News In Brief

Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R) was facing opposition within his own party over a plan for a truncated impeachment trial, as senators prepared for the convening today of the 106th Congress - and for a process that has not been tested in 130 years. Still unanswered were such questions as whether the Senate could censure President Clinton if he is not convicted, whether a censure measure could be written to satisfy both Republicans and Democrats, and whether Clinton should postpone his scheduled Jan. 19 State of the Union address to Congress.

Dennis Hastert of Illinois was expected to be elected Speaker of the House today. Hastert's surprise rise would follow Newt Gingrich's decision to resign in the wake of GOP election losses and the announcement last month by his expected successor, Robert Livingston, that he had had extramarital affairs and would not seek the speakership. Meanwhile, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller (D) said voters in Gingrich's former district will go to the polls Feb. 23 to choose a successor.

The administration has decided against a bipartisan review of its Cuba policy, State Department officials said. Instead of setting up a commission for that purpose, the department said it's recommending more people-to-people contacts between the US and Cuba, fewer restrictions on flights to the island and on sending money there, a direct-mail service with Cuba, and a system that would allow private Cuban entities to buy US food and agricultural products.

Professional basketball players were to meet today in New York to vote on the owners' latest contract offer, after the latter rejected the union's latest collective-bargaining proposal. Earlier, the players' association had refused to put the owner's offer to a vote by the players, but executive director Billy Hunter said the union now wanted to assure NBA owners of the players' resolve and opposition to the proposal. If the players reject it, the owners have threatened to cancel the remainder of the season tomorrow at a meeting of the league's board of governors.

Sen. Bob Smith (R) of New Hampshire became the first in his party to establish a presidential-campaign committee for 2000, signing papers with little fanfare for a long-shot bid. At the minimum, Smith - a staunch conservative - could complicate the presidential primary in his home state, which traditionally stages the first of the season. Vice President Al Gore quietly registered his campaign organization last week.

The Agriculture Department is about to settle with black farmers who claim it discriminates in the awarding of loans and subsidies, a spokesman for the farmers said. Depending on how many farmers qualify, the settlement could be as high as $375 million. The lawsuit was filed in 1997, shortly after the department admitted to disarray in its process of resolving discrimination complaints.

Some airports were still having weather problems, even though storms were no longer raging. For instance, Northwest Airlines canceled about 100 flights out of Detroit - where a foot of snow was on the ground - because its crews couldn't reach the airport.

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