Thursday’s Headlines: Brown Swearing In Early; More Problems for Toyota

BY Tom LeGro  February 4, 2010 at 9:26 AM EDT

Democrats will officially lose their 60-vote majority in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, as Sen.-elect Scott Brown, R-Mass., will be sworn into office a week earlier than expected. Senate Democrats held that position for much of the last year.

“Once we get his certificate, we expect to swear him in tomorrow afternoon as early as 5 o’clock, which is earlier than he suggested,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in an interview Wednesday with the Hill.

Brown had not been scheduled to join the Senate until Feb. 11, a time period he said he needed to hire a staff and prepare for his new responsibilities. But Brown changed his mind Wednesday and asked that his election be certified as soon as possible so that he could participate in unspecified key votes.

Brown upset Democrat Martha Coakley to win a Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy for more than a half-century. Democrats will now hold 59 votes, and legislation and nominations will require the agreement of at least one Republican in order to break filibusters.

Congressional Republicans said privately to the Washington Post that seating Brown earlier could help them block Democratic nominees opposed by the GOP.

Democrats did not object to Brown’s change of mind. Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic
says “this isn’t a fight that Democrats will pick.”

Democrats are, however, set to unveil an $80 billion jobs program.

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The Transportation Department will open an investigation into brake problems in the 2010 Toyota* Prius, the Associated Press reports. Toyota admitted Thursday that there are design problems with the antilock braking system on its 2010 Prius model, a separate problem from the sticking gas pedals that prompted the recall of other Toyota models.

Toyota’s manager in charge of quality, Hiroyuki Yokoyama, said the company had identified and corrected the problem in Priuses sold since late January, reports the New York Times. Yokoyama said the company was still considering what actions to take for cars already on the road and had not ruled out a recall.

The Washington Post reports Thursday that Toyota knew of the problems in its gas pedals as far back as 2007. Federal regulators uncovered evidence that some Toyota cars accelerated unexpectedly more than two years ago, the Post reports. But neither the government’s safety agency nor Toyota apparently recognized how serious the dangers would turn out to be.

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The Labor Department says Thursday that weekly unemployment claims rose 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 480,000 last week. The rise is the fourth in the past five weeks, and the four-week average rose for the third straight week to 468,750.

The new figures come a day before the Labor Department is scheduled to report the January employment figures. The unemployment rate is forecast to rise to 10.1 percent.

*For the record, Toyota is a NewsHour underwriter.