For Obama and Romney, health care ruling will start fundraising storm, fresh blizzard of ads
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barely four months before the nation votes, one of the biggest factors in the fight for the White House still is a mystery. That will change on Thursday.
The Supreme Court's expected ruling on President Barack Obama's sweeping federal health care law will shape the contours of the presidential campaign through the summer and fall. Both Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are primed to use the ruling -- whatever it is -- for political gain.
Obama expresses confidence the court will uphold his signature legislative initiative. But he won't be shocked if a conservative majority overturns the most controversial provision, those familiar with his thinking say. Romney aides say the Republican candidate will get a political boost if the court strikes down the measure. But they don't want celebrations that could alienate voters who could lose health care benefits through the decision.
Neither candidate has any direct influence over the decision. The court may uphold the health care law, strike it down or deem the requirement that most Americans carry health insurance unconstitutional while keeping other aspects in place.
The ruling is expected to be followed almost immediately by a barrage of advertisements and fundraising appeals from Democrats and Republicans, with both sides trying to cast the decision in the most advantageous light for its candidate.
Q&A: Whoever 'wins,' Supreme Court's decision on health care is unlikely to be the last word
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It seems as if the entire nation is holding its breath for the Supreme Court's health care ruling -- the presidential candidates, governors of virtually every state, insurers with billions at stake, companies large and small and countless millions of Americans concerned about their own medical care and how they'll pay for it.
Still, Thursday's expected ruling almost certainly will not be the last word on the nation's tangled efforts to address health care woes. The problems of high medical costs, widespread waste and tens of millions of people without insurance will require Congress and the president to keep looking for answers, whether or not President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act passes the test of constitutionality.
A look at potential outcomes:
Q: What if the Supreme Court, despite justices' blunt questions during public arguments, upholds the law and finds Congress was within its authority to require most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty?
Colorado wildfire's night of terror leaves thousands displaced, tough battle continues
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- Fire crews fought to save the U.S. Air Force Academy and residents begged for information on the fate of their homes Wednesday after a night of terror sent thousands of people fleeing a raging Colorado Springs wildfire.
More than 30,000 have been displaced by the fire, including thousands who frantically packed up belongings Tuesday night after it barreled into neighborhoods in the foothills west and north of Colorado's second-largest city. With flames looming overhead, they clogged roads shrouded in smoke and flying embers, their fear punctuated by explosions of bright orange flame that signaled yet another house had been claimed.
"The sky was red, the wind was blowing really fast and there were embers falling from the sky," said Simone Covey, a 26-year-old mother of three who fled an apartment near Garden of the Gods park and was staying at a shelter. "I didn't really have time to think about it. I was just trying to keep my kids calm."
Wilma Juachon sat under a tree at an evacuation center, wearing a mask to block the smoke. A tourist from California, she was evacuated from a fire near Rocky Mountain National Park last week and, now, from her Colorado Springs hotel.
"I said I hope it never happens again, and guess what?" Juachon said.
If House votes on contempt, history shows unclear what courts would do with hot potato
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House vote finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress on Thursday would create election-year fireworks but maybe not much lasting sizzle. Federal judges who've been called into similar disputes often sound like frazzled moms, in essence telling Congress and the president, "I don't care who started it, you two end it."
Time appears to be limited for the House to pursue a criminal contempt case against Holder or a civil case to compel President Barack Obama's administration to turn over subpoenaed documents. A contempt citation against Holder presumably would expire when the current Congress ends in January.
If the courts do end up deciding the case, however, they could shed some light on a foggy patch of constitutional law: What happens when Congress demands that a president turn over documents he says should be kept secret?
Particularly, once the president invokes executive privilege to deny Congress documents it has subpoenaed.
The Supreme Court last took up the constitutional question of executive privilege during Watergate in the 1970s. But beginning with George Washington, presidents have asserted authority to withhold executive branch records from Congress. The bickering over the proper reach and limits on this authority has never stopped. It's "vague and essentially undefined terrain," according to the Congressional Research Service.
Top lawmakers say they have deals on student loan, transportation bills
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Facing weekend deadlines for action, congressional leaders have agreed to deals overhauling the nation's transportation programs without a Republican provision forcing approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, and avoiding a doubling of interest rates for new student loans, congressional officials said Wednesday.
The agreements underscored the pressures both parties face to avoid angry voters and embarrassing headlines in the run-up to this November's presidential and congressional elections. Letting road-building programs grind to a halt during an economic downturn would be a blow to the image of lawmakers, while Democrats and Republicans alike seemed eager to avoid enraging millions of students and their parents by boosting the costs of college loans.
In contrast, enactment of the transportation measure would create or save 3 million jobs, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chief sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. And the student loan measure would spare an estimated 7.4 million students who get subsidized Stafford loans beginning July 1 -- this Sunday -- from facing $1,000 in higher interest costs over the lives of their loans, which typically take over a decade to repay.
Congressional leaders were planning to combine the highway and student loan measures into a single bill to reduce potential procedural obstacles and hoped for final approval this week. Lawmakers would then leave Washington for a July 4 recess.
The two-year highway bill would prevent the government's authority to spend money on highways, bridges and transit systems from lapsing on Saturday, along with its ability to collect gasoline and diesel taxes. With both parties checkmating each other's top priorities this campaign season, Democrats and Republicans say the highway measure will be Congress' top job-creation initiative until the November elections.
Gunmen attack Syrian TV station as world powers seek diplomatic solution this weekend
BEIRUT (AP) -- Gunmen attacked a pro-government TV station Wednesday near the Syrian capital, killing seven employees in the latest barrage of violence as world powers prepared for a high-level meeting that the U.S. hopes will be a turning point in the crisis.
Invitations to Saturday's gathering in Geneva were sent by special envoy Kofi Annan to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- including Syrian allies Russia and China -- but not to major regional players Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The absence of those two countries, as well as the lack of any appetite for international military intervention, could make it difficult for the group to find the leverage to end the bloodshed in Syria. An effort by Annan to broker a peace plan failed earlier this year.
Diplomatic hopes have rested on Russia -- Syria's most important ally and protector -- agreeing on a transition plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades. But Moscow has rejected efforts by outside forces to end the conflict or any plan to force regime change in Damascus.
The United Nations said Wednesday that the conflict, which began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring that swept aside entrenched leaders across the region, is descending into sectarian warfare.
Texas man who argued he was standing his ground gets 40 years in prison for killing neighbor
HOUSTON (AP) -- Retired Texas firefighter Raul Rodriguez, armed with a handgun and video camera, had claimed he was standing his ground and had no choice but to use deadly force when he fatally shot his unarmed neighbor after confronting him about a noisy party.
A jury decided otherwise Wednesday, sentencing Rodriguez to 40 years in prison for killing the neighbor, Kelly Danaher, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher. Prosecutors said they are hopeful the punishment will stop others from settling matters with violence and trying to use Texas' version of a stand-your-ground law as a defense.
"I think it sends a clear message that this was not a case of stand-your-ground," said prosecutor Kelli Johnson. "And I think from his behavior, his intent, the provocation ... shows that this had ... nothing to do with self-defense."
Rodriguez, who faced up to life in prison for the 2010 killing, will be eligible for parole in 20 years. Jurors deliberated about five hours Wednesday before reaching their verdict. The same jury convicted him of murder on June 13.
His reference to standing his ground was similar to the claim made by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who is citing Florida's stand-your-ground law in his defense in the fatal February shooting of an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. Rodriguez's case, however, was decided under a different kind of self-defense doctrine.
Medical examiner: Only marijuana found in system of Fla. Man in face-chewing attack
MIAMI (AP) -- Lab tests detected only marijuana in the system of a Florida man shot while chewing on another man's face, the medical examiner said Wednesday, ruling out other street drugs including the components typically found in the stimulants known as "bath salts."
There has been much speculation about what drugs, if any, would lead to the bizarre behavior that authorities said Rudy Eugene exhibited before and during the gruesome attack that left the other man horribly disfigured. A Miami police union official had suggested that Eugene, who was shot and killed by an officer, was probably under the influence of bath salts.
The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner said in a news release that the toxicology detected marijuana, but it didn't find any other street drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs. Eugene also tested negative for adulterants commonly mixed with street drugs.
The department ruled out the most common components found in so-called bath salts, which mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine and have been associated with bizarre crimes in recent months. An outside forensic toxicology lab, which took a second look at the results, also confirmed the absence of bath salts, synthetic marijuana and LSD.
Messages left with the medical examiner's office for comment were not immediately returned.
Thriller, tiger who once roamed Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch, dies at 13
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Thriller, a tiger that belonged to Michael Jackson when the entertainer lived at his Neverland ranch, has died of lung cancer at actress-activist Tippi Hedren's wildlife preserve in California.
The 13-year-old, 375-pound tiger died June 11, Hedren said Wednesday. A necropsy was performed and the tiger was cremated. Staff workers will hold a private service when the ashes are buried in a section of the preserve set aside for animals that die there.
Thriller and her brother Sabu were born on Nov. 20, 1998, and lived with Jackson until May 4, 2006, Hedren said.
When Jackson left Neverland for good, his veterinarian asked Hedren to take the cats at her Shambala Preserve in Acton, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles.
Other Neverland animals, including giraffes, flamingos, orangutans, elephants and dozens of reptiles, were sent to other sanctuaries in other parts of the country.
Woman charged with stalking Yankees GM Cashman says he got her fake ID to use for abortion
NEW YORK (AP) -- A woman charged with stalking and shaking down New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has said he got her phony identification to use in getting an abortion after she became pregnant with his child.
Cashman spokesman Chris Giglio said Wednesday that the allegations amount to "more fiction" from a woman already facing stalking, perjury and other charges.
Louise Neathway made the claim in papers she filed Monday in a Manhattan civil court as a prelude to a possible lawsuit, although it's yet not clear whom she might sue. Meanwhile, she is facing criminal charges of stalking Cashman and extorting thousands of dollars from him, harassing her ex-husband and another man and lying to a grand jury. She has pleaded not guilty and is jailed on $300,000 bond.
The Manhattan district attorney's office says Neathway deluged Cashman with calls and text messages, demanded money for a medical procedure and threatened to harm his reputation if he didn't pay. In response, he paid her $6,000, according to a court complaint. She was arrested in February.
Neathway, a 36-year-old medical sales worker originally from Britain, said in the sworn statement she filed Monday that she and the then-married Cashman were friends for about six years before they began a nine-month affair in April 2011.