Washington (CNN) - North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election in 2010.
"It is a hard decision to make after thirty years in the Congress, but I believe it is the right time for me to pursue these . . . interests," Dorgan said in a written statement announcing his decision.
The Democrat also said Tuesday that his decision had nothing to do with his prospects for re-election this year.
"[M]y decision has no relationship to the prospect of a difficult election contest this year. Frankly, I think if I had decided to run for another term in the Senate I would be reelected," Dorgan said.
Two well-respected, nonpartisan political reports, the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg Political Report, had rated Dorgan's seat as safe in the 2010 elections, and Dorgan won re-election by a large margin in 2004.
North Dakota's other senator, Kent Conrad, is also a Democrat. Conrad predicted Tuesday that Dorgan's exit from the political stage was a temporary one. "Although Senator Dorgan is leaving the Senate at the end of 2010, I have a feeling that this will not be the last of his public service," he said in a statement. "It is my guess he will be on a short list of future Cabinet nominees to the Obama Administration in the coming years."
Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders finalized a decision Tuesday to bypass a formal House and Senate conference to meld their health care bills, according to two congressional Democratic leadership sources.
The two told CNN that Obama and Democratic congressional leaders will instead hold informal negotiations to sidestep possible Republican delays of the process.
Avoiding a formal conference has long been expected, but one of the Democratic leadership sources said the president used Tuesday evening's White House meeting with Democratic congressional leaders to formally clear the idea.
To hold a formal conference, conferees - members of the House and Senate - must be appointed by both bodies with resolutions passed by the Senate and the House. Democratic leadership aides said getting those resolutions passed could delay and even derail Democratic efforts, because Republicans would be allowed to offer amendments and hold lengthy debates on the resolutions to appoint conferees.
Instead, White House, House and Senate Democratic leaders and their key committee chairmen will informally meet to find compromise between the two health care bills.
In fact, the White House, criticized by many Democrats for months for having too much of a hands-off approach to health care, has promised that the president and his aides will take a more "prominent role" in the final health care talks, according to a Democratic leadership source.
Obama aides will begin convening and coordinating initial discussions with House and Senate Democratic aides, the source said. The first will take place Wednesday at the White House.
Another Democratic leadership source said house Democratic leaders, who huddled Tuesday in the House speaker's office, will hold a follow-up meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday morning, then go to the White House on Wednesday afternoon.
House Democratic leaders returned a week early from congressional recess to start plotting strategy in resolving what House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer acknowledged Tuesday are "significant differences" between the House and Senate health care bills.
Steele responded to a question about GOP prospects in 2010 Monday night by telling Fox News that Republicans were unlikely to take back the House: "Not this year," he said. But the GOP leader told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Tuesday that he simply isn't ready to make any kind of prediction and that Republicans now are trying to "put in place good candidates to win and winning as if we will take the House in the fall."
"No one is right now declaratively stating that we will win the House back in this November," Steele said. "If they are saying that, I'd like to see the crystal ball they are looking through, because there is a lot of politics to unfold here, and a lot of races to be settled on both sides of the political tracks."
Earlier Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee aimed to negate Steele's comments, with spokesman Ken Spain saying he thinks the GOP can win back the majority in the House in the upcoming midterm elections.
(CNN) - South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defended his record as a consensus-builder on Tuesday and said the Lexington County Republican Party's decision to censure him on Monday was the work of a few angry Ron Paul supporters intent on purifying the GOP.
The resolution, which censured Graham for supporting the 2008 financial bailout and working towards a compromise on cap-and-trade legislation, passed Monday night by a 13-7 vote.
"I have tried my best to be a conservative that can grow and build this party," Graham said, according to The State newspaper. "They have no desire to do that - I do."
South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, who became a conservative hero after he shouted "You lie!" at President Obama during a major speech last year, hails from Lexington County. He also defended Graham.
“Lindsey Graham has been a great leader for our state and party," Wilson said in a statement to CNN. "I appreciate everything he has done for me and his tireless work in helping Republicans at all levels of government. He’s a team player. Ronald Reagan always said that people who agree with you 80 percent of the time should be considered a good friend. Reagan was a wise man and if we want to build a strong, vibrant Republican Party we should follow his advice.”
Shortly after Graham's comments about the censure on Tuesday, former leaders of the Lexington County Republican Party in South Carolina contacted the current party chairman to question the censure effort.
Four former Lexington County GOP chairs co-wrote an e-mail to party chairman Rich Bolen claiming that Graham was "ambushed" by the vote because party members were not told ahead of Monday's meeting that any resolutions would be considered - especially one censuring the state's senior senator. As a result, they wrote, not all members of the county party attended the meeting to express their views.
"The resolution should have been added to the agenda and sent out in advance, and every member of the committee should have been given a chance to participate in the process," they wrote.
The e-mail, provided to CNN by a source close to Graham, was written by former Lexington GOP leaders Scott Malyerck, Katrina Shealy, Butch Wallace, and Lyman Whitehead.
(Full text of e-mail after the jump)
(CNN) - South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford's memoir, "Staying True," has been fast-tracked and will now hit bookstores on February 5 instead of the original April release date.
Sanford's publisher, Ballantine Books, announced the new date on Tuesday.
Sanford landed the book deal in September, just a few months after her husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, admitted to an affair with an Argentine woman. In December, Sanford released a statement saying she is filing for divorce "after many unsuccessful efforts at reconciliation."
According to a synopsis of the book on the publisher's Web site, her memoir "reveals the private ordeal behind her very public betrayal - and offers inspiration for anyone struggling to keep faith during life's most trying times."
"She chose to let Mark Sanford deal with the embarrassment and political fallout from his own actions while focusing her own efforts privately on raising their children to be men of character, even in the face of the lies their father has told," the synopsis reads.
U.S. intelligence had uncovered numerous "red flags" prior to the attack, Obama said, but failed to connect the dots.
The government's inability to stop the attack does not represent a failure to collect intelligence, the president argued. Rather, it represents a failure to integrate different intelligence strands.
The fact that intelligence was not fully analyzed, Obama said, is unacceptable. The president called for reforms to prevent such an incident from recurring to implemented immediately.
Obama reiterated, however, his intention to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Washington (CNN) - The top Republican in the House of Representatives is backing a move by C-SPAN to allow television coverage of House-Senate health care reform negotiations.
In a December 30 letter to Democratic and Republican congressional leadership, C-SPAN Chairman Brian Lamb requested that they "open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage."
C-SPAN is a non-profit cable entity largely devoted to coverage of Congress.
House Minority Leader John Boehner supports C-SPAN's move, saying "hard-working families won't stand for having the future of their health care decided behind closed doors."
"Secret deliberations are a breeding ground for more of the kickbacks, shady deals and special-interest provisions that have become business as usual in Washington. Too much is at stake to have a final bill built on payoffs and pork-barrel spending," added Boehner, in a letter to Lamb that was released Tuesday.
Democrats say it's impossible to predict what kind of media coverage might be possible, given that it is unclear at best if there will be any formal negotiations between the House and Senate to merge the two chambers' health care reform bills into one piece of legislation.
(CNN) - The New Jersey state Senate will vote Thursday on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state, the senate president said.
Senate President Richard J. Codey, a Democrat, has scheduled the vote for 2 p.m. Thursday, according to a Tuesday statement from his office.
"Given the intensely personal nature of this issue, I think the people of this state deserve the right to a formal debate on the Senate floor," he said.
The bill would likely need to pass both of New Jersey's legislative bodies - the Senate and the Assembly - soon to become law, as Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie, who takes office January 19, has said he would veto it. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine has vowed to sign it.
(CNN) - Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is dialing down expectations for his party's performance in this year's midterm elections, predicting that the GOP will not retake the House in 2010.
Speaking to Fox News host Sean Hannity Monday night, Steele suggested the Democrats' current 79-seat advantage in the chamber is too big a hurdle to overcome.
"We are beginning to do assessments on the individual races, but I think overall, given what this administration's proclivities are, we are going to see nice pick ups in the House," he said.
But asked directly if the party had a shot at taking over the House, Steele responded: "Not this year."
But a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee vigorously disagreed with Steele's assessment, saying the GOP has a "very real shot" at wining the chamber.
Washington (CNN) - The United States is halting for now its plans to continue transferring terror suspects detained at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility to Yemen, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.
"While we remain committed to closing the (Guantanamo) facility, the determination has been made that right now, any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea," Gibbs told his daily media briefing. Critics of the Guantanamo transfers have raised concerns over political instability in Yemen and the presence of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, noting that some previous detainees released to Yemen by the Bush administration have renewed their terrorist ties.
Gibbs said Yemen is "not capable of handling" additional returned detainees now.