'Simple Gifts' is Christmas theme
Bo's paw prints are all over Christmas at the White House this year.
A larger-than-life version of President Obama's 2-year-old Portuguese water dog made of 40,000 twisted pipe cleaners is one of the first things tourists and other holiday guests will see when they visit the White House this month.
Bo also features prominently in the 400-pound, white chocolate-covered gingerbread White House. A version of the pooch, made from almond paste, sits on the grounds near a replica of Michelle Obama's fruit and vegetable garden.
The real-life Bo even joined Mr. Obama, Mrs. Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha Obama in signing the family's official Christmas card - with his paw print.
Mrs. Obama settled on a theme of "Simple Gifts" for the holiday season, emphasizing the simple things that bring joy at Christmas. Many White House decorations also are made from basic - and, in some cases, reusable - materials such as wood, newspaper and magazine pages.
Senator says probe of affair is over
Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, said Wednesday he's no longer the target of a Justice Department investigation into whether he violated the law in an attempt to cover up an affair with a former campaign aide.
The senator admitted in June 2009 that he had the extramarital affair. He had later helped the woman's husband obtain lobbying work with a Nevada company. He said he had undertaken similar efforts for other members of his staff moving back into the private sector and that he had violated no law.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Justice Department about whether it had ended its investigation, but at least one ethics watchdog group criticized the move.
School lunch bill stalls in House
House Republicans on Wednesday succeeded in temporarily blocking legislation to offer subsidized school meals to thousands more children.
Republicans used a procedural maneuver Wednesday to try to amend the $4.5 billion bill, which would give more needy children the opportunity to eat free lunches at school and make those lunches healthier. First lady Michelle Obama has lobbied for the bill as part of her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity.
House Democrats said the Republican amendment, which would have required background checks for child-care workers, was an effort to kill the bill and delayed a final vote on the legislation, rather than vote on the amendment.
Republicans say the nutrition bill is too costly and an example of government overreach. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said the House would later hold separate votes on the amendment and the bill, which the Senate passed in August.
Central bank details rescue effort
The Federal Reserve revealed details Wednesday of trillions of dollars in emergency aid it provided to U.S. and foreign banks during the financial crisis.
New documents show that the most loan and other aid for U.S. institutions over time went to Citigroup ($2.2 trillion), followed by Merrill Lynch ($2.1 trillion), Morgan Stanley ($2 trillion), Bank of America ($1.1 trillion), Bear Stearns ($960 billion), Goldman Sachs ($620 billion), JPMorgan Chase ($260 billion) and Wells Fargo ($150 billion).
Many of the individual loans they took were worth billions and had short durations, but were paid back and renewed many times.
Among the largest foreign bank recipients were Bank of England, Swiss National Bank, Barclays and Bank of Japan.
The documents are a reminder of how crippled the financial system had become during the crisis and how much it's recovered since. Banks earned $14 billion from July through September this year.
Republican declines to join black caucus
COLUMBIA, S.C. | South Carolina's first black Republican congressman in more than a century said Wednesday he will not join the Congressional Black Caucus.
Rep.-elect Tim Scott told the Associated Press on Wednesday he decided against joining the 42-member group, which is currently entirely Democratic.
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Scott has downplayed his race, saying he has always lived in a world that was integrated.
The other black Republican elected to the House in November has said he will join the caucus. Rep.-elect Allen West of Florida wants to steer the group away from what he called failing liberal policies.
McCaskill gets first Senate challenger
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. | Former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman launched a challenge Wednesday to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, seeking to gain some early momentum by becoming the first Republican to enter the 2012 race.
Mrs. Steelman announced her candidacy on a revamped website that now declares "Sarah Steelman for U.S. Senate 2012."
Other prominent Republicans considering the race include former Sen. Jim Talent, whom Mrs. McCaskill narrowly defeated in 2006. Mr. Talent recently told the Associated Press that he plans to make a decision by early 2011. A Talent spokeswoman did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment about Mrs. Steelman's announcement.
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