Senate clears White House-backed trade bill WASHINGTON (AP) - In a victory for President Barack Obama, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation Friday night to strengthen the administration's hand in global trade talks, clearing the way for a highly unpredictable summer showdown in the House. The vote was 62-37 to give Obama authority to complete trade deals that Congress could approve or reject, but not change. A total of 48 Republicans supported the measure, but only 14 the Senate's 44 Democrats backed a president of their own party on legislation near the top of his second-term agenda.
US officials: Iran enters Iraqi fight for key oil refinery WASHINGTON (AP) - Iran has entered the fight to retake a major Iraqi oil refinery from Islamic State militants, contributing small numbers of troops - including some operating artillery and other heavy weapons - in support of advancing Iraqi ground forces, U.S. defense officials said Friday. Two U.S. defense officials said Iranian forces have taken a significant offensive role in the Beiji operation in recent days, in conjunction with Iraqi Shiite militia. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
IS militants purge Syrian town of Assad loyalists BEIRUT (AP) - Islamic State group militants hunted down Syrian government troops and loyalists in the newly captured town of Palmyra, shooting or beheading them in public as a warning, and imposing their strict interpretation of Islam, activists said Friday. The purge, which relied mostly on informants, was aimed at solidifying the extremists' grip on the strategic town that was overrun Wednesday by IS fighters.
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What happens to collection of phone records if law expires? WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate appeared headed for early Saturday morning votes on whether to change the way the National Security Agency handles American calling records, raising the possibility of a halt to that collection program and two less controversial surveillance techniques designed to track spies and terrorists. With the House already gone for a 10-day Memorial Day break, the Senate had yet to begin debate Friday on a House bill that would end the NSA's bulk collection of domestic phone records. Known as the USA Freedom Act, the bill would authorize case-by-case searches of records held by phone companies instead of the government, and it would extend two other expiring surveillance provisions used frequently by the FBI.
DC authorities: Ex-con had help in wealthy family's slaying WASHINGTON (AP) - An ex-convict denied bond on a murder charge Friday had help from others holding a family captive inside their mansion for at least 18 hours, authorities said, and their investigation is continuing. During their ordeal, the business executive and his wife told others to stay away - even ordering a pizza deliverer to leave two pies at the door - as they frantically arranged for $40,000 in cash to be dropped off at the home.
Mexico: 43 dead in 3-hour firefight on ranch in west ECUANDUREO, Mexico (AP) - At least 43 people died Friday in what authorities described as a fierce, three-hour gunbattle between federal forces and suspected drug gang gunmen on a ranch in western Mexico, the deadliest such confrontation in recent memory. All the dead were suspected criminals except for one federal police officer, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said. He said the officer died trying to help a colleague wounded in the shootout.
Choppy slick is harder to clean up; more oily animals found LOS ANGELES (AP) - A 10-square-mile oil slick off the coast of California is thinner than a coat of paint and it's becoming harder to skim from choppy waters, officials said Friday as more dead animals were discovered on the Santa Barbara coast. The combination of sunlight and waves helped evaporate and dissolve some of the oil that blackened beaches and covered wildlife in thick goo after a pipeline on shore leaked up to 105,000 gallons Tuesday.
California farmers strike a deal to cut water use SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California farmers who hold some of the state's strongest water rights avoided the threat of deep mandatory cuts when the state accepted their proposal Friday to voluntarily reduce consumption by 25 percent amid one of the worst droughts on record. Officials hope the deal will serve as a model for more such agreements with growers in the nation's top-producing farm state, where agriculture accounts for 80 percent of all water drawn from rivers, streams and the ground.
TLC pulls Duggar family series amid misconduct reports LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - TLC pulled the reality series "19 Kids and Counting" from its schedule on Friday, a move that follows reports of sexual misconduct allegations against one of the stars, Josh Duggar, stemming from when he was a juvenile. In a statement, the channel said it was "deeply saddened and troubled by this heartbreaking situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and victims at this difficult time." The statement didn't elaborate.