Obama tells donors his re-election is no 'slam-dunk'
Imploring supporters to stick with him, President Obama acknowledged Tuesday that his re-election is not "a slam-dunk" because of understandable public skepticism over the economy, but said his campaign would put forward a vision aligned with the mood of the country.
The president, addressing donors at a hotel near the White House, drew attention to his efforts to heal the economy, end the Iraq War and overhaul the health care system, but said "all those things don't mean that much to somebody if they're still out of work right now or their house is still underwater by $100,000. So, yeah, this is going to be tough.
"We're going to have to fight for it. It's not going to be a slam-dunk," he said. Mr. Obama said the campaign would pursue "the vision that is truest to our history and most representative of the core decency of the American people."
Mr. Obama spoke hours after his top campaign advisers said they were uncertain about which Republican will emerge to challenge him next year, but predicted a long GOP primary contest that they say will produce a weaker opponent in 2012.
Democrats question call on morning-after pill
Leading Democratic senators are demanding that the Obama administration explain its decision to continue restricting access to Plan B, the morning-after birth control pill, for girls younger than 17.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and 13 colleagues wrote Tuesday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius seeking the "specific rationale and the scientific data" behind the move.
Mrs. Sebelius overruled the Food and Drug Administration's decision to approve the emergency contraceptive for sale over the counter to girls and women of any age.
Plan B will remain available without a prescription only to those 17 and older who can prove their age. The FDA would have allowed it on drugstore shelves, next to condoms.
Trump says he won't host GOP debate
NEW YORK — Donald Trump says he is pulling out of a Republican presidential debate he had agreed to moderate in Iowa.
The real estate mogul announced Tuesday that he was stepping back in order to preserve the option of running for president in case he is not satisfied that the eventual Republican nominee can defeat President Obama. The conservative website Newsmax was to host the debate Dec. 27.
But the debate has been in jeopardy ever since Mitt Romney signaled that he would not participate. Other candidates bowed out. Only Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum agreed to take part.
Many Republican strategists warned that a presidential debate moderated by Mr. Trump, star of "Celebrity Apprentice," would create a circuslike atmosphere that might diminish the candidates vying to challenge Mr. Obama.
Perry's 'Strong' ad goes viral, sparks parodies
NEW YORK — Maybe Rick Perry should have worn a different jacket.
The Republican presidential hopeful's new campaign ad, "Strong," has become a viral video since it was released last week - but not necessarily for the reasons he might have hoped.
By Monday, the ad had registered nearly 650,000 "dislikes" on YouTube, compared with barely more than 20,000 "likes."
It also has sparked nearly 700 reply videos, including some mercilessly funny parodies that feature people wearing the same kind of jacket Mr. Perry wears. A lot of chatter also is about how Mr. Perry looks like a gay cowboy from the movie "Brokeback Mountain."
In the ad, Mr. Perry suggests that President Obama is waging a "war on religion" while allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Officials say the video has drawn some 6 million views on YouTube.
Gingrich asks supporters to refrain from attacks
ATLANTA — Newt Gingrich is urging supporters and staff to refrain from attacks on his Republican presidential rivals.
Mr. Gingrich's campaign released a letter Tuesday in which he pledges to run a positive campaign free of negative advertising. But the former House speaker also said he reserves the right to respond when his record has been distorted.
As an example, he noted a "frank exchange" with rival Mitt Romney during last weekend's debate, when the two sparred over their private-sector records.
Mr. Gingrich asks supporters in the letter not to contribute to any super PAC that runs negative ads against any other Republican contender.
He said it's critical that the GOP nominee emerge from the primary "unbloodied" and able to make the case against President Obama from a position of strength.
Concerns raised over nuclear regulators' dispute
A dispute among members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, while increasingly bitter, has not impaired the panel's work or jeopardized safety at the nation's 104 nuclear reactors, according to a top White House official.
But a senior House Republican said the leadership crisis at the NRC could lead to "catastrophe."
Bill Daley, the president's chief of staff, said problems stem from the commission's "strong chairman" structure, in which the leader of the five-member panel has far greater powers than the remaining four commissioners.
In a letter to the Republican chairman of a House oversight panel, Mr. Daley downplayed tension at the NRC and said commissioners have agreed to meet with a "trusted third party" to promote a better dialogue.
"While there are tensions and disagreements among the commissioners, these management differences have not impaired the commission's ability to fulfill its mission," Mr. Daley said in a letter late Monday to Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Gov. Brown calls for $1 billion in cuts
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown says California needs to make about $1 billion in midyear cuts to schools and social services.
Mr. Brown said Tuesday that state revenues have fallen $2.2 billion below projections, triggering automatic midyear reductions to public schools, universities and colleges, Medi-Cal, and in-home support for seniors and the disabled.
The cuts are below previous estimates, allowing the state to avoid deeper cuts to public schools that could have including reducing the school year by up to seven days.
Mr. Brown and fellow Democrats in the Legislature had hoped for a $4 billion increase in tax revenue through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The budget they passed last summer without Republican support was based on a combination of spending cuts, fee hikes and overly optimistic revenue projections.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports