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.
CNN: Biden's gun panel meets with faith leaders
Vice President Joe Biden and officials on his gun violence committee held an unannounced meeting Wednesday evening with a group of 12 national faith leaders. One theme brought up by several participants was the "moral tragedy" reflected in the gun violence the nation has seen over the past several months.
CNN Security Clearance: Hagel trying to set record straight
On his second day at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is trying to set his Iran record straight, saying he supports tough international sanctions against the country in an attempt to counter complaints by critics who say he favored talking directly with the government in Tehran, according to Defense officials with direct knowledge of the nominee’s conversations Wednesday.
CNN: Emotional Connecticut Gov. rejects more guns in schools
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy choked up Wednesday when addressing the Newtown elementary school shooting that left 20 students dead, and bluntly rejected the notion of putting more guns in classrooms as protection. "When it comes to preventing future acts of violence in our schools, let me say this: more guns are not the answer," he said in his state of the state address.
CNN Security Clearance: 0 to 9,000: Afghanistan options emerge
The Pentagon expects to get a read on Thursday from Afghan President Hamid Karzai on what he expects from the U.S. military going forward, a defense official said. Karzai's visit will cover the residual troop presence following the planned withdrawal of American combat forces in 2014 as well as negotiating an end to the war, another U.S. official said.
CNN: Troops to get pay denied under 'don't ask don't tell'
A group of former service members who left the military because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy will get the full separation pay they were denied, according to a recent $2.4 million court settlement.
CNN: How the NRA wields its influence
No new gun laws. The National Rifle Association has made its position clear, even amid America's most recent gun debate. It says enforce the gun laws already on the books. It's well-known that the organization has actively lobbied to prevent new legislation limiting guns. But making this happen is more nuanced than just rallying its supporters and lobbyists every time a new law is proposed.
CNN: Why Americans are dying earlier than their international peers
Despite spending more per person on health care than any other country, Americans are getting sicker and dying younger than our international peers - a problem persisting across all ages and both genders, according to a new report.
CNN: Sandusky appeals sex abuse conviction
Jerry Sandusky gets a shot at regaining some of his freedom Thursday, when his lawyers launch an appeal to reverse his conviction on multiple counts of child sex abuse. The coach was sentenced in October to no less than 30 years and no more than 60 years in prison for abusing 10 boys during a 15-year period. He originally faced the possibility of up to a 400-year prison term.
CNN: Kenyan rangers hunt poachers who killed 11 elephants for ivory
Kenyan park rangers are hunting for a gang of poachers who they say killed eleven elephants and hacked off their tusks, the latest large slaughter of the animals to be reported amid insatiable global demand for ivory.
CNN: Syrian government frees 2,130 prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranians
Thousands of mostly Syrian prisoners were exchanged Wednesday for a few dozen Iranians in Damascus, a Turkish charity said. The Syrian government released 2,130 civilians, 76 of them women, in exchange for the release of 48 Iranians who had been held by Syrian rebels, said Huseyin Oruc, deputy president of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation in Turkey. Iran has backed the Syria government during the nearly two-year war that has pitted rebels against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
CNN: India and Pakistan trade accusations over Kashmir violence
India and Pakistan traded bitter accusations Wednesday after New Delhi said Pakistani troops had killed two of its soldiers in the disputed territory of Kashmir, a flash point between the two nations since their creation.
CNN: With Chavez still in Cuba, Venezuela plans rally
Health problems have stopped Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from coming to Caracas for an inauguration ceremony Thursday, but there still could be plenty of pomp and circumstance.
CNNMoney: AIG won't join lawsuit against U.S.
The board of AIG decided Wednesday not to join a shareholder lawsuit against taxpayers which challenges the terms of the bailout that saved the insurer from bankruptcy in 2008. The board did not detail the reasons for the decision, saying it will make that clear in court filings in the coming weeks. But when reports surfaced Tuesday that it was even considering joining the suit, it sparked widespread outrage against the company.
CNNMoney: Jack Lew's first task could be changing his signature
Jack Lew, Obama's presumptive nominee for U.S. Treasury Secretary will face many challenges if he is confirmed - from increasing the debt ceiling to tackling budget cuts. He may also have to change his signature.
CNNMoney: Biden task force chills gun stock rally
A recent rally in gun stocks hit a snag Wednesday amid talk that Vice President Joseph Biden's Gun Violence Task Force could result in tighter restrictions on firearms ownership in the wake of recent mass shootings.
In case you missed it…
Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal calls for serious discussions on gun regulation and talks about Afghanistan.