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The PJ Tatler

Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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IAEA Refuses to Brief Senators on Iran Deal, Even in Classified Setting

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said at a hearing on the Iran nuclear deal today that they requested a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency on its agreements with Tehran.

These deals are not in the possession of the Obama administration and have never been seen by Secretary of State John Kerry, much less provided to Congress.

“I believe one person may have read it at the — at the facility, but doesn’t have it, they don’t possess it,” Kerry told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.

Today, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano had been invited to come address lawmakers next week, but refused.

He turned down a meeting with senators in any setting: public, private or classified.

Corker is now gathering signatures from senators for another letter to Amano in hope that the IAEA chief will reconsider.

Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stressed that they’ll “continue to press” for such a meeting as “from the beginning, it’s been our hope that we can get direct communications with the IAEA.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) noted that the IAEA is a UN organization “for which we pay membership dues.”

“We are putting an enormous part of the national security of the United States and of our allies in region in the IAEA,” Menendez said, suggesting “maybe their fear is the question of Parchin,” the secretive military site where Iran will be able to collect its own samples and turn them over to the IAEA as evidence of their compliance with the P5+1 nuclear deal.

“The entire inspections regime, the entire verification regime depends upon the IAEA — and not to be able to question the IAEA about how they’re going to go about it, about their abilities to do so, about the budgetary realities they may need in order to accomplish what we want them to accomplish.”

Menendez stressed that he doesn’t “know how one can come to a conclusion on this agreement without understanding from the agency that is involved.”

“The most critical element of this agreement is them. Forget about the sanctions. Because sanctions only come into play if they’re not performing. We have to know whether they’re performing in the first instance, in the implementation, then we have to know subsequently if they’re performing afterward,” the senator said.

“So I would hope that we would find a mechanism” to lure the IAEA to Congress — perhaps a resolution, he suggested.

“You cannot advise and consent, in a sense, to something for which you’re going in blind on pure faith. Without knowing the wherewithal of how that agency, essential to this agreement if one believes in it, is ultimately going to do its job. And for which we are going to depend upon to defend our interests. It’s amazing to me,” Menendez added.

Menendez also panned administration enforcement of sanctions regimes, noting how hard it is to get entities listed under the Magnitsky Act that targets Russia human-rights violators or under Venezuela sanctions passed by Congress.

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White House Preparing Response to Petition to Extradite Lion-Killing Dentist to Zimbabwe

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House will have to formally respond to a citizen petition demanding that a Minnesota dentist be sent to Zimbabwe to face justice for killing, skinning and beheading a protected lion.

The petition on the White House’s We the People site would have needed to pass 100,000 signatures by Aug. 28 — 30 days from the petition’s launch — to trigger a response from the administration.

It quickly passed that threshold last night.

“Cecil the Lion, a resident of Zimbabwe’s national park, and a national icon was poached and killed this week. Media reports in the Guardian, Wall Street Journal and elsewhere have identified American Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minneapolis, MN as the poacher. He is alleged to have lured Cecil from the safety of the national park to kill him. Two of Palmer’s local accomplices are already in custody. Zimbabwe authorities now actively seeking Palmer in connection with this incident,” the petition states.

“We urge the Secretary Of State John Kerry and the Attorney General Loretta Lynch to fully cooperate with the Zimbabwe authorities and to extradite Walter Palmer promptly at the Zimbabwe government’s request.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating Cecil’s killing. “At this point in time, however, multiple efforts to contact Dr. Walter Palmer have been unsuccessful. We ask that Dr. Palmer or his representative contact us immediately,” said Edward Grace, the service’s deputy chief of law enforcement.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has also weighed in.

“I’m just so disgusted with that man,” Dayton said. “Shoot any lion but lure a lion like that out of the preserve and shoot him, how could anybody think that’s sport? Just appalling.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that a process by which officials will respond to the petition now starts.

“It sounds as though this particular petition has reached that threshold. And so there will be a forthcoming White House response,” Earnest said. “The thing that I will say as a general matter, is that decisions about prosecution and extradition are made over at the Department of Justice.”

He said he hadn’t talked with President Obama about Cecil the lion, but was quick to link the Zimbabwe story to Obama’s recent trip to Kenya and Ethiopia.

“I know that he’s aware of it,” Earnest said. “…And the discussion of trying to counter illicit wildlife trafficking is something that came up on the president’s trip over there. And the Sunday that he talked about there was an advocate at the meeting that the president held with some civil society leaders in Nairobi. There was an advocate for trying to protect wildlife in Africa — I think this woman’s principal focus, as I recall, was actually on trying to protect the elephant population in Africa, which I think is also under some threat. But this is an issue that is a particularly important policy issue in Africa. And so this is something that we’re obviously aware of.”

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Earnest: Obama May Not Have Seen Any Planned Parenthood Videos, But Videos ‘Entirely Inaccurate’

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that he doesn’t know if President Obama has seen any of the undercover videos regarding Planned Parenthood’s harvesting and sale of body parts, but indicated the administration is writing them off as an anti-abortion tactic.

“I don’t know if he has or not,” Earnest replied at today’s press briefing when asked if Obama had seen today’s release, which shows a Planned Parenthood medical director picking at aborted body parts and declaring it’s a boy.

“I don’t know if has seen any of them. I do know that he has been following the story in the news,” Earnest continued. “Again, we have — as you have heard me say before, there are — there’s ample reason to think that this is merely the tried and true tactic that we have seen from extremists on the right to edit this video and selectively release and edited version of the video that grossly distorts the position of the person who is actually speaking on the video. And Planned Parenthood has indicated that’s what has occurred here.”

“And any review of the policy that Planned Parenthood says they implement indicates that the views expressed on the videos is — or at least the way they are pictured on the videos is entirely inaccurate. But for those policies and for the way that Planned Parenthood implements them, I’d encourage you to contact Planned Parenthood.”

But, he stressed, Obama “will not support another effort by Republicans to try to defund an organization that offers important and needed health care services for millions of women across the country.” Bills to strip funding have been introduced in the House and Senate.

Pressed further on the issue, Earnest was asked if there had been any communication between the White House and Planned Parenthood about whether they were illegally trafficking organs or not.

“Not that I’m aware of. And I think that Planned Parenthood has policies and procedures in place, and I know that they have described those policy and procedures as living up to the highest ethical standards. For what those standards are, I’d refer you to Planned Parenthood,” he said. “And as I mentioned, based on the essentially fraudulent way in which these videos have been released, there’s not a lot of evidence right now that Planned Parenthood hasn’t lived up to those standards.”

Asked if anyone at the White House had watched the videos from the Center for Medical Progress, Earnest responded, “I suspect somebody has.”

“And where are you getting your information, the fact that it’s fraudulent or the fact that they’re distorted and edited unfairly?” a reporter asked.

“Based on the public comments of Planned Parenthood, who has indicated that the views that are represented in the video are entirely inconsistent with the — with that organization’s policies and with the high ethical standard that they live up to,” Earnest said.

Asked if it he was then simply getting his talking points from Planned Parenthood, Earnest said, “I’m merely repeating what I’ve seen that they’ve said and has been reported publicly about what they’ve said.”

“But I’m certainly not the only person to arrive at this conclusion. There are a number of others who have taken a look at those videos and raised significant doubts about their authenticity based on the way that they were edited and they certainly are consistent with the frequently stated policy of Planned Parenthood,” he added. “And I think that’s why many, many people who have taken a look at this situation have arrived at the same conclusion and described the videos the same way that I have.”

Asked if Planned Parenthood had contacted the White House about the videos, Earnest replied, “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s taken place but I’m not aware of any specific conversations.”

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VIDEO: Paul Calls Trump Topping Poll ‘Temporary Loss of Sanity’

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) attributed Donald Trump’s place atop the polls to a combination of media saturation and a momentary loss of sanity in the country.

A new Quinnipiac poll today put Trump at 20 percent among GOP voters, with his greatest support among Tea Partiers and men. He also tops GOP voters’ “no way” list, followed by Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.

Among hypothetical matchups, polling all voters, Hillary Clinton beats Trump 48-36 percent, edges out Scott Walker 44-43 percent, and gets 41 percent support compared to 42 percent for Bush. It’s the first time Bush has passed her in the poll; at the end of May, voters favored Clinton by 10 points over Bush.

Paul was asked on CNN today why Trump is continuing to do so well.

“Television works, Wolf. If you would give some other candidates time from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night, all day long for three weeks, I’m guessing other candidates might rise as well,” the senator replied. “For example, some people are hearing about one candidate all the time. Very few people know that I’ve offered a tax code that you can fill out your tax return on one page at 14.5 percent. If I had every network going gaga over that, I think we could get ours to rise as well.”

“I think this is a temporary sort of loss of sanity, but we’re going to come back to our senses and look for somebody serious at some point,” he added.

Asked if Trump’s supporters had lost their sanity, Paul clarified, “No. I think what they are is hungry for someone who will tell the truth, who will say that Washington is broken and we really have to start over, have term limits, wash out the place, cleanse the place. Absolutely he’s tapping into that.”

“But we also have to have a serious discussion of how we’re going to do it and simply saying that the Mexicans are going to pay for it, we’re not going to pay the national debt by asking Americans to pay for it. OK? I’m the only one running for office that actually has a five-year plan to balance the budget. I’m ready to do the specific cuts to do it. I have a simple tax rate, one rate, 14.5 percent. I think that’s a debate we’re going to have to have. We’ll start it next week, hopefully.”

Paul launched a new anti-Planned Parenthood campaign ad today, noting that while they sell body parts Paul “cared for premature babies to save their sight.”

“We fund 9,000 community health centers and there’s only 600 to 700 Planned Parenthood centers. There are plenty of government centers that do everything Planned Parenthood says they do, but don’t do abortions. They manipulate the baby to harvest organs,” Paul said. “I know pro-choice people who are upset about this. Even Hillary Clinton, who is not sure when life begins, she’s even disturbed by this. You have to realize, this is really disturbing a lot of people from all spectrums of life.”

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VIDEO: Defense Secretary Doesn’t Know If Ayatollah’s Religion Compels Him to Destroy Israel

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday to answer questions about the Iran nuclear deal, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he couldn’t determine whether Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had religious motivations to destroy the Great Satan and the Little Satan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) first asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, “Do you believe the Iranians have been trying to build a bomb or a nuclear power program for peaceful purposes all these years?”

“I believe they have a militarization aspiration,” Dempsey carefully replied.

Then:

GRAHAM: Who’s the commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, Secretary Carter? Who calls the shots?

CARTER: The supreme leader.

GRAHAM: Who decides if Iran goes to war? The supreme leader, right?

CARTER: I believe so, yes.

GRAHAM: Who decides if they try to break out, the supreme leader?

CARTER: Yes.

GRAHAM: Does the supreme leader’s religious views compel him over time to destroy Israel and attack America?

CARTER: I — I — I don’t know. I don’t know the man, I only…

GRAHAM: I can tell you, I do.

CARTER: … read what he says.

GRAHAM: I know the man.

CARTER: I don’t.

GRAHAM: I know what he wants, and if you don’t know that, this is not a good deal. Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?

CARTER: No, the United States wins the war.

GRAHAM: We win.

Graham then pressed Carter about Saudi Arabia’s real thoughts about the deal, to which the Defense secretary replied, “This is a little bit like what is the Ayatollah thinking. I only read what he says and I take at face value.”

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Bernie to Hillary: Your Excuses for Dodging Keystone Question Are Lame

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) chided Hillary Clinton for ducking a question on the Keystone XL pipeline, stressing that voters have to know where she stands on the project.

Asked Tuesday in New Hampshire about Keystone, Clinton said it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to answer the question because she “was in a position to set this in motion” as secretary of State. The project is caught up in the State Department review process as it crosses into the United States from Canada.

“I am not going to second guess [President Obama],” she replied. “I want to wait and see what he and Secretary Kerry decide. If it is undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.”

After the townhall event, Clinton told reporters, “I’ve been very clear: I will not express an opinion until [Obama and John Kerry] have made a decision, and then I will do so. If this is the number one issue on people’s minds, then they’re going to have to wait to see what Secretary Kerry and President Obama decide to do about it.”

Sanders told MSNBC last night that “if we are serious about combating climate change, which the scientists tell us is the major environmental crisis facing our planet, we have got to do everything we can to prevent the excavation and transportation of the some of the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth.”

“I think this Keystone pipeline idea is a terrible idea. I’m against it and frankly I think Secretary Clinton should be speaking out on this issue,” he said.

The senator said there’s not “merit to that answer” that she can’t speak on it now because of a secretary of State conflict.

“She’s a candidate for president of the United States. Climate change is one of the great issues that all of us have got to deal with and I think the people are entitled to know her opinion on the issue,” he added.

“…She’s not secretary of State now. She’s a candidate for the president of the United States. This is enormously important issue. You could say you are for it. You could say you are against it but I think should have an opinion on that issue.”

Sanders, who has been steadily climbing in the polls since entering the race, heads to New Hampshire this weekend for several town meetings, kicking off with a Friends of the Earth Action press conference in Concord.

“I think there is a feeling that people should at least have an opinion on the most important trade agreement ever entered into why the United States of America. I happen to think TPP is the continuation of disastrous trade policies which have cost us millions of jobs. I’m against it. Secretary should have a position on it,” he said.

“I think that the Keystone pipeline is excavating and transporting some of the dirtiest fuel on earth. I think if we’re serious about addressing climate change, the secretary should have an opinion on that as well… It’s not a question of loyalty. She is a candidate. You can agree with the President. You can disagree with the President. But when running for office and these are two of the monumental issues that we’re facing, I think it is obligatory for you to speak out and tell the American people what your view is.”

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N.Y. ISIS Suspect Got All He Needed for Jihad on eBay

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Charges filed against a New York man for “attempting to provide material support and resources” to ISIS show that he stocked up on everything needed for a terror attack, including Shahada flags, on eBay.

Arafat M. Nagi, 44, a U.S. citizen who lived in Lackawanna, N.Y., made his first appearance in court today on the charges that could bring up to 15 years in prison.

A person “previously convicted of terrorism offenses” from Nagi’s home city was interviewed by the FBI in August 2014 and told agents that the unemployed, divorced father of two adult children was talking about jihad around the community and it was “common for Nagi to get into verbal altercations over his jihadi beliefs.”

The complaint says his terror activities began around August 2012. He flew to Turkey for one day in October 2012, flying home because of a gallbladder infection. He traveled to Turkey for 10 days in July 2014 and then went to Yemen, where he stayed until returning to the United States in September. He was interviewed at the time by Customs and Border Protection officials about his travels.

Nagi claimed that while in Turkey he was holed up at the Holiday Inn in Istanbul, and that he only went to Yemen to see an uncle. He returned with two cell phones and an iPad, and told officials he didn’t support any jihadist groups.

He began his eBay stock-up in August 2012, with a tactical vest with armor plates and an army combat shirt. In September of that year, he snatched up body armor with side trauma plates, a Shahada flag and combat boots.

In January 2013, Nagi bought a “Hamas-style” Islamic headband, followed the next few months by camouflage pants, Kevlar tactical gloves, a combat face mask, military-style backpack, and combat hunting knife.

That fall, he bought a burn kit, another large black Shahada flag, night vision goggles and a camouflage long-sleeved T-shirt.

Nagi’s Twitter account was deactivated by the suspect last September, but a quick search of interactions he had with other users goes back to December 2013. The FBI logged more than 7,000 “potentially relevant” tweets from his account, mostly in Arabic.

Before his 2014 trip to Turkey, he tweeted “my pledge to hear and obey Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

The FBI informant told agents in December 2014 that the oath made Nagi “compelled to act on behalf of ISIL” and he “expressed concern that Nagi may do something in the United States.”

The complaint describes a few more contacts between the informant and FBI, including a March conversation about Nagi’s plans to go back to Turkey and cross into the Islamic State after receiving some insurance settlement money.

Special Agent in Charge Brian Boetig of the Buffalo FBI office said today that the Joint Terrorism Task Force “relies on community engagement to gain perspectives on radicalization and to deter recruitment and the spread of radicalization messages.”

“We continue to call upon people to contact law enforcement if they know of someone who has been influenced by ISIL rhetoric on social media – powerful propaganda that calls for followers to commit quick and unpredictable violent acts,” Boetig said.

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Day After Kerry Lobbied Her Committee, House Dem Says No to Iran Deal

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The day after Secretary of State John Kerry tried to convince the House Foreign Affairs Committee to back the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, a Democrat on the panel said she wouldn’t be voting for the accord.

“I strongly believe the world could and should have a better deal than that set forth in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which I will therefore oppose,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), a second-term congresswoman from Queens.

“While I will continue to study the finer points of the deal, they will not be dispositive for me. I believe the inspections procedures set forth are flawed – leading nuclear experts assert that, pursuant to these procedures, inspectors would not necessarily know whether Iran is manufacturing uranium components for a nuclear weapon. This is unacceptable,” she said in a statement.

“Furthermore, I am deeply concerned that almost all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would remain intact; this leads me to believe Iran would simply resume its pursuit of a nuclear weapon at the conclusion of the deal in a decade’s time. Finally, the immediate sanctions relief provided Iran in the deal would incentivize the funding of terrorism and lessen Iran’s interest in restraining its nuclear ambitions over the long term.”

Meng commended President Obama and Kerry “for their efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but the deal before us now is simply too dangerous for the American people.”

“I have every confidence a better deal can be realized,” she added.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Meng asked Kerry why he believes Russia and China would “be there with us in any sort of snap-back scenario” with sanctions when Iran violates the deal.

“I think that Iran — that Russia and China are very, very serious about the nonproliferation component of this, as serious as we are,” Kerry replied. “Russia has agreed to export the spent fuel and process it in Russia in order to help make this work. China has accepted major responsibility to be the lead entity with our co-chairmanship on a committee that will work to redesign the Iraq reactor in a way that is acceptable to all of us. And they’ve taken on major responsibilities. So China has — they both have a huge interest in the nonproliferation piece of this, but they both believe that the other components of the resolution with respect to the arms and missiles was thrown in as an add-on, as punishment, in effect, not because it referred directly to the nuclear part of this — of the resolution or agreement.”

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Boehner on Ouster Effort: A Few Lawmakers are ‘Off the Reservation; No Big Deal’

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) today dismissed the effort by a North Carolina conservative to declare his seat vacant.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) has no co-sponsors listed yet for H.Res. 385, which was introduced yesterday and referred to the House Rules Committee.

The resolution reads:

Whereas the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 114th Congress has endeavored to consolidate power and centralize decisionmaking, bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent;

Whereas the Speaker has, through inaction, caused the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the executive and judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American people;

Whereas the Speaker uses the power of the office to punish Members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the Speaker;

Whereas the Speaker has intentionally provided for voice votes on consequential and controversial legislation to be taken without notice and with few Members present;

Whereas the Speaker uses the legislative calendar to create crises for the American people, in order to compel Members to vote for legislation;

Whereas the Speaker does not comply with the spirit of the rules of the House of Representatives, which provide that Members shall have three days to review legislation before voting;

Whereas the Speaker continues to direct the Rules Committee to limit meaningful amendments, to limit debate on the House floor, and to subvert a straightforward legislative process; and

Whereas the House of Representatives, to function effectively in the service of all citizens of this country, requires the service of a Speaker who will endeavor to follow an orderly and inclusive process without imposing his or her will upon any Member thereof: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved,

      That the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives is hereby declared to be vacant.

Rep. Walt Jones (R-N.C.), a Meadows supporter, told CNN this morning that Boehner “has used too much force to intimidate, and that is wrong.”

Meadows was temporarily removed as chairman of an Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee in June.

Many GOP lawmakers said Meadows’ bill came as a shock. “I’m sorry that they were caught by surprise. I’ve known this for three weeks,” Jones said.

“So therefore, in a situation like this, you don’t know who you can trust and not trust,” he added. “And when you’ve got a problem like we have with the speaker of the House being so coercive, then we need to do what is necessary for the good of the people and the good of this country.”

At his weekly press conference, Boehner predicted “pretty smooth sailing” going into fall.

“Listen, because America has essentially a two-party system, each of the parties represents a pretty wide, divergent set of views. And as a result, it requires a lot more effort on the part of the leaders to try to work in a — in a unified fashion. We just continue to work at it every day,” he said. “You’ve got a member here and a member there who are off the reservation. No big deal.”

“Listen, this is one member, all right? I’ve got broad support amongst my colleagues. And frankly, it isn’t even deserving of a vote,” the Speaker continued.

Asked if he’d spoken with Meadows, Boehner replied, “I have not. Why?”

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Kerry: Maybe None of Us Have Even Read the IAEA-Iran Deals

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Secretary of State John Kerry admitted at the Senate Armed Services Committee today that not only does the U.S. not have a copy of the agreements between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, but he doesn’t know if anyone in our government has read them.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said he traveled to Vienna last weekend “to discover the existence of these side deals. The administration has now confirmed their existence. There’s still some lack of clarity about their content.”

“Secretary Kerry, have you read either of these two side deals between the IAEA and Iran?” Cotton asked.

“No, I haven’t read it,” Kerry replied, confirming he also hadn’t read any of the drafts. “I’ve been briefed through our team that met with the IAEA.”

But did anyone on that team read the agreements?

“I believe one person may have read it at the — at the facility, but doesn’t have it, they don’t possess it,” Kerry said. “It’s possible, I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible Wendy Sherman may have, but I don’t know that for sure.”

“If Undersecretary Sherman has read the text of these agreements, even if they are not in her possession, does that not undercut the claims of confidentiality between the IAEA and Iran?” Cotton asked.

“I don’t know whether she read a summary or a draft, or I have no idea. I said, I think, and I’m not sure,” Kerry said.

He added that “we respect the process of the IAEA and we don’t have their authorization to reveal what is a confidential agreement between them and another country.”

Kerry was also pressed again on why the Iran agreement isn’t a treaty, and gave a different answer than he gave the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday.

“There are many reasons why… not the least of which is we don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran. This is a situation with a multilateral agreement with many countries and you don’t normally negotiate a treaty in that kind of context. So it’s a political agreement,” he said. “We believe the leverages that are in it through the snap-back of sanctions, through the oversight and inspections are very powerful incentives for Iran’s compliance.”

“I would note that there’s nothing in article two, section two, that limits the definition of treaty along the lines of what you described. And, in fact, nothing in your definition of the term treaty on the State Department’s own web site limits it that way,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who recently wrote a book on the Constitution, countered.

“It defines treaty as a formal written agreement between sovereign states or between states and international organizations,” Lee added. “Doesn’t limit it to the fact it has to be between two. I don’t think that’s an adequate answer.”

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Dempsey on ‘at Least Five Other Malign Activities’ That Raise Concern on Iran Deal

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Gen. Martin Dempsey is soon stepping down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and was candid with the Senate Armed Services Committee today about the nuclear deal and threats that remain with Iran.

Dempsey was sitting next to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew showed up uninvited to testify about the Iran deal.

The Joint Chiefs chairman was brief in his opening remarks. “If followed, the deal addresses one critical and the most dangerous point of friction with the Iranian regime. But as I’ve stated repeatedly, there are at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern,” Dempsey said.

“These run the gamut from ballistic missile technology to weapons trafficking, to the use of surrogates and proxies to naval mines and undersea activity, and last but not least to malicious activity in cyberspace,” he said. “The negotiating deal does not alleviate our concerns in those five areas. The negotiated deal does not change the military options at our disposal, and in our efforts to counter the Iranian regime’s malign activities, we will continue to engage our partners in the region to reassure them and to address these areas.”

“Ultimately, time and Iranian behavior will determine if the nuclear agreement is effective and sustainable. In the interim, I will continue to provide my best military advice and present military options.”

Dempsey did tell committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) that he ultimately supported the administration’s deal, though stressed to Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that it “will require us to strengthen our relationships and our collaboration in that part of the world.”

“This does cause us to have to increase our military — we have to pay more attention to the malign activities,” he said.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) noted, “It would seem to me that your brief nine-sentence opening statement to this committee today amounts to damning disagreement with fainted praise.”

“That, sir, does not give me a confidence level. And I just have to tell you that based upon your very brief and I think tepid endorsement of this — of this agreement,” the senator added.

Dempsey replied that his attitude toward the deal was not “tepid, nor enthusiastic, but rather, pragmatic.”

“I’ve said from the start that relieving the risk of a nuclear conflict with Iran diplomatically is superior to trying to do that militarily. But I will sustain the military options in case that becomes necessary,” he said.

The general said military action would “disrupt the program by several years.”

“But there’s nothing to say we couldn’t repeat it if necessary,” he added.

Asked by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) if he advised Obama “that we either take this deal or we go to war,” Dempsey replied, “No, at no time did that come up in our conversation nor did I make that comment.”

“I can tell you that we have a range of options and I always present them.”

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Hillary: Planned Parenthood Videos ‘Obviously… Disturbing’

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Hillary Clinton called the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood brokering aborted body parts “disturbing,” but the Republican National Committee pounced on her remarks as too little, too late.

Clinton told the New Hampshire Union-Leader that she’s “seen pictures” from the videos “and obviously find them disturbing.”

“Planned Parenthood is answering questions and will continue to answer questions. I think there are two points to make,” Clinton said. “One, Planned Parenthood for more than a century has done a lot of really good work for women: cancer screenings, family planning, all kinds of health services. And this raises not questions about Planned Parenthood so much as it raises questions about the whole process, that is, not just involving Planned Parenthood, but many institutions in our country.”

“And if there’s going to be any kind of congressional inquiry, it should look at everything and not just one (organization).”

That could be a reference to some congressional Democrats’ call to investigate the Center for Medical Progress, which shot the undercover footage and has been releasing the videos.

Clinton told the New Hampshire paper that she’s “well aware that passions are very high.”

“I have said for more than 22 years that abortion should be legal, safe and rare,” she said. “As first lady, I led an effort to try to lower the number of teenage pregnancies and we succeeded, and as president I will continue to work toward that so that women are fully empowered, they can afford to make responsible decisions, and I hope we will be successful at that.”

RNC press secretary Allison Moore said “it should not have taken a third video showcasing Planned Parenthood’s barbaric side business of selling fetal body parts for Hillary Clinton to change her tune.”

“Instead of condemning these horrific revelations, Hillary Clinton has stood by Planned Parenthood despite weeks of unsettling headlines,” Moore said. “Rather than lead, Hillary Clinton has once again shown herself to be someone who will do or say anything to get elected. Perhaps that’s also why she has yet to spell out what limits, if any, she supports on abortion.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) focused his comments on criticizing Senate Republicans to cut off support for Planned Parenthood, calling it “an attack on women’s health.”

“The current attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood is part of a long-term smear campaign by people who want to deny women in this country the right to control their own bodies,” Sanders said.

“Let’s be clear: Federal funding for Planned Parenthood does not pay for abortions. The vast majority of government funding that Planned Parenthood receives is through Medicaid reimbursements. Cutting that funding will be devastating to the health needs of millions of women who desperately need the quality services Planned Parenthood provides.”

Not everyone in the Democratic caucus is on board with that view.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) signed on to a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services demanding an investigation of Planned Parenthood to determine if they’re breaking organ trafficking laws.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) called the videos “very troubling.”

“Look, there are laws against sale of fetal tissue,” Kaine told radio host John Fredericks. “This is the kind of thing that is extremely troubling. The only cautionary note that I would throw into the mix here, is that there has been some prehistory of people going into Planned Parenthood offices, and taping interchanges, and then editing them favorably to make a point. And in fact, the reason I know this is one of these happened in Richmond a couple of years ago where somebody went and tried to tape an interchange with a Planned Parenthood staffer and kind of edited it to make it seem pretty scurrilous. You’ve got to get the full facts if this video was, as is, or, whether there’s been some nefarious editing to it”.

“But certainly, kind of a discussion about sale of fetal tissue issue in that way post-abortion would be highly troubling and it ought to be looked at,” the senator added.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), an anti-abortion Dem who has only a 20 percent rating with NARAL, told CBS affiliate WSBT-22 that he “found the comments made in the video disgraceful and disturbing and he fully supports an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s practices.”

Senate GOP leaders were to hold a press conference this afternoon on a new bill to defund Planned Parenthood.

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Cotton Stands by Characterization of John Kerry as Pontius Pilate

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is standing by his comparison of Secretary of State John Kerry to Pontius Pilate.

Cotton originally made the comments last week on MSNBC. “So John Kerry acted like Pontius Pilate,” he said. “He washed his hands, kicked it to the IAEA, knowing that Congress would not get this information unless someone went out to find it.”

Last night on CNN, Cotton noted that “for 2,000 years, Pilate has been a parable for someone who washed his hands of his responsibility.”

“And at the end of these negotiations, it appears that John Kerry washed his hands of his responsibility to reach an agreement on all of the critical issues. Two of those critical issues are where Iran tested allegedly detonators for nuclear weapons at a military base and their other past weaponization work,” the senator said.

“Apparently, we couldn’t reach an agreement on the central issues and we kicked it to the IAEA to have these two secret side deals with Iran. We don’t know what is in those deals. We don’t know if it is going to provide adequate inspections and verifications of Iran’s obligations. I don’t see how Congress can go forward without knowing the details of those two central agreements.”

Pressed on whether he tone down the “name-calling,” Cotton refused to amend or retract his statement.

“Secretary Kerry had a responsibility to represent America’s interests and to reach an agreement on every single point. He did not. He apparently washed his hands and kicked it to the IAEA, even though Iran has thwarted the IAEA for years on this very issue,” he said.

Cotton is facing Kerry at this morning’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where Kerry wasn’t on the witness list but showed up uninvited to testify with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in tow.

The Arkansas freshman also sits on the Intelligence Committee.

“I can tell you there is virtually no clarity from the administration about these secret side agreements. At first, the existence was secret, but the contents are still secret. There’s been published reports, for instance, just earlier today that we are going to allow Iran to take samples of soil or other environmental elements themselves and send it to the IAEA,” Cotton continued.

“That would be like the NFL letting football players take their own urine samples for drug testing and mail to it Roger Goodell. The American people wouldn’t accept that as a credible system. I don’t see how Congress can accept this as a credible inspection system until we know the exact details that are in those two secret side agreements.”

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Harf: The More We Tell People About Iran Deal, ‘The More They Like It’

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

State Department senior advisor Marie Harf said the administration is confident that polls will swing in their favor on the Iran deal because “when the questions are asked, the more information you give people about the deal, the more they like it.”

“And I think that that’s an important trajectory that we certainly find heartening when it comes to some of these polls. I also think that there is a general mistrust in the United States that’s not unfounded based on the history here that just doesn’t trust Iran,” Harf told CNN.

“And so I think that people are naturally inclined to be skeptical. And that’s why this deal isn’t based on trust. It’s based on verification of all these nuclear steps Iran has.”

According to the latest CNN poll, 52 percent of Americans surveyed think it’s a bad deal and just 44 percent said Congress should approve the nuclear accord.

Harf also insisted that the agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, which the Obama administration doesn’t have a copy of, wasn’t a “secret” agreement.

“Members of Congress are going to be briefed in detail. Some already have been briefed in detail,” she said. “Every aspect of the safeguards confidential to use a technical term, agreement between the IAEA and Iran. They are referenced in the joint comprehensive plan of action. So these aren’t secret. They are there. The existence of them is widely known publicly, has been since we announced the deal.”

Every member of Congress, she said, is “entitled to be briefed” on the provisions.

“Now, the IAEA does business in a certain way. With every country it has these kinds of agreements, including us, including the U.S. They keep some information out of the public domain for very good reasons in terms of how you protect nuclear technology secrets, in order, basically, to not let this information get out,” Harf added.

“…Our experts are comfortable with that arrangement, and they can brief Congress on that, and they will.”

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WATCH: Kerry Won’t Commit to Following Law If Congress Tosses Iran Deal

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Pressed by a senior House Democrat at today’s Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Iran deal, Secretary of State John Kerry would not commit the Obama administration to following the law if Congress shoots down the deal by a veto-proof majority.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) noted that the deal “might be, at most, morally binding on this administration.”

“The IRGC may publicly oppose this deal because that’s the best thing the Iranian government can do to pursue us to support — here in Congress to support the deal or maybe they genuinely oppose it,” he noted.

Sherman asked Kerry point-blank if “Congress and the United States free, under this agreement, to adopt new sanctions legislation that will remain in force as long as Iran holds our hostages and supports Assad.”

“We’re free to adopt additional sanctions as long as they are not a phony excuse for just taking the whole pot of the past ones and putting them back,” Kerry replied.

“You strongly do not want us to override a presidential veto, but if we do that triggers certain American laws… you think it’s terrible policy and you think the rest of the world would be against us. But let’s say Congress doesn’t take your advice and we override a veto and the law that is triggered then imposes certain sanctions. Will you follow the law even though you think it violates this agreement clearly, and even if you think it’s absolute terrible policy?” Sherman asked.

“I can’t begin to answer that at this point without consulting with the president and determining what the circumstances are,” Kerry replied.

“So you are not committed to following the law?” Sherman pressed.

“No, I said I am not going to deal with a hypothetical,” Kerry said. “That’s all.”

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Kerry Explains Why Iran Deal Isn’t a Treaty: Because You Guys Would’ve Said No!

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged to the House Foreign Affairs Committee today why the administration was insistent that the Iran nuclear deal is not a treaty subject to ratification by the Senate.

Simply put, they counted on Congress not being compliant enough.

“For 228 years the Constitution provided a way out of that mess by allowing treaties to be with the advise and consent of 67 U.S. Senators. Why is this not considered a treaty?” Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) asked Kerry at today’s hearing.

“Well Congressman, I spent quite a few years ago trying to get a lot of treaties through the United States Senate. Frankly, it’s become physically impossible. That’s why,” Kerry said.

“Because you can’t pass a treaty anymore. And it’s become impossible to, you know, schedule. It’s become impossible to pass. And I sat there leading the charge on the disabilities treaty, which fell to basically ideology and politics, so I think that’s the reason why.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) confirmed Kerry’s answer: “This isn’t a treaty because it was difficult to pass. Is that — is that correct?”

“Well, it’s not — there are a lot of other reasons. We felt, we don’t have diplomatic relations with Iran. It’s very complicated with six other countries. It’s this very complicated process,” Kerry said. “So we thought that the easiest way to get something that had the leverage, had the accountability, could achieve our goal was through a political agreement. That’s what we have.”

Kerry got into a testy exchange earlier in the hearing with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who called out the secretary of State’s perpetual response that Congress needs to offer a better option if they don’t like the nuclear deal.

“Mr. Secretary, with all due respect, it is not Congress’s job; this is the administration. And if you would use the treaty process as provided by the constitution, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Perry said. “Furthermore, you know, you say, ‘Well, this is the only deal we could get, that there’s no better deal.’ Congress has a long history of instituting better deals. Example, 280 treaties, including 80 multilateral accords modified by Congress, including the arms control agreement, SALT II and the Threshold Test Ban treaty that failed to reach a vote and were modified.”

“So there is a history for that, of getting a better deal. And if the ayatollah doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to negotiate it, oh, boo-hoo. We’re — we’re here for America. We stand for America. You represent America.”

“Congressman, I don’t need any lessons from you about who I represent. I’ve represented and fought for our country since I was out of college,” Kerry snapped back. “Don’t give me any lessons about that, OK?”

“Now, let me just make it crystal clear to you. This is America’s interest, because America is the principal guarantor of security in the region and particularly with respect to some of our closest friends. Now, we believe that Iran was marching towards a weapon or the capacity to have a weapon, and we’ve rolled that back, Congressman,” he continued.

“OK, that’s your opinion,” Perry interjected.

“That’s indisputable — no,” Kerry countered. “That’s a fact.”

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Kerry: No ‘Plan By Iran to Actually Destroy Us,’ But They Do Chant ‘Death to America’

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Iran nuclear deal today that he’s not aware of any Iranian plans to destroy the United States, but he has heard the mullahs call for America to die.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), who chairs the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittee, asked Kerry, “Is it the policy of the ayatollah, if you can answer for him, that Iran wants to destroy the United States? Is that still their policy, as far as you know?”

“I don’t believe they’ve said that. I think they’ve said ‘Death to America’ in their chants, but I have not seen this specific,” Kerry replied.

“Well, I kind of take that to mean that they want us dead. That would seem like that would be their policy. He said that. You don’t think that’s their policy? I’m not mincing words. Do you think it’s their policy to destroy us?” Poe asked.

“I think they have a policy of opposition to us and a great enmity, but I have no specific knowledge of a plan by Iran to actually destroy us. I do know that the rhetoric is — is beyond objectionable,” Kerry said. “I know that we, you know, are deeply concerned with Iran’s behavior in the region, deeply concerned with their past activities.”

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) noted that Iranian Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naghdi, who has previously said “we have no option but to have the Zionist regime wiped off the map,” just three months ago said “Israel’s destruction is non-negotiable.”

Kerry said that “accurately reflects some people’s rhetoric and some people’s attitude.”

“I don’t think it’s possible for Iran to do that,” the secretary of State added.

Pressed again on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s recent rally at which “death to America” was chanted, Kerry said the threats “reflect an attitude and rhetorical excess, but I see no evidence that they have a policy that is implementing that against us at this point in time.”

When Brooks asked if terrorists supplied by Iran would try to kill Americans or Israelis, Kerry replied, “Well, they may. They may.”

Earlier in the hearing, Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) listed many reasons for his deep “trepidation” about the deal, including Iran’s threats to the U.S.

“Barely a week after the Iranian’s signed the deal with us there was the supreme leader, the ayatollah, chanting, ‘Death to Americans, death to Israel.’ You would think that after an agreement was signed with us there might be a modicum of goodwill that perhaps they would keep quiet for a week or two, or a month, but it went back to business as usual,” Engel said. “How can we trust Iran when this type of thing happens? It is very disconcerting.”

Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted that “we’re presuming Iran is going to change its behavior, and that behavior did not change last weekend when they were chanting again ‘death to America.’”

“There is no presumption in here about what Iran will or won’t do. There is one objective. Make sure they can’t get a nuclear weapon,” Kerry countered. “On the backside of that, we have a very robust initiative that will push back against Iran’s other activities.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) later asked Kerry why, if the deal’s so good, opposition in Israel is so deep-seated.

“We fully understand every Israeli has concerns, have fears. There are concerns about the region they live in, about the nature, the rhetoric that’s used. Death to Israel, death to America,” Kerry replied. “Everybody is concerned. Which is why this is not based on some element of a dream they’re going to change or some element of trust.”

Under questioning from Dem Rep. Alan Grayson (Fla.), Kerry admitted releasing sanctioned funds for Iran may increase Tehran-sponsored terrorism — or at least what we call terrorism.

“We have no way to know. I presume in some places possibly, only in the sense that they are committed to certain things that we interpret as terrorism, they don’t, and we’re going to continue to conflict on those issues,” Kerry said.

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In Spanish, Jeb Tells Telemundo About Immigration Plans and His ‘Very Hispanic’ Household

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Jeb Bush went on Telemundo for his first Spanish-language interview as a presidential candidate, telling anchor José Díaz-Balart that coming to the United States legally “has to be easier than coming here illegally.”

“For the 11 million people [here illegally], they must come out of the shadows, receive a work visa, start paying taxes and also pay a small fine, learn English, don’t receive government benefits, but they come out of the shadows and they receive legal status after some time,” Bush said.

On Donald Trump’s comments regarding some of those crossing illegally being drug dealers and rapists, Bush said, “I was hurt hearing somebody speaking in such a vulgar fashion.”

“This makes the solving of this problem much more difficult when we have politicians talking like that,” he said. “Besides that, he was offending millions of people that are here legally. It makes no sense. In a political sense, it’s bad and it creates an environment that is worse.”

Bush also talked about his Mexico-born wife, Columba, and their family, noting that George P. Bush was teased as a child for his brown skin.

“At one point, I had to describe, or tell him that people like him aren’t the majority. You need to accept it, but move on. Because he was really annoyed because he and his friends — we don’t have that problem in Miami, but in other parts of the country, yes. It was a good lesson to remember that we still don’t have a country of complete justice. You can see it in African-American communities too, that there’s still discrimination. But in my life, it’s important to remember that,” Bush said.

His family, Bush noted, is “very Hispanic, in that we speak Spanish in the house.”

“Columba is a good Mexican, proud of her citizenship of this country, of course, but we eat Mexican food in the home. My children are Hispanic in many aspects,” the former Florida governor said. “We don’t talk about it, but the Hispanic influence is an important part of my life.”

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White House Gives Chilly Reception to ‘Pardon Snowden’ Petition

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House has responded to a petition asking that NSA leaker Edward Snowden be pardoned.

The short answer: Sorry.

Snowden, 32, is still living in Russia, and has been seeking asylum in Switzerland.

“Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs,” stated the petition on the White House’s We the People site.

It racked up 167,954 signatures. The 100,000-signature threshold triggers a personal response from the administration, and this was delivered by Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa Monaco.

“Since taking office, President Obama has worked with Congress to secure appropriate reforms that balance the protection of civil liberties with the ability of national security professionals to secure information vital to keep Americans safe,” Monaco wrote in the reply.

“Instead of constructively addressing these issues, Mr. Snowden’s dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it.”

Monaco added that if Snowden “felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and — importantly — accept the consequences of his actions.”

“He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers — not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime. Right now, he’s running away from the consequences of his actions,” she said.

“We live in a dangerous world. We continue to face grave security threats like terrorism, cyber-attacks, and nuclear proliferation that our intelligence community must have all the lawful tools it needs to address. The balance between our security and the civil liberties that our ideals and our Constitution require deserves robust debate and those who are willing to engage in it here at home.”

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Gun-Control Senators Ask Dealers to Voluntarily Toughen Background Checks

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Unable to move legislation through the last Congress — with a Senate Democratic majority — or this one, gun-control advocates in the upper-chamber have a two-pronged strategy to get stricter regulations.

First, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and 11 of their colleagues are asking gun dealers to refuse to sell a firearm to anyone who does not pass a background check on the first try.

That initial background check approves a purchase, denies a purchase, or flags a person who may have a criminal record and warrants further investigation. Then the FBI steps in to review the purchaser in several databases and give a final OK to a gun sale. If the FBI takes longer than 72 hours to complete the review, the “hold” is released and the gun sale can go forward without notification from the seller to the FBI.

If the FBI issues a verdict after the three-day review period and determines the buyer shouldn’t be owning a gun, the ATF is dispatched to retrieve it.

Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof fell into the review category as a drug possession arrest was mistakenly classified as a felony, setting off the alert. A decision was never made during the review period because the wrong arresting agency was listed on his criminal record.

The Senate Dems sent a letter today to Cabela’s, EZ Pawn, and Bass Pro Shops, three retailers that allow sales after the 72-hour period if they don’t hear back from authorities, stressing that even though law gives them a “default to proceed” in these cases it doesn’t mean they have to sell to a buyer.

They argued that over the past five years 15,729 “default” firearms sales have been made to people eventually deemed ineligible to buy a gun.

“Responsible gun retailers can act today to address this unacceptable situation. The law allows retailers to decide whether or not to allow gun sales to proceed after the three-day ‘default period’ has elapsed. You have a duty to ensure that your products do not get into the hands of dangerous individuals like the Emanuel AME Church shooter,” the senators wrote. “…No responsible gun retailer should transfer a gun without first conducting a complete background check.”

On CNN today, Blumenthal said this request for voluntary withholding of gun sales needs “stronger executive action” from President Obama.

“My hope also is that the president will launch a major mental health initiative because ultimately so many of these shooters are dangerous to themselves or other and should not be in possession of a handgun or any gun because they can do such harm as we’ve seen time and again in everyone these horrific tragic shootings, like Newtown, Charleston, Lafayette,” he said.

“If that loophole were closed, and licensed gun dealers were required to wait for all of the background checks to be approved, that sale probably never would have proceeded,” the senator added of Charleston. “So the loophole does matter. On the other hand, the idea that guns should be sold to people who have histories of involuntary commitments or other kinds of very serious mental health issues, I think ought to be seriously examined.”

Blumenthal added that lawmakers should still act as it’s “not just an opportunity, an obligation because Congress becomes complicit, maybe now is complicit in the failure to prevent these very, very avoidable tragedies.”

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DNC Seizes on Trump Lawyer Saying ‘You Can’t Rape Your Spouse’

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Democratic National Committee has seized on comments made by one of Donald Trump’s lawyers that spousal rape does not exist.

Michael Cohen, who in addition to being special counsel to Trump and an executive vice president at The Trump Organization has made many media appearances on behalf of the candidate, was contacted by The Daily Beast for an article about an allegation in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump that the billionaire forced himself on Ivana Trump in 1989.

“You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse,” Cohen told the reporter.

“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse.” He went on to say Ivana “felt raped emotionally.… She was not referring to it [as] a criminal matter, and not in its literal sense, though there’s many literal senses to the word.”

Cohen also warned the reporter to “tread very f–king lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f–king disgusting.”

Marital rape has been a crime in New York since 1984 and in all 50 states and the District of Columbia since 1993.

Cohen issued a statement to CNN today: “As an attorney, husband and father there are many injustices that offend me but nothing more than charges of rape or racism. They hit me at my core. Rarely am I surprised by the press, but the gall of this particular reporter to make such a reprehensible and false allegation against Mr. Trump truly stunned me. In my moment of shock and anger, I made an inarticulate comment – which I do not believe — and which I apologize for entirely.”

“I have recently read some comments attributed to me from nearly 30 years ago at a time of very high tension during my divorce from Donald. The story is totally without merit,” Ivana Trump told the network in a statement. The Daily Beast notes that their divorce agreement included a gag order about her marriage to Trump.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) this morning called the Trump lawyer’s statement “a new low.”

“Rape is rape. Full stop. End of story. There is no difference or division between ‘forcible’, ‘legitimate’, ‘marital’ or any other label Republicans slap on before the word ‘rape’. All rape is a disgusting violation, and Americans have fought too long and hard for that to be acknowledged to still have it questioned in 2015,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“It’s a pattern of outrageous comments that must stop, and Republicans should call it what it is – despicable.”

None of the Republican candidates had issued a statement on the comments this morning, but they will likely face the question on the stump.

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Obama: ‘If I Ran’ for President Again, ‘I Could Win’

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In an address to the people of Africa from Ethiopia today, President Obama said that he could win if he took another shot at the White House.

But he acknowledged he can’t, as he brought up African leaders who just decide to stay when their terms are through.

Obama said the United States is not “immune from criticism,” but “when we speak out for our principles, at home and abroad, we stay true to our values and we help lift up the lives of people beyond our borders.”

“And we think that’s important. And it’s especially important, I believe, for those of us of African descent, because we’ve known what it feels like to be on the receiving end of injustice. We know what it means to be discriminated against. We know what it means to be jailed. So how can we stand by when it’s happening to somebody else?” he said.

“I have to also say that Africa’s democratic progress is also at risk when leaders refuse to step aside when their terms end,” he added to applause.

“Now, let me be honest with you — I do not understand this. I am in my second term. It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to serve as president of the United States. I cannot imagine a greater honor or a more interesting job. I love my work. But under our Constitution, I cannot run again. I can’t run again. I actually think I’m a pretty good president — I think if I ran I could win. But I can’t.”

Obama said “there’s a lot that I’d like to do to keep America moving, but the law is the law.”

“And no one person is above the law. Not even the president,” he continued. “And I’ll be honest with you — I’m looking forward to life after being president. I won’t have such a big security detail all the time. It means I can go take a walk. I can spend time with my family. I can find other ways to serve. I can visit Africa more often.”

“…I’m still a pretty young man, but I know that somebody with new energy and new insights will be good for my country. It will be good for yours, too, in some cases.”

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Lawmakers to Kerry: Yank Visas for Diplomats’ Spouses from Countries that Don’t Allow Gay State Dept. Spouses

Monday, July 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

One hundred and twenty-five members of Congress asked Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter Monday to deny visas to diplomats’ spouses if the envoys come from a country that doesn’t recognize same-sex spouses of State Department personnel.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) led the letter, which got one GOP signature — Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has a transgender son.

The lawmakers argued that countries not granting accreditation to same-sex spouses of American foreign service officers are keeping the diplomats from doing their jobs, so they ask that “the State Department reciprocate by denying a visa to the spouse of a diplomat from that country.”

“As you know, the United States Supreme Court recently held that the Constitution protects the right of same sex couples to marry. As the United States continues to make progress toward equality for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, many countries around the world have yet to address their own discriminatory practices,” the Congress members wrote. “As such, we are writing to express our concerns about recent reports that American LGBT Foreign Service Officers (FSO)s are sometimes denied an equal opportunity to represent the United States abroad because certain foreign governments refuse to recognize their same-sex marriages.”

“As Members of Congress, we believe that when same-sex couples working for the State Department receive equal treatment at home and abroad, our diplomatic corps truly reflects the American ideals of openness, equality, and human rights.”

They noted that the State Department “sometimes declines or discourages LGBT FSOs from assignments to certain overseas posts due to anticipated objections from the host nation, and that some State Department employees have apparently been denied assistance when they try to bring their same-sex spouses into countries that do not recognize their marriages.”

While they didn’t call out countries, a March vote at the United Nations over family benefits for gay employees saw Russia trying to stop the plan, arguing it discriminated against member states. Among the countries siding with Russia were Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, China, and Belarus. Indonesia, which abstained, argued that the UN wasn’t allowing enough input from member states on the matter.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power argued during the vote that Russia was trying to undermine the authority of the secretary-general and stressed that the world body wasn’t making any nation recognize same-sex marriage. UN staff would have to get married in a country where same-sex unions are legal to get the family benefits.

The lawmakers who wrote Kerry on Monday argued that countries which don’t recognize spouses of gay foreign service officers “hamper the professional growth” of the diplomats and “threaten the Department’s ability to ensure that it can place the best, most qualified person in each position.”

“We cannot look the other way when an American diplomatic spouse — any American diplomatic spouse — is discriminated against in this way… In countries that maintain legalized forms of racism, sexism, or other types of bias, we believe the State Department should take a proactive role in demonstrating America’s deep commitment to equality, dignity, and diversity,” they continued.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor affirmed that commitment, stating that the federal government has a Constitutional obligation to treat all spouses equally regardless of sexual orientation. The June 26 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, further demonstrated the Court’s commitment to marriage equality. While we understand the challenge in dealing with foreign governments that discriminate, we call on the State Department to send a forceful message that all American families must be treated equally.”

They should have Kerry’s ear. Last year, he told a gay pride event at the State Department: “Let me be clear: We oppose any effort by any country to deny visas for spouses of American staff. It’s discriminatory, it’s unacceptable, it has no place in the 21st century.”

“And I understand how challenging this issue is for all of you, which is why I’ve sent instructions to ambassadors at posts worldwide to engage at the highest levels on your behalf. Together we pay a price when these rights are trampled on, but together we win when these rights are protected,” he said then.

A gay member of the State Department submitted a question to Kerry about how he was going to do that, noting that not being able to bring a partner to a host country had eliminated about two-thirds of jobs on a bid list at the time.

“We are instructing embassies to inform governments locally that this is our policy and that they need to honor our policy. It’s that simple. And a lot of governments will respond positively; obviously, some won’t. And where they don’t, if they don’t extend recognition and immunities, we’re going to instruct them that we’re also going to begin gathering information on the host government policies and practices on accreditation. And we will make this information that is relevant to assignments – make it easier for employees and all of you to sort of pick and choose and know what the lay of the land is,” Kerry replied.

“But at some point in time, we may have to begin to make it clear to them that that can affect one program or another or the choices that we make. It’s not going to be a normal relationship. This is who we are, this what you have to respect, and that’s the way it is.”

Today at the State Department, press secretary John Kirby said they had not yet seen the congressional letter.

“But if it is as you describe, I’m sure that we will respond in appropriate time in detail to members of Congress,” Kirby said. “…I’m not an expert on visa applications and how they’re administered.”

Asked if the issue had been brought up before the nudge from the lawmakers, he responded, “I’m not aware of it coming up.”

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VIDEO: Boehner Weeps During Golf Channel Interview

Monday, July 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Gold Channel episode of David Feherty’s journey up to Capitol Hill doesn’t run until Aug. 3, but the preview of the interview with House Speaker John Boehner shows the Ohio Republican doing what he does best.

Boehner has shed tears each time he’s taken the gavel at the beginning of a new Congress. His eyes welled up during the 2011 State of the Union address.

He choked up at a Taco Bell Foundation event last year as former Destiny’s Child singer Kelly Rowland marveled that Boehner’s tears were “so sweet.”

He cried in a 2010 interview with 60 Minutes. He got dissed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who’s not a public crier. “You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills,” Pelosi told the New York Times years ago. “If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry.”

In short, Boehner cries a lot. But it’s probably a first for the Golf Channel.

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Hillary’s Plan to Fight ‘One of the Most Urgent Threats of Our Time’

Monday, July 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Declaring that the “reality of climate change is unforgiving — no matter what the deniers say,” Hillary Clinton unveiled a climate agenda Monday that industry critics immediately branded an “energy poverty agenda.”

“I know there are still people who would rather not hear this.  Some deny climate change exists at all.  Others throw up their hands and say, ‘Sorry, I’m not a scientist,’” Clinton said today in Des Moines.

“Well, I’m not a scientist either. That’s why I think it’s important to listen to scientists. It’s important to heed the warnings based on extensive scientific research to see what’s going on here in our own country and certainly around the world.”

She called climate change “one of the most urgent threats of our time, and we have no choice but to rise and meet it.”

“First, we need to have more than half a billion solar panels installed across the country by the end of my first term,” Clinton said. “Second, we’ll set a 10-year goal of generating enough renewable energy to power every single home in America. Not some homes. Not most homes. Every home in America.”

Clinton added that she’ll reveal her detailed plan on how to achieve these goals and “make America the world’s clean energy superpower” over the next few months.

“And even as we face the threat of climate change head on, we cannot close our eyes to the challenges facing hard-working families in Coal Country, who kept our lights on and our factories running for more than a century. We should guarantee that coal miners and their families get the benefits they’ve earned and the respect they deserve,” she said.

“…I refuse to turn my back on what is one of the greatest threats and greatest opportunities America faces. I refuse to let those who are deniers, who disagree with what we need to do to rip away all the progress we’ve made and leave our country exposed to the most severe consequences of climate change. America needs to lead this fight, not go MIA.”

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign quickly jumped in with his own climate pledges, vowing to go 100 percent renewable energy and end all reliance on fossil fuels.

“Governor O’Malley is opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline because we can’t move to a clean energy future if we continue to rely on dirty, short-term fossil fuel fixes,” said deputy campaign manager Lis Smith. “Real leadership is about forging public opinion on issues like Keystone — not following it. Every Democrat should follow his lead and take a stand to commit to ending our reliance on fossil fuels.”

American Energy Alliance president Thomas Pyle said Clinton’s plan “will raise energy prices on all Americans, especially poor families, the elderly, and those who are still struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”

“Electricity from new wind facilities is three times more costly than existing coal and four times more costly than existing nuclear plants,” Pyle said. “This obvious pander to the national environmental lobby may benefit those bankrolling her run for the White House, but everyday American families will be stuck paying for her ill-conceived policies.”

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‘Clear Politicization’ of U.S. Human Trafficking Rankings as Cuba, Malaysia Get Unwarranted Upgrades

Monday, July 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and other lawmakers blasted the Obama administration for improving the rankings of Cuba and Malaysia on this year’s State Department human trafficking report for political reasons.

Cuba has been Tier 3 — the worst ranking — since the State Department began issuing the report in 2003. Nearly 200 lawmakers lobbied the administration to keep Malaysia at Tier 3 for failing to stop human trafficking. Both appeared in today’s report on the “Tier 2 Watch List.”

According to the State Department, that includes “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s [Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s] minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.”

The Tier 3 ranking is for “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” These countries include Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Saudia Arabia also got upgraded from Tier 3 to the Tier 2 Watch List, and Egypt got downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List from the previous year.

In addition to the administration’s rapprochement with Cuba, Malaysia is among the dozen countries entering the final round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. A Menendez amendment prohibiting “fast-track” trade deal approval for a Tier 3 human trafficking nation was passed by Congress and signed into law June 29.

It was soon after that lawmakers began to hear rumblings of an upgrade for Malaysia to keep them in the TPP deal. Several senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on July 15 protesting any concessions. At the time, the report was already five weeks overdue.

Today, Menendez said “the administration has turned its back on the victims of trafficking, turned a blind eye to the facts, and ignored the calls from Congress, leading human rights advocates, and Malaysian government officials to preserve the integrity of this important report.”

“They have elevated politics over the most basic principles of human rights,” he said. “Upgrades for Malaysia and Cuba are a clear politicization of the report, and a stamp of approval for countries who have failed to take the basic actions to merit this upgrade.”

Menendez noted that even in Malaysia, “members of the Parliament, the legal profession, and human rights activists have urged the United States to support their efforts and to maintain the Tier 3 ranking they tell us Malaysia deserves. Today, we have failed them.”

“In Cuba, adults and children are subjected to sex trafficking and the government continues perpetrating abusive practices of forced labor, coercing tens of thousands of its own doctors and medical professionals to serve abroad under conditions that violate international norms. As the State Department’s own report recognizes that there has been no progress on forced labor in Cuba, any upgrade of the country’s ranking challenges common sense,” the senator continued.

Menendez said he intends “to use all of the tools at my disposal – from hearings to legislation to investigations – to challenge these upgrades.”

“The United States’ commitment and credibility in fighting the scourge of modern day slavery is on the line,” he stressed. “We need to make clear that the TIP report must not be subject to political manipulation.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was among the signatories on the Malaysia letter, said he finds it “difficult to believe that Cuba has been elevated this year from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List solely based on the Cuban regime’s record.”

“It is important that this report be a true reflection of the trafficking situation on the ground and that a country’s rating not be determined by political considerations but by the country’s record on this issue,” he said.

“The report upgraded Malaysia to Tier 2 Watch List despite evidence showing that Malaysia had earned its placement on the lowest rank,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “In this regard, I have some serious concerns about this year’s report.”

At a State Department event coinciding with the release of the report this morning, Kerry said he’s “deeply inspired by the efforts that are being made in America and countries on every continent to push back against the bullies and the exploiters.”

“I’m inspired by the leadership that we have seen from our commander in chief, from Congress, from civil society, from the religious community, and from our many overseas partners,” he added.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who was hailed by Kerry at the event as “such a longtime champion” in human rights, in a statement blasted Obama’s “grave disservice to victims of human trafficking in Cuba and Malaysia” for “political reasons alone.”

“This report, the 15th annual report since I first wrote our nation’s anti-trafficking bill, is not only six weeks late,” Smith said, “but it has careened off into a new direction where the facts regarding each government’s actions in the fight against human trafficking are given almost no weight when put up against the president’s political agenda.”

He noted that his Foreign Affairs subcommittee held an April hearing at which “there was no indication in the expert testimony provided that either Malaysia or Cuba had done anything to warrant an upgrade, or to suggest that victims of trafficking are in a better situation in either country than they were last year.”

“It seems quite clear that Malaysia’s role in the TPP and Cuba’s unchecked march to normalized relations have captured the Obama Administration’s ability to properly access the worst of the worst when it comes to fighting to protect trafficking victims and punish the thugs who mastermind this modern day slavery.”

 

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Obama Calls Huckabee Holocaust Comment ‘Ridiculous If It Weren’t So Sad’

Monday, July 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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President Obama ripped former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as “ridiculous” and “sad” after the GOP presidential candidate accused the commander in chief of setting up Jews for the next Holocaust.

Huckabee told Breitbart News that by cutting this deal with Iran, Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

“This is the most idiotic thing, this Iran deal. It should be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by the American people,” he added.

In a press conference with the Ethiopian prime minister today, Obama was asked about Huckabee’s comments.

“The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern that we’ve seen that is — would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad. We’ve had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate. We’ve had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for President suggest that I’m the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Obama said.

The Pilate comment belonged to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the deal made Obama the leading financier of terrorism.

“These are leaders in the Republican Party,” the president continued. “And part of what historically has made America great is, particularly when it comes to foreign policy, there’s been a recognition that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don’t play fast and loose that way. We have robust debates, we look at the facts, there are going to be disagreements. But we just don’t fling out ad hominem attacks like that, because it doesn’t help inform the American people.”

Obama suggested that “rhetoric like this, maybe it gets attention and maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines, but it’s not the kind of leadership that is needed for America right now.”

“And I don’t think that’s what anybody — Democratic, Republican, or independent — is looking for out of their political leaders.”

He segued into a broader criticism of the Republican presidential field.

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These Former Dem Senate and House Members are Whipping Their Old Colleagues Against Iran Deal

Monday, July 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

You may be seeing a lot of promoted tweets and ads — and more to come — from Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, whipping against the Iran nuclear deal.

Meet the advisory board for 501(c)(4) CNFI: all former congressional Democrats now lobbying their old colleagues to vote against a bad deal.

There’s former two-term Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who decided not to run for re-election in 2010. He sat on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

There’s former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who was defeated last fall by now-Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

There’s former Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who ran for the Senate in 2012 and lost to Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.). She also sits on the board of directors at The Israel Project.

And former Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who was defeated by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) last fall. She, like Begich, had a history of defying the Obama administration on Iran sanctions.

The board is rounded out by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the onetime Democratic vice presidential nominee turned indie after being ousted by an antiwar candidate in the 2006 primary.

Lieberman quickly got cracking on outreach to oppose the deal, telling the House Foreign Affairs Committee two weeks ago he “cannot think of a more consequential vote that you will take” on the security of the United States and the world.

Lieberman noted at the hearing that some will try to convince members of Congress that rejecting the deal would be “catastrophic,” and those people will “intimidate” and “demonize” lawmakers to get approval as members are “pushed and pulled.”

“Those are false arguments and I urge you to reject them,” he said. “…Rejecting this bad deal will not result in war; it will give the administration a new opportunity to pursue a better deal.”

CNFI notes that it was founded this year “in response to concerns surrounding the nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, Russia, plus Germany) and Iran.”

“Following public release of the proposed nuclear agreement in July 2015, CNFI began an intensive communications effort to educate the public about the significant flaws and serious consequences of the proposed deal,” the group states.

CNFI is publicly cheering Dems who come out against the Iran deal, including Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), who outlined his opposition in a San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed.

“It’s stunning, really. Just four days after large crowds in Tehran and across Iran chanted ‘Death to America,’ as they burned our flag in government-led demonstrations, President Obama announced an agreement with the Islamic Republic. The president is right; this agreement is historic, but for all the wrong reasons,” Vargas wrote.

“…Congress is now faced with a decision of monumental importance. Do we accept an agreement that fails to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons, or do we stand up and say no. I intend to stand up and vote against this deal. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of our national security, and the security of our allies and I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing this deal and press for a better deal that will truly end Iran’s nuclear weapons program and make the world safer.”

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Obama Compares Confederate Flag to Domestic Violence as a ‘Bad Tradition’

Monday, July 27th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Addressing an arena of Kenyans on Sunday, President Obama compared the Confederate flag to domestic violence as something that may be a tradition but is better left in the past.

“Every country and every culture has traditions that are unique and help make that country what it is. But just because something is a part of your past doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t mean that it defines your future,” Obama said at Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi when talking about at the state of women and girls in Kenya.

“Look at us in the United States. Recently, we’ve been having a debate about the Confederate flag. Some of you may be familiar with this. This was a symbol for those states who fought against the Union to preserve slavery,” the president continued. “Now, as a historical artifact, it’s important. But some have argued that it’s just a symbol of heritage that should fly in public spaces.”

“The fact is it was a flag that flew over an army that fought to maintain a system of slavery and racial subjugation. So we should understand our history, but we should also recognize that it sends a bad message to those who were liberated from slavery and oppression.”

Referencing the Charleston church massacre, Obama noted that “in part because of an unspeakable tragedy that took place recently, where a young man who was a fan of the Confederate flag and racial superiority shot helpless people in a church, more and more Americans of all races are realizing now that that flag should come down.”

“Just because something is a tradition doesn’t make it right,” he said. “Well, so around the world, there is a tradition of repressing women and treating them differently, and not giving them the same opportunities, and husbands beating their wives, and children not being sent to school. Those are traditions. Treating women and girls as second-class citizens, those are bad traditions. They need to change. They’re holding you back.”

“Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition. It holds you back. There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. There’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There’s no place in civilized society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.”

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Alexander After Latest Cruz Clash: Should’ve Learned to Play by the Rules in Kindergarten

Sunday, July 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In Sunday session, the rift between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) widened as amendment votes were shot down and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) gave the junior senator from Texas a lecture on Senate civility rules.

On Friday, Cruz accused McConnell of lying, saying that the leader told him there wouldn’t be a vote on the Export-Import Bank reauthorization. McConnell allowed the vote as part of a deal that included an Obamacare repeal vote.

“It saddens me to say this. I sat in my office, I told my staff the majority leader looked me in the eye and looked 54 Republicans in the eye. I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie, and I voted based on those assurances that he made to each and every one of us,” Cruz said then. “What we just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again, was a simple lie.”

Today, a Cruz amendment to the highway bill to keep Iran sanctions in force until Israel is recognized as a Jewish state and an amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to defund Planned Parenthood were blocked from receiving roll-call votes.

McConnell stressed on the Senate floor today that the Ex-Im Bank vote was allowed in part because nearly half of the GOP conference supports it.

“When there is overwhelming bipartisan support for an idea, even if I oppose it, it doesn’t require some ‘special deal’ to see a vote occur on that measure. This is the United States Senate, after all, where we debate and vote on all kinds of different issues,” McConnell said.

“Whatever the outcome, the slots for these amendments will open once the Senate disposes of them. That will open the possibility of considering other important amendments. Let me repeat that. The slots for these amendments will open once the Senate disposes of them.”

Some GOPs have accused Cruz of potentially violation Senate Rule 19, which states in part: “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

“You learn that in kindergarten: You learn to work well together and play by the rules,” Alexander said, according to Politico. “Another thing you learn in kindergarten is to respect one another.”

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had a ball today with the GOP discord, saying on the Senate floor it’s “increasing clear that what’s wrong with the Senate today is the same thing that troubled the Senate before Republicans took control – dysfunction in the Republican Caucus.”

Reid said the Obamacare repeal vote was “about the Republican Leader desperately trying to appease his base.”

Cruz said in a statement that McConnell and Reid “operate as a team.”

“The denial of a second, as you just saw a moment ago, which was aggressively whipped by the majority, is an extraordinary measure designed to gag senators and enforce the will of the McConnell-Reid leadership team,” he said. “…To the millions of Americans who rallied in November believing if only we got a Republican majority in the Senate something would be different, this was a clarifying and a sad moment.”

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Al-Shabaab Bombs Hotel While in Nairobi Obama Gives Kenyans Tips for Combating Terrorism

Sunday, July 26th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In what locals are calling the biggest explosion to ever rock Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab struck a hotel in the Somali capital Sunday during President Obama’s visit to neighboring Kenya.

A suicide bomber rammed the gate of the Jazeera Palace Hotel, shearing the side off the six-story building in the explosion.

The hotel is near the United Nations compound. It houses several foreign missions, including China, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kenya. Journalist Mohamed Abdikarim, who worked for Universal TV, and a Chinese embassy worker were among the dead, a toll that was at least 13.

Jazeera Palace Hotel also had Kenyan management and many Kenyan workers.

“The explosion was so huge that homes near it were leveled. I live 3 KMs away, and paint was blow off some of my walls,” tweeted one Somali political analyst.

In his noontime speech at the Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi, Obama told Kenyans “the United States faces similar threats of terrorism” as they face from Al-Shabaab.

“It is important to remember that violent extremists want us to turn against one another. That’s what terrorists typically try to exploit,” he said. “…Terrorists who try to sow chaos, they must be met with force and they must also be met, though, with a forceful commitment to uphold the rule of law, and respect for human rights, and to treat everybody who’s peaceful and law-abiding fairly and equally.”

Al-Shabaab considers Kenya, which is more than 82 percent Christian and about 11 percent Muslim, to be occupied by the “kuffar” (nonbelievers) and in need of being liberated for Muslims.

“Extremists who prey on distrust must be defeated by communities who stand together and stand for something different. And the most important example here is, is that the United States and Kenya both have Muslim minorities, but those minorities make enormous contributions to our countries.  These are our brothers, they are our sisters,” Obama said. “And so in both our countries, we have to reject calls that allow us to be divided.”

“..People should not be judged by their last name, or their religious faith, but by their content of their character and how they behave. Are they good citizens? Are they good people?”

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that “the United States strongly condemns today’s abhorrent attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, which purposefully and cruelly targeted innocent civilians.”

“Despite the very real progress Somalia has achieved in recent years, this attack is yet another reminder of the unconscionable atrocities that terrorist groups continue to perpetrate against the people of Somalia,” Price said. “As the president underscored during his meetings with Kenyan President Kenyatta over the last two days—and as he will reiterate during his visit to Ethiopia and the African Union, two staunch supporters of the Federal Government of Somalia and the Somali people—the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to work with Somali authorities, our regional partners, and the broader international community to bring an end to acts of terrorism and combat violent extremism in Somalia.”

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Pentagon Says ‘Thanks, But No Thanks’ to Armed Citizen Patrols Outside Military Recruitment Offices

Friday, July 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Pentagon said in a statement Friday that it doesn’t want armed civilians standing guard outside of military recruiting centers anymore.

The patrols popped up after Mohammod Abdulazeez shot up a strip-mall military recruitment office along with a Navy Reserves station in Chattanooga.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he asked service leaders a week ago to review weapons policy in the wake of the Chattanooga attacks, but some in Congress said he needs to act faster to ensure men and women in uniform can protect themselves.

“We take the safety of our service members, our DoD civilians, and the families who support them very seriously, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is currently reviewing recommendations from the services for making our installations and facilities safer – including our recruiting stations,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement Friday.

“While we greatly appreciate the outpouring of support for our recruiters from the American public, we ask that individuals not stand guard at recruiting offices as it could adversely impact our mission, and potentially create unintended security risks,” Cook said. “We continue to partner with and rely on first responders for the safety of the communities where our service members live and work.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) introduced the Safeguarding Service Members’ Second Amendment Rights Act this week to repeal bans on military personnel carrying firearms on military installations and Department of Defense sites. It would also block the president or secretary of Defense from prohibiting firearms down the road.

“The Second Amendment guarantees the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,’ yet our men and women in uniform are banned from exercising this constitutional right when fulfilling their duties on American soil,” Moran said.

“This infringement on the constitutional rights of our service members has caused American military installations and DoD sites to become increasingly vulnerable to those who wish to do harm,” he stressed. “My legislation would repeal the laws, directives and regulations disarming military personnel, and empower our brave service men and women to defend themselves and others from violent attacks and acts of domestic terrorism.”

Carter said early this week that he “asked our services to look at further steps that they might advise be taken, and to get back to me in the next few days with their recommendations.” “Obviously force protection everywhere around the world, abroad and now at home, is a big priority for us at the department, and will continue to be.”

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VIDEO: Cruz Accuses McConnell of Lying in Floor Speech

Friday, July 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went off on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the Senate floor this morning, claiming that McConnell told him there would be no vote allowed on renewal of the Export-Import Bank.

“It saddens me to say this. I sat in my office, I told my staff the majority leader looked me in the eye and looked 54 Republicans in the eye. I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie, and I voted based on those assurances that he made to each and every one of us,” Cruz said.

“What we just saw today was an absolute demonstration that not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again, was a simple lie.”

McConnell was not on the Senate floor at the time, and his office said he wouldn’t be commenting on Cruz’s allegation.

“Supporters of the Ex-Im Bank are demanding a vote to reauthorize it, and they’ve made clear they’re ready to stop all other amendments if denied that opportunity. They’ve already proven they have the votes to back up the threat too,” he said earlier on the floor. “This presents a challenge for the Senate — and to opponents of the Ex-Im bank, like myself, in particular. But I believe we can still move forward, and I believe the more equitable and more balanced proposal I just offered will allow us to do so.”

McConnell said the deal “provides for votes on two long-sought, non-germane amendments.”

“First, it allows a vote on an amendment to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank — something nearly every Democrat wants. Second, it allows a vote on an amendment that would repeal Obamacare — something nearly every Republican wants, and something we will continue to fight for,” he said. “Ex-Im shouldn’t be the only vote we take on this bill — and under the compromise I just filed, it won’t be. That’s a much fairer way forward.”

“I urge my colleagues to join me in voting against Ex-Im, and I urge every senator to take this important opportunity to join me in voting to finally give the American people the fresh start they deserve on health care. I know we’ll engage in a robust debate on these issues. We should. And then, we’ll take a vote.”

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FBI Director Wants All Agents to Visit Holocaust Museum to Learn About ‘Abuse of Power’

Friday, July 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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FBI Director James Comey says he encourages all agents and analysts to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington because “we want them to see, in a gut-wrenching, nauseating way, what the abuse of power on an almost unimaginable scale looks and feels like, because we’re about to give them extraordinary power.”

“And then there’s a second reason that is I want them to see what we are capable of,” Comey told CNN’s Wolf Blizter at the Aspen Security Forum. “I want them to understand what human beings are capable of, that we are — one of our greatest strengths is our ability to convince ourselves of the righteousness of our own cause. And one of our greatest weaknesses is our capacity to surrender our moral authority to the group, so it can be hijacked by the least common denominator.”

“I want them to stare at that and understand the weaknesses that we all share, because they are about to have tremendous power and I want them to have sense of that in a way that will last them their whole career.”

Much of the conversation at the forum was about ISIS, which Comey now considers a bigger threat to the homeland than al-Qaeda.

“They have adopted a model that takes advantage of social media in a way to crowd-source terrorism. They have invested about the last year in pushing a message of poison, primarily through Twitter, but other parts of social media, that is a siren song with two dimensions,” Comey said.

“They are preaching through social media to troubled souls, urging them to join their so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq, or if you can’t join, kill where you are. And Twitter is a valuable enterprise, because it works to sell shoes or to sell ideas. It works to sell this message to troubled souls.”

The director added that ISIS makes their terrorists more available to speak to potential recruits and are “trying to reach are people that al-Qaeda would never use as an operative.”

Comey said “dozens” of Americans are now fighting for ISIS, but they’re a “hard phenomenon” to track “because they range in age from 18 to 62.”

He said the FBI is “not in a position to say” yet if Chattanooga shooter Mohammed Yousef Abdulazeez was ISIS or AQAP.

“We’re still combing through his entire life, including his electronic media, to understand, so, who was he communicating with and about what?” Comey said. Part of that is “to understand so what happened in Jordan, who influenced him, who did he meet, what did he consume, that sort of thing.”

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O’Malley: ‘Citizenship Is a Human Right’

Friday, July 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Responding to a Texas case in which state officials are asking that a federal court toss a birthright citizenship lawsuit, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley declared today that “citizenship is a human right.”

Background on the case from the Associated Press:

Lawyers representing 19 immigrant parents and their 23 children filed suit against the Texas Department of State Health Services after officials refused to issue birth certificates for their U.S.-born children, citing invalid forms of identification. The parents came from Mexico and Central America and living in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, along the U.S.-Mexico border.

…The Texas Department of State Health Services said in a federal court filing in Austin on Wednesday that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the court lacks jurisdiction over claims against the state agency. Lawyers for the agency also argued that Texas has sovereign immunity and cannot be sued and that its policy does not interfere with any federal regulation. Texas, they said, has the “power to control the circumstances under which it will provide copies of birth certificates.”

The health service agency’s Vital Statics Unit, which is responsible for issuing birth certificates, previously accepted consular identification cards and other documents issued by foreign governments, according to the lawsuit. But officials have increasingly come to refuse these, making it harder for parents living in the U.S. illegally status to obtain birth certificates for their children, it said. The agency says it never accepted these documents as valid, and there has been no change to the state’s identification requirements.

O’Malley said “denying birth certificates to US citizens is not only outrageous, it’s unconstitutional.”

“The 14th amendment of the US Constitution could not be clearer. It states that ‘all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside,’” he said. “The Texas Department of State Health services should cease this discriminatory and unconstitutional practice immediately. Citizenship is a human right.”

The former Maryland governor last week released a plan to reform the country’s “inhumane” immigration system, declaring that “the enduring symbol of our nation is the Statue of Liberty, not a barbed wire fence.”

He would expand President Obama’s deferred action program and “conduct sustained nationalization outreach” while an Obamacare block for those temporarily legalized under deferred action.

Under O’Malley’s plan, “the only individuals who should be detained are those who pose a clear threat to public safety or national security” and he will “close or upgrade costly, inhumane, and violent detention centers.”

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