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Aug. 6, 2009 at 10:00 PM
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U.S. Senate votes to confirm Sotomayor

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate voted 68-31 Thursday to confirm federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats and Republicans were divided in their opinions on Sotomayor's qualifications to join the nation's highest bench. Democrats praised her as a fair and impartial jurist with a sharp judicial mind while Republicans said they feared she would be a judicial activist intent on making law instead of applying law.

During Wednesday's floor speeches, Republicans Kit Bond of Missouri and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said they would vote to confirm Sotomayor. They joined Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine; Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mel Martinez of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

A CNN poll released Thursday indicated a majority of Americans supported Sotomayor's nomination. The poll also showed a partisan divide like that in the Senate with three-quarters of Democrats and only one-quarter of Republicans saying she should be confirmed.

After the vote, President Barack Obama thanked the Judiciary Committee and the Senate for scrutinizing Sotomayor's record and giving her a fair hearing.

"These core American ideals -- justice, equality and opportunity -- are the very ideals that have made Judge Sotomayor's own uniquely American journey possible," he said.

Senate approves 'cash for clunkers' bill

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Thursday approved spending another $2 billion to extend the "cash for clunkers" program.

President Barack Obama praised the 60-37 vote to keep the program going through Labor Day, saying consumers will be able to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles, " and the American economy will continue to get a much-needed boost."

"Businesses across the country -- from small auto dealerships and suppliers to large auto manufacturers -- are putting people back to work as a result of this program," Obama said in a statement released by the White House Thursday night.

The House had already approved the extension for the program, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, after it nearly ran out of its first $1 billion in a week.

Obama said transactions already completed under cash for clunkers have increased fuel economy by more than 50 percent and will save purchasers $700 to $1,000 a year in gas costs.

The Department of Transportation reported Wednesday the Toyota Corolla has replaced the Ford Focus as the No. 1 choice of program participants, who get rebates of up to $4,500 for trade-ins to purchase new cars with improved fuel efficiency.

Five of the top six sellers are produced by foreign automakers, the Los Angeles Times said, though several of those models are made in the United States or Canada.

Big labor pushes back in healthcare fray

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- Big labor jumped into the healthcare fray Thursday, calling on union members to counter "far-right and corporate-backed" opponents of reform.

"In the past several days, loud, shouting and rowdy mobs have been disrupting congressional town hall meetings across the country," the AFL-CIO said in a message to members. "They're organized by far-right and corporate backed anti-healthcare reform and anti-government groups."

John Sweeney, the AFL-CIO president, urged members to attend the town hall meetings and other gatherings on healthcare.

In a union memo first reported in the Huffington Post, Sweeney said the "principal battleground" will be such meetings.

"We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing 'Tea-Party Patriots' who will try to disrupt those meetings," he wrote.

Sweeney said the healthcare overhaul Obama envisions would reduce healthcare costs, "outlaw insurance company abuses" and offer patients a public health insurance option.

The Service Employees International Union, the nation's largest union of healthcare employees, also urged members to attend the town hall meetings and engage in "civil discourse."

The SEIU said it supports reform that would give families the "peace of mind" of knowing they will have insurance and that it will not be taken away if they switch jobs, lose jobs or get sick.

"That's why health insurance reform is essential," the union said.

U.S.: 'Strong indication' Mehsud dead

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. officials believe there is a "strong indication" Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a CIA drone strike, ABC News reported.

"Efforts are under way to determine for certain whether it was Mehsud, but there are hopes that it is him," an unnamed Obama administration official told the network.

"There is a strong indication" Mehsud was killed, the official said.

A Pakistani official told ABC officials are awaiting DNA tests to confirm reports of Mehsud's death.

The drone missile attack Wednesday on the home of one of Mehsud's fathers-in-law is believed to have killed three others as well, including Mehsud's second wife, ABC said.

Witnesses said Taliban and local residents pulled the woman's body from the debris, the BBC reported Wednesday.

The campaign against Mehsud, seen as an al-Qaida ally, has targeted the tribal Waziristan area close to the border with Afghanistan. Mehsud is accused of being responsible for suicide bombings and other attacks in the country.

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