Top News Stories for Today – March 22, 2017
Votes to pass health-care bill still lack
House Republican leaders say they plan to hold a floor vote on the American Health Care Act on Thursday, regardless of the outcome, despite conceding late Tuesday that they currently lack the votes. With all Democrats opposed, Republicans can lose 21 votes and still push the ObamaCare replacement through, but according to The Hill’s tally and House Freedom Caucus leaders, there are at least 22 firm no votes, plus six more House Republicans leaning toward voting against the legislation.
President Trump has thrown himself into flipping enough votes to ensure passage, spending much of Tuesday encouraging, cajoling, and horse-trading with reluctant House Republicans in public and private. Even if the bill does squeak by in the House, six Senate Republicans have said they oppose the legislation as written; three voting no would kill the bill. The Hill, Politico, The Week
Ex-Trump campaign chief worked for Putin
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort earned tens of millions of dollars from 2006 to 2009 secretly working for a Russian aluminum magnate close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to promote Putin’s interests and undermine anti-Kremlin opposition in former Soviet republics, The Associated Press reported early Wednesday, citing business records and interviews with people familiar with Manafort’s dealings.
Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Oleg Deripaska starting in 2006. Manafort has said he never worked for Russian interests, and he repeated that assertion to AP, saying his work for Deripaska is being mischaracterized as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.” On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to distance President Trump from Manafort, saying Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign. Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign from March into August, has said this year he still speaks with Trump on the phone. The Associated Press, The Week
North Korea missile test fail
North Korea conducted a missile launch Wednesday morning, US and South Korean officials said, but it was unsuccessful. Commander David Benham, a spokesman for US Pacific Command, said the missile “appears to have exploded within seconds of launch.” It was fired in the vicinity of Kalma, where earlier tests of the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile have taken place. US officials believed a missile launch was imminent, as surveillance showed increased activity in the area.
The mobile-launched Musudan is thought to have a minimum range of 1,500 miles, and can be difficult to track and fired on short notice. North Korea doesn’t have the best track record with the missile — in the last year, seven of the eight Musudan launches were failures. ABC News, The Week
Apple unveils special-edition iPhone 7 in red
Apple unveiled Tuesday a special red version of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, to commemorate the 10-year partnership between the tech giant and Red, an organization that helps fights AIDS. The special edition iPhones, which feature a red aluminum body, will come in 128GB and 256GB models starting at $749.
The red phones will be available in stores and online starting Friday for a “limited” time, though Apple declined to provide specific details about the timeframe. Apple also would not share how much money will be donated to Red through the sales of these special iPhones. Overall, Apple said, it has contributed more than $130 million as part of its partnership with Red, making the company the world’s largest corporate donor to the Global Fund to fight AIDS. CNN
Al Qaeda trying to hide explosives in batteries
Intelligence obtained in recent weeks found that an al Qaeda affiliate was perfecting techniques for hiding explosives in batteries and battery compartments of electronic devices, according to a US official.
The discovery that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was looking to exploit batteries and their compartments in laptops and other commercial electronic devices led the United States and United Kingdom to ban devices larger than a cellphone from certain flights, the US official told CNN. CNN
Climate outlook improves as fewer coal plants built
Led by cutbacks in China and India, construction of new coal-fired power plants is falling worldwide, improving chances climate goals can be met despite earlier pessimism, three environmental groups said Wednesday. A joint report by the groups CoalSwarm, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace follows a warning this week by two international agencies that the world needs to shift quickly away from fossil fuels to curb global warming. Environmentalists were dismayed by President Donald Trump’s US government budget proposal last week that would cut spending on renewable energy.
Construction starts for coal-fired plants in China and India were down by 62 percent in January from a year earlier while new facilities starting operation declined 29 percent, according to the report. It said older plants in the United States and Europe are being retired at a record pace. VOA
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