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: Hagel takes on critics, embraces Obama policies at rocky hearing
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel took on critics at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday to become President Barack Obama's next defense secretary, saying he may have been wrong at times in the past but always acted in the nation's best interests.
CNN: NRA position on background checks has changed, board member affirms
A past president and current board member of the National Rifle Association affirmed Thursday that the organization has changed its position on background checks for gun sales in recent years.
CNN: Mystery source, high stakes as Menendez denies prostitutes allegations
This story is about a U.S. senator's alleged trips on a private plane to the Caribbean for sex parties with prostitutes. If it proves to be true, it would most likely topple a powerful politician and affect President Barack Obama's ability to pass legislation. If it is false, it would raise questions about how government watchdog groups and the media handle anonymous tipsters and their information.
CNN: Senate delays debt limit deadline
The Democratic-controlled Senate passed legislation on Thursday extending the federal government's ability to borrow new money through mid-May, delaying a partisan standoff that some analysts warn could derail a fragile economic recovery.
CNN: Convicted murderer mistakenly released in Chicago
A convicted murderer was on the loose Friday morning after he was mistakenly released from custody in Chicago. Steven Robbins, 44, convicted for a 2002 murder in Indianapolis, was freed Tuesday because of an error by Chicago court and security officials.
CNN: Questions swirl as man holds boy in Ala. underground bunker
Somewhere underneath this red southeastern Alabama dirt is a little boy. A kindergartner, snatched from the safety of his school bus by a gunman and stashed in an underground bunker; a boy who needs daily medication; a child that this Bible Belt community of 2,300 is praying for. Many details have been released about the man suspected to be the boy's abductor, but many questions remained in Midland City on Thursday.
CNN: Opt out option expected for religious insurers who oppose contraceptives
Religiously affiliated organizations will be able to opt out of providing their employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives under updates to an Obama administration mandate that the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to unveil on Friday, according to two sources.
CNN: Americans with Disabilities Act opens pools to disabled swimmers
Some 23 years after Congress used federal muscle to open jobs, public transportation and public accommodations to disabled Americans, another venue is coming under the federal mandate - swimming pools. Beginning this week, most public swimming pools, wading pools and spas must be accessible to disabled people to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Facilities that don't meet the standard may face civil penalties of $55,000.
CNN: Iran, Syria warn of retribution for Israeli airstrike
Shouting condemnation and promises of retaliation, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah on Thursday condemned Israel's decision to send warplanes into Syria, calling its airstrike a day before "inhuman" and "barbaric." Russia also condemned Wednesday's attack, saying it would represent an unprovoked violation of United Nations charter if confirmed.
CNN: 25 killed in blast at Mexican state oil company headquarters
An explosion rocked the offices of Mexico's state oil company Thursday, killing at least 25 people and injuring 101, Mexico's interior minister said. It was unclear what caused the blast, and Mexico's attorney general's office is investigating, Pemex said in a statement.
CNN: U.N. report slams Israeli settlements
Israeli settlements have taken a "heavy toll" on the rights and sovereignty of Palestinians, a U.N. report said Thursday. The U.N. Human Rights Council report ticked off a range of rights it says have been consistently violated in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during what it calls "creeping annexation" by Israel.
CNN: European police arrest 103 in suspected human trafficking ring
Officials are calling it one of the largest operations against human traffickers in Europe. Police in Europe arrested 103 people in 10 countries this week, all accused of smuggling in people on boats, freight trains and small hidden compartments in the floors of buses and trucks. The massive operation spanned a host of European nations and deployed more than 1,200 police officers.
CNNMoney: As firearm sales soar, Wal-Mart rations sale of ammunition
Faced with months of surging demand, Wal-Mart is rationing sales of ammunition. The nation's largest retailer is limiting ammunition sales at its stores across the country to three boxes per customer, per day.
CNNMoney: Stocks retreat at end of strong January
U.S. stocks drifted lower Thursday, ending a blockbuster month on a soft note, as reports on the job market added to concerns about the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3%, while the S&P 500 lost 0.2%. The Nasdaq ended little changed. Despite the weakness, stocks have started the year with a bang.
CNNMoney: FHA to hike premiums on mortgages
Government-insured mortgages are about to get more expensive. The Federal Housing Administration, which is the largest insurer of low-down payment mortgages, announced Wednesday that it will raise premiums by 10 basis points, or 0.1%, on most of the new mortgages it insures.
In case you missed it…
Once pals, Senators McCain and Hagel engage in a testy exchange at Hagel's confirmation hearing. Dana Bash reports.