After months of partisan wrangling, the Senate voted to create a homeland security department by an overwhelming 90-to-9. President Bush, who was traveling to a NATO summit in Europe at the time, telephoned Republican leaders to say he looks forward to signing "this important legislation." It authorizes the biggest federal reorganization in 50 years in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The department will have 170,000 employees from 22 different agencies, including the Secret Service, Coast Guard, and parts of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Before wrapping up the session, the Senate also OK'd a terrorism-insurance bill that would provide up to $90 billion to help carriers pay claims in the event of future attacks and consolidate related lawsuits in federal court. In addition, legislators passed a temporary spending measure to fund federal agencies through Jan. 11, and approved US District Judge Dennis Shedd, Bush's nominee for an appeals court post.

In the steepest decline since 1994, new housing construction fell 11.4 percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.6 million units, the Commerce Department reported. While analysts anticipated a slowdown from September's 16-year high, housing starts were weaker than expected.

The state of Texas executed Craig Ogan, the first of two death-row inmates whose capital sentences were scheduled to be carried out on consecutive days. Ogan, a former federal informant in a narcotics case, was convicted of killing a Houston police officer in 1989.

The 2004 presidential election is still far off, but Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut told CNN he'll "probably" seek the Democratic nomination - if former Vice President Gore decides not to enter the race. Lieberman was Gore's running mate in 2000.

Five polar bears seized by federal authorities in Puerto Rico were arriving at zoos in Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington state. A sixth died en route. They were confiscated two weeks ago from a Mexican circus following an 18-month campaign by animal-rights activists, who accuse the circus of failing to provide vital air conditioning in hot weather.

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