- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2010

COMMERCE

Housing construction drops in February

Housing construction fell in February as winter blizzards held down activity in the Northeast and Midwest. The decline highlighted the challenges facing builders as they struggle to emerge from the worst housing slump in decades.

The Commerce Department said that construction of new homes and apartments fell 5.9 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 575,000 units, slightly higher than the 570,000 that economists were expecting. January activity was revised up to a pace of 622,000 units, the strongest showing in 14 months.

Home builders are trying to emerge from a severe housing downturn. A rebound in housing is seen as critical to sustaining the overall economic recovery.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama to speak with Fox News

President Obama is taking his health care pitch directly to Fox News viewers.

The White House on Tuesday said Mr. Obama would speak with anchor Bret Baier for his Wednesday program. Mr. Obama is in the middle of his final, aggressive push for a health care overhaul he wants completed before leaving for Australia and Indonesia on Sunday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says Mr. Obama wants to speak to as many people as possible about the potential benefits of his top domestic priority.

The White House last year was publicly critical of Fox News and its programs.

WILDLIFE SERVICE

Group: Set aside section for jaguars

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. | Environmentalists want the federal government to set aside more than 53 million acres in New Mexico, Arizona, California and Texas as critical habitat for the endangered jaguar.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating which areas of the Southwest will be set aside for the elusive cat, once thought to have disappeared from the United States.

The agency has acknowledged there are “physical and biological features” in the region that can be used by jaguars, but the area proposed by the Center for Biological Diversity would represent one of the largest swaths of land ever set aside for any single species. The proposed habitat is more than half the size of California.

NEW JERSEY

Court: Bid to oust senator must wait

TRENTON | A New Jersey appeals court has put on hold a conservative “tea party” group’s effort to throw a Democratic U.S. senator out of office.

The three-judge panel Tuesday initially ordered the secretary of state to accept the group’s petition seeking to recall Sen. Robert Menendez. But then the court issued a stay because the case is likely to be appealed.

The group wants to begin collecting the 1.3 million voter signatures it needs to get a recall on the ballot.

The court set aside the larger question of whether voters have a constitutional right to recall a federal lawmaker.

New Jersey is among 18 states that allow recalls of statewide elected officials. There is no right to recall congressmen and senators under the U.S. Constitution.

The court says it would take up that question if the petition drive succeeds.

SENATE

Reid’s wife, daughter recovering from crash

The wife and daughter of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are recovering from a violent crash last week that left them with injuries that could have been much worse, he told reporters Tuesday.

“It was a very violent collision,” a still-shaken Mr. Reid said in his first comments on the crash Thursday.

He said his wife of 50 years, Landra, 69 ,and daughter Lana Barringer, 49, were returning from a shopping trip in Virginia when a tractor-trailer slammed into their minivan, crushing two rows of seats behind the women.

His wife, who Mr. Reid said doesn’t remember the impact, was left with a broken back, neck and nose. Daughter Lana was “cut up and shook up” and is seeing a neurologist this week because she feels dizzy, Mr. Reid said.

Mrs. Reid’s injuries most concerned the doctors, because her neck was broken in a location that can cause paralysis. But after surgery, she regained the use of her arm and is now home wearing a neck brace, Mr. Reid said.

CENSUS

Poll: Attitudes toward census improving

With the 2010 census under way, about 1 in 10 people may not participate in the population count, with many saying they see little personal benefit from the government survey or have concerns that it may be intrusive, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The Pew Research Center poll shows marked improvement in public interest since January. At that time, a poll showed 1 in 5 might not mail back the census form. Still, the new poll highlighted lingering apathy toward the head count, particularly among young adults.

“There is an increased commitment to participating in the census, but disparities remain,” said Michael Dimock, an associate director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. “These include groups who have less-certain economic situations and who are often more mobile, which poses a challenge for the census count.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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