Nation briefs 4/26/06

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tony Snow in lead to be White House spokesman

WASHINGTON -- Fox News commentator Tony Snow is the front-runner to become White House press secretary and a decision on his appointment is near, Republicans close to the White House said Tuesday. Snow has told associates he would like to take the job and he has had serious discussions with White House officials, the Republicans said on condition of anonymity because of President Bush's dislike of news leaks. As a conservative columnist and commentator, Snow has been sharply critical of Bush and Republicans in Congress at times.

Sales of existing homes up 0.3 percent in March

WASHINGTON -- Sales of previously owned homes edged up in March, but the backlog of unsold homes still hit a record high, raising concerns that the once-booming housing market could be in for a rougher landing than expected. The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that sales of existing homes advanced by a tiny 0.3 percent in March compared with February, rising to a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 6.92 million units. The March increase followed a bigger 5.1 percent jump in February, which had been boosted by milder than normal weather this winter.

NASA: 2011 earliest target date for new ship

WASHINGTON -- A new spaceship could be ready to replace the nation's aging shuttle fleet by 2011 -- three years ahead of schedule -- if lawmakers added money to NASA's proposed budget, the head of the space agency told a congressional panel on Tuesday. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said that date is the earliest the new spaceship, or crew exploration vehicle, could be developed no matter how much money the agency received. Currently, the target date for building a new vehicle is 2014.

Port workers to undergo background checks

WASHINGTON -- Seaport workers will undergo background checks for links to terrorism and to ensure they are legal U.S. residents, the Bush administration said Tuesday. The announcement came after months of scathing criticism about security gaps at the nation's ports. The heightened scrutiny drew praise from some lawmakers and port associations that said the checks were long overdue. Others jeered the security measures as either too weak or too invasive of workers' privacy rights. Names of employees who work in the most sensitive areas of ports will be matched against government terror watch lists and immigration databases, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

Airlines: Plan to track disease too expensive

WASHINGTON -- Concerned about bird flu, federal health officials want airlines to collect personal information about domestic and international passengers to help track a potential epidemic. Financially strapped airlines say creating such a database would impose staggering new costs. The CDC wants to be able to easily find, notify and recommend treatment to airline passengers who have been exposed to bird flu as well as such diseases as plague, dengue fever or SARS -- even if the travelers' symptoms don't appear while they're traveling. The CDC plan calls for airlines to ask passengers their full name and address, emergency contact numbers and flight information. Airlines would have to keep the data for 60 days and, if asked, transmit it to the CDC within 12 hours.

Mayors attend summit on illegal gun control

NEW YORK -- The mayors of more than a dozen U.S. cities gathered at a summit aimed at purging the streets of illegal guns, with organizers saying the federal government is not doing enough to stop the problem. The mayors -- from cities including Washington, Philadelphia, Dallas, Milwaukee and Seattle -- gathered to exchange ideas, consult with experts and promote law enforcement cooperation among their cities. They signed a resolution to combat gun violence, and Bloomberg said they hope to come back in greater numbers for a gathering later this year.

-- From wire reports

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