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Biden briefs Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior House Democrat says Vice President Joe Biden told lawmakers that he entered the Iran negotiating process "as one of the chief skeptics," but now believes the deal is worth supporting.

Steve Israel of New York says lawmakers questioned Biden today about terms of the agreement, including enforcement and the chance for sanctions to snap back if Iran violates the agreement.

He also says Biden told Democrats that there's nothing in the agreement that takes the military option off the table.

Emerging from the session that lasted more than an hour, Biden was asked if he changed any minds among skeptical Democrats. He told reporters, "I think we're going to be alright."

President Barack Obama will hold a news conference this afternoon on the historic nuclear agreement with Iran.

Yesterday, Obama spent much of the day phoning leaders in Europe and the Middle East.


Israeli says US didn't try to 'hoodwink' Israel

WASHINGTON (AP) — Israel's ambassador to the United States says he doesn't believe President Barack Obama "tried to hoodwink Israel" with the nuclear deal. He said the U.S. and Israel simply have "an honest policy difference."

Ron Dermer tells CNN says the agreement's 24-day advance notice for inspections by the U.N. nuclear agency gives Iran far too much time to conceal its activities.

Dermer says the deal is that the agreement "does not block Iran's path to the bomb" but "paves it." He says that will endanger Israel.


More Republican criticism of Iran deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — There's more criticism today of the Iran nuclear deal from Republicans in Congress, and candidates for the GOP presidential nomination.

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, tells CNN that the agreement reached in Vienna is worse than he feared because it will keep Iran's nuclear program in place.

Cotton calls the pact "a massive gamble on the hope that Iran will change in the next eight to 10 years." The Iraq war veteran says the U.S. will have to "restore the credible threat of military force" if necessary and re-impose sanctions.

Donald Trump says the Iran nuclear deal is "a disgrace." The Republican presidential candidate tells MSNBC the U.S. "should have doubled up the sanctions" on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.

And another GOP candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham called the Iran nuclear agreement "a terrible idea." He told NBC's "Today" show that it's a fantasy to believe that when the Iranians chant "Death to Israel," they are "just kidding." He said the U.S. is "taking the largest state sponsor of terrorism" and giving them more weapons.


NEW: GOP candidate Walker finds support for scrapping Iran deal

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Presidential candidate Scott Walker is finding support among South Carolina Republicans for his pledge to scrap the nuclear deal that the Obama administration has negotiated with Iran.

The Wisconsin governor is promising "crippling economic sanctions" instead, but he's not explaining how those penalties would differ from what's been imposed for years.

Walker visited a Charleston-area Harley-Davidson dealership during a full day in the state, which hosts the South's first 2016 presidential primary.

Walker praised South Carolina residents for their unity in the weeks since a white gunman killed nine people at a black church.

He's the first high-profile presidential candidate to come to South Carolina since the Confederate flag was removed from the state Capitol grounds last week. Walker didn't mention the banner.


More than half of ruling party committee denounces bailout deal

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — More than half of the central committee of Greece's governing left-wing party has signed a statement slamming the agreement Greece reached with its European creditors earlier this week.

The statement describes the deal as a coup against their nation by European leaders.

It says the agreement was "the result of threats of immediate financial strangulation" and is a new bailout with "humiliating terms of supervision, destructive for our country and its people."

Greece's parliament is expected to vote later today on the austerity bill required to get a new bailout package.


Yellen: First Fed rate hike likely later this year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen sees a number of encouraging signs that the economy is reviving after a brutal winter and says if the improvements continue, the Fed will likely start raising interest rates later this year.

Delivering the Fed's mid-year economic outlook to Congress, Yellen says the importance of the first rate hike should not be over-emphasized because interest rates are likely to remain at very low levels "for quite some time after the first increase."

The Fed's benchmark rate has been at a record low near zero since December 2008, meaning that borrowing rates for consumers and businesses have been at historic lows.

Many economists believe the Fed's first rate hike will occur in September. But they see at most only two quarter-point moves this year.


US wholesale prices rise 0.4 percent in June

WASHINGTON (AP) — Prices for the producers of goods and services rose modestly in June, a sign that broader inflation is being kept in check. But an outbreak of avian influenza caused the cost of eggs to nearly double, as prices soared at the fastest pace ever recorded.

The Labor Department says its producer price index increased 0.4 percent in June. Inflation remains tame as producer prices have fallen 0.7 percent over the past 12 months due to lower oil and gasoline costs. Gas prices rose 4.3 percent last month but are down 30.3 percent from a year ago.

Chicken egg prices jumped 84.5 percent last month, the largest increase recorded since the government began tracking producer costs in 1937.

Core prices, which exclude energy and food, rose 0.3 percent in June.


US factory output flat for 2nd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factory production was unchanged for a second straight month in June as a sharp drop in auto manufacturing was offset by greater output of furniture and chemicals.

The cutback in auto production comes after three months of healthy gains and is likely temporary. Still, manufacturers are struggling to overcome several challenges, including the strong dollar, weak overseas growth, and cheaper oil.

Sales at retail stores also fell in June, suggesting consumers are still cautious about spending, limiting demand for factory goods.

The Federal Reserve says that overall industrial production — which includes mining output and utilities, as well as manufacturing — rose 0.3 percent, the best showing since November. Mining, which includes oil and gas wells, rose 1 percent, while utility output jumped 1.5 percent.


Obama to announce high-speed Internet help for homes

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama set a goal of bringing high-speed Internet to most schools by 2017.

And on Wednesday, he's going to Oklahoma to announce a new program — called ConnectHome — to help close the digital divide by bringing faster Internet to more people.

Under the pilot program, the White House says communities, the private sector and the federal government will collaborate to make high-speed Internet available to more families.

The program is getting underway in 27 cities and one tribal nation — the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The White House says the initiative will help more than 275,000 low-income households, including nearly 200,000 children, get on the Internet at home.


Donald Trump: 'A vote that I will win is the Hispanic vote'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he's confident he could win substantial Hispanic votes if he's the party's nominee.

Brushing aside the controversy over labeling Mexican immigrants as "rapists" and "criminals," Trump argues "the Hispanics love me."

He tells MSNBC: "I employ thousands of Hispanics."

Trump also says he's not worried about any lack of support in the Latino community and argues he hasn't been hurt politically by his calls for clamping down on illegal immigration.

Trump has refused to soften his stand on immigration, even after a plea by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (ryns PREE'-bus) that he tone down his remarks.

The GOP fared poorly with the Hispanic community in the 2012 presidential election.


Military exercise sparks fears among Texas archconservatives

BASTROP, Texas (AP) — A summer military training exercise that has aroused alarm among archconservatives who believe it could be a precursor to martial law and firearms confiscations is set to begin in Central Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott acknowledged that panic when he directed the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15 starting Wednesday near the town of Bastrop, 30 miles southeast of Austin.

Texas is one of two "hostile" territories for the purpose of the exercise.

The State Guard will brief Abbott's office every day on the exercises. Civilian volunteers say they plan to shadow military movements statewide.

Jade Helm 15 will cover seven Southwestern states and wraps up in September.


NEW: Watchdog: Budget cuts lead to poor taxpayer service at IRS

WASHINGTON (AP) — An IRS watchdog says the tax agency provided poor customer service during this year's tax filing season as taxpayers struggled with identity theft and President Barack Obama's health law.

A report issued Wednesday by the National Taxpayer Advocate says the IRS has been hampered by budget cuts. Congress has cut the agency's budget by $1.2 billion since 2010.

The report says the IRS blocked nearly 1.6 million suspicious tax refunds this year because of concerns about identity theft. About a third turned out to be legitimate, but for long stretches during tax season, fewer than 10 percent of callers could get through to an IRS help line.

Also, the report said 6.6 million taxpayers had to pay a fine because they didn't have health insurance. The fines averaged $190.


UPDATE: 2 inmates still at large after Mississippi jail break

RAYMOND, Miss. (AP) — Official say two of four prisoners who escaped from a Mississippi jail before a late-night bed check with help from inside and outside the facility remain at large.

The Hinds County Sheriff's Office says the remaining inmates are 25-year-old Montreal Damon Anderson and 23-year-old John Rollins. Rollins is charged with auto theft and false pretense. Anderson is charged with recovered stolen property and is jailed on a felony hold.

Nineteen-year-old Jermaine Wilson was arrested in Jackson Tuesday, and authorities captured 18-year old Kevin Holmes near a South Jackson park later that day. Wilson is charged with capital murder in the 2012 death of a Jackson woman. Holmes faces three counts of armed robbery.

Sheriff Tyrone Lewis says details of how the inmates escape are being investigated.


Iraq declares Thursday an official holiday due to heat wave

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's government has announced that tomorrow will be an official holiday due to a scorching heatwave.

In a brief statement Wednesday, the Iraqi Cabinet said temperatures already have exceeded 122 degrees Fahrenheit in some provinces.

Meteorological officials warned of a heat wave in central and southern Iraq starting Wednesday through Friday. The heat wave comes as Muslims are practicing dawn-to-dusk fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Such heatwaves in Iraq add to the population's hardships as the country suffers from a lack of electricity. To cope with high temperatures, Iraqis either stay indoors or swim in rivers. In some public places, showers are set up for those who want to cool down.


UPDATE: Blast at aerospace plant leads to major damage, 5 injuries

NEWPORT, Wash. (AP) — Authorities say a "very significant" explosion rocked an aerospace plant in northeast Washington, toppling large pieces of machinery, lifting an entire floor off its foundation and seriously injuring five people.

Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief of the Spokane Fire Department who responded to the scene, said early Wednesday that the sheer power of the blast and the shrapnel it created caused the majority of the damage and there was little to no fire Tuesday night at Zodiac Aerospace in Newport, a city near the Idaho border.

He says 30 people were in the building but most escaped. He says two people were critically injured and three seriously injured.

Schaeffer says the blast stemmed from vapors released during chemical manufacturing, but there is no more danger to surrounding areas.


UPDATE: Fire leads to evacuation of historic USS Midway in San Diego

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Authorities say crews have doused a small, smoky fire aboard the USS Midway Museum that forced the evacuation of the historic aircraft carrier in San Diego.

City Fire-Rescue spokesman Lee Swanson says the blaze was reported around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday two levels below the flight deck.

Swanson says the fire was likely related to welding done by a construction crew working on the ship overnight, although investigators haven't confirmed that.

He didn't know how many people were aboard when the blaze broke out, but no injuries have been reported.

Swanson didn't immediately know the extent of the damage or if the museum would be open Wednesday.

The museum opened in 2004 and hosts as many as a million visitors a year. It has about 200 employees and 650 volunteers.