POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Friday, January 28, 2011
January 28th, 2011
04:27 AM ET
11 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Friday, January 28, 2011

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: Jay Carney named White House press secretary
Vice President Joe Biden's communications director, Jay Carney, was named the new White House press secretary Thursday as part of a series of other big staff moves announced by new Chief of Staff Bill Daley. Carney, a former Time magazine reporter, will succeed Robert Gibbs as the most visible spokesman for President Barack Obama. Other White House aides who have been considered for press secretary include Bill Burton, Stephanie Cutter, Josh Earnest and Jen Psaki. Several Democratic sources said that based on the private deliberations inside the White House, Carney was the clear front-runner for the job.

Bloomberg: Obama and the Chamber Start Over
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's headquarters in Washington, D.C., is just across Lafayette Park from the White House. President Barack Obama, however, has only been there twice since he was elected. He had good reason to stay away. During Obama's first two years in office, the trade association's president, Thomas J. Donohue, a 72-year-old as pugnacious as Jimmy Cagney, did everything in his power to derail the President's agenda. He warned that the White House-backed health-care bill would impose "a burdensome mandate on employers." He compared the Dodd-Frank financial reforms to Pandora's box. And he didn't just bark; he bit. The Chamber, which represents businesses big and small, spent more than $32 million before the midterm elections on "issue ads" primarily targeting Democratic lawmakers who voted for such legislation. Donohue liked to say none of this was intended to antagonize the President. It was just business. As part of his larger overture to private sector, Obama is determined to put these bad memories behind him. On Feb. 7 he will visit Donohue's fortress and deliver a speech about jobs and the economy.

Washington Post: History shows Obama's effort to reorganize government could be an uphill battle
If you want to know what President Obama is up against with his pledge to reorganize the federal government, consider what happened to the last such endeavor. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, nearly two dozen agencies were melded into the new Department of Homeland Security, to better coordinate the government's resources for handling terrorism and other national emergencies. But the members of Congress overseeing those agencies were loath to give up any authority. That is why DHS gets marching orders from more than 100 congressional committees and subcommittees – a number that has grown in the past seven years, despite the 9/11 Commission's recommendation that those tangled lines of authority be consolidated.

CNN: Obama mixes up Iraq, Afghanistan on YouTube
President Barack Obama experienced a rare speaking stumble Thursday, mixing up Iraq and Afghanistan when responding in a YouTube interview to questions challenging the wars in those countries. The president twice referred to Afghanistan when clearly talking about the situation in Iraq. He said that the United States would withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011 and that combat operations there had ended, which actually describes the situation and policy for Iraq. It was unclear whether Obama realized his mistake. He then correctly stated the situation in Afghanistan, saying the United States would start withdrawing some forces beginning in July, with the goal of handing over full security responsibilities to the Afghan government in 2014.

CNN: Republican governors urged Pence to pass on presidential bid
Indiana Rep. Mike Pence's decision not to run for president came after a serious lobbying effort by the Republican Governors Association, a GOP source close to the party organization told CNN Thursday. Pence, who finally revealed his plans to the Indianapolis Star on Thursday after a lengthy cat and mouse game, has not said for certain that he will seek the Indiana governorship, though Hoosier State Republicans widely expect him to do so.

CNN: Senate bans secret holds, makes other rule changes
The Senate voted Thursday to eliminate so-called "secret holds" that many senators complained caused unnecessary delays in approving bills and nominations and contributed to a general legislative backlog in the chamber. The lopsided 92-4 vote came after weeks of wrangling over whether to overhaul filibuster rules and other tactics that are employed by senators to stall votes. Under the new rules, a senator's name will be published in the Congressional Record two days after the senator places a hold.

Roll Call: Reid Stands Ground on Opposing Vote on Health Care Repeal
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will fight efforts to move a House-passed repeal of the health care overhaul law to the Senate floor, but he acknowledged Thursday that Republicans have the ability to try to do so. “I’m not going to be part of moving a bill to the floor that really whacks senior citizens,” he said, noting that the law closes the “doughnut hole” for prescription drug costs under Medicare and provides a free annual wellness screening to Medicare beneficiaries. Reid said the repeal would add to the deficit and allow health insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions. “I know the procedures of the Senate,” Reid said, in what appeared to be an acknowledgment that Republicans could try to force a vote on the floor. “But I’m not going to be a part of it.”

The Hill: Schumer steps up Social Security assault on House Republicans
Senate Democrats led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are gearing up for a battle with House Republicans over Medicare and Social Security benefits. Schumer and other Democratic strategists see Medicare and Social Security as winning political issues that can help them regain the momentum they lost over the last two years. Schumer, who has taken over the Senate Democrats' communications operation, delivered some of his most direct shots at House GOP leaders. “They want to privatize Social Security,” Schumer said of Republicans. “Privatize equals end, no more.”

CNN: Senators convene first Tea Party Caucus meeting
Spirited Tea Party activists, confident they staggered the Washington establishment with their successes in the midterm elections, showed off their new found influence Thursday at the first meeting of the newly formed Senate Tea Party Caucus. "You're not here as a tourist, not as a visitor, but as stockholders. You're here with us today because we want you to be the board of directors of what's going on here in the Congress," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, told the 150 or so activists – famous for being grass roots outsiders – who showed up at a stately Capitol Hill hearing room to exchange views with the senators who make up the caucus.

CNN: Tea Party Express not planning to target Hatch
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who may face a primary challenge next year, apparently now has one less thing to worry about. The Tea Party Express, a national Tea Party organization that last year helped oust Bob Bennett, Utah's other GOP senator, as he unsuccessfully tried to win his party's re-nomination, says they have no plans as of now to target Hatch next as he gears up for re-election in 2012. Sal Russo, the Tea Party Express's chief strategist, tells CNN that "Hatch has been a good friend and a solid conservative. He's been a good solid conservative vote in the Senate since 1976."

CNN: Illinois Supreme Court keeps Emanuel on ballot
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met residency requirements and that his name will stay on the mayoral ballot in Chicago. The justices said Emanuel's opponents did not prove that he had given up residency when he served in the Obama administration in Washington. "Given the record before us, it is simply not possible to find clearly erroneous the (Chicago Board of Elections') determination that the objectors failed to prove that the candidate had abandoned his Chicago residence," the court ruled in a unanimous decision.

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CNN exclusive: FBI misconduct reveals sex, lies and videotape
An FBI employee shared confidential information with his girlfriend, who was a news reporter, then later threatened to release a sex tape the two had made. A supervisor watched pornographic videos in his office during work hours while "satisfying himself." And an employee in a "leadership position" misused a government database to check on two friends who were exotic dancers and allowed them into an FBI office after hours. These are among confidential summaries of FBI disciplinary reports obtained by CNN, which describe misconduct by agency supervisors, agents and other employees over the last three years.

CNN: FBI executes search warrants in probe of pro-WikiLeaks cyber attacks
FBI agents have executed 40 search warrants throughout the United States as part of an investigation into recent coordinated cyber attacks targeting major companies, the agency said. The United Kingdom's Metropolitan Police Service executed additional search warrants and arrested five people for their alleged role in the attacks, the FBI said in a statement Thursday. A group calling itself "Anonymous" has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the FBI said. The attacks were allegedly carried out by people who are active supporters of WikiLeaks, but are not affiliated with the website, a federal law enforcement source said.

CNNMoney: State pension + debt = big numbers
States' debt loads are high enough, but when you combine them with their pension obligations, the numbers are really eye-popping. Hawaii's debt, for instance, is $5.2 billion. But so is its pension obligation. Combined, the dual obligations make up 16.2% of the state's economy, according to a report released Thursday by Moody's Investors Service. That's the nation's highest total liability as a share of the state's gross domestic product. With state economies continuing to reel from the Great Recession, their pension and debt loads are garnering greater attention. States are having a hard enough time just paying for schools and social services, leaving many struggling to make big pension payments as well.

USA Today: Winter weather draining blood supply
The American Red Cross says its national blood supply is at the lowest level for January in 10 years because winter storms and resulting travel disruptions caused cancellation of 14,000 donations. "Winter weather is what has really caused this problem," said Debbie Estes, director of communications for the American Red Cross' southeast region. The shortage is most severe in the Northeast, which has been hammered with January snow, and in the Southeast, said Estes, who is based in Charlotte. "Typically we do not see a lot of ice and snow, but we've had a good bit of winter weather," she said. The Red Cross has issued new appeals for donations to replenish supplies and is asking its sponsoring organizations, such as companies and churches that frequently organize blood drives and host donation sites, to schedule new drives and contact regular donors.

Newark Star-Ledger: Planning group calls for $15B expansion of Newark, LaGuardia, JFK airports
For years, Newark Liberty International Airport has routinely ranked at or near the bottom in on-time performance among the nation’s busiest airports — in large part because it, along with John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports, serve the busiest travel market in the world. The situation will likely deteriorate, according to a study released today, as demand for travel grows by nearly 50 percent over the next two decades, threatening to make delays even worse if nothing is done. So the study’s authors at the Manhattan-based Regional Plan Association are recommending $15 billion in overhauls at the three major airports, including construction of a third, longer runway at Newark to allow for more takeoffs and landings and, ultimately, to significantly reduce delays.

CNN: Pennsylvania school experiments with 'segregation'
A Pennsylvania high school says some students are separated by race, gender and language for a few minutes each day in an effort to boost academic scores, raising controversy over the historically contentious issue of segregation in schools. The initiative is a pilot program intended to capitalize on "enriching students' experiences through mentoring" and is derived from school research "that shows grouping black students by gender with a strong role model can help boost their academic achievement and self esteem," according to a statement from McCaskey East High School in Lancaster. "Educators immediately noticed strong bonds being formed between all students and mentor teachers," the statement said.

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CNN: U.S. cables: Mubarak a vital ally, but concerns over succession remain
The U.S. relationship with President Hosni Mubarak's Egypt is full of contradictions and tensions, according to recently published U.S. diplomatic cables, but also underpinned by similar basic interests in a rough and unpredictable part of the world. A CNN analysis of secret and confidential cables published by WikiLeaks and its media partners reveals U.S. frustration with Mubarak's lack of succession planning, concerns over stuttering economic reform and private criticism of the Mubarak government's hard line toward domestic opponents. But the cables also show that Washington sees Egypt as an important and - until now - stable ally on issues, including Iran's nuclear program, promoting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and making life difficult for Hamas in Gaza.

New York Times: Seizing a Moment, Al Jazeera Taps Arab Anger
The protests rocking the Arab world this week have one thread uniting them: Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel whose aggressive coverage has helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next. Al Jazeera has been widely hailed for helping enable the revolt in Tunisia with its galvanizing early reports, even as Western-aligned political factions in Lebanon and the West Bank attacked and burned the channel’s offices and vans this week, accusing it of incitement against them. In many ways, it is Al Jazeera’s moment — not only because of the role it has played, but also because the channel has helped to shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments (and against Israel) ever since its founding 15 years ago. That narrative has long been implicit in the channel’s heavy emphasis on Arab suffering and political crisis, its screaming-match talk shows, even its sensational news banners and swelling orchestral accompaniments.

CNN: What protesters in Arab nations do - and don't - have in common
Protesters who have taken to the streets in several Arab nations of North Africa are angry at their own governments, and lashing out over some specific problems in their countries. But what they're looking for - and, in the end, what inspired them to stand up and demonstrate - is very similar, experts on the region said Thursday. "They all want the same," said Emile Hokayem, with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the Middle East. "They're all protesting about growing inequalities, they're all protesting against growing nepotism. The top of the pyramid was getting richer and richer." Speaking to CNN about the recent demonstrations that have occurred, to varying extent, in Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia in northern Africa, and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, Hokayem said the protesters were also standing up "against a high level of police brutality. Fundamentally it's a question of dignity. People's dignity has been under assault for decades," he said.

CNN: South African leader: No need to panic over Mandela's hospitalization
South African officials reiterated calls for calm over the hospitalization of Nelson Mandela, urging citizens not to panic as the former president "suffers from ailment common to people of his age." Mandela is 92. "Medically there is no need to panic," said Kgalema Motlanthe, the deputy president. Mandela suffers from ... conditions that have developed over years. We may recall that he has suffered from tuberculosis whilst on Robben Island and has had previous respiratory infections."

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CNNMoney: Long-term unemployment rate still sky-high
The number of Americans suffering through long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high, according to a study released Thursday. More than 30% of the 14 million Americans who were on unemployment rolls in December have been there longer than a year, the Pew Charitable Trusts said, an increase of 25% over last year. The totals are eye-popping, and translate into more than 4.2 million people, or roughly the total population of Kentucky. But there is a glimmer of good news, as December's total is a decrease of 200,000 from August 2010.

In Case You Missed It

Activists gather on Capitol Hill for a question and answer session at the first official Senate Tea Party caucus.

Rep. Paul Broun speaks with CNN's Soledad O'Brien about his tweets criticizing President Obama and his policies.

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