WASHINGTON (AP) — The primary season just ended and the general election campaign now unfolding looks the same to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, tea party favorite, foe of immigration legislation and the only Republican senator running in 2014 without a ballot opponent of any stripe.
"Jeff Sessions is probably held in higher esteem than the Alabama football coach and the Auburn football coach put together," says Rep. Mo Brooks, a tea party-backed congressman from the football-mad state.
Sessions has no shortage of detractors, and his good political fortune is a blend of luck and design. It's also one he declines to analyze in any depth as he waits to see if Republicans win a majority this fall and he becomes head of the Senate Budget Committee and leader of an attack on federal deficits.
If so, he said in a recent interview, he will produce a Republican consensus document that balances the budget at least by the end of its 10-year time frame, rather than his own, possibly more conservative, personal blueprint.
Sessions' lack of opposition this fall in a state with a heavy African-American presence stems from a Democratic party weakness so pervasive that it holds none of the statewide offices, only one seat in the nine-member congressional delegation and a minority in both houses of the legislature.
His free ride in the primary was different, though. It resulted from a courtship of the tea party that allowed him to escape the type of primary challenge that dogged GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, bedeviled Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas and nearly toppled Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi.
"I believe the tea party is right on every major issue," Sessions said in an interview. "I say that. They know I believe that ... Taxing more, regulating more, blocking American energy more, bigger government and more welfare is not going to make America a better nation."
Since he ran six autumns ago, Sessions has voted against the federal bailout that President George W. Bush said was needed to prevent an economic collapse, as well as President Barack Obama's economic stimulus and health care law. He opposed numerous increases in the debt limit and a major bill to re-regulate Wall Street after the worst crash in decades. He also aided Sen. Ted Cruz' 2013 overnight filibuster aimed at dramatizing opposition to continued federal funding of the health care law, one of the political highlights of a tea party-backed partial government shutdown.
Sessions says his voting record is designed to represent those in his low-income state who feel ignored by government, rather than to protect big economic entities. Alabama had the ninth-lowest median family income among states in the most recent Census Bureau report on the subject, $43,464 for 2012.
Others take a different view.
Nancy Worley, head of the state Democratic party, said Sessions is "anti-working person, anti-public education, anti-health care reform and anti-most issues that would help just ordinary citizens in the working class."
Benard Simelton, head of the state NAACP, said the three-term senator opposes anything that is "progressive in nature." He recalled seeking a meeting during a 2006 trip to Washington. The senator "was not available," he said, and he hasn't sought to see him since.
Democrats say privately that Sessions is moving slowly in proposing judges for two vacancies in the state, openings that Obama could fill.
Tea party groups are not among his detractors.
"There's only one Jeff Sessions, but we wish we had five more of him in the U.S. Senate," the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund gushed in a campaign announcement. "In fact, this may be the easiest endorsement we ever made," later added the organization that opposed Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, McConnell, Cochran and Roberts.
In an interview, Jenny Beth Martin, head of the group, credited Sessions with taking the time to personally explain why he differed with her on one issue.
Becky Gerritson, head of the Wetumpka, Alabama, Tea Party, said Sessions has been in touch personally more than once to check on the FBI's progress in investigating allegations she made before Congress about the IRS' targeting of her group.
On immigration, Gerritson said Sessions tries "hard to protect American workers and he understands that expanding the labor pool with lower paid" workers won't do that.
The immigration legislation was on the Senate floor for weeks in 2013, when it wasn't clear if Sessions would face campaign opposition.
As the bill's opponent-in-chief, he said it would provide amnesty for millions.
Equally prominent was his warning of harm to low-wage American workers who have suffered much in a weak economy.
The bill's supporters hailed the news when the Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would boost the economy and reduce deficits.
Sessions saw it differently.
"It's going to raise unemployment and push down wages," he said. "The impact will be harshest for today's low-income Americans."
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge ruled Monday that a Tampa, Florida, woman can pursue her lawsuit alleging that the government invaded her privacy in the scandal over former CIA director David Petraeus.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Jill Kelley can press her claim that the FBI and Defense Department violated her privacy when officials allegedly leaked information about her to the news media.
The ruling does not deal with the merits of the case, but as the lawsuit proceeds, it could reveal more about the role various government agencies played as the scandal unfolded two years ago.
In 2012, Kelley complained to the FBI when an unknown person sent her harassing emails. Her complaint triggered a criminal investigation that led agents to Paula Broadwell, who was Petraeus's biographer and with whom he had been having an affair.
Amid the sensational disclosure about the CIA director, Kelley's name and some of the harassing emails were leaked to the news media. The leaks also linked Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as being under investigation for allegedly inappropriate communications with Kelley.
According to court filings by Kelley's lawyers, the government falsely told one news outlet the emails between Allen and Kelley were the equivalent of phone sex. The lawyers argued that given the prurient nature of the investigation and the "other woman" narrative propounded by the leakers, it was likely that Kelley's treatment was motivated by sexual discrimination. The Pentagon's inspector general exonerated Allen, who subsequently retired.
Jackson on Monday threw out more than a dozen allegations in the lawsuit filed by Kelley and her husband, Scott, but allowed a single claim to move forward — a charge that the FBI and Defense Department violated the Privacy Act. The act is a post-Watergate law designed to protect people from unwarranted invasions of privacy by federal agencies that maintain sensitive information about them.
Among the claims tossed out were allegations against individual officials including then-defense secretary Leon Panetta, former deputy FBI director Sean Joyce and two FBI agents.
The Justice Department says Kelley failed to present any facts suggesting the FBI and the Pentagon flagrantly disregarded her privacy rights.
PARIS (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he won't shut the door on the possibility of working with Iran against a common enemy in the Islamic State militant group, but the two nations won't coordinate on military action.
Kerry also ruled out coordinating with the Syrian government, although he vaguely described ways to communicate to avoid mistakes should the U.S. and its allies begin bombing the Sunni extremist group's safe haven there.
He spoke to a small group of reporters Monday after international diplomats met in Paris, pledging to fight the Islamic State group "by any means necessary."
Neither Iran nor Syria, which together share most of Iraq's borders, were invited to the international conference, which opened as a pair of French reconnaissance jets took off over Iraqi skies.
During the meeting, Iraq asked allies to thwart the extremists wherever they find sanctuary.
"We are asking for airborne operations to be continued regularly against terrorist sites. We must not allow them to set up sanctuaries. We must pursue them wherever they are. We must cut off their financing. We must bring them to justice and we must stop the fighters in neighboring countries from joining them," Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said.
With memories of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq still raw, the U.S. has so far been alone in carrying out airstrikes and no country has offered ground troops, but Iraq on Monday won a declaration by the conference's 24 participant nations to help fight the militants "by any means necessary, including military assistance." An American official said Sunday several Arab countries had offered to conduct airstrikes, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.
A French diplomat, speaking only on condition of anonymity after the conference because of protocol, said Paris was awaiting a "formal request" from Baghdad about possible French airstrikes.
"The threat is global and the response must be global," French President Francois Hollande said, opening the diplomatic conference intended to come up with an international strategy against the group. "There is no time to lose."
The killing of David Haines, a British aid worker held hostage by the militants, added urgency to the calls for a coherent strategy against the brutal and well-organized Sunni group, which is a magnet for Muslim extremists from all over the world. The group rakes in more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts.
Massoum called for a coordinated military and humanitarian approach, as well as regular strikes against territory in the hands of the extremists and the elimination of their funding. Details of the military options have not been made public.
After the conference ended, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met privately with Massoum at the Iraqi Embassy in Paris, telling him that the drive for an inclusive Iraq government had been key to Monday's pledges.
"So I hope you feel that the push and the risk was worth it," Kerry said.
"We are beginning to feel it," Massoum said through a translator.
Fighters with the Islamic State group, including many Iraqis, swept in from Syria and overwhelmed the Iraqi military in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, capitalizing on long-standing grievances against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
When the militants arrived in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, the U.S.-trained military crumbled and the militants seized tanks, missile launchers and ammunition, steamrolling across northern Iraq. The CIA estimates the Sunni militant group has access to between 20,000 and 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria.
Muslim-majority countries are considered vital to any operation to prevent the militants from gaining more territory in Iraq and Syria. Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and U.S. officials opposed France's attempt to invite Iran, a Shiite nation, to the conference in Paris.
Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking on Iranian state television, said his government privately refused American requests for cooperation against the Islamic State group, warning that another U.S. incursion would result "in the same problems they faced in Iraq in the past 10 years."
But Kerry said the U.S. and Iran have discussed whether there was any way they could work together against IS.
"I'm just going to hold open the possibility always of having a discussion that has the possibility of being constructive," Kerry said.
A French intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, last week told The Associated Press that "it would please a certain number of countries for Iran to step in to establish order" in Syria. He said that was the view of some Western powers.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Monday that Syria and Iran are "natural allies" in the fight against the extremists, and therefore must be engaged, according to Russian news agencies.
"The extremists are trying to use any disagreements in our positions to tear apart the united front of states acting against them," he said.
Iraq's president, who has said he regretted Iran's absence, appeared ambivalent about Arab participation, saying his country needed the support of its neighbors — but not necessarily their fighter jets or soldiers.
Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have some of the region's best-equipped militaries, and they could theoretically provide air support to a broader international coalition. U.S. officials say the Emirates and Egypt were behind airstrikes against Islamic-backed militants in Libya last month.
Asked about those countries in an AP interview Sunday, Massoum said: "It is not necessary that they participate in air strikes; what is important is that they participate in the decisions of this conference."
Speaking in his first interview since becoming Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi told state-run al-Iraqiyya in comments aired Sunday that he had given his approval to France to use Iraqi airspace and said all such authorizations would have to come from Baghdad.
Two French fighter planes carried out France's first reconnaissance missions over Iraq on Monday, allowing for the collection of digital images and video at high-speeds, the French Defense Ministry said in a statement. It said similar missions could continue in the coming days.
"This was about French military forces acquiring intelligence about the terrorist group Daesh (Islamic State) and to reinforce our ability to carry out an independent analysis of the situation," the statement said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country would continue offering logistical help to U.S. forces and that counterterrorism efforts will increase, describing the Islamic State group as a "massive" security threat. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the threat goes beyond just the recent killings.
"This group poses even more of a danger as it risks exporting terrorists to our countries," he said in his outgoing speech as NATO's top civilian official. "It also controls energy assets. And it is pouring oil on the fire of sectarianism already burning across the Middle East and North Africa."
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten, Sylvie Corbet and Angela Charlton in Paris, Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, and John Thor-Dahlberg in Brussels contributed to this report.
NEW YORK (AP) — After the videotape clicks on, the 53-year-old calmly tells investigators how he choked 6-year-old Etan Patz in the basement of a Manhattan convenience store on May 25, 1979. He describes putting the boy, who was still alive, into a plastic bag, then putting the bag inside a box and dumping it nearby.
"I was nervous; my legs were jumping," Pedro Hernandez said. "I wanted to let go, but I just couldn't let go. I felt like something just took over me. I don't know what to say. Something just took over me, and I was just choking him."
The tape was played at a hearing Monday to determine whether or not the confession can be used as evidence at Hernandez' murder trial — not whether the statements are true. It was the first time the public could hear Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty, talk in his own words about the notorious case that plagued police for decades.
Judge Maxwell Wiley must decide whether Hernandez was properly advised of his rights and is mentally capable of understanding them.
Etan became one of the first missing children to be pictured on a milk carton, and the day he disappeared, May 25, became National Missing Children's Day. His body has never been found.
His parents were in court Monday, the first time they have appeared publicly since Hernandez was arrested two years ago. The father, Stan, watched stoically while the boy's mother, Julie, left before the tape began.
On the video, Hernandez is dressed in a brown jacket, white T-shirt and jeans, and sits at an empty desk save for a can of Pepsi. He talks about his family and his medical history — he is HIV-positive, suffers back problems and is bipolar.
He explains how he killed the child but doesn't remember what the boy was wearing, that Etan had a cap on when he vanished, or that the weather was bad that day. He says he tossed the boy's book bag behind a freezer; no bag was ever found. He doesn't remember the boy saying anything, and nothing in particular caught his attention that made him choose the boy, he says.
"I just approached to him or I asked him, you want a soda? I said come with me," he said. "He didn't say nothing to me. He didn't kick. He wasn't angry. He just kind of stood there, and I just felt bad what I did."
Hernandez's lawyer, Harvey Fishbein, argued his client falsely confessed and lacks the mental ability to understand his rights. He described Hernandez' demeanor on camera as exhausted from hours of questioning; Hernandez had been in custody nearly eight hours when the taping began.
"When those eight hours were finished, he was convinced he had something to do with the disappearance of Etan Patz," Fishbein said.
In 2012, police got a lead that brought them to Hernandez, a high school dropout who had worked at a corner store near where Etan disappeared.
Hernandez, most recently a resident of Maple Shade, New Jersey, also told police that he confessed before: to his ex-wife, to a friend, and in front of about 15 people during a prayer circle at a church group. No one ever went to authorities.
"We were all holding hands and praying," he said of the church meeting. "And everybody was confessing, so I confessed. I told them I killed a child."
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Shelling killed six people and wounded 15 others in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, the city council said Monday — the worst reported violence since a cease-fire between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian troops took effect on Sept. 5.
Nonetheless, the cease-fire deal has brought some normalcy to parts of eastern Ukraine and allowed prisoners on both sides to go home.
Another 73 Ukrainian soldiers were freed Sunday night in an exchange with the rebels, Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said Monday. Donetsk rebel leader Andrei Purgin was quoted by Interfax news agency as confirming that 73 rebels had been released in return. It was the largest reported prisoner exchange amid the fighting that began in mid-April.
Fighting around Donetsk's government-held airport has left many northern neighborhoods in the crossfire. Over the weekend, Ukraine said its troops repelled an attack of 200 rebel fighters, but suffered no military casualties.
Two northern neighborhoods in Donetsk were shelled heavily Sunday, leading to the casualties and damaging both homes and offices, the city council said.
While the neighborhoods hit by shelling are under the control of the rebels, the Ukrainian government blamed the militants for the civilian casualties.
"Neither today nor yesterday nor in the previous days did Ukrainian forces shell any residential areas and settlements," Lysenko said in Kiev on Monday.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who are overseeing the implementation of the cease-fire, said Sunday they were 200 meters (650 feet) away as four shells burst in Donetsk. The team saw one woman lying on the ground.
The first civilian casualties in Donetsk underscore how fragile the peace may be. Both sides have made it clear that they are rearming in case the fighting starts anew.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey told Channel Five that the delivery of weapons from NATO countries, agreed upon earlier this month, was "underway." Those comments were also made by another senior official but later denied by four of the five NATO countries he had mentioned.
On Monday, Poland's Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said while Poland is not currently selling arms to Ukraine, an arms deal will be the theme of talks when Heletey visits Warsaw this month. He offered no date for the visit.
The fighting in eastern Ukraine began a month after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March. It has claimed at least 3,000 civilian lives and forced hundreds of thousands to flee, according to the U.N.
Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, also contributed.