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: Sources: Plouffe to join White House staff, Axelrod may exit sooner than expected
President Obama is planning to bring former campaign manager David Plouffe onto the White House staff at the beginning of January to work alongside senior adviser David Axelrod for a brief time before Axelrod moves on to help run the re-election campaign, according to a senior administration official and a senior Democratic strategist familiar with the plan. The sources added that Axelrod is now planning to leave his White House post as soon as immediately after the State of the Union address, which is an earlier departure date than originally expected and could be part of a new round of departures at the White House.
The Hill: Left’s pressure moves Pelosi toward clashes with Obama
When President Obama meets with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi next year, he may face a lot more resistance than he’s used to from his longtime ally. The shift from Speaker to opposition leader will undoubtedly change Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) relationship with the White House, and may force her away from a president she has rarely abandoned in the past two years. As Obama decides whether and how much to compromise with the new Republican majority in the House, Pelosi is facing pressure from empowered liberals in her caucus to take a harder line with the administration.
CNN: Ortiz concedes House race in Texas
Congressman Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) has conceded the race for the 27th Congressional District following a recount; Republican candidate Blake Farenthold's victory gives GOP a 62-seat net gain in the House of Representatives. Ortiz released a statement regarding his concession: "With great respect and admiration in the Democratic process, I congratulate my opponent, Mr. R. Blake Farenthold, in his election to the 27th Congressional District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives."
CNN: Virginia GOP looks ahead to 2012
Former U.S. Senator George Allen has received some good news should he choose to challenge Democratic Sen. Jim Webb for his old seat in 2012. Virginia's GOP leaders elected to select their Republican candidate in 2012 by primary instead of by convention potentially helping Allen who may fare better before primary voters than party delegates.
New York Times: Effort for Liberal Balance to G.O.P. Groups Begins
In what may prove a significant development for the 2012 elections, David Brock, a prominent Democratic political operative, says he has amassed $4 million in pledges over the last few weeks and is moving quickly to hire a staff to set up what he hopes will become a permanent liberal counterweight over the airwaves to the Republican-leaning outside groups that spent so heavily on this year’s midterm elections.
Wall Street Journal: Tea Parties Turn to Local Issues
The Harris County Tea Party near the Alabama border campaigned far and wide in this month's midterm elections. Donations were mailed to tea-party candidates in Nevada and Alaska. There were multiple overnight bus trips to rallies in Washington, D.C. The next stop, however, is closer to home: the local school board. …Aware that education consumes a big chunk of local property taxes, group members are combing through the salaries of every county school employee from the superintendent down. After fighting for several months on the highest level of American politics, the leaders of many local tea-party activist groups now plan to take their agendas of limited government and penny pinching to their hometown governments.
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CNN: Jury convicts man in killing of Chandra Levy in 2001
After more than three days of deliberations, jurors on Monday convicted Ingmar Guandique of two counts of first-degree murder in the 2001 death of Washington intern Chandra Levy. As the verdict was read, Levy's mother, Susan, stared intently at Guandique. Several jurors wiped their eyes afterward. Levy, a 24-year-old California native, was in Washington working as an intern for the Bureau of Prisons when she was last seen on May 1, 2001. Her skull was found over a year later, on May 22, 2002, in Washington's Rock Creek Park. But police didn't arrest Guandique until February 2009. He was then serving a 10-year sentence for attacking two other women in the park and had reportedly spoken about killing Levy.
CNN: Jury begins deliberating Tom DeLay money-laundering case
Closing arguments were held Monday in the trial of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is charged with illegally funneling corporate money to help elect GOP candidates to the Texas legislature. The case is now in the hands of the jury, according to Travis County District Clerk Director Cindy Guebara. The Republican was indicted in 2005 on charges that he illegally sent $190,000 in corporate money through the Republican National Committee to help elect GOP Texas legislative candidates in 2002.
Christian Science Monitor: Gulf oil spill: Offshore drilling firms threaten to go abroad
Gulf Coast offshore drilling companies, hoping for a stronger partnership with the Obama administration to make drilling safer without hobbling major plans, came away disappointed from a meeting Monday with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. In fact, companies and rig servicers raised the stakes by saying they're now actively looking to step up bidding for projects outside US waters as losses pile up. Secretary Salazar met with the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition on Monday in the oil mecca of Houma, La. The event highlighted the building tensions between the White House and largely Southern-based drillers, even after drilling moratoriums were lifted.
Washington Times: U.S. not close to STD goals, CDC reports
The U.S. gonorrhea rate fell to a record low in 2009, but the syphilis rate notched up again and the chlamydia rate reached a historic high, the federal government said in its annual report on sexually transmitted diseases. The new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report also shows that the nation is nowhere near meeting the STD goals of Healthy People 2010, an ongoing national scorecard for good health that was last updated in 2000 by the Clinton administration.
CNN: Massachusetts OK power deal in another win for offshore wind project
The nation's first proposed offshore wind farm got another big boost Monday, when Massachusetts' utility regulator approved a 15-year power purchase between the project's developer and its first client, National Grid. Developers still need to secure permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Still, Monday's announcement marks a major milestone for the effort, giving the project a much-needed revenue stream ahead of planned construction.
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CNN: Report: N. Korea fires on S. Korea, killing 1 and injuring 15
North Korea fired artillery toward its tense western sea border with South Korea on Tuesday, killing at least one South Korean soldier, the Yonhap news agency reported. Two civilians and 13 other South Korean military personnel were injured, with three of the soldiers seriously hurt, Yonhap said. A Ministry of Defense spokesman contradicted the Yonhap report, saying that no deaths had been confirmed and that the military was checking on possible civilian casualties. At least 200 rounds of artillery hit an inhabited South Korean island in the Yellow Sea after the North started firing about 2:30 p.m. local time, Yonhap said.
CNN: Pakistan denies U.S. request to expand drone access, officials say
Pakistan has rejected a U.S. request to expand drone access to more of the country, two senior Pakistani military officials told CNN. "Neither the government nor the military is in a position to face possible domestic pressure on the expansion of drones," one of the officials said. Pakistan's military and its civilian government have, however, agreed to expand intelligence-sharing with the United States, including enhancement of intelligence using CIA officials in the country, a second official said.
New York Times: Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor
For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement. But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
Wall Street Journal: Aid Groups Seek Safety Pacts With Taliban
Independent aid groups operating in Afghanistan are increasingly distancing themselves from the U.S.-led coalition and trying to forge safe-passage agreements with insurgents, betting that a show of neutrality will protect their work amid an intensifying war. The Taliban are reciprocating with a more moderate approach to some aid workers, while continuing attacks on those seen as affiliated with the coalition. Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, recently issued formal instructions to help nongovernment organizations that register with them, Taliban officials say.
Washington Post: Iran's nuclear program reportedly struggling
Iran's nuclear program has experienced serious problems, including unexplained fluctuations in the performance of the thousands of centrifuges enriching uranium, leading to a rare but temporary shutdown, international inspectors are expected to reveal Tuesday. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. unit that monitors nuclear programs, will provide no explanation of the problems. But speculation immediately centered on the Stuxnet worm, a computer virus that some researchers say appears to have been designed specifically to target Iran's centrifuge machines so that they spin out of control. Iran denies the worm caused any problem
CNN: Stampede in Cambodia kills hundreds, government says
A stampede that occurred during a festival in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh has killed 339 people, officials said Monday. Another 329 people were injured in the crush, said Philip Bader, a news editor with the Phnom Penh Post, citing information given by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a televised address. Visalsok Nou, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington, said more than 4 million people were attending the Water Festival when the stampede occurred.
CNN: Robot probe fails in search for New Zealand miners
The robot dispatched to search for signs of life in the New Zealand coal mine where 29 miners are trapped has broken down inside the tunnel, and families of the men are "extremely frustrated," police said Tuesday. The military-operated probe was expected to be a key part of the search for any survivors of a Friday-afternoon explosion. But the operators reported that the robot had stopped working about 550 meters (1,800 feet) into the tunnel, Gary Knowles, superintendent of the Tasman Police District, told reporters Tuesday morning.
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CNN: FBI hits 3 firms with warrants
Federal agents raided the offices of three investment firms, officials said Monday, with the raids coming amid widespread speculation of hedge-fund insider trading allegations. The names of the companies were not made public, but a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said the addresses of the raids matched the addresses of Diamondback Capital Management LLC in Stamford, Connecticut; Loch Capital Management in Boston; and Level Global Investors LP in New York.
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