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Western U.S. is drifting towards Democrats

A political generation ago, the West signaled the nation’s rightward swing — from the emergence of Ronald Reagan to the success of tax-limitation ballot measures in California and Colorado. But now the fabled expanse of jagged peaks, arid deserts and emerald coastlines is trending in a different direction. From Washington state — where voters in November legalized marijuana and upheld the legality of gay marriage — to New Mexico, once a hotly contested swing state that Republicans ceded to Democrats in the presidential campaign, the West has become largely Democratic terrain. There are, as always, exceptions. Lightly populated Idaho and
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Confusing maze of state gun laws hampers control efforts

There is a legal avenue to try to get any gun you want somewhere in the U.S., thanks to the maze of gun statutes across the country and the lack of certain federal laws. That undermines gun-control efforts in communities with tougher gun laws — and pushes advocates of tighter controls to seek a federal standard. Gun rights proponents say enforcing all existing laws makes more sense than passing new ones. An Associated Press analysis found that there are thousands of laws, rules and regulations at the local, county, state and federal levels. The laws and rules vary by state,
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Biden heads to Virginia to push gun-control

Vice President Joe Biden is taking the White House’s campaign for gun control on the road to Virginia. Biden plans a roundtable discussion Friday in Richmond with experts who worked on gun safety following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. President Barack Obama wants Congress to require background checks for all gun sales and ban both military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The president concedes passage will be difficult, but he also will travel to push the plan. His destinations have yet to be announced. Virginia has an avidly pro-gun tradition, but lawmakers have been debating a bill to
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Democratic support growing for Hagel nomination

Democratic support for Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary grew on Thursday as the former Republican senator allayed concerns about his past statements on Israel and Iran. Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Chris Coons of Delaware and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said they met with Hagel this week and were reassured by his commitment to Israel’s security. Hagel would replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down. Despite early misgivings, about a dozen Democrats have announced they would vote for his nomination, and none has declared opposition to President Barack Obama’s choice.
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Abortion opponents plan march on Washington

Abortion opponents plan to march in Washington in a demonstration that coincides with the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that created a constitutional, nationwide right to abortion. Thousands are expected for the noon Friday rally at the National Mall and in front of the Supreme Court. Organizers say the event will feature former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Diane Black of Tennessee are also scheduled speakers. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. Earlier this week, opponents marked the anniversary with workshops, prayers and calls
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Why Tim Geithner was a divisive Treasury Secretary

President Barack Obama has saluted the outgoing Timothy Geithner as one of the best U.S. Treasury secretaries ever. He’s surely been among the most contentious. Not since the Great Depression had an administration inherited so many grave financial threats at once. To many, Geithner deserves credit for helping steady the banking system and helping restore investor confidence. Yet his toughest critics say Geithner’s policies consistently favored big banks over ordinary struggling Americans. When Geithner became Treasury secretary in January 2009, the economy had sunk into a deep recession. Unemployment was surging. Stock prices were sinking. The financial system was teetering.
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Congress headed for more conflict over budget

The nation’s sharp disagreements over taxes and spending are on a re-routed collision course, as Senate Democrats launch a plan that includes new taxes and House Republicans vow to speed up their plan to balance the federal budget with spending cuts alone. The Republicans’ new approach would require even deeper cuts in social programs than they pushed last year. Liberals denounced those earlier plans as severe and unfair, and they say the new version would be worse. The new commitments by House and Senate members stem from the ongoing dispute over raising the federal debt ceiling. The House voted Wednesday
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New Pentagon challenge: Where to put women in battle

The Pentagon‘s decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat presents a daunting challenge to top military leaders who now will have to decide which, if any, jobs they believe should be open only to men. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce Thursday that more than 230,000 battlefront posts — many in Army and Marine infantry units and in potentially elite commando jobs — are now open to women. It will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend and defend whether women should be excluded from any of those more demanding and deadly positions,
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John Kerry faces confirmation hearing from his own committee

Democratic Sen. John Kerry, on a smooth path to confirmation as secretary of state, is likely to face friendly questioning when he testifies before the committee that he’s served on for 28 years and led for the past four. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman will sit at the witness table Thursday when he appears before the panel, a month after President Barack Obama said he wanted him to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Clinton is stepping down. The five-term Massachusetts senator is widely expected to win overwhelming bipartisan support from his colleagues, and that notion was reinforced
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Harry Reid may allow vote on assault weapons ban

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, signaled on Tuesday that despite earlier indications to the contrary, he may allow a vote on a possible ban on assault weapons. Reid, a longtime gun-rights advocate from Nevada, recently indicated he would not permit a vote because the Republican-led House of Representatives was unlikely to go along with such a prohibition. But after a weekly meeting with fellow Senate Democrats, Reid told reporters he expects “to have a free amendment process” on gun legislation. That process could result in other Democrats proposing a possible resurrection of a 10-year ban on semi-automatic assault
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