WASHINGTON -- A war-weary Congress generally backs President Barack Obama's outreach to Iran, but with tougher U.S. economic measures against Tehran on the way, the president's diplomatic task could get harder if he doesn't make quick progress.
Obama's phone call last week to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a groundbreaking conversation. It was the first contact in more than 30 years between the leaders of the two countries and an about-face from when Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, included Iran in his "axis of evil" with North Korea and Iraq.
The sentiment in Washington's political circles has changed, too.
Five years ago, Obama the presidential candidate was hit with criticism for suggesting talks with the Iranians without preconditions. Then during his re-election campaign, Obama was called weak on Iran.
Now, even leading Senate hawks, such as his 2008 opponent, John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have backed Obama's careful engagement effort. They say it is worth testing Iran's seriousness even if they're skeptical about Rouhani's new course of moderation and disdainful of Tehran's human rights record and alleged support for terrorism.
The debate essentially has shifted away from whether it's worth talking to Iran to debating the details of engaging Iran, which claims it is not seeking nuclear weapons.
Lawmakers still get a check: There's at least one constant in a government shutdown: The 532 members of Congress continue to be paid -- at a cost of $10,583.85 per hour to taxpayers. Lawmakers get their pay even as hundreds of congressional staffers are sent home, packs of tourists are turned away at the Capitol, and constituent services in many offices grind to a halt. House members and senators can't withhold their own pay even if they want to. Under the Constitution's 27th Amendment, lawmakers can only change the pay of those in a future Congress, not the one in which they serve. Lawmakers aren't oblivious to how it looks. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and others are pledging to donate their salaries to charity during the shutdown.
Debt tools are being used: Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says that he has now begun using all the extraordinary measures at his disposal to avoid hitting the debt ceiling. In a letter to congressional leaders late Tuesday, Lew said that he started to use the final three bookkeeping tools available to provide borrowing room for paying the nation's bills. Lew said that there are no other "legal and prudent" options for extending the borrowing authority. Lew said that his assessment of the date he will run out of maneuvering room had not changed from last week. Lew told Congress on Sept. 25 that the extraordinary measures would be exhausted no later than Oct. 17 and at that time the government would have about $30 billion in cash on hand.
Energy regulator nominee withdraws: Ron Binz, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the nation's top energy regulator withdrew Tuesday, conceding he did not have enough support for confirmation. Binz, a former Colorado energy regulator who strongly backs renewable energy, was opposed by at least half of the 22-member Senate Energy Committee, including all 10 Republicans and at least one Democrat. Opponents said they considered Binz's views to be outside the mainstream and were troubled by his comment that natural gas may be a "dead end" fuel. Republicans said they were concerned that Binz was not truthful when he assured them that he was not part of a coordinated effort by a green-energy group and a Washington lobbying firm to boost his nomination to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Weddings may have to be postponed: About two dozen couples who were planning to get married at memorials on the National Mall this month may have to make other plans because of the government shutdown. National Park Service spokesman Carol Johnson said Tuesday that 24 weddings have been scheduled throughout October, including nine this week. Weddings are held at such sites as the Jefferson Memorial and the D.C. War Memorial honoring World War I veterans. The weddings were scheduled with permits in advance but are now postponed indefinitely. Johnson said the couples can reschedule once the government reopens.
Campbell selling European business: Campbell Soup Co. is selling its European simple meals business to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for 400 million euros ($542 million). The deal includes Campbell's national brands of soups, sauces and simple meals, including Liebig and Royco in France, Erasco in Germany, Blå Band in Sweden and Devos Lemmens and Royco in Belgium. It also includes four plants in Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden. The businesses included in the deal had annual sales of approximately $530 million in the fiscal year that ended in July.
Nearly 1,000 Iraqis killed in September: Sectarian bloodshed has surged to levels not seen in Iraq since 2008. More than 5,000 people have been killed since April, when a deadly government raid on a Sunni protest camp unleashed a new round of violence that showed al-Qaida in Iraq is still strong despite years of U.S.-Iraqi offensives against the terror group. At least 979 people -- 887 civilians and 92 soldiers and national policemen -- were killed in September, a 22 percent increase from the previous month, the UN mission in Iraq said Tuesday. Baghdad was hit hardest, with 418 violent deaths. The UN also reported that 2,133 people were wounded nationwide in the relentless car bombings, suicide attacks and shootings. The spike reversed a brief decline to 804 in August after the death toll reached 1,057 in July, the highest since June 2008 when 975 people were killed.