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Victims, academics, others join in on gun fight

A woman whose Chicago police officer brother was fatally shot in 2010 says it’s time for Congress to pass laws keeping guns from criminals. Another woman says firearms restrictions prevented her from protecting her parents when they were killed in a 1991 mass shooting in a Texas restaurant. The two were among several witnesses taking opposing sides Tuesday as the Senate holds its second hearing on gun curbs since December’s shooting deaths of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Conn. This time, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee is examining the constitutionality and effectiveness of federal firearms limits. “We need to keep guns out
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Senate panel set to vote on Hagel nomination

Republican, twice-wounded Vietnam combat veteran and former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel — faces his first major hurdle in his bid to become the nation’s defense secretary as a bitterly divided Senate Armed Services Committee pushes toward a vote on his nomination. The panel is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss and vote on President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down after four years as CIA director and Pentagon chief. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pressing for a full Senate vote on either Wednesday or Thursday. Hagel faces fierce opposition from
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Former defense secretary backs oversight of drone strikes

Robert Gates, a former defense secretary and spymaster, is backing lawmakers’ proposal to form a special court to review President Barack Obama’s deadly drone strikes against Americans linked to al-Qaida. Gates, who led the Pentagon for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama and previously served as the Central Intelligence Agency’s director, said Obama’s use of the unmanned drones follows tight rules. But he shares lawmakers’ wariness over using the unmanned aircraft to target al-Qaida operatives and allies. “I think that the rules and the practices that the Obama administration has followed are quite stringent and are not being abused. But
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Gun victims’ relatives take center stage as advocates

Bill Sherlach just said “no.” Washington officials fighting over gun control invited him to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night in the House chamber. Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, was killed in the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, declined. He said that rather than be the nationally televised face of tragedy, he prefers working within a group that wants the gun issue addressed as part of a comprehensive effort to reduce violence. He wants to work with Sandy Hook Promise, a group that deals with more than just gun control. Mary Sherlach was
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Senate Dems to GOP: Forget your stupid games on Hagel

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Friday he will press ahead with a vote on Chuck Hagel‘s nomination to be defense secretary, rejecting Republicans demands for more financial information from President Barack Obama’s choice as setting an unprecedented standard. In a letter, Sen. Carl Levin provided a point-by-point rebuttal to the GOP requests for data on Hagel’s paid speeches and foreign donors to private entities he’s been affiliated with, arguing that the requirements exceed the committee’s rules and what has been asked of previous defense secretaries, Republican and Democrat. “The committee cannot have two different sets of
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Panetta bids farewell, gets salute from Obama

Calling it “the honor of my life,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said farewell to the U.S. military Friday, capping a venerated public service career that spanned four decades and included stints as a lawmaker, a top White House official and the spy chief who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama, honoring his first-term Pentagon chief at a ceremony at a military base outside Washington, said Panetta would be remembered for welcoming more Americans into the military by opening combat roles to women and overseeing the repeal of a ban on gays serving openly — “In short,
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Disturbing questions about U.S. use of drone strikes

CIA Director-designate John Brennan‘s vigorous defense of drone strikes to kill terror suspects — even American citizens — overseas is causing key lawmakers to consider lifting secrecy from what has become an important weapon in the fight against al-Qaida. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counterterror adviser, was grilled for more than three hours Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the drone program he leads, as well as on the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques during the Bush administration, which he denounced, and on leaks of classified information to the media, which Brennan vehemently denied being a part of. Despite Brennan’s
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Panetta: America could become ‘second rate’ power

The United States is at risk of becoming a second-rate power if automatic budget cuts go into effect, plunging the U.S. armed forces into the most significant readiness crisis they’ve faced in more than a decade, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Thursday. Panetta, who is retiring soon from his post, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that if the reductions are allowed to stand he would have to throw the country’s national defense strategy “out the window.” But Panetta also assured lawmakers the Pentagon would take the steps necessary to deal with possible threats in the Persian Gulf region after
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Senators seek compromise on gun purchase background checks

A bipartisan quartet of senators, including two National Rifle Association members and two with “F” ratings from the potent firearms lobby, are quietly trying to find a compromise on expanding the requirement for gun-sale background checks. A deal, given a good chance by several participants and lobbyists, could add formidable political momentum to one of the key elements of President Barack Obama’s gun control plan. Currently, background checks are required only for sales by the nation’s 55,000 federally licensed gun dealers, but not for gun show, person-to-person sales or other private transactions. The senators’ talks have included discussions about ways
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Pentagon admits backing plan to arm Syrian rebels

Pentagon leaders told Congress on Thursday that they had supported a recommendation to arm Syrian rebels promoted by the State Department and CIA but which President Barack Obama ultimately decided against. Obama’s government has limited its support to non-lethal aid for the rebels who, despite receiving weapons from countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are poorly armed compared to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army and loyalist militias. Syria’s 22-month-long conflict has killed an estimated 60,000 people. Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, has championed greater U.S. involvement and chided the Obama administration at a hearing, asking Pentagon leaders: “How
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