Washington (CNN) – The Obama administration is sounding an optimistic tone after the president's surprise visit to Afghanistan over the weekend.
Denis McDonough, chief of staff for the National Security Council, said President Obama was "energized" and added that U.S. officials saw some "very good signs of progress" in Afghanistan.
But there is one critical question: Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai up to the job of fighting corruption and dealing with governance issues?
National Security Advisor James Jones referred to Karzai as "an adequate partner," but McDonough admitted that there are "very difficult challenges that remain."
In seeking to "reverse the Taliban's momentum" and prevent Afghanistan from becoming Al-Qaeda's safe haven, the U.S. strategy is to take a "step-by-step approach" said McDonough.
Washington (CNN) - One day before President Barack Obama signs into law the final piece of health care reform legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi Monday ran a rhetorical victory lap in her hometown of San Francisco, touting the benefits of the new law while also directly challenging Republicans who want it repealed.
"They want to reverse and repeal a prohibition on denying care on the basis of a pre-existing condition. Can you imagine making that case?" Pelosi said, linking GOP anger to one of the most popular aspects of the bill. "No, we like denial of service on the basis of pre-existing condition," she mockingly said of the Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) recently told CNN that Republicans would use the slogan "repeal and replace" in their Congressional campaigns later this year, acknowledging that a majority of Americans want some type of reform but rejecting the size and scope of the Democrats' plan.
Dismissing the Republicans' electoral strategy against the health care legislation, Pelosi additionally appears ready to armor herself against potential personal attacks made against her on the campaign trail.
New York (CNNMoney.com) - Five more states will receive federal funding to help troubled homeowners avoid foreclosure, the Obama administration announced Monday.
Last month, President Obama unveiled the Hardest Hit Fund, which pumped $1.5 billion into state housing agencies in California, Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Michigan. These five were originally identified because they had been hardest hit by the housing bust, with prices declining more than 20%.
Now, an additional $600 million is being doled out to the five states that have the largest number of counties suffering unemployment rates above 12%: North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina.
"The goal for our second set of awards was to identify states suffering from high shares of populations living in concentrated areas of economic distress," said Alan Krueger, Treasury assistant secretary.
(CNN) - Republicans used a "campaign of fear" based on false information to get senior citizens to oppose health care reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday.
In response to questions at a news conference in her home district in San Francisco, California, Pelosi accused Republicans of spreading misinformation against Democratic health care legislation backed by President Barack Obama, who made the issue his top domestic priority.
"There was a campaign of fear that was launched (at senior citizens) as soon as the president was elected," Pelosi said.
The reform plan includes cutting the costs of Medicare, the government-run health plan for seniors, by about $500 billion.
Washington (CNN) - U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters Monday that Tennessee and Delaware stood out in their applications for the Race to the Top funding competition because their proposals would reach all corners of their states.
"The two state winners were touching 100 percent of their students," Duncan said, adding that he considered that to be pretty remarkable.
Tennessee and Delaware were the only two states to receive funding Monday in the first round of the education funding competition, federal officials announced.
Delaware will receive $100 million under the program, while Tennessee will receive $500 million.
Duncan said in the announcement that one determining factor was that "both states have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies. And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity, and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students."
Washington (CNN) - The Republican National Committee is examining a nearly $2,000 expense at a racy West Hollywood nightclub where scantily-clad female dancers are reputed to mimic sex acts on stage.
"We are investigating the expenditure in question," a spokesman for the RNC said Monday.
The $1,946.25 expenditure from February 4 is listed under "Meals" on the RNC's latest financial disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The money was spent at Voyeur, a hip nightclub on Santa Monica Boulevard sometimes visited by starlets like Lindsay Lohan and Heidi Montag.
Club-goers posting on Yelp, the user-generated review Web site, describe the venue as having "voyeurism cages with men and women" and a "dark velvety feel with masked naked models." One user claimed to witness "two girls simulating oral sex in a glass case."
(CNN) - A new poll indicates that former New York Gov. George Pataki is in a dead heat with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a hypothetical Senate election match up. There's only one problem: The former two-term Republican governor has not publicly indicated that he has any desire to challenge Gillibrand, a Democrat.
According to a Marist College Institute for Public Opinion survey released Monday, 47 percent of New York State voters would back Pataki and 45 percent would support Gillibrand if the general election were held today, with 8 percent undecided.
The poll also indicates that 27 percent think Gillibrand's doing either an excellent or good job in office, with just over one in three saying she's doing a fair job, 17 percent adding that she's performing poorly and just over one in five undecided. Gillibrand, who was a congresswoman from upstate New York, was appointed to the Senate last year by New York Gov. David Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton, who stepped down to become secretary of State. Gillibrand is running this year to serve the final two years of Clinton's term.
"Former Governor Pataki is the big unknown for Gillibrand," says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, "With her approval rating at 27 percent, Gillibrand will almost certainly have her work cut out for her if Pataki enters the race."
Washington (CNN) - Most Americans disapprove of the health care reform law, but that does not translate into majority support for the "repeal and replace" strategy backed by most GOP leaders, according to a new national poll.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Monday indicates that 56 percent of the public disapproves of the new legislation, with 42 percent approving of the bill that President Obama signed into law last week. Tuesday the president signs into law fixes to the original legislation that were approved by Congress last week.
More than three in 10 questioned say they dislike most of the bill, with one in four saying they oppose all the proposals in the new law. Fifteen percent say they approve of the new law without reservation, with another one in four saying they support the new reforms but feel they didn't go far enough.
(CNN) - President Barack Obama will throw out the first pitch during the Washington Nationals' season opener against the Philadelphia Phillies next Monday, White House spokesman Bill Burton confirmed on Twitter.
In a statement on the MLB's Web site, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said he is proud Obama "will continue the long Presidential tradition of throwing out the first pitch of Opening Day in Washington D.C."
According to the MLB, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first time a U.S. President ceremoniously delivered the opening pitch to kickoff a baseball season: President William Howard Taft did so in Washington, DC on April 14, 1910 before a match up between the then-Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics.