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EARLYBIRD

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SCOTUS considers taking up challenge to Voting Rights Act, panel criticizes TARP, Illinois legislature to vote on Blagojevich impeachment, jobs see biggest decline since World War II, Israel & Gaza 'ignore' U.N. resolution.

• "Before he was a war president, George W. Bush fashioned himself as an education president," the Washington Post reports. "Nearly eight years later, Bush devoted his final public policy address to the same topic, traveling to an elementary school in Philadelphia" Thursday "to claim success in education reform."

• "The Justice Department was in turmoil when Michael B. Mukasey took over more than a year ago, embroiled in headline-grabbing controversies that ultimately led to the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales," the Washington Times reports. "Since then, Mr. Mukasey has guided a steady, if not quiet, course. And that may have been the idea."

 

• "The question of whether America needs the Voting Rights Act now that a black man has won the presidency looms over a major appeal the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider in its private conference" today, USA Today reports. "The justices could say as early as" today "if they will hear a challenge to the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act renewed by Congress in 2006."

• "In an unusually blunt letter, a group of federal scientists is complaining to" President-elect Barack Obama's "transition team of widespread managerial misconduct in a division of the Food and Drug Administration," AP reports. "'The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the scientific review process for medical devices at the FDA has been corrupted and distorted by current FDA managers, thereby placing the American people at risk,' said the letter."

Congress: Panel Criticizes TARP As Fight Looms On Remaining Funds

• House "Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the House will take up" Obama's "economic recovery plan within days of his Inauguration and won't go home for Congress' mid-February recess until a package has been sent to the White House," the Politico reports.

 

• "As Congress prepares to borrow and spend billions of dollars to revive the economy, a growing group of conservative House Democrats is angling for long-term changes to reduce the federal government's soaring budget deficit," USA Today reports. "Leaders of the 51-member Blue Dog coalition, which helped House Democrats bolster their majority in the 2008 elections, say they want tighter spending controls in exchange for their support of the proposed stimulus."

• "The congressional panel overseeing the administration's financial rescue program plans to release a report today repeating questions it first posed to the Treasury Department in mid-December and harshly criticizing it for failing to provide satisfactory answers," the Washington Post reports. "The report says the department has not articulated a plan for restoring lending to consumers."

• Meanwhile, "House Financial Services ranking member Spencer Bachus [R-Ala.] said he would likely vote against releasing the remaining $350 billion in the Troubled Assets Relief Program, signaling an emerging partisan vote over the financial rescue plan that could be on the floor as early as next week," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Intent on blocking organized labor's top legislative goal, corporations are quietly contributing to lobbying groups... planning a multimillion-dollar campaign in the hope of killing legislation that would give unions the right to win recognition at a workplace once a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union," the New York Times reports.

 

• "Neither Al Franken nor Roland Burris have been officially certified as senators, but Democratic leaders are still open to seating Franken while refusing to seat Burris until he has his paperwork in order," the Politico reports. "Republicans see inconsistency in this stance, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says the cases are totally different."

• "Republican National Committee members ran candidates for national chairman through the gauntlet this week in Washington as the party searches for a new direction and the right person to lead it," The Hill reports. "The competition for the top post at the party's main fundraising organization has largely stayed positive, but under the surface, subtle signs of a more heated debate are emerging."

• "The decision by Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri to end more than a two-decade run in the Senate had an immediate impact on the political outlook for his home state and made the next election cycle tougher for the national GOP," AP reports.

• "Five days after leaving office, former Senator Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, is also leaving the courtroom," the New York Times reports. "A lawyer for Mr. Craig said Thursday that the departing senator would not pursue further appeals related to his misdemeanor conviction in an airport sex sting in Minneapolis."

Iraq: Cheney Cautions Obama Team On Withdrawal

• "Vice President Dick Cheney, warning against impulsive U.S. action in Iraq, says that whether the struggling nation backslides into a cycle of violence partly depends on how" Obama "decides to pull out American forces. 'An irresponsible withdrawal now is exactly the wrong medicine,' Cheney said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press."

• "Of all the missives the top U.S. military commander in Iraq has signed, probably none generated more cheer than the one issued this week authorizing all U.S. troops to drink beer," the Washington Post reports. "Two catches: only two per person and only on Super Bowl night."

• "Eight Iraqi soldiers and two civilians were killed Thursday in three separate attacks in which insurgents used roadside bombs to target the Iraqi Army," the New York Times reports.

• "A battle few outside the Marine Corps had ever heard of was recognized" Thursday "when four Marines and a sailor received prestigious medals at Camp Pendleton," the San Diego Union Tribune reports. "The Corps awarded one Navy Cross and four Silver Stars for valor shown during a firefight between Camp Pendleton troops and insurgents in Iraq."

Nation: Illinois Legislature To Vote On Blagojevich Impeachment

• "Paving the way for an unprecedented House vote" in Illinois today "to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a legislative panel unanimously approved a scathing report accusing the two-term Democrat of a wide array of offenses, including criminal corruption and wasting taxpayer money," the Chicago Tribune reports.

• "The federal investigation that prompted Gov. Bill Richardson [D] of New Mexico to withdraw his nomination as commerce secretary offers a rare glimpse into a long-simmering investigation of possible bid-rigging, tax evasion and other wrongdoing throughout the municipal bond business," the New York Times reports. "Three federal agencies and a loose consortium of state attorneys general have for several years been gathering evidence of what appears to be collusion among the banks and other companies that have helped state and local governments take approximately $400 billion worth of municipal notes and bonds to market each year."

• "Beginning today, the U.S. government will collect DNA samples from people arrested and detained for suspected immigration violations, despite concerns that the move violates their privacy rights," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The new Justice Department policy also will expand DNA collection to people arrested on suspicion of committing federal crimes."

• "Resorts throughout the western United States and Canada are struggling with avalanche hazards as weather patterns have created uncommonly widespread conditions of instability, wreaking havoc on mountains crowded with skiers of all levels at the start of ski season," the New York Times reports.

Economy: Jobs See Biggest Decline Since World War II

• "December, already one of the worst months in history for retailers, is shaping up to be just as bad for jobs," the Washington Times reports. "Even mighty Wal-Mart was humbled by the most dismal Christmas season in decades, announcing disappointing sales and earnings Thursday."

• "The U.S. probably lost 525,000 jobs in December, capping the biggest collapse in employment since the end of World War II, economists said before a report today. The projected decline, based on the median estimate of 73 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, would bring last year's payroll drop to 2.4 million, the most since 1945. The unemployment rate likely jumped to a 15-year high of 7 percent."

• "In a move that would help troubled homeowners, Citigroup agreed to support legislation that would let bankruptcy judges adjust mortgages for at-risk borrowers, leading Congressional Democrats said on Thursday," the New York Times reports. "Financial industry lobbyists, however, said the plan was flawed and vowed to fight legislation aimed at easing up on homeowners facing foreclosure."

• Meanwhile, "borrowers are rushing to refinance their mortgages at record low interest rates but face unexpected delays as swamped lenders struggle to cope with the surge at a time when layoffs have sharply cut staffing," the Washington Post reports.

World: Pakistan Still Struggling With Response To Mumbai Attacks

• "The U.N. Security Council on Thursday night called for 'an immediate, durable, fully respected cease-fire' in the Gaza Strip, leading to the eventual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territory," the Washington Times reports. "The U.S. abstained from the 14-0 vote, the only council member not to back the resolution."

• But both sides today ignored the "resolution calling for an end to two weeks of fighting which have killed more than 700 people," the Financial Times reports. "The Israeli airforce launched up to 50 airstrikes and ground attacks on the Gaza Strip, according to reports, and suspected Hamas fighters fired rockets into southern Israel, hitting the towns of Ashdod and Beersheba, according to the Israeli army."

• "A salvo of rockets launched into northern Israel on Thursday morning raised fears of a renewed war between Israel and the militant Shiite group Hezbollah in Lebanon, but those worries quickly subsided when it appeared that the attack came from one of several small Palestinian militant groups in the area," the New York Times reports.

• "Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia would resume shipments of natural gas to Europe only after international observers are in place to prevent Ukraine from stealing fuel," the Washington Post reports. "But talks with the European Union on a monitoring arrangement bogged down as the midwinter energy crisis on the continent worsened."

• "A top Pakistani security official was fired for confirming a Mumbai attacker was a Pakistani citizen, revealing growing divisions within the government" in Islamabad "over how to handle investigations into November's terrorist attacks," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday sacked the country's national security adviser, Mahmood Durrani, for his statement about the sole surviving Mumbai gunman, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab."

• Gilani today "called on the international community to help contain tensions between India and Pakistan, calling the situation on the common border 'very fragile,'" Agence France-Presse reports. "Gilani's remarks came shortly before US vice president-elect Joe Biden arrived here for talks with leaders including the premier, which are expected to focus on simmering tensions with India in the wake of the deadly Mumbai attacks."

• "The United States should keep tactical nuclear bombs in Europe and even consider modernizing older warheads on cruise missiles to maintain credibility with allies who depend on the U.S. weapons for security, according to a report released" Thursday "by a high-level task force appointed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates," the Washington Post reports.

• "The top American commander responsible for Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said Thursday that the country would require a 'sustained, substantial' commitment from the United States and other nations to stop a downward spiral of violence and a resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda," the New York Times reports.

• "The Bank of England slashed its benchmark interest rate to an all-time low Thursday in an aggressive bid to shore up an economy battered by recession and the global credit crunch," the Los Angeles Times reports. "The new rate of 1.5%, down half a percentage point, is the lowest in the bank's 315-year history. Even during the Great Depression, rates never dipped below 2%."

Transition: In A Holder-ing Pattern

• New revelations about Attorney General-designate Eric Holder's pardon record at the Justice Department could make picking up a Republican vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee all the harder. Read more in Lost In Transition, NationalJournal.com's blog on the changeover.

Commentary: Illinois Drama

• Commentators spar over Burris' Senate seat while Chicago newspapers push for Blagojevich's impeachment in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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