Honolulu, Hawaii (CNN) – Michael Steele defended his turbulent tenure as head of the Republican National Committee Thursday, and vented his frustration with reporters in the room who, he claimed, "find me fascinating to write about and to opine on."
Steele specifically challenged a CNN question during a news conference at the RNC's Winter Meeting about whether he thinks members want him to serve a second term as head of the national party.
"Yeah, did you get intel otherwise?" he responded sharply. When it was pointed out that committee members have questioned his leadership, both privately and in the media, Steele bristled.
"They said critical things privately to you?" he said. "I'm sure they have. I look forward to that conversation publicly. My style is not something you get used to very easily, I know that. But at the end of the day, the members of this party charged me to do two things, raise money and win elections. On those two fronts, I think we're doing okay."
Steele later said he was open to running for a second term as chairman in January. "I have no reason not to," he shrugged. "It's in the hands of the members."
Another reporter questioned Steele's claim, made during the news conference, that the RNC began 2010 with more money in the bank than their counterparts at the Democratic National Committee. The RNC entered January with $8.4 million on hand. The DNC ended November with $13.1 million in the bank, but has not yet reported its end of the year fundraising totals.
Washington (CNN) - Two major speakers at next week's first Tea Party Convention are dropping out of the lineup.
Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann announced Thursday that they will not be attending the convention, which is scheduled to start late next week in Nashville, Tennessee.
Blackburn was scheduled to serve as a featured speaker and also introduce the keynote speaker, former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Bachman was scheduled to serve as one of the convention's kickoff speakers. Both congresswomen are strong supporters of the tea party movement.
Blackburn's congressional office says the House Committee on Standards advised her not to participate in the convention, which is being put together by the Tea Party Nation as a for-profit entity. Tea Party Nation is run by Judson Phillips, a lawyer in Tennessee.
"I spoke to Judson Phillips this morning and let him know that I could not participate in the convention. I told him frankly that Tea Party Nation's for-profit status has put many of his speakers in an awkward position," Blackburn said in a statement.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would allow President Barack Obama to expand sanctions against Iran to pressure the Islamic republic to drop its nuclear weapons ambitions.
The House passed its own expanded sanctions bill last year. To become law, the two versions would have to be merged and the final version approved by both chambers before going to Obama for his signature.
Under the Senate measure that passed on a voice vote, Obama could impose new U.S. sanctions that would target Iran's gasoline imports and oil refining capacity, as well as other aspects of Iran's oil industry. It also would ban most direct imports and exports between Iran and the United States, along with other steps aimed at preventing business ties with some Iranian companies and individuals.
"I believe that passing this legislation is critical to send Iran the message that the United States is serious about keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.
(CNN) - President Obama is taking heat from a Senate Democrat over how he dealt with the issue of health care in his first State of the Union speech.
"I think the president should have been more clear about a way forward on health care last night," Sen. Mary Landrieu told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday. "I'm hoping in the next week or two he will be, because that's what it's going to take if it's at all possible to get this done."
"Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom is not necessarily going to work," the Louisiana Democrat added.
Obama didn't address the signature issue of his first year in office until about halfway through the 71-minute speech, and then only discussed it for about five minutes. But he urged Congress not to abandon the effort that now appears in limbo following the Democratic Party's recent loss of its supermajority in the Senate.
"Do not walk away from reform. Not now," Obama said. "Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."
Landrieu, one of the last members of her party to agree to the final Senate health care bill, also suggested the president erred in allowing three separate Senate and House committees to pass various versions of the bill.
"As far as I know, the president thought it was a good idea to have three different bills debated," she said.
"No wonder people got confused. So it's not completely our fault that that was the plan."
Landrieu also said she felt the president unfairly blamed the Senate during his speech for holding up a series of initiatives that had already cleared the House.
"I thought he was pointing his finger at the Senate a lot throughout the speech last night … no I do not think its fair," she said. "Moderate Senate Democrats, who give the Senate the 60 votes, come from states that have to appreciate a broad range of ideas and since the president ran on a bipartisan, change, working with Republicans, [he] doesn't do a great service to then say everything the House passes without any Republican votes is something the Senate should just take."
– CNN's Ted Barrett and Alexander Mooney contributed this report
Washington (CNNMoney.com) - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was confirmed for a second term Thursday by the U.S. Senate.
The final confirmation vote was 70-30. Minutes earlier, more than enough senators, 77, voted to end a filibuster on the nomination in a procedural move that required 60 votes.
The vote, which occurred just three days before Bernanke's first term was scheduled to end, came after heavy lobbying by Democratic leaders and the Obama administration. President Obama, himself, made calls last weekend. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., lobbied Republicans to make sure he had enough votes.
Washington (CNN) - President Obama acknowledged Wednesday night that he's faced political setbacks during his first year in office.
Obama's first State of the Union speech was the pivot his critics believe he should have made months ago. Health care is now on the back burner, and the pain of a lingering economic recession is front and center.
"I realize that for every success story, there are other stories of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from," Obama said. "That is why jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010, and that's why I'm calling for a new jobs bill tonight."
His speech is likely to play well with independent voters, whose support of Obama has waned since helping him get elected, one expert on independent voters said.
Washington (CNN) - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that Congress would pass a health care bill this year, while his counterpart in the House - Speaker Nancy Pelosi - outlined a two-step plan intended to maintain public focus on the issue.
"We're going to do health care reform this year," Reid told reporters, the day after President Barack Obama urged Congress in his State of the Union address to act on what was his top domestic priority in 2009. "The question is, at this stage, procedurally, how do we get where we need to go?"
Democratic hopes to get a bill to Obama's desk by now were derailed by the GOP's upset win in last week's special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts Senate seat.
The win stripped Democrats of their 60-vote Senate super-majority and gave Republicans enough votes to block most legislation in the chamber. Democrats, who were in the process of combining previously passed House and Senate bills at the time of the election, have been struggling since to come up with a new legislative strategy.
Union address that, because of his administration's stimulus plan, 2 million Americans are "working right now who would otherwise be unemployed."
That figure was calculated by his Council of Economic Advisers. It includes the administration's estimate of 640,000 positions that were directly funded by the stimulus through Sept. 30, as well as any job that was touched or indirectly affected by stimulus money. On Saturday, the administration will release a new estimate of positions directly funded by the stimulus till the end of 2009.
The CNN Fact Check team dug into this and found that not every worker who has ever held a stimulus-funded position is necessarily still employed in that position. A number of stimulus-funded jobs were for temporary projects that have concluded. The administration says it has accounted for this by aggregating and combining temporary or part-time jobs into the equivalent of "job years," meaning the equivalent of a full-time job held for one year.
Claim: For the first time in history - my administration posts our White House visitors online.
Verdict: The Obama administration did make history by posting its logsonline. You can browse them yourself here.
But the release of these logs came only after a legal challenge by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The group filed suit seeking the logs related to the visits by certain groups. When the Obama administration settled the suit it went further, agreeing to post the logs of all visitors from September 15 onward.
While this seems like a big win for transparency, Melanie Sloan, the executive director of CREW, says because the administration voluntarily agreed to release the logs, the administration could later decide to reverse this decision. Additionally, nothing compels the next administration to take the same course. Nothing besides the promise that a reversal would provoke a resumption of legal action!
Bottom line: The Obama administration did pioneer new transparency in visitor logs but it took outside pressure to get there.