- - Monday, March 12, 2012

The Mitt Romney campaign announced Monday that the former Massachusetts governor has decided not to participate in the planned Republican presidential debate scheduled for newt week, on March 19 in Portland, Ore.

According to the Oregonian newspaper, the front-runner’s decision could lead to the cancellation of the debate, which is to be co-sponsored by The Washington Times.

“Governor Romney will not be participating since he will be in Illinois for its March 20 primary,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement. “We look forward to campaigning in Oregon before the May 15 primary.”

According to the Oregonian, Oregon Republican Chairman Allen Alley said last week that it was possible sponsors would try to proceed just with the other three remaining GOP presidential candidates.

The other sponsors of the debate, which was to be nationally televised, are the Oregon Republican Party and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“We have to review this development with our partners before making any comment,” said Greg Leo, chief of staff of the Oregon Republican Party told the Oregonian.

The Republican candidates have participated in 20 debates, but since a Feb. 22 faceoff in Arizona, a CNN-sponsored debate in Georgia and a Politico-sponsored debate in California have been scratched.

NEW JERSEY

Christie doesn’t regret calling man an ‘idiot’

BORDENTOWN TOWNSHIP, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he has no regrets about calling a former Navy SEAL an “idiot” during a shouting match at a recent public event.

Mr. Christie’s comment capped off two minutes of increasingly heated back-and-forth with 34-year-old William Brown at a town-hall-style event in Burlington County on Thursday.

“He acted like an idiot. He’s an idiot. I don’t have any regret about it at all,” Mr. Christie said Monday during a press conference after touring a regional high school and meeting with students in a financial literacy class.

Mr. Brown, a former Democratic candidate for state Assembly, challenged the Republican governor’s plan to merge two public universities, Rutgers and Rowan. He is a law student at the Rutgers-Camden campus who opposes the merger.

Thursday’s exchange ended with Mr. Christie berating the Mount Laurel man, who had interrupted the governor several times before being escorted from the event. The governor said: “Let me tell you something, after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end’s going to be thrown in jail, idiot.”

“I allowed him to talk for two, two-and-a-half minutes to lay out his position. I sat there and tried to answer. Every time I tried to answer, he yelled and started to interrupt. He did it four different times,” Mr. Christie said Monday. “If you want to get into with me, I’m happy to get into it with you. But if you give it, you’re going to get it back.”

Mr. Christie said he’s willing to entertain divergent viewpoints but insists on respect. He said Mr. Brown went to the town hall with a political agenda “to try to make me look bad.”

FLORIDA

Mack’s past tussles an issue in Senate race

TALLAHASSEE — A former U.S. senator is zeroing in on decades-old altercations involving U.S. Rep. Connie Mack to make the case that Mr. Mack shouldn’t become the Republican party nominee in this year’s Florida Senate contest.

Former Sen. George LeMieux is depicting the altercations as part of a pattern of irresponsible behavior that shows the 44-year-old Mr. Mack doesn’t have the temperament to serve as a senator.

Mr. Mack and his campaign have chalked up the altercations, the last of which occurred two decades ago, to the congressman being “young and foolish.” They include two road-rage incidents, an arrest at a Jacksonville bar and a bar fight with a Major League Baseball star.

In a 1996 court deposition, Mr. Mack explained that in each case he was minding his own business, sober and trouble found him. The GOP primary winner will face Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama seeks to restructure job-training programs

The Obama administration wants to streamline federal job-search and training programs to make it easier for displaced workers to find new careers.

The White House says the current jumble of federal programs is too confusing for many Americans to know where to get help.

The new plan would combine two existing programs that help workers laid off through no fault of their own as a result of downsizing, jobs moving overseas or other reasons.

It would offer money for retraining, stipends to help with child care or transportation costs, and money for job search and relocation.

Most changes would need congressional approval and about $28 billion over 10 years. The White House says the plan would more than triple the number of workers who get retraining from 150,000 to nearly 500,000.

SENATE

Lawmakers seek end to deal with Russian firm

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on the Pentagon to stop doing business with a Russian arms exporter that is providing weapons to Syria.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Monday, the 17 Republicans and Democrats cited reports that the company, Rosoboronexport, has shipped weapons to Syria and recently signed a deal for 36 combat jets with President Bashar Assad’s government.

Separately, the Defense Department is buying 21 helicopters for the Afghan military from Rosoboronexport. The lawmakers said this no-bid contract is worth $375 million.

The senators complained that U.S. tax dollars should not be “indirectly subsidizing the mass murder of Syrian civilians.”

Leading the lawmakers were Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and New York’s Kirsten E. Gillibrand.

WHITE HOUSE

First lady to appear on Letterman show

The first lady will appear on the “Late Show With David Letterman” on March 19. Mrs. Obama will discuss her Joining Forces initiative, which supports military families, and her plans for the program’s one-year anniversary.

CBS, which airs Mr. Letterman’s show, says this will be Mrs. Obama’s first appearance on the program. But she has made other stops on the late-night talk show circuit to promote her initiatives and stump for President Obama’s re-election campaign. Her recent appearances include “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and Jimmy Fallon’s “Late Night” program. Both shows are on NBC.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama campaign posts NCAA tournament pool

President Obama’s re-election campaign is trying to make some bucks off March Madness with its own version of the NCAA tournament office pool.

It’s called “The Obama Bracket Challenge.” Visitors to Mr. Obama’s campaign website, BarackObama.com, are invited to pick the winners of each tournament matchup.

The prize isn’t much, though: The campaign says it will “publish a list of everyone who does better than the President” on the website. Anyone who fills out a bracket is invited to donate money to Mr. Obama’s campaign.

The president hasn’t yet released his picks for this year’s tournament. He is planning on taking British Prime Minister David Cameron to Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday for a “First Four” matchup between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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