- - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

CONGRESS

Powdery substance sent via mail found harmless

Some congressional offices outside Washington and media organizations have received threatening letters containing a suspicious powdery substance that was tested and proved to be harmless, the FBI and the Senate’s top law enforcement officer said Wednesday.

Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said in a memo to Senate offices that the letters were sent to three state and home district offices. A district office of House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, received one of the letters, spokesman Kevin Smith said.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that so far fewer than 10 members of Congress had received letters.

Letters were also sent to several media organizations. FBI spokesman Peter Donald said agents had responded to Viacom and at least one other location in New York. Preliminary tests showed the powder did not pose a threat, he said.

“So far, none of the letters have contained a hazardous substance,” FBI Special Agent Jason Pack said. “We are working with those law enforcement agencies affected to determine if the mailings are related. We take these matters seriously and will investigate fully.”

The letters tell the recipients there is a “10 percent chance you have just been exposed to a lethal pathogen.”

Even though none of the letters tested have contained harmful substances, Mr. Gainer told staff to be extra vigilant.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama signs extension of tax cut into law

President Obama signed the payroll-tax-cut extension into law Wednesday, notching an election-year victory and rare bipartisan agreement in the continuing partisan battle over jobs, taxes and debt.

The $143 billion measure that Congress passed overwhelmingly on Friday continues the 2 percentage-point reduction in the tax that funds Social Security, a cut instituted to aid the nation’s struggling economic recovery. It also extends jobless benefits for between 63 weeks and 73 weeks, and averts a big cut in the reimbursements doctors get for treating Medicare patients.

The president signed the measure without fanfare Wednesday, already having celebrated its passage at an event Tuesday at the White House.

Obama senior adviser David Plouffe emailed his gratitude to people who sent the White House their stories about how losing the tax cut would affect their lives.

“Extending the payroll-tax cut was a critical step for middle-class families, but we still have a lot more work to do. So get ready,” Mr. Plouffe wrote in an email that included a photograph of Mr. Obama signing the bill at his Oval Office desk.

NEW YORK

Trump records robocall in Michigan for Romney

NEW YORK — Donald Trump is telling Michigan voters Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is a career politician who doesn’t know how to create jobs.

Mitt Romney’s campaign deployed an automated phone call from Mr. Trump on Wednesday in Michigan, a state that has become a must-win for the former Massachusetts governor. Mr. Trump also recorded a Michigan radio ad for Mr. Romney.

The real estate mogul and reality show host endorsed Mr. Romney earlier this month.

On the call, Mr. Trump says he’s tired of Mr. Santorum “pretending” to be the outsider in the race. Mr. Trump says the former Pennsylvania senator has been entrenched in the Washington culture for decades.

Mr. Trump calls Romney a good man who is working hard.

 

OHIO

Democrat seeks apology for GOP leader’s quip

COLUMBUS — A Democratic state lawmaker is asking the Ohio House speaker to apologize for a joke suggesting President Obama should be jailed — but Republican William G. Batchelder says he won’t take back what he viewed as a light-hearted quip.

Rep. Vernon Sykes blasted the remark as “absolutely deplorable.”

Mr. Batchelder was introducing GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum to a crowd of about 1,200 at a Lincoln Day dinner Saturday. Mr. Batchelder said in suggesting Mr. Obama shouldn’t be re-elected: “The liberals are asking us to give Obama more time. And I think 25-to-life would be a good start.”

CAMPAIGN

Pro-Obama group runs anti-Romney Mich. ads

An independent group supporting President Obama’s re-election bid is running ads in Michigan chiding Republican candidate Mitt Romney for opposing the $80 billion auto industry bailout.

The ad from Priorities USA Action draws attention to a column Romney wrote for the New York Times in 2008 headlined “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Mr. Romney said General Motors and Chrysler should go through a managed bankruptcy process rather than receive federal aid.

The group is spending about $232,000 to air the ads on cable and broadcast stations in cities across Michigan, whose primary is Tuesday. Polls show Mr. Romney and Rick Santorum locked in a tight race.

Mr. Romney grew up in Michigan and his father served as governor of the state.

Mr. Santorum also opposed the bailout.

IDAHO

State GOP senator resigns amid scandal

BOISE — An Idaho Republican state senator who had been seen as a political riser has stepped down as a result of sexual harassment allegations.

Four-term state Sen. John McGee’s resignation capped a political free-fall that began last year with a Father’s Day arrest.

The 39-year-old pleaded guilty to drunken driving in a deal that erased accompanying auto-theft charges in that case. Mr. McGee served jail time and paid restitution for a stranger’s vehicle that he damaged.

Mr. McGee’s reputation was further damaged over the summer when the Associated Press reported that records showed he had been making questionable per diem claims that amounted to about $6,000 annually.

Mr. McGee submitted his resignation letter Wednesday but did not acknowledge wrongdoing.

Neither details of the claims against Mr. McGee made by a young woman on his staff, nor her identity were made public.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

 

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