National Briefs / Dems fearing health care flap

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WASHINGTON -- Already under fierce attack from Republicans over the new health care law, President Barack Obama now faces broad and mounting Democratic concerns that the troubled start of the insurance program will cut into the political benefit the party received from the government shutdown and cost Democratic candidates in next year's midterm elections.

Senate Democratic leaders summoned White House chief of staff Denis McDonough on Thursday along with the official most responsible for the troubled health insurance website, Marilyn Tavenner, and the person entrusted to fix it, Jeffrey Zients, for a closed-door venting session. That followed a meeting Monday between Vice President Joe Biden and worried House Democratic freshmen in the office of Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat.

Stop-and-frisk ruling

NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked a judge's ruling that found the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy discriminated against minorities, and it took the unusual step of removing her from the case, saying interviews she gave during the trial called her impartiality into question.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin will be on hold pending the outcome of an appeal by the city. But it may be a nonissue after next week's mayoral election: Democrat Bill de Blasio, who's leading in polls, has said he would drop objections to the ruling, which calls for major changes to the police tactic.

Wrestling mat death

MACON, Ga. -- A federal prosecutor said Thursday that he is conducting a formal review of facts and evidence in the death of a teenager whose body was found inside a rolled-up wrestling mat in his high school gym.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said that if he uncovers sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal civil rights investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson he will ask the FBI to conduct it.

The 17-year-old's body was found Jan. 11 stuck in an upright mat in the school gym after his parents reported him missing the night before. Lowndes County sheriff's investigators concluded the Johnson youth died in a freak accident, but his family insists that someone must have killed him.

Monument repairs

WASHINGTON -- The $15 million project to repair the Washington Monument from damage done by an earthquake two years ago is so far along that the decorative lights, which have been on nightly since July 8, will be turned off Monday, and the scaffolding will start coming down Nov. 12.

The external repairs are 80 percent finished, and the monument is on track to reopen by spring, the National Park Service said.


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