January 9th, 2013
07:28 PM ET

Hundreds of U.S. counties labled disaster areas due to drought

Citing drought and heat, the U.S. Agriculture Departmenton Wednesday designated 597 counties in 14 states as primary natural disaster areas.

"As drought persists, USDA will continue to partner with producers to see them through longer-term recovery, while taking the swift actions needed to help farmers and ranchers prepare their land and operations for the upcoming planting season," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Affected counties have suffered severe drought for eight consecutive weeks, which qualified them for the automatic designation. The designations make qualified farmers in the areas eligible for low-interest loans, the agency said.

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85 hurt in New York ferry crash
January 9th, 2013
06:32 PM ET

85 hurt in New York ferry crash

  • 85 people hurt in Wednesday morning ferry crash at lower Manhattan pier, two critically, authorities say
  • Ferry was carrying passengers from New Jersey to New York City's Pier 11 near Wall Street
  • Below are the latest updates as they come to us. You also can read our full story.

[Update 6:32 p.m. ET] Eighty-five people were injured in the crash, including people who were treated and released at the scene, according to Charles Rowe, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman.

Two people had been listed in critical condition, but now authorities are saying only one person's condition remains critical.

[Update 1:46 p.m. ET] Coast Guard records indicate that the same Seastreak ferry has been involved in prior crashes, including one in 2009 when the vessel slammed into a New Jersey dock and tore a 2- to 3-foot gash in the starboard bow of the vessel.

A year later, a collision with a dock pile punctured a hole in the port side of the same boat.

[Update 12:33 a.m. ET] Seastreak LLC, the company operating the ferry, has released a statement on its website. In part, it says that "our thoughts and prayers are with those that were injured."

"Seastreak LLC will work closely with the federal, state and local authorities to determine the cause of the accident," the statement says.

[Update 12:28 a.m. ET] Two of the 57 hurt passengers are critically injured, authorities say.

[Update 11:43 a.m. ET] U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, releases a statement saying that National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman assured him "that this serious accident will receive a full and thorough investigation."

“Ferry systems are crucial for New Jersey commuters, and the public must have every assurance that the ferries they ride are operating safely. I have every confidence in Chairman Hersman and the NTSB, and I know they will conduct a first-rate investigation so we can take steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

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Solis resigns from cabinet; Holder, others to stay
January 9th, 2013
05:19 PM ET

Solis resigns from cabinet; Holder, others to stay

We're learning a bit more about who is and isn't going to be in President Barack Obama's second-term cabinet.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis (pictured) has submitted her resignation, CNN learned Wednesday. She said in a letter to colleagues that she discussed the matter with her family over the holidays in California has "decided to begin a new future."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, meanwhile, will remain in the cabinet for now, a White House official tells CNN. It's unclear how long Holder will stay into a second term, but the official said he and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki are not expected to leave in the near future.

Obama's cabinet: Who's in, who's out?

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January 9th, 2013
02:10 PM ET

Baseball writers elect no one to Hall of Fame

For only the eighth time in their annual elections and the first time since 1996, baseball writers have elected no player to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 2013 ballot marked the first year of eligibility for several players who have been named in the probes of performance-enhancing drug use in the Major Leagues, including all-time home-run champ Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. Several of the voters said the results were a reflection of the sport's "steroid era."

Seven-time All-Star Craig Biggio came closest to induction, getting votes on 68.2% on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots. To get inducted into the Hall of Fame, players need votes on 75% of ballots.

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Judge to rule on whether theater shooting suspect should stand trial
January 9th, 2013
01:53 PM ET

Judge to rule on whether theater shooting suspect should stand trial

The judge overseeing the case against Colorado movie theater shooting suspect James Holmes will rule Friday whether the state has presented sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

The preliminary hearing for Holmes ended Wednesday after three days of testimony by police. "He didn't care who he killed," prosecutor Karen Pearson told the judge. "He intended to kill them all."

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Filed under: Crime • Justice
Court: Venezuela's Chavez will keep presidency, oath or not
Chavez salutes to an audience in Caracas in November 2011. Chavez has undergone cancer treatment in Cuba, beginning in 2011.
January 9th, 2013
12:24 PM ET

Court: Venezuela's Chavez will keep presidency, oath or not

Venezuela's ailing President Hugo Chavez will not lose his position even if he is not sworn in on Thursday for a new term, the country's Supreme Court said Wednesday, reaffirming the position of the government.

Chavez can be sworn in at a later date in front of the court, it said. It also ruled that he is on a permitted leave, and that there is not a permanent absence, which would have triggered new elections under the constitution.

Officials said yesterday that medical treatment in Cuba will keep Chavez from being sworn in for his new term this week. The 58-year-old Venezuelan president has been treated for cancer in Cuba for the past month.

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January 9th, 2013
11:26 AM ET

Wal-Mart now sold on gun-control summit

Retail giant Wal-Mart has had an apparent change of heart about attending a gun-control summit called by Vice President Joe Biden.

The company tells CNN's Christine Romans it plans to send representatives to the Thursday meeting at the White House. It had previously said its experts on gun control were unavailable to meet due to a scheduling conflict.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Crime • Gun violence • Joe Biden • Politics
Source: Obama to nominate Lew for treasury secretary
January 9th, 2013
11:19 AM ET

Source: Obama to nominate Lew for treasury secretary

President Barack Obama will nominate White House chief of staff Jack Lew to replace Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary, a source with knowledge of the nomination tells CNN.

The nomination is expected to be announced this week.

Obama’s cabinet: Who’s in, who’s out?

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Blanco first Hispanic poet to recite at inaugural
January 9th, 2013
10:02 AM ET

Blanco first Hispanic poet to recite at inaugural

Richard Blanco has been selected as the inaugural poet for the January 21 inauguration of President Barack Obama, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Wednesday.

"Blanco will be the youngest-ever inaugural poet and the first Hispanic or LGBT person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony," the committee said.

“I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second inaugural,” Obama said today, according to the committee's statement.

“His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers. Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity,” Obama added.

"I’m beside myself, bestowed with this great honor, brimming over with excitement, awe, and gratitude,” Blanco, 44, said in a statement.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Uncategorized
January 9th, 2013
07:33 AM ET

Wednesday's live events

President Obama will be inaugurated for a second term in office on Monday, January 21.  CNN.com Live is your home for all your inauguration coverage.

Today's programming highlights...

12:00 pm ET - Connecticut State of the State Address - Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy delivers his annual State of the State address to lawmakers.  Malloy is expected to discuss the Sandy Hook shootings and Hurricane Sandy, among other topics.  New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds his State of the State Address at 1:30 pm ET.

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Connecticut • New York • On CNN.com today • Politics • U.S.
Report: Armstrong tried to donate $250,000 to anti-doping agency
January 9th, 2013
01:16 AM ET

Report: Armstrong tried to donate $250,000 to anti-doping agency

A Lance Armstrong representative tried to make a donation of about $250,000 to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency before the agency launched the investigation that led to the cyclist being stripped of his Tour de France titles, the chief of the USADA told "60 Minutes Sports."

"I was stunned," Travis Tygart, the head of the anti-doping agency told "60 Minutes Sports" about the alleged 2004 offer. "It was a clear conflict of interest for USADA. We had no hesitation in rejecting that offer."

Armstrong or his representatives could not be reached for comment. Annie Skinner, a spokeswoman for the USADA, told CNN that Tygart's quotes, released by "60 Minutes Sports," were accurate.

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Filed under: Sports • U.S.
January 9th, 2013
12:25 AM ET

Vermont city takes step toward banning assault rifles

A resolution passed in the most populous city in Vermont could lead to a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

Burlington's City Council members voted 10-3 in favor of the resolution. City Councilor Norm Blais, a Democrat, said he was moved to sponsor the proposal after hearing what he called President Barack Obama's pleas to have a discussion about weapons in our country after the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.

Next, the resolution has to be presented in public hearings, voted on by the public and be approved by the state legislature before it becomes city law.

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Filed under: U.S.