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Inside Politics: Arizona judge OKs blocking traffic to find day labor

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PHOENIX — A judge blocked police in Arizona from enforcing a section of the state's immigration enforcement law that prohibited people from blocking traffic when they seek or offer day labor services on streets.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled Wednesday that groups working to overturn the law will likely prevail in their claim that the day labor rules violate the First Amendment.

The ban was among a handful of provisions in the law that were allowed to take effect after a July 2010 decision by Judge Bolton halted enforcement of the law's more controversial elements.

Opponents of the law had argued that the day labor restrictions unconstitutionally restrict free speech rights.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's lawyers had argued the restrictions are meant to address safety concerns and distractions to drivers.

OHIO

Senate hopeful: Keep GOP focus on 'jobs, jobs, jobs'

COLUMBUS — Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel says that as a U.S. senator he would focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs" and fight any attempts by the Republican establishment to make social issues a distraction.

The 33-year-old candidate said during an Associated Press interview Wednesday that every elected leader — president "or dog catcher" — should be focused on the economy.

Dubbed an "absentee treasurer" by his critics, Mr. Mandel said he's improved the financial performance of Ohio's treasury department while trimming its budget. He's also missed every meeting of the powerful Board of Deposit that he chairs.

Mr. Mandel is favored to win a six-way GOP primary Tuesday. The winner will face Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in November.

HOUSE

Bill puts lawmaker in hairy situation

The American Mustache Institute claimed Tuesday that Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland Republican, had lent his support to the Stache Act, which calls for a tax deduction of up to $250 a year for facial hair grooming.

But Mr. Bartlett's office said he never supported the measure. Staffers said Wednesday that they only forwarded a copy of the proposal to the House Ways and Means Committee, without the congressman's knowledge, after receiving a media inquiry about it. That led the institute to believe Mr. Bartlett, who has long had a mustache, supported the measure.

"For the record: Roscoe is pro-stache, but he does not believe Americans should pay for people's personal grooming decisions," Mr. Bartlett's chief of staff, Deborah Burrell, said in a statement.

So far, no other representatives have supported the mustache proposal.

At least one of Mr. Bartlett's Republican primary opponents is criticizing him over the facial hair flap. The longtime incumbent faces several challengers in the 6th District, which was redrawn to include more Democratic voters.

The American Mustache Institute, meanwhile, issued a statement faulting the Bartlett camp for what it called a "shameful reversal."

"We are highly disappointed by their reversal based on the fact that the congressman's opponents in the race are jumping on the bandwagon to criticize him," chairman Aaron Perlut said. "They obviously don't understand what it is to be a mustached American."

STATE

Clinton: No concessions to free American in Cuba

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the United States has made no deal or concessions with Cuba to free imprisoned American Alan Gross.

Mrs. Clinton called the continued imprisonment of Mr. Gross "deplorable" and a violation of human rights. She told a House committee Wednesday that the United States raises the Gross case at every meeting. She said Mr. Gross "deserves to come home."

Mr. Gross, a Maryland native, is serving a 15-year jail term for spiriting satellite and other communications equipment into Cuba while on a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded democracy-building program. Cuba considers the program an attempt to destabilize its government, and Mr. Gross was convicted of crimes against the state, not espionage.

Mrs. Clinton said, in her words: "We've made no deals, we've offered no concessions and we don't intend to do so."

HOUSE

Military criticized for lack of medals database

The military has come under sharp criticism at a House hearing for failing to create a searchable database of medal recipients.

A database would be one way to identify and prosecute those falsely claiming to have received the honors.

Witnesses from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a nongovernment military awards database joined Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz in criticizing the Pentagon.

Anyone making false claims of receiving military honors could be prosecuted under a 2006 law, the Stolen Valor Act. Conviction could bring imprisonment for up to six months, or up to a year for false claims of receiving the Medal of Honor.

The Supreme Court is considering whether the law is constitutional.

Defense department witnesses say the records system has been improved, but there's no all-services database.

CAMPAIGN

Santorum raises $9M in month of early wins

Rick Santorum's campaign raised $9 million in February as he emerged as the chief rival to Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential contest.

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said Wednesday that more than 100,000 donors gave online to the former senator from Pennsylvania. Mr. Gidley also said the campaign received more than 130,000 donations during the month that opened with surprising victories in Feb. 7 caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a nonbinding primary in Missouri.

Mr. Santorum continues to be outspent by Mr. Romney and his allies, but he mounted a strong challenge in Tuesday's primary in Mr. Romney's home state of Michigan.

Mr. Santorum now is looking ahead to next week's 10-state Super Tuesday and honing his message back to the economy and away from the social issues that marked his fast rise.

COMMERCE

Trade official urges action on China, Russia ties

Congress is showing its unhappiness with a federal court ruling that restricted the government's ability to impose higher trade penalties on China when it subsidizes exports to the United States.

There's a proposal to restore the Commerce Department's power to take on China's unfair trade practices. The legislation was introduced on the same day as the top U.S. trade official, Ron Kirk, asked Congress to act on the China issue and on trade relations with Russia.

A federal appeals court ruled last year that the Commerce Department lacks the legal authority to impose punitive trade measures on subsidized imports from countries such as China and Vietnam.

In 2009, the Obama administration imposed a three-year tariff, starting at 35 percent, on U.S. imports of low-grade Chinese tires.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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