- - Thursday, December 8, 2011

WHITE HOUSE

Obama curtails vacation until tax cut resolution

Under fire for planning a 17-day vacation in Hawaii over the holidays while the economy continues to sputter, President Obama pledged Thursday to stay in Washington until Congress passes a payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance extensions.

“With respect to my vacation, I would not ask anybody to do something I’m not willing to do myself,” Mr. Obama told reporters at a briefing.

“So I know some of you might have been looking forward to a little sun and sand, but the bottom line is - is that we are going to stay here as long as it takes to make sure that the American people’s taxes don’t go up on January 1st and to make sure that folks who desperately need unemployment insurance get that help.”

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasted Mr. Obama this week for planning such a long vacation in the sun and surf where he undoubtedly would spend a lot of time golfing.

“He told Congress that they need to stay in session and pass his tax breaks for the payroll tax and that they shouldn’t leave for vacation until they did that,” Mr. Romney said Monday night in a telephone call to a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, town-hall meeting.

“And yet, he’s going off for 17 days and for golf in the sun, and I just think it’s time to have a president whose idea of being ‘hands on’ doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club.”

SOUTH CAROLINA

Presidential candidates woo evangelicals

GREENVILLE | Newt Gingrich pitched his story of personal redemption at a private gathering of pastors in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along South Carolina’s coast, Rick Perry quoted Scripture as he worked to pump life into his floundering White House bid.

As the Republican campaign for president hurtles toward the leadoff Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, evangelicals are being courted with vigor.

And with good reason.

Christian voters hold tremendous sway among the Republican electorate in early-voting states. That’s especially true in Iowa and South Carolina, where they made up 60 percent of primary or caucus voters there in the last presidential race. Religious voters have shown themselves to be skeptical of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, leaving their votes up for grabs.

HOUSE

Lawmakers vote to ban synthetic narcotics

The House has voted to ban certain synthetic drugs now sold legally in most states that mimic the hallucinogenic and stimulant properties of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines.

Supporters of the measure said synthetic drugs marketed under names such as “bath salts” and “plant food” can be just as harmful as the narcotics they are meant to imitate.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, also gives the Drug Enforcement Administration more authority to temporarily ban a drug while its potential dangers to public safety are investigated.

Detractors said the bill went too far in restricting access to chemical compounds that could be of use in researching cures to diseases.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Perry makes gaffe about war with ‘Iran’

OKATIE | Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is correcting himself after saying the U.S. is at war in Iran instead of Iraq.

At a campaign stop Thursday in South Carolina, a woman asked the Texas governor his views on U.S. military operations and how they compare with the nation’s role in World War II.

Mr. Perry began the answer by talking about Iran and Afghanistan before someone in the audience interrupted him. The Texas governor quickly realized he misspoke and joked that the comment “will be on the front page.”

Similar gaffes have plagued Mr. Perry, including an incident last month when he forgot, during a presidential debate, which of three federal agencies he had proposed to abolish.

HOUSE

Larsen fires staffers after tweets on office drinking

SEATTLE | U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen fired three staffers who apparently chronicled their on-the-job drinking exploits, including taking shots of Jack Daniels at their desks, via Twitter.

Mr. Larsen dismissed the trio Thursday about an hour after learning of their Twitter activity, said Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for the Washington Democrat.

“Neither Congressman Larsen nor his other staff were aware of the actions by these three staff members before today,” Mr. Thomas said. “Congressman Larsen is disappointed by their actions and takes this very seriously. He has made it clear that he will not tolerate this kind of behavior.”

The Northwest Daily Marker, a conservative political blog in Washington state, first posted the tweets.

The three staffers who were fired - legislative assistants Seth Burroughs and Elizabeth Robbee and legislative correspondent Ben Byers - worked in Mr. Larsen’s Capitol Hill office.

Their Twitter accounts had been deleted by Thursday, and other efforts to reach them for comment were unsuccessful.

But the Daily Marker caught screen grabs of the tweets.

In one tweet Dec. 1, Burroughs - whose Twitter handle was “TheRocketShip1” - describes a co-worker taking a shot “crouching” behind his desk.

“We have unabashedly given up on just about all things work related,” he tweeted.

In another tweet, Mr. Burroughs calls Mr. Larsen his “idiot boss.”

COURTS

9th Circuit skeptical on gay-judge recusal

SAN FRANCISCO — The sponsors of California’s gay marriage ban renewed their effort Thursday to disqualify a federal judge because of his same-sex relationship.

Lawyers for a coalition of religious conservative groups met a skeptical audience in the three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as they argued that now-retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker should have revealed that he had a long-term male partner before he presided over a January 2010 trial on the measure’s constitutionality.

“The litigants did not have any knowledge of these facts, and it appears that Judge Walker made the deliberate decision not to disclose these facts,” said Charles Cooper, an attorney for the ban’s backers.

Judge R. Randy Smith interrupted to forcefully ask why a gay judge would be any more obligated to divulge his relationship status. “Would he have to disclose, ‘Oh, I’ve been married, and we’ve been married for 24 years and we have a relationship — that’s kind of difficult.’ That’s what you are arguing here?” the judge said.

Mr. Cooper said that if Judge Walker had “desired to marry his partner, he would have stood in exactly the same shoes as the plaintiffs in this case.”

The appeals court did not immediately rule on the matter.

CAMPAIGN

Huntsman talks tough against GOP front-runners

Jon Huntsman Jr. says the leading Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, are feeding a deficit of trust in politics.

The former Utah governor is struggling against his rivals in the polls, but he was talking tough in a speech Thursday at the National Press Club.

Mr. Huntsman said Mr. Romney will say anything to win, and he suggested that Mr. Gingrich is a Washington insider who benefited from his political connections.

Mr. Huntsman declined to talk about Mr. Gingrich’s three marriages, but called the former House speaker a “lobbyist in chief.” Mr. Romney, he said, is a “panderer in chief.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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