Among the hardest hit was Tennessee, where officials believe hundreds of buildings have been damaged or destroyed as fires burned in Sevier County, just outside Knoxville. The county is home to the popular tourist destinations of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
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: