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: McConnell leads GOP counter-attack against START pact
Senate Republicans mounted a counter-attack Sunday against ratifying a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia this year, trying to put off a vote that Democrats say they will win if it is held. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky led the way, telling CNN's "State of the Union" that members of his party need more time to consider the START accord. "I've decided I cannot support the treaty," McConnell said in his first outright rejection of ratifying the treaty during the current lame-duck session of Congress.
CNN: Senate GOP leader says deal reached on government spending
The Senate will consider a proposal to fund the government until March under an agreement worked out by its Republican and Democratic leaders, the chamber's top Republican told CNN on Sunday. Spending authorization measures are necessary to keep the government running. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives last week approved a brief extension of the funding resolution that was expiring on Saturday, allowing the government to keep running through Tuesday. That provided time to reach agreement on a further extension of the spending resolution until March, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on CNN's "State of the Union" program.
Washington Post: For gay rights, is repeal of 'don't ask' military ban the end or the beginning ?
For the American gay rights movement, this is the big question that follows Saturday's landmark repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Is the Senate vote the successful end of one struggle or a turning point for many others? Activists are hoping that the repeal – which will allow gays to serve openly in the U.S. military – gives them significant new leverage. For the first time they can argue that if the Army trusts gay men and women with rifles, why shouldn't society trust them with wedding rings? But some analysts say that while the vote was a sign of growing public support for gay and lesbian causes, it also illustrates the narrowness of that transformation. The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," they say, was a near-perfect issue for gay activists. Its standard-bearers were proven patriots, and they were asking only for the government to be indifferent to their sexual orientations, not to certify them. The movement's upcoming fights, centered on gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws, will be on more difficult ground.
CNN: Food-safety measure passes Senate in Sunday surprise
A bill that would overhaul the nation's food-safety laws for the first time since the Great Depression came roaring back to life Sunday as Senate Democrats struck a deal with Republicans that helped overcome a technical mistake made three weeks ago and a filibuster threat that seemed likely to scuttle the legislation. After a weekend of negotiations, tense strategy sessions and several premature predictions about the bill's demise, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) reached a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that the GOP would not filibuster. Without notice and in a matter of minutes Sunday evening, the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent, sending it to the House, where passage is expected. President Obama has said he would sign the legislation, which would give the government far-reaching authority to set and enforce safety standards for farmers and food processors.
CNN: Senate Democrats optimistic over 9/11 rescue workers bill
Senate Democrats said they were hopeful they had pulled off "a Christmas miracle" by gaining enough votes to pass a health care bill benefiting 9/11 rescue workers. Long-time champion of the bill, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said in the past 48 hours Democrats had retooled the measure to gain Republican support. He said Democrats would introduce the bill after the last vote on the START nuclear arms treaty, which has occupied the Senate for several days. "Barring a setback, we believe we're on the path to victory by the end of this week," Schumer said.
New York Daily News: Rep. Peter King to hold hearings on 'radicalization' of American Muslims, critics fear witchhunt
Rep. Peter King said Sunday he'll hold hearings on the "radicalization of the American Muslim community" – but some critics fear an anti-Islamic witchhunt. King (R-L.I.) said a Congressional probe is needed because Al Qaeda has increasingly targeted Muslims living legally in the United States as potential terror recruits. Despite the threat to their own community, King said, some Islamic clerics resist cooperating with investigators. "We want to assess the extent of the radicalization of the Muslim community," he said. "It's clear to me there has not been sufficient cooperation. With Al Qaeda trying to recruit from within their community, it's important that they cooperate," said King, who will be chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security in the new Republican-controlled Congress. King's call drew fire from Muslim groups, who said they fear the hearings will only fuel bigotry and hatred. "We're concerned that it'll become a new McCarthy-type hearing," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
CNN: Biden explains top targets for 2012
Vice President Joe Biden revealed Sunday that tax cuts and the estate tax for those with higher incomes will be the administration's top priorities in 2012. Biden played an essential role in negotiating the tax compromise recently passed through Congress that included a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels, a revival of the estate tax at a lower level, and the continuation of unemployment benefits for an additional 13 months. He said Democrats scaled back what they wanted to reach the compromise, but predicted that won't happen the next time around.
Houston Chronicle: As Barack Obama said, elections have consequences.
For evidence of the consequences of the great conservative uprising of 2010, consider Texas and Connecticut. Before the 2010 midterm election, Texas was a large state with a small footprint on Capitol Hill. The Republican-dominated delegation had little influence in Democratic-dominated Washington, with just one committee chairmanship and no members on the majority leadership team. Connecticut, on the other hand, had an all-Democratic House delegation, an influential member of the House leadership, House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson, and two important Senate committee chairs, Chris Dodd of Banking and Joe Lieberman of Homeland Security. When the 112th Congress convenes in January, the two states' roles will be reversed. Texas will have four members of the congressional GOP leadership, three House committee chairs and three incoming freshmen to reinforce the 20 conservative Republicans already on hand in Washington. Connecticut will have an all-Democratic House delegation and a freshman senator.
New York Times: Private Links in Foreign Trip for Lawmaker
When Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, visited Honduras early this year to congratulate the newly elected president, the congressman showed up with an unusual delegation. There at his side was not just the typical collection of Washington foreign policy aides, but also a group of California real estate investors and businessmen, including a dealer in rare coins, and top executives from a fledgling San Diego biofuels company run by a friend of the congressman’s wife. Using his status as a senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Rohrabacher cheered his hosts in Honduras by openly challenging the Obama administration’s foreign policy agenda there, then arranged a series of meetings with top Honduran officials, including the president, during which the congressman “enthusiastically promoted” the biofuel company’s plans to perhaps set up operations in Honduras, says a State Department summary of the meetings included in the files obtained by WikiLeaks.
USA Today: New governors get private funds for inaugurals
At least a third of the nation's newly elected governors are collecting large contributions from wealthy individuals and companies to help pay for their inaugural celebrations, records and interviews show. Some donors — such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, which donated $25,000 to Florida's Republican Gov.-elect Rick Scott — have substantial business interests within those states. Even as states cope with budget shortfalls and high unemployment, the inaugural events include lavish formal dinners, gala balls and invitation-only events where some donors will get access to top state officials.
Politico: Preventing a January primary
As 2012 nears, the political class is united with one holiday wish: Please don’t make us spend New Year’s Eve in Iowa like we did in 2008. The leadership in both parties is listening. In the hopes of stopping the madness of ever-earlier presidential primaries, Democrats and Republicans have tried to set forth a primary that doesn't get under way until February 2012, remains competitive through March and finishes cleanly. But while they are optimistic, it remains to be seen whether they've truly succeeded in preventing rogue states from pushing the primary calendar into January or even earlier. The question stands to be answered in the coming months, as state legislatures across the country begin meeting. And given how the competition between early states snowballed in 2007, the possibility of mischief can’t be ruled out.
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NPR: Pentagon Health Plan Won't Cover Brain-Damage Therapy for Troops
During the past few decades, scientists have become increasingly persuaded that people who suffer brain injuries benefit from what is called cognitive rehabilitation therapy — a lengthy, painstaking process in which patients relearn basic life tasks such as counting, cooking or remembering directions to get home. Many neurologists, several major insurance companies and even some medical facilities run by the Pentagon agree that the therapy can help people whose functioning has been diminished by blows to the head. But despite pressure from Congress and the recommendations of military and civilian experts, the Pentagon’s health plan for troops and many veterans refuses to cover the treatment — a decision that could affect the tens of thousands of service members who have suffered brain damage while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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CNN: Defense ministry: South Korea ends live-fire drill
South Korea's live-fire military exercise has ended, the country's defense ministry said Monday. The drill started about two hours earlier Monday afternoon, and fighter jets took to the sky in preparation for possible retaliation by North Korea. North Korea had said the drill could ignite a war and that it would respond militarily to the exercise, but the country did not act immediately on Monday. Instead, the North agreed to a series of actions after former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson urged the country not to respond aggressively.
CNN: Allawi will take part in Iraq's coalition government
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi indicated Sunday that he will take part in the new Iraqi Cabinet that his rival, incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, plans to present to parliament Monday, effectively ending a months-long political stalemate. Allawi said in a statement that his al-Iraqiya bloc "will play our role actively, productively and cooperatively, and in a spirit of good faith and trust-building, as long as we find that this spirit is echoed and reciprocated by our partners in the political process." In the March 7 elections, Allawi's bloc won 91 seats, the largest number for any group, and al-Maliki's list trailed with 89. But neither group could come up with the 163 seats needed for a governing coalition.
CNN: 14 Afghan soldiers, police killed in two separate attacks
A total of 14 Afghan soldiers and national police officers were killed in separate attacks targeting the Afghan National Army on Sunday, officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks on its official website, saying the two attacks were coordinated. In one of the attacks, two would-be suicide bombers in Kabul targeted Afghan National Army vehicles with firearms, said Khalil Dastyar, deputy chief of police in Kabul. Five soldiers were killed. Police shot one of the would-be suicide bombers, at which point his bomb detonated, Dastyar said. The other would-be suicide bomber was shot and killed without his device going off.
CNN: Oil pipeline explosion kills 28 in Mexico
At least 28 people were killed and 52 injured after an oil pipeline exploded Sunday morning in central Mexico, the state-run news agency said. The cause of the explosion in San Martin Texmelucan, in Puebla state, was under investigation, but preliminary reports pointed to the illegal extraction of oil from the pipe, said Laura Gurza, coordinator for civil protection in Puebla. The situation was under control, but the extent of the damage was still being assessed, Civil Protection Director Miguel Angel Martinez said. The pipe belongs to Pemex, the state-owned oil monopoly.
CNN: Protests erupt after Lukashenko appears to win Belarus election
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, once called "the last dictator in Europe" by a U.S. official, easily won re-election in voting Sunday, according to exit polls reported by several media outlets. Meanwhile, opposition candidates were protesting in the capital city of Minsk and clashing with police. Two opposition candidates were injured, one reportedly seriously. Several hundred protesters were arrested and taken away by riot police, according to journalist Alexander Lukashuk. They were herded into about 20 trucks and driven off, he said.
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Financial Times: Regional US banks looking to mergers
US regional banks are preparing for consolidation as the hangover from the financial crisis and the sluggish economic recovery put pressure on underperforming lenders to raise capital or sell to a rival. Bankers and their advisers say the next two years could witness several mergers among the 7,000-plus banks that make up the backbone of the US banking system. On Friday, Marshall & Ilsey, a troubled mid-western lender, agreed to a $4.1bn all-stock takeover by Bank of Montreal, a Canadian bank that avoided large losses during the crisis. Analysts say that this type of deal between struggling local lenders and healthier, bigger competitors could be a template for future takeovers.
In Case You Missed It
Candy Crowley's post-game analysis of "State of the Union" with Sen. Mitch McConnell and an all-star Afghanistan panel.
A.B. Stoddard and Matt Bai discuss whether the bipartisanship of the lame duck will last in the new session.
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