News In Brief

Ignoring his impeachment trial, President Clinton laid out an ambitious national agenda in his State of the Union address. The president's job-approval ratings rose after the speech - to 66 percent in an ABC News poll, from 63 percent a week earlier. In a CBS News survey, the approval rating hit 72 percent, up from 67 percent. The president enjoyed similar gains after his 1998 address.

The president left Washington for campaign-style appearances in Buffalo, N.Y., and suburban Philadelphia in an apparent effort to show he's focusing on other business as his impeachment defense continues in the Senate. The president was to "road test" education, Social Security, and other initiatives outlined in his State of the Union message.

White House lawyers are expected to finish their impeachment defense of the president today. Tomorrow and Saturday were set aside for senators to ask questions of the two teams of attorneys, although queries will be transmitted through the presiding judge, Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Havana may be easing controls that prevent Cubans from leaving the island, US Border Patrol officials in Florida said. They made the comments while reporting that 83 Cuban refugees had come ashore in south Florida over the extended holiday weekend - apparently the busiest period so far for a network of smugglers bringing aliens - including Haitian refugees - to the US. The State Department said it has no evidence of any change in Cuban policy.

Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, praised the "sparkling" performance of the US economy, but warned that fragile financial markets and a drop in exports pose risks to its eight-year expansion. In testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, the Fed chief sounded a cautious note on near-record US stock prices, saying they may be difficult to sustain because of weaker corporate profits. He also said he would not support investing Social Security funds in the stock market, as Clinton proposed in his State of the Union speech.

The Justice Department is planning a lawsuit against tobacco companies to recover federal costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, Clinton said in what may have been the biggest surprise of the State of the Union message. He did not specify how much the US would seek from the firms, but said funds recovered would be used to bolster Medicare.

Republicans should resign from the Council of Conservative Citizens because "it appears that this group does hold racist views," Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), said. He appealed directly to Buddy Witherspoon, an RNC member from South Carolina, to quit the group. But Witherspoon refused, insisting that its South Carolina chapter holds no racist views. The St. Louis-based council has become an embarrassment for Republicans since reports surfaced that Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia had spoken at its meetings. Both have since distanced themselves from the group.

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