Update on the latest news, sports, business and entertainment:

March 23, 2017 - 11:22 am


Trump urges support for health care legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is urging people to call their lawmakers to express support for the Republican legislation to repeal and replace "Obamacare."

Trump posted a video on Twitter Thursday asking people to get behind the plan. He says that people were "given many lies" about the Affordable Care Act.

Trump added that the legislation was "terrific" and "you're going to be very, very happy."

The GOP legislation was on the brink hours before Republican leaders planned to put it on the House floor for a showdown vote. Trump was spending the final hours trying to close the deal with conservatives who have opposed the plan.


Obama marks anniversary of health care law

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Barack Obama is celebrating the seventh anniversary of his landmark health care law, saying in a statement on Thursday that "America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act."

Obama does not directly address GOP efforts to repeal his law, which are coming to a head Thursday as House leaders push toward a vote on their repeal legislation. Republicans remain short of votes.

The former president does say that if Republicans are serious about lowering costs and expanding coverage, and are prepared to work with Democrats, "That's something we all should welcome."

But, Obama says, "we should start from the baseline that any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans."

He notes 20 million Americans gained coverage under his law.


Trump blasts 'fake news reports' on Russia ties

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is blasting what he calls "totally biased and fake news reports of the so-called Russia story."

Trump took to Twitter Thursday to express his frustration. He singled out reports on NBC and ABC, saying "such dishonesty!"

The FBI director said earlier this week that there is an investigation underway into whether Trump's campaign associates coordinated with Russian officials in an effort to sway the 2016 presidential election. The president has refused to acknowledge the probe, dismissed it as fake news and blamed it on Democrats.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Wednesday that he had seen "more than circumstantial evidence" that Trump associates colluded with Russia.


Trump defends wiretap claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is defending his explosive claims that his predecessor wiretapped his New York skyscraper.

In an interview with Time Magazine, Trump says "wiretapping was in quotes. What I'm talking about is surveillance."

Trump noted that the chairman of the House intelligence committee said Wednesday that communications of Trump and his transition team may have been scooped up by American intelligence officials monitoring other targets.

There is no evidence that Trump Tower was wiretapped.

In the interview, Trump defended other statements that have been debunked, including his claims that millions of people voted illegally in the November election. He said he is just citing news sources.

He concluded the interview with: "I guess, I can't be doing so badly, because I'm president, and you're not."


McCain denounces release of surveillance information

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John McCain says it is "disturbing" that the chairman of the House intelligence committee is publicly airing often-secret information.

McCain spoke Thursday on NBC's "Today Show," responding to Republican Rep. Devin Nunes' statements that Trump transition officials' communications may have been scooped up in legal surveillance and then improperly distributed.

McCain said no new information has come out to refute FBI Director James Comey, who this week rejected President Donald Trump's claims that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the election.

Of the investigation into the Trump campaign's connections with Russia, McCain said that in situations like this: "There's always additional information that comes out before it's concluded."

Looking ahead, McCain says that a special committee is needed to review the matter.


Prime minister says attacker was investigated for extremist links

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May has delivered a defiant message after yesterday's deadly attack, saying "we are not afraid."

May has told lawmakers in the House of Commons that "yesterday an act of terrorism tried to silence our democracy, but today we meet as normal."

She called the car and knife rampage that killed three victims "an attack on free people everywhere."

May says police know the identity of the British-born attacker. She says he was once investigated for extremist links but was considered a peripheral figure. She didn't disclose his name.

May says police believe the man acted alone and there is no reason to believe "imminent further attacks" are planned.


Bridge reopens a day after attack

LONDON (AP) — British police say Westminster Bridge has reopened to traffic less than 24 hours after Wednesday's attack.

The landmark bridge across the River Thames had been shut since an unidentified assailant hit a number of pedestrians with his vehicle. He was later shot to death after rushing onto the Parliament grounds and stabbing a policeman.

The busy bridge is a popular tourist site for visitors seeking selfies near Parliament and the London Eye.


Islamic State group says attacker was one of its 'soldiers'

UNDATED (AP) — The Islamic State group says the attack outside the British parliament in London was carried out by one of its "soldiers."

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said Thursday that the person who carried out the "attack in front of the British parliament in London was a soldier of the Islamic State."

It added that the person "carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting citizens of the coalition."

IS has called on its supporters to carry out attacks against citizens of the U.S.-led coalition that has been targeting the group since 2014.

IS, who have been responsible for numerous bloody attacks around the globe, have also previously claimed certain attacks in a show of opportunism. Britain's government has not identified the suspect.


NEW: Utah man among the victims

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Mormon church official says a Utah man was killed and his wife was seriously wounded in the London attack.

Kurt W. Cochran and his wife, Melissa, were on the last day of a trip celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary on Wednesday when the attacker struck in the heart of London. He plowed an SUV into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing two and wounding dozens, then stabbed police officer Keith Palmer to death inside the gates of Parliament.

The assailant was shot dead by armed officers. The woman remains hospitalized.

The church said Thursday the Utah couple was also visiting the woman's parents, who are Mormon missionaries in London.


Israel police arrest suspect in threats on US Jewish targets

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli police official says the suspect in a wave of bomb threats against Jewish targets in the U.S. used sophisticated methods to hide his tracks.

Yaniv Azani, head of technology in the Israeli police's cyber unit, says the suspect used "several different means to camouflage the various layers of communication mechanisms" to carry out the calls.

Nimrod Vax, co-founder of U.S.-Israeli cybersecurity firm BigID, says the phone calls required a certain level of sophistication, but were "not too difficult" for an experienced hacker

He says tracking down the suspect would take significant resources and court orders to obtain and comb through hordes of electronic records.

Israeli police say they have arrested a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man as the primary suspect behind the threats.


Sessions hails arrest of Israeli suspect in US threats

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the arrest of a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man in a string of bomb threats targeting U.S. Jewish community centers shows the Justice Department will not tolerate religious-oriented attacks.

Sessions said in a statement Thursday that the arrest is the result of a large investigation into hate crimes against the Jewish community. He says the Justice Department "will not tolerate the targeting of any community in the country on the basis of their religious beliefs."

He called work by the FBI and Israeli police "outstanding."


Slain Wisconsin officer hailed as hero

WESTON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has commended the law enforcement response to a series of shootings in the north of the state that left four people dead, including a police officer.

Schimel issued a statement Thursday applauding the courage of officers who responded to Wednesday's shootings at a bank, a law firm and an apartment building.

He says the Everest Metro police officer who was killed was protecting his community and will be forever remembered as a hero.

Authorities arrested a suspect in the attacks, which they say began with a domestic dispute. They haven't provided details about the suspect or victims.


NEW: Ag pick seeks to reassure Congress as Trump eyes farm cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Donald Trump eyes cuts to farm programs, agriculture secretary nominee Sonny Perdue says he would make government programs more efficient while also working to create jobs in the struggling industry.

At his confirmation hearing Thursday, 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 prepared testimony, Perdue said in Georgia, agriculture is one of the few issues of bipartisanship.

Some Democrats have said they will support his nomination, and Perdue is expected to be confirmed easily. But the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee expressed frustration with the Trump administration.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow said "it's clear that rural America has been an afterthought."


NEW: Trump SEC pick assures that his Wall St. work not problem

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Wall Street connections of President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission took attention at his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday. Attorney Jay Clayton sought to assure his congressional vetters that he'll act only in the public interest and will show no favoritism.

Clayton, a partner in the prominent law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, has done significant legal work for Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs and other financial giants. Asked whether his client work will create conflicts of interest for him as the financial markets' top regulator, Clayton said, "I do not believe they will do so."

"I pledge to you and the American people that I will show no favoritism to anyone," Clayton told the Senate Banking Committee.


US stocks open little changed

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are barely changed as Congress continues to debate health care legislation, a key first piece of President Donald Trump's business-friendly agenda.

Technology companies are down Thursday and giving up some of the previous day's gains. Alphabet, Google's parent company, lost 1.6 percent.

Energy companies are slipping with oil prices but consumer-focused companies are rising. Clothing company PVH jumped 8.5 percent after strong earnings. Nike is up 2.1 percent after a sharp drop a day ago.


Applications for US jobless aid rise to still-low 258,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — More people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, but applications are still at a low level that points to a healthy job market.

The Labor Department says weekly unemployment benefit applications rose 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 258,000. The four-week average ticked up 1,000 to 240,000.

Applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, have been below 300,000, a historically low level, for 80 weeks. The figure had topped 100 weeks but the Labor Department revised the data.

The data suggest that relatively few Americans are losing their jobs. In late February, applications fell to 210,000, the lowest since 1969, according to the revised data.

Many businesses complain they are having trouble finding qualified workers to hire for their open jobs, which also makes layoffs less likely.


NEW: US new home sales rise despite higher mortgage rates

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans shrugged off higher mortgage rates and snapped up new homes in February at the fastest pace since July.

The Commerce Department says new home sales rose 6.1 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 592,000. That is nearly 13 percent higher than a year ago.

Builders have ramped up the construction of new homes, which helps meet strong demand and boosts sales. That could provide a crucial lift to the overall housing market: The supply of existing homes for sale has dwindled, preventing many potential buyers from purchasing homes.

There were 266,000 new homes for sale last month, the most since July 2009 — a month after the recession ended — and up nearly 10 percent from a year earlier.


NEW: 17,000 AT&T workers will come back on the job Thursday

NEW YORK (AP) — Some 17,000 AT&T workers in California and Nevada are returning to their jobs after a one-day walkout. They had been protesting changes in job duties for some employees.

A Communications Workers of America union local official had said Wednesday that AT&T was asking technicians who install cable to also work outside maintaining phone and cable wires, which is a higher-paid job. The CWA said Thursday that AT&T will no longer require technicians to do work tasks that they weren't trained to do.

AT&T's statement says the dispute has been resolved, but it provided no details.

The strike had taken people who install cable and phone service and who work in call centers off the job. AT&T says it had contingency plans.

Negotiations continue over new contracts for workers.


Man arrested after abducted woman escapes from trunk

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A man recently freed from prison in Alabama is accused of abducting a woman whose dramatic escape from her car trunk was captured on video.

Birmingham police announced Wednesday night that 28-year-old Manuel Ali Towns has been charged with kidnapping and robbery in the abduction of 25-year-old Brittany Diggs earlier this month. Towns was detained Tuesday.

Authorities say Towns abducted Diggs and made her drive around before putting her in the car trunk. She escaped by opening an interior trunk latch. Surveillance cameras at a gas station convenience store captured images of her tumbling from the trunk.

Al.com (http://bit.ly/2nqZEFZ ) reports that records show Towns was freed from prison in January after serving more than five years for marijuana possession. His record includes robbery arrests dating back more than a decade.

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