WASHINGTON (CNN) - New Haven, Connecticut, firefighter Frank Ricci - the lead plaintiff in perhaps the most controversial case involving Judge Sonia Sotomayor - said Thursday that Sotomayor's rejection of his reverse discrimination claim had undermined the concept of a merit-based civil service system.
Ricci was one of a group of 20 mostly white firefighters who sued the city of New Haven after the city threw out the results of a 2003 firefighter promotion exam because almost no minorities qualified for promotions.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals - including Sotomayor - backed the city in the 2008 case Ricci v. DeStefano. The ruling of the Circuit Court was overturned in June by a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The "belief that citizens should be reduced to racial statistics is flawed," Ricci told the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"It only divides people who don't wish to be divided along racial lines. The very reason we have civil service rules is to root out politics, discrimination, and nepotism. Our case demonstrates that these ills will exist if the rules of merit and the law are not followed."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The woman that shattered Marine One's glass rotors, got a special honor on the last day of her rotation as pilot: an all female crew.
Major Jennifer Grieves is the first Marine One female pilot. Her achievement was marked as she landed on the South Lawn of the White House to pick up the President.
The White House press office says Major Grieves, who was designated a "Marine One" pilot in May 2008, has also flown former President Bush.
The two helicopters that always accompany Marine One appeared to fly a special formation on arrival.
President Obama, who is on his way to New Jersey and then on to New York to address the NAACP, saluted crew chief Sergeant Rachel Sherman, then boarded Marine One, where he briefly chatted with Major Grieves and shook her hand.
Co-pilot Major Jennifer Marino was the third member of the all-female crew.
Marine One pilots routinely rotate in and out of the squadron.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The National Rifle Association announced Thursday that it opposes Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We believe any individual who does not agree that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental right and who does not respect our God-given right of self-defense should not serve on any court, much less the highest court in the land," said a joint statement by Wayne LaPierre, the NRA executive vice president, and Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Reform.
Opposition to Sotomayor by the powerful gun lobby reflects conservative unease with President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, but is considered unlikely to prevent her confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
On Wednesday, Sotomayor strongly rejected a Republican senator's contention that she had pre-judged the issue of gun control, insisting at her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing that wasn't true.
(CNN) - Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has bested fellow Republican Gov. Sarah Palin in the fundraising race in the first half of the year, a very early indicator of potential strength in the 2012 GOP presidential race.
Romney's Free and Strong America PAC raised $1.6 million in the first six months of this year, according to a statement released by the political action committee Thursday. (updated Thursday: a Romney aide has provided CNN with a total number of donors, both itemized and unitemized, for the first half of the year.)
Romney's take is more than twice the roughly $730,000 raised in the same period by Palin's SarahPAC - but the Alaska governor's political action committee has pulled in an additional $200,000 since she announced July 3 that she would be leaving office by the end of the month. Romney and Palin each received funds from more than 11,000 contributors.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) – As complaints mount about President Obama's foreclosure prevention program, the administration is ratcheting up the pressure on mortgage servicers.
Financial executives will meet with Treasury and Housing officials on July 28 to discuss how the loan modification and refinancing plan has been implemented. The administration plans to grill servicers that have done few modifications or have had many complaints.
Officials also want financial institutions to hire more people and train them better, expand their call centers, and send more mailings to eligible borrowers, according to a letter sent to servicers last week. The government also said servicers need to establish a way for borrowers to contest their treatment or denial.
"There is a general need for servicers to devote substantially more resources to this program for it to fully succeed and achieve the objectives we all share," according to the letter, signed by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan. "We are asking all servicers expand their servicing capacity and improve the execution quality of loan modifications."
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The health reform bills released so far would increase government spending on health care without sufficiently reining in health care costs.
And at least initially they aren't likely to significantly lower premiums for the majority of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance.
That's the sobering takeaway from testimony Thursday by Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf.
Elmendorf's preliminary conclusions were based on a bill jointly released by three committees in the House this week and another bill passed by the Senate health committee on Wednesday.
"The creation of a new subsidy for health insurance ... would by itself raise federal spending on health care. ... [T]o offset that there have to be substantial reductions (on the tax or spending sides of the ledger]," Elmendorf told the Senate Budget Committee. "The changes we've looked at so far don't represent the fundamental change on the order of magnitude that would be necessary."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - As President Obama presses the House and Senate to finalize their own versions of health care reform, the real battle over the issue is just heating up - and it's about to get very personal.
Before Washington takes another step on health care reform, Hilda Sarkisyan wants the politicians to hear her story.
"If we don't change this now, my story is going to be their story," she says.
Sarkisyan's 17-year-old cancer-stricken daughter Nataline made national headlines when Cigna, the family's health insurance company, denied coverage for a liver transplant in late 2007.
The Sarkisyan family made repeated appeals at news conferences. Cigna initially declined to cover the operation, then reversed its decision. Nataline Sarkisyan died hours after the company's reversal.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The image war over the impact of President Obama's stimulus plan escalated Thursday, as Democrats targeted another major GOP congressional critic of the package, and the vice president again raised the stakes with a visit to the lawmaker's home state.
Hours before House Minority Whip Eric Cantor spoke on a conference call slamming the effectiveness of the administration's stimulus policy, the Democratic National Committee launched a pre-emptive strike: a tough statement tarring opponents of the plan – including the Virginia congressman - as foes of economic recovery.
Vice President Joe Biden is headlining another stimulus-promoting event Thursday, this time in Richmond, Virginia. "I ask those critics...Would they not help prevent (layoffs of) thousands of teachers, firefighters, cops?" Biden is planning to say, according to prepared remarks. "Would they not give a tax cut to 95 percent of the American people? Would they sit back and do nothing as our economy collapsed?"
(Updated after the jump with Cantor, GOP response)
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A Republican on the House Appropriations Committee is attempting to pull the financial plug on the Obama administration's many "czars."
Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia introduced legislation Wednesday that prohibits use of government funds to pay the salaries or expenses of individuals in the new administration that have been appointed by President Obama without the advice and consent of the Senate. The financial prohibition in the "Czar Accountability and Reform Act (CZAR) of 2009" extends to the staffs of the administration's "czars."
The president has named aides or so-called "czars" with responsibility for a number of areas including energy/climate change, health care reform, enforcement of federal drug laws, and the automotive industry.
The White House declined to comment on Kingston's legislation.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Obama may have been a winner as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch of this year's MLB All Star Game in St. Louis on Tuesday, but members of the White House staff fell short on the softball diamond Wednesday night in Washington, losing a heart-breaker to the Democratic National Committee. The final score of the slugfest: 18-17.
Obama for America Deputy Director Jeremy Bird celebrated his 31st birthday by hitting a three-run home run and making a game-saving diving catch as the DNC staved off a late-game White House rally to win the battle in extra innings.
OFA Special Projects Director Mark Beatty pitched a complete game for the DNC team despite walking with a limp after a sliding into home plate on a bang-bang play. "Not since (60s-70s era New York Knick star) Willis Reed has there been anything as inspirational as Beatty's performance," said DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton hit a home run for his squad, but Sevugan dismissed the hit as a fluke. "I think any neutral observer would score it a four-base error," he said.
"We're going to try for a rematch in August where we will not lose," a White House aide said.