WASHINGTON (CNN) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showed a rare flash of frustration Monday - calling the vetting process for Obama administration nominees "ridiculous" and "a nightmare."
At a question-and-answer session with staff from the U.S. Agency for International Development, a woman asked her when the agency would be getting a new administrator and "why it's taking so long."
"Let me say it's not for lack of trying," Clinton replied. "The process - the clearance and vetting process - is a nightmare," she told the staff. "It takes far longer than any of us would want to see. It is frustrating beyond words."
The secretary said she "pushed very hard last week, when I knew I was coming here, to get permission from the White House to be able to tell you that help is on the way and somebody will be nominated shortly." But, she said, "the message came back, 'We're not ready.'"
"Anyone who has gone through it or looked at this process will tell you that every administration it gets worse," she added.
"Some very good people just didn't want to be vetted," she explained. "You have to hire lawyers, you have to hire accountants. I mean, it is ridiculous!"
(CNN) - Just over a week after announcing her intention to resign as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin's political action committee reports raising close to $730,000 in the first six months of the year.
According to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission Monday, SarahPAC raked in $732,867 from the beginning of the year through June 30. The former GOP vice presidential candidate's PAC further reported more than $450,000 cash on hand with no debts owed.
The FEC report shows the majority of contributions, $420,000, has come from donations of under $200. By law, the PAC does not have to identify those contributors. More than 700 individuals meanwhile gave over $200 to the committee.
But Palin, who has pledged to spend her days out of the governor's office supporting conservative candidates, has yet to dig deep into the coffers for many candidates.
According to the report, the PAC has only made two political contributions this year: $5,000 to John McCain's Senate reelection bid and $5,000 to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's effort.
Palin's largest expenditure, just over $100,000, was to Virginia fundraising firm Edonation.com.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - As President Obama tries pressing ahead with his domestic agenda focused on health care and energy reform, several potential investigations threaten to steal the focus in Washington.
The most recent controversy: The revelation that Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta told House and Senate intelligence committees that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the spy agency to keep Congress in the dark for eight years about a still-secret counterterrorism program.
The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who confirmed she learned of the former vice president's order during a recent closed-door briefing by Panetta, expressed outrage.
"That's something that should never, ever happen again," Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, said on Fox News Sunday. "I think this is a problem, obviously."
A knowledgeable source familiar with the matter said the counterterrorism program in question was initiated shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The program, the source notes, was on-again, off-again and was never fully operational. Panetta has since put an end to the program, according to the source.
Efforts to contact Cheney for reaction were unsuccessful. CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano has declined to comment on the report.
David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst, says that while this is the last thing the Obama administration wants to deal with, it's "starting to mushroom into a life form of its own."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said Monday that her hotly disputed judicial philosophy is, in fact, quite simple: Remain faithful to the law.
"In the past month, many senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy," Sotomayor told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during her opening statement at her confirmation hearings.
"It is simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make law, it is to apply the law. And it is clear, I believe, that my record ... reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms, interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress's intent and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and by my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand."
Sotomayor said the "process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged."
That, she noted, "is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our judicial system."
Sotomayor argued that her "personal and professional experiences help [her] listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case."
Some of Sotomayor's critics have argued that she has allowed her rulings to be swayed by factors such as ethnicity and race.
(CNN) - Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds reports that his campaign raked in nearly $3.4 million during the fundraising period that ended June 30.
"I'm happy that so many people from all across Virginia have supported my campaign in the past month," Deeds said in a statement released by his campaign Monday. "We've had support from all areas of the state and from Republicans and Democrats.
The state senator came from behind to top Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran in the June 9th Democratic primary and is now facing off against former Virginia state attorney general Bob McDonnell in the general election. Governor Tim Kaine, a fellow Democrat, is term limited and can't run for re-election this year.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Al Franken, fresh off a win in a contentous Senate race in Minnesota, found himself at the center of the national political stage Monday as confirmation hearings began for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
"I know I have a lot to learn from each of you," Franken told the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Minnesota Democrat also described himself as "truly humbled" to join the committee "which has played and will continue to play such an important role in overseeing our nation's system of justice."
The former cast member of "Saturday Night Live" quickly turned serious during his opening statement.
Pointing out that Monday was his fifth day in office, Franken observed "I am the senator who most recently took the oath of office.
Last Tuesday I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to bear truth faith and allegiance to it. I take this oath very seriously . . . ."
Franken focused the substance of his opening remarks on the impact of the courts on Americans' lives - and told the packed hearing room that he sees challenges to the rights of Americans as citizens and voters.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama is getting the help of his former political rival in seeking to stop a defense program his administration no longer believes is necessary, but some in Congress want to continue.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election, wants to remove funding for constructing seven more F-22 jets.
The program is included in the Senate's defense authorization bill even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he opposes building any more of the planes. The White House said it would veto a bill that funded more of the jets.
On Monday, McCain and Senate Armed Services committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) introduced an amendment to strip the funds from the bill. The Armed Services committee, on which McCain serves, approved the amendment.
"Neither the president nor the Pentagon asked for F-22s or the alternate engine in the budget request," McCain said Monday on the Senate floor. "Secretary Gates has consistently opposed the need for additional F-22 aircraft and has indicated on a number of occasions that additional F-22 aircraft are not required to meet potential threats posed by near-term adversaries."
McCain even tweeted about his opposition to his followers on Twitter, saying he was "fighting the good fight."
(CNN) - Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Monday she will challenge Republican Gov. Rick Perry in a primary matchup and reported raising over $6.7 million for the bid in the first half of the year.
"Today I am announcing that the exploratory committee is closed," Hutchison said at a Dallas press conference. "The campaign for governor of Texas is open for business. I am so excited and ready to go."
The four term senator has made no secret about her interest in challenging the more conservative Perry, having established an exploratory committee and campaign staff months ago.
In her announcement Monday, Hutchison said the fundraising haul far exceeded her initial goal of $5 million and will leave the campaign with more than $12 million cash on hand.
The 65 year-old former Texas State Treasurer also said she plans a formal kickoff in August when she will have time to tour the state.
Hutchison's cash haul compares to the $4.2 million Perry raised during the same period, though the 59 year-old Texas governor was barred from raising any money until the end of the legislative session in June. A spokesman for Perry's campaign said the governor has more than $9 million cash on hand.
Praising the "depth and width" of her support, Hutchison dismissed suggestions she had more time than Perry to raise money.
"We both had six months, we were both asking for commitments. We were both out there asking for money," she said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House is calling out the big guns later this week in the battle to keep two governorships in Democratic hands.
Vice President Joe Biden will headline a fundraiser Thursday in Virginia for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds.
And as previously reported, Barack Obama will be the main attraction Thursday afternoon at a campaign rally for Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey. The first term governor trails former federal prosecutor Chris Christie in the most recent polls of New Jersey voters.
While Obama has headlined seven political fundraising events this year, this will be the first campaign rally he's attended for a fellow Democrat since taking over as president in January.
In Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine is term limited and can't run for re-election, Deeds is locked in what surveys suggest is a dead heat with Republican Bob McDonnell, the former state attorney general.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama will huddle with five top congressional Democrats on Monday afternoon to discuss how to pay for the health care reform bills that are stalled in Congress, largely over the issue of which taxes should be raised to cover the $1 trillion price tag, congressional aides told CNN.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed the meeting during his daily press briefing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada will join the chairs of the tax-writing committees in the House and Senate - Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana - for the White House gathering. A Democratic aide told CNN that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is also attending the meeting.
Obama invited the leaders to the 4:30 p.m. meeting in part to sift through the various proposals lawmakers are considering to raise hundreds of billions of dollars for health reform.
It's Obama's first health care reform meeting with congressional leaders since returning from an overseas trip.
On Capitol Hill, aides were reluctant to publicize the meeting. One said it was meant to be kept "secret."
Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, sparred Sunday over how to pay for health care reform.
Updated: 3:23 p.m.