Washington Extra – Coy in California

January 30, 2012

California prides itself on setting trends for the nation. This week, it may be the state that bucks the trend if it decides to abstain from a multi-state and federal settlement with the big banks on mortgage abuses.

States must say by the end of this week whether they are in or out of the deal and California is very much in doubt. Attorney General Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is concerned the banks may get off too easily. Just last week, her people were calling the settlement “inadequate.”

But can she afford to walk away from more than $10 billion that homeowners could collect in her state, where the housing crisis has ravaged communities from Stockton to San Diego? And would she be able to get more for them if she went it alone?

It’s hard to say. But the other states are working hard to convince California to come along. And the Obama administration, in need of a victory on the housing front in this election year, wants that large, trend-setting state on the Left Coast to join. A deal for the nation isn’t so good (or national for that matter) without California.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

States to decide this week on mortgage deal

State and federal officials are close to a settlement with the largest banks over mortgage abuses, with states facing an end-of-the-week deadline to decide whether they will sign on, people close to the talks said. The final value of any settlement will depend on which states it includes, and could drop sharply if states like California, one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, do not join.

For more of this story by Aruna Viswanatha and Rick Rothacker, read here.

Gingrich stays on attack in Florida with one day left

Republican Newt Gingrich scrambled to revive his fading hopes in Florida, lashing out at Mitt Romney as a liberal party insider the day before the state’s crucial presidential primary. Polls showed Romney with a commanding lead in the state, where Gingrich’s attacks on the former head of a private equity firm as an elite friend of Wall Street have failed to make an impression with Republicans who cast ballots on Tuesday.

For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

Protesters in US capital defiant as deadline passes

Defiant anti-Wall Street protesters in Washington vowed to dig in as a midday deadline to remove their belongings from two camps passed without incident. In its first challenge to the demonstrators, U.S. National Park Service said last week it would enforce a ban against sleeping in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza. It ordered sleeping bags, pillows and other gear removed but said tents may remain as a protest symbol if flaps stayed open. Protesters at McPherson Square set up a huge tent off of a statue in the middle of the square – a makeshift “Tent of Dreams” to protest the order.

For more of this story by Lily Kuo and Ian Simpson, read here.

Democrats slam Tea Party ties in Oregon special election

An Oregon special election in which national Democrats have sought to paint the Republican congressional candidate as a Tea Party radical foreshadows a tactic the party will employ in its quest to take back Congress seats lost in the 2010 election. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent about $1.3 million in the race, half of it opposing Republican businessman Rob Cornilles in Tuesday’s election. Television advertising and a website run by the committee slam Cornilles for referring to himself as “the original Tea Party candidate” during a previous congressional run.

For more of this story by Emily Stephenson, read here.

Keystone XL bill gets 44 U.S. senators on board

A group of 44 senators, all but one Republican, have signed on to proposed legislation that would authorize the Keystone XL oil pipeline despite the refusal of President Obama to advance the project. Republican Senator John Hoeven’s bill, if passed into law, would allow work to begin immediately on all but the sensitive Nebraska portion of TransCanada’s $7 billion controversial project.

For more of this story by Roberta Rampton, read here.

Top US spies to face grilling on Taliban, Iran talks

The possible release of detained Taliban leaders is likely to join Iran’s nuclear ambitions at the top of a busy agenda when the top seven American intelligence chiefs testify before Congress this week. The hearings — before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and its House of Representatives counterpart on Thursday — are an annual ritual. But they offer a rare opportunity for legislators publicly to raise sensitive national security topics that are usually discussed only in secret briefings.

For more of this story by Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel, read here.

Obama says U.S., Georgia exploring free trade pact

President Obama said the United States and Georgia were exploring the possibility of a free trade agreement to expand commerce and strengthen trade relations. In a White House meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Obama said the two countries had agreed to start a dialogue that would look at various trading options “including the possibility of a free trade agreement.” He did not lay out a timetable for the process.

For more of this story by Jeff Mason, read here.

US Embassy shelters Americans amid Egypt NGO crackdown

Several American citizens have taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo amid a sharpening dispute between Washington and Egypt over U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups in the country, the State Department said. “We can confirm that a handful of U.S. citizens have opted to stay in the embassy compound in Cairo while waiting for permission to depart Egypt,” State Department spokeswoman Kate Starr said.

For more of this story by Andrew Quinn, read here.

From elsewhere…

Mormonism besieged by the modern age

A religious studies class late last year at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, was unusual for two reasons. The small group of students, faculty and faithful there to hear Mormon Elder Marlin Jensen were openly troubled about the future of their church, asking hard questions. Did the leaders know that members are “leaving in droves?” a woman asked. “We are aware,” said Jensen, according to a tape recording. These are tumultuous times for the faith founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, and the rumbling began even before church member Mitt Romney’s presidential bid put the Latter-Day Saints in the spotlight.

For more of this special report, read here.

For more stories from our Washington correspondents visit www.reuters.com and stay informed.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (Housing units for sale in San Francisco in Aug. 2010); REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (Occupy DC demonstrators in Washington’s McPherson Square); REUTERS/Larry Downing (Obama; Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili)

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/