Inside Politics

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What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

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CAMPAIGN

Romney ad spending blitzes GOP competitors

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and an allied independent group have launched a TV ad blitz aimed at undercutting his GOP rivals.

Together, Mr. Romney’s campaign and the independent group are spending about $2.6 million on television and radio ads.

Mr. Romney’s ads are running only in Michigan, which votes Feb. 28.

The independent group is running ads in several states, including a spot critical of Rick Santorum.

Mr. Santorum has emerged in the past week as Mr. Romney’s chief rival for the GOP nomination after sweeping contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

Mr. Romney grew up in Michigan and his father was governor. Mr. Santorum is making a play for the state, where his blue-collar background and pro-manufacturing message appear to be resonating. But he has spent significantly less on advertising.

HOUSE

Transportation bill lands in the ditch

A long-term blueprint for federal transportation programs was delayed Wednesday by House Speaker John A. Boehner as GOP leaders scramble to shore up support for the endangered measure.

Mr. Boehner of Ohio told Republican lawmakers at a closed-door meeting that he has delayed final action on the 4½-year, $260 billion bill until after next week’s congressional recess. Republicans had been saying they wanted to pass it this week.

Mr. Boehner cited two reasons for the delay: It will take more time than planned to work through nearly 300 amendments lawmakers want to offer, and Republicans need to find more money to pay for the bill, said spokesman Michael Steel.

But others in both parties said there are so many Republicans who object to some portion of the 1,000-page bill that it can’t pass in its present form. The bill’s treatment of mass-transit programs has riled urban lawmakers, including New York and Chicago-area Republicans. Other Republicans are concerned with provisions that would permit oil and gas drilling off the East, West and Florida Gulf coasts, as well as in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

SENATE

Lawmakers confirm judge to appeals court

The Senate has confirmed the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the Atlanta-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan was confirmed Wednesday by a 94-5 vote after several days of procedural delays.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul held up the confirmation because he wanted a vote on his unrelated bill to block U.S. financial aid to Egypt. He has not been granted a vote.

It has been four months since Judge Jordan’s nomination received unanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate had voted Monday to end Mr. Paul’s filibuster, but had to delay a confirmation vote until Wednesday under its rules.

Judge Jordan had clerked for now-retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

CAMPAIGN

Gingrich won’t release ethics documents

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich on Wednesday declined to ask the Justice Department to release thousands of records from the House ethics panel’s investigation into his conduct as speaker in the 1990s.

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond likened the request from the open-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to “wild goose chases.”

The organization asked the Justice Department to release documents forwarded from the House in 1997 after it investigated Mr. Gingrich’s use of tax-exempt organizations for political gain.

Mr. Gingrich spent much of his time in office dogged by ethics complaints. Almost all, brought by Democrats, were dismissed.

But the Republican-led House reprimanded him in 1997 after he admitted misleading congressional investigators probing allegations that he misused tax-exempt dollars for a college class. Mr. Gingrich agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty — unprecedented at the time — to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of probe.

The House panel never concluded whether tax laws were violated, and the Internal Revenue Service later cleared the organization involved.

“We point CREW back to the IRS final ruling — exonerating every politically motivated charge,” Mr. Hammond said.

Even so, Mr. Gingrich’s Democratic and Republican opponents alike have called the penalty a “fine” and see it as a way to damage his political prospects.

Rival Mitt Romney’s allies have cited the penalty in ads against Mr. Gingrich. “Newt has a ton of baggage,” the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC said in one ad that ran ahead of Mr. Gingrich’s loss in Florida. “He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Justice Department for the records last month, but the department denied the request unless Mr. Gingrich agreed to open the files.

NEW YORK

FCC adopts rules against ‘robocalls’

NEW YORK — The federal government is cracking down on “robocalls,” those automated phone calls with the tendency to interrupt Sunday dinners and otherwise annoy consumers.

The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it will now require telemarketers to obtain written consent from people before placing a robocall. Written does not mean handwritten, though [-] electronic forms are OK.

The new rules also eliminate a loophole that allowed telemarketers to place robocalls if they had an “established business relationship” with the consumer. Now, they will have to obtain consent even if they had previously done business with the person they want to call.

Telemarketers will also have to provide an automated way for people to revoke their consent to the robocall by pressing a few keys on their phone during the call. If this happens, the new rules require telemarketer to add the person to the company’s do-not-call list.

The FCC said it is not changing rules that apply to informational robocalls, such as airline-flight updates, school notifications or warnings about suspicious bank-account activity.

NORTH DAKOTA

Santorum talks of oil, energy to officials

TIOGA — Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has been spending a lot of time in oil country lately, prospecting for GOP votes — and money.

He tromped through an oil field in the frigid northwest corner of booming North Dakota on Wednesday to assure industry officials he had their backs.

In the past week, Mr. Santorum also spoke of peeling back regulations in Oklahoma and Texas. In all three fuel-rich states, he spoke industry language meant to forge common bond with his hosts.

He goes after the Obama administration for slowing consideration of a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline and not embracing hydraulic fracturing.

The message resonates with local Republican audiences as well as industry executives capable of writing big campaign checks.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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