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Sotomayor hearings begin today, and Democrats urge investigation into CIA secrecy on counterterrorism. Plus: Obama orders investigation into Afghanistan deaths.

White House: Obama Orders Probe In Deaths Of Taliban POWs

• "President Barack Obama has ordered his national security team to investigate reports that U.S. allies were responsible for the deaths of as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war during the opening days of the war in Afghanistan," AP reports. "Obama told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday that he doesn't know what how the U.S.-allied Northern Alliance behaved in November 2001, but he wants a full accounting before deciding how to move forward."

• "After remaining out of the public eye since its creation in February, the White House Office of Urban Affairs plans" today "to launch a public conversation to create a national urban policy agenda, said director Adolfo Carrión Jr.," the Washington Post reports. "The White House will host a daylong urban policy discussion including mayors, county executives, governors, urban policy experts, and heads of various agencies, Carrión said in a telephone interview" Saturday.


Sotomayor: Republicans Plan To Emphasize Impartiality In Hearings

• "Leading Republicans in the Senate signaled that they would emphasize questions about the judicial impartiality of Judge Sonia Sotomayor when her Supreme Court confirmation hearing begins" today, "but senators from both parties seemed to accept that her nomination was unlikely to be derailed given the Democrats' majority," the New York Times reports. "Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the highest-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the fairness issue was 'the core of the American system' and was central to Republicans' qualms."

• "Leaders of civil rights groups gathered" Saturday "to issue a warning to participants in Sotomayor's confirmation hearings this week. 'We are watching,' NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said," the Washington Post reports. "Jealous spoke at a news conference at the opening of the NAACP's centennial convention, where he was joined by the leaders of the Puerto Rican and NAACP Legal Defense Funds to raise concerns about the potential for racially tinged rhetoric to creep into the confirmation hearings of the first Hispanic nominated to the court."

Congress: Democrats Support Investigation Into Counterterrorism Program

• "Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and other Democrats on Sunday said they support an investigation into whether the CIA withheld information from Congress about a secret counterterrorism program on the direct orders of then-Vice President Dick Cheney," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "'We have a system of checks and balances,' Durbin said on ABC's 'This Week.' 'The executive branch cannot create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark.'"


• "Congress faces a packed schedule this week," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Members of each chamber continue to search for ways to pay for healthcare reform, the Senate debates funding authorization for the Pentagon and considerable attention will be cast toward Capitol Hill as Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor begins her confirmation hearings."

Health Care: Reform Unlikely to Meet Obama's August Deadline

•"Lawmakers from both parties are telling the White House they will go on vacation next month and leave behind -- and incomplete -- President Obama's health care overhaul," AP reports. "White House officials sought a massive reworking of the nation's health care system before Congress left on August recess, but key lawmakers signaled on Sunday the administration would be disappointed."

•"Moderate Democrats last week told their leaders all the things they don't want them to do with health care reform," Politico reports. "Don't model public coverage on Medicare. Don't force doctors or small businesses to participate. And don't shut out Republicans. But each concern speaks to a single, overarching plea: Please don't go too far left of the Senate."

•"Senate Democratic leaders signaled reservations Sunday to a House proposal to tax the rich to raise $540 billion for healthcare reform," The Hill reports. "'I think we are going to have a different approach,'" Durbin "said on ABC's 'This Week.' 'We understand we have to combine cuts and actual spending on healthcare, savings from hospitals, from doctors and health insurance companies along with new revenue.'"


World: Kim Jong Il Has Cancer, South Korean TV Network Says

• "North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is suffering from pancreatic cancer, South Korea's YTN TV network reported" today, "citing intelligence sources in China and South Korea it didn't name," the Wall Street Journal reports. "If true, the development would mean that Mr. Kim has been diagnosed with one of the most virulent forms of cancer. Only about 5% of people with the disease live for more than five years, according to a survey by the U.S. National Cancer Institute."

• "Four European Union countries and Turkey have signed an agreement to construct the long-planned 3,300km Nabucco natural gas pipeline," BBC News reports. "Once completed, the line will bring up to 31 billion cubic metres of gas a year from the Caspian and the Middle East across Turkey and into Europe."

• "A small roadside bomb narrowly missed a vehicle carrying the US ambassador to Iraq in the south of the country, the US embassy in Baghdad said" today, Agence France-Presse reports. "The attack on the convoy carrying Christopher Hill and other US embassy personnel occurred in the largely peaceful Shiite province of Dhi Qar in southern Iraq on Sunday, but no passengers were hurt."

Economy: Skepticism Greets Stimulus Projects

• "Even as money begins flowing to projects across the U.S. from the stimulus" Obama "signed in February, some lawmakers are questioning its value," Bloomberg News reports. "Bigger-than-forecast job losses pushed the June unemployment rate to a 26-year high of 9.5 percent after Obama promised to create or save 3.5 million jobs over two years. Republicans say that is proof the $787 billion measure isn't working, while Democrats debate whether a second shot of spending is needed to pull out of a recession."

• "The White House continued to adjust expectations for the $787 billion economic stimulus package Sunday in a column written by Obama for The Washington Post," The Hill reports. "Obama writes that the stimulus from the start was conceived as a two-year program that would steadily save and create jobs and would ramp up in the summer and fall."

Energy & Environment: Growing Divides Over Climate Change Legislation

•"Obama's plan for climate change legislation faces an extraordinarily tough climb in the Senate. For proof, look no further than to some of Obama's closest allies," Politico reports. "When it comes to climate change, Sen. Claire McCaskill" of Missouri "and other Midwestern Democrats are putting their home-state concerns ahead of one of the president's biggest first-year priorities; many of them fear that the legislation, which narrowly passed the House earlier this month, will hurt manufacturing- and coal-dependent areas that are already struggling."

•"As Congress writes legislation to fight climate change, a prominent coalition in the debate is divided over the fine print," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a broad group of businesses and environmental organizations, was instrumental in building support for capping U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases. Legislation to accomplish that goal recently passed the House and is now before the Senate. But as lawmakers add provisions to win over colleagues, some USCAP members are withholding their support. They say the bill is too burdensome and contains provisions that have little to do with fighting climate change."

Lobbying: Some House Republicans Focus On Transparency

•"The Republican members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have instituted a new rule this year -- any lobbyists wanting to meet with staff about a Member-sponsored project or earmark must be accompanied by the Member or a staffer from the Member's personal office," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "'We wanted to be as transparent as we could possibly be,' said Jim Coon, Republican chief of staff for the committee."

•"Lobbyists who represent key stakeholders in health care reform quietly have begun plotting how their clients' legislative priorities would fare if Members make good on the threat of moving reforms to a budget reconciliation package," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "A budget reconciliation bill in the Senate would require a simple 51-vote majority, vastly easier to obtain than the usual 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. As the health care debate has grown increasingly partisan, lobbyists say they are taking more seriously the looming possibility of having many reforms added to reconciliation."

Commentary: A Guide To Sotomayor Hearings

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, E.J. Dionne sees Sotomayor's hearings this week as pivotal for future judicial philosophy, Eva Rodriguez looks for discussions of race-infused decision-making, and one law professor says it's all possibly a show about nothing.

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