• "Senate Democratic leaders were hoping Thursday night to set a vote on the final version of an economic stimulus bill for" today, "even as Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and other Republicans were insisting on reading the massive measure before voting on it," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Democrats need the consent of all Senators to bypass time-consuming procedural hurdles, and Senate leaders now believe a vote can be held" this "afternoon or evening."
• "Leading House Democrats were smiling on Thursday, but some of them are furious with the Senate on its handling of the economic stimulus bill," The Hill reports. "Until now, House Democratic leaders had been reluctant to press their Senate counterparts on how they run the upper chamber."
• "AARP is increasing pressure on GOP lawmakers to support the stimulus package," the Politico reports. "The powerful seniors' lobby has designated the House-Senate stimulus bill as its first 'key vote' of 2009 and will record results state-by-state on a new Web site so its 40 million members can track how their senators and representatives voted."
• "A Continental Airlines Inc. plane flying from Newark, New Jersey, crashed into a house" Thursday night "on approach to the airport in Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people on board and one person on the ground," Bloomberg News reports.
White House: Gregg Withdraws Over 'Irresolvable Conflicts'
• "Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., abruptly withdrew from consideration for Commerce secretary Thursday, citing 'irresolvable conflicts' with President Obama," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "The move handed the White House a new embarrassment over its handling of nominations and shocked his congressional colleagues."
• "Obama's visit to a Caterpillar manufacturing plant Thursday... provided the perfect backdrop to highlight" his "change of heart on controversial 'Buy American' provisions that require government-funded projects to use only U.S.-made materials," the Politico reports. "It's unclear exactly where the president, who during the campaign ran 'Buy American, Vote Obama' ads in labor-heavy states, currently stands on the issue."
• "Obama was to make a... flight" this afternoon "with his wife, Michelle, and daughters to his chilly hometown, his first return there since taking office," AP reports. "Aides said he planned a low-key, four-day holiday weekend."
Politics: Lawyers Spar Over Absentee Ballots In Minnesota Senate Trial
• "The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Leon Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, despite early criticism that the former senior White House aide lacks experience on intelligence matters," Reuters reports.
• "The judges in Minnesota's Senate trial heard two very different but equally forceful arguments Thursday over what kinds of rejected absentee ballots should be counted, as they get closer to decisions on some of the main arguments in the case," AP reports. "Lawyers for Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken tussled over 19 categories that the judges have created to classify the reason absentees were rejected."
• "The Congressional Hispanic Caucus was for sending the letter before they were against it," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "A majority of the 24-member caucus voted Thursday to send a missive to Democratic leadership urging a return to regular order. But... the letter failed to gather the necessary two-thirds support from the Hispanic members."
Economy: Channeling Stimulus Money Could Tax Energy Department
• "There are signs that parts of the federal bureaucracy will need an overhaul to handle the huge workload heading their way" in disbursing stimulus money, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Such worries are apparent at the Energy Department, which will play a key role in Mr. Obama's bid to revive the economy and wean the country off oil." Secretary Steven Chu "says he'll have to transform how parts of his agency work if the president's stimulus plan is to succeed."
• "Some of the nation's large banks, according to economists and other finance experts, are... insolvent," the New York Times reports in a news analysis. "Without a cure for the problem of bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, as banks cannot resume the ample lending needed to restart the wheels of commerce. The answer, say the economists and experts, is a larger, more direct government role than in the Treasury Department's plan outlined this week."
• "After a historic immigration wave, many Mexicans and other Latin Americans are preparing to return to their homelands amid the deepening recession" in the U.S., the Wall Street Journal reports. "Mexicans who reside" here "sought Mexican citizenship for their U.S.-born children in record numbers last year."
World: Livni Wins By Slim Margin In Israel
• "Israel's two political rivals may forge a unity government after centrist Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni narrowly defeated rightist Benjamin Netanyahu but he seemed to have more allies, Israeli politicians said" today, Reuters reports. "Such a power-share could help resolve an Israeli political stalemate... but still slow the efforts of" President Obama "to revive Israeli and Palestinian peace talks for a two-state solution."
• "With thousands of Rwandan troops fanned out across eastern Congo's green hills, many residents and international observers are questioning what is really behind the operation in the mineral-rich region and how long it is likely to last," the Washington Post reports.
• "Australian police have charged a man with arson causing death over one of the country's deadly bushfires," BBC News reports. "The 39-year-old was also charged with deliberately lighting a bushfire near Churchill, in eastern Victoria state. The blaze killed at least 21 people."
National Security: Holbrooke Discusses Security With Afghan Ministers
• "Obama's new envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan met key ministers in the Afghan capital" today, "two days after triple Taliban attacks in the city demonstrated just how much security is deteriorating," Reuters reports. Richard Holbrooke "met with the Afghan ministers of defense and the interior, the head of the national intelligence agency and President Hamid Karzai's security adviser."
• "Pentagon officials would like to set the FY10 defense budget between $535 billion and $540 billion, which could include some war costs that have been paid for with supplemental appropriations, according to sources who are tracking the Obama administration's budget negotiations," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.
• "In a stark departure from the Bush years, the U.S. intelligence community now says that the plunging global economy is a bigger threat to U.S. security than al Qaeda or the spread of weapons of mass destruction," the Washington Times reports. "Other growing threats include climate change and worldwide food, water and energy shortages."
Commentary: Withdrawal Syndrome, Round 4
• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators call Gregg's withdrawal from Commerce secretary consideration a "major blow" and an "embarrassment" to Obama.