Fighting a swell of economic anxiety, President Obama has lost much of the narrow lead he held just a month ago over Mitt Romney and the two now are locked in a virtually even race for the White House, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. The survey also found a majority of Americans disapproving of how the Democratic president is handling a national economy that fewer people think is improving.
Less than five months before the election, 47 percent say they will vote for the president and 44 percent for Romney, a difference that is not statistically significant. The poll also shows that Romney has recovered from a bruising Republican primary, with more of his supporters saying they are certain to vote for him now.
Boehner says no gloating if health law struck down
House Speaker John A. Boehner is telling rank-and-file Republicans not to gloat if the Supreme Court rules the health care law unconstitutional.
In a memo released publicly Thursday, the Ohio Republican says there will be no spiking the ball if the court rules against the law either partially or entirely. He says that's because he wants the party to focus on the economy as the elections approach.
A court ruling is expected next week.
Gov. Brown announces deal on remaining budget
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders reached an agreement Thursday to finalize California's budget.
The plan protects education, permanently reforms welfare and includes tough ongoing cuts, Mr. Brown said in a statement announcing the framework of the agreement.
A vote of the Legislature will take place next week.
Although Democrats passed the main budget bill on a majority vote last week, the governor pressed for deeper cuts to welfare and other social services amid a projected $15.7 billion shortfall. Mr. Brown has until Wednesday to sign or veto the main bill.
Democrats have majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, and can pass the budget without needing any Republican votes. Republicans have been shut out of the budget negotiations and did not immediately comment on the pending agreement.
Sen. Brown cites secret meetings with royalty
BOSTON — Sen. Scott P. Brown said Thursday that he's held secret meetings with "kings and queens" and other top leaders during his time in the U.S. Senate. An aide later said Mr. Brown misspoke when referring to meetings with kings and queens.
The Massachusetts Republican made the comment during an interview Thursday on WTKK-FM after being asked if it was time to move beyond questions about Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren's claims of American Indian heritage to discuss other issues. Mr. Brown renewed his criticism of Mrs. Warren but also defended his work as a senator.
"Each and every day that I've been a United States senator, I've been either discussing issues, meeting on issues, in secret meetings and with kings and queens and prime ministers and business leaders and military leaders, talking, voting, working on issues every single day," he said.
"He misspoke when he said kings and queens," Brown campaign aide Colin Reed said.
The head of the state Democratic Party called on Mr. Brown to release a list of his secret meetings.
Pelosi says attacks on Holder meant to distract
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says Republican attacks over Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. are a ploy to distract him from investigating voter suppression in states.
The California Democrat told reporters Thursday it was "no coincidence" that Mr. Holder — who House Republicans are pushing to hold in contempt over his refusal to turn over documents in the Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation — is also the official in charge of preventing voter suppression and enforcing civil rights laws.
"Contempt of Congress? To frivolously use that really important vehicle to undermine the person who's assigned to stop the voter suppression in our country, I'm telling you, this is connected. It is no accident," she said.
Mrs. Pelosi said "the very same people who are holding him in contempt are part of a nationwide scheme to suppress the vote."
Anti-tax pledge author meets with House GOP
All but 13 of the 289 Republicans in the House and Senate have signed a pledge vowing to oppose tax increases. On Thursday, the author of that pledge met with some of them to help them understand exactly what it is they signed.
In the process, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist sparked a fresh barrage of criticism from Democrats who accuse him and his pledge of being one of the major impediments to a bipartisan debt-cutting deal.
The pledge has been "extremely helpful" to the Republican Party, Mr. Norquist told reporters after meeting privately with Republicans for about an hour, saying it has helped Republicans define a position that is popular with voters.
"They're not going to raise taxes to pay for Obama-sized government," said Mr. Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform.
GOP lawmaker says gays in military issue settled
The Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday that allowing gays to serve openly in the military is a settled issue that he won't try to reverse even if Mitt Romney wins the presidency in November and the GOP captures the Senate.
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California said his focus is on restoring money for the military after the latest round of defense cuts — a planned reduction of $487 billion over 10 years that could nearly double if Congress fails to avert automatic, across-the-board cuts. Pressed on the divisive issue of gay rights that roiled Congress two years ago, Mr. McKeon said he wouldn't revisit it.
"We fought that fight," Mr. McKeon told reporters, saying his goal is to "get the things that our warfighters need."
Team Obama touts record in new ad
Pivoting away from negative messages about Mitt Romney's record in business and as Massachusetts governor, the Obama campaign Thursday released the first in a series of TV ads that will focus on the positive — his commitment to women and families.
The new ad highlights President's Obama support for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — the first bill he signed into law in 2009 — which extends the window for women to sue over pay discrimination.
The ad, which will air in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada and Virginia, begins with an image of Mr. Obama as a young child with his mom and then shifts to a visual of him as an adult with his two daughters, and then to images of women workers and a mother and daughter doing homework.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports