(CNN) - Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will miss a major Republican gathering next month of possible 2012 GOP presidential contenders and instead will attend a welcome home ceremony for troops returning from Iraq, a Pawlenty spokesman tells CNN.
The two-term Minnesota governor, who is considering a bid for his party's presidential nomination in the next election, was scheduled to attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal - all considered possible 2012 White House hopefuls - are attending the conference.
Instead of going to New Orleans, Pawlenty will appear at the April 10 welcome home ceremony for the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. The approximate 1,200 troops are finishing a long deployment to Iraq. Pawlenty was also at the unit's sendoff.
"Obviously, the return of these great Americans is more important than politics," says Alex Conant, a Pawlenty spokesman. "We were looking forward to SRLC, but the Governor can't be in two places at once."
The day before the troops' ceremony, Pawlenty will team up with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a political event in Minnesota. Romney, another possible 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, will also not be attending SRLC.
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Washington (CNN) – The health care bill signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday is dominating the debate in Washington, but with seven months until the November midterm elections, the economy remains the top concern of voters.
According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday, 48 percent of registered voters said they would vote for a Republican this November while 45 percent would vote for a Democrat, numbers that have remained relatively unchanged since January.
"It's unclear whether the health care bill will help Democrats or Republicans in November," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But the effect of the economy is easier to figure out. If conditions stay bad or get worse, that benefits Republicans. Improving conditions may help the Democrats hold onto more seats."
In the poll, 43 percent of respondents said the economy is the most important factor in their vote this year. Health care came in a distant second, with 23 percent of respondents naming the issue as their top concern.
(CNN) - Former and likely future presidential candidate Mitt Romney is vowing to support conservative lawmakers who pledge to repeal aspects of the health care reform bill that President Obama signed into law Tuesday.
Called "Prescription for Repeal," the new effort from Romney's Free and Strong Political Action Committee is promising to fund members of Congress who "will repeal the worst aspects of Obamacare and restore commonsense principles to healthcare," according to a statement released Wednesday.
Romney's PAC has already singled out three GOP members of Congress from Ohio: Reps. Jean Schmidt, Steve Chabot, and Steve Stivers. The PAC is sending each candidate $2,500 for their primary campaigns.
Appearing on CNN's Larry King Live Tuesday night, Romney took aim at Obama for failing to attract any Republican support for the health care reform legislation.
"What he is supposed to do is have a plan that is bipartisan," Romney said. "The process was one which violated the principles which he played out during the campaign and was a power push by a single party."
(CNN) - A day after President Obama signed the health care reform bill, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will put his signature Wednesday on legislation to outlaw the federal government from forcing state residents to purchase health insurance.
The Virginia measure, passed by the state's general assembly last month, directly conflicts with the new federal mandates that all Americans purchase some form of health insurance starting in 2014.
In an effort to sustain the Virginia law, the state's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal district court in Richmond arguing the federal insurance law is an unconstitutional overreach of Congressional power.
While proponents of the measure argue that Congress acted within its authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause provision, Cuccinelli's complaint says the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that the clause allows Congress to require citizens to purchase a good or service like health insurance.
Washington (CNN) - They were key players in Sunday's health care vote. Now a group of Washington lawmakers hope to be just as pivotal on the basketball court as they face off Wednesday night in an annual charity game against Georgetown University Law Center faculty.
Among the members of the 12-man congressional "Hill's Angels" team are Democratic Reps. Michael Arcuri of New York, John Boccieri of Ohio, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, and Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, whose votes were heavily courted in the run-up to the late Sunday night vote.
House Democrats hold an overwhelming majority on the team, but the roster does include two Republicans, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. Thune co-chairs the squad with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
The lawmakers narrowly defeated the Georgetown professors 48 to 42 in last year's game, in which Flake, Kratovil, and Thune were top scorers.
Proceeds from the 23rd annual "Home Court" match-up benefit a D.C.-area homeless program.
Washington (CNN) - The Senate launched debate Tuesday on a House-passed bill to make changes in the hours-old health care reform law, with Republicans promising to use every parliamentary tool available to undermine or defeat the measure.
The "fixes" bill was necessary to get reluctant House Democrats to approve the Senate's version of the health care reform bill. By approving the Senate version of the bill Sunday night, the House sent it to President Obama, who signed it into law Tuesday.
However, House Democrats agreed to support the health care bill only if the fixes measure accompanied it to make changes to the Senate version. Now, the Senate must approve the fixes bill so Obama also can sign it.
Democrats say they're concerned that Republicans may be able to change the delicately balanced package. Any changes would force the bill back to the House for another vote.
Republicans are expected to propose numerous amendments to the fixes bill in an effort to hold up progress and force Democrats to vote against provisions they might usually support.
Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for more than three hours Tuesday evening amid a dispute over Israel's decision to build new Jewish housing on disputed land in East Jerusalem.
The Obama administration has pushed to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and has called on Israel to stop building settlements on territory it captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Netanyahu's meeting at the White House came the day after he defended his government's plans to build new housing units in East Jerusalem, a move that has strained ties with Israel's largest ally.
The Israeli leader arrived after a show of solidarity with leaders of Congress from both parties, during which he thanked the U.S. lawmakers for their "constant support" and "unflagging" friendship.
"Even though the challenges are immense, our will and our partnership is also immense," Netanyahu said at an appearance with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Washington (CNN) – Rep. Randy Neugebauer, the Texas Republican who sparked controversy when he yelled out 'baby killer' on the House floor Sunday night, is not backing down from his vocal opposition to abortion.
"I'm never going to quit speaking on behalf of the unborn," Neugebauer says in a Web video posted on his campaign Web site.
Referring to his outburst, the Republican also says, "And I will continue to speak with the same passion that I did last night, maybe with a little bit different form, but still with the same intensity."
The video is embedded on the Web page http://www.randyforcongress.com, just above large red button that says "Donate Today."
The congressman thanks his supporters in a note below the video player.
"Thank you for your support and contributions as I stand firm in my commitment against the government takeover of healthcare and for protecting the sanctity of life," he writes.
Washington (CNN) - The health care law signed Tuesday by President Obama is projected to extend insurance coverage to roughly 32 million additional Americans, but what happens to those who don't get themselves covered by health insurance?
The new law creates penalties in the tax code as an incentive.
An adult who does not have health insurance by 2014 would be penalized $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater, so long as the amount does not exceed the price tag of a basic health plan. But by 2016, the penalty increases to $695 for an uninsured adult, and up to $2,085 per household, or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater.
A person would also be penalized only if he or she went more than three months of the year without insurance.
(CNN) - President Obama will sign an executive order Wednesday that ensures that existing limits on the federal funding of abortion remain in place under the new health care overhaul law.
Unlike the signing of the health care bill into law Tuesday, which was conducted under the glare of media cameras, the event Wednesday will be closed to the news media.
It will be attended by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan and 12 of his anti-abortion Democratic House colleagues, without whose help the landmark overhaul bill would not have passed, political observers say.
The White House said the executive order reaffirms longstanding restrictions on the federal funding of abortion in the new law.
"While the legislation as written maintains current law, the executive order provides additional safeguards to ensure that the status quo is upheld and enforced, and that the health care legislation's restrictions against the public funding of abortions cannot be circumvented," the White House said.