POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, February 23, 2011
February 23rd, 2011
04:16 AM ET
4 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, February 23, 2011

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.

WASHINGTON/POLITICAL
For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Democrats and Republicans spar over possible government shutdown
With government funding set to run out in 10 days, and Congress on recess, Republican and Democratic congressional leaders sparred via press release Tuesday, blaming each other for steering the government toward a possible shutdown. The sharp tone of the releases was in contrast to hopeful signs Sunday and Monday that the two sides were on a path to head off a disruptive shutdown that could affect a wide range of government services.

CNNMoney: Delay on debt ceiling comes at a cost
The longer Congress waits to raise the debt ceiling, the more time and money the Treasury Department will have to spend just managing the national debt by the minute, a federal report warned Tuesday. Moreover, the Treasury may have less wiggle room than many believe to keep the debt below the limit. The legal cap on how much the government can borrow is currently set at $14.294 trillion. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said it could be reached as soon as April 5 and urged Congress to act. But some lawmakers are arguing that it should not be raised unless Congress also cuts spending.

CNN: Workers' protests swell in Midwest as budget battles continue
Republican lawmakers in the nation's heartland might be feeling a case of heartburn after their budget bills spawned demonstrations in at least three states over what protesters view as an attack on workers' rights. Crowds in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana gathered Tuesday in a series of budgetary showdowns that challenge long-standing rights and benefits afforded to unionized labor while raising questions about the fiscal health of state and local governments.

CNN: Republican governors back Walker
The Republican Governors Association is showing its support for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with a new website amid extensive protests in the state. The website, StandWithScott.com that launched Tuesday provides a forum for individuals to watch the governor's televised chat Tuesday and offer their support through links to his Facebook page and twitter account. In a statement, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the association's vice chairman, thanked Walker for his leadership. "Governor Scott Walker is taking the tough, but necessary, steps to balance the books in Wisconsin and get the state's fiscal house in order, and I applaud him for it," McDonnell said.

CNN: Pro-union website blocked in Wisconsin Capitol
A left-leaning website that union supporters used to rally protesters in Wisconsin was partially blocked as demonstrators gathered in the state Capitol over a controversial budget bill. The website, defendwisconsin.org, could not be accessed on Monday and into Tuesday morning in the Capitol building, where crowds assembled over proposed legislation that would increase the costs of benefits to public employees and curb their collective-bargaining rights. Wisconsin Democratic Party press secretary Graeme Zielinski blamed Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers - who returned to work Tuesday - for causing the outage.

CNNMoney: N.J. governor wants workers to pay more for benefits
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie introduced a $29.4 billion budget Tuesday that demands many concessions from state workers, as well as cuts spending and taxes. Christie, who has gained a national reputation for coming down hard on public employees, wants workers to pay more for their health care. Raising their co-payments and premiums will save the state $323 million. By 2014, the governor would require them to pay for 30% of their medical benefits, up from 8% now. And he gave lawmakers extra incentive to act and workers extra pressure to comply. If these changes are made, the state will be able to double property tax rebates.

Roll Call: Thune May Touch Off Further Senate GOP Maneuvering
Sen. John Thune’s decision to pass on a 2012 White House bid could set off further jockeying for top Senate Republican leadership positions, which began prematurely this month when Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) announced that he would retire next year. Thune, the Republican Policy Committee chairman and fourth-ranking GOP Senator, revealed Tuesday that he would not seek his party’s presidential nomination, although he left the door open to reconsider. The ambitious South Dakotan is likely to focus instead on climbing higher on Capitol Hill and, in doing so, add to the Senate Republican Conference’s intraparty fight for leadership advancement.

CNN: It's no Tea Party for Brown
Republican Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown was elected with support from the Tea Party movement, but he doesn't consider himself a member. "I'm a Republican from Massachusetts and a proud Republican," Brown said Tuesday in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. The freshman senator who is up for reelection in 2012 said he tries instead to be an "independent voter and thinker and focus on the very real issues and where we find commonality."

CNN: Rahm Emanuel wins Chicago mayoral vote
Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, won the Chicago mayoral election over five other challengers Tuesday, topping the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff vote, CNN projects. With almost 75% of the vote counted, Emanuel had almost 55% of the vote, far outdistancing his rivals. Former Chicago School Board head Gery Chico was in second place with 25%, while City Clerk Miguel del Valle had 9% and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun had more than 8%. The other two candidates both had less than 2%.

ABC News: Sarah Palin Responds to Accusations Surrounding Leaked Manuscript
Sarah Palin responded tonight to accusations surrounding a leaked manuscript by a former aide, in particular a claim that she has a second Facebook account that praises the posts on her official page. “Pay no attention to the fake accounts and their fake messages,” the former Alaska governor posted on her (official) Facebook page Tuesday. The accusations stem from the leaked unpublished manuscript of a book by Frank Bailey, one of Palin’s former aides from her time as governor. The manuscript, entitled “Blind Allegiance To Sarah Palin: A Memoir Of Our Tumultuous Years,” was first leaked by the Anchorage Daily News last Friday and is based on more than 60,000 emails that Bailey sent and received while working for the former vice presidential nominee. The book includes Palin’s personal gmail address. When the blog Wonkette ran a Facebook search on that address, they found what appears to be a secret Palin account under the name “Lou Sarah,” Louise is Palin’s middle name.

Politico: Justice drops defense of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz
The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has quietly dropped its legal representation of more than a dozen Bush-era Pentagon and administration officials – including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and aide Paul Wolfowitz – in a lawsuit by Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla, who spent years behind bars without charges in conditions his lawyers compare to torture. Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that the government has agreed to retain private lawyers for the officials, at a cost of up to $200 per hour. Miller said “conflicts concerns” prompted the decision. He did not elaborate.

NATIONAL
For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

CNN: Muslim advocacy group to announce class action suit against FBI
The California chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the ACLU say they will announce a federal class action lawsuit Wednesday against the FBI for "illegal surveillance of the Muslim community." The council's San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento offices began documenting FBI surveillance practices last year. "In recent months, there has been a notable increase in complaints by community members of FBI visits," the offices said in July. It said that Muslims of varying ethnic and geographic background have reported visits by FBI agents.

New Orleans Times-Picayune: Task force sees a way New Orleans can reduce its jail population
The city can shrink its jail population by providing treatment and services to "frequent fliers" - nonviolent repeat offenders often arrested because of addictions and mental illness, a mayoral task force said Tuesday. Appointed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to recommend a proper size for the city's new jail, the task force has been considering various ways to reduce inmate numbers. But at a meeting Tuesday, task force members said that targeting those frequent fliers for services are another way to ensure a smaller jail size. At every step of the criminal justice system across the nation, defendants suffering from mental illness and drug addiction are overrepresented, figures show.

Denver Post: Air-traffic concerns on the rise in Colorado
Last February, as two commercial jets on the same route over Colorado pierced the night sky, a controller at the federal aviation center in Longmont handed the planes off to a trainee. The Denver Center, as the facility is known, helps coordinate flights over parts of nine states. Controllers hover over radar screens, guiding aircraft through a complex maze of airspace routes. Moments after the handoff, the veteran controller noticed that one of the jets was climbing to higher altitude, right into the path of the other aircraft. "I alerted the controller to the aircraft's presence," the veteran wrote in a report about the incident, describing a scene of confusion among the trainee and others doing the training. Controllers at airports across Colorado reported similar safety concerns on an average of three times a month last year, data from NASA shows.

Detroit News: Blue Cross settlement paves way for insurance rate increases of up to 9.3%
More than 195,000 people under age 65 who buy individual health insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan will see rate hikes of 7 percent to 9.3 percent as early as May 1, according to a settlement with the state announced Tuesday. The increases, though, are significantly less than what the insurer initially requested.
Blue Cross initially asked to hike rates 56 percent on its individual policies, but later lowered the proposed increase to 7.8 percent to as high as 15 percent because of mounting opposition from consumer groups and other industry stakeholders.

INTERNATIONAL
For the latest international news: http://edition.cnn.com

CNN: Interior minister resigns rather than carry out Gadhafi orders
Libya's interior minister said Wednesday he has quit the government and is supporting the protesters, who he predicted will achieve victory in "days or hours." Ex-Interior Minister Abdul Fattah Younis al Abidi told CNN that he resigned Monday after hearing that some 300 unarmed civilians had been killed in Benghazi during the prior two to three days. He accused Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi of planning to attack civilians on a wide scale. "Gadhafi told me he was planning on using airplanes against the people in Benghazi, and I told him that he will have thousands of people killed if he does that," Abidi said in an Arabic-language telephone interview conducted Wednesday.

CNN: Foreigners making dash out of Libya
Foreigners are making a run to get out of volatile Libya, with thousands hustling to the Egyptian border and foreign governments scrambling to help their citizens. Around 12,000 people have crossed into Egypt from Libya, officials say, in an effort to flee the violence engulfing the North Africa nation. "There is no security over there," said Esat Abubakr, an Egyptian living in Benghazi said after he arrived in Sollum, Egypt. He described widespread violence and a climate of fear with no security. He said people drove to the border and then walked across.

CNN: New Zealand city in ruins after quake kills at least 75
Rescue teams in New Zealand continued to search for survivors Wednesday after a powerful earthquake rocked downtown Christchurch, killing scores of people, toppling buildings and leaving others trapped beneath piles of concrete. At least 75 people have died, 55 of whom have been identified, according to Prime Minister John Key. Hundreds are still missing, Key told reporters at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. Among the missing are 10 Japanese students believed to be trapped under the rubble at King's Education College. Key also told reporters that he will urge the nation's parliament to declare a state of emergency for all of New Zealand.

CNN: Tension between Petraeus, Afghans over airstrike, children
The U.S. military is denying Afghan government accusations that Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, callously dismissed concerns of an airstrike burning children in a northwest village. The accusation, reported by the Washington Post, stemmed from a weekend meeting in Kabul between Afghan officials and the general to discuss an airstrike in Kunar province. Afghan officials say the strike killed nearly 50 women and children, in addition to 16 insurgents. The International Security Assistance Force said its weapons system video showed that 36 insurgents carrying weapons were killed.

BUSINESS
For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNNMoney: Stocks: Worst drop of the year amid Libya turmoil
Libya's escalating political crisis sparked a sharp sell-off in U.S. stocks Tuesday, with the three major indexes posting their biggest one-day drops of the year, as oil prices continued to skyrocket. Ongoing weakness in the housing market also added pressure after a report showed that national home prices fell 4.1% during the fourth quarter of 2010. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) sank 178 points, or 1.4%. That was its worst decline since November. Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) was one of the biggest losers on the Dow, with shares down 3% after the retailer reported disappointing U.S. sales figures. The S&P 500 (SPX) dropped 28 points, or 2.1%, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq (COMP) shed 78 points, or 2.7%. Those were the biggest drops since August for both indexes.

In Case You Missed It

CNN's John King sits down for an exclusive interview with David Axelrod, former White House senior adviser.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/politics/2011/02/22/jk.intv.axelrod.cnn

The AFL-CIO president tells CNN's John King that the nation has been moved by these labor demonstrations.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/02/22/exp.jk.labor.unrest.cnn

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