WORCESTER — Sen. Scott P. Brown officially began his re-election campaign with a rally in Massachusetts, casting himself as an independent voice in a deeply partisan Congress.
Mr. Brown timed his Thursday evening event in Worcester to coincide with the anniversary of his special election win in 2010 that catapulted him into the office once held by the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
In a portion of his prepared remarks released by his campaign earlier Thursday, Mr. Brown again targeted President Obama's health care law, which he had pledged to help block.
Mr. Brown also criticized what he calls "establishment candidates" who wage class warfare by pitting one group of Americans against another and attacking the country's free enterprise system.
The remarks appeared to be a not-so-veiled critique of his chief rival, Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
New watchdog agency reviews payday lending
BIRMINGHAM — The Obama administration's new consumer protection agency is holding its first hearing in Alabama on payday lending, an industry that brings in some $7 billion a year in fees nationwide with relatively little federal oversight.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said testimony from the session Thursday in Birmingham will help guide future regulations. Director Richard Cordray said the bureau recognizes the need for short-term loans, but the lending must help consumers, not harm them.
The agency has been in the spotlight because of Republican opposition to its formation and because of President Obama's use of a recess appointment to install Mr. Cordray as director.
The bureau said about 19 million American households now have payday loans and lenders take in more than $7 billion annually in fees.
GOP state lawmaker to run for U.S. Senate
TRENTON — New Jersey Sen. Joseph Kyrillos announced Thursday he intends to seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate to run against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in November.
The 51-year-old Monmouth County legislator said he converted his federal exploratory committee to a campaign account and will formally announce his candidacy soon.
"As the father of two young children, I believe we can and must restore the limitless opportunities and freedom that made America great and inspired people like my own father to immigrate to this country," Mr. Kyrillos said.
A message left with Mr. Menendez's Washington office was not immediately returned.
Mr. Kyrillos is a longtime friend of Gov. Chris Christie and has been the governor's closest GOP ally in the Legislature. Mr. Kyrillos chaired Mr. Christie's successful 2009 campaign for governor and Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential bid in New Jersey. Mr. Christie and his wife were the matchmakers for Mr. Kyrillos and his wife, Susan.
"Joe has been a good friend of mine for nearly 20 years, as has his wife, and they are wonderful people," Mr. Christie said. "New Jersey would be extraordinarily well-served if Joe Kyrillos wound up in the United States Senate."
Panetta won't try to kill Marine version of F-35
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is giving fresh backing to the Marine Corps' version of the next-generation strike plane, the F-35, a U.S. defense official told the Associated Press.
The F-35, variants of which are being developed for the Navy and the Air Force, as well as for Britain and other allies, is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program. It also has faced schedule delays and other problems that raised doubts about its future. Ten years in, the total F-35 program cost has jumped from $233 billion to an estimated $385 billion.
During a visit Friday to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, where the F-35 program is run, Mr. Panetta will announce that the Marines' version is no longer on what his predecessor called "probation," according to a U.S. defense official with knowledge of the decision, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced a year ago that if the Marines' version of the plane had not overcome its problems within two years, he would attempt to cancel it.
Obama defends foreign policy record
NEW YORK — President Obama is defending his foreign policy record, telling donors America is stronger now than it was three years ago.
Speaking at a fundraiser for Jewish leaders, Mr. Obama said U.S. support for Israel's security is "nonnegotiable." He also defended his administration's approach to Iran, saying even Tehran has acknowledged that U.S. sanctions are having an impact.
Urging donors to back him in 2012, Mr. Obama said he shares their values. And he expects a tough campaign, no matter whom the Republicans nominate.
Mr. Obama is in New York for four glitzy fundraisers for his presidential campaign. He arrived after making a high-profile appearance at Walt Disney World, where he announced initiatives aimed at boosting tourism.
Unemployment claims are fewest since 2008
The number of people seeking unemployment benefits plummeted last week to 352,000, the fewest since April 2008. The decline added to evidence that the job market is strengthening.
Applications fell 50,000, the biggest drop in the seasonally adjusted figure in more than six years, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average, which smoothes out fluctuations, dropped to 379,000. That's the second-lowest such figure in more than three years.
A department spokesman cautioned that volatility at this time of year is common. Applications had jumped two weeks ago, largely because companies laid off thousands of temporary workers hired for the holidays.
Still, when weekly applications fall consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to push down the unemployment rate.
"This continues a clear downshift in claims," said Ian Shepherdson, an economist at High Frequency Economics.
Mr. Shepherdson suggested that stronger hiring should follow.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports