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SENATE

Top lawmakers question Pentagon move on jet

The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee are suggesting that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta rushed a decision to develop the Marine Corps version of the next-generation strike fighter jet.

In a letter to Mr. Panetta, panel chairman Sen. Carl Levin and the top Republican, Sen. John McCain, questioned whether the F-35B built by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. had met the criteria to warrant an end to its probation. Mr. Panetta's predecessor, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, had placed the aircraft on two-year probation because of testing problems.

Mr. Levin and Mr. McCain wrote on Monday that additional problems have arisen. They said Mr. Panetta's decision "appears at least premature."

Mr. Panetta announced his decision last month, but warned that the program was "not out of the woods yet." The F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama bemoans wife being forced into politics

President Obama says one of the toughest parts about being president is that his wife has been dragged into the "political realm."

Mr. Obama was responding to a question about how he felt when Michelle Obama said she has been inaccurately portrayed as an "angry black woman." While the president did not address that comment specifically, he says his wife is as good a first lady as anyone could imagine, and says he thinks Americans have a positive impression of her.

Mr. Obama also says the first lady is ready for another four years in the White House, despite her initial reservations about coming to Washington.

The president spoke in an interview with NBC.

MINNESOTA

Bachmann picks Kroll to run House campaign

MINNEAPOLIS — Rep. Michele Bachmann has named Chase Kroll to run her campaign for a fourth term in the U.S. House.

Mr. Kroll was political director for Mrs. Bachmann's 2010 campaign, a 13-percentage-point victory over Democrat Tarryl Clark. He also worked on her 2008 campaign.

Mr. Kroll most recently worked as a legislative adviser in Mrs. Bachmann's Washington office.

He joins just as another staffer, Andy Parrish, departs. Mr. Parrish worked on Mrs. Bachmann's presidential campaign last year before eventually rejoining her congressional staff as a special-projects coordinator.

No Democrats have announced plans to run against Mrs. Bachmann, pending new redistricting maps expected later this month.

WHITE HOUSE

Obamas to host dinner for veterans

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will host a Feb. 29 dinner at the White House honoring members of the armed forces who served in Iraq.

White House spokesman Jay Carney announced the event Monday during his briefing for reporters.

Mr. Carney said the dinner will focus on men and women who served in Iraq in combat and non-combat operations since the war began in March 2003.

American military involvement ended in Iraq in December. Since then there has been a public debate about the lack of fanfare over the return of Iraq veterans. The first major parade for Iraq veterans occurred Jan. 28 in St. Louis, prompting at least 10 other cities around the country to consider similar celebrations.

DEFENSE

Cuts test lawmakers' resolve on deficits

President Obama's proposed cuts in the military pose a tough test for lawmakers who arrived in Washington demanding budget cuts.

The commander in chief and military leaders want to reduce the number of troops, shut down bases and cancel weapons programs to achieve reductions in the deficit.

But hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts over 10 years could come at a cost of thousands of jobs in lawmakers' states and districts.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta recently outlined the new national security strategy that reflects an end to decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration is proposing a budget of $525 billion for next year that's $6 billion less than the current level.

Democrats as well as Republicans are resisting, looking to protect their home turf.

INDIANA

County says Santorum remains off state ballot

INDIANAPOLIS — An elections official in Indiana is saying GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum still lacks the signatures needed to make it on the state's ballot.

Mr. Santorum has questioned Marion County's decision to throw out 49 signatures. But Marion County voter-registration official Cindy Mowery said Monday that the signatures are still invalid.

The number would be enough to put the former senator from Pennsylvania on Indiana's ballot.

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said the campaign thinks the signatures were wrongly disqualified and will keep fighting through Indiana's ballot process. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney all qualified to compete in Indiana's May 8 primary.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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