Gay-rights groups are applauding former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for advising Republican leaders to take a deep breath and embrace gay marriage.
"The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to accommodate and deal with reality. And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states — and it will be more after 2014 — gay relationships will be legal, period," he told The Huffington Post.
Noting that his half-sister works at Human Rights Campaign and he has gay friends who married in Iowa, Mr. Gingrich said that while he still believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, he and the Republican Party would be wise to accept a distinction between "a marriage in a church" and "a legal document issued by the state."
"I didn't think that was inevitable 10 or 15 years ago, when we passed the Defense of Marriage Act," said Mr. Gingrich, adding that it was unexpected to see "anything like as big a wave of change as we are now seeing."
Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry said Mr. Gingrich's "new position shows that when conservatives truly examine their core values — family, individual freedom and limited government — we see that the freedom to marry is fundamentally in line with those beliefs."
Mr. Gingrich's evolution "draws a sharp contrast with the few extremists continuing to fight against equality," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.
Carney defends former GOP senator eyed for Pentagon
On Thursday, the White House publicly defended the reputation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a top contender for defense secretary, even though he has yet to formally be nominated to the post.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Mr. Hagel, a Republican who endorsed Mr. Obama's first bid for president, has been a "remarkable servant to this country."
Although Mr. Carney said he did not have anything to say about the president's personnel decisions, he went on to defend Mr. Hagel in general terms, but did not specifically address the charges of anti-Israel sentiment.
"What I can tell you is that Sen. Hagel fought and bled for his country. He served his country well. He was an excellent senator," he said. Mr. Hagel served two terms as senator from Nebraska, from 1997 to 2009.
Earlier, Mr. Hagel served as an enlisted infantryman in the Vietnam War and was awarded two Purple Hearts.
Obama's approval rating is highest since 2009
President Obama's approval rating is rising in the days following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and is now at its highest point since 2009, according to the latest Gallup tracking poll.
Mr. Obama's approval averaged 56 percent in polling taken Monday through Wednesday, and Gallup said it could be due to a "rally around the flag" effect of the shooting.
Americans also give the president the upper hand when it comes to his negotiations with House Speaker John A. Boehner over ways to avoiding the pending tax increases and spending cuts that are due early next month.
Sanford said to be weighing comeback with House bid
Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose rising political star suddenly collapsed in a bizarre sex scandal, will reportedly attempt a political comeback starting within the next few days.
According to CNN, citing "a Republican source familiar with his thinking," Mr. Sanford will run in the upcoming special election for the U.S. House seat he held from 1995 to 2001.
"He's looking all but certain to do it," a former top aide to Mr. Sanford told CNN, adding that a formal announcement will come soon.
The seat in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District was vacated earlier this week by Gov. Nikki Haley's appointment of Rep. Tim Scott to fill the U.S. Senate slot being opened by the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint.
After serving six years in the House, Mr. Sanford was twice elected governor and was reportedly considering a 2012 Republican presidential bid when a several-day absence and revelations of an adulterous affair made national headlines and forced his resignation.
Obama limits inaugural balls this time to just 2
With his nation under financial strain, President Obama is restricting the inaugural balls to the lowest number in 60 years, with just two official parties plus a concert honoring military families.
The subdued celebration is a large cut from the 10 balls Mr. Obama had in 2009. Inaugural planners say it's a reflection of tough economic times and an effort to minimize the burden on law enforcement.
The concert Saturday, Jan. 19, and the balls Monday, Jan. 21, are being held at the Washington Convention Center.
One will be the Commander-In-Chief's Ball for members of the armed forces. The other ball is being called the Inaugural Ball and some tickets will be available to the public.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports