AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

 Biden’s candidacy faces new peril, including first Senate Democrat saying he should exit race WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s imperiled reelection campaign hit new trouble Wednesday as House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said merely “it’s up to the president to decide” if he should stay in the race, celebrity donor George Clooney said he [[{“value”:”

Biden’s candidacy faces new peril, including first Senate Democrat saying he should exit race

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s imperiled reelection campaign hit new trouble Wednesday as House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said merely “it’s up to the president to decide” if he should stay in the race, celebrity donor George Clooney said he should not run and Democratic senators and lawmakers expressed fresh fear about his ability to beat Republican Donald Trump.

Late in the evening, Vermont Sen. Peter Welch called on Biden to withdraw from the election, becoming the first Senate Democrat to do so. Welch said he is worried because “the stakes could not be higher.”

The sudden flurry of grave pronouncements despite Biden’s determined insistence he is not leaving the 2024 race put on public display just how unsettled the question remains among prominent Democrats. On Capitol Hill, an eighth House Democrat, Rep. Pat Ryan of New York, and later a ninth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, publicly asked Biden to step aside.

“I want him to do whatever he decides to do,” Pelosi said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” rather than declaring Biden should stay in. While Biden has said repeatedly that he’s made his decision, she said, “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision, because time is running short.”

It’s a crucial moment for the president and his party, as Democrats consider what was once unthinkable — having the incumbent Biden step aside, just weeks before the Democratic National Convention that is on track to nominate him as their candidate for reelection.

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The first lady is helping to salvage her husband’s campaign. Will it be enough?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Campaigning for her husband in Florida, Jill Biden took a break to get some tea.

She was on the second stop of a three-state swing and reporters traveling with her had tried multiple times to get her to talk to them. They were curious about what she’d tell the Democrats who were so rattled by President Joe Biden’s poor debate performance that they were calling on him to drop his reelection bid.

Leaving a coffee shop after having hibiscus tea with Tampa’s mayor, the first lady paused on the walk to her vehicle and turned to face the reporters who were lobbing questions her way.

“Why are you screaming at me? You know me,” she said, adding: “Don’t scream at me. Just talk.”

She walked away without answering their questions.

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NATO allies call China a ‘decisive enabler’ of Russia’s war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — In their most serious rebuke against Beijing, NATO allies on Wednesday called China a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war against Ukraine and expressed concerns over Beijing’s nuclear arsenal and its capabilities in space.

The sternly worded final communiqué, approved by the 32 NATO members at their summit in Washington, makes clear that China is becoming a focus of the military alliance. The European and North American members and their partners in the Indo-Pacific increasingly see shared security concerns coming from Russia and its Asian supporters, especially China.

Beijing insists that it does not provide military aid to Russia but has maintained strong trade ties with its northern neighbor throughout the conflict. It also accuses NATO of overreaching and inciting confrontation in the Indo-Pacific region.

In the communiqué, NATO member countries said China has become a war enabler through its “no-limits partnership” with Russia and its large-scale support for Russia’s defense industrial base.

“This increases the threat Russia poses to its neighbors and to Euro-Atlantic security. We call on the PRC, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with a particular responsibility to uphold the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter, to cease all material and political support to Russia’s war effort,” read the communiqué, which referred to China by the abbreviation of its official name, the People’s Republic of China.

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Israeli military orders the evacuation of Gaza City, an early target of its war with Hamas

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military urged all Palestinians to leave Gaza City and head south Wednesday, pressing ahead with a fresh offensive across the north, south and center of the embattled territory that has killed dozens of people over the past 48 hours.

The stepped-up military activity came as U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators met with Israeli officials in the Qatari capital, Doha, for talks seeking a long-elusive cease-fire deal with Gaza’s Hamas militant group in exchange for the release of dozens of Israeli hostages it is holding.

Israel says it is pursuing Hamas fighters that are regrouping in various parts of Gaza nine months into the war. But heavy strikes in recent days along the length of the territory also could be aimed at putting more pressure on Hamas in the cease-fire talks.

In a visit Wednesday to central Gaza, Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said forces were operating in different ways, in multiple parts of the territory “to carry out a very important mission: pressure. We will continue operating to bring home the hostages.”

Israel informed people in Gaza of the evacuation order by dropping leaflets urging “all those in Gaza City” to take two “safe routes” south to the area around the central town of Deir al-Balah. Gaza City, it said, will “remain a dangerous combat zone.”

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Las Vegas hits record of fifth consecutive day of 115 degrees or greater as heat wave scorches US

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas baked Wednesday in its record fifth consecutive day of temperatures sizzling at 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 Celsius) or greater amid a lengthening hot spell that is expected to broil much of the U.S. into the weekend.

The temperature climbed to 115 shortly after 1 p.m. at Harry Reid International Airport, breaking the old mark of four consecutive days set in July 2005. And the record could be extended, or even doubled, by the weekend.

Even by desert standards, the prolonged baking that Nevada’s largest city is experiencing is nearly unprecedented, with forecasters calling it “the most extreme heat wave” since the National Weather Service began keeping records in Las Vegas in 1937.

Already the city has broken 16 heat records since June 1, well before the official start of summer, “and we’re not even halfway through July yet,” meteorologist Morgan Stessman said Wednesday. That includes an all-time high of 120 F (48.8 C) set on Sunday, which beat the previous 117 F (47.2 C) record.

Alyse Sobosan said this July has felt the hottest in the 15 years she has lived in Las Vegas. She said she doesn’t step outside during the day if she can help it.

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Pressure mounts on Houston power company to quickly restore service as city sweats after Beryl

HOUSTON (AP) — Pressure mounted Wednesday on Houston’s power utility as millions of residents still had no electricity nearly three days after Hurricane Beryl made landfall, stoking questions over how a city that is all too familiar with destructive weather was unable to better withstand a Category 1 storm.

With frustration growing as Houston residents spent another sweltering day in search for places to cool off, fuel up and grab a bite to eat, a CenterPoint Energy executive faced a barrage from city leaders who wanted to know why it was taking so long to get the lights back on again. Mayor John Whitmire bluntly called on the utility to do a better job.

“That’s the consensus of Houstonians. That’s mine,” Whitmire said.

Beryl came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest type, but has has been blamed for at least seven U.S. deaths — one in Louisiana and six in Texas. Earlier, 11 died in the Caribbean.

The storm’s lingering impact for many in Texas, however, was the wallop to the power supply that left much of the nation’s fourth-largest city sweltering days later in hot and humid conditions that the National Weather Service deemed potentially dangerous.

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Astronauts confident Boeing space capsule can safely return them to Earth, despite failures

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Two astronauts who should have been back on Earth weeks ago said Wednesday that they’re confident that Boeing’s space capsule can return them safely, despite a string of vexing breakdowns.

NASA test pilots Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams launched aboard Boeing’s new Starliner capsule early last month, the first people to ride it. Helium leaks and thruster failures almost derailed their arrival at the International Space Station, and have kept them there much longer than planned. Now the earliest they could return may be the end of July, officials said.

In their first news conference from orbit, the pair said they expect to return once thruster testing is complete here on Earth. They said they’re not complaining about getting extra time in orbit, and are enjoying helping the station crew. Both have previously spent stints at the orbiting lab, which is also home to seven others.

“I have a real good feeling in my heart that the spacecraft will bring us home, no problem,” Williams told reporters.

The test flight should have lasted eight days, ending on June 14.

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Alec Baldwin’s involuntary manslaughter trial starts with witnesses recalling chaotic set shooting

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A defense attorney told jurors Wednesday that the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was an “unspeakable tragedy” but that “ Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting.”

Baldwin’s lawyer Alex Spiro emphasized in his opening statement in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtroom that Baldwin, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, did exactly what actors always do on the set of the film “Rust,” where Hutchins was killed in October 2021.

“I don’t have to tell you any more about this, because you’ve all seen gunfights in movies,” Spiro said.

Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson said in her opening statement that before the shooting, Baldwin skipped safety checks and recklessly handled a revolver.

“The evidence will show that someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin,” Ocampo Johnson said.

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Congress OKs bill overhauling oversight of troubled federal Bureau of Prisons

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to overhaul oversight and bring greater transparency to the crisis-plagued federal Bureau of Prisons following reporting from The Associated Press that exposed systemic corruption in the federal prison system and increased congressional scrutiny.

The Federal Prison Oversight Act, which the House passed in May, now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. It establishes an independent ombudsman for the agency to field and investigate complaints in the wake of rampant sexual abuse and other criminal misconduct by staff, chronic understaffing, escapes and high-profile deaths.

It also requires that the Justice Department’s Inspector General conduct risk-based inspections of all 122 federal prison facilities, provide recommendations to address deficiencies and assign each facility a risk score. Higher-risk facilities would then receive more frequent inspections.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., introduced the bill in 2022 while leading an investigation of the Bureau of Prisons as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on investigations. It passed unanimously Wednesday without a formal roll call vote, meaning no senator objected.

Ossoff and the bill’s two other sponsors, Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., launched the Senate Bipartisan Prison Policy Working Group in February 2022 amid turmoil at the Bureau of Prisons, much of it uncovered by AP reporting. Reps. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., and Lucy McBath, D-Ga., backed the House version of the bill.

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Colombia beats Uruguay 1-0 and will face Lionel Messi and Argentina in Copa America final

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Colombia is headed to the Copa America championship game for the first time in 23 years after a contentious win over Uruguay in which it played the second half a man short and players brawled with fans in the stands following the final whistle.

Jefferson Lerma scored in the 39th minute for a 1-0 win Wednesday night and a matchup with Lionel Messi and defending champion Argentina on Sunday.

“Until you overcome your weaknesses you cannot grow,” Colombia coach Nester Lorenzo said through a interpreter. “And when you overcome those obstacles you can grow.”

Daniel Muñoz was ejected in first-half stoppage time for an elbow that led to his second yellow card. Despite Uruguay having 61.9% possession, Colombia held on to reach the championship for the first time since winning its only Copa title as host in 2001.

Colombia extended its unbeaten streak to a team record 28 games, one more than from 1992-94 and the longest current streak in men’s international soccer.

The Associated Press

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