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Romney to speak at conservative conference

WASHINGTON — After months of avoiding the limelight following his unsuccessful presidential bid, Mitt Romney is planning to make his first public speech next month at a large gathering of conservatives.

Romney is scheduled to address the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 15, a gathering just outside Washington where some of the top Republicans will try to make their mark.

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Among the other speakers this year will be Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Representative Paul Ryan, who was Romney’s running mate; former Florida governor Jeb Bush; and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

“I look forward to saying thank you to the many friends and supporters who were instrumental in helping my campaign,” Romney said in a statement.

CPAC is the same conference where Romney officially dropped out of the Republican primary race in 2008, and where last year he said he had been a “severely conservative Republican governor.”

Romney has kept out of the public eye since he lost the election.

He has attended several gatherings with his former donors, meant as events to thank them, but all of them have been private.

At one of those events, he told supporters that he planned to stay politically active by supporting like-minded candidates and weighing in on issues he cared about.

But so far Romney has kept quiet.

News that Romney would speak, first reported by National Review Online, was confirmed by the American Conservative Union, which hosts the event.

“The thousands gathered at CPAC this year are eager to hear from the 2012 GOP presidential candidate at his first public appearance since the elections,” Al Cardenas, chairman of the ACU, said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing Governor Romney’s comments on the current state of affairs in America and the world, and his perspective on the future of the conservative movement.”

Ex-senator Olympia Snowe joins bipartisanship group

AUGUSTA, Maine — Former senator Olympia Snowe is joining a national organization that highlights the adverse effects of America’s partisan political divide and suggests ways to promote unity, the organization said Wednesday.

Snowe, a Republican, is joining the Bipartisan Policy Center as a senior fellow. She will co-chair its newly formed Commission on Political Reform, the center said.

The commission’s diverse group of 30 leaders will conduct a series of ‘‘National Conversations on American Unity’’ to discuss the effects of political polarization and to develop recommendations to help Americans achieve shared national goals.

The Bipartisan Policy Center was founded in 2007 by former Senate majority leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, and George Mitchell. It is the only Washington, D.C.-based think tank that actively promotes bipartisanship.

Snowe, long known as a moderate who bucked the Republican line on some issues, surprised Maine’s political establishment in February 2012 when she announced she would not seek a fourth Senate term. She has been critical of polarization and partisanship that she believes have made it harder for Congress to make decisions on important issues.

Her departure led to crowded primaries and finally the election of her independent successor, Angus King, whose campaign theme was restoring a cooperative spirit in Washington.

Bipartisan Policy Center president Jason Grumet said the organization welcomes Snowe’s ‘‘independent voice, passionate ideals, collaborative instinct, and wise counsel.’’

Snowe said she ‘‘couldn’t be more pleased and excited to join this dynamic and growing organization, whose mission is absolutely essential at this moment of unparalleled polarization in our nation, and certainly in our government.’’

Panetta warns automatic cuts may lead to furloughs

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday that if automatic government spending cuts kick in on March 1 he may be compelled to furlough the ‘‘vast majority’’ of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian workers.

He also said the across-the-board spending reductions would ‘‘put us on a path toward a hollow force,’’ meaning a military incapable of fulfilling all of its missions.

In a written message to employees, Panetta said any affected workers would get at least 30 days’ advance notice.

Employees would lose one day of work per week, for up to 22 weeks, probably starting in late April.

To dispel the notion that this is mainly a problem for the nation’s capital, the Pentagon’s budget chief, Robert Hale, told reporters that the economic impact would be felt nationwide.

The furloughs would be part of a broader plan the Pentagon is preparing in order to cut $46 billion through the end of this budget year, which ends Sept. 30.

More cuts would come in future years as long as the automatic government spending cuts, known as sequestration, remained in effect.

Conan O’Brien to host correspondents’ dinner

WASHINGTON — Late night talk show host and comedian Conan O’Brien will be spending a late night with President Obama.

The White House Correspondents’ Association has chosen O’Brien as the featured act for its annual dinner on April 27.

Association president Ed Henry called O’Brien ‘‘one of television’s most innovative and influential talents.’’

Henry added: ‘‘As social media has changed all aspects of the media business, Conan has embraced this shifting landscape to become a creative force both online as well as in the traditional television model.’’

The association dinner is traditionally attended by the president and first lady, government officials, and journalists. Proceeds finance scholarships and awards that recognize journalism excellence.

O’Brien appears prepared. On Monday he tweeted: ‘‘In honor of President’s Day, I won’t be getting along with Congress.’’

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