National briefs: Dems assail Issa's authority

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WASHINGTON -- The war between Democrats and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the controversial chairman of the House Oversight Committee, took on a new intensity Thursday when some Democratic lawmakers called for him to be stripped of his committee chairmanship.

"Mr. Issa is a disgrace and should not be allowed to continue in a leadership role," wrote Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, in a strongly worded letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The uproar followed a clash between Mr. Issa and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., on Wednesday, when Mr. Issa abruptly ended a hearing on the Internal Revenue Service's scrutiny of applications from nonprofit groups active in politics without allowing Democrats to speak and cut off Mr. Cummings' microphone while he was speaking.

Abortion clinics close

AUSTIN, Texas -- The last abortion clinic in the vast, impoverished Rio Grande Valley closed Thursday, along with the sole remaining clinic in the 100-mile stretch between Houston and the Louisiana border, posing a tall obstacle to women seeking to end pregnancies across a wide swath of the nation's second-largest state.

The closures in McAllen and Beaumont bring to 19 the number of clinics that have shut down since Texas lawmakers adopted tough new abortion restrictions last summer.

Teens, e-cigarettes

NEW YORK -- Middle and high school students who used electronic cigarettes were more likely to smoke real cigarettes and less likely to quit than students who did not use the devices, a new study has found.

They were also more likely to smoke heavily. But experts are divided about what the findings mean.

The study's lead author, Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has been critical of the devices, said the results suggested that e-cigarettes, whose use is growing rapidly among youth and adults, were leading to less quitting, not more.

The study was published online Thursday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Barbie/Scouts tie assailed

NEW YORK -- America's top doll, Barbie, finds herself in controversy over a business partnership between her manufacturer, Mattel, and the Girl Scouts.

On Thursday, two consumer advocacy groups -- the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream -- criticized Barbie as a flawed role model for younger girls and launched a petition drive urging the Girl Scouts of the USA to end the partnership. The Girls Scouts said they would not do so.

Also in the nation ...

The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, delivered the opening invocation in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, praying "to Buddha and all" and suggesting that purity of thought will guide humanity's actions. ... A fast-moving fire killed four people Thursday in New Jersey's second-largest city, Jersey City, where the mayor said a mix-up over the street name delayed the emergency response. ... An El Nino watch was issued Thursday by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, warning of the possible development of the weather-altering event that can bring rain to California and South America and raise winter temperatures in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest.

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