The CNN Washington Bureau’s morning speed read of the top stories making news from around the country and the world. Click on the headlines for more.
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CNN: Lame duck Congress convenes
The so-called "lame duck" session of the Democratic Congress convened Monday, with members preparing to make decisions on a host of contentious issues that could have major political ramifications for both President Barack Obama and the incoming Republican House majority. Newly elected House members, meanwhile, were given a daylong orientation on the rules and procedures governing life on Capitol Hill. They are set to take office in January. In the Senate, two new members - Delaware's Chris Coons and West Virginia's Joe Manchin - were sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden. Coons and Manchin are both Democrats; their addition to the Senate did not change the chamber's 59-41 Democratic edge for the lame duck session. Senate Democrats will have a smaller 53 to 47 majority next year.
CNN: Deliberations to resume in ethics trial after Rangel walks out
The House panel looking into ethics allegations against longtime Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York will resume its executive session deliberations Tuesday. On Monday, Rangel walked out of the House ethics subcommittee trial, complaining he has not had sufficient time to hire a new legal team to respond to corruption allegations. The subcommittee rejected Rangel's request to delay the hearing until a new defense team is assembled.
CNN: In turnaround, McConnell backs ban on earmarks
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the chief, old-bull defenders of earmarks, bowed to growing pressure from the public and his fellow GOP senators, and announced Monday he would support a ban on earmarks by Republican lawmakers in the new Congress. "I have come down to this spot and said the Democrats are ignoring the wishes of the American people," McConnell said in a surprise announcement on the Senate floor. "When it comes to earmarks, I won't be guilty of the same thing."
CNN: Congressional Black Caucus Witholds Support For Pelosi
The Congressional Black Caucus has decided to withhold its approval for the House Democratic leadership team, denying Speaker Nancy Pelosi full support of the 42-member organization as she campaigns to remain leader. After a nearly two hour long meeting on Monday night, chairwoman Barbara Lee of California said the group only will endorse caucus member James Clyburn of South Carolina for a leadership position. The causus first wants to know what his role will be in the Democratic leadership before backing the full slate.
Roll Call: Reid Shakes Up His Staff
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to replace his chief of staff in what appears to be a continuation of the Nevada Democrat's attempts to show rank-and-file Democrats that he is committed to changing the way he runs the chamber in the 112th Congress. Sources confirmed that Chief of Staff Gary Myrick will likely step aside for Deputy Chief of Staff David Krone. Myrick, however, will continue to play a leadership role for Reid, given that he is expected to take over the operations of the Democratic Cloakroom as the new Democratic Secretary.
CNN: Cornyn to make bid to remain head of NRSC
Sen. John Cornyn is expected Tuesday to formally make a bid for another two years as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. GOP sources confirm to CNN that the Texas Republican will put his name up for nomination for re-election as NRSC chairman, as the Senate Republican Conference meets behind closed doors. According to the sources, the two-term senator is not expected to face any opposition in his bid to remain as NRSC chairman, and has already secured the support of a number of new Republican Senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
CNN: Murkowski by name pulls ahead
As the counting of write-in votes continues in Alaska, the country's sole remaining uncalled Senate election, the latest numbers show incumbent Republican and write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski leading Tea Party-backed Republican challenger Joe Miller in the Senate race. Until Monday night, there were more write-in votes than votes for Miller. But for the first time, the votes actually counted for Murkowski top Miller's numbers. New results posted by the Division of Elections give 84,563 write in votes to Murkowski, along with 7,601 challenged votes being counted for her. That total of 92,164 votes that are pending challenges is ahead of Miller’s 90,458 votes.
CNN: Murkowski returns to the Capitol
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was warmly embraced by some of her fellow Republicans who shunned her for launching a write-in campaign instead of accepting the results of the GOP primary she lost. Murkowski was one of 11 Republicans to attend a swearing-in ceremony in the Senate chamber Monday for two Democrats who won special elections. Before the event began, as colleagues spotted her on the Senate floor, several approached her with a hug or an arm across the back.
St. Petersburg Times: Hispanic community goes Republican in latest election
Overlooked amid all the good news for the Republican Party on Nov. 2: After losing the Hispanic vote in 2008 and 2006 in Florida, the GOP got it back in 2010. In the U.S. Senate race, Hispanic voters favored Cuban-American Republican Marco Rubio by 55 percent, while supporting Gov. Charlie Crist by 23 percent and Democrat Kendrick Meek by 21 percent. Republican Rick Scott won 50 percent of the Hispanic vote, two points ahead of Democrat Alex Sink in one of the closest governor's races in Florida history.
CNN: Likely chief of Armed Services panel opposed to defense budget cuts
The congressman who will likely take charge of the House committee that controls the Pentagon's wallet has no intention of seeing the defense budget shrink. "Cutting defense spending amidst two wars, is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans. You do not need to be a policy expert to realize that investment is key to maintaining a robust defense" Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California – currently the ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee – told an audience at the Foreign Policy Institute on Monday.
Politico: GOP frosh: Where's my health care?
A conservative Maryland physician elected to Congress on an anti-Obamacare platform surprised fellow freshmen at a Monday orientation session by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan from the government takes a month to kick in. Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in. “He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange.
CNN: Powell: Obama failed to focus on what's 'most important'
While saying he talks regularly with President Obama and his administration's officials, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday that the nation's 44th president has overreached and lost focus in his first term - and lost votes because of it. Powell, a self-described moderate Republican who served as a top military, national security and diplomatic official under presidents ranging from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, said he did not regret backing the then-Illinois senator over Republican Sen. John McCain during the 2008 election campaign.
CNN: Gay rights protesters demand Obama help end 'don't ask, don't tell'
Thirteen gay rights activists handcuffed themselves to the White House fence Monday afternoon, calling for President Barack Obama to work harder for repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gay service-members serving openly. Former Army Lt. Dan Choi, the Iraq war veteran and West Point graduate who has become the face of the movement to remove the ban, led the midday protest on the opening day of the lame-duck session of Congress, to put pressure on Democrats and the president to jettison the law before January.
Washington Post: No clear favorite for 2012 GOP nomination
The first Republican debate has been announced. The early media handicapping has begun. Anticipation in the political community is running high. By those signs, the curtain is set to rise on the 2012 GOP presidential campaign. But what about the candidates? At this point four years ago, the race for the White House was already in high gear. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) filed his declaration of candidacy soon after the 2006 midterm elections. Barack Obama, then just a junior senator from Illinois, stirred Democratic hearts during a December trip to New Hampshire. Talented operatives spent the final months of the year juggling offers from rival campaigns in a furious bid to sign up staff.
Roll Call: 2012 Battleground Centers on Traditional Swing Seats
Two weeks after Republicans posted historic gains in the House, political operatives are already turning their attention to 2012, where an evolving battlefield in a presidential year offers Democrats cause for both fear and optimism. Their hope lies in dozens of seats in Democratic-friendly swing districts across the nation that Republicans claimed Nov. 2. And President Barack Obama — absent, of course, from the midterm ballots — will lead the 2012 ballot and could boost Democratic turnout in key battleground states that went decidedly Republican earlier in the month.
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CNN: Medal of Honor to go to first living recipient since 1976
A 25-year-old Army staff sergeant from Iowa will be the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since three service members from the Vietnam War were honored in 1976. President Obama will award the nation's highest medal of valor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta on Tuesday. Giunta was a specialist serving with the Airborne 503rd Infantry Regiment on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan when his unit was attacked on the night of October 25, 2007.
CNN: Federal report: U.S. hunger remains at highest levels in 15 years
The number of Americans fighting off hunger stayed level last year, though food insecurity rates remain the highest they have been since the federal government began keeping track 15 years ago, a Department of Agriculture report released Monday found. About 14.7 percent of U.S. households were "food insecure" in 2009, meaning they had difficulty feeding one or more of their members at some point last year due to a lack of financial resources, according to the report. That equates to 17.4 million households total, or roughly 45 million people.
CNN: California court rules illegal immigrants can pay in-state tuition
Illegal immigrants can qualify to pay cheaper in-state tuition rates at California public universities, the state's Supreme Court ruled Monday. The California Supreme Court's unanimous decision reversed a ruling by the state Court of Appeals and allowed the state's higher education institutions to continue their policy of allowing certain unlawful immigrants to pay in-state rates. The lower court had ruled that such immigrants, even if they lived and studied in California, should be treated as "nonresidents" when it came to how much they paid to go to these schools.
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CNN: Toll rises to 55 dead in Indian building collapse
The toll in the collapse of a five-story residential building in the India capital, New Delhi, climbed to 55 killed and at least 70 injured on Tuesday, fire officials said. Rescue efforts were continuing in the aftermath of Monday's collapse, said New Delhi's fire-service chief, R.C. Sharma. Video from the scene showed residents digging through debris with construction equipment. Rescuers carried dust-covered victims to waiting vehicles.
CNN: Suspected drone strike kills 20 in Pakistan
A suspected U.S. drone strike in Pakistan's tribal region killed 20 suspected militants Tuesday, officials said. Two Pakistani intelligence officials said the drone fired four missiles - two at a vehicle and two at a suspected militant compound the vehicle had just left. The officials asked to not be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
CNN: Thailand extradites accused international arms dealer
An accused international arms dealer known as "The Merchant of Death" was extradited to the United States on terrorism charges Tuesday, Thai police said. Viktor Bout left Thailand on a U.S.-chartered jet, said police Col, Supisarn Bhakdinarunart, chief of the Crime Suppression Bureau. Six agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration escorted Bout, the chief said.
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Bloomberg: Retailing: The Bipolar Holiday Sales Season
Just in time for the holidays, industry analysts are engaging in their annual ritual of trying to predict how much people will spend and what they buy this season. Amid the uncertainty about the U.S. economy, predictions have been as scattered as ornaments on a tree. AlixPartners, based in Southfield, Mich., says sales will be flat compared with last year. Customer Growth Partners of New Canaan, Conn., projects a 4.5 percent gain. On this, at least, there's consensus: Luxury retailers are likely to hear silver bells at the register this season. Mass-market retailers, though, will be able to dream only of bottom lines just like the ones they used to know.
Detroit Free Press: GM dealers: Chevy Volt production has started
Chevrolet Volt production for customers is underway at General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck plant, GM dealers told the Free Press, putting customers one step closer to receiving the first mass-marketed plug-in vehicle for the U.S. GM's vehicle tracking system says the first Volt extended-range electric vehicle allocated to Puente Hills Chevrolet near Los Angeles was finished on Nov. 9, said Joe McNatt, the dealership’s customer relations and inventory manager. That Volt was purchased through the store’s fleet department, McNatt said.
In Case You Missed It
Charles Rangel, citing his lack of representation, walked out of his ethics trial on Capitol Hill Monday. Fair or foul?
Retired Gen. Colin Powell grades President Obama's first two years in office
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