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News Wrap: Texas shooter passed background checks despite violent conviction

In our news wrap Tuesday, the Texas gunman who killed 26 people was able to pass background checks despite a past escape from a mental health facility and a conviction the Air Force failed to enter into a database that would have blocked his gun purchases. Also, the Texas law cracking down on “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants went before a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tomorrow marks a year since President Trump's election, and tonight could be a partial referendum on his performance.

    In the day's marquee event, Democrat Ralph Northam battled Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor's race. The campaign was laced with racial overtones and attack ads.

    There's also a governor's race in New Jersey and mayor's races in several major cities. We will take a closer look at the political stakes later in the program.

    The day's other leading story, the Texas church massacre. New disclosures emerged today about the bloodbath in tiny Sutherland Springs, and about the killer.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • Rosanne Solis:

    All of a sudden, I hear like, firecrackers popping, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta.

    "Everybody get down! They're shooting at us!"

  • William Brangham:

    From survivors today, new accounts of Sunday's horror. Rosanne Solis and her husband, Joaquin Ramirez, were in the congregation when the shooting started. She was wounded in the arm.

  • Rosanne Solis:

    Everybody started screaming, yelling. Everybody got down, crawling under, I mean, wherever they could hide. I mean, it was so scary. And that man was shooting. I mean, he was shooting hard.

  • William Brangham:

    Solis says the gunman, Devin Kelley, shouted "Everybody, die" as he blasted away with a semiautomatic rifle. Ramirez says anyone making noise, even the youngest, was targeted.

  • Joaquin Ramirez:

    (Through interpreter) The babies were crying. And when the babies were crying — ta, ta, ta, ta, ta.

  • William Brangham:

    Records now show that Kelley passed background checks for four guns he bought between 2014 and 2017. That's despite a 2012 domestic assault conviction in the Air Force, followed by death threats against his superior officers, attempting to sneak weapons onto a military base, and a brief escape from a mental health facility.

    He spent a year in a military prison and was then given a bad conduct discharge. But the Air Force acknowledges it failed to enter that conviction into an FBI database, which would've blocked his gun purchases.

  • Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson:

  • Heather Wilson:

    But we are checking all of the Air Force databases, and there are several of them, to find out and confirm that all court-martial convictions for these kinds of offenses have been reported in the civilian database.

  • William Brangham:

    Christopher Combs is the FBI agent in charge in the church shooting. He says the failure in this case meant Kelley wasn't on the FBI's radar.

  • Christopher Combs:

    Unfortunately, this has happened in the past from a number of agencies. Nothing is perfect.

  • William Brangham:

    Texas Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry chairs the House Armed Services Committee. In a statement today, he called the situation appalling and said: "The failure to properly report domestic violence convictions may be a systemic issue within the Air Force."

    Another Texas Republican, Senator John Cornyn, said he will introduce legislation to ensure national databases are updated.

  • Sen. John Cornyn:

    When the shooter or the gun purchaser like this individual lie about their background — he lied about the fact that he had a felony conviction. He lied about the fact that he had been convicted of a crime of domestic violence — then the only way to catch them is through the background database, the NICS system.

  • William Brangham:

    Back in Sutherland Springs, investigators say they hope to wrap up their work at the church tomorrow. And Vice President Pence also plans to travel to the town tomorrow to meet with families of the victims.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will talk about gun laws, background checks and the victims in Texas right after the news summary.

    In the day's other news: A Texas law cracking down on sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants went before a federal appeals court in New Orleans. Under the law, police must cooperate with federal immigration authorities, or they could face criminal charges. Most of the large cities in Texas are challenging the statute.

    Members of both parties in Congress called today for permanent action to let some 5,000 Nicaraguans stay in the U.S. They were admitted nearly 20 years ago under a temporary program after a hurricane hit their homeland. Last night, the Trump administration announced that they have 14 months to leave the United States.

    A new warning today that Puerto Rico needs help on an unprecedented scale. A congressional committee heard that nearly 60 percent of the island still has no electricity more than a month after Hurricane Maria. And thousands of people are still in temporary shelters.

    Natalie Jaresko chairs a federal board overseeing the U.S. territory's finances. She appealed for more federal aid.

  • Natalie Jaresko:

    Because of the damage to the ability to collect revenues, the disruption of the underlying economic activity, and storm recovery spending, the commonwealth and its instrumentalities are facing billions of dollars in cash shortfalls just to provide the basic functions of government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Puerto Rico's officials estimate the storm inflicted up to $95 billion in damage. So far, Congress has approved about $5 billion in aid.

    In India, air pollution has hit severe levels in New Delhi. Heavy smog hung over the capital city today, and officials urged people to stay indoors and schools to close. The problem worsens with the onset of winter, caused by dust, crop burning and factory emissions.

    U.N. humanitarian aid flights to Yemen were grounded today. It came as a Saudi-led coalition tries to block Iran from sending arms to rebels in Yemen. The coalition, which includes the U.S., has closed all of Yemen's air and sea ports. But U.N. officials warn of disaster in the making.

  • Jens Laerke:

    The situation is catastrophic in Yemen. It is the worst food crisis we are looking at in the world today, seven million people on the brink of famine, millions of people being kept alive by our humanitarian operation. So this is a lifeline that must be continued.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A cholera epidemic is also raging in Yemen, affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

    A former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign now says that he did speak with a high-level Russian official last year. Carter Page previously had denied it. But he's now told a congressional committee that he — quote — "briefly said hello" to the deputy prime minister after a speech in Moscow. He says that others in the campaign knew about the trip, including Senator Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general.

    Today marked 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that created the Soviet Union. Some 5,000 Communist Party supporters carried Soviet flags and marched in Moscow. The Russian government mostly ignored the anniversary. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

    And from Twitter today, word of a major expansion. It's doubling the longstanding limit of 140 characters per tweet to 280, in a bid to get more people tweeting. The old limit still applies for tweets in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, because it takes fewer characters to message in those languages.

    And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained about nine points to close at 23557, another record high. The Nasdaq fell 18 points, and the S&P 500 slipped a fraction.

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