership. In an embarrassing and stinging setback hours earlier, leaders abruptly postponed the vote because a rebellion by conservatives and moderates would have doomed the measure. They'd hoped for a roll call Thursday, which marked the seventh anniversary of President Barack Obama's enactment of his landmark health care statute that Republicans have vowed ever since to annul. There was no evidence that leaders had nailed down sufficient support to prevail, nor that their decision to charge ahead was a feint and that they'd delay again if necessary. But they seemed to be calculating that at crunch time, enough dissidents would decide against sabotaging the bill, Trump's young presidency and the House GOP leadership's ability to set the agenda, with a single, crushing defeat. 'The president has said he wants the vote tomorrow,' White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney told the lawmakers, according to Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a Trump ally. 'If for any reason it goes down, we're just going to move forward with additional parts of his agenda. This is our moment in time.' Even if they prevail, Republicans face an uphill climb in the Senate, where conservatives and moderates are also threatening to sink it. The GOP bill eliminates the Obama statute's unpopular fines on those who do not obtain coverage and the often generous subsidies for those who purchase insurance. Instead, consumers would face a 30 percent premium penalty if they let coverage lapse. Republican tax credits would be based on age, not income. The bill would also end Obama's Medicaid expansion and trim future federal financing for the federal-state program and let states impose work requirements on some of its 70 million beneficiaries. In a bid to coax support from conservatives, House leaders proposed a fresh amendment — to be voted on Friday — repealing Obama's requirement that insurers cover 10 specified services like maternity and mental health care. Conservatives have demanded the removal of those and other conditions the law imposes on insurers, arguing they drive premiums skyward. Many moderates are opposed because they say the GOP bill would leave many voters uninsured. Medical associations, consumer groups and hospitals are opposed or voicing misgivings, and some Republican governors say the bill cuts Medicaid too deeply and would leave many low-income people uncovered. Republicans can lose only 22 votes in the face of united Democratic opposition. A tally by The Associated Press found at least 32 'no' votes, but the figure was subject to fluctuation amid frantic GOP lobbying. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said he remained a 'no' but didn't answer when asked whether the group still had enough votes to kill the legislation. He'd long said caucus opposition alone would defeat it without changes. One member of that group, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., responded indirectly when asked if his opposition had changed. 'Everybody asked us to take a moment and reflect. Well, we'll reflect,' he said. Other foes said they'd not flipped. These included moderate Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Dan Donovan of New York and Leonard Lance of New Jersey, plus conservative Walter Jones of North Carolina, who had his own words of warning. 'He's there for three-and-a-half more years,' Jones said of Trump. 'He better be careful. He's got a lot of issues coming.' The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said changes Republican leaders had proposed before Thursday to win votes had cut the legislation's deficit reduction by more than half, to $150 billion over the next decade. But it would still result in 24 million more uninsured people in a decade. Obama's law increased coverage through subsidized private insurance for people who don't have access to workplace plans, and a state option to expand Medicaid for low-income residents. More than 20 million people gained coverage since the law was passed in 2010. Many who purchase individual health insurance and make too much to qualify for the law's tax credits have seen their premiums jump and their choices diminished. ___ Associated Press writers Matt Daly, Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Richard Lardner, Stephen Ohlemacher, Vivian Salama, Ken Thomas and Erica Werner contributed to this report.
  • The Trump administration issued a permit Friday to build the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the Obama administration and clearing the way for the $8 billion project to finally be completed. The decision caps a years-long fight between environmental groups and energy industry advocates over the pipeline's fate that became a proxy battle over global warming. It marks one of the biggest steps taken to date by the Trump administration to prioritize economic development over environmental concerns. The State Department, responsible for reviewing the project because it crosses an international border, determined that building it serves U.S. national interests. That conclusion followed a review of environmental, economic and diplomatic factors, the department said. It wasn't immediately clear what, if anything, had changed since the State Department reached the opposite conclusion two years ago, other than the election of a new administration. President Donald Trump planned to address Keystone during an announcement on Friday morning, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Twitter. TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that first applied for a presidential permit in 2008, called the decision a 'significant milestone.' 'We greatly appreciate President Trump's administration for reviewing and approving this important initiative,' said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling. 'We look forward to working with them as we continue to invest in and strengthen North America's energy infrastructure.' But Greenpeace, one of the pipeline's most vocal opponents, said it sent a signal to the world that the U.S. is 'moving backwards' on climate and energy, and pledged to keep fighting it nonetheless. 'Keystone was stopped once before, and it will be stopped again,' said Annie Leonard, the group'a U.S. director. The 1,700-mile (2,735 kilometers) pipeline, as envisioned, would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The pipeline would move roughly 800,000 barrels of oil per day, more than one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to the U.S. Portions of Keystone have already been built. Completing it required a permit to cross from Canada into the U.S. Yet even with a presidential permit, the pipeline still faces obstacles - most notably the route, which is still being heavily litigated in the states. Native American tribes and landowners have joined environmental groups in opposing the pipeline. TransCanada said Friday it would continue engaging with 'neighbors throughout Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota to obtain the necessary permits and approvals to advance this project to construction.' In an unusual twist, the presidential permit was signed by Tom Shannon, a career diplomat serving in a senior State Department role, rather than by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The former CEO of oil company Exxon Mobil recused himself after protests from environmental groups who said it would be a conflict of interest for Tillerson to decide the pipeline's fate. Canadian Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr said the Canadian government is pleased with the decision. Ninety-seven percent of Canada's oil exports go to the U.S. 'Nothing is more essential to the American economy than access to a secure and reliable source of energy. Canada is that source,' Carr said. Oil industry advocates say the pipeline will improve U.S. energy security and create jobs, although how many is widely disputed. Calgary-based TransCanada has promised as many as 13,000 construction jobs — 6,500 a year over two years — although the State Department previously estimated a far smaller number. The pipeline's opponents contend the jobs will be minimal and short-lived, and say the pipeline won't help the U.S. with energy needs because the oil is destined for export. A Trump presidential directive also required new or expanded pipelines to be built with American steel 'to the maximum extent possible.' However, TransCanada has said Keystone won't be built with U.S. steel. The company has already acquired the steel, much of it from Canada and Mexico, and the White House has acknowledged it's too difficult to impose conditions on a pipeline already under construction. Environmental groups also say the pipeline will encourage the use of carbon-heavy tar sands oil which contributes more to global warming than cleaner sources of energy. President Barack Obama reached the same conclusion in 2015 after a negative recommendation from then-Secretary of State John Kerry. TransCanada first applied for a permit in 2008. Years of politicking, legal wrangling and disputes over the pipeline's route preceded Obama's decision to nix the project. The Obama administration argued the pipeline would undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal that was reached weeks later in Paris. The Trump administration has dropped fighting climate change as a priority and left open the possibility of pulling out of the Paris deal. ___ Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

News

  • One person was killed and two others were hospitalized after a shooting in DeKalb County. Police were called to the 700 block of Creste Drive overnight Wednesday, DeKalb police spokeswoman Shiera Campbell said. When they arrived, they found a man shot in a building breezeway. “The victim stated he had been walking along Snapfinger Woods Drive when four males in a white car tried to rob him,” Campbell said. “When he ran, they shot him.”  Soon after, officers got calls reporting two more shootings in the area. At Snapfinger Woods Drive and Shellbark Drive, they found a man dead inside a white Jeep. It had smashed into a tree, Campbell said. Less than a mile away, another shooting victim was found walking with his brother on Snapfinger Woods at Miller Road. The victim’s brother told police his brother was shot in the parking lot of a Texaco station. Investigators are trying to determine what led to the shootings and if they are related. The survivors, ages 26 and 18, were taken to Atlanta Medical Center, Campbell said. One of the victims was listed in critical condition and the other was listed as non-critical. Police are not releasing the names of the victims at this time, Campbell said. Detectives believe drugs are involved in at least one of the shootings, she said.  In other news:
  • Agriculture Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue on Thursday sought to reassure farm-state senators in both parties who are fearful about the impact of President Donald Trump's proposed deep cuts to farm programs, promising to promote agricultural trade and create jobs in the struggling industry. At his confirmation hearing, the former Georgia governor stressed bipartisanship, reaching out to Democrats who have complained about Trump's lack of experience in agriculture and his proposed 21 percent cut to the farm budget. 'In Georgia, agriculture is one area where Democrats and Republicans consistently reached across the aisle and work together,' Perdue said. He told Republican and Democratic senators concerned about Trump's trade agenda that 'trade is really the answer' for farmers dealing with low crop prices and said he would be a 'tenacious advocate and fighter' for rural America when dealing with the White House and other agencies. Perdue, 70, would be the first Southerner in the post for more than two decades. His rural roots — he is a farmer's son and has owned several agricultural companies — and his conciliatory tone have already won him support from some Democrats, including Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, who said after the hearing that she will vote to confirm Perdue. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., has also said she will vote for him. But both women brought up concerns in the hearing, with Stabenow saying 'it's clear that rural America has been an afterthought' in the Trump administration. Stabenow said many rural communities are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession. 'Especially during these times of low prices for agriculture and uncertainty around budget, trade and immigration, we need the next secretary to be an unapologetic advocate for all of rural America,' she said. Farm-state Republicans have also criticized the proposed budget cuts and have been wary of the president's opposition of some trade agreements, as trade is a major economic driver in the agricultural industry. Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said at the hearing that producers need a market for their goods, and 'during this critical time, the importance of trade for the agriculture industry cannot be overstated.' Perdue noted a growing middle class around the world that is hungry for U.S. products. 'Food is a noble thing to trade,' Perdue said, adding that he would 'continue to tirelessly advocate that within the administration.' Trump has harshly criticized some international trade deals, saying they have killed American jobs. But farmers who make more than they can sell in the United States have heavily profited from those deals, and are hoping his anti-trade policies will include some exceptions for agriculture. Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said Perdue's pro-trade comments were 'music to the ears of Montana farmers and ranchers.' Perdue also said he would work with the agriculture industry to create jobs and support landowners in their efforts to conserve farmland in a sustainable way. USDA is also responsible for nutrition programs, and congressional Republicans have signaled a willingness to trim the $70 billion food stamp program. Perdue signaled he may be supportive of those efforts, saying 'we hope we can do that even more efficiently and effectively than we have.' One of Perdue's main responsibilities will be working with Congress on a new five-year farm bill, and he pledged to help senators sustain popular crop insurance programs and fix what they see as problems with government dairy programs. Perdue was the last of Trump's Cabinet nominees to be chosen, and his nomination was delayed for weeks as the administration prepared his ethics paperwork. Perdue eventually said he would step down from several companies bearing his name to avoid conflicts of interest. Roberts said the committee will soon schedule a vote on Perdue's nomination, and it would then go to the floor. He and Trump's choice for labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, are two of the final nominees for Trump's Cabinet still pending in the Senate. Acosta was nominated in February after the withdrawal of the original nominee, Andrew Puzder.
  • Senate Democrats vowed Thursday to impede Judge Neil Gorsuch's path to the Supreme Court, setting up a political showdown with implications for future openings on the high court. Still irate that Republicans blocked President Barack Obama's nominee, Democrats consider Gorsuch a threat to a wide range of civil rights and think he was too evasive during 20 hours of questioning. Whatever the objections, Republicans who control the Senate are expected to ensure that President Donald Trump's pick reaches the bench, perhaps before the middle of April. The Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, was among five senators to declare their opposition to Gorsuch Thursday, even before the Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination had ended. Schumer said he would lead a filibuster against Gorsuch, criticizing him as a judge who 'almost instinctively favors the powerful over the weak.' Schumer said the 49-year-old Coloradan would not serve as a check on Trump or be a mainstream justice. 'I have concluded that I cannot support Neil Gorsuch's nomination,' Schumer said on the Senate floor. 'My vote will be no and I urge my colleagues to do the same.' White House press secretary Sean Spicer called on Schumer to call off the filibuster, saying 'it represents the type of partisanship that Americans have grown tired of.' A Supreme Court seat has been open for more than 13 months, since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Like Scalia, Gorsuch has a mainly conservative record in more than 10 years as a federal appellate judge. Shortly before Schumer's announcement, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who faces re-election next year in a state Trump won, also announced his opposition. Casey said he had 'serious concerns about Judge Gorsuch's rigid and restrictive judicial philosophy, manifest in a number of opinions he has written on the 10th Circuit.' Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, also said they would vote against Trump's nominee, among at least 11 senators who say they will oppose Gorsuch in the face of pressure from liberals to resist all things Trump, including his nominees. No Democrat has yet pledged to support Gorsuch, but Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he is open to voting for him. Manchin spoke Wednesday after watching the nominee emerge unscathed from testimony to the Judiciary Committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democratic threats of delay, in the face of what he called Gorsuch's outstanding performance, stem from their base's refusal 'to accept the outcome of the election.' In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed ready to change Senate rules, if necessary, to confirm Gorsuch with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes now required to move forward. Such a change also would apply to future Supreme Court nominees and would be especially important in the event that Trump gets to fill another opening and replace a liberal justice or Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's so-called swing vote. In 2013, Democrats changed the rules to prohibit delaying tactics for all nominees other than for the high court. The Judiciary panel is expected to vote in the next two weeks to recommend Gorsuch favorably to the full Senate. Hearings for a Supreme Court nominee usually dominate Congress, but that's not been the case over the four days of hearings. The Republican push to dismantle Obama's Affordable Care Act and the controversy surrounding the investigation into contact between Trump associates and Russia overshadowed the hearings. On Thursday, lawyers, advocacy groups and former colleagues got their say on Gorsuch during the final session to examine his qualifications. The speakers included the father of an autistic boy whom Gorsuch ruled against. The Supreme Court, ruling in a separate case Wednesday, unanimously overturned the reasoning Gorsuch employed in his 2008 opinion. Gorsuch received the American Bar Association's highest rating after what ABA official Nancy Scott Degan called a 'deep and broad' investigation. But Degan acknowledged that her team did not review materials released by the Justice Department covering Gorsuch's involvement with Bush administration controversies involving the interrogation and treatment of terrorism detainees, broad assertions of executive power and warrantless eavesdropping on people within the United States. Some senators and civil rights advocates said emails and memos that were released raise serious questions that Gorsuch did not adequately address. Jameel Jaffer, former deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Senate should not confirm Gorsuch without getting answers. 'This should not be a partisan issue,' Jaffer said. Among judges who have worked with him, U.S. District Judge John Kane praised Gorsuch's independence and cordiality. 'Judge Gorsuch is not a monk, but neither is he a missionary or an ideologue,' said Kane, an appointee of President Jimmy Carter. Democrats also took another opportunity to voice their displeasure at how Republicans kept Judge Merrick Garland, Obama's choice for the same seat, off the court. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California noted that Garland also received the bar association's top rating, yet did not even get a committee hearing. ____ Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
  • Tasharina Fluker and her daughter had just gotten to their Lithonia townhome Wednesday morning from celebrating the mother’s birthday. No less than an hour after they arrived, police say Fluker’s boyfriend, Michael Thornton, shot and killed her and daughter Janazia Miles.  A family member found one of them in the middle of the doorway and Miles’ 8-month-old son unharmed, Channel 2 Action News reported. It is not known how the relative entered the home.  Police were called to the scene about 3 a.m. after getting a person-down call on the 2000 block of Parkway Trail. The women were found with “no signs of life,” DeKalb police Lt. Rod Bryant said.  Thornton was later found at another location, police said. They have not described his relationship to the women, but neighbors said Thornton and Fluker were in a relationship and lived at the home. Neighbor Trocon Talhouk told Channel 2 he heard the couple arguing in the middle of the night.  “He kept saying: ‘All I want to do is get in the house,’” Talhouk said. “And then, shortly after that, I heard a car speed off and (the) next thing you know fire trucks and police cars were pulling up.”  It wasn’t the first time neighbors had heard domestic incidents at the home, Talhouk said.  “According to neighbors, (the two) fight all the time and he’s always beating (her),” he told Channel 2.  Fluker also leaves behind two sons — one in middle school and another who attends Grambling State University on a football scholarship he earned while playing for Miller Grove High School, the station reported. Police have not released other details.  In other news: