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Obama will sign international press freedom bill today, and Allawi holds lead in Iraq recount. Plus: Iran agrees to nuclear fuel swap.

White House: Mitchell Heading Back To Middle East

• "U.S. envoy George Mitchell returns to mediate a second round of Middle East talks this week after Israel said it is through making gestures and a Palestinian negotiator said he's ready for the 'endgame,'" Bloomberg News.

• "President Obama will sign the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act into law, joined by six members and three generations of the slain journalist's family," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports. The new law will expand "the examination of press freedom worldwide in the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report."


Energy & Environment: BP Siphons Oil Leak

• "After more than three weeks of efforts to stop a gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers achieved some success on Sunday when they used a milelong pipe to capture some of the oil and divert it to a drill ship on the surface some 5,000 feet above the wellhead, company officials said," the New York Times reports.

• "Obama administration officials this week will get their first taste of congressional scrutiny since oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP-run Deepwater Horizon oil rig," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Administration officials have not been immune from finger pointing, including a decision last year by the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service to exempt BP's lease at the rig from a full environmental impact analysis."

• "The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is having only minimal environmental effects on land, but it may be causing serious problems in the water, some scientists say," the Wall Street Journal reports.


• "Veteran Costa Rican climate diplomat Christiana Figueres is set to be appointed as the new United Nations climate chief, sources familiar with the matter said" today, Reuters reports.

Economy: Tough Senate Language Will Prevail, Frank Says

• "The U.S. Senate bill to overhaul financial regulations is stronger than a version passed in December by the House, and it is likely to stay that way when Congress comes together to merge the two bills, according to" House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., Bloomberg News reports.

• "Two key Democratic senators offered a narrow path for compromise over the weekend after banks pleaded with regulators and clients to help overturn provisions of a financial regulation bill they say will rock markets," Financial Times reports.

• "The U.S. economy may return to its pre-crisis peak next quarter after a recovery former Federal Reserve official Peter Hooper calls 'surprisingly strong, historically weak,' which has seen corporations and the rich prosper while small companies and the unemployed struggle," Bloomberg News reports.


Politics: Arkansas, Pennsylvania Primaries To Gauge Anti-Incumbent Mood

• "This year's broadest measure of anti-incumbent sentiment will be taken tomorrow in party primaries that include Arkansas and Pennsylvania contests where the careers of two U.S. senators may be derailed," Bloomberg News reports.

• In California's Senate race, former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) "is cutting back on TV advertising, switching strategies as some opponents wonder whether Campbell's surprisingly strong campaign is running low on funds," Hotilne On Call reports.

Supreme Court: GOP To Press Kagan On Book Ban Question

• "Senate Republicans launched a new line of attack on Supreme Court hopeful Elena Kagan on Sunday, questioning whether she supports banning certain books and pamphlets," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "The White House has asked the National Archives to expedite its planned release of 160,000 pages of documents related to" Kagan's "time in the Clinton White House -- including her electronic mail," the New York Times reports.

• "As a Supreme Court law clerk in 1987," Kagan "read the 14th Amendment as permitting lawsuits against reckless state officials who ignore their duties -- reflecting the liberal view that the constitutional guarantee of liberty should be read broadly," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "Senate Republicans are unlikely to filibuster" Kagan, "but they do plan to pepper her with tough questions about her legal positions, policies and practices during her upcoming confirmation hearings," AP reports.

Congress: Budget Delay Emerging As Election Issue

• "House Republican leaders insist Democrats will take a big political risk if they choose not to pass an FY11 budget resolution, and predict GOP candidates will be able to exploit the issue in this fall's elections," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

• "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has vowed to impose fiscal austerity at the Pentagon, but his biggest challenge may be persuading Congress to go along," the Washington Post reports.

World: Allawi Holds Lead After Iraq Recount

• "A cross-sectarian coalition led by secularist former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi held its two-seat win in Iraq's March 7 election after a recount of votes cast in Baghdad, elections officials said Sunday," Reuters reports.

• "Thailand's Red Shirts offered peace talks" today "to end raging street battles that have killed at least 37 people in Bangkok as a government deadline demanding the demonstrators vacate a protest zone passed without capitulation," AP reports.

National Security: Iran Agrees To Nuclear Fuel Swap

• "Iranian officials said" today "they have agreed to ship its low-enriched uranium to Turkey for reprocessing, in a deal brokered by Turkish and Brazilian leaders in Tehran in an attempt to stave off harsh international sanctions against the Islamic Republic," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

• "Pirate battles could be in store for soon-to-deploy Marine expeditionary units, but Marine and Navy leaders say that defeating piracy requires a multipronged approach that also targets financial and logistics networks," Military Times reports.

Health Care: Abortion Opponents Take New Tack Against Law

• "Abortion opponents fought passage of" Obama's "health care overhaul to the bitter end, and now that it's the law, they're using it to limit coverage by private insurers," AP reports. "An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets. Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes."

Politico reports on congressional Democrats' strategy of "front-loading their legislation with consumer-friendly, insurance industry reforms and other fixes they hope will generate support for the new law in the run-up to the pivotal midterm elections."

Transportation: Auto Dealers Resist Financial Reform

• "The financial reforms being debated in the Senate have prompted resistance from a variety of businesses, but perhaps nowhere more intensely than in the already beleaguered auto industry, where dealers find themselves pitted against Mr. Obama in their aggressive campaign to exempt themselves from the new rules," the New York Times reports.

• "Three years after General Motors Co. won wage and benefit concessions from its union, the company has yet to realize savings from a key provision that cuts pay by more than half for new U.S. hires," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

Technology: Broadband Regulation Won't Be On FCC's Agenda

• The Federal Communications Commission "will tackle five regulatory items at its monthly meeting on Thursday, but the elephant in the room -- Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal to shift broadband from light to heavier regulation -- is not scheduled to be among them," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports.

Lobbying: Financial Industry Hosts Slew Of Fundraisers

• "As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote as early as this week on legislation rewriting the rules for Wall Street, the financial industry is holding fundraisers for lawmakers at a rate of almost one every business day this month," Bloomberg News reports.

• "Thousands of protesters are expected to march on K Street" today "in support of financial regulatory reform legislation," The Hill reports. "About 2,000 people from 20 states are expected to hold a series of demonstrations against lobbying firms in area of Washington where lobbyists have their offices, according to a release by several labor unions."

• "With health reform in the books, some of the most powerful industry groups that battled against each other during the epic debate have now teamed up and raised $450,000 to explore the idea of creating a national nonprofit that would help implement key parts of the law," Politico reports.

• "The National Beer Wholesalers Association has mounted a full-court lobbying offensive to find co-sponsors for legislation that supports state-based alcohol regulation and makes it much tougher to file legal challenges to states' distribution laws," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

Commentary: Examining GOP Polarization

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, E. J. Dionne Jr. explains the effect of polarization on Republicans, while Paul Krugman explains its cause.

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