- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 7, 2010

SUPREME COURT

McCain to oppose Kagan nomination

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he plans to vote against confirming Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

He is the latest in the GOP to oppose President Obama’s nominee to succeed retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

Mr. McCain said Ms. Kagan is unlikely to exercise judicial restraint, based on her decision as dean of Harvard Law School to bar military recruiters from the campus career services office because of the ban on openly gay troops.

Democrats have more than enough votes to confirm Ms. Kagan. No Republican has announced plans to back her.

Mr. McCain is outlining his opposition in an opinion article to be published in Thursday’s editions of USA Today.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama says goal for exports on track

President Obama said his administration is on track to fulfill his promise to double U.S. exports over the next five years, with a 17 percent increase over the first four months of this year.

Speaking Wednesday at the White House on exports to government and corporate officials, Mr. Obama said his administration is “bringing to bear the full resources of the United States government.” He declared that “our efforts are off to a solid start,” according to prepared remarks.

He touted dozens of trade missions abroad, increased access to financing for small and medium-size businesses, efforts to remove barriers and open new markets, and improve fairness in trade.

ENERGY

Chu spends free time advancing science

Some people relax by doing crossword puzzles. Not U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He relaxes by tackling a scientific conundrum and stretching the limits of technology.

Mr. Chu has a research paper published online Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. He came up with a method for seeing molecules and parts of cells smaller than had been viewed before through optical microscopes. That advancement will allow scientists to see what’s going on at the smallest scale in biology.

Mr. Chu said that working on such problems is his way of “vegging out in front of the TV.”

DIPLOMACY

Obama trip to Israel ‘not on the books’

President Obama left the impression that he had accepted an invitation to visit Israel, but don’t expect the trip any time soon.

During Mr. Obama’s relationship-patching meetings at the White House on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader publicly asked the president and first lady Michelle Obama to come. Mr. Netanyahu said, “It’s about time.”

Mr. Obama replied that he looked forward to it.

But on Wednesday, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that a trip is “not on the books for this year.” Noting that Mr. Obama visited Israel as a candidate, Mr. Gibbs didn’t commit to when - or whether - a return trip would happen.

FEDERAL RESERVE

Forum to address small-business loans

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it will hold a forum next week to explore ways to improve the flow of lending to small businesses.

It’s the latest effort by the Fed to tackle the problem, which dates back to the 2008 financial crisis. Congress and the White House also want banks to lend more to small businesses.

Small businesses - more so than big companies - rely on bank loans to expand operations and hire. Small businesses usually help drive job creation during recoveries, but tight credit has hurt hiring.

Leaders from small businesses, trade groups, financial institutions and others will participate in the conference Monday.

The Fed has held more than 40 regional meetings this year on the matter.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has acknowledged that it is hard to tell whether the problem is more reflective of banks shying away from making loans to small businesses or a lack of demand from those companies.

ECONOMY

Applications soar for new mortgages

Applications for home loans rose last week as consumers raced to refinance at the lowest rates in decades.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday that overall applications increased nearly 7 percent from a week earlier. While they have been increasing in recent weeks, they remain below early 2009 levels.

Applications to refinance home loans were up 9 percent to the highest level since May 2009, but mortgages taken out to purchase homes fell 2 percent.

Those applications have fallen in eight out of the past nine weeks, after government tax credits that spurred home sales ended on April 30. Applications were 35 percent below last year’s levels.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate loan sank to 4.58 percent last week, according to Freddie Mac. That was the lowest since the mortgage company began keeping records in 1971.

Mortgage rates have fallen since mid-April. Investors, nervous about Europe’s debt crisis and the global economy, have shifted money into safe Treasury bonds. That has caused the yields on those bonds to fall. Long-term fixed mortgage rates tend to track those yields.

WHITE HOUSE

Mrs. Obama braves heat, walks to Treasury

First lady Michelle Obama paid a visit on the neighbors Wednesday, but scorching temperatures forced the party inside.

Mrs. Obama strolled from the White House to the Treasury Department next door for the latest in a series of visits she is making to government agencies to praise the employees for their efforts.

Treasury had planned to hold the event outdoors, but with temperatures near 100 degrees, Mrs. Obama’s appearance was moved inside to Treasury’s ornate and air-conditioned Cash Room.

Despite the heat, Mrs. Obama enjoyed a rare pleasure given the heavy security that surrounds a president’s family. She got to walk across the street.

“I don’t get to walk much outside the gate,” she told the Treasury employees. “It was a thrill.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports