WASHINGTON (CNN) - Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge says he successfully countered an effort by senior Bush administration officials to raise the nation's terror alert level in the days before the 2004 presidential vote.
"An election-eve drama was being played out at the highest levels of our government" after Osama bin Laden released a pre-election message critical of President Bush, writes Ridge in his new book, The Test of Our Times.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld strongly advocated raising the security threat level to "orange" – even though Ridge believed a threatening message "should not be the sole reason to elevate the threat level."
Frances Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to President Bush and now a CNN contributor, denied politics played any role in the request to raise the threat level.
"There was a debate," Townsend said on CNN's The Situation Room Thursday. "Tom Ridge wasn't the only person in that meeting who suggested that the terror alert shouldn't be raised. At no time was there any discussion of politics at that meeting. And the president was made a recommendation, a consensus recommendation from the council that he accepted, not to raise the terror alert."
The former Pennsylvania governor also writes that he saw no reason for the move – which he now calls a bad idea - because additional security precautions had already been taken in the run-up to the election. "We certainly didn't believe the tape alone warranted action, and we weren't seeing any additional intelligence that justified it. In fact, we were incredulous," he said of the push. "…I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?'"
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - The $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program will end on Monday, the government said Thursday.
Dealers must submit any pending Clunker deals, including any necessary paperwork, by 8 p.m. Monday.
"It's been a thrill to be part of the best economic news story in America," said Treasury Secretary Ray LaHood. "Now we are working toward an
orderly wind down of this very popular program."
Officials decided to wind down the program, which Congress passed to spur flagging auto sales, after determining that it would soon run out of money.
(CNN) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a clear message Thursday to congressional negotiators on the health-care bill - dropping the public option would destroy any chance for comprehensive reform.
"There is no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option," she told an audience at her home district in San
The speaker said she agreed with President Barack Obama that a public option is "the best way to keep the insurance companies honest (and) that it would be the best way to increase competition so that we can lower cost, improve quality of care, retain choice, and expand coverage."
"If somebody can come up with a better idea, let them put it on the table," she said. "We haven't heard that yet. So we're fighting very hard for
the public option."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Nearly $1.2 billion in grants from the $787 billion stimulus bill are being made available to help fund use of electronic health records, the office of Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday.
Roughly half of the $1.2 billion is designated to help establish approximately 70 regional centers across the country that will provide assistance to hospitals and medical professionals in selecting and using electronic records. The grant program will provide funding for the regional centers for four years beginning with the federal government's 2010 fiscal year.
The administration expects that the centers will be self-sustaining at the end of those four years, according to material from HHS circulated Thursday by Biden's office.
The remaining $600 million in grants is designated to fund efforts at the state level to come up with mechanisms for information exchange involving electronic health records.
"The grants are designed to help doctors and hospitals acquire electronic health records and use them in meaningful ways to improve the health of patients and reduce waste and inefficiency," Dr. David Blumenthal, National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, said in the statement.
(CNN) - The National Republican Senatorial Committee slightly outraised its Democratic counterpart in the month of July, according to fundraising totals provided by both organizations Thursday.
The NRSC reported raising $2.75 million last month, bringing its year-to-date cash haul to $23.5 million. The NRSC also said it has $4.4 million cash on hand and is carrying zero debt.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised just over $2 million in the same time period, and has raked in $25.3 million since the beginning of the year. The DSCC has just over $7 million cash on hand and owes $3.3 million in debt.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama took his health care message to talk radio Thursday, telling listeners of Philadelphia-based host Michael Smerconish that he wants to overhaul the nation's ailing health care system out of necessity rather than politics.
Appearing with Smerconish for 30 minutes on a broadcast from the White House, Obama faced some of the persistent questions of conservative Americans and others concerned that overhauling the nation's health care system will unnecessarily expand government authority and drive up the deficit.
The questions from Smerconish and the callers were offered with calm and respect, in contrast to some town hall meetings where opponents of Obama and health care legislation have angrily disrupted proceedings.
Smerconish asked about a popular conservative accusation that the government is trying to "be in everything" by pushing for a health care overhaul after effectively taking over some banks and automakers and passing the $787 billion economic stimulus package.
(CNN) - Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, told CNN she believes a DNA test will be conducted to confirm the paternity of the child of Rielle Hunter, with whom her husband conducted an affair.
"My expectation is that at some point, something happens, and I hope for the sake of this child that it happens, you know, in a quiet way," she told CNN's Larry King Wednesday night.
John Edwards originally denied that he was the father of 18-month-old Frances, but has not denied recent reports that he may soon make a formal statement conceding his paternity.
His wife told King Wednesday that life continued as usual in the Edwards household. "Things are going fine. We are getting the children ready for a new school year, everything seems to be going pretty smoothly at my house. Thanks for asking," she said.
Mrs. Edwards, who is battling incurable cancer, told King that "the numbers don't look that optimistic, but I feel good." She said recent test results showed her in relatively good health. "I'm still out here fighting," she said.
(CNN) - Buoyed by last month's high-profile Chicago fundraiser featuring President Obama, the Democratic National Committee reports it raked in over $9 million for the month of July - a cash haul that far exceeds that of the Republican National Committee during the same time period.
According to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission Thursday, the DNC raised just over $9.1 million last month, and has more than $16 million cash on hand. Including various refunds and rebates, the DNC reports its total receipts at close to $9.3 million for the month. It also reports carrying a debt of more than $5 million.
Earlier Thursday, the RNC said it raised $6 million in July. The committee also said Thursday it has close to $22 million cash on hand and is carrying no debt.
The July fundraising hauls suggest both parties campaign coffers will be well-stocked as the midterm election season begins to heat up.