POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, April 20, 2011
April 20th, 2011
04:15 AM ET
12 years ago

POLITICAL HOT TOPICS: Wednesday, April 20, 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: Obama talks fiscal reform at town hall-style meeting
Facing a possible future downgrade of America's credit rating, President Barack Obama on Tuesday told the first of three town hall-style meetings this week that a "big philosophical divide" exists between his approach to deficit reduction and how Republicans think. The hour-long event at Northern Virginia Community College brought few challenging questions from a mostly student audience that cheered Obama and applauded his major policy statements. Given such free rein, Obama delivered campaign-style messages that emphasized what he called his balanced approach to reducing federal deficits and bringing down the national debt versus a Republican proposal that the president characterized as unfair to middle-class Americans and vulnerable communities such as senior citizens.

CNN: Obama holds White House meeting on immigration reform
A broad group of government officials, business leaders, law enforcement officials and others met Tuesday with President Barack Obama to discuss how to build support for immigration reform in the face of congressional opposition. Obama told the gathering that he remains committed to seeking a comprehensive approach "that both strengthens security at our borders while restoring accountability to the broken immigration system," according to a White House statement.

Politico: Obama administration considers moves to limit anonymous donations
The Obama administration is considering a number of measures to compel disclosure of the kind of anonymous campaign contributions that helped finance millions of dollars of attack ads against Democrats during the 2010 elections. The White House last week began circulating a draft executive order that would require companies seeking government contracts to disclose contributions – including those that otherwise would have been secret – to groups that air political ads attacking or supporting candidates.

CNN: Biden's wishful Trump thinking
Vice President Joe Biden hopes real estate mogul Donald Trump tops the 2012 Republican presidential ticket. At a fundraiser in Ohio, Biden said the next election will highlight the different visions between the Democratic and Republican parties. "This is not your father's Republican Party," Biden said according to a pool report. "The Republicans this time are totally, and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense, are out of the closet. They are laying out for the first time what they are for and how they think they are going to deal with the problem. That's a debate I can hardly wait for – hopefully with Donald Trump."

CNN: Democrats' House Majority PAC readies first ad
One of the Democrats' brand-new independent-expenditure groups is going on the offensive – already. House Majority PAC, a third-party group dedicated to winning Democratic control of the House of Representatives, will begin airing radio ads on Thursday as part of a six-figure campaign, sources familiar with the effort said. The ads target 10 House Republicans who voted for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. It accuses them of trying to gut Medicare while giving a tax break to the wealthy. With the sound of pigs snorting in the background, the ad claims each of the nine supports a budget “that’s going to have the wealthiest Americans lining up at the trough” and “leaves the wealthy fat and happy” while putting “the squeeze” on regular families.

Washington Post: Patriot Act debate will ramp up again next month
When Congress returns from a two-week recess early next month, much of the debate is likely to focus on the issue of raising the country’s debt ceiling. But lawmakers will also revisit a somewhat more unpredictable battle that they postponed several months ago: the extension of three controversial provisions of the Patriot Act counterterrorism surveillance law. Congress in February passed a 90-day extension of the three key provisions of the law that had been set to expire at the end of the month. That extension is set to expire May 27.

Roll Call: Iowa Finalizes Map That Eliminates One District
Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signed off Tuesday on Iowa’s new Congressional map, which downsizes the number of House districts in the Hawkeye State to four seats. Created by a nonpartisan redistricting commission, the new map sailed through both legislative chambers with virtually no opposition — an anomaly compared with many other states, where lawmakers often spend months wrangling over the new lines in a distinctly partisan manner. “It is truly a nonpartisan approach,” Branstad said just before signing the new map into law. “I think we can have some pride that Iowa has a reapportionment system that is fair.”

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CNN: Officials: Plane carrying first lady got too close to military C-17
A plane carrying Michelle Obama had to abort its landing on Monday after it came too close to a military C-17 cargo plane ahead of it, according to a senior administration official and the Federal Aviation Administration. The planes - which were both trying to land - were three miles apart, when they are supposed to be five miles apart, the official told CNN. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating what went wrong, as it is believed to be an air traffic controller mistake, the official said. The White House does not believe the first lady's life was ever in danger, the senior official said.

CNN: LaHood stresses 'responsibility' after latest control tower fiasco
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday said federal officials need to "keep harping" on personal responsibility in the wake of the latest claim of inattention by an air traffic controller - this one reportedly was watching a movie while on duty - and inaction by his supervisor. The controller has been suspended, pending an investigation, for watching a movie on a portable electronic device while he was working at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Oberlin, Ohio. His front-line manager, who was aware of it and didn't stop him, also was suspended, LaHood confirmed.

CNN: DOT to airlines: No hidden fees
Call it the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, Version 2.0. The Department of Transportation issued a second set of rules Wednesday to address a litany of passenger gripes, including the bane of modern air travelers' existence: hidden fees for bags, meals, pillows and reservation changes. The new rules, which will take effect in 120 days, require airlines to prominently disclose all fees and taxes on their websites. It also increases compensation for passengers who are involuntary bumped, limits "tarmac delays" for international flights to four hours and makes other pro-consumer changes.

CNN: Firefighters from 34 states battle Texas blazes
Texas firefighters on Wednesday continued to battle blazes that have scorched a million acres and have been burning for more than a week, according to the Texas Fire Service. "We're actually seeing Texas burn from border to border. We've got it in West Texas, in East Texas, in North Texas in South Texas – It's all over the state," Texas Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor told CNN Radio. "We've got one in the Dallas area that's four fires that have actually merged together." Saginor said firefighters from 34 states are now in Texas battling blazes that, over the past two weeks, have destroyed 170 homes and scorched 1 million acres.

CNN: Gulf waters reopened for fishing almost one year after oil spill
All federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico closed to fishing because of last year's oil spill have reopened, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday, one day before the one-year anniversary of the disaster. The announcement came as the administration reopened the final 1,041 square miles of waters immediately surrounding the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, just east of Louisiana. No oil or sheen has been found in the area since August 4, NOAA said in a statement.

CNN: Just hot air? Justices debate lawsuit over global warming
The Supreme Court appeared reluctant Tuesday to allow a massive lawsuit by several states to proceed against private power companies whose greenhouse-gas emissions are accused of presenting a "public nuisance." The environmental policy issue could have enormous implications on competing government efforts to control what many have claimed is major factor in global warming. At issue is whether the federal courts can intervene and unilaterally establish targeted pollution emission levels, or whether federal government regulators should have the final say. Several justices worried that the scope of the problem and possible solutions might be too much for courts to tackle.

CNN: WikiLeaks suspect Manning to be moved to Fort Leavenworth
U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, suspected of leaking classified information to the WikiLeaks website, is being moved to the Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, defense officials said Tuesday. "At this juncture of the case, given the likely continued period of pre-trial confinement, we have determined that the new pre-trial facility at Fort Leavenworth is the most appropriate one for Private Manning going forward," Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson told reporters.

CNN: U.S. troops to get better helmets and 'ballistic boxers'
Whether it's an Army helmet with a thicker shell and better padding, or underwear that can protect a Marine private's privates, the U.S. military is looking at sending the latest gear to Afghanistan so the troops can come home safe and sound. Next month, the Army is going to start sending the "ballistic boxers" to soldiers in Afghanistan, and the Marines intend for each of their troops there to have four pairs of the "protective undergarments," as they are formally known, before the end of the year. The heavy silk boxers, which look like shorts that professional cyclists wear, won't stop a bullet or shrapnel from an IED. But the silk can stop small projectiles like those kicked up by an explosion.

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CNN: Libyans flee intense fighting, pour into border camps, towns
Thousands desperate to flee intense fighting in western Libya have begun pouring into neighboring Tunisia in recent days, raising concerns Tuesday among aid agencies that the humanitarian crisis could worsen. The fighting between forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and rebels demanding an end to the dictator's four-decade rule increased over the weekend, with both sides struggling to control Libya's western mountainous region - home to Berber tribes long persecuted by the Libyan leader. "In the last two days, we have seen 6,000 Libyans come through," Firas Kayal, of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said by phone from near the Tunisian border town of Dehiba.

CNN: Britain sending military team to Libya
Britain said Tuesday it is expanding its presence in Libya with military advisers and the European Union said it is prepared to send troops for humanitarian assistance if requested by the United Nations. Plans for increased Western involvement surfaced as Moammar Gadhafi's forces shelled Misrata again Tuesday. Residents and refugees rescued from the city described a terrifying situation in the ravaged western city that continues daily to pay a heavy price in the Libyan war. "The situation is very dangerous, every day the shelling is increasing," said a resident who was not identified for safety reasons. "They are using more types of weapons, and people are wondering why NATO is not doing anything."

CNN: Syrian Cabinet moves to lift emergency law while clashes rage
Syria's Cabinet passed a bill abolishing the country's notorious state-of-emergency law as another day of clashes erupted in the simmering country's heartland, Syrian media reported Tuesday. The decision is among several measures passed on legislative decrees by Syria's recently appointed Council of Ministers. President Bashar al-Assad has to give the final approval to the move, according to analysts. Opposition forces have been demanding the repeal of the 48-year-old emergency law, which allows the government to make preventive arrests and override constitutional and penal code statutes.

CNN: U.N. fails to agree on Yemen response
The United Nations Security Council failed to agree on a diplomatic reaction to the crisis in Yemen as anti-government sentiment and reported violence by the regime escalated in the Middle Eastern country. In the council's first meeting on the situation in Yemen, Germany and Lebanon introduced a statement that would have called for restraint in violence, among others. However, a U.N. diplomat said concerns by China and Russia blocked a unified response.

CNN: Commission: Mubarak complicit in shootings
Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was complicit in shootings of anti-regime protesters during a period of upheaval in the country, a member of an official fact-checking commission said Tuesday. "Whether the president gave the official order or remained silent knowing the shooting of protesters would take place, he is responsible for the 846 protesters who died during the January 25 revolution, especially since the killing started from Day One," said Judge Omar Marawan, the commission's secretary-general.

For the latest business news: www.CNNMoney.com

CNN: Toyota making drastic production cuts after Japan quake, tsunami
Toyota Motor Corporation on Tuesday announced dramatic production cuts in North America because of difficulty in supplying parts following the massive 9.0-magnitude March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. Previously, Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, Inc. (TEMA), had said it would suspend production on Mondays and Fridays between April 15 and April 25. That will continue through June 3, the company said in a statement. "During the same period, production will run at 50% on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," the statement said.

CNNMoney: Gold tops $1,500 for first time
Gold prices topped a record $1,500 for the first time ever on Tuesday, shattering an important psychological barrier as investors seek out investments thought to be safe during times of upheaval. Many investors see gold as the best place to park their money when there's economic or policital uncertainty, and there has been plenty of that to go around. The price spike also comes against the backdrop of market uncertainty that has sent investors looking for an alternative to the weak U.S. dollar. And gold has been the marquee beneficiary.

In Case You Missed It

President Obama hosted a town hall at a Virginia community college, where he discussed ideas for reducing the deficit.

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