The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday to approve the long-pending Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite the White House saying earlier in the day that President Barack Obama would veto the measure. The Republican-led Senate passed the bill that would approve TransCanada Corp's project to carry 800,000 barrels per day of heavy Canadian crude to Nebraska on the way to Gulf Coast refineries and ports. The House has passed its own pipeline bill and will work with the Senate to send the bill to the Obama's desk. After the potential veto, Obama is expected to make his own decision on the pipeline after the State Department finishes a review in coming weeks.
Cuban President Raul Castro gave an endorsement to peace between the United States and his communist country, with the two nations in talks to restore ties after decades of animosity. Asked by a journalist at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean states what he would most like to see after the US economic embargo of Cuba is lifted, Castro barked: "Peace, peace between us, peace between the United States and us. Castro first said he would have to consider the question because the end of the economic embargo may be a long way away. US and Cuban diplomats met last week in Havana in landmark talks aimed at renewing ties that broke off in 1961.
By Doina Chiacu and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Secret Service cannot hire new agents for the next presidential election or make improvements at the agency until Congress settles a dispute over funding, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Thursday. Johnson said in a speech in Washington that uncertainty over the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which secures U.S. borders, airports and coastal waters and protects the president, had put security initiatives on hold. These included recommendations made in December by a review panel on the Secret Service, which has been plagued with a series of security lapses, among them a White House intruder and a drone that landed on the mansion's lawn early Monday. Secret Service protection extends to major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses within four months of a presidential election.
By Ellen Wulfhorst NEW YORK (Reuters) - Attorneys at a New York City public defenders' office participated in an online video that advocated the killing of police officers, featuring the lyrics "time to start killing these coppers," a city investigation disclosed on Thursday. The video "Hands Up," which shows singers pointing guns at someone portraying a police officer, was released shortly before the deadly ambush on Dec. 20 of two New York City officers by a gunman angry over police killings of unarmed black men. Two attorneys with the Bronx Defenders, a city-funded legal service organization, appear in the anti-police video, some of which was filmed at the Bronx office, according to the New York City Department of Investigation report. The Bronx Defenders posted a message on its website saying it "abhors the use of violence against the police." "The Bronx Defenders never approved the music video 'Hands Up,' and never saw it before it went online," it said.
By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A patient suspected of contracting Ebola after traveling in West Africa and exhibiting symptoms of the disease was admitted on Thursday to a special isolation hospital unit in Sacramento and was being tested for infection, officials said. The patient was considered at a relatively low risk of infection. Although recently in an area where Ebola transmission is widespread, the person had no known contact with anyone who has had the disease, said Laura McCasland, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento County Public Health Department. McCasland said she did not know precisely where or when the patient had traveled in West Africa, the epicenter of the worst Ebola epidemic on record, or why the individual was there or for how long.
By Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Thursday formed a political organization to explore a potential run for his party's presidential nomination, the latest high-profile politician to test the 2016 waters. Graham would attempt to use his South Carolina home base to his advantage for any potential run, since the Southern state is typically the third to hold a nominating contest in presidential election years, after Iowa and New Hampshire. "What I'm looking at is, is there a pathway forward on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire for a guy like me?
New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits plunged to the lowest level in nearly 15 years last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, dropped to a seasonally adjusted 265,000 in the week ending January 24, a hefty decline of 43,000 from the prior week's slightly upwardly revised level of 308,000. It was the lowest level for initial claims since mid-April 2000. The Labor Department said there was no particular factor influencing the week's claims data, which is often volatile.
By Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The number of new confirmed Ebola cases totaled 99 in the week to Jan. 25, the lowest tally since June 2014, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, signaling the tide might have turned against the epidemic. "The response to the EVD (Ebola virus disease) epidemic has now moved to a second phase, as the focus shifts from slowing transmission to ending the epidemic," the WHO said. "To achieve this goal as quickly as possible, efforts have moved from rapidly building infrastructure to ensuring that capacity for case finding, case management, safe burials, and community engagement is used as effectively as possible." The outbreak has killed 8,810 people out of 22,092 known cases, almost all of them in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Cases and deaths have fallen rapidly in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the past few weeks, with just 20 deaths recorded in Liberia in the 21 days to Jan. 25.
Malaysia declared on Thursday the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 an accident, clearing the way for the airline to pay compensation to victims' relatives while the search for the plane goes on. "We officially declare Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident ... and that all 239 of the passengers and crew onboard MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives," Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said in a statement. The announcement is in accordance with standards of annexes 12 and 13 in the International Civil Aviation, said Azharuddin. It will allow families of the passengers to obtain assistance through compensation, he said.
The French co-pilot was at the controls of an AirAsia plane before it crashed into the sea last month after flying through an area of towering clouds, killing all 162 people on board, investigators said Thursday. The announcement came as fishermen found two more bodies from the crash in waters off Sulawesi island in central Indonesia, around 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from where the plane crashed, a search and rescue official said. On Thursday, Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee, which has been analysing the plane's black boxes, said that prior to the crash, the aircraft had climbed fast in an area packed with huge storm clouds, and the stall alarms started going off. They also revealed that the Airbus A320-200's less experienced French co-pilot, Remi Plesel, was flying the plane before it went down, rather than Captain Iriyanto, a former fighter pilot who had around 20,000 hours of flying time.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A bid to end Arkansas' practice of commemorating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day was rejected by lawmakers Wednesday after opponents said the move would belittle Southern heritage.