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Lawmakers: Snowden's leaks may endanger US troops

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two congressmen say a classified Pentagon report on former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden asserts that most of the documents he took concerned current military operations.

Senators call for action on oil train derailments

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairmen of the Senate Energy and Transportation committees are calling on the Obama administration to take "prompt and decisive" action following a series of train derailments involving crude oil shipments, including a fiery explosion in North Dakota last month and an explosion that killed 47 people in Canada last year.

Nuclear launch officers tied to narcotics probe

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AP) — Hoping to boost sagging morale, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a rare visit Thursday to an Air Force nuclear missile base and the men and women who operate and safeguard the nation's Minuteman 3 missiles. But his attempt to cheer the troops was tempered by news that launch officers at another base had been implicated in an illegal-narcotics investigation.

Lawmakers prepare stop-gap funding as clock runs down on spending bill

U.S. lawmakers are preparing a stop-gap spending measure ahead of a new federal government shutdown deadline next week as talks on the $1 trillion U.S. spending legislation move slowly. The temporary measure, known as a "continuing resolution," would keep government agencies funded through the end of next week, instead of allowing all spending authority to expire at midnight on January 15, Senate and House of Representatives aides said on Thursday. After vowing that they would complete the massive spending bill on time, House and Senate appropriations committees are still trying to resolve disputes over funding and policy provisions attached to the measure, the aides said. The "omnibus" measure, which combines 12 normal spending bills and includes thousands of budget line items for everything from national parks to weapons development programs, may not be ready for consideration by Congress until the weekend, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said on Tuesday.

White House reviews spying targets for potential embarrassment

By Mark Hosenball WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House officials are reviewing National Security Agency spying targets to weigh whether the risk of embarrassment to the United States if snooping on them is exposed is worth any gains to national security from the surveillance. Two U.S. government sources said two officials assigned to the White House are conducting a detailed assessment of target lists used by the NSA, as part of a review of intelligence policy sparked by leaks from former contractor Edward Snowden. The objective of the review by a former Justice Department official and a former NSA official is to evaluate if the risks of diplomatic or political embarrassment if the spying were publicly exposed outweigh any benefits, the sources said.

Lawmakers: Obama weighing changes in NSA policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is still grappling with key decisions on the future of the National Security Agency's phone collection program and the makeup of the secret court that approved the surveillance, congressional lawmakers said Thursday following a 90-minute meeting at the White House.

Obama unveils first 5 'Promise Zones'

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is identifying five communities that will benefit from a program of tax incentives and government grants, a year after he unveiled the plan in his 2013 State of the Union address.

Official: Nuke launch officers tied to drug probe

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AP) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a rare visit Thursday to an Air Force nuclear missile base, hoping to boost morale among the men and women who operate and safeguard the nation's Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles. But his attempt to cheer the troops was tempered by news that launch officers at another base had been implicated in an illegal-narcotics investigation.

Official: 2 launch officers tied to drug probe

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AP) — A U.S. defense official says two Air Force officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana have been implicated in an illegal-narcotics investigation.

U.S. prosecutors say Trenton, NJ, mayor knew of bribe plot

The mayor, Tony Mack, and his brother Ralphiel have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that they were involved in a 2010 plot to secure the mayor's help in developing a parking garage on city-owned land. Federal prosecutors' case against the brothers read like a cheap crime thriller, filled with secret meetings and code names like "Uncle Remus" to refer to corrupt payments. "One thing you are never going to hear is Tony Mack asking who Uncle Remus is." Prosecutors said a government informant offered a $119,000 bribe and paid out $54,000 in a series of eight payments from October 2011 to June 2012. Mack's defense lawyer, Mark Garnet Davis, cast doubt that the mayor ever received the money, which was collected by steak house owner Joseph Giorgianni.

Senators look to revive climate debate in U.S. Congress

By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two of the U.S. Senate's biggest environmental boosters have launched a drive to revive the issue of climate change in Congress and defend President Barack Obama's climate action plan against opposition from Republicans. Democratic senators Barbara Boxer of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island told reporters on Thursday they would launch a new climate action task force with more than a dozen members and the full support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The task force is likely to introduce a number of small-scale bills and will push for increased discussion on climate topics in the full Senate.

FBI chief doesn't see Snowden as a whistleblower

WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director James Comey says he doesn't regard people like former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden as a whistleblower in the ongoing controversy over surveillance.

Doctors say cutting food stamps could backfire

WASHINGTON (AP) — Doctors are warning that if Congress cuts food stamps, the federal government could be socked with bigger health bills. Maybe not immediately, they say, but over time if the poor wind up in doctors' offices or hospitals as a result.

Giffords leaves door open for possible political future

Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was badly wounded in a shooting rampage three years ago, appeared to leave the door open for a possible future run for public office in a television interview that aired on Thursday. Asked by NBC "Today" show journalist Savannah Guthrie if she would consider ever returning to public office, Giffords, 43, replied: "A little bit later, a little bit later." She then added: "Maybe, maybe." The remarks came in an interview marking the three-year anniversary of the shooting rampage that nearly took her life. On the anniversary, Giffords went skydiving in southern Arizona. In an opinion piece in the New York Times on Wednesday, Giffords said that three years after the attack she still struggles to speak, her eyesight is "not great," and her right arm and leg have been "paralyzed." But she said she was beginning to gain movement in the arm.

Senate negotiators near deal on unemployment benefits

By Richard Cowan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate negotiators were close to a deal on extending expired jobless benefits through November and paying the estimated $18 billion cost through future spending cuts, a senior Senate Democratic aide said on Thursday. The potential deal, which was still under discussion, could be unveiled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid later on Thursday. Part of the $18 billion cost would be achieved by extending automatic spending cuts, known as "sequestration," meaning that the savings would be achieved years from now. Other savings would be attained by tightening some requirements for people who collect both jobless benefits and disability payments, the aide said.

U.S. lawmakers propose fast-track bill for trade agreements

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday proposed a bill to give the White House power to fast-track international trade agreements as the United States gears up for a hectic year of trade negotiations. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) would let the White House put trade deals before Congress for an up or down vote without amendments. This would be a boon given the United States is currently negotiating with Pacific Rim and European Union countries in two separate pacts that would encompass nearly two-thirds of the global economy and trade. "The TPA legislation that we are introducing today will make sure that these trade deals get done, and get done right," said Democrat Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade.

AP Exclusive: New jobless benefit plan advanced

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed optimism Thursday about chances for compromise on jobless legislation, and officials said talks were focused on a scaled-back program that is fully paid for and would provide up to 31 weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Senate moves toward supporting U.S. helicopters for Iraq

The Senate is looking more favorably at a request to provide attack helicopters to Iraq, but a top senator has not yet given the Obama administration a green light to go ahead with military assistance that Iraq wants to help it rebuff a brazen al Qaeda bid to seize a western province. Robert Menendez, an influential Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has held back on supporting the lease and sale of several dozen Apache helicopters to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki without certain assurances.

Senate majority support Iran sanctions bill opposed by Obama

By Timothy Gardner and Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than half of U.S. senators support a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran should the Islamic Republic break an agreement to curb its nuclear program, aides said on Thursday, but there was no plan yet to debate the measure. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, and Iran says last November's nuclear deal struck in Geneva would be dead if the U.S. Congress imposes new sanctions. The "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act" is now supported by at least 54 senators in the 100-member chamber, according to a congressional record, with six senators joining on Wednesday. A Senate aide said two more joined on Thursday, bringing the total to 56.

'Culture of disrespect' fuels academy sex assaults

WASHINGTON (AP) — A culture of bad behavior and disrespect among athletes at U.S. military academies is one part of the continuing problem of sexual assaults at the schools, according to a new Defense Department report that comes in the wake of scandals that rocked teams at all three academies last year.