AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EST

Poland says Russian-made missile fell in its east, killing 2

PRZEWODOW, Poland (AP) — Poland said Wednesday that a Russian-made missile fell in the country’s east, killing two people, though U.S. President Joe Biden said it was “unlikely” it was fired from Russia.

The blast, which Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy decried as “a very significant escalation,” prompted Biden to call an emergency meeting of G-7 and NATO leaders. A deliberate, hostile attack on NATO member Poland could trigger a collective military response by the alliance.

But key questions around the circumstances of the missile launch — none larger than who fired it — remained amid the confusion caused by a blistering series of Russian airstrikes across the nearby border in Ukraine. Russia denied any involvement in the Poland blast.

Three U.S. officials said preliminary assessments suggested the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian one amid the crushing salvo against Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

That assessment and Biden’s comments at the Group of 20 summit in Indonesia contradict information earlier Tuesday from a senior U.S. intelligence official who told the AP that Russian missiles crossed into Poland.

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NASA’s mightiest rocket lifts off 50 years after Apollo

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s new moon rocket blasted off on its debut flight with three test dummies aboard Wednesday, bringing the U.S. a big step closer to putting astronauts back on the lunar surface for the first time since the end of the Apollo program 50 years ago.

If all goes well during the three-week, make-or-break shakedown flight, the crew capsule will be propelled into a wide orbit around the moon and then return to Earth with a Pacific splashdown in December.

After years of delays and billions in cost overruns, the Space Launch System rocket thundered skyward, rising from Kennedy Space Center on 8.8 million pounds (4 million kilograms) of thrust and hitting 100 mph (160 kph) within seconds. The Orion capsule was perched on top and, less than two hours into the flight, busted out of Earth’s orbit toward the moon.

“It’s a great day,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The moonshot follows nearly three months of vexing fuel leaks that kept the rocket bouncing between its hangar and the pad. Forced back indoors by Hurricane Ian at the end of September, the rocket stood its ground outside as Nicole swept through last week with gusts of more than 80 mph (130 kph). Although the wind caused some damage, managers gave the green light for the launch.

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Trump seeks White House again amid GOP losses, legal probes

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched his third campaign for the White House just one week after a disappointing midterm showing for Republicans, forcing the party to again decide whether to embrace a candidate whose refusal to accept defeat in 2020 sparked an insurrection and pushed American democracy to the brink.

“In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” Trump said before an audience of several hundred supporters in a chandeliered ballroom at his Mar-a-Lago club, where he stood flanked by American flags and banners bearing his “Make America Great Again” slogan.

“America’s comeback starts right now,” he said, formally beginning the 2024 Republican primary.

Another campaign is a remarkable turn for any former president, much less one who made history as the first to be impeached twice and whose term ended with his supporters violently storming the Capitol in a deadly bid to halt the peaceful transition of power on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump also enters the race in a moment of deep political vulnerability. He hoped to launch his campaign in the wake of resounding GOP midterm victories, fueled by candidates he elevated during this year’s primaries. Instead, many of those candidates lost, allowing Democrats to keep the Senate and leaving the GOP with a path to only a bare majority in the House.

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Florida’s Scott takes on McConnell in bid for Senate leader

WASHINGTON (AP) — Florida Sen. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he will mount a long-shot bid to unseat Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, opening the latest front in an intraparty battle between allies of McConnell and former President Donald Trump over the direction of the GOP following a disappointing showing in last week’s midterm elections.

The announcement by Scott, who was urged to challenge McConnell by Trump, came hours before the former president was expected to launch a comeback bid for the White House. It escalated a long-simmering feud between Scott, who led the Senate Republican’s campaign arm this year, and McConnell over the party’s approach to reclaiming a Senate majority.

“If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don’t vote for me,” Scott said in a letter to Senate Republicans offering himself as a protest vote against McConnell in leadership elections on Wednesday.

Restive conservatives in the chamber have lashed out at McConnell’s handling of the election, as well as his iron grip over the Senate Republican caucus. The leadership vote was scheduled for Wednesday morning, though it could be postponed if Texas Sen. Ted Cruz succeeds with his effort to delay it until after a Georgia runoff election in December.

A delay could give leverage to Trump-aligned conservatives who are hoping their clout will grow after the outcome of races in Georgia, where former NFL star Herschel Walker is challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, and Alaska, where moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski faces a conservative challenger.

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Same-sex marriage faces Senate test with GOP votes uncertain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Staring down the prospect of divided government in the next Congress, Senate Democrats are moving forward with legislation this week to protect same sex and interracial marriages. It’s a vote that’s “as personal as it gets,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Schumer is holding a test vote on the bill Wednesday, betting that at least 10 Republicans will vote with all 50 Democrats to move forward with the legislation to ensure that same-sex and interracial marriages are legally recognized nationwide. The bill has gained steady momentum since the Supreme Court’s June decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and the federal right to an abortion. An opinion at that time from Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that an earlier high court decision protecting same-sex marriage could also come under threat.

If the Senate votes to move forward with the legislation, a final vote could come as soon as this week, or by the end of the month, while Democrats still control the House. Republicans are on the verge of winning the House majority and would be unlikely to take up the issue next year.

“I firmly believe that passing bipartisan marriage protections would be one of the more significant accomplishments in what’s already been a significantly productive Congress,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “It will do so much good for so many people who want nothing more than to live their lives without the fear of discrimination.”

Congress has been moving to protect same-sex marriage as support from the general public — and from Republicans in particular — has sharply grown in recent years, as the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized gay marriage nationwide. Recent polling has found more than two-thirds of the public supports same-sex unions.

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Rent stabilization measures win in US midterm election

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Ballot measures in the U.S. to build more affordable housing and protect tenants from soaring rent increases were plentiful and fared well in last week’s midterm elections, a sign of growing angst over record high rents exacerbated by inflation and a dearth of homes.

Voters approved capping rent increases at below inflation in three U.S. cities: Portland, Maine, and Richmond and Santa Monica in California. Another measure was leading in the vote count in Pasadena outside of Los Angeles. In Florida, voters in Orange County, which includes Orlando, overwhelmingly passed a rent stabilization measure but a court ruling means it’s unlikely to go into force.

There were also dozens of proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot raising money for and authorizing construction of affordable housing, said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Many passed.

“Housing is a winning campaign issue. It’s one that voters show up for and it’s one that should cause policymakers at all levels to act,” said Yentel, adding that even a loss can be a win.

“The act of organizing itself builds strength, it builds power, and it builds connections and it builds momentum,” she said.

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As climate change progresses, trees in cities struggle

SEATTLE (AP) — As the driest summer in Seattle’s record books ended, trees across the city were sounding silent alarms.

It was the latest in a string of Seattle summers in the last decade, including a record-breaking heat dome in 2021, to feature drier conditions and hotter temperatures that have left many trees with premature brown leaves and needles, bald branches and excessive seeding –- all signs of stress.

“You see it in big leaf maples and hemlocks, just loaded with cones or seeds, it’s kind of their last-ditch effort to reproduce,” said Shea Cope, an arborist at Washington Park Arboretum, a sprawling 230-acre (93 hectare) park north of downtown.

This summer was fatal for three “significant” trees in the park’s pine collection, including an 85-year-old Japanese red pine infected with fungus left by beetles.

“We’re losing conifers faster than our broad leaf, deciduous ones,” Cope added as he surveyed a towering knobcone pine with half its canopy dead.

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Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank

AL-AROUB REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank (AP) — In two volatile spots in the occupied West Bank, Israel has installed robotic weapons that can fire tear gas, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at Palestinian protesters.

The weapons, perched over a crowded Palestinian refugee camp and in a flashpoint West Bank city, use artificial intelligence to track targets. Israel says the technology saves lives — both Israeli and Palestinian. But critics see another step toward a dystopian reality in which Israel fine-tunes its open-ended occupation of the Palestinians while keeping its soldiers out of harm’s way.

The new weapon comes at a time of heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank, where unrest has risen sharply during what has been the deadliest year since 2006. The victory by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line alliance, which includes an extreme right-wing party with close ties to the settler movement, has raised concerns of more violence.

Twin turrets, each equipped with a watchful lens and a gun barrel, were recently installed atop a guard tower bristling with surveillance cameras overlooking the Al-Aroub refugee camp in the southern West Bank. When young Palestinian protesters pour into the streets hurling stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers, the robotic weapons unleash tear gas or sponge-tipped bullets on them, witnesses say.

About a month ago, the military also placed the robots in the nearby city of Hebron, where soldiers often clash with stone-throwing Palestinian residents. The army declined to comment on its plans to deploy the system elsewhere in the West Bank.

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Qatar’s World Cup denounced for ‘washing’ country’s image

Qatar’s decision to launch itself into hosting the 2022 World Cup was a head-scratcher from the start. Why, some wondered, would a Middle Eastern kingdom with fewer than 3 million people and little soccer tradition want to host the sport’s biggest event?

Skeptics say the country wanted to use the prestige of the World Cup, which starts Sunday, to remake its image as an oil producer with few international connections and a shaky human-rights record.

They viewed the move, which will cost the country some $220 billion, as a classic case of “sportswashing” — using sports as a forum to cast a country or company as different than many people perceive.

It is hardly a new concept, and Middle Eastern oil money has long been a major player. Where many see rich nations spending money to join the global elite, other see nefarious attempts to hide undesired reputations.

“The Qatar World Cup kickstarted discussion about sportswashing and human rights in football and it has been very steep learning curve for us all,” Norway soccer federation president Lise Klaveness said at a recent Council of Europe event.

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Michelle Obama opens tour for new book, ‘The Light We Carry’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama says it helps to focus on what you can control when you feel out of control.

Among the things she could control during the death and isolation of the pandemic, the racial unrest and threats to democracy were her spools of yarn and her knitting needles.

She labels such thinking the “power of small,” and she writes in her new book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times,” that by focusing on a small task like knitting she was able to get through the worry, anxiety and stress of the past few unsettling years.

“The interesting thing about knitting and using your hands and making something is that it is meditative,” the former first lady said Tuesday night at the Warner Theater in Washington, where she kicked off a monthlong, six-city publicity tour to promote the book.

“In so many ways, it is like a faith,” she said, seated on stage with a friend, former daytime talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, who engaged Mrs. Obama in nearly 90 minutes of often humorous conversation. “It’s a thing that shuts your worrying mind and lets your hands take over.”

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