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Oct. 4, 2011 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

Obama challenges Cantor on jobs bill

DALLAS, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama, speaking to a Texas audience Tuesday, openly challenged Republicans to explain what they don't like about his jobs bill.

The president is pushing hard for his American Jobs Act, but on the flight to Dallas, his spokesman acknowledged Obama would be open to signing parts of the legislation rather than the whole thing.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the president wants to see a vote on the whole act, but has said he will then sign provisions "piece by piece" if that's how it comes to him.

In prepared remarks on the jobs legislation in Mesquite, the home of Eastfield College near Dallas, Obama said, "Yesterday, the Republican majority leader in Congress, Eric Cantor, said that right now he won't even let the jobs bill have a vote in the House of Representatives. He won't even give it a vote.

"Well I'd like Mr. Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what in this jobs bill he doesn't believe in," the president said in the remarks supplied by the White House. "Does he not believe in rebuilding America's roads and bridges? Does he not believe in tax breaks for small businesses, or efforts to help veterans?"

Part of Obama's jobs plan would rehire unemployed educators, like Kimberly Russell, the laid-off social studies teacher who was scheduled to introduce him on stage when he speaks in Dallas.

"Mr. Cantor should come down to Dallas, look Kim Russell in the eye, and tell her why she doesn't deserve to get a paycheck again," Obama said. "Come tell her students why they don't deserve to have their teacher back."

The president said Cantor, R-Va., should also explain his position to Dallas construction workers and small business owners "why you'd rather defend tax breaks for millionaires than tax cuts for the middle-class. And if you won't do that, at least put this jobs bill up for a vote so that the entire country knows exactly where every member of Congress stands."

Later Tuesday, Obama was scheduled to speak at two campaign events at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas.

He was also scheduled to fly to St. Louis for campaign events at the Renaissance Hotel and a private residence before returning to Washington.


It's official: Chris Christie not running

TRENTON, N.J., Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday he has decided against running for president, citing his commitment to serving New Jersey.

"Now is not my time" Christie said. "I have a commitment to New Jersey that I simply will not abandon."

Christie's announcement ended rampant speculation and dashed the hopes of Republican strategists and donors who tried to persuade him to run because they're dissatisfied with the GOP field.

"In the end, what I've always felt was the right decision was the right decision today," he said, The Miami Herald reported.

"New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you're stuck with me."

Two people familiar with the matter said one assurance he wasn't interested had come as a pledge Christie made to Meg Whitman, the newly appointed Hewlett-Packard chief executive officer, during a recent trip to California, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The sources said Christie said he wouldn't enter the GOP presidential race as a condition of Whitman's hosting a fundraiser for him on behalf of the New Jersey Republican Party. Christie visited three states last week to raise money for his state's GOP.

Whitman supports GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney. She and Christie became friends in 2010 during her unsuccessful bid to become California's governor, which she lost to Democrat Jerry Brown.

The first-term New Jersey governor mulled a possible presidential run for months even while saying he doesn't consider himself ready and would complete his work as governor. In recent weeks, however, under pressure from GOP activists and rich donors to join the field of candidates, Christie signaled he was reconsidering.


U.S. foreign aid likely to decline

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. State Department officials acknowledged a smaller budget is probable and the country's influence abroad likely will decline.

"We're going to have to do more with less -- or less with less, depending on how you look at it," said Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week, "There is a democratic awakening in places that have never dreamed of democracy, and it is unfortunate that it's happening at a historic time when our own government is facing so many serious economic challenges, because there's no way to have a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa."

With foreign aid amounting to 1 percent of the country's budget, slashing the State Department's budget would have a disproportional impact on the department, a point that is all the more valid overseas, one observer said.

"The amount of money the U.S. has or doesn't have doesn't really rise or fall on the foreign aid budget. The budget impact is negligible," said Jeremy Konyndyk, director of policy for Mercy Corps, which advocates for foreign aid.

However, "The impact around the world is enormous," Konyndyk said.

President Obama has penciled in $59 billion for the department for the year, but both the Senate and House budget plans cut that sharply.

The House appropriations subcommittee proposed a 20 percent reduction to $47 billion. The Senate proposes a cut to $53 billion.


Jury selection begins for underwear bomber

DETROIT, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Jury selection began Tuesday for the trial of accused "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly tried to blow up a plane over Michigan.

Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national who came to court wearing a large white T-shirt, was given an opportunity to change his clothes and finally agreed, The Detroit News reported. The newspaper said U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds made comments suggesting the defendant wanted to wear a belt from Yemen with a dagger during the trial.

"I'd like to invite you again to take an opportunity to put on a shirt with a collar that buttons, that would look more presentable for court," Edmunds said.

The judge has scheduled three days for jury selection with opening statements and testimony scheduled to begin next Tuesday. The trial is expected to last about a month.

Each potential juror was brought into the courtroom alone and questioned individually, the Detroit Free Press said.

At least one woman who said she believes Abdulmutallab is guilty was placed on the panel because she said she believes in the legal system and would listen to the evidence.

During the trial, jurors will see a replica of the bomb Abdulmutallab allegedly used during his foiled attempt on a London-Detroit flight on Christmas Day 2009. Jurors also will see a video demonstration of the bomb being detonated, which Abdulmutallab tried to keep out of the trial, arguing it was "very speculative," the Free Press said.

Experts told The Detroit News prosecutors seem to have a strong case against Abdulmutallab because of the forensic evidence, witness testimony and incriminating statements by Abdulmutallab.

"I'm not sure what else you could do to strengthen the government's case," said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and former federal prosecutor. "Is it a slam dunk? No trial is a slam dunk, but the government certainly has powerful evidence."

Abdulmutallab could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted of charges that include attempted murder, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to commit terrorism. His bomb failed to detonate and some of the plane's passengers and crew subdued him and doused the flames.


Somali pirate given two life sentences

NORFOLK, Va., Oct. 4 (UPI) -- A Somali pirate leader has been sentenced in a Virginia court to two life prison terms for his part in the attack on a yacht that left four Americans dead.

U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis gave Mohamud Salad Ali two life terms to run concurrently, the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported Tuesday.

Ali was one of the organizers of a pirate group that seized the American yacht Quest 900 miles off the coast of Somalia last February.

He was one of two pirates who boarded a Navy ship in an attempt to negotiate a ransom, but the Americans were killed as the negotiations failed and Navy SEALS attempted to board the yacht.

On Monday, Davis sentenced two other pirates, Mahdi Jama Mohamed and Muhidin Salad Omar, to life imprisonment.

Davis said he considered a sentence of life in prison "a just sentence."

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