POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Friday, March 18, 2011
March 18th, 2011
04:39 AM ET
12 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Friday, March 18, 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: Senate passes short-term spending bill
The Senate easily passed a spending bill Thursday to keep the government funded for three more weeks as lawmakers and the White House work to bridge their deep divide on a larger spending package that will run through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. The vote was 87 to 13. Four Democrats and nine Republicans voted against it. The House already passed the stopgap bill, which – at the insistence of Republicans – cuts $6 billion from current funding levels. Now it will go to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

CNN: Report: Obama donors asked to raise $350,000 this year
President Barack Obama's campaign manager on Thursday urged deep-pocketed and well-connected donors to each pledge to raise $350,000 this year, a sign that the president could raise upward of $1 billion for his re-election. The contributors were asked to raise the money during a Democratic Party meeting in the nation's capital, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story. The donors could be asked to raise more money in 2012.

CNN: Gingrich: Obama 'talks loudly, has no stick'
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich launched another zinger at President Obama on Thursday by channeling President Theodore Roosevelt who famously said "Walk softly and carry a big stick." Of the president, Gingrich said "Theodore Roosevelt said you have to walk softly and carry a big stick. This is a guy who talks loudly and has no stick." He was referencing Obama's action, or perceived lack thereof, regarding Libya, during an interview with local affiliate WMUR that followed the possible presidential candidate's appearance at an event in New Hampshire.

CNN: DeMint stands by Romney
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint came to the defense of Mitt Romney over the health care plan Romney passed while governor of Massachusetts. The South Carolina senator blamed the Democratic state legislature for the ultimate plan that has similarities to the current health care law, including the individual mandate that requires all residents, with some exceptions, to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. But DeMint, who has become a national figure and Tea Party favorite, told The Hill that Romney's attempts to make private health insurance available for everyone contributed to his decision to endorse him for president in 2008.

CNN: House rejects resolution to pull U.S. forces from Afghanistan
The House Thursday decisively rejected a resolution directing the president to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year, but the vote also showed a deep divide in the president's own party on the war. The final vote tally was 321 to 93, with 85 Democrats supporting the proposal. The resolution to draw down all troops by the end of 2011, introduced by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is not the congressman's first effort to end U.S. involvement in the war. But this year it gained more Democratic support, as many in the party voiced their deep concern with the costly and difficult struggle.

Washington Post: Lobbyists flock to Capitol Hill jobs
A surge of lobbyists has left K Street this year to fill jobs as high-ranking staffers on Capitol Hill, focusing new attention on the dearth of rules governing what paid advocates can do after moving into the legislative world. Ethics rules sharply limit the activities of former lobbyists who join the executive branch and former lawmakers who move to lobbying firms. But experts say there are no limits on lawmakers hiring K street employees and letting them write legislation in sync with the policies they advocated for hire. New tallies indicate that nearly half of the roughly 150 former lobbyists working in top policy jobs for members of Congress or House committees have been hired in the past few months. And many are working on legislative issues of interest to their former employers.

Arizona Republic: Arizona Senate rejects 5 major immigration bills
Arizona won't be leading a national push for the U.S. Supreme Court to strip citizenship status from children of illegal immigrants – at least not this year. The state Senate voted down a package of birthright-citizenship bills, with Republicans split over the measures and Democrats opposed. Four other significant Senate immigration measures also failed. Those bills would have banned illegal immigrants from state universities, made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive a vehicle in Arizona, required school districts to check the legal status of students, and required hospitals to check the legal status of patients.

New York Times: Palin’s Successors (Republicans Too) Seek to Dismantle Her Energy Legacy
While every online swipe from former Gov. Sarah Palin still draws national attention and stirs fresh speculation about her political ambitions, back home she is no longer quite so imposing. Even as she casts herself as an energy expert and is quick to attack the Obama administration on oil and gas issues, the two most prominent energy policies she put in place as governor of Alaska face new challenges less than two years after she left office. Gov. Sean Parnell, Ms. Palin’s fellow Republican and former lieutenant, has announced that it is his top priority to undo parts of major oil tax increases that Ms. Palin made law.

San Francisco Chronicle: Calif. Legislature passes deep-cuts budget
The California Legislature adopted an $84.6 billion spending plan for the Golden State on Thursday but put off voting on two significant budget bills – one that would dismantle redevelopment agencies and another to call a special election to extend taxes. The passage of the spending plan, which includes deep cuts to programs, marked one of the earliest budget approvals for the Legislature, which last year broke a record for passing the latest budget ever.

For the latest national news: www.CNN.com

Washington Post: FEMA still in 'state of flux,' needs to improve coordination efforts, watchdog says
With Japan reeling from a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami, a veteran government watchdog warned Thursday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency "is in a constant state of flux" and needs to do even more to coordinate with state and local officials. The agency, widely panned for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also needs more personnel to handle a growing workload as state and local governments trim emergency management budgets and should upgrade its computer systems, according to Richard L. Skinner, the former inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security who authored a progress report on the agency before retiring in January.

New York Times: Disaster May Deal Blow to Tourism in Hawaii
Even before Japan was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami, Hawaii had been struggling with a budget shortfall that seemed suffocating for a state this small: close to $1 billion over two years. But the disaster in Japan has the potential to make what was a bad situation for the state significantly worse. The tour and hotel cancellations began within hours, and they have been continuing — a reminder of how dependent Hawaii is on tourists who make the nine-hour trip here from Tokyo.

CNN: After cutting force by half, crime-ridden Camden rehires 50 cops
After cutting nearly half of its police force in January. the city of Camden, New Jersey, announced Thursday that it is rehiring 50 of the 168 police officers laid off. In an agreement between Camden officials and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the city will have access to $2.5 million from what is known as a "payment in lieu of taxes," or PILOT, state fund. Camden's Mayor Dana Redd will rehire 50 police officers and 15 firefighters. "Public safety is our primary obligation as elected officials," Redd said in a press release.

CNN: NASA probe reaches Mercury
NASA's Mercury probe Messenger has become the first spacecraft to go into orbit around the closest plant to the Sun. Confirmation of the probe entering Mercury's orbit was received Thursday evening. "Achieving Mercury orbit was by far the biggest milestone since Messenger was launched more than six and a half years ago," said Messenger Project Manager Peter Bedini, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. "This accomplishment is the fruit of a tremendous amount of labor on the part of the navigation, guidance-and-control, and mission operations teams, who shepherded the spacecraft through its 4.9-billion-mile (7.9-billion-kilometer) journey."

CNN: Weekend full moon the biggest in about 20 years
If the moon looks a little bit bigger and brighter this weekend, there's a reason for that. It is. Saturday's full moon will be a super "perigee moon" - the biggest in almost 20 years. This celestial event is far rarer than the famed blue moon, which happens once about every two-and-a-half years. "The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March of 1993," said Geoff Chester with the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. "I'd say it's worth a look." Full moons look different because of the elliptical shape of the moon's orbit. When it's at perigee, the moon is about 31,000 miles (50,000 km) closer to Earth than when it's at the farthest point of its orbit, also known as apogee.

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

CNN: Death toll in Japan tops 6,400
The death toll from the monster 9.0-magnitude earthquake and massive tsunami that hit Japan climbed past 6,400 Friday as search teams continued to comb through the rubble. Japan's National Police agency said 6,406 people were confirmed dead and 10,259 were reported missing as of 9 a.m. Friday (8 p.m. Thursday ET).

CNN: Japan vows to resume aerial, ground efforts to avert nuclear crisis
Japanese authorities vowed Friday to continue their aerial and ground-level dousing of water on a troubled nuclear reactor, with its owner saying that earlier attempts have been "somewhat effective" in addressing radiation concerns. Still, the Fukushima Daiichi complex of six nuclear reactors remained a danger. Radiation levels peaked Friday at 20 millisieverts per hour near in an annex building where workers were trying to reestablish electrical power, "the highest registered (at that building) so far," an official with the Tokyo Electric Power Company told reporters. Radiation levels Thursday morning at the plant were nearly 3.8 millisieverts per hour - more than a typical resident of a developed country receives in a year. But Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said 17 of 18 workers checked Thursday morning tested normal, and the one who received a higher dose of radiation required no medical treatment.

CNN: U.N. Security Council approves no-fly zone in Libya
Jubilant Libyan rebels in Benghazi erupted with fireworks and gunfire after the U.N. Security Council voted Thursday evening to impose a no-fly zone and permit "all necessary measures" to protect civilians. The opposition, with devoted but largely untrained and under-equipped units, has suffered military setbacks this week. It has said such international action was necessary for it to have any chance of thwarting Moammar Gadhafi's imminent assault on the rebel stronghold.

CNN: Pakistani leaders condemn suspected U.S. drone strike
Pakistani officials Friday condemned a recent suspected U.S. drone strike that killed up to 30 people in the country's remote tribal area. Pakistan's prime minister and a military leader both released harsh statements about the Thursday attack. The drone strike killed many civilians, Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said in a statement. "It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens including elders of the area was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life," the statement said. "Such aggression against people of Pakistan is unjustified and intolerable under any circumstances."

For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNN: Japan stocks jump on G7 pledge to intervene
Stocks in disaster-stricken Japan opened higher Friday after finance ministers from the Group of Seven nations announced a coordinated intervention in the currency market to prevent the yen from rising further. The Nikkei 225 index, the most prominent measure of stocks traded in Tokyo, climbed 260 points, or 2.9%, shortly after the market opened. The Hang Seng gained 0.5%, while the Shanghai Composite was flat. Authorities of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Central Bank said in a statement that they will join with Japan in "concerted intervention in exchange markets."

CNNMoney: Japan's crisis hangs over U.S.
Problems in Japan have become exhibit A in what economists say is the greatest threat to the recovery in the United States - uncertainty overseas. Still, Japan isn't even the biggest concern of an exclusive survey of top economists by CNNMoney. Those economists indicated that the spike in oil prices caused by political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East is the most serious threat Americans now face. But Japan is obviously a major worry. As Japanese officials struggle to deal with the human toll of the earthquake, tsunami and fears of a meltdown at nuclear reactors, economists and investors are scrambling to figure out exactly how big of an impact Japan will have on the U.S.

CNNMoney: GM to shut plant amid shortage of Japanese parts
General Motors has suspended production at a facility in Louisiana due to a shortage of parts stemming from the natural disaster in Japan, the automaker said Thursday. The Shreveport Assembly plant, where GM makes the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, will be closed for the week of March 21, according to a statement. GM (GM) said it will resume production at the plant "as soon as possible," adding that it currently has "sufficient vehicles to meet customer demand." All other GM plants in North America will continue to run as normal, the company said.

New York Times: F.D.I.C. Sues Ex-Chief of Big Bank That Failed
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation sued the former chief executive of Washington Mutual and two of his top lieutenants, accusing them of reckless lending before the 2008 collapse of what was the nation’s largest savings bank. The civil lawsuit, seeking to recover $900 million, is the first against a major bank chief executive by the regulator and follows escalating public pressure to hold bankers accountable for actions leading up to the financial crisis. Kerry K. Killinger, Washington Mutual’s longtime chief executive, led the bank on a “lending spree” knowing that the housing market was in a bubble and failed to put in place the proper risk management systems and internal controls, according to a complaint filed on Thursday in federal court in Seattle.

In Case You Missed It

CNN's Anderson Cooper reports from Tokyo about the differing assessments being provided by U.S. and Japanese officials.

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