Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama marked St. Patrick's Day Wednesday by welcoming the Irish prime minister to the White House.
The president, who wore a light green necktie for the occasion, noted the numerous contributions made by Irish Americans to the development of the United States. He also thanked the government in Dublin for its work in promoting the peace process in Northern Ireland, as well as its cooperation on issues tied to the push for greater global economic stability.
"Thirty-six million Americans claim Irish ancestry," Obama said. "I'm sure more do on St. Patrick's Day. And it's a testament I think to how close our two countries are that America has been shaped culturally, politically, economically, by the incredible contributions of Irish-Americans. Those bonds endure."
In an apparent allusion to the acrimonious health care debate on Capitol Hill, Prime Minister Brian Cowen joked that he had decided to come to Washington during a quiet week. He also thanked Obama for his leadership, calling him the leader of the free world.
The two men were later hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a luncheon on Capitol Hill.
New York (CNNMoney.com) - Congress put the final seal of approval on a $17.6 billion job creation bill on Wednesday.
The measure, which has gone through many twists and turns in the House and Senate in recent weeks, now heads to President Obama for his signature. It passed the Senate Wednesday by a 68 to 29 vote.
The legislation will:
– Exempt employers from Social Security payroll taxes on new hires who were unemployed.
Washington (CNN) - Reacting to the announcement by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, that he'll support the health care reform bill even though he doesn't like it, a senior administration official at the White House said "obviously we welcome the announcement and we want everyone to support the bill."
President Obama had been wooing Kucinich, who voted no on the earlier House bill and had been undecided on whether he'd embrace the Senate bill.
The Ohio congressman accompanied Obama on Air Force One Monday for a day trip to his district just outside Cleveland, Ohio. During the flight, White House aides say the president made the case for health care reform.
Obama got some help from audience members at the Strongsville, Ohio event. As the president introduced Kucinich, some in the crowd shouted, "vote yes!" Obama seized the moment by responding, "Did you hear that Dennis? Go ahead, say that again."
Kucinich is only one vote, but he represents progress for the president who has launched a full court press to win over undecided Democrats.
Washington (CNN) - Saying the United States is "falling behind" in education, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan worked Wednesday to persuade lawmakers that the Obama administration's plan to rewrite a federal education law is the right move for the nation's students and schools.
"A generation ago, we led the world, but we're falling behind. The global achievement gap is growing," he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
"If we're serious about preparing our nation's young people to compete in a global economy, we must, we must do better than this."
He cited statistics, saying that 27 percent of American high schoolers drop out and that only 40 percent of the country's "young people" earn a two-year or four-year college degree.
"I believe that education is the one true path out of poverty, it has to be the great equalizer in our society," Duncan said.
Washington (CNN) - Health care reform advocates inched closer to victory Wednesday morning as a high-profile liberal Democrat switched his position and announced his intention to vote for a sweeping $875 billion plan under consideration in the House of Representatives.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said he believes "health care is a civil right." He had previously characterized the bill, which passed the Senate in December, as little more than a boondoggle for private insurers.
Kucinich was publicly lobbied for his vote by President Barack Obama during the president's visit this week to Kucinich's congressional district in Ohio. He told reporters he's had four meetings with Obama to discuss the bill.
"The president's visit to my district ... underscored the urgency of this vote," Kucinich said. "I have doubts about the bill ... [but] I've decided to cast a vote in favor of the legislation."
(CNN) – Meg Whitman has made gains and is now in a dead heat with Jerry Brown in this year's battle for California governor, according to a new survey.
A Field Poll of likely California voters released Wednesday morning indicates that Whitman leads Brown 46 to 43 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup. Whitman's 3 point advantage is within the survey's sampling error. Brown led Whitman by 10 points in a Field Poll from January.
Whitman is the billionaire former CEO of eBay, who also served as an adviser and surrogate in 2008 for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. Brown is California's attorney general and former two-term governor from 1975-1983.
Brown, who formally announced his candidacy earlier this month, is facing no serious opposition for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Washington (CNN) - The Republican Governors Association inserted itself into the health care debate Wednesday, launching an on-line effort to rally opposition to the reform legislation that Congress is expected to vote on later this week.
The RGA is spending "six figures" to pay for on-line ads and has launched a Web site as closing arguments are made on President Obama's top domestic priority. GOP governors argue that the health care reform legislation advocated by President Obama and Congressional Democrats imposes an unfunded mandate upon the states. Instead, the RGA is promoting "lawsuit liability reform" as a better way to help lower health care costs. Ten Democratic governors and candidates are singled out with their own 30 second videos clips that are posted on the RGA's new Web site.
Separately, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour posted a video to his YouTube channel Tuesday in which he spent nearly four minutes criticizing the Democratic health care proposal.
"I am urging you and all of my friends to contact your representatives in Congress ask them to vote against this irresponsible legislation," said Barbour, chairman of the RGA and a potential 2012 presidential candidate. "It would only result in higher taxes in both the state and federal level increase costs for health insurance and ultimately worse quality care."
Washington (CNN) – He sat down and yelled, "You lie," at President Obama. But according to a new TV ad, he "stood up, when most people have been silent."
That's the sentiment from voters in South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's new television spot - the first of his re-election campaign.
The 60-second spot features voters defending Wilson's work on their behalf, though not specifically his outburst at President Obama during a health care speech to Congress last September.
"He's passionate about what he does. And I respect that," one person says in the ad. "He says what he means, and he does what he says," explains another.
Jerusalem (CNN) - The Israeli ambassador to the United States said Wednesday he did not make statements attributed to him about relations between his country and the United States being "in a crisis."
"I was flagrantly misquoted about remarks I made in a confidential briefing this past Saturday," Ambassador Michael Oren said.
"Recent events do not - I repeat - do not represent the lowest point in the relations between Israel and the United States. Though we differ on certain issues, our discussions are being conducted in an atmosphere of cooperation as befitting long-standing relations between allies. I am confident that we will overcome these differences shortly."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Oren made the comments in a conference call to the country's consuls-general Saturday night.
(CNN) - It was a balmy March day in Washington as the Irish ambassador to the U.S. headed to the White House. He carried a small gift for the president: a box of Irish shamrock, in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
The year was 1952. The president, Harry Truman, was out of town. So the ambassador, John Joseph Hearne, dropped off the shamrock and went on his way.
Such was the inauspicious inception of what's become a perennial event: the St. Patrick's Day shamrock ceremony, in which the U.S. president receives a cluster of Ireland's most famous greenery on the feast day of Ireland's patron saint.