WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that there is a “profound recognition” in the country that gays must be treated like every other American. Yet days after New York state legalized same-sex marriage, the president refused to endorse such unions himself.
Obama praised the New York decision as “a good thing,” saying that “what you saw was the people of New York having a debate, talking through these issues. It was contentious, it was emotional, but ultimately, they made a decision to recognize civil marriages. And I think that’s exactly how things should work.”
The president also uttered forceful words in support of gay equality, but without advancing his own position — which he’s described as “evolving” — in support of civil unions but not gay marriage.
“I’ll keep on giving you the same answer until I give you a different one. All right? And that won’t be today,” Obama said when pressed on his views at a White House news conference.
Obama defended his record on gay rights, pointing to decisions including repealing a ban on gays serving openly in the military and instructing the Justice Department to stop defending in court a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. He said he’s already done more than the previous 43 presidents combined.
“I think what you’re seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins, our friends, our co-workers, and that they’ve got to be treated like every other American. And I think that principle will win out,” Obama said.
Senate votes to require fewer confirmations
WASHINGTON — The Senate took the rare step of curbing its own power Wednesday, voting to no longer require Senate confirmation for 169 high-level federal jobs filled through presidential appointments.
Most of those jobs are second-tier Cabinet positions such as assistant secretaries and deputy directors that typically don’t inspire partisan wrangling. Nonetheless, the nominees often hang in limbo — and the jobs go unfilled — for months because their confirmations get drawn into other fights.
The bill, passed 79-20 and sent to the House, is part of a broader bipartisan effort to make the famously fickle Senate work more efficiently.
“There is nothing wrong with the Senate doing a little prioritizing of pending business,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a co-sponsor of the legislation with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Critics said the bill only puts a bandage on the bigger problem of a mammoth government that should, itself, be trimmed.
“We’re moving to make it somewhat less accountable,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
The Constitution gives the Senate the power to confirm nominees. The bill would remove the confirmation requirement for 169 of some 1,200 senior executive branch jobs filled by presidential appointments. Candidates for the confirmation-exempted jobs would still have to go through the same time-consuming background checks and complete financial disclosures for the White House vetting process, but no longer have to repeat the drill for the Senate, according to officials of both parties.
Scientists monitor air as fire burns near NM lab
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — As crews fight to keep a New Mexico wildfire from reaching the nation’s premier nuclear-weapons laboratory and the surrounding community, scientists are busy sampling the air for chemicals and radiological materials.
Their effort includes dozens of fixed-air monitors on the ground, as well as a “flying laboratory” dispatched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The special twin-engine plane is outfitted with sensors that can collect detailed samples.
Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico requested the agency’s help early on in the monitoring effort near the Los Alamos National Laboratory. EPA officials said the flying lab was set to make its initial data-collection fight Wednesday, and state and federal officials have vowed to make findings from all the monitoring efforts public.
“I know people are concerned about what’s in the smoke,” Udall said. He noted that the state, the Los Alamos lab and the EPA were all looking closely at air quality “so we can assure the public” there will be multiple layers of oversight.
The blaze had grown to more than 108 square miles by Wednesday morning, but firefighters managed to hold the line along the nuclear lab’s southern boundary.
On its western edge, firefighters began targeted burns to rob fuel from the fire. Lab officials warned that people might see more smoke coming from the lab border, but they said there was no fire burning on the site as of mid-Wednesday.
Residents downwind have expressed concern about the potential of a radioactive smoke plume if the flames reach thousands of barrels of waste stored in above-ground tents at the lab.
France armed civilians besieged by Gadhafi forces
PARIS — France acknowledged Wednesday that it airlifted weapons to Libyan civilians fighting Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in a besieged mountain region south of Tripoli, becoming the first NATO country to do so in a major escalation in the international campaign.
The bold move was likely to draw criticism from countries leery of the allied use of force in Libya’s civil war — like China and Russia — and crossed a threshold in hopes of a breakthrough in the protracted NATO-led mission.
The deliveries of guns, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions took place in early June in the western Nafusa mountains, when Gadhafi’s troops had encircled civilians and his government refused a U.N request for a pause in the fighting there to allow access for a humanitarian aid shipment, French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard said.
After informing the United Nations, France dropped humanitarian aid including water, food and medical supplies to besieged civilians in the region, but the situation then deteriorated further, he said.
“So, France also dropped equipment that allowed them to defend themselves — self-defense assets — which is to say weapons and munitions,” Burkhard told The Associated Press.
The weapons were parachuted in by a military transport plane, he said. The impact of the airlifted weapons wasn’t immediately clear. But in recent days — since the delivery — rebels in the mountains claimed to have advanced to the town of Bir al-Ghanam, about 50 miles from Tripoli.
In Libya’s capital Wednesday, Gadhafi’s prime minister, Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, played down the reports of rebel mountain advances, saying “the situation in the western mountains is good, and it’s under control.”