Sebelius: health care website needed couple of hundred fixes when repair effort began

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans blistered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday over the nation’s controversial health care law, bluntly challenging her honesty, pushing for her resignation and demanding unsuccessfully she concede that President Barack Obama deliberately misled the public about his signature domestic program.

"We’re not in it to just give you a rough time. We’re in it to try and hopefully get it right," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, at a hearing where Republicans -- all of whom had voted against "Obamacare" -- focused on the program’s flawed sign-up website as well as costs, policy cancellations, security concerns and other issues.

During two hours in the Senate Finance Committee witness chair, Sebelius parried some thrusts and listened impassively to others. Treated more gently by Democrats than Republicans, she said at one point: "Clearly the opposition is still quite ferocious, and I’m just hoping that people understand what their options are, what their benefits could be and what their opportunities are."

She offered few if any concessions about a program she pointedly observed "passed both houses of Congress, was signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court."

Nor did she provide much in the way of new information about the launch of a website that she has conceded was deeply flawed.


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She disclosed that the so-called punch list for repairs had included "a couple of hundred functional fixes" at the time the administration launched its urgent rescue mission last month.

Obama meets with Senate Dems up for re-election to discuss health care rollout problems

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama met Wednesday with Senate Democrats facing re-election next year to discuss the problem-plagued health care rollout that could affect their races.

The White House confirmed Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with 16 senators to describe fixes that are being made to the website for Americans to sign up for insurance under his signature health care law.

One attendee, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, said Obama "didn’t hesitate to accept responsibility for the issues that have slowed the law’s implementation and laid out the White House’s strategy for fixing them."

Another Democrat, Sen. Mark Pryor, said he told Obama and Biden to "fix the website immediately," address problems with the law and hold accountable those at fault for the mistakes.

"I won’t let up until these problems are fixed," said Pryor, who faces a difficult re-election next year in conservative-leaning Arkansas.

New Jersey, Virginia elections offer
lessons for 2014,
but parties dig in

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As partisanship renders Washington largely dysfunctional, voters in two states signaled this week that they want consensus-building even when there’s divided government.

Even so, heading into a 2014 midterm election year, Tuesday’s results in New Jersey and Virginia carry plenty of warning signs for both parties that despite the voter angst, hyper-partisanship still is likely to rule, especially on debates over the budget and health care.

In reliably Democratic New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie easily won a second term with support from voters who aligned with President Barack Obama last November. Those same voters kept Democrats in charge of the New Jersey Legislature, even as they gave the popular governor a boost as he considers running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

In Virginia, one of the nation’s most competitive states, longtime Democratic Party power broker Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Attorney General Bob Cuccinelli by a narrow margin for governor, but Republicans retained control of the House of Delegates. The state Senate remains up for grabs in a coming special election.

McAuliffe and Christie each embraced the notion of bipartisanship in their victory. But exit polls and immediate reactions from national party players -- including tea party activists -- suggest that Republicans and Democrats are likely to remain entrenched in their partisan positions.

Report: Swiss scientists find possible evidence that Palestinian leader Arafat was poisoned

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Swiss scientists have found evidence suggesting Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned with a radioactive substance, a TV station reported Wednesday, prompting new allegations by his widow that the Palestinian leader was the victim of a "shocking" crime.

Palestinian officials have long accused Israel of poisoning Arafat, a claim Israel has denied. Arafat died under mysterious circumstances at a French military hospital in 2004, a month after falling ill at his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound.

The findings reported Wednesday appear to be the most significant so far in an investigation into Arafat’s death initiated by his widow, Suha, and the satellite TV station Al-Jazeera.

Last year, Switzerland’s Institute of Radiation Physics discovered traces of polonium-210, a deadly radioactive isotope, on some of Arafat’s belongings. Soil and bone samples were subsequently taken from Arafat’s grave in the West Bank.

On Wednesday, the TV station published the Swiss team’s 108-page report on the soil and bone samples. The results "moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210," the report said.

New DNA evidence at Knox murder trial fails to prove that kitchen knife was murder weapon

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) -- U.S. student Amanda Knox’s defense got a boost on Wednesday when a new DNA test on a kitchen knife failed to conclusively prove that it was the murder weapon used to kill her British roommate.

An expert witness testified that the minuscule DNA trace on the knife handle near the blade showed ‘’considerable affinity" with Knox’s own DNA.

That confirmed what was already known from two previous trials: that Knox’s DNA was on the knife handle, identified through another trace.

No DNA belonging to the slain British student, Meredith Kercher, was identified. Previous genetic evidence on the blade linked to Kercher had been contested at earlier stages.

Outside the court, Knox defense lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova told The Associated Press that the testimony confirms his contention that the knife was used by Knox solely for preparing food. "The report confirms that this is a kitchen knife. It is not a murder weapon," Dalla Vedova said.

Burnout could threaten Twitter prosperity if members with big followings abandon service

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- They loved it. Now they hate it.

A growing number of celebrities, athletes and self-promoters are burnt out and signing off of Twitter. Many have gotten overwhelmed.

Some people built big audiences on the short messaging service only to have their followers turn against them. Others complain that tweets that once drew lots of attention now get lost in the noise.

As Twitter Inc. prepares to go public this week, the company is selling potential investors on the idea that its user base of 232 million will continue to grow along with the 500 million tweets that are sent each day. The company’s revenue depends on ads it inserts into the stream of messages.

But Wall Street could lose its big bet on social media if prolific tweeters lose their voice.

Navy nominee ensnared in Senate fight over military policy to deal with sexual assaults

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s nominee for a top civilian job in the Navy is in the crosshairs of female senators determined to overhaul the military justice system to stanch the increasing number of sexual assaults.

Jo Ann Rooney, tapped to be undersecretary of the Navy, responded to a Senate panel last month and offered her opinion on a proposal to remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would rest instead with seasoned trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and hold the rank of colonel or above.

"A judge advocate outside the chain of command will be looking at a case through a different lens than a military commander," Rooney said. "I believe the impact would be decisions based on evidence rather than the interest in preserving good order and discipline."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., chief proponent of that far-reaching change, was furious and is blocking Rooney’s nomination.

"The United States legal system is based on evidence, justice and due process. Why isn’t this good enough for our service members who risk everything to protect those freedoms?" Gillibrand said, adding, "Jo Ann Rooney’s testimony should send chills down the spine of any member of the armed services seeking justice."