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Combative Obama nominates judges; Utah's Lee chimes in

Washington • Opening a summer showdown with Congress, a combative President Barack Obama nominated three judges to a powerful appellate court Tuesday and challenged Republicans to stop the "political obstruction" holding up his nominees.

"What I'm doing today is my job," Obama said in the face of Republican attempts to eliminate the very judicial vacancies he's trying to fill. "I need the Senate to do its job."

Obama's nominations were another ingredient in a White House effort to regain the political momentum after weeks of controversies, disputes over legislation and a budget stalemate that shows no sign of ending.

"There's no reason, aside from politics, for Republicans to block these individuals from getting an up-or-down vote," Obama argued.

The court is a long-running battleground between the White House and Senate that predate this president. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah pointed out that in 2006, Democratic senators objected to approving President George W. Bush's pick amid questions about whether the seat needed to be filled.

"Today's nominations are nothing more than a political ploy to advance a partisan agenda," said Lee, a member of the Judiciary Committee tasked with holding judicial confirmation hearings.

Student group kicked off flight

New York • A group of about 100 high school students traveling from New York to Atlanta were thrown off a flight, along with their chaperones, after the pilot and crew lost patience with some kids who wouldn't sit down and put away their cellphones.

The teenagers, all seniors at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, in Brooklyn, were ordered off the AirTran flight around 6 a.m. Monday as it sat at a gate at LaGuardia Airport.

AirTran's parent company, Southwest Airlines, said in a statement that flight attendants asked passengers several times to take their seats and put their mobile devices away. The airline said that when some didn't comply, the captain repeated the request. When that didn't work, either, the whole group of students was ordered to disembark for safety reasons, the airline said.

The flight was delayed for about 45 minutes while the students filed out of the Boeing 737, which seats about 137 people, leaving the plane mostly empty.

Rabbi Seth Linfield, executive director at Yeshiva of Flatbush, said that administrators were still looking into the matter Tuesday, but that he believed adults on the trip who said the students weren't behaving that badly.

"Preliminarily, it does not appear that the action taken by the flight crew was justified," he said in a statement.

Fort Hood shooter offers odd defense

Fort Hood, Texas • An Army psychiatrist charged with gunning down Fort Hood soldiers said Tuesday his defense would show that he was compelled to do so because deploying U.S. troops posed an imminent danger to Taliban fighters.

The military judge asked Maj. Nidal Hasan if he has evidence to support his "defense of others" strategy, hinting that it could be thrown out.

Such a defense requires Hasan to prove the 2009 killings were necessary to protect others from immediate harm or death. Military law experts not involved in the case said the judge is unlikely to allow him to present that defense.

"A 'defense of others' strategy is not going to work when you're at war and the 'others' are enemies of the U.S.," said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "And what makes it more egregious is that he targeted medical personnel whose primary purpose was to heal, not to kill."

7 hurt in explosion at suburban college

Nyack, N.Y. • Authorities say natural gas had risen to "explosive" levels in the manholes at a suburban New York college where a blast rocked a building.

Mike Donohue of Orange & Rockland Utilities says the elevated gas levels had been detected in the manholes around the Nyack College building. Officials say they assume that's what caused the blast.

Seven people were injured when the explosion happened around shortly before noon Tuesday. None of the injuries are life-threatening.

The building's basement and first floor have been severely damaged, with blown-out windows, staircases pushed aside and columns displaced.

Investigators are trying to find the source of the gas.

Nyack College is a Christian college about 25 miles north of New York City.