- - Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Texas lawmaker got discounted mortgage

The House Republican campaign chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, has been notified that he received a discounted mortgage from the now-defunct Countrywide Financial Corp.

Mr. Sessions’ spokeswoman, Torrie Miller, confirmed that the congressman was told that records show he received the discounts through Countrywide’s VIP program.

Mr. Sessions becomes the fourth House member — and third Republican — whose records were sent to the House ethics committee for further investigation. The ethics panel will likely investigate whether the lawmakers received improper gifts and whether they performed any favorable actions for the lender. The four were notified by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Two of the Republicans play prominent roles: Mr. Sessions, as the person responsible for Republican efforts to maintain their House majority in the November elections, and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, who has major influence over the defense budget as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The others who received discounts are Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican, and Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat. All four denied that they were aware of receiving any sweetheart deals from Countrywide.


Obama to accept party nomination at stadium

CHARLOTTE — President Obama plans to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in the open air of Bank of America Stadium on the final day of his party’s convention here next summer, repeating a page from his 2008 convention playbook.

Democrats also announced Tuesday that the convention will be shortened from the traditional four days to three to have a day to celebrate the Carolinas, Virginia and the South. That celebration would take place on Monday, Sept. 3, which is Labor Day.

The convention would run Tuesday through Thursday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Mr. Obama will deliver his acceptance speech on Thursday, Sept. 6. Moving the speech to the 74,000-seat stadium, which is home to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, will allow thousands more activists and others to attend, officials said.

In 2008, Mr. Obama accepted the Democratic nomination under the open skies of Denver’s Invesco Field.

“From the start, this convention has been about engaging more people in the process,” said Democratic Party Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “We saw in Denver in 2008 how holding the president’s acceptance speech at Invesco Field allowed more Americans to be part of the process and part of this experience.”


Obama names Zients as acting budget chief

President Obama on Tuesday named Jeffrey Zients as his acting budget chief but held off on nominating him for the permanent job, avoiding a tough election-year battle with Senate Republicans.

Mr. Zients becomes acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, the department in charge of developing Mr. Obama’s budget proposal, overseeing agency performance and ensuring that the executive branch is putting in place Mr. Obama’s policies. He takes over leadership of the prominent agency just weeks ahead of Mr. Obama’s new budget request to Congress.

Mr. Zients had been the office’s deputy director for management and has already served one stint as acting director, as well.

He takes over for Jacob J. Lew, named by Mr. Obama as White House chief of staff to replace the departing Bill Daley.

No Senate confirmation is required for an acting director. Mr. Zients was confirmed by the Senate for the deputy job, but any major Obama nomination in this election year is likely to face a fight from Republicans. The White House said Mr. Obama has made no decision on a permanent director.


Groups filing signatures to recall state’s governor

MADISON — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he expects voters to stand by him in any recall election and will campaign on his record.

The Republican governor made the statement Tuesday in response to Democrats and others who filed petitions with what they say are more than 1 million signatures calling for his recall in an election that could come later this year.

Mr. Walker took office a year ago and quickly angered some in the state with aggressive moves that included effectively ending collective-bargaining rights for nearly all public workers.

The governor defended his actions, saying they needed to be taken to help control government spending, balance the budget and hold the line on taxes.


Gingrich sets demand for Muslim office-seekers

WEST COLUMBIA — Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says a Muslim-American seeking office in the U.S. would have to publicly renounce Islamic Shariah law to receive his backing.

Speaking at a town hall Tuesday in West Columbia, S.C., Mr. Gingrich was asked whether he could support a Muslim-American candidate.

The former House speaker replied that it would depend entirely on whether the person would commit in public to give up Shariah, or Islamic law.

Mr. Gingrich said he is totally opposed to Islamic law and supports a federal law that would pre-empt it.

Mr. Gingrich says he could support a Muslim candidate if that person was integrated in the modern world and prepared to recognize all religions.


McConnell: Go slow on lifting Myanmar sanctions

The Senate’s top Republican says he is convinced the former general leading Myanmar is a reformer, but that it would be premature to lift U.S. sanctions.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, an architect of the sanctions, said Tuesday he would take his cue on when to lift sanctions from Myanmarese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mr. McConnell spoke to the Associated Press by phone from neighboring Thailand after he visited Myanmar, where he met Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein.

Mr. McConnell said he supports the Obama administration’s decision to appoint an ambassador following Myanmar’s release of hundreds of political prisoners last week. Mr. McConnell urged Myanmar to allow international observers at April elections.


GOP lawmaker won’t seek another term

YORK, Pa. — Rep. Todd Platts of Pennsylvania is leaving Congress after 12 years, saying he’s a believer in term limits.

The Republican announced Tuesday he wouldn’t be seeking a seventh term this year, citing his history of sponsoring 12-year term limit proposals.

His south-central Pennsylvania district is solidly Republican.

Before being elected to succeed longtime Rep. Bill Goodling in 2000, Mr. Platts had been a state House member representing a suburban York district.


Obama honors World Series champion Cardinals

President Obama on Tuesday dubbed the St. Louis Cardinals the “greatest comeback team in the history of baseball,” thanks to their thrilling late-season charge into the playoffs and death-defying, seven-game triumph in last fall’s World Series.

The Cardinals were 10½ games back at the end of August, but rallied to win a National League wild-card spot on the last day of the regular season. They trailed in each playoff round and were twice within a strike of elimination in Game 6 of the Series with the Texas Rangers before David Freese’s walk-off home run in the 11th inning saved them.

“That has to be one of the best baseball games of all time,” Mr. Obama said to applause and cheers as he welcomed team members in the East Room.

Two key figures of the championship season were absent. Cards Manager Tony LaRussa retired after the series. And star Albert Pujols signed a $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels in the offseason.

Meantime, baseball purists still debate which team is really the comeback king of the national pastime. Some cite the 1951 N.Y. Giants; others the 2004 Boston Red Sox. But there was no doubting Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm for the Cardinals’ heroics.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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