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Inside Politics

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HOUSE

Speaker Boehner visits troops in surprise Iraq trip

House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner visited Iraq over the weekend to express U.S. commitment to the country's postwar success, despite a rancorous Washington budget debate over spending cuts.

The Ohio Republican's office said Sunday that Mr. Boehner led a delegation including four other House Republicans and a House Democrat. The group met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey and senior military officials. It provided few other details.

"Our first priority must be ensuring that the remaining 46,000 U.S. forces and their civilian counterparts that are working with the government of Iraq and advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces have the resources and support they need to complete their mission," he said in a statement.

Accompanying Mr. Boehner were Republicans Mac Thornberry and R. Michael Conaway of Texas, Thomas J. Rooney of Florida and Joseph J. Heck of Nevada and Democrat Dan Boren of Oklahoma.

2012

Ron Paul moves closer to presidential run

GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is taking a step toward a presidential bid in 2012 by setting up a committee to help him test the waters for a possible run.

His spokesman, Jesse Benton, said Friday that the congressman is "beginning to lean more strongly toward running" and this new step puts the machinery in place to move quickly if Paul gets into the race.

Mr. Paul sought the GOP nomination in 2008.

"He remains undecided and won't be making a final decision until, probably, mid-May," Mr. Benton said. "But we want to have things in place so that he can hit the ground running if he decides to run."

Mr. Paul was a wild card in the 2008 race. He raised millions of dollars through innovative, online fundraising techniques and played a foil to other candidates in debates, but he failed to make a decisive impact on the nomination fight.

Since then, his profile has grown. His brand of libertarian-leaning conservatism has attracted a vocal and devout following, which could be a factor in the still forming 2012 field.

ARKANSAS

Clinton boyhood home dedicated as national park

HOPE, Ark. | Former President Bill Clinton dedicated his boyhood home in Hope on Saturday as part of the National Park Service, and he used the occasion to say that the country is having hard times because people are too focused on money and not enough on each other.

Mr. Clinton told about 400 people on a windy and sunny afternoon that growing up without a television led him to focus on people and the stories they told.

"We here of a certain age were raised to see everyone. My grandfather taught me to see people without regard for the color of their skin," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton lived in the white, two-story home with his mother, Virginia, and her parents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, though the home remained the focus of Clinton's family life for years afterward. Mr. Clinton recalled that his grandfather would serve black and white customers at his grocery store, an uncommon business practice during segregation.

ILLINOIS

State weary of drama surrounding Blagojevich

He was fired by Donald Trump, sent his wife to the jungle of Costa Rica to eat a tarantula on a reality show and sat there smiling as the likes of David Letterman ridiculed him.

But to many Illinois residents, Rod Blagojevich is more than a punch line.

As Illinois braces for a rerun of the ex-governor's sensational corruption trial that ended last summer with a conviction on a single charge, many here are tired of the drama they say has dragged down the state's reputation. They feel anger, betrayal and, in some cases, sympathy.

Some residents think Blagojevich hasn't paid enough for what U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called a "political corruption crime spree" that would "make Lincoln roll over in his grave." Others, though, see him as a victim being steamrolled by prosecutors who, they say, aren't satisfied that he was found guilty of only one charge - lying to the FBI.

Together, these mixed emotions add up to a state that doesn't think all the jokes are so funny.

"I know the good book says forgive and you will be forgiven, but I don't see how the good people of Illinois can forgive what he's done," said Bob Butler, 83, who has been mayor of the Southern Illinois town of Marion since 1963.

WISCONSIN

Final vote tally shows conservative judge in lead

MADISON, Wis. | A conservative state Supreme Court justice overcame efforts to tie him to Wisconsin's polarizing governor and survived a near-upset in a race that drew national attention after a fierce fight over union rights.

County tallies finalized Friday show Justice David Prosser defeated little-known challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg by 7,316 votes. State election officials said they will wait to declare an official winner until the deadline for Mrs. Kloppenburg to seek a recount passes. She has until Wednesday to call for one.

Although the race was officially nonpartisan, Democrats tried to link Justice Prosser, a 12-year court veteran and former speaker of the state Assembly, to Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a divisive new law stripping public employees of most of their union rights. Anger over the law gave Mrs. Kloppenburg's campaign a boost in the weeks leading up to the election, but it wasn't enough to put her over the top.

Justice Prosser's campaign issued a statement Friday declaring victory.

"Today, the will of the electorate is clear with ... Justice David Prosser re-elected," the statement said.

Mrs. Kloppenburg issued a statement that said only that her campaign would weigh a recount request, and that she would make an announcement no later than Wednesday. If she requests a recount, the state will pay for it because the margin between the candidates is less than half of a percent of the total 1,497,330 votes cast.

INTERNATIONAL

IMF gets tough with U.S. inaction on deficit

The International Monetary Fund finally seems to be baring teeth sharp enough to bite its biggest shareholder -- the United States.

The question is how Washington will respond.

In the barrage of reports prepared for finance ministers who met this weekend, the IMF questioned whether the United States would meet a pledge to halve its budget deficit by 2013, eliciting a swift response from the Treasury Department which insisted the promise would be kept.

The IMF also took the Obama administration to task over its housing policy and said the United States ought to count its commitments to housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on its already swollen balance sheet.

"The IMF suddenly is doing its best to seem even-handed," said Eswar Prasad, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and a former IMF official.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- a former IMF official himself -- said Saturday that Washington welcomed "continued IMF surveillance of our fiscal and monetary policies."

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