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House members close to deal on immigration reform

A group of a half-dozen House members, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, is nearing completion of wide-ranging immigration legislation similar to proposals by Senate negotiators and President Barack Obama, including a pathway to legal immigration status for 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. The group intends to unveil the legislation soon, perhaps around the time of Obama’s State of the Union address Feb. 12, according to lawmakers and aides involved. It is likely to face strong resistance from many of the conservative Republicans who dominate the House. Yet its mere existence is a sign of more interest
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Economic doom and gloom complicates Obama’s politial agenda

Just as President Barack Obama is pushing new initiatives on gun control and immigration, the gloomy old problem of a sluggish economy is elbowing its way back into prominence. Consumer confidence is falling, the economy is contracting and large automatic spending cuts are threatening to hit the Pentagon and other programs, with uncertain consequences. These troubles arise as Obama’s public approval is improving and as he begins to use his sway to promote the key features of his second-term agenda. The White House, the Federal Reserve and independent economists attributed the shrinkage in gross domestic product and the drop in
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Senator claims he reimbursed fatcat donor for 2010 junket

Sen. Robert Menendez‘s office says he reimbursed a prominent Florida political donor $58,500 for the full cost of two of three trips Menendez took on the donor’s plane to the Dominican Republic in 2010. There was no public disclosure. “The senator paid for the two trips out of his personal account and no reporting requirements apply,” said Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright. Details of Menendez’s trips emerged as his office said unsubstantiated allegations that the senator engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic are false. The FBI searched the West Palm Beach, Fla., office of the donor — eye
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CIA director nominee knew about agency’s torture techniques

John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, had detailed, contemporaneous knowledge of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on captured terrorism suspects during an earlier stint as a top spy agency official, according to multiple sources familiar with official records. Those records, the sources said, show that Brennan was a regular recipient of CIA message traffic about controversial aspects of the agency’s counter-terrorism program after September 2001, including the use of “waterboarding.” How deeply involved Brennan was in the program, and whether he vigorously objected to it at the time, as he has said he did, are
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NRA, gun control advocates face off before Senate

The National Rifle Association and gun-control advocates, including the husband of wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, are facing off at the year’s first Senate hearing on what lawmakers should do to curb gun violence. The two sides were squaring off Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose own members are divided in a microcosm of the debate that gun limits will face on their way through Congress. The hearing is a direct response to the Dec. 14 shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and transformed gun control into a
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Republicans willing to use spending cuts as leverage

Driven by frustration over deficits and debt, Republican conservatives are pushing a politically risky move to permit painfully large automatic spending cuts to strike the Pentagon and domestic programs alike in an effort to force Democrats into making concessions on the budget. It’s a remarkable turnabout from last year, when GOP leaders were among the loudest voices warning of dire consequences for the military and the economy if more than $100 billion worth of across-the-board cuts were allowed to take effect. Now, even as defense hawks fume, Republicans see the strategy as their best chance of wringing cuts from costly
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Clinton doesn’t see ‘getting back into politics’

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday cast doubt on speculation she might run for the White House in 2016. In an interview taped for National Public Radio, Clinton was asked what questions she needs to answer for herself as she decides whether to run for president. “I’m not even posing those questions. I am really looking forward to stepping off the fast track that I’ve been on. I’ve been out of politics as Secretary of State. I don’t see myself getting back into politics,” she said, according to an excerpt of the interview. Whether this is her
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GOP goal: Stalemate with Dems, no collaboration

Is Washington’s backroom dealing dead? House Speaker John Boehner says he no longer wants to negotiate deficit reduction with President Barack Obama. The president says he won’t negotiate raising the government’s borrowing authority. Rank and file lawmakers say they’re tired of being left out of the loop and insist on the regular legislative process. If those are New Year’s resolutions, they can certainly be broken. But at the start of a second presidential term, cutting a secret, late night fiscal bargain with the White House on the phone and with a handshake suddenly seems so yesterday. “No more brinkmanship,” Senate
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Newtown parents want more enforcement of gun laws

Parents of children killed in the Newtown school shooting called for better enforcement of gun laws and tougher penalties for violators Monday at a hearing that revealed the divide in the gun-control debate, with advocates for gun rights shouting at the father of one 6-year-old victim. Neil Heslin, whose son Jesse was killed in last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, asked people in the room to put themselves in his position as he questioned the need for any civilian to own semiautomatic, military-style weapons. “It’s not a good feeling. Not a good feeling to look at your child laying
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Claims don’t match facts in Chuck Hagel debate

Republican-leaning groups opposing President Barack Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department have let loose a barrage of claims about the former GOP senator. They say he endorses automatic cuts to the defense budget, that he wants to decimate the nation’s nuclear arsenal, that his membership on the board of a major company that had a Pentagon contract is a conflict of interest that he’s ignoring. A look at Hagel’s record suggests many of the contentions are overblown. In statements and attack ads, the groups have sought to undermine Hagel’s nomination in the weeks leading up to
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