AP News in Brief at 11:09 p.m. EST

By The Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. House voted Tuesday to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, with the Republican majority determined to punish the Biden administration over its handling of the U.S-Mexico border after failing last week in a politically embarrassing setback.

The evening roll call proved tight, with Speaker Mike Johnson’s threadbare GOP majority unable to handle many defectors or absences in the face of staunch Democratic opposition to impeaching Mayorkas, the first Cabinet secretary charged in nearly 150 years.

In a historic rebuke, the House impeached Mayorkas 214-213. With the return of Majority Leader Steve Scalise to bolster the GOP’s numbers after being away from Washington for cancer care and a Northeastern storm impacting some others, Republicans recouped — despite dissent from their own ranks.

President Joe Biden called it a “blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games.”

The charges against Mayorkas next go to the Senate for a trial, but neither Democratic nor even some Republican senators have shown interest in the matter and it may be indefinitely shelved to a committee. The Senate is expected to receive the articles of impeachment from the House after returning to session Feb. 26.


Democrat Tom Suozzi wins New York race to succeed George Santos in Congress

Democrat Tom Suozzi won a special election for a U.S. House seat in New York on Tuesday, coming out on top in a politically mixed suburban district in a victory that could lift his party’s hopes heading into a fiercely contested presidential election later this year.

Suozzi defeated Republican Mazi Pilip to take the seat that was left vacant when George Santos, also a Republican, was expelled from Congress. The victory marks a return to Washington for Suozzi, who represented the district for three terms before giving it up to run, unsuccessfully, for governor.

It’s unclear how long his next stint on Capitol Hill will last, as a redistricting process unfolds that could reshape the district. But for now the result narrows the already slim Republican majority in the House. And it provides Democrats a much-needed win in New York City’s Long Island suburbs, where the GOP showed surprising strength in recent elections.

Suozzi stressed his campaign trail theme of bipartisan cooperation in a victory speech that was briefly interrupted by protestors criticizing his support of Israel.

“There are divisions in our country where people can’t even talk to each other. All they can do is yell and scream at each other,” he said, acknowledging the demonstrators. “That’s not the answer to the problems we face in our country. The answer is to try and bring people together to try and find common ground.”


Indonesian voters are choosing a new president in one of the world’s largest elections

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian voters were choosing a new president Wednesday as the world’s third-largest democracy aspires to become a global economic powerhouse a quarter-century after shaking off a brutal dictatorship.

The front-runner, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, is the only candidate with ties to the Suharto era. He was a special forces commander at the time and has been accused of human rights atrocities, which he vehemently denies.

Two former provincial governors, Anies Baswedan and Ganjar Pranowo, are also vying to succeed the immensely popular President Joko Widodo, who is serving the final of his two terms in office. Widodo’s rise from a riverside slum to the presidency has shown the vibrancy of Indonesia’s democracy in a region rife with authoritarian regimes.

Widodo’s successor will inherit an economy with impressive growth and ambitious infrastructure projects, including the ongoing transfer of the nation’s capital from congested Jakarta to the frontier island of Borneo at a staggering cost exceeding $30 billion.

The election also has high stakes for the United States and China, since Indonesia has a huge domestic market, natural resources like nickel and palm oil, and diplomatic influence with its Southeast Asian neighbors.


Illegal border crossings from Mexico plunge after a record-high December, with fewer from Venezuela

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arrests for illegal crossings on the U.S. border with Mexico fell by half in January from record highs in December to the third lowest month of Joe Biden’s presidency, authorities said Tuesday.

The sharp drop is welcome news for the White House, even if it proves temporary, as immigration becomes one of the biggest issues in this year’s presidential election, with exit polls showing it is the top concern among many Republican voters in early primaries. House Republicans voted Tuesday to impeach U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his oversight of the border.

Seasonal declines and heightened enforcement by the U.S. and its allies led to the sharp decline, said Troy Miller, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. U.S. authorities have repeatedly praised Mexico for a crackdown launched in late December.

Border Patrol arrests totaled 124,220 in January, down 50% from 249,735 in December, the highest monthly tally on record. Arrests of Venezuelans plunged 91% to 4,422 from 46,920 in December.

Numbers ebb and flow, and the January decline may prove tenuous. Panama reported that 36,001 migrants traversed the notorious Darien Gap in January, up 46% from December. The vast majority who cross the Panamanian jungle are Venezuelans headed to the United States, with considerable numbers from Haiti, China, Ecuador and Colombia.


Airstrike from Israeli hostage rescue wipes out entire Palestinian family in Gaza border town

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Ibrahim Hasouna trudged over the rubble of the destroyed house, pointing out where family moments had taken place — where his mother and sister-in-law used to sleep, where he played with his 5-year-old nieces, where he helped his 1-year-old nephew take his first steps.

His entire family was now dead — his parents, his two brothers, and the wife and three children of one of those brothers. The house was reduced to rubble on top of them in the barrage of airstrikes that Israeli warplanes inflicted across Rafah before dawn Monday as cover for troops rescuing two hostages elsewhere in the town on the southern Gaza border.

At least 74 Palestinians were killed in the bombardment, which flattened large swaths of buildings and tents sheltering families who had fled to Rafah from across Gaza.

Among the dead were 27 children and 22 women, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, whose researchers compiled the list from Rafah hospitals. The Israeli offensive has taken a heavy toll on women and children, with more than 12,300 Palestinian children and young teens killed in the conflict, the Gaza Health Ministry said Monday.

The 30-year-old Ibrahim, his parents and his brothers arrived in Rafah a month earlier, the latest of their multiple moves to escape fighting after fleeing their homes in northern Gaza. They rented a small, one-story house on the east side of Rafah.


Trump’s pick to lead the RNC is facing skepticism from some Republicans

WASHINGTON (AP) — In pushing Michael Whatley as the next leader of the Republican National Committee, Donald Trump zeroed in on the North Carolina GOP chairman’s dedication to “election integrity,” baselessly suggesting he would ensure the 2024 race “can’t be stolen.”

Some of Trump’s most ardent supporters in Whatley’s home state would, no doubt, like a word.

Whatley has been accused by some Republicans of essentially manufacturing his win as state party chairman last year following a chaotic vote, which resulted in a legal challenge that offered evidence some ballots were improperly cast. While Whatley and his allies acknowledged that technical problems made voting with the party’s mobile app difficult, they vehemently deny that the irregularities changed the outcome of the contest and note that the lawsuit was dismissed.

But for some conservatives, primed by years of Trump urging vigilance against voter fraud, the episode instilled a suspicion that the party contest was stolen by a Washington Beltway fixture whose work for the George W. Bush administration and as a lobbyist they viewed skeptically.

“I can only conclude two possibilities. One, he felt he needed to cheat to win. Two, he is completely incompetent. Both are disqualifying,” said Whatley’s challenger, John Kane Jr., who described himself as “unquestionably” the true “MAGA candidate” in the contest.


Israel and Hamas are making progress in cease-fire and hostage-release talks, officials say

CAIRO (AP) — Israel and Hamas are making progress toward another cease-fire and hostage-release deal, officials said Tuesday, as negotiations went on and Israel threatened to expand its offensive to Gaza’s southern edge, where some 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

The talks continued in Egypt a day after Israeli forces rescued two captives in Rafah, the packed southern town along the Egyptian border, in a raid that killed at least 74 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and caused heavy destruction. The operation offered a glimpse of what a full-blown ground advance might look like.

A cease-fire deal, on the other hand, would give people in Gaza a desperately needed respite from the war, now in its fifth month, and offer freedom for at least some of the estimated 100 people still held captive in Gaza. Qatar, the United States and Egypt have sought to broker a deal in the face of starkly disparate positions expressed publicly by both Israel and Hamas.

Israel has made destroying Hamas’ governing and military capabilities and freeing the hostages the main goals of its war, which was launched after thousands of Hamas-led militants rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people captive. Tens of thousands of Israelis were displaced from destroyed communities.

The war has brought unprecedented destruction to the Gaza Strip, with more than 28,000 people killed, more than 70% of them women and minors, according to local health officials. Vast swaths of the territory have been flattened by Israel’s offensive, around 80% of the population has been displaced and a humanitarian catastrophe has pushed more than a quarter of the population toward starvation.


How Texas church shooter bought rifle despite mental illness and criminal history is under scrutiny

HOUSTON (AP) — The shooter who opened fire at a Houston megachurch before being gunned down by security officers used an AR-style rifle that police say she legally purchased despite a years-long criminal record, a history of mental illness and allegations she threatened to shoot her ex-husband.

Key questions remained Tuesday about Genesse Moreno’s motive in the shooting, and police have given no details about where and how she obtained the rifle in December. The shooting joins others in Texas and elsewhere that have involved shooters who legally obtained guns despite criminal history and mental health problems.

Authorities say Moreno, 36, entered celebrity pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church on Sunday with her 7-year-old son and began firing in a hallway, sending worshippers scrambling for safety. Moreno did not reach the main sanctuary and was killed after exchanging gunfire with two off-duty officers.

Moreno’s son was critically injured after being shot in the head and Houston police did not immediately have an update on his condition Tuesday.

Moreno used both male and female aliases, but investigators found through interviews and past police reports that Moreno identified as female, according to Houston Police Commander Chris Hassig.


Biden says Trump sowing doubts about US commitment to NATO is ‘un-American’

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday said Donald Trump’s comments calling into question the U.S. commitment to defend its NATO allies from attack were “dangerous” and “un-American,” seizing on the former president’s comments that sowed fresh fears among U.S. partners about its dependability on the global stage.

Trump, the front-runner in the U.S. for the Republican Party’s nomination this year, said Saturday that he once warned that he would allow Russia to do whatever it wants to NATO member nations that are “delinquent” in devoting 2% of their gross domestic product to defense. It was the latest instance in which the former president seemed to side with an authoritarian state over America’s democratic allies.

Speaking from the White House as he encouraged the House to take up a Senate-passed aid bill to fund Ukraine’s efforts to hold off a two-year Russian invasion, Biden said Trump’s comments about the mutual defense pact were “dangerous and shocking.”

“The whole world heard it and the worst thing is he means it,” Biden added.

Biden said that “when America gives its word, it means something,” and called Trump’s comments sowing doubt about its commitments ”un-American.”


Biden warns opposing Ukraine funding plays ‘into Putin’s hands,’ but faces resistance in House

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Tuesday called for House Republicans to urgently bring a $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan to a vote, warning that refusal to take up the bill, passed by the Senate in the morning, would be “playing into Putin’s hands.”

“Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin,” Biden said, raising his voice in strong comments from the White House as he referred to the Russian leader. “We can’t walk away now. That’s what Putin is betting on.”

But the package faces a deeply uncertain future in the House, where hardline Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump — the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, and a critic of support for Ukraine — oppose the legislation. Speaker Mike Johnson has cast new doubt on the package and made clear that it could be weeks or months before Congress sends the legislation to Biden’s desk — if at all.

The potential impasse comes at a crucial point in the nearly two-year-old war, and supporters warn that abandoning Ukraine could embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin and threaten national security across the globe. Yet the months-long push to approve the $60 billion in aid for Kyiv that is included in the package has exposed growing political divisions in the Republican Party over the role of the United States abroad.

Biden also lashed at Trump, who on Saturday said during a campaign appearance that he once warned he would allow Russia to do whatever it wants to NATO member nations that are “delinquent” in devoting 2% of their gross domestic product to defense.

The Associated Press

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