Washington (CNN) - Joe Biden praised Sen. Chris Dodd Friday, but conceded his good friend - one of the Senate's most vulnerable Democrats - is "getting the living hell beat of him."
The vice president made his comments at a fundraiser for Dodd Friday in Hartford, Connecticut. Dodd had been scheduled to accompany Biden at the fundraiser and at event earlier in the day to announce nearly $4 million in federal stimulus funding to replace an aging fire station in East Hartford, but stayed in the nation's capital to work on health care reform legislation and other Senate business.
The five-term senator, who's up for re-election next year and fighting for his political life, was replaced by wife Jackie Clegg Dodd.
The vice president heaped compliments on his fellow Democrat, calling him "the single most gifted legislator in Congress, now that Teddy Kennedy's gone."
Washington (CNN) - Montana Sen. Max Baucus gave an employee with whom he later became romantically involved a raise of nearly $14,000 and recommended her for a U.S. attorney position, his spokesman confirmed Friday.
But spokesman Ty Matsdorf said Melodee Hanes' raise was comparable to the pay boost given to other members of the senator's senior staff at the same time – identical to his legislative director's pay bump, and less than his chief of staff's.
Hanes was paid $126,541 total for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, according to congressional records.
The former prosecutor, who currently works for the Justice Department, withdrew her nomination for U.S. attorney in March of 2009 because her relationship with Baucus was "changing and growing increasingly serious," according to an aide to the senator. The aide said the decision had been under discussion for several weeks before – though "around the same time as" - a March inquiry about the relationship from a Missoulian reporter.
(CNN) - Santa won't forget the nation's first dog this Christmas, according to Michelle Obama.
In a special holiday interview, the first lady told Oprah Winfrey that Portuguese water dog Bo has a stocking, just like every other member of the Obama family. "Santa loves Bo too," she said.
President Obama - who has his own stocking, just like daughters Sasha and Malia - told Winfrey about his favorite Christmas gift as a child. "I do remember the one time I met my father he was visiting during Christmas and he gave me a basketball," said the president. "And - the degree to which I came to love basketball - it wasn't until much later in life that I realized, 'Actually, he gave me that basketball.' I think there was some cause and effect there in terms of the degree to which I just ended up taking up the sport as a kid who didn't know his dad."
The Obamas' full White House sitdown with Winfrey is set to air Wednesday.
Washington (CNN) - Members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on President Obama Friday to address the skyrocketing unemployment rate facing minorities - especially African-Americans and Latinos - and greater economic conditions plaguing low-income communities.
"Our job is to make sure the legislation that gets to the president's desk responds to the degradation and the crisis in our community," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, at a Friday news conference. "Our community is bleeding. And we are the worst hit."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in November 2009 for blacks is at 15.6 percent - and 12.7 percent for Hispanics. In comparison, the rate for whites is 9.3 percent.
The latest job numbers show that a drop in the U.S. unemployment rate dropped from 10.2 percent to 10 percent in November.
"Our Nation has suffered substantial unemployment and underemployment over a prolonged period, which has imposed significant economic and social costs, particularly in communities of color," the December 9 letter, from Chairwoman Barbara Lee and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver to Obama, stated. "We appreciate your attention to these prescriptive measures and look forward to working with you."
(CNN) - Jenny Sanford, the wife of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, said Friday she is filing for divorce.
She said in a statement that "the dissolution of any marriage is a sad and painful process."
"This came after many unsuccessful efforts at reconciliation, yet I am still dedicated to keeping the process that lies ahead peaceful for our family," the statement said.
The Sanfords have lived apart since June, when the governor admitted to an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman.
The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the divorce filing.
(Updated with additional information and Gov. Sanford's reaction after the jump)
Washington (CNN) - Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, said Friday that he will formally announce his retirement from Congress this weekend so he can focus on his run for governor next year.
Abercrombie has scheduled a press conference for Sunday.
"I cannot claim the Governorship should be a cornerstone of our democracy and not make the campaign for it the center of all my efforts," Abercrombie said in a statement posted on his campaign Web site.
The 10-term congressman said he already shared his decision with the White House, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other members of Hawaii's congressional delegation. Abercrombie's move will trigger a special election to fill the remainder of his term.
Washington (CNN) - The health care bill currently being negotiated in the Senate would allow caps on annual insurance benefits, reversing a previous version of the plan that would have prevented insurance companies from establishing such limits, according to three separate Democratic aides.
"We were trying to minimize premium impacts," explained Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, acknowledging the change.
The trade-off has drawn criticism from the American Cancer Society's
Cancer Action Network, a patient advocacy group.
"We were very surprised by this," said Stephen Finan, the group's senior policy director. Finan worries that cancer patients, who often require expensive procedures, could still face major financial losses if annual coverage benefits are capped too low.
Policymakers on the Hill are defending the legislation.
Washington (CNNMoney.com) - The House passed legislation Friday aimed at preventing the next big financial crisis, ushering in the most sweeping set of changes to the banking regulatory system since the New Deal.
The bill, which passed 223-202, imposes more oversight and stronger capital cushions for the largest banks and Wall Street firms. It forces them to pay a total of as much as $150 billion into an emergency fund that could be tapped when a troubled firm needs to be taken over and broken up.
The legislation also calls for the regulation of some derivatives and creates a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to regulate products such as credit cards and mortgages.
"The bailouts of AIG and Bear Stearns would be not possible - made illegal - under this bill," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Committee, said Wednesday as debate started on the bill. "If a company fails, it'll be put to death."
The House rejected, by 223-208, an amendment that would have effectively killed the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, replacing it with a council of existing regulators.