Senate nears passage of jobless-benefits bill -- but the House not inclined to accept it

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Capping a three-month struggle, the Senate closed in Monday on passage of election-year legislation to restore jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed that expired late last year.

Approval of the measure would send it to a hostile reception in the House, where majority Republicans generally oppose it.

The bill was the first major piece of legislation that Democrats sent to the floor of the Senate when Congress convened early in the year, the linchpin of a broader campaign-season agenda meant to showcase concern for men and women who are doing poorly in an era of economic disparity between rich and poor.

In the months since, the Democrats have alternately pummeled Republicans for holding up passage and made concessions in an effort to gain support from enough GOP lawmakers to overcome a filibuster. Chief among those concessions was an agreement to pay the $9.6 billion cost of the five-month bill by making offsetting spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

The White House-backed measure would retroactively restore benefits that were cut off in late December, and maintain them through the end of May. Officials say as many as 2.7 million jobless workers have been denied assistance since the law expired late last year.

Army investigators say Fort Hood shooting suspect had requested leave prior to rampage

FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) -- The Fort Hood soldier suspected of killing three people and wounding 16 others last week began his eight-minute rampage on the sprawling Texas Army post after an argument related to taking leave, military investigators said Monday.

Army spokesman Chris Grey didn’t indicate during a brief news conference whether Spc. Ivan Lopez was granted the leave or the circumstances behind the request. The shooting spree Wednesday ended when Lopez killed himself with his .45-caliber pistol after confronting a female military police officer, who Grey said fired once at Lopez but didn’t strike him.

A spokesman for Lopez’s family said last week that Lopez was upset he was granted only a 24-hour leave to attend his mother’s funeral in November. That leave was then extended to two days.

Providing the most detail yet about the second mass shooting at Fort Hood in five years, Grey mapped out how Lopez opened fire in the building where the argument began before leaving and driving away, shooting at times from his car. The three who died were gunned down in separate locations.

The rampage covered the equivalent of two city blocks. Grey said Lopez killed one soldier and wounded 10 other in the first building -- and that the victim there included one of the men Lopez had argued with moments earlier. Lopez then drove to a motor pool area where the Army truck driver was assigned and worked, killing another, Grey said.

Iconic actor Mickey Rooney dies at 93

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Mickey Rooney’s approach to life was simple: "Let’s put on a show!" He spent nine decades doing it, on the big screen, on television, on stage and in his extravagant personal life.

A superstar in his youth, Rooney was Hollywood’s top box-office draw in the late 1930s to early 1940s. He epitomized the "show" part of show business, even if the business end sometimes failed him amid money troubles and a seesaw of career tailspins and revivals.

Pint-sized, precocious, impish, irrepressible -- perhaps hardy is the most-suitable adjective for Rooney, a perennial comeback artist whose early blockbuster success as the vexing but wholesome Andy Hardy and as Judy Garland’s musical comrade in arms was bookended 70 years later with roles in "Night at the Museum" and "The Muppets."

Rooney died Sunday at age 93 surrounded by family at his North Hollywood home. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office said Rooney died a natural death.

Pings off Australian coast called ‘most promising lead’ in search for jet

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- After a month of failed hunting and finding debris that turned out to be ordinary flotsam, an Australian ship detected faint pings deep in the Indian Ocean in what an official called the "most promising lead" yet in the search for Flight 370.

Officials coordinating the multinational search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet still urged caution Monday after a weekend that also brought reports of "acoustic noise" picked up by a Chinese vessel also trying to solve the aviation mystery.

The Boeing 777 vanished March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The focus of the search changed repeatedly since contact was lost with the plane between Malaysia and Vietnam. It began in the South China Sea, then shifted toward the Strait of Malacca to the west, where Malaysian officials eventually confirmed that military radar had detected the plane.

An analysis of satellite data indicated the plane veered far off course for a still-unknown reason, heading to the southern Indian Ocean, where officials say it went down at sea. They later shifted the search area closer to the west coast of Australia.

Pro-Russian activists declare east Ukrainian region independent, call for referendum

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine -- an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.

In Washington, the U.S. said any move by Russia into eastern Ukraine would be a "very serious escalation" that could bring further sanctions. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there was strong evidence that some of the pro-Russian protesters were hired and were not local residents.

At the same time, the U.S. announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union in a new push to ease tensions. The meeting, the first such four-way talks since the crisis erupted, will take place in the next 10 days, the State Department said.

Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People’s Republic.

Thousands of Palestinians in east Jerusalem go weeks without water

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Tens of thousands of Palestinians living in east Jerusalem have been without running water for more than a month, victims of a decrepit and overwhelmed infrastructure and caught in a legal no-man’s land caused by the divisions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The residents of the Shuafat refugee camp are technically part of the Jerusalem municipality. But they live outside the massive West Bank separation barrier that Israel has built. So Israeli services are sparse, yet Palestinian authorities are barred from operating there or developing the water system.

The local Israeli water authority says the existing system of pipes cannot handle the rapid population growth of the area and it is scrambling to solve the problem. Last week, the Israeli Supreme Court gave officials 60 days to find a solution.

But with the scorching summer season approaching, residents are growing increasingly desperate. Basic tasks like brushing teeth are a challenge. Showers have become a luxury. Families often send their clothes to relatives elsewhere in the city to wash them.

"Sixty days -- that’s a lot of time for us," said Hani Taha, a local butcher. "There will be chaos here."

Olympic athletes asked to keep cell phones in pockets when they met Obama

A handshake? Sure. A selfie? No way.

Some of America’s Olympic athletes say they were asked to keep their cellphones in their pockets last week when they visited the White House and met with President Barack Obama.

The request came after the selfie Boston Red Sox slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz took with the president during his team’s visit to the White House. Many criticized it as a marketing ploy after Samsung, the maker of the phone Ortiz used, used the picture in an advertisement. Ortiz denied taking the picture with the knowledge it would be part of a promotion.

"I was a little bummed," said Nick Goepper, a bronze medalist in slopestyle skiing. "I thought about trying to sneak one, but they were pretty adamant about it. I’m sure if they would’ve allowed it, there’d be 150 people with selfies with the president right now."

The Olympians were visiting the White House after competing in Sochi, Russia, in February. The president typically invites high-profile sports teams and athletes to Washington to congratulate them on their performances.