- - Monday, March 5, 2012

SENATE

McCain calls for U.S. to bomb Syrian forces

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, on Monday urged the United States to launch airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime to force him out of power — a call for dramatic military intervention that wasn’t supported by the Obama administration or its European or Arab partners.

Mr. McCain’s statement on the Senate floor came as the U.S. and European governments pleaded for Russia’s Vladimir Putin to rethink his anti-interventionist stance on Syria, in what appeared to be an increasingly desperate effort for consensus among world powers to stop a crackdown that has killed more than 7,500 people.

Mr. McCain, the GOP’s presidential nominee in 2008 and his party’s senior member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. should change policy by arming Syria’s rebels and spearheading a military effort to support them.

CONGRESS

Hawaii ex-lawmaker serves Afghanistan stint

While other candidates for Congress have been wooing voters and donors, former Rep. Charles Djou of Hawaii has spent the past six months in Afghanistan where he was responsible for interrogating suspected Taliban fighters.

Congress is made up of numerous war veterans. But the Republican represents a rare instance in which a former lawmaker went from the partisan skirmishes on Capitol Hill to the real battlefront.

Mr. Djou is a major in the Army Reserve and recently returned to Hawaii from a stint that comes with obvious disadvantages and advantages. He could not engage in political activities, so he was out of the public eye for six months.

However, his service will appeal to many voters regardless of their political affiliation, which is important in a Democratic stronghold like Hawaii.

MASSACHUSETTS

GOP pins hopes on Romney primary win

BOSTON — Massachusetts Republicans are hoping a big win for former Gov. Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday could put the state into play in November.

Massachusetts is one of 10 states voting in Tuesday’s contests. Polls show Mr. Romney with a commanding lead there.

Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have put little money or effort into Massachusetts.

But the same polls that show Mr. Romney ahead in the GOP primary show him trailing President Obama in a state that traditionally backs Democrats.

Massachusetts Republicans are working to buck that trend by bolstering support for Mr. Romney in the state he governed for four years.

The state will send 41 delegates to the Republican National Convention. A candidate must receive at least 15 percent of the vote to receive any delegates.

PENTAGON

Officials say military will still air Limbaugh

A Pentagon spokesman said the military’s network will continue to air Rush Limbaugh’s radio program.

George Little said the American Forces Network offers a wide range of programming to reflect listeners’ interests and he is unaware of any plans to review that decision.

Mr. Limbaugh has been criticized for an outburst on his radio program last week when he called a 30-year-old law student a “slut” after she testified before Congress about birth control policies. He has since apologized.

The network on its website said that Mr. Limbaugh’s show is popular, and that it doesn’t try to protect listeners from hearing differing views.

Mr. Limbaugh’s show airs five mornings a week.

TEXAS

First ladies conference features both Bushes

DALLAS — Dallas conference to explore the influence and mystique of first ladies featured two women who have held the post: Laura Bush and her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin moderated a conversation Monday with the former first ladies. The conference included a discussion with historians on the influence of first ladies throughout history, a panel on the role of their social secretaries and a discussion by photographers about documenting the first ladies.

“People are curious about this person who is closest to the seat of power. What is life like behind the White House walls?” said Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff in the White House.

Ms. McBride, who is now an executive-in-residence in the school of public affairs at American University in Washington, chaired the conference at Southern Methodist University, where former President George W. Bush’s library is under construction.

Ms. McBride said that she hoped the conference — a collaboration of the White House Historical Association, American University and the National Archives, which oversees presidential libraries — helped people “gain a broader understanding of the significance of this role.”

“It just is a job description that no one completely understands,” she said. “They each bring their own background, their interests and their knowledge to bear.”

Similar events focusing on other first ladies are being considered, including a conference planned for the fall on the late Lady Bird Johnson at her husband’s presidential library in Austin, Ms. McBride said.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama to deliver Joplin commencement address

President Obama will speak at the high school graduation ceremony in Joplin, the Missouri city slowly recovering after being struck by a devastating tornado a year ago.

Mr. Obama will deliver remarks at the May 21 commencement, according a White House official, who requested anonymity to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

The president last visited Joplin in May 2011, just days after the massive tornado hit. At least 160 people were killed, including seven students and one staff member at the high school, making it the worst tornado to strike the United States in decades.

Speaking at a memorial service in Joplin last year, Mr. Obama pledged to residents that “your country will be there with you every single step of the way.”

The killer tornado struck the city of 50,000 less than an hour after the local high school wrapped up its 2011 graduation ceremonies. Will Norton, one of the students receiving a diploma that day, was killed in the storm.

With much of Joplin High School leveled by the tornado, this year’s seniors have been attending classes at a nearby mall. Other schools in the area have moved to temporary locations in abandoned warehouses and industrial buildings.

Despite the immense challenges, school officials pride themselves on having started the school year on schedule. While they expected a steep decline in enrollment, officials say about 95 percent of students returned to attend classes in Joplin this year.

CONGRESS

Job creation driving highway bills on Hill

Congressional leaders are pitching expensive transportation bills as job generators. But do they really create more jobs?

The answer from a lot of economists is: not really.

The effect of the bills would be to shift spending that was creating jobs elsewhere in the economy to transportation, where the money can create a different set of jobs, but not necessarily an increase in the overall number.

Alice Rivlin, a former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton, says money spent on transportation infrastructure should be viewed as investments in future productivity growth. She said it will also create jobs, but not necessarily more jobs than the same money spent in other ways.

But that hasn’t diminished the job claims being made in Congress.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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