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: Libya questions swirl as Obama comes home
President Barack Obama is returning home to a firestorm of criticism over his handling of the crisis in Libya and mounting calls for a clearer explanation of U.S. policy in the war-torn North African nation. The president, who just wrapped up a five-day trip to Latin America, has insisted that the goal of the U.N.-sanctioned military mission is strictly to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Specifically, the mission is meant to prevent a slaughter of Libyan rebels and other civilians by forces loyal to strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Obama, however, has also said the administration's ultimate objective is Gadhafi's removal from power. U.S. officials have indicated they hope the dictator will be removed quickly by forces currently loyal to him, though they haven't publicly called for a coup.
CNN: Boehner challenges Obama on Libya military mission
House Speaker John Boehner complained Wednesday of "limited, sometimes contradictory" information so far from the Obama administration on the U.S.-led military mission in Libya and asked for the president to provide "a clear and robust assessment." In a letter to President Barack Obama, Boehner, R-Ohio, said that he and other House members were troubled that the president committed U.S. military resources to war "without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America's role is in achieving that mission." "In fact, the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered," Boehner's letter said, adding that there seemed to be greater consultation with "foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League."
The Hill: Pelosi: Libya mission 'strengthened' by continued consultations with Congress
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday reiterated her support for the U.S. military intervention on Libya while saying American participation “is strengthened by the president’s continued consultation with Congress.” Her comments come amid increasing complaints from lawmakers that the Obama administration has kept Congress out of the loop during the early military campaign. A Pelosi ally, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), has been critical of the mission and said “the full Congress should have been more informed and involved in this decision.”
CNN: Obama administration tells Hill aides U.S. 'not at war' with Libya
As coalition planes cleared ground threats to support a no fly zone over Libya, the Obama administration briefed a bipartisan group of congressional aides Tuesday on the mission. According to one official who attended the briefing in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium, the panel (recently removed Ambassador to Libya, two military, two intelligence and one treasury official) made clear that the U.S. is "not at war" with Libya. During the question and answer session where 17 or 18 questions were asked, the official described "deep skepticism from both sides of the aisle, both sides of the capitol." The official said that concerns about the mission were expressed and that while some spoke of support for "what the president is doing," they were seeking guidance on how to answer their constituents when they ask "what's next."
Politico: Biden warns Dems may lose Senate
Vice President Biden is warning supporters that Democrats are in danger of losing the Senate, and that the party is facing “the toughest electoral climate we’ve seen in a long time.” In an e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Tuesday, more than nine months before 2012 even begins, Biden wrote that “the stakes are highest” and that Democrats will be defending 23 seats in the next election, including five open ones. “Republicans only need to pick up four to take control of the Senate,” Biden wrote. “To succeed, we need a Senate that’s working with us.”
CNN: Rep. Flake meets dead end on immigration reform
GOP Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake is reversing his position on immigration, according to a report in The Arizona Republic. The six-term Congressman, who was a staunch proponent of broad immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship, has had a change of heart. "In the past I have supported a broad approach to immigration reform – increased border security coupled with a temporary worker program. I no longer do. I've been down that road, and it is a dead end," Flake is expected to announce in a statement on his website, according to the article.
CNN: Maine governor orders labor mural takedown
Maine Gov. Paul LePage ordered a 36-foot mural depicting the state's labor history be removed from the lobby of the Department of Labor headquarters building in Augusta, Maine, according to LePage's office. The plan put forth by the Republican's administration also includes renaming several department conference rooms that carry names of pro-labor icons. LePage press secretary Adrienne Bennett said discussions about the mural began months ago. After they received phone calls in opposition to the mural, his administration concluded the art showed favoritism toward a certain group.
Politico: State parties cash in on 2012 GOP race
It turns out there’s a Republican constituency that isn’t at all bothered by the large and uncertain field of prospective 2012 candidates: the state parties themselves. For them, the frontrunner-free race is proving to be a cash cow, thanks to windfall fundraisers headlined by potential challengers to President Barack Obama. It’s the easiest kind of political transaction, one that can deliver as much as a six-figure return and almost no political downside risk. Candidates are happy to increase their visibility and introduce themselves to the rank-and-file. Cash-strapped state parties are eager to replenish their coffers with ticket revenues from high-demand events featuring top national politicians in the flesh.
CNN: Trump again questions Obama's birthplace
Real estate mogul Donald Trump called on President Barack Obama Wednesday to produce his birth certificate and prove he was born in the United States. "I want him to show his birth certificate. I want him to show his birth certificate," Trump said on ABC's "The View." "There's something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like." The potential 2012 presidential candidate said Obama was "probably" born in the U.S., but repeated questions he raised last week about the president's childhood.
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CNN: More U.S. states find traces of radiation from Japan
Colorado and Oregon have joined several other Western states in reporting trace amounts of radioactive particles that have likely drifted about 5,000 miles from a quake and tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan, officials say. But, on a portion of its website dedicated to tracking such radiation, the Environmental Protection Agency noted Wednesday that these and other readings "show typical fluctuation in background radiation levels" and - thus far - "are far below levels of concern."
CNN: Soldier pleads guilty in Afghan killing case
"The plan was to kill people." That's what Army Spc. Jeremy Morlock said Wednesday moments after he pleaded guilty at a court-martial proceeding to killing Afghan civilians in 2010. Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks, the military judge in the case, had asked Morlock if he and fellow soldiers just meant to scare civilians with grenades and gunfire and it "got out of hand." Morlock, 22, and four other soldiers who face murder charges are accused of killing Afghan citizens for sport. Seven more soldiers are accused of helping cover up the killings.
CNN: Weekend Gulf oil spill traced to Houston firm
Testing on oil samples recovered from the Gulf of Mexico near Grand Isle, Louisiana, shows the material came from a defunct well owned by a Houston company, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The oil that began washing up in Grand Isle on Sunday was one of three reports the agency received of possible oil contamination of the Gulf over the weekend, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil.
CNN: 2 planes land at Washington airport without controller help
Two planes landed safely early Wednesday morning at Washington's Reagan National Airport after they were unable to reach anyone at the airport's air traffic control tower, according to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. The FAA would not comment on a media report that the airport controller had fallen asleep. NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said, "All we know is the controller was unresponsive and we want to know why." The situation began at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday when an American Airlines plane attempted to call the tower to get clearance to land and got no answer, Knudson said. The plane had been in contact with a regional air traffic control facility, and a controller at that facility advised the pilot that he, too had been unable to contact anyone at the tower, according to a recording of air control traffic at the website liveatc.net.
CNN: Elizabeth Taylor dead at 79
Elizabeth Taylor, the legendary actress famed for her beauty, her jet-set lifestyle, her charitable endeavors and her many marriages, has died, her publicist told CNN Wednesday. She was 79. Taylor died "peacefully today in Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles," said a statement from her publicist. She was hospitalized six weeks ago with congestive heart failure, "a condition with which she had struggled for many years. Though she had recently suffered a number of complications, her condition had stabilized and it was hoped that she would be able to return home. Sadly, this was not to be."
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CNN: Coalition airstrikes enter 6th day as critics question effort's future
Coalition forces hit Libya for a sixth day early Thursday amid questions over the future of the international involvement in the effort to halt civilian attacks by the nation's forces. So far, the coalition has crippled the Libyan air force and established a no-fly zone along the nation's coastline, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber said. Allied forces gave no indication that ruler Moammar Gadhafi was complying with a United Nations mandate to stop attacks against civilians. But a U.S. official said though the rebels are in a better position, the ruler's forces still have the upper edge.
CNN: Gadhafi's aides in touch with U.S. but unclear on intentions
Members of Moammar Gadhafi's inner circle are contacting other Arab states and the United States, but have been unclear about their intentions, senior U.S. officials said. In an interview on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the prospect that Gadhafi and his inner circle were exploring their options, including seeking a way to leave Libya to escape a sustained bombing campaign by U.S.-led forces. "We've heard about other people close to him reaching out to people that they know around the world," Clinton told ABC News. She described the communications as the Libyans exploring options and asking "What do we do?" "How do we get out of this?" "What happens next?"
CNN: Smoke stops, work resumes at troubled Japanese nuclear plant
One day after black smoke prompted an evacuation, workers returned Thursday to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant - employing myriad methods at the troubled facility to try and prevent more radiation from seeping into the atmosphere. After several days of setbacks and billowing smoke, authorities talked Thursday mostly about progress in tackling issues at each of the facility's six reactors. "We are working to resume (operations)," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. "We cannot be too optimistic, and we are still taking cautious measures."
CNN: Tokyo babies to get bottled water as radiation fears grow
As the death toll from this month's quake and tsunami neared 10,000, concerns emerged over the health of babies after elevated radiation levels in Tokyo's tap water extended the nuclear plant crisis into the capital. At least 9,523 were confirmed dead by early Thursday as a result of the March 11 disaster, with 16,067 more missing and 2,755 injured, the National Police Agency said. Concerns rose as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to deal with the effects of the quake and tsunami waters. Government authorities, soldiers, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers and firefighters from Tokyo and Yokohama resumed work Thursday - a day after they were evacuated - to try to prevent the further release of radioactive material.
CNN: 15 killed in clashes between protesters, security forces in Syria
Escalating violence between Syrian security forces and anti-government protesters claimed 15 people Wednesday in the city of Daraa, witnesses and rights activists said. Syrian state television reported the government fired the governor of Daraa province, a flash point of anti-government protests. There was no breakdown on the casualties. According to activists and witnesses, seven people died shortly after dawn prayers near al Omari mosque. Security personnel tried to storm the area where protesters took positions to demand government reforms, an opposition spokesman said. Later, about 3,000 protesters from neighboring towns gathered outside Daraa and clashed with an army unit known for its loyalty to President Bashar al-Assad, activists and witnesses said.
CNN: Yemen's leader says he will accept transition plan
Yemen's embattled president has accepted opposition demands for constitutional reforms and holding parliamentary elections by the end of the year, according to a statement issued by his office. The statement said President Ali Abdullah Saleh was "committed to undertaking all possible initiatives to reach a settlement" with the opposition JMP bloc and "prevent any future bloodshed of the Yemeni people." According to the statement, Saleh "has accepted the five points submitted by the JMP, including formation of a government of national unity and a national committee to draft a new constitution, drafting a new electoral law, and holding a constitutional referendum, parliamentary elections and a presidential vote by the end of the year.
CNN: Six die in latest Iraq violence
At least six Iraqis were killed and 11 others were wounded in violence Wednesday, Interior Ministry officials told CNN. In Zafaraniya district in southeastern Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded on a busy road, killing a civilian and wounding seven others. Wisam Karim, an employee at the Public Works Ministry, was shot dead by gunmen in Sadr city in eastern Baghdad. The attackers used pistols equipped with silencers, authorities said.
CNN: Suicide attack kills 5 and injures 36 in northwest Pakistan
A suicide bomber killed five people and injured 36 in Pakistan's northwest on Thursday, police said. Four civilians and a policeman died in the attack, Abdul Rasheed Khan, police chief of the Hangu district in restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said. Among the injured were eleven policemen. The explosion occurred when a suicide bomber in a car detonated explosives at a barrier next to a police station in the village of Doaba, according to Khan. Eight houses near the police station were damaged by the blast, he said.
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CNNMoney: Toyota tells U.S. plants 'prepare to shut down'
Toyota's U.S. manufacturing arm is preparing for a possible shutdown because of parts shortages from Japan, a Toyota spokesman said. Word has gone out to all 13 of Toyota's factories in the United States, Canada and Mexico. This does not mean that the plants will stop working, Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said, but that they should be ready in case the need arises. "We expect some kind of interruptions," he said. While Toyota's car factories in Japan have stopped working since the March 11 earthquake in Japan, the automaker was able to resume production of some auto parts on March 17. Toyota employs 25,000 manufacturing and R&D workers in North America.
In Case You Missed It
CNN's Elise Labott reports Libya's foreign minister has reached out to the State Department and other Arab world leaders.
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