POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
March 16th, 2011
05:09 AM ET
3 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, March 16, 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: Energy secretary defends U.S. nuclear industry
Energy Secretary Steven Chu sought to reassure Congress on Tuesday that America's nuclear power plants are sufficiently protected against the kind of disaster now facing Japan. He also insisted that, contrary to assertions of many skeptics within the environmental movement and elsewhere, nuclear power needs to play a key role in the development of a more balanced U.S. energy policy. Chu said federal authorities responsible for overseeing U.S. nuclear plants have accounted for combined earthquake and tsunami scenarios similar to what led to the crisis in Japan.

CNN: House passes three-week government spending extension
A three-week extension of government funding won approval Tuesday from the U.S. House, with Democratic support overcoming opposition by some conservative Republicans. The 271-158 vote sends the measure to the Senate for consideration before the current government spending authorization expires Friday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday that he expected it to win approval this week to avert a government shutdown. McConnell also said that negotiations have started between House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on a compromise agreement to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

CNNMoney: Ohio governor slashes $8B from budget
Fulfilling his promise not to raise taxes, Ohio Gov. John Kasich Tuesday unveiled a budget that slashes spending for many agencies and seeks to privatize certain government functions to eliminate an $8 billion budget deficit. "We can't tax our way to prosperity, but we can't cut our way either," said Kasich in his town-hall style budget address. The governor said he found savings not only in the $26 billion in the state's general revenue fund, but also in the special accounts that are usually dedicated to specific needs. Altogether, the state funds total $52 billion.

CNNMoney: Alan Greenspan: Stimulus hurt recovery
Massive government intervention to save the economy is to blame for the lagging recovery, Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Tuesday. Greenspan argued for less government intervention to get the recovery rolling and businesses investing in equipment and plants. "What we need to do now is to calm down; let things move by themselves," he said at a forum at the Council of Foreign Relations. "And indeed the rate of activism has decreased significantly and the ratio of capital flow has inched back up." Some economists blame Greenspan, who served as Fed chair from 1987 to 2006, for keeping interest rates too low for too long and for failing to sound the alarm that Wall Street was over-leveraged and running wild.

Politico: Marco Rubio brand readies for prime time
Sen. Marco Rubio is done with the quiet freshman act. With a landmark spending debate engulfing Washington, the Florida Republican has, virtually overnight, launched the national profile the conservative movement has been clamoring for. During his first national interview Monday, Rubio pounced on President Barack Obama — from the friendly confines of Laura Ingraham’s conservative radio show. He blasted a statement to the media, pledging to vote against the Republicans’ short-term spending resolution and calling it a “nickle-and-dime” approach. And he’s vowed to vote against everything that comes through the Senate unless it deals with addressing the $14 trillion debt crisis. Rubio has even given up an apparent Twitter moratorium, tweeting this week for the first time since his victory last November. “Politicians in D.C. won’t deal with the debt,” he wrote.

CNN: Bachmann: I made a mistake; media shows bias in reporting it
Three days after her widely-reported gaffe, Rep. Michele Bachmann explained it by essentially saying: I made a mistake, but the media's reporting of it proves bias. Bachmann made the comments on Tuesday during an interview on the conservative Laura Ingraham radio show. On Saturday at an engagement in Manchester, Bachmann said of New Hampshire, "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord."

CNN: Rand Paul heading to another key presidential state
Does Sen. Rand Paul have designs on an office higher than the one he was elected to in November? The Kentucky Republican has booked a trip to South Carolina on Monday to appear at the Charleston Meeting, an off-the-record gathering of influential conservatives inspired by the weekly "Monday Meeting" of conservatives in New York City. Paul will also make a separate Palmetto State appearance to promote his new book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington."

Roll Call: Portman Is GOP’s Point Man in Ohio
Sen. Rob Portman is working aggressively to help Republicans take back Ohio from President Barack Obama in 2012, and in the process developing connections with top GOP contenders who could put him on the short list for the vice-presidential nomination. Portman will remain neutral in the GOP presidential primary, choosing instead to help all the eventual candidates make inroads with Ohio voters and Republican donors in preparation for competing in a state that could determine the winner of the general election.

CNN: Roemer: It's a difficult road to the top
Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer admits that he's got a "difficult road to the top," on his journey to clinch the GOP nomination for president. Roemer served as a "conservative" Democratic Congressman and then governor, switching parties before the end of his term in the statehouse. He has pledged to only accept donations in $100 increments. Claiming that "Washington, D.C., is a boomtown, and the rest of America is hurting," Roemer told CNN that "inaction is bought by money" on Tuesday. "I'm one of the only congressmen, maybe the only one, who didn't take PAC money," he asserted. "All of my contributions come from names and addresses."

CNN: Cain: Planned Parenthood’s mission is 'planned genocide' of black babies
Using unusually harsh words, a potential presidential candidate echoed some previous comments: claiming that Planned Parenthood’s original mission was to “help kill black babies before they came into the world.” Herman Cain went on to say that the sexual and reproductive health care provider is carrying out its mission of “planned genocide.” In response, the group said that Cain is using "inflammatory and divisive language based on race to achieve extreme political goals" of ending legal abortion. Cain, an African-American and the first Republican to launch a presidential exploratory committee, made the comments Tuesday during a question-and-answer session at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank in Washington.

Washington Post: Candidates emerge to replace Mueller at FBI
The jockeying over who will replace FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has begun, with the FBI agents’ association urging that President Obama select the former head of the bureau’s Washington field office for the critical position. Mueller, 66, is facing a mandatory 10-year retirement in September after a tenure in which he oversaw the crackdown on terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, and the bureau’s ongoing transformation into an intelligence agency focused on preventing attacks. In a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the FBI Agents Association recommended Michael A. Mason, a longtime FBI agent and supervisor who is now security chief for Verizon Communications. Mason, a former assistant director in charge of the Washington Field Office, would be the FBI’s first African American director.

Houston Chronicle: Federally-paid National Guard troops to leave U.S.-Mexico border by June 30
Nine months after President Obama agreed to pay for emergency deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops along the southwest border, plans are in place to withdraw the reinforcements — including 285 National Guard troops in Texas. The Obama administration's decision is sparking bipartisan congressional concern over border security amid fears of spill over violence from unrelenting gangland-style bloodshed south of the border that has claimed more than 30,000 lives over the past five years. The scheduled draw down by June 30 was disclosed during House members' questioning of Obama administration witnesses appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee's panel on border and maritime security.

CNN: RNC considers selling TV rights of presidential primary debates
The Republican National Committee is considering sanctioning the GOP presidential primary debates and then selling the broadcast rights to news outlets, two Republicans with knowledge of the idea tell CNN. The proposal was mentioned last week during a meeting of top RNC officials and a handful of political operatives representing potential GOP presidential candidates. In February, the RNC disclosed it was saddled with more than $22 million of debt left over from the 2010 midterm elections. At that time, newly elected Chairman Reince Priebus acknowledged the committee has "a lot of work to do" to pay off its obligations so it can focus on raising money for the 2012 presidential election.

CNN: Members of Congress host fundraiser for Giffords
Several members of Congress, friends of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords', hosted a Washington fundraiser Tuesday night for the congresswoman's re-election campaign. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Adam Smith and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were the co-chairs of the event, held at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquarters. The three said they joined together "to support our good friend and colleague." "Gabby must focus on the important work of her recovery. With that in mind, we have joined together to support Gabby, and we hope that we can count on you to join us!" read the invitation sent last month from the three chairmen.

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

CNNMoney: Half of U.S. nuclear reactors over 30 years old
Half of the nation's 104 nuclear reactors are over 30 years old, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Most of the remaining reactors are at least 20 years old. Originally granted licenses to operate for 40 years, most of the country's reactors have applied for a 20-year extension. Sixty-two extensions have been granted so far, and 20 are still pending, according to the industry group the Nuclear Energy Institute. From the perspective of the utilities that run them, the reactors - most of which are paid off - provide massive amounts of cheap power with no greenhouse gas emissions. The United States gets about 20% of its electricity from nuclear power plants. But for critics, explosions at several Japanese reactors following a crippling earthquake and tsunami is proof that the old plants in the U.S. should be shut.

Washington Post: Report: State boards don't always discipline doctors sanctioned by hospitals
State medical boards have failed to discipline 55 percent of the nation's doctors who were sanctioned by the hospitals where they worked, according to a report released Tuesday by Public Citizen. The consumer advocacy group analyzed data in a federal clearinghouse from 1990 to 2009 for disciplinary action and medical malpractice payments against doctors. Of 10,672 physicians listed in the National Practitioner Data Bank, about 55 percent, or 5,887 doctors, had been disciplined by hospitals but escaped any licensing action by the state during the entire 20-year period. The hospital discipline was to restrict or revoke the physicians' clinical privileges.

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

CNN: New fire fuels nuclear fears in Japan as rescuers search wreckage
Wednesday broke in Japan with news of a new blaze at the damaged nuclear plant that crews have struggled to control since last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami, adding to radiation fears in a country racing to avoid a full-on nuclear crisis. The fire was discovered Wednesday morning in the northwestern corner of the No. 4 reactor building at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, an official with Tokyo Electric Power Company told reporters. It was the latest setback for a country struggling to dig its way out of the wreckage wrought by last week's earthquake and tsunami. At least 3,676 people have died, the National Police Agency said Wednesday morning. Another 7,558 people are missing and 1,990 were injured, it said.

CNN: Gadhafi forces gain ground in march toward Benghazi
The key Libyan city of Ajdabiya, the last major point between pro-government forces and the opposition stronghold of Benghazi, was slipping from the opposition's hands Tuesday, witnesses reported. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fired artillery into Ajdabiya, and there were eyewitness reports of at least two airstrikes on the city. If Ajdabiya is retaken by pro-Gadhafi forces, it would give access to roads leading to the heart of the opposition's base. Opposition fighters in Ajdabiya returned fire with anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, but eventually had to pull back their defense positions. Gadhafi's forces approached the city from the south and the west, witnesses said.

CNN: Bahrain fires at protesters; 2 dead, 150 injured
Bahrain security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in the southern city of Sitra on Tuesday, killing at least two protesters and wounding at least 150 people, according to medical officials on the scene Tuesday. "They are killing everybody," one official said. "They attacked us - even medical personnel." The man, who asked to be identified only as a medical official for fear of reprisals, said he was riding with patients in an ambulance as he spoke. "Even in this ambulance that is marked as an ambulance, they shot at it," he said. "We had to get on the floor of the ambulance. We are not safe even transferring injured patients."

CNN: Italian island faces flood of Tunisian migrants
Italy's coast guard says at least 1,623 migrants have landed on the tiny island of Lampedusa over a 24-hour period. According to a coast guard statement released Tuesday, at least seven boats believed to have taken off from Tunisia landed on the Italian island with more than 400 passengers. The rest of the people were rescued at sea by Italian maritime patrols. Sailors at the Tunisian fishing port of Zarzis said they have seen a spike in the number of boats full of migrants departing on the dangerous 16- to 24-hour journey to Lampedusa, about 100 kilometers (62 miles, or 54 nautical miles) away.

CNN: Clinton visits anti-government rallying site from Egyptian revolution
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a short tour of Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital on Wednesday. During the anti-government demonstrations that eventually led to the ouster of long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the square was a rallying spot for protesters who transformed it from a bustling urban center into a fortified campground. The walking tour lasted about 10 to 12 minutes, with crowds of people stopping her to shake her hand.

CNN: Petraeus still backing July drawdown in Afghanistan
The commander of international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan continues to support the July 2011 drawdown date for troops in Afghanistan, but has not decided on the level of reductions yet, he told senators on Tuesday. In remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. David Petraeus said the Taliban momentum achieved over the last five years "has been arrested in much of the country." Progress in that effort "is also fragile and reversible," he said. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, asked Petraeus to respond to a new poll that showed most Americans say the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting anymore. Petraeus said that while he understands the frustration of the American public, he believes it is imperative to continue making progress in Afghanistan so that al Qaeda is not allowed to re-establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

New York Times: Iraqi Delay Hinders U.S. Planning
Iraq’s long delay in finalizing its government has complicated the Obama administration’s drive to set up a small army of diplomats and contractors here after the end of the year, when the last American troops are supposed to leave. The lack of permanent security ministers has also slowed negotiations on some critical issues, like plans to continue training the Iraqi police and to establish an office that would sell military equipment to the Iraqis. The delay, ahead of the year-end withdrawal deadline, comes at a critical point nearly eight years after the American invasion. Although Iraqi and American leaders have pledged to end the United States military presence, the year-end deadline remains contentious.

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

CNNMoney: Tokyo stocks finish strong
Japanese stocks rebounded Wednesday, with the leading stock index recovering nearly 6% from a two-day plunge stemming from the crisis created by the March 11 earthquake. The Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of Tokyo market stocks, ended up 489 points, or 5.7%. The rebound came after intense selling over the previous two days, the first full-day sessions following the quake. On Tuesday, the index plunged 10.6%, marking the third worst one-day plunge in the Nikkei's history. The losses over two days totaled more than 16%.

In Case You Missed It

Rep. Ed Markey urges the U.S. to provide potassium iodide pills to people within 20 miles of a nuclear power facility.
http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2011/03/15/exp.arena.nuclear.safety.pills.cnn

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