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.
URGENT – Syria Party Headquarters Blast
– (CNN) - An explosion rocked central Damascus on Thursday, causing an unspecified number of casualties, Syrian government TV reported. A car bomb targeted the headquarters of the ruling Baath Socialist Party, said the opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
CNNMoney: Crunched consumers are cutting back
Smarting from smaller paychecks, consumers are tightening their budgets and looking for other ways to save money, according to a survey released Thursday. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were cutting back to cope with tax changes this year - including dining out less, limiting travel plans and skipping everyday indulgences, according to the National Retail Federation, which sponsored the survey.
CNN: Florida's GOP governor agrees to key Obamacare provision
Florida Gov. Rick Scott reversed course on Wednesday and said his state would temporarily accept the provision expanding Medicaid coverage included in the new healthcare law spearheaded by President Barack Obama. Scott becomes the seventh GOP governor to sign on to the plan, rejected by some high-profile state chief executives still at odds with the politically charged law considered by many Republicans as a government overreach and widely known as Obamacare.
USA Today: Doctors group says some tests should be used sparingly
A coalition of 25 medical societies Thursday releases its latest list of overused tests and procedures to question, if not avoid. Unnecessary tests, surgeries and drugs drive up health care costs and, in some cases, actually harm patients, says Christine Cassel, president and CEO of the ABIM (American Board of Internal Medicine) Foundation.
Hartford Courant: Malloy Says He'll Propose Language To Get Legislators Moving On Gun Control
Exhibiting frustration with what he sees as the General Assembly's lack of progress on gun control, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday that he will propose language Thursday that can be pushed through the House and Senate into law. The sudden pronouncement by the Democratic governor came on the eve of a visit Thursday by Vice President Joe Biden for a conference in Danbury on legislative solutions to gun violence — an event that is partly intended to generate political momentum for gun control proposals by the White House and congressional Democrats in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 Newtown school massacre.
WATCH: Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a conference on gun violence at Western Connecticut State University – LIVE on CNN at 12:30 PM Thursday.
CNN: NRA ramps up campaign against proposed gun control measures
As Vice President Joe Biden heads to Connecticut on Thursday in a bid to generate support for sweeping gun control proposals, the National Rifle Association is trying to flex its political muscle by ramping up its campaign to oppose those initiatives. On Thursday, readers in local newspapers in five key states - Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, North Carolina and West Virginia - will see an NRA ad headlined in bold: "Will Obama's gun control proposals work? His own experts say 'No,'" the group told CNN. Those states are home to several Democratic incumbent senators who are expected to face tough re-election fights. They include Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
SEE ALSO: Politico: NRA raises $1.1M in January
CNN: 30 million in path of winter storm
A snow storm is rolling into the Plains states Thursday, triggering winter storm warnings and watches in an area covering 800,000 square miles in 18 states. About 30 million people live in its path.
WaPo: One-third of seafood mislabeled, study finds
If you order tuna at a D.C. restaurant, chances are half the time you’ll be getting another, less expensive fish in its place. But those odds are better than if you had wanted snapper. Testers nationwide found that 87 percent of the time, restaurants and grocery stores were selling something else under that label. As much as one-third of seafood sold in restaurants and groceries is fraudulently labeled, according to a report the advocacy group Oceana released Thursday.
NYT: White House Tactic for C.I.A. Bid Holds Back Drone Memos
The White House is refusing to share fully with Congress the legal opinions that justify targeted killings, while maneuvering to make sure its stance does not do anything to endanger the confirmation of Democratic senators’ demands for full access to the classified legal memos on the targeted killing program, Obama administration officials are negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, according to three Congressional staff members.
Bloomberg: Abe Seeks Closer Ties With Obama in U.S. to Counter Threats
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with President Barack Obama in the U.S. tomorrow, seeking to bolster his country’s key alliance as a bulwark against China’s territorial claims and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Abe, 58, took office two months ago pledging to strengthen U.S. ties and the two nations are in talks to beef up defense cooperation to reflect regional security threats. The summit takes place against a backdrop in which the yen has weakened 11 percent against the dollar since he was elected on a platform of pressuring the Bank of Japan to increase monetary easing.
SEE ALSO: Politico: Obama cautious about intervening in Prop. 8 case
CNN: Obama administration takes on hackers stealing trade secrets
The U.S. is seeking a more muscular response to the growing threat from foreign hackers interested in obtaining U.S. businesses’ trade secrets. The response, in the guise of a 150-page report unveiled by Attorney Gen. Eric Holder and other leading government officials on Wednesday, includes new pledges by the Justice Department and FBI to crack down on hacking, a guide for corporations vulnerable to attacks on how to beef up their own security, and a proposal to better coordinate efforts with U.S. allies to prosecute foreign hackers. …The announcement comes a day after the Virginia-based Mandiant published a 60-page report that alleges the Chinese government is sponsoring cyber-espionage to attack top U.S. companies.
Newport News Daily Press: Obama to visit shipyard Tuesday
President Barack Obama is expected to visit Newport News Shipbuilding on Tuesday, sources told the Daily Press. The event comes as the company, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, is trying to adjust to Navy cutbacks that sparked a delay in a contract to refuel and modernize the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
CNN: Poll: Deficit is essential issue for Congress to tackle
Do-nothing Congresses need not apply: a majority of Americans want something done on the federal deficit this year, an opportunity lawmakers will have when they return from their vacation. Seven of 10 surveyed in a new Pew Research and USA Today poll released Thursday said major legislation on the deficit is the most important issue on Congress' plate, topping immigration, gun legislation and other issues. The survey came out about a week before forced federal spending cuts are set to trigger automatically, slashing $85 billion in spending by federal agencies over the next seven months.
NYT: G.O.P. Resists Obama’s Push for Tax Rise to Head Off Cuts
House Republicans, shrugging off rising pressure from President Obama, are resolutely opposing new tax increases to head off $85 billion in across-the-board spending reductions, all but ensuring the cuts will go into force March 1 and probably remain in place for months, if not longer. Despite new calls from the White House on Wednesday to enact a combination of tax increases and cuts to postpone the so-called sequester, the House is moving forward on a legislative agenda that assumes deep and arbitrary cuts to defense and domestic programs — once considered unthinkable — will remain in place through the end of the year.
USA Today: Sen. Graham will hold up Brennan for Benghazi answers
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says he is unsatisfied with the White House responses to questions about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya and he will block President Obama's pick to lead the CIA until more information on the Sept. 11 incident is disclosed. Obama has nominated White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan to replace former CIA director David Petraeus, who resigned after admitting to having an affair. But Graham told USA TODAY in an interview that he will not allow the nomination to go forward until the White House turns over items it has declined to provide, such as drone video of the attack and e-mails on talking points that falsely claimed the attack was a protest that got out of control.
WaPo: Senators in Immigration Talks Mull Federal IDs for All Workers
Key senators are exploring an immigration bill that would force every U.S. worker—citizen or not—to carry a high-tech identity card that could use fingerprints or other personal markers to prove a person's legal eligibility to work. The idea, signaled only in vaguely worded language from senators crafting a bipartisan immigration bill, has privacy advocates and others concerned that the law would create a national identity card that, in time, could track Americans at airports, hospitals and through other facets of their lives.
Dallas Morning News: Sen. Ted Cruz says Obama wants immigration bill to fail to hurt GOP
Sen. Ted Cruz said Wednesday that President Barack Obama wants Congress to fail at overhauling the nation’s immigration system so Republicans will suffer with Hispanic voters in upcoming elections. “His objective is to push so much on the table that he forces Republicans to walk away from the table because then he wants to use that issue in 2014 and 2016 as a divisive wedge issue,” Cruz said during a speech at the Texas Tool & Die company.
SEE ALSO: VIDEO - Texas Tea Party-backed Senator Ted Cruz is turning heads in Washington, CNN's Dana Bash reports.
WaPo: Republican senator John McCain is still raising questions and hackles
John McCain was excited. It was late January, and the following day, he and a group of bipartisan senators were set to announce their framework for comprehensive immigration reform. …His optimism was warranted. The bipartisan effort was generally well-received across the country and across ideological lines. And McCain’s participation — as well as that of rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) — gave the plan a level of legitimacy and a promise of success not seen since the 2007 McCain-led effort to reform the immigration system, which ultimately failed. The reception back home was not nearly as positive, as McCain has learned in often-hostile town hall meetings over the past two days. And it’s not surprising.
FOX News: Senators raise alarm over another possible sale of taxpayer-backed firm to Chinese
Republican senators complained Wednesday that U.S. taxpayer dollars could end up boosting the Chinese economy, following reports that a Chinese firm is leading the pack of companies bidding for a majority stake in government-backed Fisker Automotive. The troubled California-based electric car maker, which was backed by U.S. taxpayers to the tune of nearly $530 million, for months has been looking for a financial partner. Reuters reported earlier this week that China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group is favored to take over, though Fisker is also reportedly weighing a bid from another Chinese auto maker. The development comes after Fisker's main battery supplier - U.S. government-backed A123 Systems - was recently purchased by a separate Chinese firm.
New Jersey Star-Ledger: Christie's ambitious fundraising schedule takes him to New York City and across country
In keeping with a busy fundraising schedule, Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign expects to raise $500,000 tomorrow night at a New York City reception. The 100-person event at the Union League Club marks the Republican governor’s first swing through the Big Apple to pick up checks ahead of the June primary.
Reuters: Gingrich's jab at Rove shows conflicts within Republicans' makeover
If there is anything more tense than the relations between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, it might be what is happening between two prominent Republicans: strategist Karl Rove and former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich. Three months after Republicans failed to oust Democratic President Barack Obama from the White House, Rove, Gingrich and other Republicans are locked in an increasingly bitter debate over how to revamp their party to appeal more to women and minorities. The latest in a series of spats surfaced on Wednesday, as Gingrich gave a blistering critique of Rove's plan to create a fundraising group aimed at boosting moderate Republicans in congressional races – and blocking the rise of far-right conservative candidates.
Buzzfeed: Bobby Jindal And Rand Paul Camps Start 2016 Sparring Early
The next presidential race is still years away, but two tracks of the campaign are already beginning to take shape. In the mainstream tier, Senator Marco Rubio is shadow-boxing with former Gov. Jeb Bush and other Establishment figures. But there is a second track for conservative hearts and minds, a la Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee. And over on Earth 2, the real battle is Senator Rand Paul vs. Gov. Bobby Jindal. Rare public glimmerings of this could be seen during Rand Paul's State of the Union rebuttal, billed as the official Tea Party response, which didn't go over well with a few political hands connected to Jindal.
RollCall: Brewing GOP Primary Could Spoil Landrieu Challenge
Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu remains undoubtedly vulnerable in her 2014 re-election effort in the Republican redoubt of Louisiana. But increasingly, it appears her future GOP opponent could also be vulnerable after an exceedingly long and divisive primary for the right to take on the three-term senator.
CNN: Furloughs for civilian workers if forced cuts go into effect
Nearly 800,000 civilian workers would be forced to take one day of leave per week without pay if automatic spending cuts go into effect as scheduled, the Defense Department told Congress on Wednesday. The furloughs would start in the last week of April and last for 22 weeks, according to the Pentagon plan, and would hit the hardest in Virginia, California, Maryland, Texas and Georgia, where many defense facilities are located, according to figures provided by the Pentagon. The plan responds to mandatory, government-wide budget cuts, known as sequestration, that are due to begin on March 1 absent congressional action on deficit-reduction to avert them.
CNN: Sources: Iran to be offered 'serious' incentive
World powers plan to make Iran a "serious" offer of economic incentives at talks next week on its nuclear program, Western officials tell CNN. In exchange for easing of sanctions barring trade with Iran in gold and other precious metals, the so-called P5+1 diplomatic bloc of countries wants Iran to shut its underground enrichment facility at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom and ship out its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% purity, the officials said. The group, comprised of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, plans to deliver the offer at talks next Tuesday in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
~CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott covers live at 5:00AM from the State Department~
NBC News: In wake of Benghazi, rapid response Marine unit heading to Europe
Highlighting the continuing fallout from the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on an American consulate in Libya that took the lives of four Americans, defense officials told NBC News on Wednesday that the U.S. Marine Corps is on the verge of announcing a new group tasked with crisis response in north Africa and eastern Europe. The group, which will be known as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, will likely be based at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy. The team will be capable of rapid deployment for responding to security threats throughout the region — including a U.S. embassy under attack. Orders for the new Marine unit will likely go to the secretary of defense for approval late next week.
WaPo: Chinese cyberspies have hacked most Washington institutions, experts say
Start asking security experts which powerful Washington institutions have been penetrated by Chinese cyberspies, and this is the usual answer: almost all of them. The list of those hacked in recent years includes law firms, think tanks, news organizations, human rights groups, contractors, congressional offices, embassies and federal agencies. The information compromised by such intrusions, security experts say, would be enough to map how power is exercised in Washington to a remarkably nuanced degree. The only question, they say, is whether the Chinese have the analytical resources to sort through the massive troves of data they steal every day.
FIRST ON CNN: Paula Broadwell military promotion revoked
The Army has revoked the promotion of Paula Broadwell, the one-time mistress of CIA Director David Petraeus, according to a Defense Department official. Broadwell, a major in the Army reserves, had been approved last August for promotion to lieutenant colonel. The Army made the decision to revoke the promotion earlier this month, a Defense Department official told CNN. The source declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the personnel information.
CNN: Boeing to propose fix for grounded Dreamliners
Boeing will present a temporary plan to U.S. aviation safety officials this week aimed at getting its grounded 787 Dreamliners back in service. The multi-point proposal for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would address several potential causes of problems related to lithium-ion batteries, a congressional source with knowledge of Boeing's plans told CNN.
CNN: Jet runs off runway in eastern Georgia, killing 5
A jet crashed in east Georgia on Wednesday night, leaving five people dead, authorities said. The light jet aircraft landed at Thomson-McDuffieRegionalAirport in Thomson, and ran off the end of the runway, according to Kathleen Bergen, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman. Two people survived the crash and were rushed to a hospital, McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall told CNN affiliate WJBF.
Dallas Morning News: Conservative evangelical Christians sign on for immigration overhaul pitch
After years of silence and even hostility to modifying immigration laws, conservative evangelical Christians have become unlikely allies in pressing for a path to citizenship for those here illegally because, they say, the Bible told them so. A coalition of religious leaders in Texas and elsewhere, many with strong credentials as social conservatives, is engaging congregations in a coordinated call for Congress and the White House to deal with 11 million illegal immigrants.
Chicago Tribune: Tribune exclusive: 'We were just regular parents who were slapped in the face'
Hadiya Pendleton’s parents haven’t had much time to reminisce about their daughter’s life and death before Wednesday, when they sat down for an exclusive interview with the Tribune. Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton recalled getting the phone call on Jan. 29 that her 15-year-old daughter had been shot, and rushing to the hospital only to find out it was too late, her daughter was dead. A whirlwind of activity followed as Hadiya became a national symbol of gun violence and her parents traveled to Washington for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
The Detroit News: Half of Detroit property owners don't pay taxes
Nearly half of the owners of Detroit's 305,000 properties failed to pay their tax bills last year, exacerbating a punishing cycle of declining revenues and diminished services for a city in a financial crisis, according to a Detroit News analysis of government records.
The State: S.C. Republicans present alternative to Obamacare
House Republicans want to pay hospitals more money to keep patients out of emergency rooms while spending millions more on health clinics to care for the uninsured, according to sources with knowledge of the plan. The proposal is part of the state’s $23 billion budget but would not spend any new money. Instead, it would pay for it using $62 million the state Department of Health and Human Services received last year but did not spend. House Republican leadership are presenting the plan as an alternative to complying with the federal Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
CNN: Police: Lead investigator in Pistorius case facing attempted murder charges himself
The sensational case of Oscar Pistorius took a new turn Thursday when police said the lead investigator is facing seven counts of attempted murder stemming from an incident four years ago. That investigator, Hilton Botha, and several other police officers apparently fired at a minibus they were chasing in late 2009, spokesman Neville Malila told CNN affiliate eNCA. The officers were allegedly drunk at the time, the spokesman said. They were arrested on seven counts of attempted murder - for the number of occupants in the minibus, the spokesman said.
NYT: Trial Offers Rare Look at Work of Hezbollah in Europe
In a little-noticed trial in a small courtroom here on Wednesday, a 24-year-old man provided a rare look inside a covert global war between Israel and Iran, admitting that he is an operative of the militant group Hezbollah, for which he acted as a courier in Europe and staked out locations in this port city that Israelis were known to frequent. Breaking with the group’s ironclad discipline and practiced secrecy, the operative, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, described being handled by a masked man he knew only as Ayman. He told of doing simple tasks at first: picking up a couple of bags in Lyon, France, taking a cellphone, two SIM cards and a mysterious package wrapped in newspaper from Amsterdam to Lebanon.
WaPo: South Korea faces quandary over potential human rights probe of North
The United Nations’ human rights chief declared recently that the time had come for a “long overdue” investigation into what she called unparalleled rights abuses in North Korea. The probe, unprecedented in scope, could help establish whether the North’s leaders are committing crimes against humanity. Navi Pillay’s January proposal has already drawn support from the United States. But the decision has proved sensitive in South Korea, where leaders remain divided over whether to confront the North or try to somehow reduce tensions with it, even after Pyongyang last week detonated an underground nuclear device.
BBC: Aid money could go to defence – David Cameron
David Cameron has said the government is to consider spending money from the UK's £10bn aid budget on peacekeeping and other defence-related projects. Such a move could see funds diverted from the Department for International Development to the Ministry of Defence. The prime minister explained that security and stability are often needed before development can take place.
Reuters: Mexico security forces abducted dozens in drug war: rights group
Dozens of people were abducted and murdered by Mexican security forces over the past six years during a gruesome war with drug cartels, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, urging President Enrique Pena Nieto to overhaul the military justice system. The rights group said that since 2007 it has documented 149 cases of people who were never seen again after falling into the hands of security forces, and that the government failed to properly investigate the "disappearances."
CNNMoney: Dow sinks 100 points on Fed minutes
U.S. stocks ended lower Wednesday after Federal Reserve meeting minutes raised worries the central bank might scale back its bond buying program. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 108 points, or 0.8%. The S&P 500 fell 1.2% and the Nasdaq lost 1.5%. Following its January meeting, the Fed's Open Market Committee said the central bank would continue buying bonds and keep interest rates near zero until the job market improves "substantially." But the minutes from that meeting showed that some Fed officials were in favor of slowing the purchases sooner.
Reuters: New York Times puts Boston Globe up for sale again
The New York Times Co is putting The Boston Globe on the auction block for a second time as it seeks to focuses solely on growing its flagship newspaper. The company said in a statement that it had hired Evercore Partners to advise on the sale, which also includes the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. The sale is expected to come at a big loss. Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Research, estimated that the Globe could fetch about $150 million. The New York Times paid $1.1 billion for the newspaper in 1993.
LA Times: Activist investors put climate-change issue up for vote at bank
Activist investors have succeeded for the first time in placing a shareholder resolution on the risks of greenhouse-gas emissions up for a vote at a major bank, a step toward making climate change an important consideration for corporations. The resolution, which follows years of protests over banks financing certain coal operations, is to be included in proxy material being sent to shareholders of PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh before the bank's April 23 annual meeting.