By David Morgan WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sylvia Mathews Burwell takes center stage on Thursday for the first of two Senate hearings that will determine whether the loyal White House insider will become the next public face of the controversial law known as Obamacare. The path to confirmation as U.S. health secretary is expected to be a smooth one for Burwell, a 48-year-old technocrat who was nominated on April 11 by President Barack Obama to replace outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Last year, Burwell sailed through the Senate on a 96-0 vote to become Obama's budget director.
By Steve Holland LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - President Barack Obama brought his fund-raising prowess to California on Wednesday and urged Democrats not to let increasing attention on the 2016 presidential race distract them from focusing on November 4 congressional elections. Obama issued the warning at the first of five Democratic events he will attend over three days that will raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for use by the party's candidates for the Senate, the House of Representatives and other races. At the Bel Air home of Disney chairman Alan Horn, Obama spoke to a crowd that included actress Barbra Streisand and her husband, actor James Brolin. He exhorted them to help turn back a strong challenge from Republicans who are trying to win control of the Senate and build on their majority in the House.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to advance a bill that would end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of Americans' telephone records, one of the most controversial spy programs revealed a year ago by former contractor Edward Snowden. The House Judiciary committee voted 32-0 to back the measure, which would end the NSA's gathering information about telephone calls and storing them for at least five years. The bill would allow the NSA to collect a person's phone records, and those of two of their contacts, if investigators can convince a judge they have a reasonable suspicion that the person was involved in terrorism. \"This is a historic turn of events in our government's approach to counterterrorism policies,\" Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislation Office, said in a statement.
Hundreds of thousands of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs and their ingredients were seized in 29 US states Wednesday as part of a major bust that also netted $20 million in cash and assets. Law enforcement agencies made more than 150 arrests over the course of the wide-ranging sweep, part of a crackdown on designer synthetic drugs by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. \"Many who manufacture, distribute and sell these dangerous synthetic drugs found out first hand today that DEA will target, find and prosecute those who have committed these crimes,\" said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart. The synthetic drugs seized under the DEA's \"Project Synergy\" operation are part of a swelling group of illicit compounds that traffickers have begun marketing in the West in recent years as herbal incense, bath salts, jewelry cleaner or plant food, a statement by the DEA said.
An ancient statue of a warrior stolen in 1972 and which almost went on the auction block three years ago will be returned to Cambodia, US authorities said Wednesday. The 10th-century sandstone \"Duryodhana bondissant\" was stolen from the Prasat Chen temple at Koh Ker in Cambodia and first sold at auction in London in 1975. It was supposed to have come back on the auction block at Sotheby's in New York in March 2011 but the sale was stopped after Cambodian authorities made an appeal through UNESCO. The Koh Ker site is significant from a religious, historical, and artistic perspective, and the Duryodhana is considered a piece of extraordinary value to the Cambodian people and part of their cultural heritage.