Washington (CNN) - The White House has begun quiet preparations for the possibility of a Supreme Court vacancy in coming months, government sources tell CNN.
Top officials have no specific information that a particular justice will retire after the court's session ends in late June, but want to be ready for a variety of contingencies, those sources emphasized. They requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on behalf of the administration.
Most of the speculation surrounds Justice John Paul Stevens, who will turn 90 in April and is the oldest of the nine-member bench. CNN had previously reported Stevens has so far hired only one law clerk for the October 2010 term. Sitting justices may hire a full complement of four; retired justices are allowed one.
Sources close to him say the Chicago native has given no clear indication of his plans. One longtime colleague said Stevens has neither "encouraged nor discouraged any talk about his possible retirement, and has actually been amused at all the attention" his future has generated in news reports and blogs.
Another source who recently spoke privately with Stevens said the justice wondered what all the fuss was about over his law clerk hiring, and said that, given his age, it didn't make sense to plan too far into the future. That source said Stevens told him he wasn't going to be rushed into making retirement decisions.
Washington (CNN) - U.S. President Barack Obama called former South African President Nelson Mandela Friday to mark the 20th anniversary of Mandela's release from prison, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.
Mandela, 91, was released from prison in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars for his opposition to apartheid.
The bulk of Mandela's sentence was spent at Robben Island, near Cape Town.
(CNN) - On Tuesday, CNN confirmed that Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, had lifted a majority of the holds that he had placed on President Barack Obama's nominations the Friday before. Obama referenced this issue during Tuesday's White House press briefing, stating, "One senator, as you all are aware, had put a hold on every single nominee that we had put forward, due to a dispute over a couple of earmarks in his state."
The president's statement was in direct contrast to a statement by Shelby's office, and the CNN Fact Check Desk wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Read the facts and get the bottom line after the jump:
Washington (CNN) - Rep. Patrick Kennedy already had a Republican challenger, businessman John Loughlin, before he decided to retire from his Rhode Island seat late Thursday.
Now that Kennedy is out of the race, another Republican might jump in: Rhode Island GOP chairman Giovanni Cicione.
"I am more than interested," Cicione told CNN Friday. "I would love to do it, I just don't know if I am in a position to do it."
Cicione predicted that more Republicans might decide to pursue the open seat, which leans Democratic. Several Rhode Island Democrats have already expressed interest in succeeding Kennedy.
"I think we are going to see a lot of activity on the Republican side," said Cicione, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996. But, he added, "John Loughlin is a good candidate and I want to see him succeed."
The Rhode Island GOP has been plagued by infighting between moderates and conservatives in recent months, with conservative elements recently banding together to demand Cicione's ouster over the question of whether to keep Republican primaries open to independent voters. Ciocione favors doing so.
Beijing, China (CNN) - China restated its opposition Friday to U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to meet with the Dalai Lama.
China urged the United States "to immediately withdraw" its decision for Obama to meet the Tibetan Bhuddist spiritual leader, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in comments reported by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
"China firmly opposes the Dalai Lama visiting the United States and U.S. leaders' contacting with him," Ma said, adding China's position on the issue has been "consistent and clear."
"We urge the U.S. side to fully understand the high sensitivity of Tibet-related issues, honor its commitment to recognizing Tibet as part of China and opposing 'Tibet independence,'" Ma said.
Washington (CNN) - Vice President Joe Biden is doing a little campaigning on his way to the Winter Olympic games.
Biden will attend an event for Sen. Patty Murray of Washington Friday morning in Seattle, according to the vice president's schedule. Murray, aa three-term Senate Democrat, is up for re-election this November. Murray won 55 percent of the vote in her 2004 re-election.
A survey of Washington-state voters conducted late last year by The Elway Poll indicated that Murray had a 20 point lead over a generic GOP opponent, with 1 in 4 voters undecided. Former two-time GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi has not announced any bid to challenge Murray, though if he did enter the race the contest would become much more competitive.
Following the campaign event with Murray, the vice president and his wife Jill Biden travel to Vancouver, British Columbia, to lead the U.S. delegation to the opening of of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
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(CNN) - Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat, is not running for re-election, he said Thursday in a video to his constituents.
"Having spent two decades in politics, my life is taking a new direction and I will not be a candidate for reelection this year," he said. "Going forward, I will continue many of the fights we've waged together, particularly on behalf of those suffering from depression, addiction, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I'm so grateful to the people of Rhode Island. When I made missteps or suffered setbacks, you responded not with contempt but with compassion."
The 42-year-old representative is in his eighth term in office. He is the youngest of three children of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts.
New York (CNN) - Those lurid rumors flying around about New York Gov. David Paterson? "None of this is true. It's a flat-out lie," he said in a wide-ranging interview with CNN's Larry King on Thursday night.
Since word of an imminent New York Times story electrified New York political and media circles last week, Paterson has been on the defensive. But day after day, the putative piece has failed to appear - allowing gossip and conjecture to flourish.
Sex? Drugs? Graft? Theories about the article's focus have taken on lives of their own.
Asked whether the onslaught of rumors means "somebody (is) after you," Paterson was blunt. "Clearly somebody is. ... I won't kid you. I think I have thought about who might be after me."
He declined to name the suspects, but he encouraged the media to turn its focus from the whispers to the whisperers.
(CNN) - Former President Bill Clinton's trip to a New York hospital was his second procedure since open-heart surgery in 2004. The 63-year-old, two-term president was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital after complaining of what Clinton counselor Douglas Band said was "chest discomfort."
Fact Check: What prior heart issues has Clinton had?
- Clinton had a quadruple bypass in September 2004 after doctors discovered blockages in some of the coronary arteries that feed blood to the heart. Some of those arteries were more than 90 percent blocked, surgeons said after the procedure.
- In March 2005, doctors removed fluid and scar tissue that had developed in his left chest after the bypass surgery.
- Thursday's procedure inserted two stents - tubular pieces of scaffolding that support the artery walls - to one of the former president's coronary arteries.
- Stents are used to open up arteries that have become blocked or narrowed. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, who was former Vice President Dick Cheney's cardiologist, said Clinton's symptoms suggest one of the bypass grafts performed during his open-heart surgery had become blocked - a common problem, Reiner said.
- The average hospital stay for patients having a stent implanted is two days or less, and some patients may not need to stay overnight, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Read the bottom line after the jump:
New York (CNN) - Former President Bill Clinton left the hospital Friday morning after doctors performed a procedure to restore blood flow in one of his coronary arteries, longtime friend Terry McAuliffe told CNN.
Clinton, 63, was hospitalized at New York-Presbyterian Hospital's Columbia campus after experiencing brief periods of discomfort in his chest over several days, according to Dr. Allan Schwartz, the hospital's chief of cardiology.
Two stents were used to restore blood flow to a coronary artery Thursday after images revealed that a bypass graft - part of a quadruple bypass surgery that Clinton underwent in 2004 - was blocked, Schwartz said.
An electrocardiogram and a blood test showed no evidence of a heart attack, Schwartz said.