AP Top News at 12:58 a.m. EDT

Senate opens 'Obamacare' debate at last but outcome in doubt
WASHINGTON (AP) - Prodded by President Donald Trump, a bitterly divided Senate voted, at last, Tuesday to move forward with the Republicans' long-promised legislation to repeal and replace "Obamacare." There was high drama as Sen. John McCain returned to the Capitol for the first time after being diagnosed with brain cancer to cast a decisive "yes" vote. The final tally was 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence, exercising his constitutional prerogative, breaking the tie after two Republicans joined all 48 Democrats in voting "no." When the Senate voted Tuesday evening on the bill's initial amendment, it underscored how hard it will be for the chamber's divided Republicans to pass a sweeping replacement of Obama's law.


Cheers for McCain, then a speech like impassioned prophet
WASHINGTON (AP) - The maverick stood with his party on Tuesday, casting a crucial vote in the Republican drive to repeal "Obamacare." But then, like an angry prophet, Sen. John McCain condemned the tribal politics besetting the nation. Confronting an aggressive brain cancer, the 80-year-old Arizonan served notice he would not vote for the GOP legislation as it stands now. McCain's impassioned speech held the rapt attention of his colleagues in the Senate chamber. "Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, television and the internet," he intoned. "To hell with them! They don't want anything done for the public good.


Trump: Nation closer to liberation from 'Obamacare'
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) - Celebrating a slim but symbolic health-care win in Washington, President Donald Trump told supporters in Ohio on Tuesday night that the nation was one step closer to liberation from the "Obamacare nightmare." "You think that's easy? That's not easy," he told a crowd of thousands just hours after the Senate took a small but hard-fought first step toward Republicans' years-long promise to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law. Clearly energized to be back in front of a friendly crowd of supporters, Trump said repeatedly that he believes in speaking directly to the American people and not through the "fake news" media.


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Trump ex-campaign chair talks with Senate investigators
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman met with Senate investigators Tuesday, providing his recollection of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer and agreeing to turn over contemporaneous notes of the gathering last year, according to people familiar with the closed-door interview. The appearance by Paul Manafort came the same morning that Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner returned to Capitol Hill for a second day of private meetings, this time for a conversation with lawmakers on the House intelligence committee. Both Manafort and Kushner have been cooperating with the committees which, along with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are probing Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible collusion with Trump associates.


'Pharma Bro' won't stop talking, except to jury in trial
NEW YORK (AP) - "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli has kept up his trademark trolling on social media during his securities fraud trial - calling the case "bogus" - but the jury won't hear him defend himself in court. The government's last witness testified on Tuesday, a day after a lawyer for the former biotech CEO told the court that his client had chosen not to take the witness stand. Closing arguments are expected later this week. Shkreli, 34, is best known for raising the price of a life-saving drug by 5,000 percent and targeting his critics with online rants so nasty that it got him kicked off of Twitter for harassment.


Justice Dept. rules intensify crackdown on sanctuary cities
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Justice Department escalated its promised crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities Tuesday, saying it will no longer award coveted grant money to cities unless they give federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released. Under old rules, cities seeking grant money needed only to show they were not preventing local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities about the immigration status of people they have detained. The announcement came as questions swirled about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' future as the nation's top law enforcement officer following days of blistering criticism from President Donald over his performance.


Trump cranks up heat on Sessions, says "time will tell" fate
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump cranked up the heat Tuesday on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, scorning him as "very weak" and refusing to say whether he'll fire the nation's top law enforcement officer and his onetime political ally. It was an extraordinary public rebuke, and even fellow Republicans pushed back forcefully. All through a day of anything-but-subtle tweets and statements, Trump rued his decision to choose Sessions for his Cabinet and left the former senator's future prospects dangling. "We will see what happens," Trump said. "Time will tell. Time will tell." His intensifying criticism has fueled speculation that the attorney general may step down even if the president stops short of firing him.


Top Vatican official faces Australian court on sex charges
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - The most senior Vatican official ever charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis made his first court appearance in Australia on Wednesday in a scandal that has stunned the Holy See and threatened to tarnish the pope's image as a crusader against abusive clergy. Cardinal George Pell, Australia's highest-ranking Catholic and Pope Francis' top financial adviser, has maintained his innocence since he was charged last month with sexually abusing multiple people years ago in his Australian home state of Victoria. The details of the allegations against the 76-year-old cardinal have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as "historical" sexual assault offenses - meaning crimes that occurred years ago.


Rights groups ask Duterte to retract threat to bomb schools
MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Human rights groups asked the Philippine president Wednesday to retract a threat to order airstrikes against tribal schools he accused of teaching students to become communist rebels, warning such an attack would constitute a war crime. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said international humanitarian law "prohibits attacks on schools and other civilian structures unless they are being used for military purposes," adding that deliberate attacks on civilians, including students and teachers, "is also a war crime." Left-wing Rep. Emmi de Jesus of the Gabriela Women's Party asked Duterte to retract the threat, saying government troops may use it as a pretext to attack indigenous, or Lumad, schools and communities in the country's south which have come under threat from pro-military militias in recent years.


Ohio set to end 3-year hiatus with execution of child killer
LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) - Ohio is preparing to put a condemned child killer to death in the state's first execution in more than three years. Forty-three-year-old Ronald Phillips is scheduled to die Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. He was convicted for the 1993 rape and killing of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter. Phillips and other death row inmates have challenged the state's new three-drug execution method, which includes a sedative used in some problematic executions in Ohio and elsewhere. Phillips had requested a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court to continue legal appeals. Late Tuesday night, justices denied his requests.

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