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: Giffords goes outside for physical therapy
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Thursday continued her dramatic recovery from a gunshot wound to the brain by going outside for physical therapy, one of her principal doctors in Tucson, Arizona, told CNN. "Today actually, we were glad to say that we were able to take her outside and she was able to do her physical therapy," Dr. Peter Rhee told John King. “We gave her some fresh air and also gave her some sunshine," said Rhee, speaking from outside University Medical Center. "She was able to see the Arizona mountains."
CNN: Chinese leader: Beijing not seeking dominance
Chinese President Hu Jintao wrapped up his visit to the U.S. capital Thursday, telling an audience of American business leaders that Beijing is seeking closer ties and greater trust with the United States on a range of issues. He sought to assuage concerns about China's rising economic and military power, declaring that his country "will never seek hegemony or pursue an expansionist policy." The Chinese leader was unapologetic, however, about Beijing's position on the politically sensitive status of Tibet and Taiwan, calling it a matter of Chinese territorial integrity and a "core interest."
CNN: Obama taps GE chairman for new economic group
The White House will announce a new economic advisory council on Friday, one that will be headed by Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO and chairman of General Electric. "Because we still have a long way to go to get Americans back to work and strengthen our economy, the President will announce on Friday that he will sign a new Executive Order creating a new board, the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which will have a new composition and new mission as we move to a new phase in our economic recovery," a White House statement said. "The Council will focus on finding new ways to promote growth by investing in American business to encourage hiring, to educate and train our workers to compete globally, and to attract the best jobs and businesses to the United States." The council replaces the old Economic Recovery Advisory Board that was headed by Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.
CNN: Boehner: Barring federal funds for abortion one of GOP's 'highest' priorities
House Speaker John Boehner announced Thursday that the House of Representatives will consider legislation to permanently bar federal funding for elective abortions, calling the measure "one of our highest legislative priorities. A ban on taxpayer funding of abortions is the will of the people and it ought to be the will of the land," Boehner said at his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. Asked why House Republicans were making the social issue a top priority when GOP leaders have repeatedly said economic issues were their main focus, Boehner said he's making good on a promise Republicans made last year. "Our members feel strongly about the sanctity of human life. We listened to the American people, we made a commitment to the American people in our Pledge to America and we're continuing to fulfill our commitment."
CNNMoney: Debt crosses $14 trillion mark
The amount of U.S. debt subject to the country's legal maximum has topped $14 trillion for the first time. On Wednesday, the amount of debt subject to the cap hit $14.001 trillion at the close of trade, according to the daily Treasury statement released on Thursday. That means the country is less than $300 billion away from the $14.294 trillion debt ceiling, which is a cap on how much the federal government can legally borrow. The debt ceiling has become a focal point of the debate over spending and debt. Even though congressional leaders say the cap will be raised, Republicans are vowing to use the issue as leverage to force spending cuts.
CNNMoney: Conservative GOP group wants to cut $2.5 trillion
In the run-up to President Obama's State of the Union address next Tuesday, Republicans are turning up the volume on their pledges to cut spending. On Thursday, the House Republican Study Committee - which includes some of the party's most conservative members - introduced a bill that the committee said would reduce spending by $2.5 trillion over a decade. The bill takes the money primarily from non-defense discretionary spending, which constitutes 19% of the budget. It would keep spending at 2006 levels, starting next year, and proposes $330 billion in cuts to more than 100 programs over ten years.
New York Times: Path Is Sought for States to Escape Debt Burdens
Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers. Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign. But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government’s aid. Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care. Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by Congressional aides.
Boston Globe: Romney keeps away from Tea Party
New Hampshire Tea Party movement activist Andrew Hemingway is not lacking in contact with likely presidential candidates. He’s talked hockey with Tim Pawlenty. He sat down with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum at the Concord Country Club. And plans are in the works for Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to appear before a group of Hemingway’s fellow conservatives. A notable exception among the field of would-be GOP presidential contenders? Mitt Romney. “Romney for the most part is inaccessible,’’ said Hemingway, a Bristol resident who is chairman of the state’s Republican Liberty Caucus. “Pawlenty, I could call him right now and say, ‘Let’s have coffee.’ ’’ As the former Massachusetts governor lays the groundwork for a possible second presidential run, he has largely shunned Tea Party activists in key primary states, including the state he must win if he enters the race, New Hampshire. Thus far, Romney is on track to present himself as the establishment candidate — a responsible, mainstream Republican leader with the necessary financial resources and credentials to beat President Obama.
CNN: Kennedy takes family advice
On the 50th anniversary of former President John F. Kennedy's swearing in and the delivery of the iconic line, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy said he's heeding his uncle's words. The most recent Kennedy to serve elected office plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his uncle's charge to the nation with his own plan to "unlock the mysteries of the mind" and find cures for neurological disorders. Kennedy stressed the importance of treating soldiers that suffer from those illnesses and the need to "de-stigmatize wounds of the brain."
Los Angeles Times: Alexandria, Va., hosts a quiet hub of Republican power
Tucked away discreetly in the quaint row houses of Old Town Alexandria, the political shops are largely invisible to passersby. But they are mightily influential in shaping the party's message and strategy. Many helped produce and place the ads that battered Democratic candidates in November's midterm election. Several of the secretive nonprofit organizations that paid for those ads are also based in Alexandria. Together, they've turned King Street into a small-town version of K Street, Washington's famed corridor of lobbying and law firms. "We used to always joke that if they wanted to wipe out Republican Party, all they had to do was [destroy] Old Town," said GOP ad maker Jim Innocenzi, whose office is a block south of King Street.
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CNN: 'Don't ask, don't tell' cost tops $50,000 per expulsion, study finds
It cost more than $193 million for the Pentagon to implement the policy of removing gays and lesbians from military service over six years, a study says. The Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, looked at the cases of 3,664 active duty personnel forced to leave the service from 2004 to 2009 because of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. The cost came to an average of $52,800 to take each person out of the military and find and train a replacement, it found. And the report released Thursday says that 40% of those service members had skills in a "critical" occupation or foreign language such as Arabic, or both.
CNN: FBI targets mob in major sweep, dozens in custody
In one of the largest single-day operations against the Mafia in FBI history, federal agents working with local law enforcement fanned out across Italy, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island to arrest 127 people allegedly involved in organized crime, officials said. Alleged members from the five prominent New York families - the Gambino, Colombo, Bonanno, Genovese and Lucchese families - were arrested Thursday, based on 16 indictments in four different jurisdictions, Attorney General Eric Holder said during a news conference in New York. "Today's arrests and charges mark an important step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra's illegal activities," he said, referring to the criminal organization by its Italian name.
CNN: 23-story rocket launches U.S. spy satellite
The largest rocket ever launched from the West Coast went into space Thursday afternoon carrying a secret "national security" satellite, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California announced. The 23-story tall Delta IV rocket blasted off on schedule at 1:10 p.m. PT (4:10 p.m. ET). With 2 million pounds of thrust - 33 times the output of the Hoover Dam - it delivered into orbit a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, the U.S. government agency that oversees the nation's satellites. The NRO is staying mum about the satellite but noted this is the third in a series of six satellite launches happening over a seven- to eight-month period. The next launch is scheduled for February 5.
Arizona Republic: Maricopa County moves to settle lawsuits triggered by Arpaio, Thomas
Top Maricopa County officials and a battalion of lawyers are trying to settle out of court at least some of the $56 million in legal claims filed against the county in the wake of investigations, lawsuits and criminal complaints pursued by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas. Court documents filed this week in U.S. District Court indicate "all parties are presently pursuing early settlements of these cases," the first official confirmation that settlement discussions are under way to help end several years of bitter legal and political wrangling. The structure of the process creates the potential for conflicts of interest, however, because it could allow members of the Board of Supervisors, judges and others who are potential litigants to turn the process to their own advantage. In effect, some of the county officials who would typically sign off on the settlements and the process of reaching settlements are the very people who could benefit from those settlements.
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CNN: Diplomats gather in Turkey to tackle Iran's nuclear program
Diplomats have gathered in a 19th century Ottoman palace on the banks of the Bosphorus to discuss one of the thorniest issues of the 21st century: Iran's nuclear program. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was meeting Friday for the second time in two months with representatives of what's known as the "P5 plus 1," the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: the United States, France, Russia, China, and Britain plus Germany. At issue are Western fears that Iran may be covertly trying to develop a nuclear weapon - charges Tehran vehemently denies.
CNN: Negotiations under way for high-level talks between North, South Korea
South Korea has accepted a North Korean proposal for high-level military talks and will propose working-level talks to pave the way, South Korea's defense ministry said Thursday. In the preparatory talks, the South will demand that Pyongyang take responsibility for last year's military provocations, the ministry said. High-level talks will only be held if the North promises to refrain from further provocations. The date and time of the talks have not yet been determined, according to a ministry media officer. Such officers customarily do not give their names. The Seoul government also decided to propose holding inter-Korean talks between high-ranking government officials to discuss denuclearization, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
CNN: South Korea struggles to control foot-and-mouth epidemic
About 134,000 South military personnel are involved in efforts to contain the country's worst ever foot-and-mouth outbreak, the agriculture ministry said Thursday. Authorities have killed more than 2 million animals, and fear the epidemic could cost the country $1.4 billion, the ministry said. The country has lost millions of dollars in exports already from the 129 confirmed cases, according to the ministry for food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The $1.4 billion cost takes into account vaccinations, culling and compensation for farmers. Up to 22% of the swine population is being culled and almost 4% of cattle. Vaccinations are continuing across the country as the government tries to limit the number of animals that need to be destroyed.
CNN: Official: South Korea rescues crew that was hijacked by pirates
The South Korean Navy rescued 21 sailors Friday from a ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates, a military official said. The navy captured five pirates and killed eight others in the surprise operation, said Lt. Gen. Lee Sung-ho, a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pirates hijacked the vessel on Saturday, the spokesman said.
Bloomberg: China's Rural Incomes Climb Most Since 1984 in Lure for Obama
China’s 10.3 percent economic growth last year drove the biggest increase in the nation’s rural incomes in a quarter century, bolstering efforts to spur consumption in the world’s most populous nation. In the countryside, per capita net income rose 10.9 percent to 5,919 yuan ($898), a statistics bureau report showed yesterday. The gain was faster than for urban incomes for the first time since 1997. The report also showed an acceleration in retail sales and industrial production at the end of last year. A stimulus-induced investment boom has fueled growth in inland provinces, lifting wages both there and in trade-reliant coastal regions now fighting to retain workers: Guangdong, the biggest exporter among China’s provinces, said this week it will raise minimum wages. The potential gains for Chinese spending are a draw to President Barack Obama, who this week pressed President Hu Jintao for greater access for American companies.
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CNNMoney: Schmidt to step down as Google CEO
Eric Schmidt will step down from his role as Google's CEO in April and be replaced by co-founder Larry Page. Schmidt, who joined Google in 2001 to become its chief executive, will stay on as executive chairman after he leaves his CEO role on April 4. According to the company, he will focus on deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership. He will also continue to act as an advisor to co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. "We've been talking about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making for a long time," Schmidt said in a prepared statement. "By clarifying our individual roles we'll create clearer responsibility and accountability at the top of the company."
CNNMoney: Verizon challenges FCC Net neutrality rules
Verizon filed a legal appeal on Thursday challenging the Federal Communications Commission's authority to enforce the new Net neutrality rules it adopted last month. "We believe this assertion of authority goes well beyond any authority provided by Congress, and creates uncertainty for the communications industry, innovators, investors and consumers," Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel Michael E. Glover said in a written statement. On December 21, the FCC's commissioners voted three-to-two to adopt so-called "Net neutrality" rules, which would give the agency regulatory power over Internet service providers. The agency's goal is to prevent Internet providers from blocking or "unreasonably discriminating" against Web content, services or applications.
Washington Post: Annual home sales at lowest point in 13 years; December sees uptick
Sales of previously owned homes jumped 12 percent in December from the previous month, but purchases for the year were the lowest since 1997, according to an industry report released Thursday. Last year's sales dropped 4.8 percent to an annual pace of 4.9 million homes, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That's only slightly lower than 2008, but still represents the lowest point in 13 years. In December, however, sales picked up. Last month, sales rose to an annually adjusted rate of 5.28 million, the highest pace since May and well ahead of the 4.87 million median projected by experts in a Bloomberg survey. Purchase activity remained 2.9 percent below where it was a year ago.
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