Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz laughingly called it a “riot” that the GOP would be schooling its members on how to better appeal to women voters.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at his weekly press conference yesterday that he believes his caucus is making progress on that front.
“Well, I try to get them to be a little more sensitive. You know? You look around the Congress, there are a lot more females in the Democratic caucus than there are in the Republican caucus,” Boehner said. “And, you know, some of our members just aren’t as sensitive as they ought to be.”
Politico reported yesterday that the National Republican Congressional Committee had held “multiple” sessions in order to avoid losing another seat Todd Akin-style. “Let me put it this way, some of these guys have a lot to learn,” one GOP aide told the paper.
Wasserman Schultz laughed when asked about this on CNN.
“It’s a riot that Republicans feel, if they just give their candidates sensitivity training, that this is going to clear up all of the problems that they have with women voters,” she said. “What they need to do is have some sessions on the issues that are important to women and how bad their policies are for women. They oppose Equal Pay for Equal Work legislation. They oppose — they’ve tried to defund Planned Parenthood repeatedly, cut out Title X funding, which is family planning.”
“They’ve consistently tried to have bosses be able to make decisions for women’s health care choices. They are totally wrong on the issues that matter to women and that’s why they keep losing the women’s vote, and they will continue to,” Wasserman Schultz continued.
“Learning how to be touchy-feely is not going to be the key to their success.”
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) remembered late South African president Nelson Mandela as a man who made it cool for black kids in the United States to say that they have African heritage.
“As a kid, I’m embarrassed to admit I knew very little about Africa,” Rangel said on CNN this morning. “If you wanted to insult a black kid, a colored kid, a Negro kid, you called him African because the world, including the United States, had allowed us to believe that Africa was so underdeveloped, that the world had an attitude that they were inferior people as opposed to the Europeans.”
“When Nelson Mandela became a world leader and was on television and people of African descent, not only in the United States but throughout the world, could not possibly identify with a country. Mr. Cuomo identifies with Italy. Our history has just been torn apart and substituted with this inferiority,” he continued.
“But when Nelson Mandela spoke, even in the British tilt that we would learn to respect, and he spoke to the world in terms of peace, even though he had the power. And so many little black kids would say, ‘Mommy, he looks like me, doesn’t he?’”
Rangel added he didn’t know “how God could have blessed us in trying to instantly take away any ideas of inferiority in bringing a saint with all of the qualities that we expected in all of our leaders, including the pope, and to share him with all of us.”
When the congressman got to finally meet Mandela, “I was so awed I couldn’t believe it. God spent a lot of time on Nelson Mandela.”
Rangel was there when Mandela was inaugurated and hosted as a special guest the warden who had incarcerated him for 27 years.
“And as he stood there, the air blackened with the South African Air Force zooming over him,” he said. “And I saw for the first time in my life white kids and black kids hugging each other with happiness and their parents crying and hugging each other, the kids not even knowing that there was a problem before Nelson Mandela. And I tell you that there wasn’t a dry eye there. I don’t know what everyone was thinking, but I would say thank God this man was sent to us, because whatever he did in life, everybody could put themselves in that position and wonder, ‘could I do that?’ And that’s the bar that he set for all of us.”
Asked by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in an interviewed aired last night about whether Vice President Joe Biden or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would make a better president, President Obama said “not a chance am I going there.”
Then he did.
“Both Hillary and Joe would make outstanding presidents and possess the qualities that are needed to be outstanding presidents,” Obama said. “They — and I think Joe Biden will go down in history as one of the
best vice presidents ever. And he has been with me at my side in every tough decision that I have made, from going after bin Laden, to dealing with the health care issues, to — you name it, he’s been there.”
Biden has been in Asia this week on a swing through Japan, China and South Korea.
“Hillary, I think, will go down in history as one of the finest secretaries of State we have ever had, and helped to transition us away from a deep hole that we were in when I first came into office, around the world, and to rebuild confidence and trust in the United States,” Obama continued.
“And they’ve got — they’ve got different strengths, but both of them would be outstanding.”
He then continued about “the most important qualities of any president.”
“I’m not necessarily saying I have these qualities because I’m speaking historically — I think has to do with more than anything a sense of connection with the American people. That’s what allows you then to have that second quality, which is persistence,” Obama said.
“If you know who you’re working on behalf of, if you remember as Lincoln did or an FDR did or Truman did or a Kennedy did. If you remember that person that you met who was down on their luck but was a good character and was trying to figure out how they are going to support a family. If you remember that young child who has big dreams but, you know, doesn’t yet know how they’re going to get to college — if you feel those folks in your gut every single day, that will get you through the setbacks and the difficulties and the frustrations and the criticisms that are inherent in the office,” he continued.
“And I think, you know, the interesting thing about now having been president for five years is it makes me humbler as opposed to cockier about what you as an individual can do. You recognize that you’re just part of a sweep of history. And your job really is to push the boulder up the hill a little bit before somebody else pushes it up a little further and the task never stops at perfecting our union.”
Obama characterized the American people as “good” and “decent.”
“And yes, sometimes we get very divided partly because our politics, and our media specifically tries to divide them and splinter them,” he said. “But, you know, we’ve got so much stuff going for us that as long as any president stays close to the people, I think they’re going to do all right.”
The White House this morning touted “solid job growth” in November as the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a decrease in the unemployment rate from 7.3 percent to 7.0 percent.
“Among the unemployed, the number who reported being on temporary layoff decreased by 377,000. This largely reflects the return to work of federal employees who were furloughed in October due to the partial government shutdown,” the report said.
Still, “among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (6.7 percent), adult women (6.2 percent), teenagers (20.8 percent), whites (6.2 percent), blacks (12.5 percent), and Hispanics (8.7 percent) changed little in November.”
“The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 4.1 million in November… The civilian labor force rose by 455,000 in November, after declining by 720,000 in October. The labor force participation rate changed little (63.0 percent) in November.”
“With solid job growth in November – in addition to strong data on manufacturing activity and auto sales – it is clear that the recovery continues to gain traction. Today’s report was yet another reminder of the resilience of America’s private sector following the disruptive government shutdown and debt limit brinksmanship in the first half of October,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement.
“Nevertheless, today’s jobs numbers show that too many Americans who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer are still struggling to find jobs,” Furman added. “That is why the president is calling on Congress to pass the extension of emergency unemployment insurance before it expires at the end of the year, just like they have always done when long-term unemployment remains elevated. The president also continues to work to increase overall growth while ensuring that growth is shared broadly in the form of higher wages and more mobility, which is why he is fighting for a minimum wage increase and expansion of educational opportunities.”
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said “there’s no question that every new job that was created last month is a positive step in the right direction – particularly for American families who are desperate for good economic news.”
“And yet there’s still a feeling of disappointment and trepidation all across this country, and it is not because of one economic report or another. It is because after years of being told by President Obama and his allies that a robust economy is on its way so long as Washington continues to take more, spend more, and control more, the American people look around and realize this administration’s confidence in its own policies was remarkably misplaced,” Price said.
“Indeed, there’s been a tremendous amount of focus as of late on the promises President Obama has made and broken when it comes to his health care law – most notably the fact that millions of Americans are going to see their policies cancelled and their premiums rise despite what this administration and their allies claimed. But the Obama administration has also made promises time and again that their policies of higher taxes, more government spending and greater Washington authority would somehow jumpstart the economy and restore confidence in the American dream,” he added.
“The fact that those promises have also been proven empty time and again is as equally tragic if not more so for the millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet in President Obama’s economy.”
Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his visit to Israel branding the nuclear agreement with Iran as just “another issue” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to discuss as Kerry tried to press a Mideast peace plan.
Kerry also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
He told reporters at Ben Gurion airport today that “the United States will only support a final status agreement that makes both Israelis and Palestinians more secure than they are today.”
“Since the two parties first agreed to resume talks four months ago, they have held regular discussions and the United States has remained in close contact with both sides. It hasn’t been easy; I won’t pretend that. But none of the parties embarked on this path with the expectation that it was going to be a simple or easy process. We all knew upfront that it would be a long, arduous, and complicated journey,” Kerry said.
“Nonetheless, it is absolutely clear to me through the discussions that we had – and believe me, I wouldn’t spend these hours and I wouldn’t come back here given the agenda that we face on a global basis if I didn’t think it was worthwhile, if President Obama didn’t believe it was worth pursuing. And it is quite clear that both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu remain as determined as ever to continue down this path and to explore these possibilities. Because both parties have the same endpoint in their sights: Two nations for two peoples living side by side in peace and prosperity.”
Kerry later mentioned the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran as “another issue at the heart of Israel’s security that’s also been a key focus of all of our discussions.”
“The United States firmly believes that the P5+1 first-step agreement not only makes Israel more secure than it was the day before that agreement, but we believe it will take us closer to a lasting, peaceful, and comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear program. It is the best opportunity we have to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
“I pledge this, as President Obama has: As we proceed forward in this negotiation, we will continue to consult very closely with Israel as the negotiations resume as well as with our other friends and allies in the region and around the world, because that input is critical to us in the process.”
Kerry brought retired Gen. John Allen on the trip to try to convince the Israelis to buy a security analysis conducted by the Obama administration “that could help both the Palestinians and the Israelis to make judgments about some of the choices that are important to arriving at an agreement.”
“The intelligence community, the Department of Defense, the State Department, the White House – all have been engaged in thinking through the various possibilities of how you deal with one problem or another with respect to security. And so obviously, security is paramount in the minds of the prime minister and his team with respect to their ability to be able to move forward with other issues that have to be dealt with,” he said.
Pressed again to talk about Iran, Kerry said he didn’t discuss with Netanyahu the intent of both Dems and Republicans in Congress to pass new Iran sanctions after the Senate returns next week.
“I am personally convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Israel is safer today after we have reached this first-step agreement than it was before we did that. Why do I say that? I say that because we are now engaged in the major comprehensive discussion that the prime minister wanted us to be engaged in, but guess what? We have stopped their program where it is.”
Yet he corrected himself on what Iran has been doing since the Geneva agreement was signed.
“They are destroying – under requirements, they will have to destroy the 20 percent enriched uranium in its entirety,” Kerry said.
“Israel and the United States are absolutely in sync, not an ounce of daylight between us, with respect to the need to make sure that Iran cannot achieve a nuclear weapon, will not in the future be able to achieve it, and certainly cannot move towards it without the United States of America and Israel knowing that and therefore being able to take steps to deal with it. I believe Israel is safer today and we will approach this final negotiation with an absolute view about Israel’s security, Israel’s safety, the region’s safety, and our ability to stand up afterwards and say, this was an agreement that was good for the region, good for Israel, good for the United States, good for the world.”
A senior Senate Democrat is challenging President Obama on his handling of the bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan, saying that the administration’s consistent lobbying for Hamid Karzai to sign the agreement makes the U.S. come off as looking like it’s in a position subordinate to Kabul.
In a letter to Obama today, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) noted he traveled to Afghanistan for the 12th time in October and was “struck by the significant and positive changes, particularly over the last several years, that are transforming the security and daily lives of the Afghan people.”
“I remain supportive of an enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan based on mutual respect as sovereign nations,” he added. “I am encouraged by the overwhelming endorsement by the Loya Jirga of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and their call for President Karzai to sign the agreement before the end of the year. Despite the Loya Jirga’s endorsement, President Karzai has unfortunately chosen to raise additional demands as a condition for his signature of the agreement.”
Karzai’s term is good for a few more months as presidential elections are on April 5; candidates include some of his starkest opponents and his brother Quayum. As three of the preconditions to sign the agreement, Karzai wants “transparent” presidential elections, progress in talks with the Taliban, and a pledge by the U.S. to not raid any more homes.
Washington wants the agreement signed now, but Karzai said he’ll get to it after April elections. So Obama recently sent National Security Advisor Susan Rice over to Afghanistan to twist Karzai’s arm.
Karzai has not budged. After Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Afghanistan’s defense minister could sign the pact instead of the president, Karzai forbade any of his ministers from signing the agreement.
Levin chided Obama on these tactics, saying “public demands that President Karzai sign the agreement by the end of the year, or the recent suggestion that we could settle for less than an Afghan president approving the agreement, contribute to President Karzai’s mistaken belief that the United States needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the United States.”
“Instead, we should tell President Karzai that if he chooses not to sign the BSA, we will await the next president of Afghanistan who will be elected in April. The next Afghan president, whoever he is, is also likely to be more reliable than President Karzai, and there would be greater confidence in his sticking with an agreement he has signed,” Levin continued.
“The United States would need to engage in prudent military planning for the possibility that the BSA is not signed until next April, or the possibility that the BSA is not signed at all, in which latter case all U.S. troops would have to be pulled out of Afghanistan,” he said. “NATO is already engaged in planning for all options, including a zero option. We should be clear, however, that such planning is not intended as a threat, but rather is the responsible actions of our civilian and military leaders.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said that they’re leaving the investigation of an American teacher shot in Benghazi up to the Libyans.
The Libya Herald reported that chemistry teacher Ronnie Smith, 33, was running on Dubai Street in Benghazi’s Digadosta district when he was shot multiple times. According to witnesses, Smith was approached by a black SUV that “drove up to him and retreated several times before shots were fired from the vehicle.”
Smith had lived in Benghazi for 13 months with his wife and their 2-year old while teaching at Benghazi International School. His wife had flown back to America a few weeks ago and Smith was due to join them in Texas for Christmas, the Herald reported.
“The State Department has issued a travel warning that’s been in place for sometime about — warning Americans about the dangers of traveling in Libya. You know, so for greater detail on how those assessments are made and why, I would refer you to the State Department,” Carney told reporters at the daily briefing.
“We do expect the Libyan government to investigate this. At this point, we don’t have very much information to share about who is responsible or how it happened or why,” he added. “But we certainly do expect the Libyans to investigate.”
The Herald reported that authorities were trying to ascertain whether the motive was terrorism or robbery. Libyan officials have been mounting a concerted offensive against militants in recent weeks, with escalated fighting in Benghazi a couple weeks ago in which residents were even offering guns and ammo to the military to help them drive out terrorist groups.
In a statement posted over the weekend, American al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn urged Libyans to conduct attacks in revenge for the seizure of Abu Anas al-Libi.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Smith was killed.
“We offer our deepest condolences to the victim’s family, friends and loved ones. We are in contact with the family and are providing all appropriate consular assistance,” she said. “Out of the respect for the privacy of those affected, I don’t have a lot of further details at this time. For questions on the investigation, of course, we’d refer everyone to the Libyan authorities.”
“…As everyone knows, there are pretty severe travel warnings in effect for Libya, particularly Benghazi. But we don’t keep track of American citizens in that way, obviously, operating overseas.”
Harf said the State Department doesn’t have an idea of how many Americans might be living in Benghazi.
“Again, our travel warning is very explicit in advising against all travel to this area. That’s sort of what we can do, is advise our citizens, and then it’s up to people individually to make decisions. I just don’t have any way to characterize it,” she said. “…I’d, in terms of an investigation, refer you to the Libyan authorities. We are working with those authorities to ascertain the facts related to the case, which, again, there are a lot of unknowns right now, because this tragedy occurred just recently today. So we’ll update folks as we get more.”
Meanwhile, Libyans reached out on Twitter to console Smith’s family and each other.
The main thing about Mr.Smith was he was the only one who didnt give up on us. Its time we dont give up on us either.
— Rahman Bader (@RahmanBader) December 5, 2013
#MrSmithMemories “sir, they tore my favorite sweater” “they did you a favor, you looked like a sheep on Eid”
— yomna ❁ (@yzentani) December 5, 2013
#MrSmithMemories spending all of our lunch break talking about breaking bad
— nuria (@libyanduchess) December 5, 2013
I asked him once why did you name your kid Hosea he said so when he grows up and asks for sim thin’ I’d say no way Hosea.Lol #ThankYouSmith
— مــــو المصــــري (@moe_almasri) December 5, 2013
10 days ago.
— LibyanTweep (@LibyanTweep) December 5, 2013
A Pennsylvania Democrat called President Obama’s economic speech yesterday hosted by the Center for American Progress one of the best speeches ever given by an American leader.
Obama called for increasing the minimum wage and decried a wage gap in America, saying reversing the trend is “the defining challenge of our time.”
“The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life and what we stand for around the globe,” he said.
Obama also lauded himself as a great leader for pushing through his healthcare law. “You know, Dr King once said: ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’ Well, not anymore,” he said. “More people without insurance have gained insurance, more than 3 million young Americans who’ve been able to stay on their parents’ plan, the more than half a million Americans and counting who are poised to get coverage starting on January 1, some for the very first time. It is these numbers, not the ones in any poll, that will ultimately determine the fate of this law.”
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said it was “the most important speech of all of the speeches in the entire career of Barack Obama.”
“This is the most important speech he has given and will be recorded, I think, as so,” Fattah continued on MSNBC. “It is also one of the most important speeches I think ever given by an American president because he really laid out that our country cannot stand with a circumstances of haves and have-nots, that we have to see things more not about charity, but he was really arguing about an enlightened self-interest on behalf of our country that we need to educate our young people. We need to provide employment and entrepreneur opportunities for those who are in the shadows.”
“He made this argument a very compelling. He wove it together by focusing on two other presidents, one, the son of a very poor person and one the son of a rich, Teddy Roosevelt, but laid it out in the common sense economics that you understand and I understand and I think all of our viewers tonight have to be able to understand that,” Fattah said.
“You have to have a situation where this is not a zero sum game in which everyone can see themselves in a position through their effort and work. He says we’re not trying to guarantee outcomes, but we need to provide an opportunity for every single American.”
Fattah said he thinks the Senate will son take up a minimum wage increase, then dropping it at the feet of the House.
“We have a majority in the House that doesn’t seem to understand that we need to have, if we want to sell cars, the car dealer can’t benefit if people can’t afford to buy the car or sell groceries or Christmas toys,” he said.
“I mean, we, people need to be able to earn a decent living. We’ve seen this effort around minimum wage increases, our fast food workers across the country, but in states that are enlightened, you see action being taken.”
President Obama has accused Republicans of offering no viable reforms to Obamacare, but an independent review of a plan put forth by a House doctor found $2.34 trillion in savings over 10 years.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) introduced the Empowering Patients First Act in June to make the purchase of health coverage financially feasible for all, ensure insurance challenges portability and coverage of pre-existing illnesses, lower healthcare costs and improve the healthcare delivery structure.
“The status quo in America’s health care system is unacceptable. Today, because of Obamacare, it is only getting worse,” said Price. “The American people are looking for positive solutions to the challenges in our health care system, and they do not want to put Washington in charge of their personal health care decisions. This analysis confirms that the Empowering Patients First Act would have a tremendously positive impact on our nation’s health care system. It is a testament to the reform proposal’s validity and seriousness, and it confirms that patient-centered solutions can yield savings, reduce costs, and increase access.”
The American Action Forum review was conducted by former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin.
“Under Obamacare, the American people are losing the health care coverage they have while experiencing higher premiums and less access to physicians and hospitals,” Price continued. “This is occurring because the president’s health care law violates every principle of health care we hold dear: affordability, accessibility, choices, innovation, quality and responsiveness. The impetus for an alternative approach to health care reform is obvious, and we ought to be pursuing solutions that empower patients, families and their physicians, not Washington.”
Highlights from the report:
According to our analysis, H.R. 2300 would lead to smaller premium increases on average when compared to current law. The largest reductions would occur in narrow network and high PPO insurance products. The number of insured individuals would increase by 29 percent in 2016, a smaller net increase than current law by 3 percentage points. Over ten years, H.R. 2300 would yield a net savings of $2,337 billion
There are five critical elements of the proposal: (1) guaranteed issue insurance coverage with no pre-existing condition exclusions; (2) interstate sale of insurance; (3) promotion of Association Health Plans (AHPs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs); (4) income-adjusted health insurance vouchers; and (5) malpractice and provider antitrust reform. We assume each of these components is to take effect on January 1, 2016.
These characteristics enter our analysis through rules and regulations defined by the proposal and various modelling assumptions. AHPs enable small business owners to pool risk in the insurance market, and HSAs allow every citizen over the age of 18 the opportunity to save the unused portion of their health insurance benefits. HSA accounts can be used for pre-tax dollar payment of medical care, as well as concierge care and health insurance premiums. The health insurance voucher is an income-adjusted, advanceable, and refundable tax credit, which increases with the general inflation rate. The full tax credit—$2,163 for singles and $5,799 for families in 2013 dollars—is available to households earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) with a subsidy phased down to zero for those earning at or above 300 percent of FPL. Malpractice and antitrust reform are accounted for in accord with reports issued by the Congressional Budget Office and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as relevant economic literature.
As compared to estimates under current law, H.R. 2300 will lower premiums in all categories of insurance except high deductible health plans in 2016. But due to slowing of premium increases, high deductible health plans will be 6 percent cheaper by 2023 than under current law for individual policies and 3 percent cheaper for families. By 2023, H.R. 2300 will yield substantially lower premiums than current law in all insurance product categories with savings up to 19 percent for single policies and up to 15.1 percent in savings for family policies.
In President Obama’s quest to empty Guantanamo of its inmate population, the Defense Department announced the transfer of two detainees to Algeria.
Djamel Saiid Ali Ameziane was captured by Pakistani forces in 2001 while trying to flee Tora Bora with other al-Qaeda operatives. A 2008 assessment determined Ameziane a “high risk, as he is likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests, and allies.”
Bensayah Belkecem was arrested by Bosnian authorities in 2001 for involvement in a terrorist plot against the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. His 2008 DoD assessment noted he was not only a high risk to the U.S. but held high intelligence value.
“As directed by the president’s Jan. 22, 2009, executive order, the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of these cases. As a result of that review, which examined a number of factors, including security issues, these men were designated for transfer by consensus of the six departments and agencies comprising the task force. In accordance with congressionally-mandated reporting requirements, the administration informed Congress of its intent to transfer these individuals,” the Pentagon said early this morning.
“The United States is grateful to the Government of Algeria for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the Government of Algeria to ensure these transfers took place with appropriate security and humane treatment assurances.”
This leaves 162 detainees at Guantanamo.
Dennis Rodman is back on his way to North Korea, which makes the Foot Locker commercial above especially pertinent. He’s reportedly going to train the North Korean basketball team (one can only imagine the penalty for missing a free throw) and play in an exhibition game against other former NBA players in his “basketball diplomacy” efforts.
If only he’d care less about his BFF Kim Jong-un and more about Kenneth Bae, an American held in a deplorable prison camp for more than a year on accusations that he planned a coup against Kim, or 85-year-old Korean War vet Merrill Newman, pulled off a plane nearly six weeks ago in Pyongyang and forced to confess on TV to trumped-up war crimes charges. If only the Foot Locker commercial depicted reality.
Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said a budget conference agreement expected by the end of next week is “very, very close, yet far away.”
The conference is being led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Clyburn is also involved in the talks.
“I think that you know that we on the Democratic side are very, very leery of putting together any kind of a budget deal that tends to rest too heavily on people who have fixed incomes. We don’t wanna see a budget deal that would cost jobs, we wanna see a budget deal that would include the unemployment insurance,” he said on MSNBC, referencing the latest extension Dems are seeking before the end of the year.
“We want a budget deal that will do something about the sequester. We believed that that ought to be done away with. And so — I think the Republicans feel the same way,” Clyburn continued.
“Now we are far apart because we cannot seem to find the common ground on how to pay for all this. We don’t wanna pay for it by resting on the backs of people on fixed income, the Republicans seem to wanna do that. We want to find ways to close some of these loop holes and they don’t want to do that.”
Clyburn said the problem is “you agree to something and you look around, and the goal post get moved.”
“So we on the Democratic side are not going to agree to anything until everything is agreed to,” he added.
They’re also still haggling over the pay-fors — airline fees or selling airwave spectrums, for example — for the goal of a two-year suspension of sequestration.
Clyburn also wants a Medicare doc fix. “We need to do something about that in order to improve the attitudes that the health care providers will have when dealing with people on fixed incomes,” he said. “So all of that should be dealt with. And until we decide which ones of those that we will deal with, we don’t know how much money anything would yield.”
The “magic date” to avoid a shutdown is Jan. 15, but he said he “wouldn’t be surprised if we will not come together by the 13th of December.”
After President Obama publicly challenged Republicans to send healthcare solutions his way, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) noted that the GOP has more than 200 pieces of healthcare legislation already floating around.
“People forget. We’ve already given him ideas. You know, people talk a lot about the 41 times vote to delay and repeal. But seven of those actually got through the Senate, and the president signed, they’ve saved about $62 billion,” Cole said on MSNBC this morning.
“So, we’ve been putting ideas on the table, but frankly, the president hasn’t put very many ideas on the table. This is his legislation, it’s not worked well…Although, again, we’re happy to help where we can.”
Cole said the party “absolutely” has a response plan to replace Obamacare.
“There’s actually a couple of good ones out there. Tom Price, you know, who’s a physician from Georgia has got one. Republican Study Committee has one that has — I’m very proud to be the co-sponsors of. It’s a comprehensive plan,” he said.
“We’ve put one on the table, people seem to forget this, when the Obamacare was passed. So there’s over 200 pieces of Republican sponsored healthcare legislation out there. So there’s lots of ideas. And again, we’re willing to sit down and work with the president but the reality is this thing just simply hasn’t worked. Millions of people are losing their insurance, rates are going up. You know, people are not satisfied with the product. And again, I think this is the president’s responsibility, it’s his signature legislation so, you know, he can’t sort of blame the failure on us when we’ve been against what’s failing from the very outset.”
When Cole was told that the White House didn’t consider GOP proposals serious because they didn’t address full coverage for all people and conditions while controlling healthcare costs, the congressman responded, “Well, actually it is a proposal, it’s just simply not the proposal that you wanted.”
‘And look, we’ve put a lot more faith in individual choice and markets than you do. I mean, you want a government-control system. You wanna micro-manage it. Our basic philosophy is that doesn’t work very well. Government’s not good at doing that,” he said. “And I think honestly, this has been a colossal failure. And — and our critique has largely been worn out.”
“The price of insurance hasn’t come down anywhere. The reality is, under this system, you’re gonna have millions of winners. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that. But you’re gonna have tens of millions of losers as well. And you’re getting government into a marketplace that it doesn’t understand, that it doesn’t manage well. You know, that’s why more people have lost insurance so far, that have gotten insurance under this system. I have no problem with exchanges and people comparing prices, but honestly, let’s be real. The United States government isn’t Amazon, they don’t do this very well. And there’s no reason to believe it’s gonna get better as we move forward.”
Cole said, though, that his constituents flooded him with opinions that they don’t like Obamacare but didn’t want to use a government shutdown as a tactic to derail it.
“And I’m from a district in a state where the president didn’t carry a single county,” the Oklahoma lawmaker added. “But the reality is, people know shutting down the government is, number one, never gonna work. There’s important services, you put people out of work. It’s a bad idea.”
“And number two, it’s bad politics. It’s just simply silly. You know, we’ve tried this a number of times, I don’t know why we need, every 17 years, I guess Republicans are like cicadas, they need to try it one more time.”
Members of the House Intelligence Committee learned in a closed-door briefing yesterday that more contractors are corroborating the report that the Obama administration had plenty of time to respond to the attack on the Benghazi diplomatic facility.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) called the new information “outstanding testimony.”
“And essentially what they were able to prove today, they basically backed up the other contractors who were on the ground in the two previous hearings. So this is an ongoing investigation,” Nunes said Tuesday evening. “And I think they gave us a lot of good leads today and I feel very comfortable moving forward with where we are at today.”
The congressman confirmed the White House claim that the attack was sparked by protest over a YouTube video “was a completely lie, and we always knew that.”
“But what I think, some important testimony came out today. So these gentlemen found out about this right around dusk. And they knew the ambassador was missing, and they were in Tripoli. So, and then you have this whole time, you’re talking about roughly 9 to 10:00 at night, until 5:00 in the morning,” he said. “And at that point, you know, essentially the attack was still ongoing.”
“Because they arrived at the time the mortars hit and killed two additional Americans that were not killed at the embassy compound earlier. So this is — there is just nothing there the administration is standing on anymore, as to what were they doing? How come nobody came to help? I think that was clear, nobody knew even at 5:30 that the attack was going to be over.”
Nunes said the timeline begs the question: “What if the attack had went on for another 24 hours?”
“Would they have eventually sent help then? I mean, there is no accountability in this process that I’ve seen so far. And nobody knows what the president knew and when he knew it,” he said.
The recent testimony, though, hasn’t shed any additional light about what President Obama was doing the night of the attack, as the people testifying Tuesday “are the guys that are on the ground that saved everybody’s life.”
“And they were radioing everything upstairs, they assumed that people knew, but they didn’t know — they were on the ground trying to save people’s lives,” Nunes said.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who said he’s losing his family’s existing insurance because of Obamacare, said his “very sharp” wife still wasn’t able to get through the “fixed” healthcare website.
An early complaint about the website — and a feature that was removed shortly before the site launch — is the lack of ability to compare plans before entering personal information, but the senator said his wife still couldn’t view the plans even after that step.
“It took her information, it took her data, so she gave all our personal information, all our identifying information, and now that system, such as it is, has it,” Toomey told Fox.
“And then when she queried it for various plans that are available, it denied her. It just wouldn’t give her that. She went back later, tried again. Still couldn’t get access to that sort of menu of choices,” he continued.
“And then she called somebody and said, can you help us navigate this? And they said, well, it’s — it’s not just not working right now. Best — best to try again sometime. So, it’s still a problem… What about the people who actually think they have bought a policy? Turns out some of the information on the back end of the system might not be making it to the insurance company.”
Toomey said people are now finding “you think you have an insurance plan, the website told you you did. You go to your doctor, you go to the hospital, and you have a service, turns out insurance company don’t know who you are.”
“By the administration’s own accounting, about 90 percent of Americans already had health insurance. The number they used to use was 30 million that didn’t. Out of a country of 300 million, that’s about 10 percent,” he said. “So we have turned the entire health care delivery system of America upside-down for what they said was a 10 percent problem.”
“And, by the way, they’re making it worse. It’s based on a flawed premise. That the government should decide for you what insurance plan you will be permitted to buy is outrageous.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter danced around the question of whether the “knockout game,” in which random people are suckerpunched by a group of youths, is really a phenomenon or just a case of “some young people have done some not so smart things that negatively impact someone else’s life and certainly their own as well.”
The attacks in Philly include a 30-year-old chef visiting the city for Thanksgiving who had to undergo surgery to wire his jaw shut, and a 63-year-old man attacked Sunday as the suspects videotaped the crime.
“I’m not exactly sure what’s real or not. What I do know is that, unfortunately, and as the previous person was talking about, spreading across social media are now video of these kinds of random physical attacks or assaults, which is really what they are. If others choose to give it a particular name, so be it. But I think the spread as we’re seeming to experience it through the traditional media of these kinds of incidents in cities all across the United States of America is of great concern. And so I’m less about the name,” Nutter told CNN last night.
The mayor said the attention that the assault are receiving in the media “is part of the challenge of the power of social media, certainly, a 24/7 international news cycle.”
“Things go up, things get posted. Unfortunately, I think some young people have done some not so smart things that negatively impact someone else’s life and certainly their own as well. If you continue to see it, day after day after day, multiple times throughout the course of the 24/7 news cycle, it becomes a thing. It becomes something that people talk about. It starts to become, if you will, a trend,” he said. “And more and more young people who see this, then you will get, unfortunately, some copycat incidents. I laid out last week — we acknowledged that there may be some kind of issue going on across the country, not necessarily a Philadelphia phenomenon.”
“We don’t have any absolute confirmed cases but, unfortunately, people have been assaulted in Philadelphia.”
When asked if the attacks are racially motivated, Nutter replied, “I don’t know what’s in the mind of a person that comes out through the course of an investigation.”
“But I have to tell you, if you are attacked, you really don’t care at that moment, quite frankly, whether it was because of race or gender or sexual preference or orientation or anything else. You’re hurt. You’re injured. Somebody could possibly be killed. We need to cut out. When you look at what Solomon Jones, here in Philadelphia, wrote just last week that these young people, unfortunately, maybe mostly males, they’re young, their testosterone flowing all over the place, they don’t always make the best judgments,” he said.
Jones, a blogger, wrote an open letter to “young brothers” in the City of Brotherly Love, stressing “there’s nothing honorable about terrorizing the very community your warrior instincts should protect” and slamming the attackers for “showing extreme indifference to human life.”
“If you want to knock something out, young brothers, knock out the nonsense. We need you to be warriors in the fight for our community, not warriors in the fight against it. In order for you to do that effectively, you’ll have to move beyond sheer brutality, and learn to fight with your minds,” Jones wrote.
“So what we’re saying, at least here in the city, is parents pay attention to what’s going on with your kids,” Nutter said. “Young people, don’t make a dumb mistake or incorrect choice that could negatively hurt someone and affect your life for the rest of your life. Law enforcement is paying attention. So again, this is not something to play with.”
“I think you have to be proactive on it and walk that fine balance between giving something too much attention versus ignoring it. I think what we’re trying to do at least is play it right down the middle, which is something may be going on. We want to alert the public to it. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. And young people, cut it out before you get yourself in trouble.”
Secretary of State John Kerry will appear before Congress next week to answer questions about the nuclear deal forged with Iran in Geneva.
Kerry has agreed to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Dec. 10, where he’ll face members highly skeptical over the six-month agreement. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have noted that it doesn’t stop uranium enrichment or halt production of centrifuges, and doesn’t allow for unannounced inspections of its facilities.
Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), among the critics of the deal, authored the bipartisan Nuclear Iran Prevention Act (H.R. 850), which overwhelmingly passed the House in July.
“I continue to have serious concerns that the agreement the Obama administration negotiated does not meet the standards necessary to protect the United States and our allies,” Royce said. “The deal does not roll back Iran’s nuclear program, but instead allows Tehran to keep in place the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capability.”
“Under the agreement, the international community relieves the sanctions pressure on Iran while its centrifuges continue to enrich uranium,” he said. “This hearing will be an opportunity for committee members of both parties to press Secretary Kerry to explain why the Obama administration believes this sanctions-easing agreement is the right course.”
The House returned from Thanksgiving this week, while the Senate returns next week. A new piece of sanctions legislation is expected to surface in the upper chamber, forged by a bipartisan group of 14 senators wary of the Iran deal.
In the latest six-month interval required under law, President Obama this afternoon used executive authority to suspend once again a 1995 bill requiring the government to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
And over at his State Department, press materials surrounding the secretary’s trip this week stated cities only — breaking from convention in which destinations are noted by country — to avoid saying that Jerusalem is part of Israel.
“I hereby determine that it is necessary, in order to protect the national security interests of the United States, to suspend for a period of 6 months the limitations set forth in sections 3(b) and 7(b) of the Act,” Obama said in a short memorandum to the secretary of State that copies the exact language from past orders.
Under the act, which was overwhelmingly approved in House and Senate, the Embassy was supposed to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999.
George W. Bush suspended the requirements of the bill, too, but always included this sentence in his memos: “My Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”
This State Department, on the other hand, released a press advisory in 2012 that noted an official’s travel to “Jerusalem and Israel.” That renewed calls from Congress for Obama to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
After that flub, a reporter asked then-spokeswoman Victoria Nuland if it’s the State Department’s position that Jerusalem is not part of Israel.
“Well, you know that our position on Jerusalem has not changed,” Nuland responded. “The first Media Note was issued in error without appropriate clearances. We reissued the note to make clear that Under Secretary – Acting Under Secretary for R, Kathy Stephens, will be traveling to Algiers, Doha, Amman, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. With regard to our Jerusalem policy, it’s a permanent status issue; it’s got to be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”
When grilled further about what the capital of Israel is, Nuland replied, “Our Embassy, as you know, is located in Tel Aviv.”
This practice seemed to be put in place — name just cities to avoid having to commit to assigning them to a country — when announcing Secretary of State John Kerry’s schedule last week.
Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Brussels, Chisinau, Jerusalem and Ramallah from December 3 to 6.
In Brussels, Secretary Kerry will attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Foreign Ministerial and associated meetings December 3-4.
In Chisinau, Secretary Kerry will meet with senior Moldovan officials. He will discuss bilateral issues, as well as Moldova’s path toward European integration.
In Jerusalem, Secretary Kerry will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss a range of issues including Iran and the negotiations with the Palestinians. In Ramallah, Secretary Kerry will meet with President Abbas where he will also discuss the ongoing final status negotiations, among other issues.
Conversely, an Oct. 11 press release named countries: “Secretary Kerry Travel to Afghanistan, France, United Kingdom.”
A Sept. 5 press release was on “Secretary Kerry’s Travel to Lithuania, France, and the United Kingdom.”
An Aug. 8 press release noted “Secretary of State John Kerry’s Travel to Colombia and Brazil.”
And a July 31 release said: “Secretary Kerry Travel to Islamabad, Pakistan and London, United Kingdom.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters “we’ll see” this morning when pressed on the Hill about whether Republicans will bring an Obamacare replacement to the floor next year.
At a caucus availability with the media, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) cited a Gallup poll released yesterday finding that those who are most familiar with Obamacare are the most opposed to the law.
“So those who know about the law are more opposed to it than not,” McCarthy said. “So I think it goes to answer the question from the leader why you continue to hide things: The more America learns of this plan, the more they’re opposed to it. That’s why Republicans continue to fight to a patient-driven health care system, not a government-driven health care system.”
When pressed on what the patient-driven system the GOP would be fighting for, Boehner said, “When you look at Obamacare what you see is a government-centered health care delivery system. And that’s not what the American people want.”
“The American people want to be able to pick their own type of health insurance. They want to be able to pick their own doctor, they want to be able to pick their own hospital. That’s what a patient-centered health care system looks like,” he added.
Asked if that would be wrapped into a bill in 2014, Boehner replied, “We’ll see.”
Over the next couple of weeks, the Speaker said he wants to see the farm bill conference wrapped up.
“But we get the same problem when it comes to the budget conference. Chairman Ryan has done a very good job of outlining very serious offers, but we can’t get Senate Democrats to say yes,” Boehner said. “It is time for the other chamber to get serious by getting this work finished.”
Pressed on the charge that this year’s Congress is the least productive in history, he noted “when you look at the number of bills passed by the House and the paltry number of bills passed by the Senate, you can see where the problem is.”
“Listen, the House has done more than half the appropriation bills. The Senate has done none. All right?” Boehner continued.
“The House has done its work on the national defense authorization bill. We did it in June. Yet the Senate has failed to act. The way this system of government works, both the House and Senate have to do their jobs. The House continues to do its job. It’s time for the Senate to get serious about doing theirs.”
Intelligence Chairman: Quick Code Fixes to Healthcare.gov, Lack of Monitoring have Made Website Less Secure
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said while the Obamacare website may have gotten faster, the quick fixes to improve performance may have compromised website security even more.
“The level of security on this web site is not even up to minimal standards in the private sector and when you talk about the sheer sensitivity of the information that the hub has access to, so think about all of these different servers with really sensitive information go to the hub. None of it has been stress tested. So they’re adding new code constantly, which hasn’t been vetted appropriately. And every time you add new code, it changes the ecosystem of the security of the entire web site,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told Fox.
“None of that has been tested. So we know that this thing gets hit thousands of times a day by people trying to get in and get access, unauthorized access. They have no coordinated effort on every single day to try to monitor and track that. Matter of fact, they could not even provide someone, CMS and HHS, the two folks responsible for the healthcare.gov web site, couldn’t even provide someone in a classified setting to come up and talk about the breaches which they know have happened.”
Rogers called that “just unconscionable.”
“So what we do is you’re encouraging people to go to a site that our own government knows doesn’t meet safety standards when it comes to security of private information. That’s why I think this is so incompetent. And if you’re going to do this right, Greta, the way any other company would do it. And if you notice iPhone or Apple never says it’s this exact date that we’re going to do the opening. Why?” he continued. “Because they’re stress testing that system right up until it’s ready. Then they say it’s the fall. We’re going to go on, whatever, October 1. This they did it the other way around. We’re going to meet October 1 and we’re not going to stress test it. We’re going to go ahead and make all these people exposed to this problem and not tell them about it. That’s just wrong.”
The chairman said the problem is “they’re married to this political timeline.”
“I think they believe that their politics is mired in the success of the web site, let alone what you think of the health care product once it gets working. And I think that’s a serious mistake. No business would do this. I think the president could get a lot of points here if he stopped, backed up, and said we’re going to close this thing down until it is fully secure up to modern-day industry standards,” Rogers said. “I think he could get some kudo points for this. Instead, he has just decided I’m mired to this thing, and by god we’re going to do it no matter if people are losing their personal information or not. That’s wrong. If this were the private sector, I talked to a contractor who said we would get sued to the point we were not in business anymore if we were even close to doing what they’re doing on this web site. That’s a pretty good indication we shouldn’t be doing it.”
A New York Democrat used the deadly train derailment in his home state to hammer Republicans about budget transportation allocations.
Initial investigation into Sunday morning derailment of the commuter train through the Bronx showed that it went into a curve at three times the recommended speed. Four people were killed in the crash.
“When I heard about the speed that the train was going and the fact that the conductor said that he applied the brakes and they did not start — stop, of course, you know, I’m concerned and know that we’ve got to get to the bottom of it and investigate as to why this tragedy has taken place,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told MSNBC. “But clearly, 82 miles per hour in a 30-mile zone is problematic. And I know that the investigators will get to the bottom of it. And we need to be as patient as we possibly can I guess to let the investigators get all of the facts.”
Meeks added “we need to have the technology, we need to do a whole host of infrastructure upgrades with our rails and a lot of it has to do with cost.”
“You know, if you look at the budgets that are being proposed, I know one budget that was proposed by Congressman Ryan, for example, for fiscal year 2014, he’s looking at cutting these budgets to go to states by $5 billion,” he said. “That’s all problematic, we’ve got to put safety first, we’ve got to look at, you know, doing our infrastructure over and making sure that it is strong for both, you know, the updated technologies and safety of the riders. That seems to me to make just good common sense as well as a good investment for America.”
He acknowledged about the train crash “we know that something had to go wrong whether it was human error or mechanical error, we’ll find that out.”
“We need to do that. I also know, though, that we’re an old train line. And if you look at the infrastructure, all of it is very old. And so we need to utilize whatever new technologies are available to us so that we can make sure that all of the safety concerns are adhere to. You know, the American civil engineers had said that you look at what’s taking place in the United States with regards to our public infrastructure, it give us a grade of D — that’s not satisfactory,” Meeks continued.
“They will do a thorough investigation and I believe that they will make some recommendations as to what should happen and then it will become incumbent upon Congress to help the states to appropriate — or to get the money that they need so that we can do whatever upgrades that we need to do because we need to save our lives and not have these kind of accidents.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said last night that he’s prepared to step up and run for president if the Democratic candidate doesn’t go left enough on changing society.
The self-proclaimed socialist has been hammering at his colleagues over not pressing for a single-payer government-run healthcare system and recently went on a tour of southern states to attempt to rally liberals there.
Sanders, 72, told MSNBC there are “enormous problems facing this country.”
“Income and wealth inequality, massively high unemployment. In fact, we’re the only country in the industrialized world which doesn’t guarantee health care to all people — global warming,” he said.
“It seems to me would be a real disgrace if we had a campaign with those issues, the needs of working families, the needs of the middle class, the needs of the elderly were not front and center.”
The Vermont lawmaker reiterated that he’s long had a problem with colleagues who take money from big corporations. “We need people out there fighting for ordinary people and not simply taking huge campaign contributions from the wealthy and the powerful,” he said.
“So, what I have said is that candidate is needed. And if somebody else doesn’t step up, I am prepared to do it.”
Of Republicans, he said, “All they can do is play the anti-ObamaCare card and hope that it fails and they’re going to lose on that.”
Recently, Sanders told Salon he does not “wake up every morning with a huge desire to be president of the United States… I don’t.”
“I do wake up believing [that] this country is facing more serious crises than we have faced since the Great Depression. And if you include the planetary crisis of global warming, the situation today may even be worse,” he said. “And given that reality, what distresses me enormously is that there is very little discussion about these major crises, and even less discussion about ideas that can resolve these issues.”
Some have mused about a dream ticket for the far left: Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
While the White House is claiming that Healthcare.gov is now working well, it’s still going to indefinitely delay the move of Jeff Zients to the Council of Economic Advisers as he oversees fixes to the exchange.
“We feel — we feel confident about the site working now as — as it was intended — originally conceived to do, granted two months later than we had, you know — we or anyone would have liked to have seen. So we have confidence in that,” White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri told MSNBC today.
Palmieri brushed off a question about whether the administration is going to step up public relations efforts this week to tout a fixed website, saying the site’s already getting enough traffic.
“We — we don’t — we’re — we’re not doing that because we don’t need to do that, in terms of driving traffic. We’re gonna monitor — it’s not about confidence in the site, it’s about whether or not you actually need to drive traffic,” she said. “We’re gonna — we anticipated that just because of the delay from the last few months, and then a lot of the press attention around this that today, in particular, would probably be a very high-volume day. We wanted to see how these first few days go.”
“And if we’re getting a lot of traffic, then we don’t feel — feel the need to drive it, and if we — if — if we see numbers start to drop off, then we’ll start taking those kinds of actions to — to get more people to the site.”
Zients, who was supposed to start his post as chairman of President Obama’s economic team, said in a report on the site’s progress that it is now performing at “private-sector velocity.”
“There are some things that the private sector does really well. And running — creating and running good websites is — is one of them. And — and, you know, we always look for the best practices from the private sector that we can bring to government,” Palmieri said.
“There are some things the private sector doesn’t do well; for example, in the case of health insurance, being able to provide affordable coverage to everyone. This is a place where the government needed to step in, put some rules in place for protection, so people — pre-existing conditions can get health care. So that people who get dropped from their employer coverage have another option or place to go,” she continued. “So the approach that we take is let’s take the best practice (inaudible) private sector where, you know — where they — where they do well and they do better than us. And this is an area where they do that and that’s the kind of practices that — that we wanted to bring, and that Jeff Zients and his team helped us to bring to the website.”
As far as Zients being able to come off Obamacare oversight and start his new job on time in a month, Palmieri said he’s going to stay on the website as long as needed.
“And he’s gonna continue that for the immediate future. He will become the NEC director at some point, I’m not sure exactly the date,” she said. “But the other thing that we want people to understand is that when Jeff does leave, you know, this is always going to be a short- term assignment for him, that he will be replaced by someone, because both the president and Secretary Sebelius think it’s very important that we have someone whose job it is is just to focus specifically on — on this technology, on the website, and on doing what we need to do to get the — to get the type of traffic and enrollment numbers that we need.”
“He’s still there now, and we don’t have — I don’t have a departure date for him but he’ll be NEC director at some point, and we’ll make it a full-time job for somebody else.”
Last week, Dem Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mark Warner of Virginia, Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Tim Kaine of Virginia wrote Obama asking that he appoint a permanent overseer for Healthcare.gov immediately.
“A project of this size and scope demands the sustained leadership and day-to-day management of a chief executive officer — someone whose sole responsibility would be an unrelenting focus on healthcare.gov,” they wrote. “The position should report directly to you and should be empowered with the authority to ensure that healthcare.gov is fixed quickly, completely, and permanently.”
Howard Mortman, C-SPAN’s go-to guy in D.C., regularly tweets classic political video from the channel’s library on Thursdays. Today, he acknowledged that Turkey Day put him a bit behind schedule when he tweeted a true classic:
— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) December 2, 2013
That was, of course, when the troops whooped and hollered at the touching visit where George W. Bush surprised them on Thanksgiving, ate turkey at the mess hall, and chatted with the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way.
President Obama has never visited the troops on Thanksgiving or Christmas, though in 2010 he visited Afghanistan between the two holidays to meet with President Hamid Karzai and visited troops at Bagram in the process.
“Earlier today, President Obama called 10 service members: two from the Army, two from the Marine Corps, two from the Navy, two from the Air Force and two from the Coast Guard,” the White House said on Thursday. “He thanked all of them for their service, and he wished them and their families a Happy Thanksgiving.”
The White House also noted that the Obamas feasted on nine types of pie: “Huckleberry pie, pecan pie, chocolate cream pie, sweet potato pie, peach pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, banana cream pie, coconut cream pie.”
National Security Advisor Susan Rice was sent to Afghanistan last week to meet with Karzai. “On behalf of President Obama, she is thanking the men and women who are away from their families this Thanksgiving and serving in harm’s way,” NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. However, Rice flew out of the country two days before Thanksgiving.
Key Senate supporters of tougher sanctions against Iran conceded that it’s going to be a challenge to move a bill when the White House is pressuring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to keep it off the floor, but vow to plunge ahead with it regardless.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he was bothered by Jay Carney’s statement that congressional advocates of tougher sanctions were “somehow marching us off to war.”
That administration rhetoric, Menendez said, “was way over the top.”
“And so while we have heard naysayers in the past say, no, we shouldn’t pursue those sanctions, it seems to me that prospectively looking for sanctions that are invoked six months from the date of enactment — they give the president certain waivers — therefore creates the flexibility for diplomacy, also sends a message to Iran, as it has throughout this process, that there is a consequence if you don’t strike a successful deal and puts us in a position of having the insurance to have additional sanctions go into effect at that time, and at the same time gives the administration the flexibility to negotiate,” he said.
Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) stressed that concern over the nuclear deal with Iran “is felt in a very strong, bipartisan way.”
“It’s very difficult to understand that, at the height of our leverage — we had six — we have six countries negotiating and the world behind us, we negotiated a deal of this nature with not a single centrifuge being dismantled, all of them spinning in perpetuity for the next six months,” Corker said. “And I think that it’s hard to see how you get to a place that meets the standard that we would want to meet at the end. And so I’m very concerned, especially with this interim deal, how we get to a place where Iran is not enriching constantly or where they’re right on the verge, always, of being able to break out and create a nuclear weapon.”
“I have strong concerns about the proliferation that’s going to occur in the area as people see this rogue nation being dealt with in this manner and basically us validating them over the next six months.”
Menendez said he’s “concerned about some elements of the text that people haven’t focused on.”
“For example, already in that text as it relates to what is defined as a comprehensive solution, there is some suggestion that we are going to define what a mutually agreeable enrichment program is. So we’ve already ceded away from U.N. Security Council resolutions that say no enrichment,” he said. “Secondly there is the ability to extend this interim agreement and to deal with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Well, unless you’re going to deal them away, I don’t know what there is to deal. The Security Council resolutions call for ceasing enrichment.”
“And, lastly, there is a provision here that envisions in a comprehensive solution a sunset clause that would say that after a period of time, which is not defined, that the Iranians would be treated as any non-nuclear weapons state. That means that they could, after that period of time, enrich uranium without any consequence and without any limitations. They could seek plutonium track without any limitations. Those are real concerns. So defining both what the end state is as well as having sanctions regime that is ready to go should the deal not fall through,” Menendez added.
Corker noted that the agreement doesn’t even address Iran’s ballistic testing issues.
“There’s so many issues in this next six months that are not addressed. As a matter of fact, some people have said Iran may wish to cheat over the next six months, I see no way that they’re going to want to cheat,” Corker continued. “This is a total victory from their standpoint. I think they’re going to be good actors over the next six months because they see an administration who led this negotiation, an administration that has already given tilt to allowing them do the things that the world community through the U.N. Security Council has already said they cannot do.”
“So I’m very discouraged and I hope we’re able to have a better end game than it looks like we’re going to have now. And I think Congress can help us get there.”
Both Menendez and Corker are members of the Group of 14 who are negotiating a new sanctions bill over recess. The Senate returns next Monday.
The former director of the CIA and NSA under President George W. Bush said there is “no question” that President Obama has accepted uranium enrichment in the Iran nuclear deal, despite the administration’s protests to the contrary.
Retired Gen. Michael Hayden said on Fox News Sunday “it’s not like we had a whole lot of good choices with regard to Iran and their nuclear program.”
“I’m willing to let this deal kind of run. But let’s be honest with ourselves, all right. We have accepted Iranian uranium enrichment. There is no question about that. That’s a different red line than we used to have. I understand that. That may be a result of the facts that have changed on the ground,” he said.
Hayden stressed that despite administration claims, “it says in the agreement that we will come to an agreement with regard to their right to enrich, which is very different than the U.N. Security Council resolutions to date that says they do not have a right to enrich.”
“At the end of the day, Iran’s going to be a nuclear threshold state,” he said. “…Right now, the Iranians are far too close to a nuclear weapon. We have hit the pause button. Now we have got to negotiate hitting the delete button with them.”
The Iranians are probably demonstrating a “mix” of feeling cornered by sanctions and just playing the U.S. to buy time on their nuclear weapons program, the general said.
“It is a bad bet to bet on moderates and not moderates in another country. Rouhani is a pragmatist, though. Perhaps, not a moderate, but a pragmatist,” Hayden said. “…It might be a good judgment that Rouhani, and particularly his foreign minister Zarif, is just about the best deal we can get in terms of interlocutors within the Islamic Republic.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said this morning that we’re not safer from terrorism today than we were just one or two years ago.
“I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that, the fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up,” she said this morning on CNN. “There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnatometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups that ever and there’s huge malevolence out there.”
Her House counterpart, Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), said he “absolutely” agreed “that we’re not safer today for the same very reasons.”
“So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it’s getting more difficult because we see the al-Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing to something different, more affiliates than we’ve ever had before, meaning more groups that operated independently of al-Qaeda have now joined al-Qaeda around the world, all of them have at least some aspiration to commit an act of violence in the United States or against western targets all around the world,” Rogers said.
“They’ve now switched to this notion that maybe smaller events are okay. So if you have more smaller events than bigger events, they think that might still lead to their objectives and their goals,” he added. “That makes it exponentially harder for our intelligence services to stop an event like that.”
Feinstein said there’s “real displaced aggression in this very fundamentalist, jihadist, Islamic community.”
“And that is that the West is responsible for everything that goes wrong, and that the only thing that’s going to solve this is Islamic Sharia law and the concept of the caliphate,” she said. “And I see more groups, more fundamentalists, more jihadists more determined to kill to get to where they want to get. So, it’s not an isolated phenomenon. You see these groups spread a web of connections. And this includes North Africa, it includes the Middle East, it includes other areas as well.”
Rogers said the world is now dealing with nearly 25 weak governments who can’t control large regions of their territory, making it attractive for safe havens.
He added that a number of Americans and other westerners who went to fight with al-Qaeda units in Syria have returned home. “We are very, very concerned that these folks who have western paper have gone there, participated in combat events, are trained, are further radicalized, now have the ability to go back in western countries.”
“…This is all starting to spread. Iraq is having its problems now. It’s spreading into Lebanon, Jordan has issues, Turkey along the border has issues. This is very, very, very concerning.”
“There is now a bomb that can go through magnatometers. People can get on aircraft with those bombs. They have tried to send four into this country, two in printer cartridges, one by Abdulmutallab, and one, asset, was able to obtain out of Yemen,” Feinstein said. “These were coming into this country, two of them aimed at synagogues in Illinois. Now, having said that, the only way to stop this was with intelligence. The only way you could stop that is putting clues together to ferret out where this was coming from.”
Rogers said they recently learned “three al-Qaeda affiliate groups have changed the way they communicate means it’s less likely that we’re going to be able to detect something prior to an event that goes operational, meaning that they’ve already started the final planning stages to blow something up or shoot someone.”
“The bad guys, the al-Qaeda affiliates, Russian intelligence services, Chinese intelligence services, the Quds force that operates terrorism events all around the world, those are the folks we need to focus our attention and our energy on in order to keep America safe,” he added.
“…I think people think what the senator was talking about, Dianne was talking about, was people think, ‘well, we’ve got this thing beat, it’s kind of over. We don’t have to worry about al-Qaeda anymore.’ And what we see is that’s not the case.”
A Wisconsin Democrat said she’s confident the Supreme Court will rule against Hobby Lobby in its protest of the contraceptive mandate because “motherhood is not a hobby.”
The challenge hinges on whether employers can opt out of the requirement because of the religious convictions of the business owners. Arguments will likely be heard in March with a decision in June.
“I am just optimistic about this. I mean, enough already. The fact that they took Hobby Lobby’s case with this cohort of 46 companies — wooden furniture makers, automotive part makers, I think it says it all. I mean, motherhood is not a hobby. Women’s health is not some arts and craft. I mean, nobody spends more money at the arts and crafts store than I do,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said this morning on MSNBC.
“But I don’t think those owners should, first of all, be able to decide whether or not I’m going to be a mother. And I think people would be surprised to know that great numbers of women are treated for endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cysts with birth control. And it should not be up to a for-profit company to decide whether or not you should have birth control available to you. Enough already,” she added.
Moore said she’s so confident of victory “because I think that the First Amendment, we revere it.”
“It protects the rights of religious schools, churches, places of worship. And I think that the sanctity of that is something we all appreciate as Americans,” she said.
“The Hobby Lobby is not one of those institutions. And the Affordable Care Act says that everybody, especially women, ought to have basic health care and birth control is basic health care. I have a sister who we used to tease. At age 70, she was treated for a life- threatening illness with birth control pills. Hobby Lobby should not be able to intervene in that medical care.”
Moore was asked about Hobby Lobby’s argument that they express their faith in every aspect of their business, and oppose funding things like the Plan B morning-after pill — thus exercising their freedom of religion.
“I think the notion of the First Amendment, I’m not a lawyer, is that, you know, you don’t impose a state religion on everybody. So that if, you know, if I believe that at age 24, and I’ve got three kids that I need to use birth control so that I don’t have a fourth, that’s — that’s — you can’t impose your religious beliefs on me, Hobby Lobby, that I ought to have a fourth or a fifth child because that’s what you believe,” the congresswoman said.
“Freedom is freedom. And I think that we find there are conflicts of rights when we start saying that a for-profit company’s beliefs supersede my own individual religious beliefs or not.”
A member of the House Intelligence Committee said one of the mysteries still remaining for members of Congress about the Benghazi attack is exactly what Ambassador Chris Stevens was doing in the Libyan city.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said lawmakers have learned that the CIA did inform people at the diplomatic facility “that there’s been a lot of chatter.”
“We want you on high alert. And, you know, they shared that information with the RSOs over at the temporary facility, even invited the guys over to spend the night with them,” he said on Fox.
“And I don’t know why in the world the ambassador would have been making that trip. He made a — we understand that he did go to the opening of a school or something there in Benghazi. And two of the CIA agents were asked to go along with him on that for extra protection. But what other than that he was doing there, we really don’t know.”
Congress heard testimony during the Benghazi hearings that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was interested in opening a consulate there, but numerous theories have been floated since the Sept. 11, 2012, assault about Stevens’ actual reason for the visit.
“What’s interesting is that when we heard this testimony that when they arrived at the facility, that none of the RSOs or the regional security officers that were there were armed. In fact, one of them was barefoot. We had one individual testify that he saw two of them riding around in a Land Cruiser,” Westmoreland said.
“And so, you know, none of them had a weapon. As far as they know, no shots were fired. And so, I mean, that is completely inadequate especially in Libya at the time of September the 11th. And so we don’t understand exactly what kind of preparations these gentlemen have. Now, what we understand is the guy that was leading the thing had just graduated from the school there at the State Department and had been in Benghazi less than 10 weeks.”
Westmoreland said he believes that much of it boils down to “they wanted us to, you know, look like we weren’t afraid, that we were trying to be part of the neighborhood and that was just not the case.”
“And the security that was even sent down with the ambassador was very light. And in fact, they took the same route that the British ambassador had been fired upon about three months earlier,” he said. “So I don’t know how much really preliminary work they had done on preparing for the ambassador to be there.”
Levin: ‘Common Sense Criteria’ Needed to Weed Out 501(c)(4) Groups ‘Engaging in Political Decision Making’
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) cautioned this morning that new rules coming from Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to more sharply define what qualifies as a 501(c)(4) need to be carefully assessed, but said the intention of the rules is spot-on.
“By law, tax exempt 501(c)(4) groups are supposed to be doing social welfare work, not influencing campaigns using money from undisclosed donors,” Levin said. “In a long overdue decision, the IRS is finally proposing using objective, common sense criteria to identify campaign activities by 501(c)(4) organizations and end suspicions it is engaging in political decision making.”
“The specific criteria that have been proposed need to be carefully evaluated, but the general approach of replacing subjective analysis with objective criteria is encouraging, because it promises to reduce concerns about political bias, make tax and campaign laws more consistent, and streamline the review process which will save money for both taxpayers and nonprofits,” he added.
But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said it’s simply an effort to crack down on conservative groups in the wake of the IRS scandal.
“This new effort by the Obama administration to limit traditional advocacy efforts by social welfare organizations will have a much more profound impact on grassroots and community organizations than on the well-heeled groups it supposedly targets,” Issa said. “The fact that the administration’s new effort only applies to social welfare organizations — and not powerful unions or business groups — underscores that this is a crass political effort by the administration to get what political advantage they can, when they can.”
“The Committee’s interim report into the IRS’s targeting scandal explained how the Citizens United decision caused the IRS to handle conservative tax-exempt applicants in a distinct and unfair manner,” the chairman added. “The regulation released today continues this Administration’s unfortunate pattern of stifling constitutional free speech.”
The Treasury Department said it expects to receive “a large number of comments” on the proposed guidance and will weigh them in the consideration process.
“This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations,” said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark J. Mazur. “We are committed to getting this right before issuing final guidance that may affect a broad group of organizations. It will take time to work through the regulatory process and carefully consider all public feedback as we strive to ensure that the standards for tax-exemption are clear and can be applied consistently.”
This proposed guidance defines the term “candidate-related political activity,” and would amend current regulations by indicating that the promotion of social welfare does not include this type of activity, according to Treasury. The proposed guidance also seeks initial comments on other aspects of the qualification requirements, including what proportion of a 501(c)(4) organization’s activities must promote social welfare.
“This is part of ongoing efforts within the IRS that are improving our work in the tax-exempt area,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “Once final, this proposed guidance will continue moving us forward and provide clarity for this important segment of exempt organizations.”
Under the proposed guidelines, candidate-related political activity includes:
- Communications that expressly advocate for a clearly identified political candidate or candidates of a political party.
- Communications that are made within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) and clearly identify a candidate or political party.
- Communications expenditures that must be reported to the Federal Election Commission.
- Grants and Contributions
- Any contribution that is recognized under campaign finance law as a reportable contribution.
- Grants to section 527 political organizations and other tax-exempt organizations that conduct candidate-related political activities (note that a grantor can rely on a written certification from a grantee stating that it does not engage in, and will not use grant funds for, candidate-related political activity).
- Activities Closely Related to Elections or Candidates
- Voter registration drives and “get-out-the-vote” drives.
- Distribution of any material prepared by or on behalf of a candidate or by a section 527 political organization.
- Preparation or distribution of voter guides that refer to candidates (or, in a general election, to political parties).
- Holding an event within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) at which a candidate appears as part of the program.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is planning on introducing bicameral legislation after the holiday break to thwart Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) attempt to stock the D.C. Circuit with President Obama’s picks.
Before senators left for the Thanksgiving break last week, Reid invoked the “nuclear option” to allow nominees to pass cloture with a simple majority vote.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduce the Court Efficiency Act in April, and King will now introduced it in the House and and push for its immediate consideration in the House Judiciary Committee and on the floor. The bill would simply eliminate the three vacancies on the court that Reid is attempting to fill by killing the filibuster, and add one judgeship each to the Second Circuit Court and the Eleventh Circuit Court.
“The D.C. Circuit ranks last in both the number of appeals filed and appeals terminated. The caseload is so low, in fact, that current judges on the D.C. Circuit have told me that if these seats were filled, there wouldn’t be enough work to go around,” Grassley argued. “It only makes sense to move these seats where they are needed most and can be an efficient use of taxpayer resources.”
“But rather than adopt a reasonable good-government approach, the Senate majority has demonstrated once again that it is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve its political ends, in this case stacking the deck with judges it believes will rubberstamp key elements of the president’s agenda, including health care reform and cap and trade.”
King said noted that the court enjoys not just a small workload, but the “unique responsibility of reviewing matters pertaining to federal agencies.”
“It is not at all surprising that given this court’s responsibility, the president would want to shore up support for his agenda there. Additionally, the fervor to fill these judgeships, which led to an unprecedented change in Senate procedure, obviously stems from a similar motivation amongst Senate Democrats,” King said.
“Given the enormous costs to taxpayers each judgeship entails, and the dubious political motivations behind packing the D.C. Circuit, I think it is imperative that the House act immediately to protect the integrity of the Court, taxpayers, and future litigants.”
If a bipartisan consensus can be found anywhere on the Hill right now, it’s that neither party’s lawmakers appear to want to hear passengers yakking in the plane seat next to theirs.
In fact, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) vowed yesterday to introduce legislation to stop the Federal Communications Commission from allowing cell phone conversations on airplanes.
“Imagine two million passengers, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts,” Alexander said. “The Transportation Security Administration would have to hire three times as many air marshals to deal with the fistfights.”
“Stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies from those who wander around shouting personal details into a microphone: babbling about last night’s love life, bathroom plans, next week’s schedule, orders to an assistant, arguments with spouses. Imagine this noise while you travel, restrained by your seatbelt, unable to escape,” he continued.
“The FCC commissioners will earn the gratitude of the two million Americans who fly each day by deciding: text messages, yes; conversations, no.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) sent a letter Friday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler arguing that allowing cell phone use would be a safety issue and potentially increase incidents of “air rage.”
He noted that the Association of Flight Attendants has come out against the proposed change on the ground that in-flight phone calls would be “disruptive and distracting.”
“Putting the nuisance factor aside, I’m concerned this could present a serious flight-safety issue,” Begich said. “We need people to be paying attention to cockpit announcements and the flight attendants, not talking on the phone. And we certainly don’t need any more potential causes for the growing phenomenon of ‘air rage.’ The thought of having a constant cellphone yammering on every flight makes my head hurt.”
A YouGov/Huffington Post poll conducted over the weekend found 31 percent of respondents believing that people should be able to talk on their phones during flight, while 49 percent were opposed.
A solid majority, 63 percent, believe text messaging in-flight should be allowed.
President Obama told major studio representatives assembled at DreamWorks today that Hollywood has made the world a better place even people know nothing else about the U.S.:
Believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy. It’s part of what makes us exceptional; part of what makes us such a world power.
You can go anywhere on the planet and you’ll see a kid wearing a “Madagascar” T-shirt. You can say, “May the force be with you,” they know what you’re talking about. Hundreds of millions of people may never set foot in the United States, but thanks to you, they’ve experienced a small part of what makes our country special. They’ve learned something about our values.
We have shaped a world’s culture through you. The stories that we tell transmit values and ideals about tolerance and diversity and overcoming adversity, and creativity that are part of our DNA. And as a consequence of what you’ve done, you helped shape the world’s culture in a way that has made the world better.
They might not know the Gettysburg Address, but if they’re watching some old movie, maybe Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner or The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Will and Grace and Modern Family, they’ve had a front row seat to our march towards progress.
Obama did gently chide industry folks about gun violence on screen:
When it comes to issues like gun violence, we’ve got to make sure that we’re not glorifying it because the stories you tell shape our children’s outlook and their lives. Now, earlier this year, leaders from this town sat down with Vice President Biden to talk about what Hollywood could do to help keep our kids safe. This was in the wake of Sandy Hook. And those conversations need to continue. The stories we tell matter. And you tell stories more powerfully than anybody else on the earth.
But I want to make clear, even as we think long and hard about the messages we send, we should never waver from our commitment to the freedom that allows us to tell those stories so well. Protecting our First Amendment rights are vital to who we are and it’s also good business. Because in the global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody else is creativity.
Iran’s foreign ministry said today that the “fact sheet” released by the White House isn’t correctly representing the nuclear deal it signed.
“What has been released by the website of the White House as a fact sheet is a one-sided interpretation of the agreed text in Geneva and some of the explanations and words in the sheet contradict the text of the Joint Plan of Action (the title of the Iran-powers deal), and this fact sheet has unfortunately been translated and released in the name of the Geneva agreement by certain media, which is not true,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said, according to Fars News Agency.
After the White House released that fact sheet early Sunday, Tehran released what it says is the full text of the agreement.
And Iran stressed it had not signed over any enrichment rights, while the White House said Iran did not have a right to enrich uranium.
Afkham said Tehran is not happy that Washington strayed from the actual wording of the agreement, which is why negotiations were delicate in the first place.
From Los Angeles today, White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed that President Obama and his staff have been calling “senior members of Congress” to “brief them on the situation” — namely, to try to convince them to not pass new sanctions on Iran.
“While we have been traveling over the course of Sunday, Monday, now Tuesday, senior members of the President’s national security team at the White House have been in touch with many members of Congress to describe to them our position as it relates to these talks and how we see — and what we see as the best path for moving forward,” Earnest said.
“Because of the phased agreement that we’ve struck with them, the Iranians will not use additional talks as cover to make progress on their nuclear program,” he added. “So we have before us a really important if not historic opportunity to resolve this situation peacefully. So we’ve got a very important six months ahead of us here, and this diplomatic opportunity should not be complicated by additional sanctions legislation at this point.”
Um, is it just me or is it disconcerting that Iran seems to have a totally different view of the nuke deals terms?
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) November 27, 2013
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases — from Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. — on the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.
The challenge hinges on whether employers can opt out of the requirement because of the religious convictions of the business owners.
Arguments will likely be heard in March with a decision in June.
White House press secretary Jay Carney just issued a statement on the news:
The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration asked the Supreme Court to consider a legal challenge to the health care law’s requirement that for-profit corporations include birth control coverage in insurance available to their employees. We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.
We do not comment on specifics of a case pending before the Court. As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor. The President believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women. The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds. These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families–not their bosses or corporate CEOs–can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) blasted the decision, saying “allowing a woman’s boss to call the shots about her access to birth control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and age.”
“In weighing this case my hope is that the court realizes that women working for private companies should be afforded the same access to medical care, regardless of who signs their paycheck,” Murray said. “We can’t allow legal precedent to dictate that the personal beliefs of those in positions of power can block those who aren’t from making their own health care decisions. That is a slippery slope that could lead to bosses dictating everything from an employee’s ability to access HIV treatment to their ability to vaccinate their children.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said “by failing to protect religious freedom, the Senate guaranteed that the courts would have to act.”
“I’m pleased the Supreme Court has decided to hear this important case,” Blunt added. “The HHS mandate is an enormous government overreach and it violates Americans’ constitutional rights. Employers should not be forced to choose between giving up their business for their faith or giving up their faith for their business.”