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Republican presidential candidates have debated thirteen times on national TV, leaving less than three weeks for the grassroots campaigning that’s traditional before the Iowa caucuses. We hear about last night's final goldfish-bowl confrontation and what's coming next. Also, Congress averts a government shutdown, but the payroll tax is still uncertain. On Reporter's Notebook, Christopher Hitchens, the radical leftist who shocked friends and readers by supporting the War in Iraq, has died at the age of 62. We hear from an old friend about his work and his personality.

Banner image: Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney chat after finishing the Fox News Channel debate at the Sioux City Convention Center on December 15, 2011. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Making News Congress Averts Government Shutdown, Payroll Tax Still Uncertain 7 MIN, 46 SEC

The House and the Senate have reached a deal on government spending that will keep the Pentagon, the EPA and the Education Department open until the end of this fiscal year. Other agencies were taken care of in November. But the extensions of tax withholding cuts and unemployment benefits are still unresolved. Matthew Cooper is editor at National Journal Daily.

Matthew Cooper, National Journal Daily (@mattizcoop)

Main Topic Does Iowa Still Matter in the Age of TV? 35 MIN, 19 SEC

Last night was episode thirteen for the Republican presidential candidates. Has it been serious politics or reality TV? The TV debates have been compared to sitcoms and reality TV, with different leaders week after week and big audiences, apparently due as much to personal attacks and embarrassing gaffes as pronouncements on policy. Newt Gingrich, this week's principal target, said he was "editing" his remarks to avoid Mitt Romney's charge that he can be "zany." Romney went back to his role of attacking Barack Obama without speaking ill of other Republicans. With time growing short, others showed no such restraint. Iowa voters will caucus in less than three weeks. Will they pick a winner or will their choices be soon forgotten as the candidates move on to New Hampshire?

Websites of Republican presidential candidates:

Michele Bachmann
Rick Perry
Ron Paul
Jon Huntsman, Jr
Rick Santorum

Jim Rutenberg, New York Times (@jimrutenberg)
Robert Thompson, Syracuse University
Tom Beaumont, Associated Press (@TomBeaumont)
Doug Gross, veteran Republican activist
Kristen Soltis Anderson, Washington Examiner / Echelon Insights (@KSoltisAnderson)

Reporter's Notebook Christopher Hitchens Dead at the Age of 62 7 MIN, 55 SEC

One of America's most controversial public intellectuals died last night in a Houston hospital of pneumonia brought on by esophageal cancer. He was 62 years old. Christopher Hitchens was a British-born, naturalized American and public intellectual.  Targets of his slashing attacks included Henry Kissinger, the British monarchy and Mother Theresa. His recent books included the best-selling God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Jacob Weisberg, now editor in chief of the Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy, was befriended by Hitchens early in his journalistic career.

Jacob Weisberg, Slate Group (@jacobwe)

God Is Not Great

Christopher Hitchens


Warren Olney

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