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The Obama administration says the apology is appropriate given the religious sensitivities involved.

HOUSE

Aide: GOP leaders may trim highway bill

A Republican congressional aide said GOP leaders are considering significantly reducing the scope of a bill that was supposed to provide a long-term blueprint for federal transportation programs.

The aide said GOP leaders are weighing three key changes: reducing the duration of the bill to something less than its current 4 1/2 years, cutting annual transportation spending and postponing a controversial proposal to change the way mass transit programs are funded.

The aide asked not to be identified because any changes must still be discussed further among GOP committee chairmen and rank-and-file Republicans.

The changes would mark a significant retreat from the $260 billion bill House Republicans were trying to pass late last week. It would also better align the measure with a bipartisan transportation bill in the Senate.

WHITE HOUSE

Adviser: GOP damaging itself with negativism

A political adviser to President Obama said Republicans are damaging their chances of defeating the president by engaging in “nasty, negative, carpet-bombing” debates.

Robert Gibbs said independent and undecided voters have been “turned off” by the Republican face-offs, saying the give-and-take among candidates is entirely too negative.

Mr. Gibbs told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday that the GOP continues to dwell on social conservative subjects when “the emerging issue of this campaign is going to be strengthening this economy and putting people back to work.”

The former White House press secretary, now an adviser to Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said the Republican hopefuls are “offering very little in the way of a positive vision” for the country. He said Wednesday night’s Arizona debate was full of “negative distortions” about policy positions and candidates.

From wire dispatches and staff reports