WASHINGTON (CNN) – Six key senators – three Democrats, one independent and two moderate Republicans – sent a letter to Senate leaders calling for a slowdown in the push for a health care overhaul, in light of the Congressional Budget Office's assessment that the Democratic plan currently being considered would not cut medical costs
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"We believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical for legislation that affects 17 percent of our economy and every individual in the U.S.," read the letter, signed by Democrats Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Ron Wyden. independent Joe Lieberman and Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who also said they were "firmly committed to enactment of comprehensive reform this year."
The letter echoes concerns raised by many conservative Democrats on the House side.
Full text of the letter after the jump.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will vote against the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, his office announced Friday, marking the first time the Kentucky Republican has ever opposed a nominee to the high court.
"Judge Sotomayor's record of written statements suggests an alarming lack of respect for the notion of equal justice, and therefore, in my view, an insufficient willingness to abide by the judicial oath," he said in a written statement. "This is particularly important when considering someone for the Supreme Court since, if she were confirmed, there would be no higher court to deter or prevent her from injecting into the law the various disconcerting principles that recur throughout her public statements. For that reason, I will oppose her nomination."
McConnell, who also opposed Sotomayor's 1998 appellate court nomination, has previously voted to confirm every Supreme Court nominee since joining the senate in 1985, including Clinton appointees Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Behind the scenes they're tearing out their hair.
Nominees for top positions in the Obama administration say they are put on seemingly endless hold for months during the "vetting" process, forced to provide minute details of their financial, personal and professional lives going back years. Many have to hire lawyers and accountants – paid for with their own money – to compile the information. Some nominees have simply given up in frustration.
Now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it's affecting U.S. diplomatic relations.
"It's hard to explain in my position to our foreign counterparts that we don't have positions filled that would be the natural interlocutors or their counterparts in other countries," she said Thursday.
It's the third time this week the secretary has lambasted the process. Monday, she called it "frustrating beyond words," telling staff at the U.S. Agency for International Development who still don't have a new administrator, the process is a "nightmare."
(CNN) – The wife of former Republican Rep. Chip Pickering filed a lawsuit late Tuesday against her husband's alleged mistress, making the former six-term congressman from Mississippi the third politician associated with the Capitol Hill "Christian Fellowship" home to be embroiled in a sex scandal.
According to the Jackson Free Press, Leisha Pickering's lawsuit alleges her husband restarted a relationship with Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd, his college sweetheart, while he was "a United States congressman prior to and while living in the well-known C Street Complex in Washington, D.C."
The Capitol Hill rowhouse - reportedly owned by an organization affiliated with the religious group "The Fellowship" - has also housed Nevada Sen. John Ensign, who admitted last month to an extramarital affair. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who has also admitted to cheating on his wife, was a frequent visitor to the home for prayer meetings and meals during his time in Congress
The lawsuit claims the affair ruined the Pickering's marriage, and ended the former congressman's political career.
Pickering, now a lobbyist for a telecommunications company owned by Creekmore-Byrd's family, is not commenting on the lawsuit.
"I still believe it is in the best interest of our five boys if our differences are resolved privately and before the appropriate court and not in the media," Pickering said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Senate Democrats are using Sarah Palin's decision to leave office later this month in a new Web video linking the Alaska governor to two GOP candidates in key battleground states.
The new spot from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee features an oath of office repeated by voices intended to represent Palin, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, and flashes images of hands with their fingers crossed behind their backs.
Crist and Ayotte have both announced their intention to run for the Senate next year; Ayotte has decided to resign early in advance of her run. Palin has not said whether she may be weighing a run for another elected office.
The first attempt to use Palin's pending resignation to slam Republican candidates began earlier this month, just days after she her decision.
(updated with GOP reaction after the jump)
WASHINGTON (CNN) – A full economic recovery may be slow to materialize, but the administration's stimulus plan is working and the economy has stabilized over the past few months, a key White House adviser asserted Friday.
Unemployment is likely to rise in the months ahead, National Economic Council Director Larry Summers warned, as the full impact of the $787 billion economic recovery plan is not likely to be felt until 2010.
Nonetheless, he said, "We were at the brink of catastrophe at the beginning of the year, but we have walked some substantial distance back from the abyss."
(CNN) – It is possible more U.S. troops could be added in Afghanistan if the new American commander there needs them, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not expect a significant increase.
During a visit to troops at Fort Drum, New York, on Thursday, Gates said he is waiting to hear what Gen. Stanley McChrystal recommends after he completes a review of operations in Afghanistan.
By the end of this month, McChrystal will complete a "60-day" strategic assessment: a classified report to Gates on where the war stands, and what needs to be done.
He will tell Gates whether he needs more U.S. troops to fight the escalating conflict, according to a senior U.S. military official.
Gates asked McChrystal specifically to "state his requirements for resources" as part of the report, said the official - who did not want to be identified because the report is not completed.
(CNN) - Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced Friday he will support Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court:
Judge Sonia Sotomayor brought to the Judiciary Committee hearings an outstanding record academically, as a prosecutor and as a commercial lawyer plus 17 distinguished years as a federal judge. At the hearings she displayed intellect, restraint and judicial demeanor. As the third woman and the first Hispanic, she will add needed diversity to the Supreme Court.
“I intend to vote for her and urge my colleagues to do the same.”
WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was the role of a lifetime for comedian-turned-inquisitor Sen. Al Franken this week during Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination hearings.
The Senate's newest star seemed comfortable in front of the cameras, but less at ease with Senate procedure.
In one instance, Franken looked to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, to approve a request.
"I would ask for it to be entered into the record ... can I enter it into the record?" Franken asked. He was given the green light to go ahead.
Franken's national debut is also amusing his old peers on the comedy circuit.
"I just kept expecting 'Live from New York!'" said Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" this week.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The American Conservative Union is denying a report it reversed policy positions in a "pay for play" lobbying controversy, distancing itself from Chairman David Keene – but acknowledged Friday it had sent a letter that seemed to pledge institutional support in exchange for corporate contributions.
Politico reported Friday that the ACU had sent FedEx a letter June 30 formally offering several avenues of support for the company's position in a tough battle with the National Labor Relations Board – including grassroots organizing, congressional lobbying, and the production of op-eds written by Keene and members of the group's board of directors.
The letter said those efforts would require financial resources of more than $2 million – and that once terms were agreed to, the ACU's institutional machinery would swing into action within hours.
FedEx never agreed to the terms; the ACU says the company never responded to the offer. Roughly two weeks later, a letter bearing the logo of several conservative groups and signatures of several conservative leaders was sent to the company's president, Frederick Smith, opposing the FedEx position. The letter included the logo of the ACU, and the name of David Keene, who was identified as the group's president.
In the Politico story, a FedEx spokesman accused the group of offering to exchange its policy positions for contributions.