ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) - While President Obama took off for home around Tuesday 2 pm ET from Baghdad aboard Air Force One, the bulk of the journalists who followed him on his European journey found themselves stuck in Turkey.
Several hours before the president took flight, the United crew providing transportation for the White House Press Corps' return discovered a problem with the United 777 scheduled to leave a few hours later.
It turns out the motor that moves the captain's left chair forward to reach the controls was broken.
Hearing the news, a few eager journalists began reporting it on Facebook and Twitter. Julie Mason of the Washington Examiner, who is a frequent blogger, reported the snafu around 11:30 am ET on her own Facebook page. She says immediately she began to hear speculation from other journalists that perhaps the president would have other surprise stops beyond Baghdad, and that this delay must have been a ploy by the White House to keep the press in position. (Turns out it really was just a broken seat.)
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Actor and longtime Obama supporter Kal Penn is joining the Obama administration, the White House confirmed to CNN Tuesday.
The actor will be part of the White House Office of Public Liaison, which is run by Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Penn will be primarily involved in dealing with Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the arts community.
Penn's new gig was first reported by EW.com, which shares parent company Time Warner with CNN.
Penn told EW.com that the new position comes after some soul-searching.
(CNN) – Three members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Fidel Castro Tuesday in Cuba, marking the first time the former Cuban president has met with US leaders since in 2006.
A delegation of congressional Democrats, led by Barbara Lee of California, arrived in Cuba last week to discuss bilateral relations with and review new policies regarding trade and commerce between the US and island nation. The group of seven includes members of the CBS, Reps. Mel Watt of North Carolina, Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Bobby Rush of Illinois, and Laura Richardson on California, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus member Mike Honda of California.
President Raul Castro, brother of Fidel, held talks with the six Congressional Black Caucus members of the delegation Monday in Havana.
The trip follows the introduction of a bill last week by a bipartisan group of senators to lift the travel ban on Cuba, maintaining the end of the travel restriction would advance democracy, promote human rights, and benefit US agriculture and small business groups. If passed, The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act would allow US citizens to travel freely to nation for the first time since 1962.
Cuban-born Republican Sen. Mel Martinez opposes the legislation, arguing that opening the communist-led island for tourist travel would perpetuate the repression of the "Castro regime."
But new changes to US Cuba travel policy could be coming soon. White House Adviser Jeffrey Davidson said Monday he would not be surprised if the Obama administration announced the easing of restrictions to the island before the Summit of the Americas on April 17. The move would fulfill a campaign promise by the then-presidential candidate to ease Cuban-American travel restrictions.
President Castro has said he is open to talks with the Obama administration.
Listen: CNN Radio on the new move in Congress to change U.S. relations with Cuba
WASHINGTON (CNN) - On the same day that Vermont's House and Senate voted to override GOP Gov. Jim Douglas' veto of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, the Washington City Council voted 12-0 Tuesday in favor of allowing same-sex marriages performed in other states to be recognized in the nation's capital.
But nothing is set in stone yet.
The Washington council is expected to hold a final vote on May 5. The bill would then go to Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat who supports gay marriage but told WTOP.com Tuesday that he has yet to review the legislation.
If approved, the measure would then encounter its biggest potential hurdle: It would be sent to Congress for a legislative review and vote, setting up what would amount to a straight up-or-down vote on same-sex marriage.
Because Washington is not a state, its legislation must pass congressional muster. Some measures approved by overwhelmingly Democratic Washington voters, including a restrictive gun law and a proposal decriminalizing medical marijuana use, have been vetoed by Congress in recent years.
(CNN) – Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who has made limited public appearances over the past year, took the mound Tuesday at Fenway Park.
The ailing senator, currently undergoing treatment for cancer, threw the ceremonial pitch before the Red Sox took on the Tampa Bay Rays at the Boston team's home opener.
Before a crowd of cheering fans, Kennedy fired a ball to Hall of Fame electee Jim Rice, who played 16 seasons in left field for the Red Sox.
(CNN) - You think President Obama is popular? Take a look at how Americans feel about some of the countries he's just visited.
As he wraps up his first overseas trip since taking office, some of the countries on his itinerary are viewed favorably by an overwhelming majority of Americans, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday.
Americans have very positive views of major U.S. allies. Topping the list is Great Britain, with nine in ten Americans holding a favorable view of the first country Obama visited on his current overseas swing. Japan and Germany get a positive rating from at least seven in ten Americans. France and Turkey, also visited by the president over the past few days, are also seen in a positive light.
(CNN) - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin Tuesday is weighing in on the news a federal judge has dismissed the conviction of former Sen. Ted Stevens, saying there is "no way he can just 'put this behind him.'"
"I know the agony the senator has felt, and nothing can change what he has gone through or the loss of his Senate seat, which meant the world to him and virtually as much to Alaska," she said in a statement Tuesday. "There's no way he can just 'put this behind him' as some have suggested he should. Senator Stevens is a resilient man and I hope that he will continue to make a contribution to Alaska and the nation."
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan set aside Stevens' federal conviction for failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of "freebies" from an oilfield services company on Senate ethics forms.
The judge also initiated criminal contempt proceedings against the government lawyers who prosecuted the 85-year-old Alaska Republican.
Stevens maintained his innocence throughout a government probe. Palin, then the GOP vice presidential candidate, called on Stevens to resign his post last fall after he was found guilty.
Soon after the convictions, Stevens lost his bid for re-election to Democratic challenger Mark Begich, then mayor of Anchorage.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Virginia Democrats are hoping Sarah Palin remains so polarizing that she'll keep voters from from supporting the GOP in this fall's much-anticipated gubernatorial election.
In a new Web video released Tuesday, the Democratic Party of Virginia replays audio from a Palin fundraiser last fall, in which she described "these small towns that we get to visit" as "real America."
The Web video attempts to draw a link between that comment and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's recent claim that that northern Virginians "aren't necessarily thinking in the same way that folks like you and me think." Huckabee made those remarks while campaigning in Appalachia on behalf of the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Bob McDonnell.
The video also calls attention to a former John McCain adviser, Nancy Pfotenhauer, who said on a cable show last fall that Democratic-leaning northern Virginia is not the "real Virginia."
The state Democratic Party calls Huckabee's remarks the "same failed divisive attacks" that helped drive Virginia into Obama's fold last November. The video says McDonnell is "writing off northern Virginia," the commonwealth's most populous region.
Last week, after the Huckabee speech was publicized by Virginia Democratic operatives, a McDonnell spokesman admitted that Huckabee "made some comments that do not reflect how integrated Virginia's economy is." He also pointed out that McDonnell was raised in northern Virginia.
For the record: Palin made the "real America" comment in North Carolina. The Alaska governor later apologized for the remark.
ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) – Democrat Al Franken extended his lead over former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman Tuesday as the three-judge panel overseeing the election trial tallied an additional 351 absentee ballots that had not previously been included.
Despite his slim chances, Coleman had been hoping to overtake Franken's first post-recount lead of 225 votes. After Tuesday's additions, Franken leads by more than 300.
While the judges did not offer an official ruling - or indicate when they would - these vote totals are likely to remain unchanged.
"I think we are done," Franken attorney Marc Elias said at a press conference upon the completion of the tallying at the Minnesota Judicial Center. ""There is a sense of relief that it's over, at a personal level."
But banking on the fact that the judges' final decision would rest in Franken's favor, Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg reasserted the former senator's desire to appeal the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Vice President Joe Biden brushed aside recent criticism by his predecessor Dick Cheney that moves by the Obama administration had put the United States at risk, telling CNN Tuesday that the former vice president was "dead wrong" and that the Bush White House had left the country in its weakest condition since the Second World War.
"I don't think [Cheney] is out of line, but he is dead wrong," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "This administration - the last administration left us in a weaker posture than we've been any time since World War II: less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever have been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world.
Watch the full interview during the 6 pm ET hour of The Situation Room.
"...I guarantee you we are safer today, our interests are more secure today than they were any time during the eight years" of the Bush administration.
In an interview with CNN's John King last month, Cheney said President Obama had been "making some choices that in my mind will raise the risk to the American people of another attack."