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Obama signs $633b defense bill

HONOLULU — President Obama signed a $633 billion defense bill for next year despite serious concerns about the limits Congress imposed on his handling of terror suspects and lawmakers’ unwillingness to back the cost-saving retirement of aging ships and aircraft.

Obama had threatened to veto the measure because of a number of concerns, but relented because he couldn’t pick and choose specific sections. However, in a statement, the president spelled out his objections.

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Specifically, he complained that the bill limits the military’s authority to transfer third-country nationals being held at a detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan. He also took issue with restrictions on his authority to transfer terror suspects from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

‘‘Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by members of Congress,’’ Obama wrote.

He said the section of the bill related to detainees in ­Afghanistan ‘‘threatens to upend that tradition, and could interfere with my ability as commander in chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities.’’

Obama promised when he took office four years ago to close the prison at Guantanamo, but congressional opposition from Republicans and some Democrats has prevented him from doing so.

Obama said his administration will interpret the bill’s provisions and if they violate the constitutional separation of power, he will implement them in a way to avoid that conflict.

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The law puts off the retirement of some ships and aircraft, and Obama warned that the move could force reductions in the overall size of the military as the Defense Department faces cuts in spending.

The law includes defense cuts that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011, along with the end of the war in Iraq and the drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan. It authorizes $528 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department, and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan.

Kirk returns to Senate seat nearly a year after stroke

WASHINGTON — In a dramatic return to Washington 347 days after suffering a stroke, Senator Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, climbed the stairs of the US Capitol on Thursday with the assistance of colleagues to take his seat again in the Senate chamber.

Kirk, 53, suffered an ischemic stroke on Jan. 21 and has spent the past year recovering in suburban Chicago. Aides had said Kirk would return at the start of the 113th Congress.

Kirk arrived at the Senate side of the Capitol at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and used a cane as he approached the staircase, where he was greeted by Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Kirk’s close friend, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia.

‘‘Welcome back, man!’’ Biden said to Kirk as a crowd of hundreds cheered.

Kirk hugged Biden. ‘‘You know, during the debate I was rooting for you,’’ Kirk told Biden, who laughed.

Biden, a former senator, suffered a stroke in 1989 and was escorted upon his return up the Senate steps in a similar fashion by Senator Daniel ­Patrick Moynihan of New York.

Clinton planning to return to her office next week

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sidelined for almost a month by a string of medical problems, is upbeat and planning to return to work next week, the State Department said Thursday.

A day after being released from a New York hospital that was treating her for a blood clot, Clinton was at home resting, but was far from idle.

She spent the day engaging with senior staff, reviewing ­paperwork, and calling in to a meeting of her foreign policy advisory board, said her spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

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