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National

    The students who swarmed Florida's state capitol in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre want the Legislature to enact stricter limits on guns. What that might entail remains debatable — if any changes are forthcoming at all. The 100 Stoneman Douglas survivors who traveled 400 miles to Tallahassee were welcomed into the gun-friendly halls of power Wednesday, but the students' top goal — a ban on assault-style rifles such as the weapon used in the massacre — was taken off the table a day earlier, although more limited measures are still possible. Republican legislative leaders say they will consider legislation that will likely call for raising the age limit to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 and increasing funding for mental health programs and school-resource officers, the police assigned to specific schools. Lawmakers are also considering a program promoted by one Florida sheriff that calls for deputizing someone to carry a weapon on campus. Legislators may also enact a waiting period for rifle purchases. The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, has been jailed on 17 counts of murder and has admitted the Feb. 14 attack. Defense attorneys, state records and people who knew him indicate that he displayed behavioral troubles for years, including getting kicked out of the Parkland school. He owned a collection of weapons. 'How is it possible that this boy that we all knew was clearly disturbed was able to get an assault rifle, military grade, and come to our school and try to kill us?' one 16-year-old student asked the president of the state Senate, Joe Negron. Negron did not answer directly. 'That's an issue that we're reviewing,' he said. Outside the capitol building Wednesday, many protesters complained that lawmakers were not serious about reform, and they said they would oppose in future elections any legislator who accepts campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. 'We've spoke to only a few legislators and ... the most we've gotten out of them is, 'We'll keep you in our thoughts. You are so strong. You are so powerful,'' said Delaney Tarr, a senior at the high school. 'We know what we want. We want gun reform. We want commonsense gun laws. ... We want change.' She added: 'We've had enough of thoughts and prayers. If you supported us, you would have made a change long ago. So this is to every lawmaker out there: No longer can you take money from the NRA. We are coming after you. We are coming after every single one of you, demanding that you take action.' The crowd burst into chants of 'Vote them out!' as speakers called for the removal of Republican lawmakers who refuse to address gun control issues. One sign read, 'Remember the men who value the NRA over children's lives' and then listed Republicans in Florida's congressional delegation. Other signs said, 'Kill the NRA, not our kids' and 'These kids are braver than the GOP.' About 30 people left an anti-gun rally outside Florida's Old Capitol and began a sit-in protest at the office of four House Republican leaders, demanding a conversation about gun legislation. 'They're not speaking to us right now. We only asked for five minutes and so we're just sitting until they speak,' said Tyrah Williams, a 15-year-old sophomore at Leon High School, which is within walking distance of the Capitol. In Washington, students and parents delivered emotional appeals to President Donald Trump to act on school safety and guns. The president promised to be 'very strong on background checks,' adding that 'we're going to do plenty of other things.' And at a news conference Wednesday, Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel ordered all deputies who qualify to begin carrying rifles on school grounds. The rifles will be locked in patrol cars when not in use until the agency secures gun lockers and lockers, he said. 'We need to be able to defeat any threat that comes into campus,' Israel said. The sheriff said the school superintendent fully supported his decision. Stoneman Douglas' school resource officer was carrying a handgun when the shooting happened last week, but did not discharge his firearm. It's unclear what role he played in the shooting. The sheriff said those details are still being investigated. Also Wednesday outside Stoneman Douglas, as the clock neared the time marking an exact week since Cruz opened fire, about 2,000 teens, teachers and supporters joined hands, reached to the sky and chanted, 'Never again. Never Again.' The rally was aimed at showing students they will have the community's support when they return to class next week for the first time since the attack. Many at the rally carried signs demanding stronger gun laws and wore the school's burgundy and silver colors. Kailey Brown, a 15-year-old freshman who was in the building where the shooting happened, said the rally showed 'that we are a community, we are together.' She said she would not be scared when school reopens next week. 'I am going to come back strong with my friends and show that we love each other so much and we are going to get through this,' she said. Larry Dorce, a 17-year-old junior at nearby J.P. Taravella High, carried a picket sign reading, 'Would the gun be worth it if it were your own child?' 'They may be our rivals, our so-called rivals, but they are our sister school and we felt their pain,' he said. 'The day after the shooting, you could feel the fear in the air (at Taravella) and I never want anyone to feel that again.' ___ Spencer reported from Parkland, Florida. Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro in Miami, Joe Reedy in Tallahassee and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.
  • Holding hand-scrawled signs and wearing black 'Parkland Strong' T-shirts, the 40 teenagers filed warily into a committee room at Florida's state Capitol on Wednesday. They hadn't been invited and the lawmakers they were intruding upon were in the middle of a meeting. Timid yet determined, they stood their ground. And they got what they wanted: a chance to speak. It was perhaps the first act of civil disobedience ever by the high school students whose lives were turned around just one week before by a shooting that left 17 of their friends and teachers dead. The teens politely stood up and told their stories to the politicians, some of whom a day earlier had voted against a ban on assault weapons. 'I had to run for my life,' said Erika Rosenzweig, a slight, dark-haired 15-year-old sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. 'I had to listen as the dead were reported. ... I didn't know where my friends were. This cannot happen again.' When organizers first announced that they would bus students to the state's capital to lobby for stricter gun laws, there was only room for about 100, and the bus quickly filled up. So Rosenzweig and about 44 others made the roughly seven-hour drive to Tallahassee with the support of their Parkland synagogue. Kol Tikvah lost three of its congregants in the shooting. By the end of the day Wednesday, the teens would meld in with their other classmates who organized the 'Never Again' protests. But when they first arrived, they were on their own. Eyes still weighed by sleep after the long trip, the students walked down the long corridors of the capital building. Staffers quickly moved out of their way to let them pass, many thanking them or cheering them on. They stopped in at the office of state Rep. Robert 'Bobby O' Olszewski, an Orlando-area Republican who had voted against a debate on an assault-weapons ban the day earlier, helping to kill the bill. They surrounded his desk. Grant Cooper, a 10th-grader from South Broward High who accompanied the Stoneman Douglas students, was fidgety and ready to pounce. 'What logical reason is there for anyone to have an assault rifle? Why would you vote a ban down?' Cooper asked. Authorities say the Stoneman Douglas shooter used an AR-15. Olszewski shifted in his desk chair, his aide nervously looking on from the doorway. He told Cooper it was complicated, that people have a Second Amendment right to bear arms and that he wasn't against a ban for people of certain ages. He said he was new to Tallahassee, had taken no money from the National Rifle Association and would work on some kind of change, but couldn't offer specifics. The students were not impressed. 'Can you tell us names of other Republicans who we should meet with who will support us?' Cooper asked. 'I won't name names,' Olszewski replied. 'But anyone you visit on this floor I can tell you, you'll be batting a thousand.' The group walked out, eyes rolling. 'It's disheartening,' Cooper said afterward. 'But honestly, I didn't expect much better.' The students stopped in the labyrinthine hallway to consult a schedule and map of the building, then crammed into the office of state Rep. Barrington Russell, a Democrat who supports gun control. Aria Siccone, a 14-year-old freshman at Stoneman Douglas, held a sign that said 'Ban Assault Rifles Now.' Her nails were painted black, and she wore a small heart pendant around her neck. She was in a classroom targeted by the shooter, identified as 19-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz. 'I saw three of my classmates from that period on the floor and they didn't make it,' the girl said, barely making it through her story. The lawmaker, a Jamaican native who said he'd been held at gunpoint more than once in his life, rose from his chair and put his arm around Siccone. 'For some reason the NRA has a very strong hold on some of my colleagues that prevents them from doing the right thing,' he said. After the meetings with Russell and Olszewski, the group headed for the committee meeting. Later in the day, they would lie down and pose as corpses in a silent protest outside Gov. Rick Scott's Capitol office. And staffers wouldn't disturb them. Ira Jaffe, a parent whose son couldn't make it to Tallahassee because he was attending two of his classmates' funerals, held the door as the students filed into a room. 'What are we doing now?' one asked. 'We're interrupting a committee meeting,' Jaffe said matter-of-factly. 'That's awesome,' the teen replied. Rabbi Bradd Boxman, who had chaperoned the teens, was boiling with anger and sadness when he interrupted the meeting to announce the students' presence. Rep. Shawn Harrison, the committee's vice chair, told the students they could speak briefly. 'We will never doubt your impact on this debate,' Harrison said. 'We know your hearts are in the right place.' Rosenzweig told of her terror, and Cooper repeated his earlier question about the assault-weapons ban. Moments later, the students, brimming with confidence, gathered outside the Capitol, raised their signs, and marched straight ahead, yelling, 'We are MSD! We will make history!' And then they disappeared into the crowd, joining with other protesters and the thousands who had gathered to support them. ___ Follow Jason Dearen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen
  • A request by Republican leaders in the Pennsylvania Legislature to stop a new congressional map from being implemented is now in the hands of the nation's highest court. The filing made late Wednesday asked Justice Samuel Alito to intervene, saying the state Supreme Court overstepped its authority in imposing a new map. More litigation may follow, as Republicans are considering a separate legal challenge in federal court in Harrisburg this week. The state Supreme Court last month threw out a Republican-crafted map that was considered among the nation's most gerrymandered, saying the 2011 plan violated the state constitution's guarantee of free and equal elections. The new map the state justices announced Monday is widely viewed as giving Democrats an edge as they seek to recapture enough U.S. House seats to reclaim the majority. House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said the state's highest court made an unprecedented decision. 'The Pennsylvania Supreme Court conspicuously seized the redistricting process and prevented any meaningful ability for the Legislature to enact a remedial map to ensure a court drawn map,' they wrote in a filing made electronically after business hours. The challenge adds uncertainty as candidates are preparing to circulate nominating petitions to get their names on the May primary ballot. A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, responding to the lawmakers' filing, said Wolf was 'focused on making sure the Department of State is fully complying with the court's order by updating their systems and assisting candidates, county election officials and voters preparing for the primary election.' It is the third time in four months that Turzai and Scarnati have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put a halt to litigation over the 2011 map they took leading roles in creating. In November, Alito turned down a request for a stay of a federal lawsuit, a case that Turzai and Scarnati won in January. On Feb. 5, Alito rejected a request from Turzai and Scarnati to halt a Jan. 22 order from the state Supreme Court that gave the Republican leaders two weeks to propose a map that would be supported by Wolf and until last week to suggest a new map to the court. Turzai and Scarnati argued that the state's high court gave them scant time to propose their own map after throwing out the 2011 version, ensuring 'that its desired plan to draft the new map would be successful.' As evidence of a 'preordained plan,' they cited comments critical of gerrymandering made by Justice David Wecht during his 2015 campaign for the court. 'The court's process was entirely closed,' they told Alito. 'It did not allow the parties the opportunity to provide any comment to the proposed map, inquire on why certain subdivisions were split and whether it was to meet population equality, or further evaluate whether partisan intent played any role in the drafting.' As a sign of the litigation's potential impact on national politics, President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged Republicans to press their challenge of the map to the U.S. Supreme Court. 'Your Original was correct! Don't let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!' Trump tweeted. The five Democrats on the state Supreme Court sided with Democratic voters who challenged the map, although one of the Democratic justices, Max Baer, has pointedly opposed the compressed timetable. Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor's office after the 2010 census crafted the now-invalidated map to help elect Republicans. They succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections even though Pennsylvania's registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans. An analysis conducted through PlanScore.org concluded the court's redrawn map eliminates 'much of the partisan skew' favoring Republicans on the old GOP-drawn map, but not all of it. Congressional candidates have from Feb. 27 to March 20 to collect and submit enough signatures to get on the ballot, and the new maps have candidates and would-be candidates scrambling to decide whether to jump in. Five incumbents are not seeking another term and a sixth has resigned, an unusually large number of openings.
  • During CNN’s Wednesday night town hall with Florida lawmakers, survivors of last week’s high school shooting and members of the NRA, Sen. Marco Rubio attempted to explain why a ban on assault rifles wouldn’t have prevented the tragedy, and the audience’s reaction was not quite what he was hoping for. >> Read more trending news While explaining what a ban on assault rifles would do, the Republican senator from Florida said to ensure no one would “get around it.” “You would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that’s sold in America.” A surprised Rubio, who appeared to have been hoping to convince the audience against such an idea, was met with a solid 10 seconds of applause that overwhelmed the room. “Fair enough, fair enough,” the senator said as the cheers died down. >> Related: Who are the top 10 recipients of NRA money? The moment came just after a grieving father called Rubio’s reaction to the mass shooting “pathetically weak” and asked whether the senator would support banning assault rifles like Nikolas Cruz’s AR-15 in order to save the lives of children. “It’s too easy to get. It is a weapon of war,” the father emotionally said. “The fact that you can’t stand with everybody else in this building and say that, I’m sorry.” A flustered Rubio assured him, “I do believe what you’re saying is true,” before launching into his argument against an assault rifles ban. >> Related: Alleged Florida high school shooter has $800,000 inheritance, reports say CNN’s town hall follows last week’s shooting at Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School where gunman Nikolas Cruz fatally shot 17 people and injured over a dozen more. In the time since, many of the school’s surviving students have been commanding public attention and demanding a conversation about gun reform in the United States.
  • As a young man, he practiced his sermons by preaching to the alligators and birds in the swamp. At his height years later, he was bringing the word of God into living rooms around the globe via TV and dispensing spiritual counsel — and political advice — to U.S. presidents. The Rev. Billy Graham, dubbed 'America's Pastor' and the 'Protestant Pope,' died Wednesday at his North Carolina home at age 99 after achieving a level of influence and reach no other evangelist is likely ever to match. More than anyone else, the magnetic, Hollywood-handsome Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the United States. The North Carolina-born Graham transformed the tent revival into an event that filled football arenas, and reached the masses by making pioneering use of television in prosperous postwar America. By his final crusade in 2005, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide. All told, he was the most widely heard Christian evangelist in modern history. 'Graham is a major historical figure, not merely to American evangelicals, but to American Christianity in general,' said Bill Leonard, a professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina. Graham was 'the closest thing to a national Protestant chaplain that the U.S. has ever had.' A tall figure with swept-back hair, blue eyes and a strong jaw, Graham was a commanding presence in the pulpit with a powerful baritone voice. His catchphrase: 'The Bible says ...' Despite his international renown, he would be the first to say his message was not complex or unique. But he won over audiences with his friendliness, humility and unyielding religious conviction. He had an especially strong influence on the religion and spirituality of American presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower. George W. Bush credited Graham with helping him transform himself from carousing, hard-drinking oilman to born-again Christian family man. His influence reached beyond the White House. He delivered poignant remarks about the nation's wounds in the aftermath of Sept. 11 during a message from Washington National Cathedral three days after the attacks. He met with boxer Muhammad Ali in 1979 to talk about religion. He showed up in hurricane-ravaged South Carolina in the 1980s and delivered impromptu sermons from the back of a pickup truck to weary storm victims. In the political arena, his organization took out full-page ads in support of a ballot measure that would ban gay marriage. Critics blasted Graham on social media on Wednesday for his stance on gay rights. Graham wasn't always a polished presence in the pulpit. After World War II, as an evangelist in the U.S. and Europe with Youth for Christ, he was dubbed 'the Preaching Windmill' for his arm-swinging and rapid-fire speech. His first meeting with a U.S. president, Harry Truman, was a disaster. Wearing a pastel suit and loud tie that he would later say made him look like a vaudeville performer, the preacher, unfamiliar with protocol, told reporters what he had discussed with Truman, then posed for photos. But those were early stumbles on his path to fame and influence. His first White House visit with Lyndon Johnson, scheduled to last only minutes, stretched to several hours. He urged Gerald Ford to pardon Richard Nixon and supported Jimmy Carter on the SALT disarmament treaty. He stayed at the White House with George H.W. Bush on the eve of the first Persian Gulf War. His presidential ties proved problematic when his close friend Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal in 1974, leaving Graham devastated, embarrassed and baffled. Later, tapes released in 2002 caught the preacher telling Nixon that Jews 'don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country.' Graham apologized, saying he didn't recall ever having such feelings. He asked the Jewish community to consider his actions instead of his words. At the height of his career, he would be on the road for months at a time. The strain of so much preaching caused the already trim Graham to lose as much as 30 pounds by the time one of his crusades ended. His wife, Ruth, mostly stayed behind at their mountainside home in Montreat to raise their five children: Franklin, Virginia ('Gigi'), Anne, Ruth and Nelson ('Ned'). Ruth sometimes grew so lonely when Billy was traveling that she slept with his tweed jacket for comfort. But she said, 'I'd rather have a little of Bill than a lot of any other man.' Beyond Graham's TV appearances and speaking engagements, he reached multitudes through network radio, including 'The Hour of Decision,' film and newspapers. One of Graham's breakthrough films was 'The Restless Ones,' made in the 1960s, about morally adrift teens in Southern California who found the strength to withstand temptation after attending a Billy Graham crusade. In the 1950s he created a syndicated newspaper column, 'My Answer,' which at its height reached tens of millions of readers. Early on, he took up the cause of fighting communism, preaching against its atheistic evils. But he was much less robust in his support for civil rights and did not join his fellow clergymen in the movement's marches, a position he later said he regretted. 'I think I made a mistake when I didn't go to Selma' to join the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., he said in a 2005 interview. 'I would like to have done more.' Still, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court's school integration ruling, and long refused to visit South Africa while its white regime insisted on separating the races at meetings. Graham's integrity lifted him through the dark days of the late 1980s, after scandals befell TV preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Graham had resolved early on never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Instead of taking a share of the offerings at his crusades, he drew a modest salary from his ministry, which was governed by an independent board, instead of by friends and relatives. 'Why, I could make a quarter of a million dollars a year in this field or in Hollywood if I wanted to,' Graham once said. 'The offers I've had from Hollywood studios are amazing. But I just laughed. I told them I was staying with God.' Later in his career, Graham visited communist Eastern Europe. Increasingly, he appealed for world peace. William Franklin Graham Jr. was born on Nov. 7, 1918, on a rural dairy farm near Charlotte. His path began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterian-reared teenager committed himself to Christ at a tent revival. After high school, he enrolled at the fundamentalist Bob Jones College, then transferred to Florida Bible Institute in Tampa. There, he practiced his sermonizing in a swamp. He still wasn't convinced he should be a preacher until a soul-searching, late-night ramble on a golf course. 'I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the 18th hole,' he said. ''All right, Lord,' I said, 'If you want me, you've got me.'' A 1949 Los Angeles revival in a tent dubbed the 'Canvas Cathedral' turned Graham into evangelism's rising star. Legendary publisher William Randolph Hearst had ordered his papers to hype Graham, though the evangelist said he never learned why. He later embarked on expectation-defying crusades in London and New York, soon becoming a global voice for Christianity. Health problems gradually slowed Graham. In 1995 his son William Franklin Graham III, then 43, was designated the ministry's leader. Billy Graham's wife died in 2007 at age 87. Graham will be buried next to her at the Billy Graham Museum and Library in Charlotte. There was no immediate word on other funeral arrangements. ___ Online: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: http://www.billygraham.org Billy Graham Center archives: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/archhp1.html ___ Zoll reported from New York. Retired Associated Press Religion Writer Richard N. Ostling contributed to this report.
  • A Republican congresswoman from upstate New York said Wednesday that 'many' people who commit mass murder turn out to be Democrats. U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney made the remarks on Talk 1300 Radio during a discussion about calls for stricter gun control since last week's deadly Florida high school shooting. 'Yeah, well, obviously there is a lot of politics in it, and it's interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats, but the media doesn't talk about that either,' Tenney told talk show host Fred Dicker. Tenney did not offer any evidence to support that statement. Democratic state Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, who is opposing Tenney this fall, called her comments 'disgusting' and 'toxic' and urged her to apologize. Evan Lukaske, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Tenney demonstrated 'how completely unfit she is to serve in Congress.' In a statement Wednesday night, Tenney said her comments were taken out of context. 'I am fed up with the media and liberals attempting to politicize tragedies and demonize law-abiding gun owners and conservative Americans every time there is a horrible tragedy,' she said. 'While we know the perpetrators of these atrocities have a wide variety of political views, my comments are in response to a question about the failure to prosecute illegal gun crime. I will continue to stand up for law-abiding citizens who are smeared by anti-gun liberal elitists.' Tenney was first elected in 2016. Her district covers a large swath of central New York including the cities of Binghamton, Utica and Rome.
  • Leaders expressed admiration and respect for evangelist Billy Graham, who died at his North Carolina home Wednesday morning. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP In a tweet, President Donald Trump said: 'The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.' ___ VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE 'Billy Graham's ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions,' Pence tweeted. 'We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, 'well done good and faithful servant.'' ___ FORMER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA 'Billy Graham was a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.' ___ FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH 'Billy Graham was a consequential leader. He had a powerful, captivating presence and a keen mind. He was full of kindness and grace. His love for Christ and his gentle soul helped open hearts to the Word, including mine. Laura and I are thankful for the life of Billy Graham, and we send our heartfelt condolences to the Graham family.' ___ FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER 'Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of The Reverend Billy Graham,' Carter said in a statement. 'Tirelessly spreading a message of fellowship and hope, he shaped the spiritual lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve.' ___ FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH 'Billy Graham was America's pastor. His faith in Christ and his totally honest evangelical spirit inspired people across the country and around the world. I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man. I was privileged to have him as a personal friend. ... He was a mentor to several of my children, including the former president of the United States. We will miss our good friend forever.' ___ FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON In a statement, Clinton said he and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are saddened by Graham's death. 'I will never forget the first time I saw him, 60 years ago in Little Rock, during the school integration struggle. He filled a football stadium with a fully integrated audience, reminding them that we all come before God as equals, both in our imperfection and our absolute claim to amazing grace. ... Billy has finished his long good race, leaving our world a better place and claiming his place in glory.' ___ HOUSE SPEAKER PAUL RYAN Ryan issued a statement that said, in part, 'As soaring a figure as he was, Rev. Graham connected with people on an elemental level. His reach was rooted in decency, humility, and love. He set a tone of ecumenical inclusion, advocated civil rights, and refused to accept the segregation of those attending his crusades. Rev. Graham's service is a testament that, with faith in God, one person can do so much good for the world.' ___ NORTH CAROLINA GOV. ROY COOPER 'Billy Graham was a strong, humble, positive and passionate North Carolina man of faith who made a difference in the lives of so many. Rest with God, Reverend Graham.' ___ SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM 'One of the greatest messengers of Christ has gone to his heavenly reward,' Sen. Graham wrote in a tweet. 'Dr. Graham spread the good news to millions across the world and led a life beyond reproach.' ___ FRANKLIN GRAHAM The evangelist's son, who is now president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, tweeted: 'My father ... was once asked, 'Where is Heaven?' He said, 'Heaven is where Jesus is and I am going to Him soon!' This morning, he departed this world into eternal life in Heaven, prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ_the Savior of the world_whom he proclaimed for 80 years.' ___ ANNE GRAHAM LOTZ In an online post titled 'Daddy is at Home,' Graham's daughter Anne Graham Lotz said she did not think of him as a public figure. 'I think of my Daddy. The one who was always a farmer at heart,' she wrote. 'Who loved his dogs and his cat. Who followed the weather patterns almost as closely as he did world events. Who wore old blue jeans, comfortable sweaters, and a baseball cap. Who loved lukewarm coffee, sweet ice tea, one scoop of ice cream, and a plain hamburger from McDonald's. Who was interested in everything and everyone, from the small to the great.' ___ MIKE HUCKABEE The former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate said in a statement, 'When the news broke that Billy Graham had died, my first reaction was 'there's a real example of 'Fake News.'' Billy Graham has passed from this life for sure at the age of 99, but he is anything but dead. He is more alive now than ever before, and living a life that will never end.' ___ NORTH CAROLINA SEN. RICHARD BURR 'I was incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Reverend Billy Graham this morning. America's Pastor was an inspiration to millions of Christians in our country and across the world. While his humility, faith, and booming voice will be sorely missed, today, he is at peace with God.' ___ ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY JUSTIN WELBY 'The debt owed by the global church to him is immeasurable and inexpressible. Personally I am profoundly grateful to God for the life and ministry of this good and faithful servant of the gospel; by his example he challenged all Christians to imitate how he lived and what he did. He was one who met presidents and preachers, monarchs and musicians, the poor and the rich, the young and the old, face to face. Yet now he is face to face with Jesus Christ, his savior and ours. It is the meeting he has been looking forward to for the whole of his life.' ___ TELEVANGELIST JOEL OSTEEN In a tweet, Osteen said, 'Billy Graham has always been and will always be a hero in our home. Next to my own father, Reverend Graham was the most humble and gracious man I ever knew. I am honored to call him a friend and a mentor. Victoria and I will miss him dearly.' ___ COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR NIHAD AWAD 'We offer the American Muslim community's condolences to the loved ones of Billy Graham, a towering religious figure who represented his faith with great enthusiasm, dignity and respect for all people, regardless of their beliefs. His sincere and humble spirituality served as an example to all people and will be greatly missed. May God bless his soul.
  • The Rev. Billy Graham, the magnetic, movie-star-handsome preacher who became a singular force in postwar American religious life, a confidant of presidents and the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, has died. He was 99. 'America's Pastor,' as he was dubbed, died at 7:46 a.m. Wednesday at his home, where only an attending nurse was present, said Mark DeMoss, spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Both the nurse and Graham's longtime personal physician, Dr. Lucian Rice, who arrived about 20 minutes later, said it was 'a peaceful passing,' DeMoss said. Graham had suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments. More than anyone else, Graham built evangelicalism into a force that rivaled liberal Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in the U.S. His leadership summits and crusades in more than 185 countries and territories forged powerful global links among conservative Christians and threw a lifeline to believers in the communist bloc. Tributes to Graham poured in from major leaders, with President Donald Trump tweeting: 'The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man.' Former President Barack Obama said Graham 'gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.' A tall, striking man with thick, swept-back hair, stark blue eyes and a firm jaw, Graham was a commanding presence in the pulpit, with a powerful baritone voice. 'The Bible says,' was his catchphrase. His unquestioning belief in Scripture turned the Gospel into a 'rapier' in his hands, he said. Graham reached multitudes around the globe through public appearances and his pioneering use of prime-time telecasts, network radio, daily newspaper columns, evangelistic films and satellite TV hookups. By his final crusade in 2005 in New York City, he had preached in person to more than 210 million people worldwide. No evangelist is expected to have his level of influence again. 'William Franklin Graham Jr. can safely be regarded as the best who ever lived at what he did,' said William Martin, author of the Graham biography 'A Prophet With Honor.' Graham's body was moved Wednesday from his home in Montreat to Asheville, where a funeral home is handling the arrangements, DeMoss said. His body will be taken from Asheville to Charlotte on Saturday in a procession expected to take 3 ½ hours and ending at the Billy Graham Museum and Library. He will lie in repose Monday and Tuesday in the Charlotte house where he grew up, which was moved from its original location to the grounds of the Graham library. A private funeral for Graham will be held on Friday, March 2, in a tent at the library site and he will be buried next to his wife there, DeMoss said. Invitations to the funeral will be extended to President Donald Trump and former presidents, DeMoss said. DeMoss said Graham spent his final months in and out of consciousness. He said Graham didn't take any phone calls or entertain guests. DeMoss quoted Dr. Rice as saying, 'He just wore out.' Graham was a counselor to U.S. presidents of both parties from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor. When the Billy Graham Museum and Library was dedicated in 2007 in Charlotte, North Carolina, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attended. 'When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel he's praying for you, not the president,' Clinton said at the ceremony. Born Nov. 7, 1918, on his family's dairy farm near Charlotte, Graham came from a fundamentalist background that expected true Bible-believers to stay clear of Christians with even the most minor differences over Scripture. But he came to reject that view for a more ecumenical approach. Ordained a Southern Baptist, he later joined a then-emerging movement called New Evangelicalism that abandoned the narrowness of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists excoriated him for his new direction and broke with him when he agreed to work with more liberal Christians in the 1950s. Graham stood fast. 'The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint and I recognize now that God has his people in all churches,' he said in the early 1950s. In 1957, he said, 'I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the Gospel of Christ.' His approach helped evangelicals gain the influence they have today. Graham's path began taking shape at age 16, when the Presbyterian-reared farmboy committed himself to Christ at a tent revival. 'I did not feel any special emotion,' he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, 'Just As I Am.' ''I simply felt at peace,' and thereafter, 'the world looked different.' After high school, he enrolled at the fundamentalist Bob Jones College but found the school stifling and transferred to Florida Bible Institute in Tampa. There, he practiced sermonizing in a swamp, preaching to birds and alligators before tryouts with small churches. He still wasn't convinced he should be a preacher until a soul-searching, late-night ramble on a golf course. 'I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the 18th hole,' he said. ''All right, Lord,' I said, 'If you want me, you've got me.'' Graham went on to study at Wheaton College, a prominent Christian liberal arts school in Illinois, where he met fellow student Ruth Bell, who had been raised in China where her father had been a Presbyterian medical missionary. The two married in 1943, and he planned to become an Army chaplain. But he fell seriously ill, and by the time he recovered and could start the chaplain training program, World War II was nearly over. Instead, he took a job organizing meetings in the U.S. and Europe with Youth for Christ, a group he helped found. He stood out for his loud ties and suits, and his rapid delivery and swinging arms won him the nickname 'the Preaching Windmill.' A 1949 Los Angeles revival turned Graham into evangelism's rising star. Held in a tent dubbed the 'Canvas Cathedral,' the gathering had been drawing adequate but not spectacular crowds until one night when reporters and photographers descended. When Graham asked them why, a reporter said that publisher William Randolph Hearst had ordered his papers to hype Graham. Graham said he never found out why. Over the next decade, his huge crusades in England and New York catapulted him to international celebrity. His 12-week London campaign in 1954 defied expectations, drawing more than 2 million people and the respect of the British, many of whom had derided him before his arrival as little more than a slick salesman. Three years later, he held a crusade in New York's Madison Square Garden that was so popular it was extended from six to 16 weeks, capped off with a rally in Times Square that packed Broadway with more than 100,000 people. The strain of so much preaching caused the already trim Graham to lose 30 pounds by the time the event ended. As the civil rights movement took shape, Graham was no social activist and never joined marches, which led prominent Christians such as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to condemn him as too moderate. Still, Graham ended racially segregated seating at his Southern crusades in 1953, a year before the Supreme Court's school integration ruling, and long refused to visit South Africa while its white regime insisted on racially segregated meetings. In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, Graham said he regretted that he didn't battle for civil rights more forcefully. 'I think I made a mistake when I didn't go to Selma' with many clergy who joined the Alabama march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 'I would like to have done more.' Graham more robustly took on the cause of anti-communism, making preaching against the atheist regime part of his sermons for years. As America's most famous religious leader, he golfed with statesmen and entertainers and dined with royalty. Graham's relationships with U.S. presidents became a source of pride for conservative Christians who were often caricatured as backward. George W. Bush credited Graham with helping him transform himself from carousing oilman to born-again Christian family man. Graham's White House ties proved problematic when his close friend Richard Nixon resigned in the Watergate scandal, leaving Graham devastated and baffled. He resolved to take a lower profile in the political world, going as far as discouraging the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a founder of the Moral Majority, from mixing religion and politics. 'Evangelicals can't be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle, to preach to all the people, right and left,' Graham said in 1981, according to Time magazine. 'I haven't been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will in the future.' Yet, during the 2012 White House campaign, with Graham mostly confined to his North Carolina home, he all but endorsed Republican Mitt Romney. And the evangelist's ministry took out full-page ads in support of a ballot measure that would ban gay marriage. Some critics on social media faulted Graham for that stance Wednesday, saying his position had harmed gay rights. Graham's son the Rev. Franklin Graham, who runs the ministry, said his father viewed gay marriage as a moral, not a political, issue. Graham's integrity was credited with salvaging the reputation of broadcast evangelism in the dark days of the late 1980s, after scandals befell TV preachers Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. He resolved early on never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Instead of taking a share of the 'love offerings' at his crusades, he drew a modest salary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His ministry was governed by an independent board that included successful Christian businessmen and other professionals — a stark departure from the widespread evangelical practice of packing boards with relatives and yes-men. 'Why, I could make a quarter of a million dollars a year in this field or in Hollywood if I wanted to,' Graham said. 'The offers I've had from Hollywood studios are amazing. But I just laughed. I told them I was staying with God.' He was on the road for months at a time, leaving Ruth at their mountainside home in Montreat to raise their five children: Franklin, Virginia ('Gigi'), Anne, Ruth and Nelson ('Ned'). Anne Graham Lotz said her mother was effectively 'a single parent.' Ruth sometimes grew so lonely when Billy was traveling that she slept with his tweed jacket for comfort. But she said, 'I'd rather have a little of Bill than a lot of any other man.' She died in 2007 at age 87. 'I will miss her terribly,' Billy Graham said, 'and look forward even more to the day I can join her in heaven.' Lotz said in a statement Wednesday that she remembers her father's personal side, the man 'who was always a farmer at heart. Who loved his dogs and his cat. Who followed the weather patterns almost as closely as he did world events. Who wore old blue jeans, comfortable sweaters, and a baseball cap. Who loved lukewarm coffee, sweet ice tea, one scoop of ice cream, and a plain hamburger from McDonald's.' In his later years, Graham visited communist Eastern Europe and increasingly appealed for world peace. He opened a 1983 convention of evangelists from 140 nations by urging the elimination of nuclear and biological weapons. He told audiences in Czechoslovakia that 'we must do all we can to preserve life and avoid war,' although he opposed unilateral disarmament. In 1982, he went to Moscow to preach and attend a conference on world peace. During that visit, he said he saw no signs of Soviet religious persecution, a misguided attempt at diplomacy that brought scathing criticism from author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among others. Graham's relationship with Nixon became an issue once again when tapes released in 2002 caught the preacher telling the president that Jews 'don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country.' Graham apologized, saying he didn't recall ever having such feelings and asking the Jewish community to consider his actions above his words. In 1995, his son Franklin was named the ministry's leader. Along with many other honors, Graham received the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1982 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996. 'I have been asked, 'What is the secret?'' Graham had said of his preaching. 'Is it showmanship, organization or what? The secret of my work is God. I would be nothing without him.' ___ Online: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: http://www.billygraham.org Billy Graham Center archives: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/archhp1.html ___ Zoll reported from New York. Retired Associated Press Religion Writer Richard N. Ostling contributed to this report.
  • Everyone wants to feel self-sufficient, and even those with deep pockets find it's a good idea to stick to some kind of home maintenance budget. If you chuckled at the thought of having 'deep pockets,' you're probably even more concerned with controlling costs on the home front. >> Read more trending news But frugal isn't always better, even if you have monster DIY skills. 'When it comes to doing your own home repairs, there's a thin line between being fearless and foolish,' noted Joseph Truini of Popular Mechanics. Sometimes you have to go all in with the home repair budget, whether it's to avoid bigger, more costly disasters, to assure home safety or to protect your investment. These are six times you should never skimp on home repairs, even if you must hire a pro to get the desired results: Involved electrical work. Feel free to install dimmer switches or replace an old ceiling light with a new ceiling fan, Truini advised. 'Upgrading existing devices and fixtures is relatively easy and safe, as long as you remember to first turn off the electricity.' But anything more complicated than that and it's time to call the pros (and heave a sigh as you get out your wallet). 'When it comes to extending existing electrical circuits or adding new ones, call in an experienced, licensed electrician,' he said. 'When homeowners start messing around with electrical circuits and running new cables, there are two likely outcomes and both are potentially lethal: electrical shock and fire.'A leaky roof. Those drip-drips on the floor, even if it's only the attic floor, can indicate big problems for a homeowner who ignores them. They include possible structural damage, mold or loss of personal property, according to The Balance. 'It's nothing to mess with. Address roof leaks as soon as you discover them, and you'll save yourself a ton of cash,' it added. Roof problems can be caused by weather, which can decay roof materials, or a simple lack of maintenance, which most commonly makes a flat or low-sloped roof uneven, so it accumulates water that can destroy roofing material. While a few adjustments can be made by an amateur, the most important roof area to inspect is the flashing, which is supposed to provide a watertight seal between your roof's sections and other parts of the building, according to The Balance. If you try to install, adjust or replace the flashing yourself, you're risking a disaster. 'Incorrect installation procedure or attachment, and improper sealing of the flashing will allow the water to enter between the roofing systems and the roof structure.' If the problem is the roof's design, including the slope, drainage or incompatible materials, you should also get an expert roofer involved before the leaks start leaving impressive levels of destruction. While design adjustments are expensive to correct and have to happen while another roofing material is happening, ignoring them will cost many more do-overs and potential roof failures. Defective water-based plumbing appliances. Being a homeowner requires a little bit of DIY plumbing for the occasional leaky faucet, clogged drain or stopped-up toilet, according to the Louisville, Kentucky-based Tom Sondergeld Plumbing. 'These basic projects can be finished in a couple of hours and don't require any specialized skill,' the owner admitted. But there are larger plumbing issues that can't be ignored, or tackled by a homeowner who's handy with the wrench. One time not to skimp is when a water heater, sump pump or other water-based appliance stops functioning properly. 'When these appliances need maintenance or replacement, it can be an extensive process,' TSP advised. 'A licensed plumber can either repair or replace the appliance properly.' Standing water. All jokes about hourly rates and attire malfunctions aside, sometimes a plumber's efforts can prevent out and out disasters. One of these instances is when you spot standing water in the house, according to TSP. (Mysterious standing water, that is, not the result of a recent large dog being bathed or a spill you recognize.) The standing water can be close to a water heater, toilet or sink, but the damage may be far more extensive. 'A plumber can see if there is more than meets the eye,' TSP said. 'Typically, standing water is a sign of a much larger problem. Before you start digging into the issue, call a professional and let them use their expertise to diagnose and treat the issue before your home becomes a splash park.' A dirty chimney. Due to the potential for fires and dangerous fumes, sweeping the chimney annually is not optional, according to the Balance. 'Hire a professional chimney sweep once a year to make sure your chimney is free of creosote, bird nests and other flammables,' the site recommended. Clogged gutters. It may not seem like something worth paying someone to climb up on the roof for, but clogged gutters, downspouts that don't direct away from the house and improper grading can all lead to drainage problems. 'All of them put your home's foundation at risk and invite water indoors,' noted The Balance. 'Now, not later, is the time to tackle those rainwater woes.
  • Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was put on the defensive Wednesday by angry students, teachers and parents who are demanding stronger gun-control measures after the shooting rampage that claimed 17 lives at a Florida high school. One of those confronting the Florida senator at a CNN's 'Stand Up' town hall Wednesday night was Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed on Feb. 14 with 16 others. Rubio was the lone Republican at the nationally broadcast gathering after Florida's GOP Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump declined invitations to appear at the event in Sunrise, Florida. Guttenberg told Rubio that his comments about the shooting 'and those of your president this week have been pathetically weak.' People stood up and cheered Guttenberg as he challenged Rubio to tell him the truth, to acknowledge that 'guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids.' Guttenberg added, 'And tell me you will work with us to do something about guns.' Rubio responded that the problems laid bare by the shooting rampage 'cannot be solved by gun laws alone,' drawing jeering whistles from the crowd. Rubio responded that he would support laws barring those 18 and under from buying such weapons, support changing the background checks system and getting rid of bump stocks. He said that if he believed an assault weapons ban 'would have prevented this from happening, I would have supported it.' That drew jeers. Visibly angry, Guttenberg responded: 'That is a weapon of war.' Sen. Bill Nelson and Congressman Ted Deutch, both Democrats from Florida, also were present on a dais. Nelson said he grew up on a ranch and hunted all his life. 'I still hunt with my son but an AK-47 and an AR-15 is not for hunting, it's for killing,' said Nelson to applause. Ryan Schachter, whose brother Alex, was fatally gunned down at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was among those questioning the lawmakers. 'I'm supposed to go back to school in the upcoming week,' said Schachter. 'Me and my friends worry we are going to be murdered in our classrooms.' Student Cameron Kasky did not mince words telling Rubio, 'It's hard to look at you and not look down the barrel of an AR-15 and not look at Nikolas Cruz' before asking squarely, 'Can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?' The room erupted in cheers as Rubio replied that people buy into his agenda and that he supports laws to keep guns out of the hands of deranged people. Rubio said he does not support arming teachers and Nelson agreed saying Trump's suggestion on arming them was 'a terrible idea.' Shortly before the town hall event opened, the sheriff of the Florida county torn apart by the rampage spoke to the cheering audience, drawing them to their feet as he exhorted them to press on for stricter gun controls. Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County declared the U.S. has had enough of deadly shootings and that he was personally saddened to have through the crime scene of a 'horrific killer' 30 minutes after the attack last week. He said the young people should hold lawmakers accountable for making their schools and other community places safer or they won't be re-elected. 'Never again!' he declared of the Parkland attack, exhorting the young people to press on: 'America's watching you ... there will be change.