- - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BOULDER CITY, Nevada — President Obama will direct federal agencies to fast-track an oil pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas, backing a segment of the larger Keystone XL project that he rejected earlier this year.

The 485-mile line from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on Texas’ Gulf coast would remove a critical bottleneck in the country’s oil transportation system, as rising oil production has outgrown pipelines’ capacity to deliver oil to refineries.

Mr. Obama’s directive, to be announced Thursday, also would apply to other pipelines that alleviate choke points. It will be issued along with an executive order requiring agencies to make faster decisions on other infrastructure projects.

For Mr. Obama, the announcement provides an answer to Republicans who say his energy policies, including the rejection of the larger Canada-Texas pipeline, have contributed to high gas prices and destroyed jobs.

SENATE

Lawmakers push measure condemning Africa’s Kony

A bipartisan group of 34 senators introduced a resolution Wednesday condemning Joseph Kony and his ruthless guerrilla group for a 26-year campaign of terror in central Africa that has been marked by child abductions and widespread killings.

The measure backs the effort of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and the newest country, South Sudan, to stop Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. The legislation also signals support for the U.S. effort to help regional forces pursue commanders of the militia group. In October, President Obama sent about 100 U.S. troops mostly Army Special Forces to central Africa as advisers to regional forces.

Decrying “unconscionable crimes against humanity,” Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, said Kony “represents the worst of mankind, and he and his commanders must be held accountable for their war crimes.”

The Lord’s Resistance Army has kidnapped thousands of children through nearly three decades, forcing them to become sex slaves, fight as soldiers or kill family members. Mr. Coons and Mr. Inhofe said 66,000 children in Uganda alone have been kidnapped.

CAMPAIGN

Court hears group’s appeal on ‘issue advocacy’ ads

A conservative group critical of President Obama over abortion policy has asked an appeals court in Virginia to declare certain federal campaign restrictions unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond heard arguments Wednesday. A ruling is expected in a few weeks.

The group called the Real Truth About Obama Inc. is challenging Federal Election Commission regulations governing organizations that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate. The organization claims its “issue advocacy” amounts to constitutionally protected free speech.

The Fredericksburg, Va.-based organization was formed by abortion opponents before Mr. Obama’s 2008 election. It wants to run ads on its website and on conservative talk shows. Mr. Obama supports abortion rights

NEBRASKA

Judge nixes keeping Kerrey off ballot over residence

OMAHA — A judge has ruled that former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey will appear on Nebraska’s Democratic primary ballot in May.

Lancaster County District Judge Steven Burns’ decision came Wednesday, a day after the Nebraska Republican Party filed a legal challenge to try to keep Mr. Kerrey off the ballot.

The state party challenged Secretary of State John Gale’s opinion last week that said Mr. Kerrey could appear on the May 15 primary ballot.

Mr. Gale said in his opinion that he believed Mr. Kerrey had violated a state law that requires candidates to be residents of the county in which they register to vote. However, Mr. Gale said the U.S. Constitution requires only that Senate candidates be a resident of the state they serve by the time they’re elected.

WHITE HOUSE

De Niro says he meant no offense with first lady joke

Robert De Niro says he meant no offense when he joked at a presidential fundraiser featuring Michelle Obama that America might not be ready for a white first lady.

Mr. De Niro said in a statement that he was speaking “with satirical jest” at the event Monday night in New York. The actor says his remarks “were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone especially the first lady.”

The joke drew a complaint from Newt Gingrich, who said the racial reference to the Republican candidates’ wives was “inexcusable” and demanded an apology from President Obama.

The White House referred questions to Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. Mrs. Obama’s campaign spokeswoman Olivia Alair called the joke “inappropriate” but declined further comment.

MASSACHUSETTS

King leaves Senate race, backs challenger Warren

BOSTON — Another Democrat is dropping out of the race for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, leaving Elizabeth Warren with an even clearer path to her party’s nomination.

James King, a lawyer who lives in Dover, told the Republican newspaper of Springfield on Wednesday that he is ending his campaign and will support Ms. Warren.

Mr. King’s campaign was unable to gain much traction as Ms. Warren, a Harvard Law School professor and consumer advocate, emerged as the likely Democrat to challenge Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown in November.

Marissa DeFranco, an immigration lawyer from Middleton, remains in the race but would need at least 15 percent support at the Democratic State Convention in June to qualify for the September primary ballot.

From wire dispatches and staff reports