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** FILE ** This April 19, 2005, file photo shows Pope Benedict XVI greeting the crowd from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica moments after being elected, at the Vatican. On Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Benedict XVI announced he would resign Feb. 28, the first pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis/FILE)

Obama praises retiring Pope Benedict XVI

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama said they were sending "our appreciation and prayers to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI" Monday after the 85-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff unexpectedly announced his retirement because of failing health.

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his confirmation to be the next secretary of defense. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Senate committee sets vote on Hagel nomination

Senate Democrats will press ahead with Chuck Hagel's nomination to be the next defense secretary — and they have the support of Sen. John McCain, a senior Republican who says the Armed Services Committee has properly vetted the nomination.

**FILE** Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

Rand Paul to give tea party response to Obama

Sen. Rand Paul will deliver what's being billed as the official tea party response to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, the Tea Party Express announced Friday afternoon — putting yet another top 2016 GOP presidential contender head-to-head with Mr. Obama.

**FILE** A girl sits on a Newtown bus leaving the new Sandy Hook Elementary School after the first day of classes in Monroe, Conn., on Jan. 3, 2013. The Sandy Hook students started that day in their new school, formerly called Chalk Hill School in Monroe. It was renamed Sandy Hook Elementary and overhauled especially for the students from the Sandy Hook School shooting. (Associated Press)

Obama to honor slain teachers

Six educators who were slain in the Sandy Hook school massacre will be honored posthumously by President Obama next week in a ceremony at the White House.

**FILE** Republican Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice for defense secretary, testifies Jan. 31, 2013, before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. (Associated Press)

Hagel nomination vote delayed

Democrats said Wednesday they'll delay votes on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense after Republicans said they aren't getting the information they need to make a judgment.

**FILE** Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, speaks Nov. 17, 2012, during Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's annual birthday fundraiser in Altoona, Iowa. (Associated Press)

Rubio to deliver GOP response to Obama

Seeking to counter President Obama's speaking skills with a great orator of their own, Republicans have tapped Sen. Marco Rubio to deliver the official GOP response to Mr. Obama's State of the Union address next week — in both English and Spanish.