In the latest effort by U.S. lawmakers to breathe life into the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline, Senator John Hoeven re-introduced legislation on Thursday that would force congressional approval of the controversial project. Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said he has 55 co-sponsors for a bill that would take the power to approve the TransCanada Corp's pipeline out of the hands of the State Department and put it in the hands of Congress. The tally includes all 45 Republican senators plus 11 Democrats in the 100-member Senate, but is short of the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles. The Keystone XL pipeline divides President Barack Obama's base between environmentalists who say it would boost emission linked to climate change and union supporters who say it would create thousands of construction jobs.
A group of urban health officials on Thursday urged the Food and Drug Administration to go beyond the regulations it proposed last week for e-cigarettes and treat them like regular cigarettes. In an open letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) noted that the FDA has nothing in its proposed regulations that would govern the advertising of e-cigarettes, which it said often targets the youth market. The e-cigarette industry, estimated at $2 billion and growing, did not object loudly to last week's proposed FDA rules, which many health officials found too loose. According to the BCHC, there were "gaps" in the rules that need to be filled.
President Barack Obama on Thursday praised Iraq's parliamentary elections, saying the vote demonstrated the country's enthusiastic embrace of democracy despite "enormous challenges." "The people of Iraq know better than anyone else the enormous challenges that they face, and yesterday's turnout demonstrated to the world that they seek to pursue a more stable and peaceful future through the political process." Obama said the election would serve to "unite the country through the formation of a new government that is supported by all Iraqi communities and that is prepared to advance tangible and implementable programs." Initial election commission figures said nearly 60 percent of Iraq's 20 million eligible voters cast ballots.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio could announce a deal as early as Thursday to settle a years-old labor dispute with city teachers who have been seeking retroactive pay worth up to $3.5 billion, according to a report in the New York Times. The report, which cites 'an official involved in the talks', said the 9-year contract will include retroactive pay of about 8 percent of wages going back to 2009 and raises of up to two percent in subsequent years, as well as healthcare savings for the city.
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Ethiopia on Thursday to allow greater freedoms for civil society and journalists, expressing concern for a group of bloggers and journalists arrested last week. "They need to create greater opportunities for citizens to be able to engage with their fellow citizens and with their government by opening up more space for civil society," Kerry told reporters. Rights group accuse Ethiopia of having one of the most closed press environments in the world. Washington is one of Ethiopia's largest donors, and Kerry urged Addis Ababa to support a free press as an essential precursor to a legitimate democracy.
The Pentagon is expected to announce a 50 jump in sexual assault reports on Thursday when it releases its annual study of the problem amid continuing revelations of questionable behavior by military officers responsible for dealing with the issue. The annual study was expected to show a 50 percent jump to about 5,000 reports of sexual assault in the military in the 2013 fiscal year that ended on September 30, congressional aides said, a figure in line with preliminary numbers released by the Pentagon in December. By comparison, the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office said 3,374 cases of sexual assault were reported in the 2012 fiscal year. Sexual assault is a hugely underreported crime, and a separate military survey conducted in 2012 concluded there were some 26,000 sex crimes in the military that year, from rape to abusive sexual contact.