USA

Four Senate leaders left a meeting with President Bush saying they'd warned him of a far more contentious confirmation fight for his next Supreme Court nominee than for John Roberts Jr., his choice to become chief justice. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said "a lot of frustration" was "bubbling just below the surface" among his colleagues because of Roberts' refusal to declare how he'd vote on cases that could come before the court. Minority leader Harry Reid (D), who indicated he'll vote against confirming Roberts, said he and the other senators had given Bush the names of potential nominees they view as problematic should any be chosen to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor.

Hurricane Rita strengthened again, to Category 4 status, as it blew past the Florida Keys. It was expected to hit Texas late Friday or early Saturday. One forecasting service said it had the potential to become a Category 5, with winds of about 150 m.p.h., and was "fast becoming a serious threat to the Texas coast." In New Orleans, engineers and contractors scrambled to complete repairs to the city's levees and pumps, which could be overwhelmed by as little as three more inches of rain. Because Rita's unpredictable path made that a possibility, a new evacuation order was issued for the estimated 400 to 500 residents remaining in the city.

Despite the effects on the economy of hurricane Katrina, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the 11th straight time by a quarter-percent Tuesday, convincing analysts that still more hikes lie ahead. Chairman Alan Greenspan said the rate-setting Open Market Committee did not believe the destruction caused by Katrina would be a "persistent threat" to any but the energy sector. The new hike brings the rate on overnight loans between banks to 3.75 percent, the highest in more than four years.

The Defense Department blocked a military intelligence officer and a civilian contractor from telling a Senate committee what they know about the work of a secret unit that identified four Al Qaeda hijackers more than a year before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Members of the presidential commission that investigated the attacks have disputed the significance of the unit's findings, which were not discussed in their final report.

The New York Times Co. announced 500 more layoffs over the next nine months - its second major round of downsizing since May. Two Philadelphia newspapers, the Inquirer and the Daily News, also said they'll cut a combined 100 jobs. The layoffs were announced at a challenging time for an industry trying to deal with slow advertising growth and long-term declines in circulation, which partly stem from rising public interest in online news sources.

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