AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

House votes to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for withholding Biden audio

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over audio of President Joe Biden’s interview in his classified documents case, Republicans' latest and strongest rebuke of the Justice Department as partisan conflict over the rule of law animates the 2024 presidential campaign.

The 216-207 vote fell along party lines, with Republicans coalescing behind the contempt effort despite reservations among some of the party's more centrist members. Only one Republican — Rep. David Joyce of Ohio — voted against it.

Garland said in a statement late Wednesday, “It is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon. Today’s vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the Justice Department’s need to protect its investigations, and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the Committees."

He added, "I will always stand up for this Department, its employees, and its vital mission to defend our democracy.”

Garland is now the third attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. Yet it is unlikely that the Justice Department — which Garland oversees — will prosecute him. The White House’s decision to exert executive privilege over the audio recording, shielding it from Congress, would make it exceedingly difficult to make a criminal case against Garland.


Biden and Zelenskyy will sign a security deal, as G7 leaders agree to use Russian cash to help Kyiv

BRINDISI, Italy (AP) — President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will sign a bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Ukraine on Thursday when they meet on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit in Italy.

Negotiators for the group have also reached an agreement on how to provide Ukraine with up to $50 billion backed by frozen Russian assets.

The international group of wealthy democracies has been discussing ways of using the more than $260 billion in frozen Russian assets, most of which are outside the country, to help Ukraine fight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

European officials have resisted confiscating the assets, citing legal and financial stability concerns, but the plan would use the interest earned on the assets to help Ukraine’s war effort. An official with the French presidency confirmed the agreement Wednesday, saying most of the money would be flowing to Ukraine in the form of a loan from the U.S. government backed by the proceeds of the frozen Russian assets in the European Union. Two other people familiar with the matter confirmed the arrangement.

Final technical negotiations were underway ahead of the summit to finalize the legal terms of the deal.


President Joe Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

WASHINGTON (AP) — A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over President Joe Biden’s recent directive that effectively halts asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar move by the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

The lawsuit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES — is the first test of the legality of Biden’s sweeping crackdown on the border, which came after months of internal White House deliberations and is designed in part to deflect political attacks against the president on his handling of immigration.

“By enacting an asylum ban that is legally indistinguishable from the Trump ban we successfully blocked, we were left with no choice but to file this lawsuit,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU.

The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day. It went into effect immediately because the latest figures were far higher, at about 4,000 daily.

The restrictions would be in effect until two weeks after those daily encounter numbers are at or below 1,500 per day, under a seven-day average. But it’s far from clear when the numbers would dip that low; the last time was in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.


In initial victory for Argentine President Milei, Senate gives overall approval to key reform bills

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina’s Senate has approved key state overhaul and tax bills proposed by President Javier Miliei, delivering an initial legislative victory to the libertarian leader in his efforts to deliver on his promises of radical change.

Senators voted 37 to 36 late Wednesday to give their overall approval to the overhaul bill after 11 hours of heated debate as protesters urging lawmakers to reject Milei's harsh austerity clashed with police outside Congress. The lawmakers still must approve individual measures in an article-by-article vote that will stretch throughout the night.

In a reflection of the fierce backlash to the legislation and deep polarization gripping Argentina's Congress, Vice President and head of the Senate Victoria Villarruel cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of Milei's agenda.

The legislation delegates broad powers to the president in energy, pensions, security and other areas and includes several measures seen as controversial, including a generous incentive scheme for foreign investors, tax amnesty for those with undeclared assets and plans to privatize some of Argentina's state-owned firms.

If the Senate approves the articles with modifications, the lower house still has to okay them before Milei can claim passing his first law since entering office last December.


Alarmed by embryo destruction, Southern Baptists urge caution on IVF by couples and government

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Southern Baptist delegates expressed alarm Wednesday over the way in vitro fertilization is routinely being practiced, approving a resolution lamenting that the creation of surplus frozen embryos often results in “destruction of embryonic human life.”

They urged members to carefully weigh the ethical implications of the technology while also expressing sympathy with couples “who experience the searing pain of infertility.”

The resolution — approved near the end of the Southern Baptist Convention's two-day annual meeting — affirms that embryos are human beings from the moment of fertilization, whether in the womb or generated in the laboratory via IVF. That's the same position held by the Alabama Supreme Court in ruling that frozen embryos have the full rights of people.

In the wake of that decision, Alabama passed a law shielding IVF providers from prosecution and lawsuits — reflecting that even in a state with strong anti-abortion sentiment, there is support for a technology used by many couples facing infertility.

The resolution also urged couples to adopt surplus frozen embryos that would otherwise be destroyed.


Florida's 2024 hurricane season arrives with a rainy deluge

Dangerous flooding from a tropical disturbance inundated much of southern Florida on Wednesday, blocking roads, floating vehicles and delaying the Florida Panthers on their way to Stanley Cup games in Canada against the Edmonton Oilers.

The disorganized storm system was pushing across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico at roughly the same time as the early June start of hurricane season, which this year is forecast to be among the most active in recent memory amid concerns that climate change is increasing storm intensity.

The disturbance has not reached cyclone status and was given only a slight chance to form into a tropical system once it emerges into the Atlantic Ocean after crossing Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“Regardless of development, heavy rainfall is forecast to continue across portions of the Florida peninsula during the next few days,” the hurricane center posted on its website Wednesday.

Numerous roads were flooded and impassable for vehicles. On major artery Interstate 95 in Broward County, southbound traffic was being diverted around a flooded section and contractors were on their way to pump the drainage system, the Florida Highway Patrol said in an email. The interstate wouldn't reopen until after water is drained, the agency said.


Republicans stick to attacking criminal justice system, echoing Trump, after Hunter Biden conviction

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans are responding to Hunter Biden's conviction on federal gun charges with some version of, “That’s it?”

Loyal to Donald Trump, they largely echoed the former president's claim that the Justice Department has treated President Joe Biden's son with kid gloves while zealously prosecuting Trump. Using the attention given to Hunter Biden's conviction for charges related to buying a gun while addicted to drugs, they pressed unsubstantiated or debunked allegations that Joe Biden — while vice president — acted to advance his family members’ foreign business interests.

The GOP's argument that Joe Biden is ordering prosecutors to target political opponents has been hurt by the Biden-led Justice Department prosecuting the president's son — with Biden declining to stop the investigation or pardon Hunter Biden. But in making that case, Republicans may be trying to deflect from Trump's own stated intentions to wield the criminal justice system against opponents if he returns to the White House.

While president, Trump tried to undercut the Justice Department investigation into his campaign's alleged ties to Russia and issued pardons to a raft of former campaign aides, friends and donors. And on the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly declared he is the victim of a “rigged” system and promised to appoint a special prosecutor to target Biden and his family.

House Republicans voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress, further escalating their battle with the Justice Department.


Blinken says some of Hamas' proposed changes to a cease-fire plan in Gaza are workable and some not

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that mediators would keep trying to close an elusive cease-fire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed changes to a U.S.-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.

The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an accord that could end eight months of war that has decimated the territory, killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages still languishing in militant captivity. Previous moments of optimism have been repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides.

The cease-fire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. — will keep trying to “close this deal.” He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.

“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. ... Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” Blinken told reporters in Qatar. “I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide."

Blinken's comments came as Lebanon's Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating regional tensions.


He rambled to reporters after a downtown Atlanta shooting. Then, police say, he hijacked a bus

ATLANTA (AP) — As police responded to reports of multiple people shot at a downtown Atlanta food court, Joseph Grier was on the sidewalk outside, rambling to reporters about his mental health, criminal record and banking history.

“I’m bipolar, I’m gonna tell you all that, and I’m off my medication for like two weeks,” Grier said Tuesday afternoon, appearing agitated and adding that he felt like a “snitch” for describing what he had seen.

Just a short while later, police said, he hijacked a commuter bus, ordering the driver at gunpoint to hit the gas and panicking the passengers. By the time the bus rolled to a stop some 40 minutes later, authorities said, Grier had fatally shot one passenger and led officers on a dramatic chase through three counties.

The food court shooting and the bus hijacking — only two hours and a few blocks apart — created a sense of chaos in Atlanta. In the aftermath, city leaders decried the prevalence of guns on the streets but were quick to reassure residents and tout statistics that show Atlanta's violent crime declining.

Authorities said Grier boarded a bus bound for a suburban Gwinnett County park-and-ride lot 26 miles (42 kilometers) away and got into a fight with passenger Ernest Byrd Jr. When the 58-year-old Byrd pulled a gun, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Grier took the gun and fatally shot Byrd. Grier then threatened to shoot the driver if he stopped.


Jerry West, a 3-time Hall of Fame selection and the inspiration for the NBA logo, dies at 86

The NBA has never confirmed the worst-kept secret in basketball, that Jerry West is the player whose silhouette is depicted in the league’s logo.

There’s probably a reason for that: West never wanted to be the logo.

“I’m just part of the game,” West said in a 2021 interview. “I never wanted to be any more than that. I’m extremely fortunate to have had the life that I’ve had, and that’s enough for me.”

His was a life like few others: an NBA and Olympic champion as a player, a champion as an executive and someone selected to be enshrined by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame not once, not twice, but three times. West died on Wednesday at age 86, the Los Angeles Clippers announced.

“We can only hope there is someone we meet during a crucial time in our lives that will change you in ways you could dream about,” said Miami Heat President Pat Riley, who played with and worked with West during their time together as Los Angeles Lakers. “Jerry was that person for me.”

The Associated Press