POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, December 22, 2010
December 22nd, 2010
04:18 AM ET
10 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, December 22, 2010

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.

For the latest political news: www.CNNPolitics.com

CNN: Nuclear arms treaty clears key Senate hurdle
The new nuclear arms control pact with Russia cleared a key procedural hurdle Tuesday as the Senate voted to cut off debate on the measure. The 67-28 vote indicated a near-certain win for President Barack Obama on one of his top foreign policy priorities as Democrats continued to push through a series of measures before the end of the lame-duck session of Congress. Obama signed the treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, and he made its ratification a major priority for current congressional session that ends in early January.

CNN: Obama to sign repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'
President Obama will sign the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 into law Wednesday, ending a policy enacted in 1993 that banned openly gay and lesbian soldiers from military service. The changes won't be immediate, possibly taking several months to implement, the White House has said. The Pentagon has an 87-page implementation plan for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Over the next several weeks, military officials need to examine and rewrite a series of policies, regulations and directives related to the current law. Once that potentially lengthy process is complete, Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will each have to certify that the repeal can move ahead without negatively affecting unit cohesion and military readiness. After the certification, another 60 days will need to pass before the repeal is officially enacted.

CNN Money: Congress OKs federal spending bill
With a government shutdown looming, Congress approved a temporary spending bill late Tuesday that will fund the government for another 10 weeks. The current law funding the government - a so-called continuing resolution - was set to expire Tuesday at midnight. After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure in the early afternoon, the House voted 193-165 in the evening to move the bill to President Obama's desk. It's the third time in a month that Congress has faced a tight deadline to keep the government funded. The latest extension will keep it afloat until March 4.

CNN: 9/11 health benefits bill vote may come Wednesday
A health care bill meant to provide free medical treatment to those suffering from the health effects of working in and near ground zero following the 2001 attacks may come up for a Senate vote on Wednesday. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said it appeared the bill will come up for a Senate vote once lawmakers vote on the START treaty, a nuclear arms control pact with Russia and a top foreign policy priority of President Barack Obama. "It will be decision day in the Senate, and we will see once and for all who will keep their promise to never forget the heroes of 9/11," Schumer said Tuesday. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill is named after a deceased New York Police Department detective who had worked in the toxic plume at ground zero.

CNN: House passes food safety bill to send to Obama
A major food safety bill that passed the House and Senate earlier this year before stalling because of a procedural problem won final approval Tuesday and now goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. The bill, designed to increase government inspections of the food supply in the wake of recent deadly foodborne disease outbreaks, originally passed with wide support in both chambers after originating in the Senate. However, it needed approval again because it violated a constitutional requirement that bills that raise revenue be initiated in the House. The Senate passed its version of the Food Safety Modernization Act on Sunday, and the House voted 215-144 for final approval on Tuesday in one of the final sessions of the lame-duck Congress.

CNN: Despite voting against its creation, Boehner will keep independent ethics panel
Although he opposed its creation, incoming House Speaker John Boehner will keep an outside ethics watchdog– the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) – intact when the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives in January. The independent, non-partisan panel investigates allegations of wrongdoing by House Members. Some outside reform groups, concerned that a Republican-led House might do away with the office, have lobbied Boehner, R-Ohio, to retain it. The office, which can initiate its own investigations, was established in 2008 by the current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. But most Republican leaders, including Boehner, voted against its creation. A board of eight private citizens-non-House Members-oversees the office; four board members are appointed by Democrats and four are appointed by Republicans.

CNN: GOP sees good news in census numbers
The numbers for the 2010 census are out, and the news appears good for Republican-leaning states when it comes to adding new seats in the House of Representatives. The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census be conducted every 10 years to reflect the population shifts in the country accurately. The new numbers spell out congressional reapportionment as the states divvy up the 435 seats in the House. Tuesday's findings showed a growing population in Western and Southern states - areas where Republicans tend to do well.

CNN: Suspected terrorists could periodically question indefinite detentions
The Obama administration is drafting new plans to hold suspected terrorists without trial indefinitely but allow them to challenge their imprisonment periodically, a White House official said Tuesday. A proposed executive order would cover prisoners who can't be tried in civilian courts or before the military commissions set up at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official provided few details, since the draft had not yet been presented to President Barack Obama. But the official said Obama had pledged in May 2009 to give suspected terrorists some recourse.

CNN: Obama Likely to Arrive in Hawaii Wednesday Night
CNN has learned that federal officials here in Hawaii are planning for President Obama to arrive on the island of Oahu as early as Wednesday, when they are instituting a no-fly zone over this city. The Federal Aviation Administration quietly issued an advisory Tuesday revealing it will institute a no-fly zone with a radius of 10 nautical miles around Honolulu from 5:15 PM local until 7:15 PM local time on Wednesday. Honolulu is five time zones behind the East Coast so Obama could hold his scheduled signing ceremony of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on Wednesday morning – and potentially hold a news conference – before leaving Washington early in the afternoon. He could still arrive in Hawaii for dinner with First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters, all of whom arrived Saturday ahead of the President.

For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

CNN: Al Qaeda group contemplated poisoning food in U.S., officials say
The al Qaeda group that built two toner-cartridge bombs in an unsuccessful attempt to blow up planes in October also has contemplated spreading poison on salad bars and buffets at U.S. hotels and restaurants, U.S. officials told CNN Tuesday. But U.S. officials sought to downplay the threat - first reported by CBS News - saying it was months old, and that it was more in the nature of a discussion of "tactics" than an actual plot. Officials implied the tactic is beyond the capabilities of the terrorist organization, which is based in the Middle East. The United States has received information the group - al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - was considering the tactic of placing ricin and cyanide poisons into food supplies, Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed to CNN.

Washington Post: CIA launches task force to assess impact of U.S. cables' exposure by WikiLeaks
The CIA has launched a task force to assess the impact of the exposure of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and military files by WikiLeaks. Officially, the panel is called the WikiLeaks Task Force. But at CIA headquarters, it's mainly known by its all-too-apt acronym: W.T.F. The irreverence is perhaps understandable for an agency that has been relatively unscathed by WikiLeaks. Only a handful of CIA files have surfaced on the WikiLeaks Web site, and records from other agencies posted online reveal remarkably little about CIA employees or operations. Even so, CIA officials said the agency is conducting an extensive inventory of the classified information, which is routinely distributed on a dozen or more networks that connect agency employees around the world.

For the latest international news: http://edition.cnn.com

CNN: S. Korea to hold large live-fire drills on Thursday
South Korea will hold its largest-ever winter live-fire drills Thursday in an area adjacent to North Korea, the South Korean Army said on Wednesday. The drills are scheduled as tensions between the two countries remain high. South Korea held live-fire military exercises earlier this week, a move that North Korea said could ignite a war. Both Koreas have traded tough talk and conducted military drills in the weeks after North Korea shelled a South Korean island last month.

CNN: U.N. chief says Ivory Coast risks a return to civil war
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday the situation in the Ivory Coast is increasingly volatile and the country risks a return to civil war. The West African nation has fallen into chaos since a presidential runoff election there last month. The country's Independent Electoral Commission said opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara won the election, but its Constitutional Council invalidated those results and declared incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo the winner. The United Nations, the African Union and other international bodies recognize Ouattara as the victor, but Gbagbo is refusing to step down.

CNN: Halliburton settles Nigeria bribery claims for $35 million
Oilfield contractor Halliburton has agreed to pay Nigeria $35 million to settle bribery allegations that led to charges against former Vice President Dick Cheney and other executives, the company announced Tuesday. Cheney, who was Halliburton's CEO in the 1990s, and nine others were charged with conspiracy and "distribution of gratification to public officials" in a long-running case involving the company and its Kellogg, Brown and Root subsidiary. Nigerian officials accused the company of paying bribes to secure $6 billion worth of contracts for a liquefied natural gas project in the Niger Delta. "Pursuant to this agreement, all lawsuits and charges against KBR and Halliburton corporate entities and associated persons have been withdrawn," the company announced in a statement Tuesday evening. Nigerian officials agreed "not to bring any further criminal charges or civil claims against those entities or persons" in return, the company said.

CNN: Saudi king leaves NY hospital
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has left a New York hospital to recuperate at his home in the city, the official Saudi Press Agency said Wednesday. The king left the New York Presbyterian Hospital / Weill Cornell Medical Center Tuesday night, the news agency said citing the Royal Court. The statement did not say how long Abdullah will remain in New York. Abdullah first underwent successful surgery on November 24. He had a successful follow-up back surgery on December 3 to stabilize several vertebrae in his spine, the agency said earlier.

For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNN Money: Stocks end at highest levels in more than two years
U.S. stocks rose modestly Tuesday but managed to close at their highest levels in more than two years as investors set their sights on 2011. The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) rose 55 points, or 0.5%, led by gains in shares of American Express (AXP, Fortune 500), Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500). The blue chip index finished at 11,533, its highest level since August 29, 2008. The S&P 500 (SPX) added 8 points, or 0.6%, with Adobe (ADBE) and Jabil Circuit (JBL, Fortune 500) among the biggest winners. The broader index closed at its highest level since September 19, 2008.

In Case You Missed It

CNN's John King talks with panel members about how the 2010 Census results will shift seats in the U.S. House.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta discusses the opposition by Sen. Tom Coburn to the 9/11 responders bill.

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