CNN: After 143 days in space, astronauts set to return
Nearly five months of cramped living in zero gravity will come to an end Thursday for one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station. Their Soyuz capsule is set to undock at 8:30 p.m. ET, and land less than three and a half hours later in Kazakhstan.
CNN: Source: Governor to recommend emergency manager for Detroit
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will recommend that a Washington attorney become Detroit's emergency manager, a source close to the governor said Wednesday. At 2 p.m. Thursday, the governor is expected to publicly recommend attorney Kevyn Orr step in to help Detroit manage its challenging financial situation, the source said. Members of Michigan's Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board would make the official appointment.
NYT: Cities Weigh Taking Electricity Business From Private Utilities
Across the country, cities are showing a renewed interest in taking over the electricity business from private utilities, reflecting intensifying concerns about climate change, responses to power disruptions and a desire to pump more renewable energy into the grid. Boulder, Colo., for instance, could take an important step toward creating its own municipal utility, among the nation’s first in years, as soon as next month. A scheduled vote by the City Council comes after a multiyear, multimillion-dollar study process that residents, impatient with the private electric company’s pace in reaching the town’s environmental goals, helped pay for by raising their own taxes.
CNN: Four killed in upstate New York shootings, police say
A man suspected of killing four people and injuring two others in a 10-minute shooting spree in Herkimer County, New York, is believed to be surrounded by police, authorities said Wednesday. The upstate New York man also is believed to have blown up his house, according to a federal law enforcement source briefed on the investigation.
CNN: Steubenville teens treated girl 'like a toy,' prosecutor says
Two Steubenville, Ohio, football stars sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl, treating her "like a toy," a state prosecutor said Wednesday in the opening statement of the teens' rape trial. Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, are accused of sexually assaulting the girl at a series of end-of-summer parties in August, according to prosecutors. The case received widespread attention nationally after other Steubenville teens posted images of the alleged victim seemingly unconscious to social media sites.
CNN: Biden to lead delegation for new pope's installation
Vice President Joe Biden, the first Roman Catholic to serve as vice president, will lead the U.S. delegation to next week's formal installation of Pope Francis, he said in a statement Wednesday. "I am happy to have the chance to personally relay my well wishes, and those of the American people, when I travel to Rome for his Inaugural Mass," he wrote. "The Catholic Church plays an essential role in my life and the lives of more than a billion people in America and around the world, not just in matters of our faith, but in pursuit of peace and human dignity for all faiths."
Politico: McDonough begins to move the White House
Barack Obama’s long-term commitment to directly engaging Capitol Hill remains deeply in doubt — but there’s little doubt about one of the the unlikely prime movers behind Obama’s sudden, second-term schmooze offensive: It’s Obama’s new chief of staff Denis McDonough.
CNN: Obama, justifying new group, says supporters' voices need to be heard
Organizing for Action, the political group newly formed from President Barack Obama's presidential campaign, wasn't created to win the 2014 midterm elections, the president told a restaurant full of the group's supporters Wednesday. Instead, Obama described OFA's mission as making sure "the voices of people who put me here continue to be heard."
National Review: Perez’s Problems
If you thought Chuck Hagel’s confirmation battle was rough, just wait for the blood on the floor if Thomas Perez is appointed to be secretary of labor. Perez currently heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which oversees voting rights, and sources say he is “poised” to become President Obama’s pick to run the cabinet department that regulates labor practices. What’s most disturbing is that, as the White House was leaking his name as its prime pick for Labor, it must have known about the contents of a harsh new report by Justice’s inspector general slamming Perez’s unit for “deep ideological polarization” and a “disappointing lack of professionalism.”
ALSO SEE: CNN: Report: Employees in Justice Dept. section polarized
NYT: Obama’s Israel Itinerary Includes Some Standard Stops, but Not Others
President Obama plans to visit the Church of the Nativity, but not the Western Wall, when he travels to Israel next week. He will speak at Jerusalem’s convention center, but not before the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament. And he will inspect a mobile missile-defense battery, though not one in the field, where they protect Israel from enemy rockets. These, and a host of other scheduling decisions, have been made by the White House as it seeks to orchestrate every minute of Mr. Obama’s first visit to Israel as president.
CNN: House GOP, Obama meet face to face but still don't see eye to eye
President Barack Obama entered the conference room in the Capitol basement to a standing ovation, but after nearly an hour and a half of discussion with House Republicans, there was little evidence that the meeting - part of the White House's "charm offensive" on Capitol Hill - did much to change the partisan gulf between the president and his chief adversaries. At a news conference after the meeting, House Speaker John Boehner thanked the president for coming but also noted the challenges remaining on a host of issues, especially ones related to reducing the deficit.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Shorter Obama to GOP: Help me help you
HuffPo: Obama Rebuffs Democrats On Drone Kill Memos, Asserts Executive Secrecy Prerogative
President Barack Obama rebuffed senators from his own party Tuesday when they sought greater transparency on drone strikes, arguing that the executive branch has the right to keep such information secret from lawmakers, sources said. The assertion by Obama, more typical of his recent predecessors in the White House who wanted to withhold information, came in response to questions from Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). Both lawmakers are deeply disturbed that the White House has maintained stringent restrictions on information about the nation's war on terror, and has refused to share with Leahy memos from the Office of Legal Counsel justifying the targeted killings of Americans with drones.
CNN: Hope for compromise recedes as budget debate begins
Nothing, it seems, can bridge the bottomless political divide in Washington over taxes and spending. Not an election last November that gave President Barack Obama a second term. Not polling that shows a strong majority of Americans want both sides to compromise in forging an agreement to reduce chronic federal deficits and debts. Not the president's new personal outreach to Congress, including a 90-minute meeting Wednesday with House Republicans. And not even white smoke from the Vatican chimney that signaled selection of a new pope as the talks occurred. "You are straining the analogy," Obama told reporters afterward when asked if the meeting produced any similar message of spiritual significance.
ALSO SEE: CNNMoney: What's in the Democrats' budget
Bloomberg: Gun Protections Added to Funding Bill in U.S. Senate
U.S. lawmakers included language that would permanently protect some gun rights in Senate legislation intended to fund the government through the end of the current fiscal year. Gun-rights advocates on the Senate Appropriations Committee added four firearms provisions to the funding bill as part of an agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the panel, according to a Senate aide who asked not to be identified in describing internal discussions. Republicans on the committee are attempting to protect gun rights as the Democrat-led Senate Judiciary Committee this week advances measures aimed at curbing gun violence in the wake of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December.
ALSO SEE: Roll Call: House Watching for 'Poison Pills' as Senate Turns to Continuing Resolution
Politico: Municipal officials push sequester fix
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner might be struggling with their sequestration messages, but mayors and city council members know what they’re talking about. With $85 billion in spending cuts trickling down this year to city halls from Dothan, Ala., to Fargo, N.D., the local horror stories are piling up in the form of delayed commercial ventures, longer airport waits and dried-up accounts for transportation and sewer projects. Municipal officials who weathered the Great Recession by tightening their own budgets are lobbying Congress this week to fix its mess. They’re also networking in Washington with neighboring cities and states on strategies to help pay for everyday necessities like school lunches and sidewalk pavements and emergencies like sandbags to stop river floods.
CNN: Major conservative conference comes at crucial time for GOP
Take a political party trying to find its way, add thousands of conservative leaders and activists gathered from across the country, mix in controversies over who is allowed to speak and the first real cattle call in next race for the White House, and you get CPAC 2013. The Conservative Political Action Conference touts itself as the largest and oldest annual gathering of conservatives. The three-day event is considered a good gauge of the mood of the conservative movement, but it's also increasingly criticized as more political carnival than conference. Once again the conference, which kicks off Thursday at a new venue outside the nation's capital, will spotlight the ages-old divide in the GOP between the establishment and center versus the grassroots and the right.
National Journal: How One Gay Conservative Group Landed a Spot at CPAC, Despite Being Uninvited
It may look like representatives of GOProud, a group of gay conservatives, are speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference tomorrow, but they’re not. Sure, they will be holding a panel in the same building at the same time, but they aren’t officially part of CPAC. That’s because CPAC—a yearly gathering of who’s who in the conservative movement—did not invite GOProud to participate. The group is getting the chance to be on site, however, because one of the CPAC hosts, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is sponsoring a panel called “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.”
CNN: Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigns amid probe of company she consulted for
Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll has resigned, it was announced Wednesday, the day after she answered questions from investigators about her role in an allegedly corrupt veterans' charity. The resignation came the same day 57 people connected to the charity, Allied Veterans of the World, were arrested on racketeering and money laundering charges. Leaders in the company, which operates Internet gambling parlors, are accused of donating little of its proceeds to veterans, and instead buying luxury goods for themselves.
WSJ: Colorado School Names Conservative-Studies Professor
The University of Colorado, Boulder, is the kind of campus that conservatives have long criticized as a bastion of liberal groupthink. That perception could start to change this year. The school on Wednesday named Steven Hayward, a former fellow at the Heritage Foundation think tank, as its first visiting scholar of Conservative Thought and Policy. The position, which was funded with private donations and is among the first of its kind on a U.S. campus, was created to broaden the intellectual diversity among the faculty, said Earl Wright, a Denver banker who sat on the selection committee and helped fund the position.
Politico: Howard Berman signs up for K Street job
Another high-profile former lawmaker is headed to K Street. This time, it’s California Democrat Howard Berman, the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Berman is going to Covington & Burling, POLITICO has learned. It’s the second big hire in as many weeks for the firm as it bolsters its global public policy and government affairs practice — former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) joined the company last week.
BuzzFeed: Cory Booker Launches Quiet Fundraising Blitz
Cory Booker, the two-term Democratic mayor of Newark and all but certain candidate for U.S. Senate next year, has launched a quiet but aggressive fundraising campaign that will take him to as many as eight events, from Manhattan to Florida to California, over the next month and a half, BuzzFeed has learned.
Roll Call: The Unusual Suspects: DCCC Hunts for Outsiders
Any Democratic effort to take control of the House begins with this simple step: recruiting a few good men and women to run. And this cycle, House Democrats are looking beyond the usual suspects — the next-in-line state representative or local elected official — in their search for talent. Recruitment poses challenges for both parties, but especially for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. House Democrats need at least 17 winning candidates to take the majority, a steep climb in many GOP-leaning districts drawn by Republicans to stay in their control for the next decade.
NYT: U.S. General Puts Troops on Security Alert After Karzai Remarks
The American commander in Afghanistan quietly told his forces to intensify security measures on Wednesday, issuing a strongly worded warning that a string of anti-American statements by President Hamid Karzai had put Western troops at greater risk of attack both from rogue Afghan security forces and from militants. The order came amid a growing backlash against Mr. Karzai’s public excoriation of the United States, including a speech on Tuesday in which he suggested that the government might unilaterally act to ensure control of the Bagram Prison if the United States delayed its handover.
CNN: Military rape victims: Stop blaming us
BriGette McCoy described how she was raped on her first military assignment, two weeks before her 19th birthday. She described how, later that year, she was raped by another soldier in her unit. Then came sexual harassment by two officers - including one who requested that she be moved to work directly for him, she said Wednesday. Testifying before lawmakers, the former Army specialist described the "anguish" and "entrapment" she felt, and the horror of the ordeal that followed. …McCoy was one of four alleged victims who testified Wednesday about a problem the military has acknowledged.
CNN: Material in North Korea's nuclear test unclear, worrying for U.S.
More than a month after North Korea tested a nuclear device, the United States is unable to pinpoint whether the regime was able to use uranium to fuel the explosion, a capability that would represent a significantly enhanced nuclear program. The lack of clarity comes as North Korea ratchets up its bellicose rhetoric each day.
LA Times: Moving mountains of war gear home from Afghanistan
For the last 11 years, the U.S. military has stuffed bases in Afghanistan with Humvees and bullets, radios and radars, armored vehicles and surveillance balloons. Army Maj. Gen. Kurt Stein has less than two years to move $48-billion worth of weapons, gear and equipment back home. Before U.S. combat troops leave at the end of 2014, Stein has to figure out how to transport 35,000 vehicles, 95,000 shipping containers and mountains of other war materiel out of a landlocked, mountainous country in the middle of a war.
CNN: Veterans' wait time for benefits is 'too long,' VA official concedes
Questioned about a growing backlog of veterans' claims, a top Veteran Affairs official conceded Wednesday that veterans wait "too long" to receive benefits. …Senators pressed officials from the VA on the increase in the number of veterans waiting more than 125 days for their benefits claims to go through. A recent report from the Center for Investigative Reporting found that since President Obama took office in 2009, the number of veterans waiting more than a year for their benefits has skyrocketed, from 11,000 in 2009 to 245,000 in December 2012, a jump of more than 2,000%.
AVIATION, REGULATION and JUSTICE:
NYT: F.D.A. Plans Looser Rules on Approving Alzheimer’s Drugs
The Food and Drug Administration plans to loosen the rules for approving new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Drugs in clinical trial would qualify for approval if people at very early stages of the disease subtly improved their performance on memory or reasoning tests, even before they developed any obvious impairments. Companies would not have to show that the drugs improved daily, real-world functioning.
WSJ: U.S. Probes Gold Pricing
U.S. regulators are scrutinizing whether prices are being manipulated in the world's largest gold market, according to people familiar with the situation. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is examining the setting of prices in London, in which a handful of banks meet twice daily and set the spot price for a troy ounce of physical gold, the people said.
NYT: Initial Tests of Battery by Boeing Fell Short
In an age of sophisticated computer modeling, Boeing engineers relied on the same test used for tiny cellphone batteries to gather data about the safety of the heftier lithium-ion battery on its new 787 jets: they drove a nail into it to see what happened. As the nail pierced one of the eight cells, it accomplished its goal of setting off a short circuit. But only smoke, not fire, belched from the battery. But the test and other evaluations that Boeing conducted while the plane was in development proved to be far off the mark in predicting what would happen when the plane was in use and led Boeing to severely underestimate the likelihood of a fire in the 63-pound battery.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Is Boeing's Dreamliner nightmare nearly over?
WATCH: VIDEO – The FAA allows Boeing to test the new 787 battery design.
CNN: Need a tribal spear or horse whip? Try TSA resale
Somewhere, somehow, someone tried to carry a tribal spear onto a commercial aircraft. Troy Thompson knows that not because he is privy to the nation's latest intelligence reports but because he works for Pennsylvania's Department of General Services, where objects discovered and surrendered at airport checkpoints are stored, sorted and resold to the public. The non-descript government building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, could be called the world's most unusual thrift store because of the odd assortment of stuff that ends up there.
WATCH: VIDEO – Where do all those items banned by the TSA end up when passengers get to airport checkpoints? CNN's Rene Marsh reports.
Arizona Republic: Arizona medicaid-expansion bill assigned to panel led by foe
A day after Gov. Jan Brewer released draft legislation on her proposal to expand Medicaid, political jockeying began in earnest in the House with an “informational” hearing on the issue scheduled for a committee chaired by an opponent of the plan. House Speaker Andy Tobin’s decision to have the House Appropriations Committee begin considering the governor’s plan next week removes it from the far friendlier confines of the House Health Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, supports Brewer’s call for Medicaid expansion.
Virginia Times Dispatch: Report: Schools segregation by race, income worsening
Forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected consolidation of public school districts to achieve racial integration in the Richmond metropolitan area, one in every three black students in the Richmond-Petersburg region attends a school with a population that is at least 90 percent black and 75 percent poor. Nearly 10 percent of black students in the region attend a public school that is 99 percent or more black — and at least 85 percent of them come from low-income households.
The Detroit News: Mitt Romney's niece latest to study run for Levin's seat
A Romney could be on the ticket for the 2014 Senate race, but it won't be Mitt's brother. Ronna Romney McDaniel, granddaughter of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, said she's "looking at" a Republican run for Senate after Democrat Carl Levin announced he's not going to seek re-election. She was an active campaigner for her uncle Mitt Romney last year.
Hartford Courant: Adam Lanza Researched Mass Murderers, Sources Say
Before carrying out the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy HookElementary School, Adam Lanza conducted research on several mass murders, sources close to the investigation into the shooting have told The Courant. The Courant had previously reported that investigators found news articles about Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik at Lanza's Newtown home. Sources now say that investigators found articles and other documents related to other mass murders in one of two bedrooms he used in the house that he shared with his mother, Nancy.
Portland Press Herald: Bill would let CanaRx sell drugs in Maine
Public and private employers urged lawmakers Wednesday to allow a Canadian mail-order company that saved workers and employers millions of dollars on prescription drugs to resume operations in Maine. The major arguments for and against the bill, heard by the Legislature's Labor Committee, boiled down to price versus the safety of buying drugs sight unseen from other countries. Officials from state government, the city of Portland and a wood products company in Guilford said they collectively saved more than $6 million and had no quality problems buying through CanaRx until state regulators barred it from operating in Maine last year.
Denver Post: 15-round magazine ammo limit gets final OK in Colorado House
Now only the signature of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is needed on a bill that bans Coloradans from purchasing ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds, as lawmakers in the House on Wednesday gave final approval to the measure and shipped it to his desk. Amid staunch opposition from Republicans who said the bill is futile and riddled with flaws, the Democrat-controlled House passed the measure on a 34-30 vote .
Palm Beach Post: Sen. Bill Nelson ‘cannot envision’ a 2014 run for governor
Have you heard the one about Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson running for governor in 2014? It’s not true, Nelson’s office says after fielding some questions about the rumor in the last couple weeks. “Right now Sen. Nelson cannot envision a circumstance under which he would run for governor. But he remains very concerned about the state’s future,” Nelson communications director Dan McLaughlin said.
CNN: Israel's new government excludes ultra-religious
Israeli politicians have reached an agreement on a new government that excludes ultra-religious parties, which have almost always been a part of the ruling coalition. The main ultra-orthodox Shas Party will join the Labor Party in the opposition rows of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. It leaves the governing coalition with no party that traditionally trumpets the concerns of the poor. After weeks of negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forged a coalition deal with centrists and ultra-conservatives after his conservative Likud Beitenu Party landed a solid lead in Israel's January 22 national election, Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz said.
CNN: Xi formally elected Chinese president
Xi Jinping was named China's president Thursday by the country's parliament, one of the final steps in China's once-in-a-decade leadership change. Four months after taking over as General Secretary of the Communist Party, Xi replaces outgoing leader Hu Jintao after a formal vote of about 3,000 deputies at the National People's Congress (NPC). The vote, largely a rubber stamp that completes the highly choreographed leadership transition, was unanimous.
Reuters: Exclusive: Iran steps up weapons lifeline to Syria's Assad – envoys
Iran has significantly stepped up military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in recent months, solidifying its position alongside Russia as the government's lifeline in an increasingly sectarian civil war, Western diplomats said. Iranian weapons continue to pour into Syria from Iraq but also increasingly along other routes, including via Turkey and Lebanon, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, Western officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Iraqi and Turkish officials denied the allegations.
ALSO SEE: CNN: Syrian regime losing grip on border with Iraq as militants step up attacks
CNN: France hints at arming Syrian rebels
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hinted that his country wants to arm Syrian rebels. "Our position is to ask for the lifting of the (European Union) arms embargo" on Syria, Fabius told FranceInfo radio Thursday. "Lifting the embargo is one of the only things remaining to push the situation forward. We must work very quickly. ... The rebels must have the ability to defend themselves."British Foreign Secretary William Hague has also hinted that he wants to arm Syrian rebels.
ALSO SEE: BBC: Russia warns UK on arming Syrian rebels
CNN: The new pope's first day: Mass with the cardinals
A man of many firsts, Pope Francis will spend part of his first full day celebrating Mass with the cardinals who elected him. When Jorge Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony at the Vatican on Wednesday evening to reveal himself as the new leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, he made history as the first non-European pope of the modern era, the first from Latin America, the first Jesuit and the first to assume the name Francis. Thursday will be low-key.
WATCH: VIDEO –Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina is elected Pope. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports.
ALSO SEE: CNN: 5 things to know about the new pope
CNN: Iran to add lawsuit over 'Argo' to cinematic response
First, Iran said it would produce its own cinematic response to "Argo." Now, Tehran plans to sue Hollywood filmmakers who contribute to the production of such "anti-Iran" propaganda films. State-run Press TV reports that Iranian officials have talked to an "internationally-renowned" French lawyer about filing such a suit.
CNN: Infamous leader during Cambodia genocide dies
It was one of the worst genocides since the Nazi era. The brutal Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975 and terrorized the population for four years, killing more than one million people. One of its infamous leaders died Thursday, escaping judgment for war crimes at the hands of a U.N. tribunal. Ieng Sary passed away in the capital Phnom Penh at age 87, the United Nations-backed court for Cambodia said. He was the foreign minister under, and the brother-in-law-of, Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot.
Reuters: Venezuela says U.S. "far-right" wants to kill Capriles
Venezuela's acting president said on Wednesday that "far right" figures in the United States were plotting to kill opposition leader Henrique Capriles in an increasingly volatile atmosphere ahead of an April 14 election. Accusations are flying and emotions are running high in the South American nation of 29 million people since the death last week of former socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
CNN: Chavez embalming 'quite difficult,' acting Venezuelan president says
The plan to embalm the body of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have hit a snag. Scientists in a preliminary assessment have determined that the process might be "quite difficult," acting president Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday. Maduro said at the opening of the Book Fair of Venezuela that scientists argued that "the decision should have been taken much earlier."
Der Spiegel: Parliament Flexes Muscles: Tough Talks Ahead for EU Budget
The president of the European Parliament had pledged a fight to make his institution be taken more seriously, and on Wednesday he delivered. Led by Martin Schulz, members of the European Union's only democratically elected body rejected a compromise European Union budget put forward by EU governments for the seven-year financing period between 2014 and 2020. Members of the European Parliament voted 506-161 against the budget, with 23 abstaining. In its current form, the budget proposal does not "reflect the priorities and concerns" of parliament, members said in the vote. They argued that the EU requires a modern, future-oriented, flexible and transparent budget.
Financial Times: Coca-Cola probed over mapping in China
The government of a remote province in western China says it is investigating Coca-Cola over allegations that it illegally mapped parts of the province, as China and the US engage in an escalating war of words over cyber espionage. The Yunnan Geographical Information Bureau of Surveying and Mapping said the US drinks company had been "illegally collecting classified information with handheld GPS equipment", according to a Yunnan government website.
CNNMoney: Dow: Best streak since 'irrational exuberance'
The Dow delivered its ninth consecutive day of gains Wednesday– a rare feat for U.S. stocks. In fact, the blue chip index hasn't logged a longer winning streak since November 1996 - less than a month before then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan uttered the now infamous "irrational exuberance" phrase. Will Fed chief Ben Bernanke also start warning that stocks may be overvalued and riding higher on a speculative bubble? Fat chance.