Storm aid passes — Under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey, Congress adopted legislation Friday that would provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The measure — passed 354-67, and on its way to the president — is the first, and least controversial, portion of a much larger aid package sought by the affected states to help homeowners and local governments recover costs associated with the storm. The House has pledged to take up the rest of the aid package on Jan. 15.
Giffords in Newtown — Nearly two years after being critically wounded in a mass shooting, former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Friday met with families of victims in last month’s shooting that left 26 people dead inside a Connecticut elementary school. Giffords was accompanied by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at the private meeting in Newtown. Giffords, who was left partially blind, with a paralyzed right arm and a brain injury when a gunman opened fire at a Tucson meet-and-greet in 2011, issued no statement.
Obama wins, officially — Congress made the obvious official on Friday: President Barack Obama has been re-elected. In a joint session, Congress formally certified that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were the winners in the November election with 332 electoral votes. The electoral count is constitutionally necessary, though 2013’s low-key session was in sharp contrast to the drama in 2001, when Vice President Al Gore, the loser in the disputed election, presided over the certification of an electoral count that gave the presidency to his rival.
Sen. Barney Frank? — The day after his 32-year term in the House ended, Frank, D-Mass., said Friday morning that he would like to be appointed as an interim senator to fill John Kerry’s seat until a special election later this year.He said he would not run for election. It is up to Gov. Deval Patrick to name someone to fill the vacancy created by Kerry’s nomination to be secretary of state.
Senator’s DUI — Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, pleaded guilty Friday to a charge of driving while intoxicated outside of D.C. Crapo pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and was ordered to pay a $250 fine and complete an alcohol safety program.
Palestinian rally — Tens of thousands of Fatah supporters rallied in the Hamas stronghold of Gaza on Friday for the first time since they were routed from power in the territory by the Islamist militants in 2007. The rally, approved by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, marks a renewed attempt by the rival Palestinian factions to show unity following a fierce Hamas battle with Israel in November and Fatah’s subsequent recognition bid at the United Nations.
Malala discharged — Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head three months ago by the Taliban for advocating the education of girls, has been discharged from a British hospital. Doctors said she had made “excellent progress" and would be staying with her family nearby before returning for further surgery to rebuild her skull in about four weeks. She was shot Oct. 9.
Gay bishops — The Church of England said Friday that gay clergymen in civil partnerships could become bishops as long as they vowed to remain celibate. The issue has caused furious divisions within the worldwide Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church in the U.S., which already allows gay clergy members, as well as female bishops. In the Anglican church, women still cannot become bishops.
Ivory seizure — Customs officials in Hong Kong announced Friday their third large seizure of smuggled ivory in less than three months, saying they had intercepted 779 elephant tusks weighing 2,900 pounds in a container originating from Kenya. The shipment was valued at around $1.4 million. Demand from an increasingly affluent Asia and improved international trade and transport links have caused the trade in ivory and other wildlife products to soar in recent years.
Afghan detainees — Just before a trip to Washington by President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan government released 80 detainees Friday, part of a continuing effort to assert its sovereignty over the contentious issue of handling prisoners. U.S. officials have long complained the Afghans release prisoners too soon, raising the risk that many will return to the battlefield. Afghan officials counter they are not legally allowed to detain people suspected of being insurgents without enough evidence to prosecute them, even if the U.S. says they are too dangerous.
— From wire reports