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.
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CNN: Political leaders negotiate budget stalemate
White House officials led by Vice President Joe Biden met for the first time Thursday with House and Senate leaders in both parties to begin negotiations on major differences over government funding levels and spending cuts. According to multiple sources familiar with the meeting, negotiators agreed to hold Senate votes on each side's position, in the hopes of demonstrating the necessity of compromise to powerful voices in both parties who have been resisting a deal. The meeting, held in Biden's office on Capitol Hill, was prompted by congressional Democrats who implored the White House to get more involved in the battle with Republicans over spending.
CNN: Wisconsin governor tells absent senators: Return or 1,500 get laid off
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday warned 14 absent lawmakers trying to stall his controversial budget bill to return to the state Capitol immediately to vote on the measure, or layoff notices will be sent to 1,500 public employees before the weekend. "Unfortunately, if we don't have action by tomorrow we have a legal and moral obligation to start forewarning people," Walker said a Thursday night press conference. The layoffs would take effect April 1, the governor said. Walker's threat to start laying off workers capped the third week of a high-stakes drama playing out in Wisconsin.
CNN: Indiana Republicans order $250-a-day fine for absent Democrats
Indiana House Republicans have adopted a $250-a-day fine against missing Democratic lawmakers who left the state in protest over a controversial education and labor bill, lawmakers from both parties said Thursday. More than 35 House Democrats remained in Urbana, Illinois, for a second week, denying their Republican counterparts the two-thirds quorum necessary for a vote on a school voucher proposal and a measure that would restrict collective bargaining rights for state workers. Much like in neighboring Wisconsin, where Senate lawmakers ordered a $100-per-day fine of Democrats for each day they remained absent, House Republicans in Indiana adopted a similar resolution Thursday in an effort to pressure the lawmakers' return.
CNN: Federal judge stays ruling tossing out health care reform law
A federal judge in Florida issued a stay Thursday of his recent ruling that the sweeping health care reform law championed by President Obama is unconstitutional. Judge Roger Vinson also ordered the administration to expedite an appeal into whether current parts of the law can remain temporarily in effect. Vinson ruled January 31 that the "individual mandate" - a key provision requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance or face financial penalties - was unconstitutional. He then tossed out the entire law.
CNN: Obama expresses regret for strike killing Afghan boys
President Barack Obama has expressed regret over a NATO air strike earlier in the week that resulted in the deaths of nine Afghan boys, according to a White House statement released Thursday. The president, during a video teleconference Wednesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, indicated his "deep regret for the tragic accident in Kunar Province," the statement said. Obama "conveyed his condolences to the Afghan people and stressed that he and (top American commander Gen. David) Petraeus take such incidents very seriously."
CNN: Secretary Duncan urges states to protect their education budgets
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stepped onto his bully pulpit Thursday, arguing for states to protect their education budgets. He sent a letter to all 50 state governors outlining the flexibility that the governors have in spending federal education dollars, and giving them suggestions on how to manage their education resources during tight budget times.
CNN: Handicappers: Hawaii Senate seat remains safe for Democrats, for now
One day after Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii announced he would not run for re-election next year, two of the top non-partisan political handicappers say that as of now, the seat remains safe for the Democrats. Akaka, who's served in the Senate since 1990, announced Wednesday that he would not run for a fourth full term in 2012. He becomes the fifth Democratic senator so far this cycle to announce they would not run for re-election in 2012. The Democrats have a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate and will have to defend 23 seats next November (21 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party), while the GOP only has to defend 10 seats.
Roll Call: Michigan Democrats Weary Over Redistricting
In Michigan, four Democratic Congressmen who are among the oldest in Congress are preparing for another brutal round of redistricting controlled by Republicans. With their previous redistricting experience and seniority in the House, Reps. John Dingell, 84, John Conyers, 81, Dale Kildee, 81, and Sander Levin, 79, all say they plan on sticking around to seek another term. Michigan has lost seats in every round of redistricting since the 1980 census, and this time it will lose one more. Levin, who was elected in 1982, is the newest of the four “Old Bulls,” so they’ve all survived previous cuts.
Politico: The GOP's secret EPA love
Republicans have spent a lot of time this year criticizing the EPA, so one would think that President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut $1.3 billion from its budget would be well-received. Not quite. For all their talk about the “job-killing” EPA, Republicans have a dirty little secret: They actually like many of the agency’s efforts, particularly bread-and-butter programs aimed at cleaning up drinking water and air pollution in their districts. It’s in those areas where Obama has suggested the most budget pain, putting Republicans in the position of defending EPA and accusing the White House of playing politics.
CNN: Huckabee team defends 'madrassas' comment
Mike Huckabee's political committee is defending comments the former Arkansas governor made Wednesday that referred to President Barack Obama as growing up around Muslim madrassas. "People who read the Governor's full comments about the President in his new book will completely understand – but those who don't, probably won't hear the whole story," Hogan Gidley, Executive Director of HuckPAC, said today in a statement to CNN. Gidley did not respond directly to the question of why Huckabee used the highly-charged term "madrassas". The term 'madrassa' traditionally refers to any Muslim school, but following the terrorism of September 11th news stories about madrassas radicalizing Islamic students cast the word in a negative light.
CNN: Roemer joins 2012 fray
Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer officially joined the growing pool of potential 2012 GOP contenders on Thursday, announcing that he has formed a presidential exploratory committee. Speaking from Baton Rouge at the bank he founded after leaving office in 1992, Roemer said he wants to run because Washington is "institutionally corrupt" and he wants to "challenge the current system of money and politics." "Washington, DC is a boomtown and the rest of America is hurting. Why is that?" Roemer asked a room of supporters and press.
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CNN: Fallen Marine's father says anti-gay pickets will draw gunfire
A day after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Westboro Baptist Church's right to protest against homosexuality at military funerals, the fallen Marine's father, who unsuccessfully sued the controversial Kansas congregation, warned that the church's protests will eventually spark violence. "Something is going to happen," Albert Snyder told CNN Thursday. "Somebody is going to get hurt. You have too many soldiers and Marines coming back with post-traumatic stress syndrome, and they (the Westboro protesters) are going to go to the wrong funeral and the guns are going to go off."
CNN: After ban, Harvard to allow ROTC back on campus
Harvard University moved Thursday to allow ROTC programs to set up on campus, after years of restricting the U.S. military's access because of its "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The Cambridge, Massachusetts, school barred Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs from being based on its campus 40 years ago, at the height of the Vietnam War. For more than a decade, university leaders - among them, former law school dean and current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan - have cited the military's policy prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving openly as the chief rationale for continuing the ban.
CNN: Navy announces actions against officers for controversial videos
The Navy announced major steps Thursday against some of its most senior officers for their failure to halt a series of raunchy videos shown aboard the USS Enterprise between 2005 and 2007. Capt. Owen Honors already has lost command of the aircraft carrier over the videos and now must show why he should remain in the Navy. The most serious actions were a recommendation that the Navy secretary place "letters of censure" in the files of Honors as well as senior Navy officers including Rear Adms. Lawrence Rice and Ron Horton, who were commanders of the Enterprise when Honors, then the ship's second-in-command, was making and showing the videos.
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CNN: Libya's tribes rise up against Gadhafi
Soon after the Libyan rebellion escalated, a senior member of the nation's powerful Warfallah tribe announced it would no longer support Moammar Gadhafi, saying that "he is no longer a brother." The Zawiya tribe, based in a petroleum-rich region in the east, threatened to cut off oil flow. The Bani Walid tribe decided to withdraw its men from the regime's security brigades. And the influential Zintan tribe, allied in the past to Gadhafi's own tribe, broadcast a statement of support for the opposition. One after another, Libya's myriad tribes are falling in line against Gadhafi, and the implications are enormous, said longtime observers of Libya, because for centuries, tribes have formed the backbone of the North African nation.
CNN: U.S. aircraft to help return Egyptians fleeing Libya
U.S. military aircraft and French charter jets joined efforts to get tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting in Libya back home Thursday as the United Nations called for stepped-up aid to refugees. Nearly 180,000 people, mainly foreign workers, have fled to the neighboring nations of Tunisia and Egypt amid fighting between government troops and rebels pushing to oust longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi, the U.N. refugee agency reported. About 95,000 people have crossed into Tunisia and another 83,000 into Egypt, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated.
CNN: U.N. Security Council says renewed civil war looms in Ivory Coast
The U.N. Security Council warned Thursday that civil war could return to Ivory Coast in West Africa after months of political deadlock. In a statement to the press, the council said the ongoing dispute over who is president of the country risks a resurgence of the civil war that erupted in 2002. The Security Council has endorsed the election of Alassane Ouattara but his opponent, President Laurent Gbagbo, refuses to leave office. The United Nations says 50 people died in violence this week in the country.
CNN: Clinton: Former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran being held in Asia
Evidence is growing that a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran four years ago is alive and being held in Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday. Robert Levinson disappeared during a business trip in March 2007. "We have received recent indications that Bob is being held somewhere in southwest Asia," Clinton said in a statement. "As the government of Iran has previously offered its assistance in this matter, we respectfully request the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family."
New York Times: China Increases Military Spending by 12.7 Percent
China’s military spending will rise 12.7 percent in 2011 to about $91.5 billion, a parliamentary spokesman said on Friday, resuming a long string of double-digit annual increases after an unexpected slowdown in 2010. The resumption of rapid growth follows a year in which China’s neighbors have expressed concern about the military’s increasingly muscular behavior in waters off its Pacific coast and along the tense border with India. But the spokesman, Li Zhaoxing, repeated China’s longstanding position that the military is a defensive force and “will not pose a threat to any country.”
CNN: 13 Mexican military members convicted in drug trafficking case
A judge convicted 13 members of the Mexican military of crimes connected with trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine while on duty, the country's defense secretary said in a statement. Three officers and 10 troops were convicted of drug and organized crime charges for their involvement in the transport of 928 kilograms of methamphetamine and 30 kilograms of cocaine, the statement said. That amount of drugs is worth more than $120 million, according to average price estimates in the United Nations 2010 World Drug Report.
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CNNMoney: Dow jumps 190 on jobs data, lower oil
U.S. stocks posted their best day in three months on Thursday as Wall Street rallied behind a strong unemployment claims report along with a modest drop in energy prices. At the preliminary close, the Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) rose 191 points, or 1.6%, to 12,258. The gains were the best for the blue-chip indicator in 2011 and the largest since Dec. 1. The S&P 500 (SPX) added 22.5 points, or 1.7%, to 1331; and Nasdaq (COMP) composite climbed 51 points, or 1.9%, to 2799. Thursday's rally was fairly broadbased and held steady the entire day. Twenty of the Dow's 30 members advanced more than 1%, while the worst-performing member of the Dow was AT&T (T, Fortune 500), falling a modest 0.1%.
CNNMoney: Oil shock could push world food prices higher
Food prices worldwide continued to rise in February, and the recent spike in oil prices could push food costs even higher in the months ahead, according to a report from the United Nations. The food price index, which measures prices for a basket of food commodities, rose 2.2% last month, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. The index has increased for the last eight months in a row, and is at the highest level since it was created in 1990. Sugar prices were slightly lower in February, compared with the month before. But prices for cereals, dairy products, meats and all other commodities in the index rose.
New York Times: Without Loan Giants, 30-Year Mortgage May Fade Away
How might home buying change if the federal government shuts down the housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan, the steady favorite of American borrowers since the 1950s, could become a luxury product, housing experts on both sides of the political aisle say. Interest rates would rise for most borrowers, but urban and rural residents could see sharper increases than the coveted customers in the suburbs.
CNN: NFL talks extended for 24 hours
Negotiations between NFL owners and the players union on a new collective bargaining agreement were given a 24-hour extension Thursday, according to a statement from the league. "The NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to extend the expiration of the (collective bargaining agreement) for 24 hours and continue negotiating under the direction" of federal mediator George Cohen, the statement said. "The agreement by both sides to refrain from comment on the negotiations remains in place." Representatives of the players and owners have been meeting in Washington.
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