Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told the Conservative Political Action Conference this afternoon that the worst part about President Obama’s executive actions that “run roughshod over our rights” is the “precedent that it sets for lawlessness that may follow.”
“It isn’t just the harm this president is causing; it’s the future harm he allows by destroying checks and balances,” Paul said.
The potential 2016 candidate drew an overflow crowd and got the largest ovation so far at CPAC. Paul fans wore red “Stand with Rand” T-shirts and a pile of signs sat outside the ballroom for the attendees to wield.
Reminding the crowd of his filibuster over drones and his lawsuit against Obama for NSA surveillance, Paul asked the conservatives to imagine a time “when liberty is spread again from coast to coast” and “liberty is governed again by the Constitution.”
“You might think I’m talking about electing Republicans,” the senator said. “I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of liberty.”
It’s not good enough, he said, “to pick the lesser of two evils.”
“There’s a great and tumultuous battle underway, not of the Republican Party but of the whole country… Will you, America’s next generation of liberty lovers, will you stand and be heard?”
Paul’s speech focused largely on the Fourth Amendment.
“We will not trade our liberty for security — not now, not ever,” he said. “The NSA monitors your every phone call. If you have a cell phone, you are under surveillance. I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of our damn business. I believe this is a profound constitutional question.”
“There’s a great battle going on for the heart and soul of America and conservatives cannot forget this.”
Paul mused about the legacy of Obama, stressing that “a great president would have protected us from the prying eyes of the NSA.”
“I don’t question Obama’s motives, but history will remember his timid defense of liberty,” he said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told the Conservative Political Action Conference this morning that the right needs to usher in a “new era of accountability” after five years of President Obama.
“Because that’s how we will take back the White House in 2016,” said the Senate minority whip who won his primary on Tuesday.
“As citizens, we must hold those in public office to the highest standard of accountability — because unaccountability has always been the refuge of autocrats, scandal-makers and stubbornly bad government policy,” Cornyn said. For the last five years now, five long years, President Obama has put this maxim to the test. For five years, he’s advocated for a larger, more intrusive federal government.”
“When it was revealed that Eric Holder’s Justice Department had knowingly allowed weapons to be smuggled to Mexican drug cartels, did we get accountability? We got a cover-up. When one of those weapons showed up at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, I’ll ask you — did we get accountability? When they president invoked executive privilege and put damning evidence under lock and key — when a career State Department official dared to speak the truth about that terrible night in Benghazi, a night when four Americans lost their lives, did we get accountability? When it came to light that the IRS was targeting Americans whose only offense was to disagree with the president, did we get accountability?”
When it comes to Obamacare, “Where do we even begin?” the senator quipped.
“When Obamacare was debated in Congress, we screamed from the rooftops that it just wouldn’t work — that it would be a job killer; that it would absolutely make health care more expensive and less accessible for millions of Americans,” he said. “And for pointing this out, we were mocked and disparaged by President Obama and his liberal allies. We were accused of somehow being heartless and misinformed. But now, four years later, our predictions have come true. And I ask you, has the president shown any accountability?”
In the face of waivers and delays and “minced words” from the president, Cornyn continued, conservatives can’t just say “I told you so.”
“Because the status quo is not written in stone. And if the last five years have taught us anything about our liberal friends, it’s that they don’t get accountability. But while they may be a lost cause, the future of our great country is never a lost cause.”
The Congressional Black Caucus has asked House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to remove Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after Wednesday’s IRS hearing at which Issa cut off the microphone of Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
Caucus chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) also called on Boehner to make Issa publicly apologize to Cummings. Issa called Cummings on Thursday night to privately apologize.
Issa ordered that the microphones be turned off after pressing former IRS official Lois Lerner, who took the Fifth, to answer questions. Cummings wanted to deliver a statement, but Issa refused, saying the hearing was adjourned. “I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America,” Cummings said. “I am tired of this. You cannot conduct a one-sided investigation.”
“Congressman Darrell Issa of California abused his authority and therefore must be reprimanded to ensure the dignity of the House of Representatives is preserved,” Fudge wrote. “On behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus and the people we represent, I urge you to take immediate action to address the recent deplorable conduct of Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.”
Fudge said the CBC wants Boehner to “take immediate action to address the recent deplorable conduct” of Issa.
“Under the applicable Rules of the House, we strongly encourage you to take disciplinary action against Mr. Issa and force him to present himself before the American people on the House floor with an apology,” she wrote. “Under Rule 9, questions of the privileges of the House are those that affect its rights collectively, its dignity and the integrity of its proceedings. Additionally, according to Rule 23, a member of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that reflects creditably on the House, and shall adhere to the spirit and letter of said Rules, including those established by committees.”
“Mr. Issa not only violated House Rules 9 and 23, he also violated the rules of the committee he chairs. According to Oversight & Government Reform Committee Rule 9 and House Rule 11, each member is allowed five minutes to question a witness during a Congressional hearing. Mr. Issa blatantly disregarded this rule when he adjourned the hearing and denied committee members the opportunity to speak in the middle of the customary five minutes afforded to Ranking Member Cummings. Mr. Issa is a disgrace and should not be allowed to continue in a leadership role.”
The CBC demanded that Boehner “maintain the integrity of this body and remove Mr. Issa as chair of the Oversight & Government Reform Committee immediately.”
National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre told the Conservative Political Action Conference today that he sees a changing America with eroding freedoms in which people will need to assert the right “to protect our families with all the rifles, handguns and shotguns we want.”
LaPierre noted that this time last year pundits were “calling me about every nasty name in the book” for putting forth a plan for armed responders in schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.
The NRA leader didn’t specifically address the gun-control legislative efforts that have since fizzled in Congress, but said “freedom has never needed our defense more than now.”
“You know it in your gut; something in our country has gone wrong,” LaPierre said, listing “core values” that are “eroding” from the “freedom to work, to practice our religion, raise families way we see fit.”
“They are core freedoms that have always defined us as a nation,” he said. “We feel them slipping away… we fear for the safety of our families.”
“More Americans buy firearms and ammunition not to cause trouble but because America is in trouble.”
LaPierre rattled off a list of crimes that people need protection from, including terrorists, knockout-game assailants and rapists. “We are on our own, that is a certainty,” he said. “When you’re on your own, the surest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
“All we believe in and fight for, it’s really become a metaphor for all freedoms that we want preserved,” he added, encouraging new NRA signups at the CPAC booth.
“The Second Amendment makes us stronger than other countries, it makes us better than other countries,” LaPierre said.
He predicted a “bare-knuckle street fight” in 2014 headed into 2016. “They’re laying the groundwork to put another Clinton back in the White House,” the NRA chief said, and have an ultimate goal to “fundamentally transform America into an America you won’t recognize.”
“The NRA will not go quietly into the night; we will fight, I promise you that.”
More from CPAC:
President Obama today signed an executive order that “authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, or for stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people.”
“According to my guidance, the State Department has also put in place restrictions on the travel of certain individuals and officials. These decisions continue our efforts to impose a cost on Russia and those responsible for the situation in Crimea. And they also give us the flexibility to adjust our response going forward based on Russia’s actions,” Obama said in the press briefing room at the White House.
Obama said “international unity” has been leading the way on the Ukraine crisis.
He said a proposed referendum on the future of Crimea wouldn’t be legitimate if it doesn’t include “the legitimate government of Ukraine.”
“In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders,” he said.
Obama stressed that he still wants to resolve the crisis through diplomacy.
“Let international monitors into all of Ukraine, including Crimea, to ensure the rights of all Ukrainians are being respected, including ethnic Russians. Begin consultations between the government of Russia and Ukraine, with the participation of the international community. Russia would maintain its basing rights in Crimea, provided that it abides by its agreements and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And the world should support the people of Ukraine as they move to elections in May,” he said.
“That’s the path of de-escalation, and Secretary Kerry is engaged in discussions with all of the relevant parties, including Russia and Ukraine to pursue that path. But if this violation of international law continues, the resolve of the United States, and our allies and the international community will remain firm. Meanwhile, we’ve taken steps to reaffirm our commitment to the security and democracy of our allies in Eastern Europe and to support the people of Ukraine.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday that “it’s time for the Republican Party to stop talking about Ronald Reagan and start acting like him.”
“Conservatives can’t afford to win elections by default. We need to win elections with a mandate,” the Tea Party senator said, stressing that it’s not a strategy to “let President Obama’s failures preserve a Republican majority in the House and win one in the Senate.”
“That counsel is unworthy of the party of Lincoln and Reagan, and unequal to the task before us,” Lee added.
“Most of the speakers you’ll hear this week will come to inspire you, or flatter you, or claim solidarity with you. I have come to challenge you. The work remaining before us, this year and for the next three years, is the most important work conservatives have faced in a generation. It is the work of redefining our movement, rebuilding our party, and rescuing our nation. That work will not be easy, or fun, or glamorous. Most of the time it won’t even be noticed. But it is essential to our success.”
Lee said if conservatives don’t push an agenda that addresses the opportunity deficit, “we will lose in 2014, and 2016, and beyond. We will lose, and we will deserve to lose.”
“We can never forget that in 1976, anti-establishment conservatives found a leader for the ages – yet they still lost. By 1980, they had developed an agenda for their time – and they won,” he continued.
“America’s real problem of inequality,” he said, is “not the income gap between the rich and the poor, but the opportunity gap between Washington, D.C and everybody else.”
The party, he said, needs to focus on “concrete, specific proposals to help lower-income families overcome welfare, improve education and job training, and rescue at-risk communities with too few jobs, too few fathers, and too little hope.”
“To build a new conservative reform party, that party needs this new conservative reform agenda,” Lee said. “…Become the kind of thoughtful, positive, principled conservative our movement wants, the Establishment fears, and our country needs. Before conservatives can celebrate victory, we first must deserve it.”
In a somewhat unusual move, the State Department issued a fact sheet titled “President Putin’s Fiction: 10 False Claims about Ukraine” Wednesday evening.
The fact sheet was released after Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that talks with his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Paris today didn’t get anywhere.
“As Russia spins a false narrative to justify its illegal actions in Ukraine, the world has not seen such startling Russian fiction since Dostoyevsky wrote, ‘The formula “two plus two equals five” is not without its attractions,’” the fact sheet begins.
It then breaks down things that the Russian president has claimed to justify aggression in the Crimean Peninsula:
1. Mr. Putin says: Russian forces in Crimea are only acting to protect Russian military assets. It is “citizens’ defense groups,” not Russian forces, who have seized infrastructure and military facilities in Crimea.
The Facts: Strong evidence suggests that members of Russian security services are at the heart of the highly organized anti-Ukraine forces in Crimea. While these units wear uniforms without insignia, they drive vehicles with Russian military license plates and freely identify themselves as Russian security forces when asked by the international media and the Ukrainian military. Moreover, these individuals are armed with weapons not generally available to civilians.
2. Mr. Putin says: Russia’s actions fall within the scope of the 1997 Friendship Treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
The Facts: The 1997 agreement requires Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, which have given them operational control of Crimea, are in clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
3. Mr. Putin says: The opposition failed to implement the February 21 agreement with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The Facts: The February 21 agreement laid out a plan in which the Rada, or Parliament, would pass a bill to return Ukraine to its 2004 Constitution, thus returning the country to a constitutional system centered around its parliament. Under the terms of the agreement, Yanukovych was to sign the enacting legislation within 24 hours and bring the crisis to a peaceful conclusion. Yanukovych refused to keep his end of the bargain. Instead, he packed up his home and fled, leaving behind evidence of wide-scale corruption.
4. Mr. Putin says: Ukraine’s government is illegitimate. Yanukovych is still the legitimate leader of Ukraine.
The Facts: On March 4, President Putin himself acknowledged the reality that Yanukovych “has no political future.” After Yanukovych fled Ukraine, even his own Party of Regions turned against him, voting to confirm his withdrawal from office and to support the new government. Ukraine’s new government was approved by the democratically elected Ukrainian Parliament, with 371 votes – more than an 82% majority. The interim government of Ukraine is a government of the people, which will shepherd the country toward democratic elections on May 25th – elections that will allow all Ukrainians to have a voice in the future of their country.
5. Mr. Putin says: There is a humanitarian crisis and hundreds of thousands are fleeing Ukraine to Russia and seeking asylum.
The Facts: To date, there is absolutely no evidence of a humanitarian crisis. Nor is there evidence of a flood of asylum-seekers fleeing Ukraine for Russia. International organizations on the ground have investigated by talking with Ukrainian border guards, who also refuted these claims. Independent journalists observing the border have also reported no such flood of refugees.
6. Mr. Putin says: Ethnic Russians are under threat.
The Facts: Outside of Russian press and Russian state television, there are no credible reports of any ethnic Russians being under threat. The new Ukrainian government placed a priority on peace and reconciliation from the outset. President Oleksandr Turchynov refused to sign legislation limiting the use of the Russian language at regional level. Ethnic Russians and Russian speakers have filed petitions attesting that their communities have not experienced threats. Furthermore, since the new government was established, calm has returned to Kyiv. There has been no surge in crime, no looting, and no retribution against political opponents.
7. Mr. Putin says: Russian bases are under threat.
The Facts: Russian military facilities were and remain secure, and the new Ukrainian government has pledged to abide by all existing international agreements, including those covering Russian bases. It is Ukrainian bases in Crimea that are under threat from Russian military action.
8. Mr. Putin says: There have been mass attacks on churches and synagogues in southern and eastern Ukraine.
The Facts: Religious leaders in the country and international religious freedom advocates active in Ukraine have said there have been no incidents of attacks on churches. All of Ukraine’s church leaders, including representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, have expressed support for the new political leadership, calling for national unity and a period of healing. Jewish groups in southern and eastern Ukraine report that they have not seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents.
9. Mr. Putin says: Kyiv is trying to destabilize Crimea.
The Facts: Ukraine’s interim government has acted with restraint and sought dialogue. Russian troops, on the other hand, have moved beyond their bases to seize political objectives and infrastructure in Crimea. The government in Kyiv immediately sent the former Chief of Defense to defuse the situation. Petro Poroshenko, the latest government emissary to pursue dialogue in Crimea, was prevented from entering the Crimean Rada.
10. Mr. Putin says: The Rada is under the influence of extremists or terrorists.
The Facts: The Rada is the most representative institution in Ukraine. Recent legislation has passed with large majorities, including from representatives of eastern Ukraine. Far-right wing ultranationalist groups, some of which were involved in open clashes with security forces during the EuroMaidan protests, are not represented in the Rada. There is no indication that the Ukrainian government would pursue discriminatory policies; on the contrary, they have publicly stated exactly the opposite.
President Obama blasted senators, including several from his own party, who today blocked the nomination of his pick to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Walsh (Mont.), Chris Coons (Del.) and Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) joined with Republicans to block the nomination, the first cloture failure since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) detonated the nuclear option.
Reid switched his “yes” vote to “no” at the last minute, allowing him to resurrect the nomination down the road.
The rebuke of Obama’s pick came as Vice President Biden was presiding over the Senate, on hand to cast a tie-breaker vote that wasn’t needed. Debo Adegbile went down 47-52.
Adegbile’s nomination was hotly contested because of his defense of cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Adegbile was the director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when it took up Abu-Jamal’s case on appeal.
“The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant. Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable,” Obama said in a statement.
“He represents the best of the legal profession, with wide-ranging experience, and the deep respect of those with whom he has worked. His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now,” the president continued. “And Mr. Adegbile’s personal story – rising from adversity to become someone who President Bush’s Solicitor General referred to as one of the nation’s most capable litigators – is a story that proves what America has been and can be for people who work hard and play by the rules. As a lawyer, Mr. Adgebile has played by the rules. And now, Washington politics have used the rules against him.”
“The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant.”
On the Senate floor this morning, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) propped up a large wedding photo of Abu-Jamal’s victim, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, slain in 1981.
Reid argued that Adegbile shouldn’t be punished for guilt by association because he “didn’t step into one courtroom on behalf of the murderer.”
But Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) noted in a floor speech that Adegbile’s hands were plenty dirty. “As the Fraternal Order of Police stated in its letter of opposition, in the decades Mr. Adegbile pushed this effort, he ‘falsely disparaged and savaged the good name and reputation of a lifeless police officer’ in order to further his case,” Flake said. “The National Narcotic [Officers] Association shares this analysis of Mr. Adegbile’s advocacy, noting that he ‘fabricated a baseless and unproven defense while also defaming the victim, Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, which raises serious questions about the nominee’s judgment, especially considering the important position to which he has been nominated.’”
“I do not think we would be moving forward on such a divisive nominee – one who elicits widespread opposition from across the political spectrum – if the majority had not employed the nuclear option last November,” added Flake.
The Republican National Committee promptly jumped on vulnerable Democrats who voted in favor of cloture, including Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Mark Begich (Alaska).
“This is an embarrassment for President Obama and the Democrats who thought it was a good idea to nominate a convicted cop-killer’s most ardent defender to head a DOJ Department and failed,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. “Vulnerable Democrats running in 2014 just voted to confirm a radical nominee whose positions on civil rights, religious liberty, voting rights and the Second Amendment are far outside the mainstream.”
Toomey, who with fellow Pennsylvania senator Casey rallied the coalition that brought down Adegbile, said “the Senate affirmed that our criminal justice system must never be abused to propagate a dishonest, radical agenda.”
“Today is a good day for Pennsylvania, for America, and for those who believe in justice,” Toomey said. “It was a hard fought victory to the end.”
Two GOP senators want President Obama to speed up the approval process for liquefied natural gas exports, arguing this would help Ukraine in its time of need.
“While the White House is considering how to support Ukraine, one of the best steps it can take is to help end their dependence on Russian energy,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Ky.) said in a statement. “In 2006 and 2009, Vladimir Putin used natural gas as a political weapon against Ukraine. Today, Gazprom—Russia’s state-owned energy giant, threatened to raise natural gas prices on Ukraine.”
“The United States has abundant supplies of natural gas just waiting to be exported to our allies,” Barrasso added. “If President Obama is serious about helping the people of Ukraine, he will immediately expedite the approval process for liquefied natural gas exports. American natural gas exports would help Ukraine free itself from Russian energy and Putin’s political manipulation.”
Barrasso introduced a bill more than a year ago to give allies in Eastern Europe, NATO and Asia the same preferential treatment as our free trade partners with respect to exports of natural gas.
Over the past three and a half years, the Energy secretary has approved six applications to export liquefied natural gas to countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the U.S. while 24 applications are still pending. Half of those have been gathering dust for more than a year.
“The President’s failure to maintain a position of leadership in the world and his strategy of apologetic diplomacy has led to an emboldened Russia that continues to defy President Obama at every turn. The President should work to replace Russian influence in the region with support from the United States, and he can do this by expediting natural gas exports to our NATO allies and Ukraine,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member on the Armed Services Committee.
“I have been calling for the DOE to do this for some time now, and I have joined Senator Barrasso’s push through legislation to require the DOE to urgently approve exports of natural gas that help to promote the national security interests of the United States. We need this action now more than ever before,” Inhofe added.
“Ukraine imports 50 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and Europe imports roughly 30 percent. It’s clear any serious plan from the United States to respond to Russia’s aggression must go straight at the heart of Russia’s economy – energy.”
An Arizona Republican introduced legislation yesterday to ensure that welfare recipients aren’t letting their food stamps go to pot.
Rep. Paul Gosar’s (R-Ariz.) bill would “amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to prohibit the use of benefits to purchase marijuana products, to amend part A of title IV of the Social Security Act to prohibit assistance provided under the program of block grants to States for temporary assistance for needy families from being accessed through the use of an electronic benefit transfer card at any store that offers marijuana for sale.”
Co-sponsors are Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Walt Jones (R-N.C.), and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.).
“Regardless of your feelings on States’ Rights, ‘medical’ marijuana or recreational marijuana, people shouldn’t be able to get high using hard-earned taxpayer money. The sole purpose of this bill is to prohibit marijuana from being purchased with SNAP and TANF benefits,” Gosar said.
“These programs are meant to provide subsidies for food and other basic living essentials for the neediest families,” he continued. “Unfortunately, there are always unscrupulous people looking for ways to game the system, which makes this commonsense update to federal law necessary. Taxpayers expect and deserve a lean, efficient government. Accordingly, I will do everything in my power to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse whenever possible, including preventing the use of federal welfare benefits to purchase weed.”
Gosar launched the legislative effort after a Denver TV station found that people were using their EBT cards to pull money out of ATMs and then go buy pot.
Under current law, you can’t withdraw federal assistance funds from ATMs in strip clubs, liquor stores and casinos. The bill would add marijuana dispensaries to the list and also ban purchases of food-related pot items, such as marijuana brownies.
The House Judiciary Committee chairman is following up a pair of hearings on President Obama’s executive overreach with legislation attempting to restore separation of powers.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) committee is marking up the Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments of the Law (ENFORCE the Law) Act this morning.
The bill establishes a procedure by which the House or Senate can sue against the Executive Branch for failure to faithfully execute the laws. Such a lawsuit would be expedited by a three-judge panel at the federal district court level and then have direct appeal access to the Supreme Court. This in intended to keep the president from stalling until the end of his term.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently sued Obama in a civilian capacity over NSA spying, and acknowledged it would take a long time for the lawsuit to work its way through court.
“Now that Obamacare isn’t working, President Obama is rewriting his own law on a whim, even though the law doesn’t give him the authority to do so. President Obama boldly asserts that he has a ‘pen and a phone’ to change our laws through executive decrees, but we have a Constitution and we must abide by it,” Goodlatte said in a statement yesterday.
“Preventing the president from overstepping the boundaries of his constitutional authority is not about partisan politics. It is about preserving the fundamental premise of our constitutional design: that a limited government, divided into three separate branches exercising enumerated powers, is necessary to protect individual liberty and the rule of law.”
Co-sponsoring the bill are House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).
Issa said the bill “adds balance to an Executive Branch that has grown so bloated and convoluted that it now comfortably abuses its power knowing that the complexity of its actions and judicial backlogs will allow it to effectively get away with it. This isn’t how the framers of our Constitution envisioned our system working.”
“This administration’s disregard for the law has reached an unprecedented level from a constitutional perspective. From unilaterally changing the Affordable Care Act, to suspending parts of our immigration laws, to ignoring statutory mandatory minimum laws in narcotics cases, the president’s actions threaten to usurp our system of co-equal branches of government,” Gowdy said.
“We have pursued certain remedies afforded to Congress to address executive overreach but these efforts have been thwarted. This bill is necessary; it will give Congress the authority to defend this branch of government as the Framers and our fellow citizens would expect,” he added.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said “shame” on any Republicans who follow the Obama administration down a path of steep defense cuts.
Senior Defense officials will unveil the budget at the Pentagon at 1:30 p.m., followed by comments from the service branches.
Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he knows what’s coming through meetings with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey as well as multiple budget briefings.
“I share the broad dismay about the shrinking might of the military reflected in this budget. The proposal being delivered today is the result of a hard fought bipartisan compromise. It averted another year of arbitrary gutting of the armed forces. But we must recognize that it was only a two-year deal and it still represents another $45 billion cut to the military for 2015,” McKeon said in a statement.
“If we don’t like the tough choices on the table, then shame on us as Republicans for following the president down this path,” he continued. “In an effort to control debt, the only spending the President has truly agreed to cut has been those funds dedicated to national security: $1.2 trillion in defense cuts during his time in office. While we cut nearly one fifth of our defense resources, Russia and China are arming at an alarming rate–Russia’s military spending is up roughly 30 percent and China’s has more than doubled in recent years.”
McKeon issued a warning about the consequences of withdrawal from the world as “instability is spreading, our adversaries are growing bolder, and our security is threatened.”
“If we want to reverse this trend, then we must build upon the Ryan-Murray compromise and further mitigate the permanent damage the current trajectory will do,” he said. “Otherwise, in two years, funding for our troops will be cut to immoral levels.”
“We must resist the president’s compulsion to continually trade national security for financial responsibility, while getting neither. Peace through strength is more than a slogan. It is a foundation for securing our own freedom and prosperity.”
The Senate Gang of Eight who forged an immigration reform proposal that’s now been indefinitely been put on hold by the House will be honored by the National Council of La Raza tonight.
La Raza’s annual gala, to be held at the National Building Museum, will also honor the people who fasted outside the Capitol in order to pressure lawmakers to push a reform bill forward.
Sens. Michael Bennet (D–Colo.), Dick Durbin (D–Ill.), Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), John McCain (R–Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D–N.J.), Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) and Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) will be recognized for being “outspoken on issues that significantly impact the Latino community,” according to La Raza.
The eight senators introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 that passed the upper chamber in June.
La Raza’s leader said President Obama might not be so feted, though.
“For the president, I think his legacy is at stake here,” Janet Murguía told Politico in advance of the dinner, where she plans to deliver a speech ripping Obama’s deportation policy. “We consider him the deportation president, or the deporter-in-chief.”
“We respectfully disagree with the president on his ability to stop unnecessary deportations,” she’ll say during the speech. “He can stop tearing families apart. He can stop throwing communities and businesses into chaos. He can stop turning a blind eye to the harm being done. He does have the power to stop this. Failure to act will be a shameful legacy for his presidency.”
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee got some of the loudest applause at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington for stressing how he’d bucked the Democratic Party in pushing for Iran sanctions.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has continued his push for the bill co-authored with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) despite other Democratic Senate chairmen agreeing to not pursue sanctions at President Obama’s behest.
“When it comes to Iran, I have stood with you and have stood against so many in my own party,” Menendez told the AIPAC crowd this morning, receiving a sustained standing ovation in return.
“For a decade, I was told that my concerns had no legitimate basis, that Iran would never be able to bring the Bushehr plant on line and that Iran’s nuclear activities were not the most major concern. History has shown us that those assessments about Iran’s abilities and intentions were simply wrong then, and I believe they are wrong today. If past is prologue, I’m skeptical of Iran keeping its promises,” the senator continued.
“It is clear that the only intense, punishing economic pressure influences Iranian leaders. So we must keep the pressure on. We must not let them obstruct and we can’t let them obfuscate and delay their way to dismantling the sanctions that we have worked together to build to bring them to the table to get to the point of making sure they never have the ability to create one nuclear bomb!”
Menendez confessed that what troubles him about the current diplomatic process “is that the international community seems to want any deal more than it wants a good deal.”
“We cannot let the international sanctions regime unravel before we have that better deal that verifiably dismantles Iran’s ability to produce highly enriched uranium, a deal that fully addresses the weaponization aspects of Iran’s nuclear program,” he said. “The problem is, is that the mere possibility that sanctions might be lifted has already brought a rush of business delegations to Tehran.”
Based on “the parameters described in the joint plan of action and all I’ve heard in briefings and recent Iranian actions,” he added, “I am very concerned.”
“To those who believe that if negotiations do not result in a deal or if Iran breaks the deal, we can always impose new sanctions, let me be very clear. If negotiations fail or if Iran breaks the deal, we may not have time to pass new sanctions. New sanctions are not a spigot that can be turned on and off, as suggested.” The Obama administration has continually been asserting this in pressuring Congress to back off.
“Even if Congress were to take up and pass new sanctions at the moment of Iran’s first breach of the joint plan of action or if they do not reach an agreement that is acceptable, there will be a lag time of six months to bring those sanctions on line and at least a year for the real impact to be felt,” Menendez continued. “And this would bring us, according to scientists that have testified before our committee, beyond the very short time that Iran would need to build a nuclear bomb, especially since the interim agreement does not require them to dismantle anything. It basically freezes their capability as it stands today.”
“…The fact is, Iran is simply looking to lock the door on its nuclear weapons program, and should they walk away later from the deal, as they have in the past, they can simply unlock the door and continue their nuclear weapons program from where they are today. And if that sounds familiar, it should. It sounds a lot like North Korea.”
The chairman stressed that “the United States must be the one to step up to help to protect the Israeli people and counter the threat that would be posed by a nuclear Iran.”
“If we are to take President Rouhani’s word that he said in Davos that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons — if that’s true, then the Iranian government should not have any problems with the obvious follow-up to that claim, starting with the verifiable dismantling of its illicit nuclear infrastructure. That is all the sanctions legislation seeks. I don’t believe we should settle for anything less. Do any of you believe we should settle for anything less?”
The audience shouted “no” in reply.
It wasn’t even a day ago that Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin was protesting evil Israelis outside the AIPAC conference in Washington:
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 3, 2014
But then she apparently hopped on a plane to Gaza and now claims that she’s being held in Egyptian airport jail:
I’m being held in a jail at Cairo airport!!!
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 4, 2014
@AlliMcCrack twitter only thing that seems to work in this Cairo jail
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 4, 2014
.@nancymancias you getting this? I’m in jail in cairo
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 4, 2014
This is my cell in Cairo airport pic.twitter.com/ogIaXTvJvh
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 4, 2014
Only food for 5 women is dirty stale bread and dirty water pic.twitter.com/6YFwXm4KL0
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 4, 2014
I’m supposed to go w women’s delegation to Gaza via Egypt but egyptians put me in jail at airport
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) March 4, 2014
Noting that President Obama has “a few other pressing matters” on his plate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed at the White House today that Israel had taken “unprecedented steps” to advance the peace process in the past two decades.
The two sat down before the White House pool before heading into afternoon talks, which come after Obama warned Israel of “fallout” from not acquiescing to the peace process in an interview with Bloomberg.
“I mean, we vacated cities in Judea and Samaria. We left entirely Gaza. We’ve not only frozen settlements, we’ve uprooted entire settlements. We’ve released hundreds of terrorist prisoners, including dozens in recent months,” Netanyahu said. “And when you look at what we got in return, it’s been scores of suicide bombings, thousands of rockets on our cities fired from the areas we vacated, and just incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel. So Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been pushing an agreement as a legacy issue, and Vice President Joe Biden were both present at the remarks.
“Now, I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but it’s the truth,” Netanyahu continued. “And the people of Israel know that it’s the truth because they’ve been living it. What they want is peace. What we all want fervently is peace. Not a piece a paper –- although that, too — but a real peace; a peace that is anchored in mutual recognition of two nation states that recognize and respect one another, and solid security arrangements on the ground.”
“…The Palestinians expect us to recognize a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people, a nation state for the Palestinian people. I think it’s about time they recognize a nation state for the Jewish people. We’ve only been there for 4,000 years.”
The Palestinians have already said that recognition of the Jewish state is a non-starter, yet the administration keeps pushing Israel to accept a framework.
“As you know and I think everybody does, in the Middle East, which is definitely the most turbulent and violent part of the Earth, the only peace that will endure is a peace that we can defend. And we’ve learned from our history — Jewish history, but I think from general history — that the best way to guarantee peace is to be strong. And that’s what the people of Israel expect me to do –- to stand strong against criticism, against pressure, stand strong to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state,” Netanyahu said. “And I think there is a partnership there, a partnership between Israel and America, that I think is important for this end.”
WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asserted to applause this morning at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington that the Obama administration’s leadership in the world is “MIA.”
McCain lauded the crowd as “trying to do the Lord’s work in the city of Satan.”
“What happens in Ukraine is directly related to what happens in the Middle East and obviously we know that what happens in the Middle East is vital to the existence of the state of Israel,” he said. “…And now, now that the Olympics are over, immediately afterwards, we now see the occupation of Crimea. And by the way, in case you missed it, one of the reasons why there’s a majority population of Russians in Crimea is because Stalin exported all the Tartars, over half of them were killed, as he deported them from the Crimea. But the fact is, that this is a blatant act on the part of Vladimir Putin and one that must be unacceptable to the world community. It cannot stand.”
The senator pointed to a broad array of options the U.S. has to respond, including the expansion of the Magnitsky Act previously passed by Congress against human-rights violators in Russia.
“Why do we care? Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength any more,” he said to a reaction of applause.
“In 2009, many of you may remember, as we saw on YouTube, we saw a young woman named Neda bleed to death in the street in Tehran when the people of Iran rose up and said, ‘Obama, Obama — are you with us or are you — are you with us or are you with them?’ And you know what, the president of the United States didn’t say a word,” McCain continued. “The president of the United States believes that the Cold War is over. That’s fine. It is over. But Putin doesn’t believe it’s over. He doesn’t believe that this is a zero-sum game. Look at Moldova. Look at the occupation of Georgia. Look at the pressure on the Baltic nations.”
“Look at what they’re doing in assisting Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent people in cities and towns and countryside all over Syria… What do you think is going to happen if Bashar al-Assad continues to prevail, as far as the other nations in the region are concerned? Jordan, probably our best friend, is destabilized. The whole situation cries out for American leadership and I’m sorry to tell you it’s MIA.”
McCain quipped that one of his “favorites” is “tell Vladimir that I’ll be more flexible when I’m reelected. Tell Vladimir I’ll be more flexible when I’m reelected?”
He called Obama’s red line “a seminal moment, when the president of the United States says that that president’s going to take military action and does not, that sends a message all the way around the globe, as far away as China.”
“If we’re not willing to take action when an anti-American, anti-Semitic tyrant gasses 1,400 innocent people to death, what does it say about us?”
McCain responded to Americans who say they are “weary of war.”
“Do you know how many times in history that’s been said? Do you know how many times prior to World War II, when Hitler marched into the Sudetenland and when Neville Chamberlain said we’re not going to fight in a faraway country for people that don’t speak our language and we don’t know?” he said. “My friends, the lessons of history are that we have to be ready. And as Ronald Reagan used to say, peace through strength, not through weakness and not through cutting our defense budget back to the smallest army that we’ve had since prior to World War II.”
The senator quipped that he’s “been around a long time. In fact, since the Coolidge administration.”
“But I would say to you, I have never seen this world in need of strong American leadership more than it is today. And I believe the events of these — these negotiations with Iran, which I hope to succeed but I doubt, when I see the slaughter in Syria, when I see the Chinese asserting themselves in Asia, when I see in response, cuts — significant cuts in foreign aid and also in our Defense budget, I’m worried.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement today slamming Secretary of State John Kerry’s “unacceptable threats” to the federation, accusing him of “not bothering to attempt to understand the complex processes taking place in Ukrainian society and objectively assess the situation.”
The Russians said “the U.S. and its allies turned a blind eye” at the “radical extremists” with “anti-Semitic militant Russophobia” demonstrating in the Euromaidan pro-Democracy protests. The statement accused the new government in Kiev of “actually declaring war on Russian language and all that is associated with Russia.”
“Russia is interested in a stable and strong Ukraine, which provided the legal rights and interests of Ukrainians, and all our fellow citizens,” the MFA said, adding that their invasion of Crimea “is not our fault.”
Instead, the MFA continued, they acted on an “extraordinary situation” and are waiting for “the formation of a legitimate government of national unity in the interests of all the political forces and the country’s regions.”
Not long after this statement was issued, the White House said that Vice President Joe Biden rang the Kremlin.
“Vice President Biden called Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev this morning, following the Prime Minister’s discussion with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk over the weekend,” said a readout of the call. “The Vice President urged Russia to pull back its forces, support the immediate deployment of international monitors to Ukraine, and begin a meaningful political dialogue with the Ukrainian government.”
Yesterday, the G-7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — joined with the EU to issue a statement condemning Russia.
“We note that Russia’s actions in Ukraine also contravene the principles and values on which the G-7 and the G-8 operate. As such, we have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G-8 is able to have meaningful discussion,” the statement said.
“We are united in supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its right to choose its own future. We commit ourselves to support Ukraine in its efforts to restore unity, stability, and political and economic health to the country. To that end, we will support Ukraine’s work with the International Monetary Fund to negotiate a new program and to implement needed reforms. IMF support will be critical in unlocking additional assistance from the World Bank, other international financial institutions, the EU, and bilateral sources.”
— Ukrainian Updates (@Ukroblogger) March 3, 2014
A Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations Committee said it should be more up to Europe to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s territorial sweep of yet-to-be-determined magnitude.
But he suggested that a major sanctions effort focused on the financial sector could stop Putin’s hegemony in its tracks.
“I think we should go into this eyes wide open. It’s been pretty clear for awhile that Putin has an ambition to essentially recapture what he calls the near abroad, which is the group of former satellite states and republics,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said this morning on MSNBC.
“That’s what was going on in Georgia in 2008, that’s the motivation behind his invasion of Ukraine. And I guess what’s frustrating to me is why the Europeans aren’t more exercised about this, because, you know, five years ago, it was ridiculous to think that Putin would invade Ukraine and today maybe it’s ridiculous to think that he might someday take action against a country like Poland or Hungary or the Baltics,” he added.
“But it’s frankly in Europe’s interest to get tougher than the United States on an issue like economic sanctions. They really hold the power in terms of trying to tighten the purse strings on Putin because who knows who is next in this guy’s extraterritorial ambitions?”
Murphy said senators have been talking over the weekend and predicted that “you’ll see Republicans and Democrats pretty easily joining together to support a tough sanctions regime.”
“But, again, the importance here is convincing our Europeans that as dependent as they have become on Russian money over the years, it’s in their interest to draw a hard line,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry is planning to visit the new government in Kiev on Tuesday.
“What I hope he goes there to talk about is the fact that the IMF now, with the United States’ support, has to step up with a pretty big aid package, it’s gonna be in the neighborhood of, you know, $15 billion to $20 billion and it can’t come with strings attached that are too tough because that could undermine the political support for the new regime in Kiev,” Murphy said.
“Russia can’t operate without European banks, many of which are, frankly, laundering money from illicit activities,” he added. “There is an estimate that suggests that two-thirds of the money coming out of Russia every year come from illicit activities. If there was a combined sanctioning of the three largest Russian banks from the United States and from Europe, it would effectively shut down Russia’s economy. Add to that, visa restrictions on the old guards in Russia moving to and from their vacation homes in Europe and you would start to have a different dynamic on the ground.”
A resolution expressing support for Venezuelans fighting against socialist President Nicolas Maduro will come to the House floor for debate on Tuesday.
The measure introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, passed unanimously in the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.
It joins a growing congressional chorus of lawmakers trying to turn the Obama administration’s attention toward the deadly crisis in the South American country.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have introduced a resolution condemning Maduro’s attacks on Venezuelan protesters and calling on President Obama to “immediately impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against individuals planning, facilitating, or perpetrating gross human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and other members of civil society in Venezuela.”
Ros-Lehtinen said she’s “optimistic” that her bill will sail through the House.
“I hope it will pass so that we send a swift and strong message to Maduro that the United States House of Representatives has taken notice of the developments in Venezuela, and we will not allow these transgressions to pass quietly,” she said. ”But this resolution can only be the first step to hold Maduro and his fellow regime thugs accountable for their violent response and their abuses of the Venezuelan people’s liberties and human rights.”
Ros-Lehtinen started circulating a letter among her colleagues directly asking Obama “to take immediate actions against Maduro and other Venezuelan officials who are responsible for violations of their people’s human rights.”
“We are calling for the president to enact immediate sanctions against these officials, under authorities granted to him under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), including denying them visas to enter the United States, blocking their property and freezing their assets in the U.S., as well as prohibiting them from making any financial transactions in the U.S. This letter already enjoys bipartisan support, and I hope the president will recognize the severity of this issue and do the right thing and take these important steps,” she said.
“However, I will file a bill this week that would force the implementation of these sanctions even if the president chooses not to use these authorities under IEEPA,” the chairwoman stressed. “Now is not the time to dither or to sit on the fence. The United States must stand up for the people of Venezuela, and for the American ideals of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. Failure to hold Maduro and his officials accountable would be irresponsible and a failure of American leadership.”
When asked on Meet the Press Sunday whether his work on a comprehensive immigration bill made him “damaged goods” as a 2016 GOP contender, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he “never made that political calculus.”
“I certainly knew going into immigration reform that’s not exactly the kind of issue you take on with regard to becoming politically popular among some segments. But I would say the concerns that conservatives have about immigration reform are legitimate ones,” Rubio responded.
“What I endeavor to do is try to find a solution to a real problem the country is confronting. And I understand it’s a difficult one. I knew that going in. I’ll continue to do what’s right for the country, what I believe to be right on issue after issue and where that leads me politically, that’s what elections are for and campaigns are for,” he continued. “But I’m not going to let the future of political considerations stop me from doing what I believe is right for the country or doing my job during my time in the Senate.”
Rubio said he hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll seek the presidency, but noted that the natural expiration of his term makes the timing convenient.
“I will say that that something I’ll consider later in this year, next year. As you know in 2016, my term in the Senate expires,” he said. “I’ll have a decision to make either way. I think our country’s at an important crossroads on the international front and a domestic front. I’ll have to think about whether from that role in the presidency I would be able to influence that in a more positive way.”
Rubio has been heavily blasting the administration on foreign policy, backing the pro-democracy activists in Venezuela and Ukraine.
When asked whether the crux of the Arizona bill vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer, which allowed people and organizations to deny services based on their religious beliefs, will be a key issue in the months ahead, Rubio said two issues are at play.
“I don’t believe that gay Americans should be denied services at a restaurant or hotel or anything of that nature,” he said. “I also don’t believe, however, that a caterer or photographer should be punished by the state for refusing to provide services for a gay wedding because of their religious beliefs. We’ve got to figure out a way to protect that, as well.”
WASHINGTON — The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cast heavy doubt on the prospects for Iran fulfilling the six-month nuclear agreement currently underway, with Democratic Ranking Member Eliot Engel (N.Y.) stressing “we should be under no illusion that somehow these are nice people and everything is wonderful.”
Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) recounted how Congress perpetually had to lean on the executive branch to agree to tough enough sanctions on the Islamic Republic in the first place, from the Clinton administration to the present day.
“The great irony for me is those who were opposed for so many years now say it’s the sanctions that got the Iranians to the table,” Royce said alongside Engel at a panel at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington on Sunday.
Royce stressed that they would have ever greater leverage at the bargaining table if sanctions hadn’t been “watered down” and lamented the stall of tougher sanctions passed in the House at the end of July on an overwhelming vote of 400-20. “I think we lost the opportunity by not forcing that action sooner,” he said of its death in the Senate.
Engel brought up the words of Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”
“I don’t trust them and we need to verify,” the New York Democrat said. “Congress obviously plays a very, very important role in the struggle to make sure Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.”
He expressed disappointment in the sanctions relief included in the interim deal by the Obama administration. “I was hoping we could keep the pressure on while negotiations are going on,” Engel continued. “…It’s the same regime and we need to know that before we can deal with them effectively.”
Royce said a key congressional concern is “that once you start the process” of a sanctions rollback “it would be an excuse for everyone to beat a path to Iran’s door.”
“Anyone who makes investments in Iran is likely to lose that investment,” the chairman said, comparing the current situation to when Congress had to override dragging diplomacy “to get the job done with respect to moving South Africa in a different direction.”
“It’s quite unlikely that Iran is going to comply to the requirements we’re seeking here,” Royce said. “…If they don’t play ball, at the end of the day we need to move forward.”
Engel said what especially bothers him is not the administration pledge that no deal is better than a bad deal, but what will constitute a “bad deal.” He called it an “ominous” sign that “as we’re sitting and talking they continue to enrich.”
“It should not have been too much to say to the Iranians ‘while we’re talking, you stop enriching,’” he said, adding he also doesn’t want to see a “deal that freezes their program at 96%.”
WASHINGTON — The first Obama administration official to speak before this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington received a muted reception Sunday night as he tried to convince the crowd that Iran will hardly reap any benefit from its sanctions relief.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the sanctions relief included in the six-month interim nuclear agreement is only “a drop in the bucket” and simply designed to give Iran “a small taste of how things would improve” financially if the Islamic Republic gave up its nuclear program.
Of the countries now streaming toward Tehran to ink business deals in the country, Lew characterized it as a mirage.
“Even though I’ve said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business,” he said. “The moment those talks turn into improper deals we will respond with speed and force.”
Lew, an Orthodox Jew, told the crowd “no one grew up with a deeper appreciation for Israel than I did.”
Still, the huge AIPAC crowd — more than 14,000 people registered, and at times parts of the Washington Convention Center were at maximum capacity — mostly just listened politely. Some didn’t applaud when he was introduced, and many didn’t react at the applause lines built into the speech stressing how tough the administration was being on Iran.
Of those who said “sanctions would never work,” Lew said proudly, “we proved exactly the opposite.”
He said that the agreement was forged “without fear that in the meantime Iran would advance its nuclear program” and said “key elements have been rolled back” of the program already.
“While all options must remain on the table … we reserve force as a last option,” Lew added.
Just a couple of hours before Lew spoke, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) told an AIPAC audience that he didn’t expect Iran to comply and did not agree with the sanctions rollback. “It’s the same regime and we need to know that before we can deal with them effectively,” Engel said.
Lew told the plenary audience that “if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.”
If Iran doesn’t follow through on its commitments, “the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place,” he added.
Congressional leaders including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who addresses the conference Tuesday morning, have vociferously disputed this rubber-band assertion of the administration.
“The bottom line is promises are not enough; Iran must meet its obligations,” Lew continued, adding they’re not looking for “trust but verify” but “this is a case of verify everything.”
Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to speak Monday. When incoming AIPAC president Bob Cohen told the crowd what a friend Kerry is to Israel, the applause was as slight as it was for Lew.
More from AIPAC:
Secretary of State John Kerry said tonight said that he and other unspecified foreign ministers from “around the world” spoke about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and are “unified in our assessment and will work closely together to support Ukraine and its people at this historic hour.”
“The United States condemns the Russian Federation’s invasion and occupation of Ukrainian territory, and its violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity in full contravention of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act, its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. This action is a threat to the peace and security of Ukraine, and the wider region,” Kerry said in a statement.
He added that in a call this morning he commended Ukraine’s interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, “for showing the utmost restraint in the face of the clear and present danger to the integrity of their state, and the assaults on their sovereignty.”
“We also urge that the Government of Ukraine continue to make clear, as it has from throughout this crisis, its commitment to protect the rights of all Ukrainians and uphold its international obligations,” Kerry said. “As President Obama has said, we call for Russia to withdraw its forces back to bases, refrain from interference elsewhere in Ukraine, and support international mediation to address any legitimate issues regarding the protection of minority rights or security.”
Kerry stressed “we’ve made clear that we recognize and respect Russia’s ties to Ukraine and its concerns about treatment of ethnic Russians.”
“But these concerns can and must be addressed in a way that does not violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, by directly engaging the Government of Ukraine. Unless immediate and concrete steps are taken by Russia to deescalate tensions, the effect on U.S.-Russian relations and on Russia’s international standing will be profound,” he continued.
“…In the coming days, emergency consultations will commence in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in defense of the underlying principles critical to the maintenance of international peace and security. We continue to believe in the importance of an international presence from the UN or OSCE to gather facts, monitor for violations or abuses and help protect rights. As a leading member of both organizations, Russia can actively participate and make sure its interests are taken into account.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke by phone with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu on Saturday morning.
“Secretary Hagel expressed deep concern about Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine,” Kirby said. “He reminded Minister Shoygu that these activities ran counter to Russia’s international treaty obligations and stated position that it would respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“Secretary Hagel stressed that, without a change on the ground, Russia risks further instability in the region, isolation in the international community and an escalation that would threaten European and international security.”
WASHINGTON — President Obama had no public events on his schedule today, yet skipped a meeting of his national security team at the White House today as they huddled over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Seen leaving the meeting at the White House were Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan.
Vice President Joe Biden reportedly joined the meeting via videoconference, while Obama was briefed later by National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Obama special adviser John Podesta was seen at the West Wing in mid-afternoon, but he was apparently leading family members on a tour, according to the White House pool report.
There was no word from the White House on whether Obama would issue any statement.
State Department on Secretary of State John Kerry today contacted acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov, meaning that Obama has still not had any president-to-president contact with Ukraine since 2012.
A Ukrainian official at the United Nations said an additional 15,000 Russian troops were streaming into Crimea after President Vladimir Putin received formal approval from the upper chamber of parliament to send forces into his neighbor.
Ukrainian military sources also told media outlets that two Russian anti-submarine warships had approached the coastline near Sevastopol, violating the two countries’ agreement on the Russian naval base located there.
These moves came just hours after Obama said in the White House press briefing room Friday afternoon that “indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Russian troops will remain deployed until the “political-social situation in the country is normalized,” the Kremlin said in a statement, according to RIA Novosti.
The troop approval from senators in the Federation Council is open-ended, letting Putin decide troop levels.
A small group of protesters began to form in front of the White House around 4 p.m. Ilona Doerfler of Kiev brandished a megaphone and urged economic sanctions and a naval blockade, according to the White House pool report. “NATO ships in the Black Sea should organize a non-invasive blockade to stop Russian ships exiting,” she said. Asked about the dangers of escalation, she replied: “It’s already escalating. It is not about the Ukraine, it’s about the integrity of promises to respect territorial sovereignty.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said today that Putin’s “imperialist aspirations are a throwback to the last century.”
“He’s violated the freedom of all Ukrainians, while betraying the Russian people and their 20-year international commitment to ‘respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine’. History judges perpetrators of these actions poorly, as it does those who stand idly by,” McKeon said. “Our response should demonstrate the U.S. stands by its friends against bullies. We should do everything practical to help Ukraine turn back these invaders.”
“One of the steps that the we and our allies could take would be to place a significant number of international observers on the ground in Ukraine, if requested by the Ukrainian government,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). “The presence of international observers on the ground could reduce the risk that Russia would make a false claim of provocative acts by Ukraine as an excuse for further violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and thereby help avoid a conflict that nobody should want.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) penned a piece for Politico outlining eight steps Obama should take against Russia: call it a military invasion, dispatch Kerry and Hagel to Kiev, lead a boycott of the G-8 summit in Sochi this June, suspend any trade discussions with Moscow, put forth a UN Security Council resolution to put the Russian and Chinese vetoes on record, renew a NATO membership push for Georgia, add more Russian officials to the Magnitsky List sanctions, and delay a Senate vote on under secretary of state for arms control and international security nominee Rose Gottemoeller, “who has tried to play down and potentially kept information from Congress and our allies about Russian violations of arms-control agreements.”
“The Obama administration must publicly acknowledge that its ‘reset’ with Russia is dead. The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Rubio wrote.
“This is a critical moment in world history. The credibility of the alliances and security assurances that have preserved the international order is at stake. If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs.”
The United Nations Security Council quickly pulled together an informal meeting on the invasion, but spent two hours just arguing about the format for the meeting.
“We call on the Security Council now to do everything possible to stop aggression of the Russian Federation to Ukraine. There is still a chance,” Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said, adding that the number of Russian troops pouring into his nation “is increasing every coming hour.”
“We urge all member states of the United Nations to demonstrate solidarity with the Ukrainian nation to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” Sergeyev said.
In Kiev, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged Ukrainians to rally against the Russian invasion.
“Come to the streets, express your stance, do not let them destroy your Fatherland. Indeed, you can live anywhere, but you have an only Fatherland,” Klitschko said.
He asked Russians who live in Ukraine to contact their relatives in Russia. “May they also express their support for you and Ukraine as the country where you live,” the UDAR party leader added.
As if anticipating protests in Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was placed under house arrest in Moscow on Friday with all Internet access forbidden.
— Simon Shuster (@shustry) March 1, 2014
UPDATE 5:15 p.m. EST: The White House issued a lengthy readout of what it says was a 90-minute phone call between Obama and Putin.
“The United States calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine,” the White House said. “…President Obama told President Putin that, if Russia has concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russian and minority populations in Ukraine, the appropriate way to address them is peacefully through direct engagement with the government of Ukraine and through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As a member of both organizations, Russia would be able to participate. President Obama urged an immediate effort to initiate a dialogue between Russia and the Ukrainian government, with international facilitation, as appropriate. The United States is prepared to participate.”
“…President Obama made clear that Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community. In the coming hours and days, the United States will urgently consult with allies and partners in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. The United States will suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8. Going forward, Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.”
The Kremlin said in a statement that “the two presidents discussed in detail various aspects of the extraordinary situation in Ukraine.”
“In reply to Mr Obama’s concern over the possibility of the use of Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin drew his attention to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev,” the Kremlin said.
“The Russian President spoke of a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”
UPDATE 6 p.m. EST: The White House released an official photo of Obama on the phone with Putin.
Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych told reporters in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, today that his government was overtaken by “pro-nationalist youths, who represent an absolute minority” and “pro-fascist activists” moved in.
“It is time for me to say that I’m going to continue fighting for Ukraine’s future against those who try to conquer it with fear and terror. I was forced to leave Ukraine because of an immediate threat to my life and the lives of people close to me,” Yanukovych said. “…It will be difficult to exit this tough crisis and turbulence that the country is going through as the result of it. It’s a result of the irresponsible policy of the West that encouraged Maidan (protests).”
Yanukovych said last week’s agreement reached between his government and opposition forces — a pact for which Washington partially took credit as European foreign ministers negotiated the terms — “gave us some hope,” but then it descended into “chaos, terror.”
Maidan leaders demanded the ouster of Yanukovych after the agreement was inked because it didn’t call for elections until fall, bringing little justice to the dozens of protesters shot by Yanukovych’s snipers.
“I would like to say sorry to the veterans, to the Ukrainian people that I did not have the power to stop the chaos that is happening in Ukraine right now. First of all, I have to say I did not run, I moved from Kyiv to the city of Kharkiv. During my move I was shot at from automatic weapons. The car that covered me was effectively shot at from all sides,” Yanukovych said. “I was not leaving alone, and did not run. I wanted to meet with activists of the Party of Regions and civic organizations at the forum that was supposed to be held in Kharkiv. We did arrive late there. When we came to Kharkiv, early in the morning Feb. 22, the Security Service received information that the radical groups are coming to the city.”
He said he was forced to flee from the pro-Russia stronghold to Donetsk and then “came to find temporary shelter” in Russia. These movements by car and plane occurred while Washington said they didn’t know where he was.
“In Russia, I arrived thanks to the patriotic officers who performed their duty and helped me save my life. Second, I have not met with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. I have not, after arriving to the territory of Russia. We spoke on the phone. We agreed that as soon as the Russian president has an opportunity to meet with me, we shall meet. I said I wasn’t just cheated, I was cynically cheated,” Yanukovych continued.
He said he “will never recognize” his ouster by parliament, in which the majority of his party turned against him.
“If the president did not resign, according to constitution, if he is alive – and as you can see I am alive – and if he was not impeached, he is still acting president. The show in parliament, with violence against deputies, I cannot recognize and will never recognize.”
When asked what Moscow’s role should be in all of this, Yanukovych replied, “The agreements between Ukraine and Russia, within the framework of those agreements Russia has a right to act. I think Russia must act, and knowing the character of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, I am surprised that he is so restrained and silent. Those agreements we have with Russia, Russia has a right to act.”
(Full transcript and video can be found at the Kyiv Post)
Ukraine accused Russia of staging a military invasion Friday after gunmen seized control of airports in the Crimean peninsula. Russian military also blocked off the headquarters of the Ukrainian navy in Sevastopol. Russia Today claimed they’re just “self-defense squads” helping keep the peace.
Secretary of State John Kerry said just yesterday that he’d received assurances from the Kremlin that it wouldn’t be an aggressor despite a Russian flag hoisted above a parliament building in the Crimean peninsula and a massive military buildup along the border.
Opposition leaders, who have charged Yanukovych with murder, have asked Interpol to put him in the database of persons wanted for crimes against humanity.
“I am sure that Yanukovych should be returned to Ukraine. Many deaths and much blood are on the hands of Yanukovych and it must answer for it,” Vitali Klitschko said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have introduced a resolution condemning President Nicolas Maduro’s attacks on Venezuelan protesters and calling on those who have committed human rights violations to be held responsible.
The resolution “reaffirms U.S. support for the people of Venezuela in their pursuit of the free exercise of representative democracy,” “deplores the use of excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrators,” calls on Maduro to disarm government-supported militias or vigilante groups and allow a third-party investigation into deadly attacks, and calls on the U.S. “to work with other countries in the hemisphere to actively encourage a process of dialogue between the Government of Venezuela and the political opposition.”
It also calls on President Obama to “immediately impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against individuals planning, facilitating, or perpetrating gross human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and other members of civil society in Venezuela.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney this week conveyed the impression that Washington wants to stay out of the crisis as much as possible.
“Despite what the Venezuelan government would like to lead people to believe, this is not a U.S.-Venezuela issue. It is an issue between Venezuela and its people,” Carney said. “We’ve been clear all along that the future of Venezuela is for the Venezuelan people to decide.”
Menendez said “now is the time to pursue a course of targeted sanctions by denying and revoking visas, and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials complicit in the deaths of peaceful protestors.”
“Human rights violators should be held accountable for the crimes they committed and their presence should not be welcome in our nation. Venezuelans today are denied basic rights, freedoms, and the ability to peacefully protest the dire economic circumstances caused by President Maduro and his government,” Menendez said. “We stand with the Venezuelan people and the brave opposition leaders in their pursuit to build a more hopeful Venezuela that embraces a bright future while discarding a failed past.”
Rubio, who has been called “el loco de los locos” by Maduro in response to his harsh criticism of the hand-picked Chavez successor, said Venezuelans “deserve to have their voices be heard, and they deserve the world’s leading defender of human rights to be on their side.”
“Nicolás Maduro and his thugs must be held accountable for the atrocities committed against the people of Venezuela, including unjust incarcerations, violent repression and killing of innocent protestors,” Rubio said.
“This Resolution urges President Obama to immediately impose targeted sanctions that are already possible under existing law and encourage a process of dialogue between Venezuela’s government and the political opposition. It is time for the United States to support the Venezuelan people’s pursuit of a safe and democratic way of life, as guaranteed under their constitution.”
Rubio planned to meet with members of the Venezuelan community, along with Florida Governor Rick Scott and Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, at a restaurant in Doral, Fla., today.
The Florida senator gave a powerful speech on the floor of the upper chamber this week in which he vowed a sanctions effort and propped up photos of the fallen.
Three senators have introduced a bill to keep security clearance contractors from reviewing and approving their own security clearances.
The process has been under intense congressional scrutiny since contractor Aaron Alexis, who had red flags that should have been caught in a security clearance check, went on a September shooting rampage at the Navy Yard.
The same contractor that conducted Alexis’ background investigation, U.S. Investigative Services, ran a check on Edward Snowden. USIS, the largest contractor conducting background checks for the federal government, is under Justice Department investigation for allegedly running incomplete background checks to cash in quickly on its contract.
Employees of USIS have also sued the company over huge volumes of background checks that couldn’t possibly be conducted thoroughly on the timelines they were given.
“Letting federal contractors review their own work is like letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said sponsor Jon Tester, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce. “This common-sense bill will put national security ahead of profits, hold federal contractors more accountable, and make our nation safer.”
Other sponsors are Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
“It’s indefensible that contractors would ever have the authority to oversee themselves—particularly on work affecting our national security secrets and secure facilities,” said McCaskill, chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial & Contracting Oversight. “It’s good news that the Administration has taken swift action to strengthen accountability in the past several months, but we have to do more. This legislation will further boost accountability and remove conflicts of interest by ensuring the same contractor won’t be able to both conduct background checks, and conduct a final review of that same background check process.”
In response to the controversies, the Office of Personnel Management announced that it would do security clearance checks instead of government contractors, but that’s an administrative decision that could be reversed at any time without legislation to require the checks and balances.
“Glitches in our government security clearance processes are unacceptable and recent tragedies have shown that there is no room for error,” said Begich. “Our bill is a simple fix creating checks and balances on the contractors conducting background investigations by prohibiting the same companies conducting background investigation work from also conducting quality review.”
There’s a caucus for nearly every special interest in Congress, from the Montenegro Caucus to the Shellfish Caucus and the Unexploded Ordnance Caucus.
This morning, add a new one to the vast list.
Texas Republican Lamar Smith, former House Judiciary Committee chairman and current chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, has created the Border Security Caucus to pull together members who feel the border must be secured and interior enforcement increased.
“The Government Accountability Office has determined that only 129 miles of a 2000 mile long southern border is under ‘full control.’ That means that only 6.5% of the border is safe from drug smugglers and human traffickers,” Smith said in his announcement.
“Over 40% of those in the country illegally entered as tourists or business visitors and then overstayed their visas and failed to return home. An entry-exit system is needed to deter and detect those individuals,” he continued. “Almost 12 million people reside in the United States illegally and over 7 million of them work illegally. This situation is costly to American taxpayers and harmful to American workers.”
“Unfortunately, President Obama has weakened immigration laws through executive orders and administrative actions.”
Smith already runs the Media Fairness Caucus, the purpose of which “is not to censor or condemn, but to encourage the media to adhere to the highest standards of reporting and provide the American people with the facts, balanced stories and fair coverage of the news.” Co-chairs are Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).
“The Border Security Caucus will make border security and interior enforcement a top priority. And that is what the American people want,” Smith said. “A Bloomberg poll showed that 85% of voters want Congress to ‘strengthen border security and create a system to track foreigners entering and leaving the country’ before any other changes are made to our immigration system.”
Smith introduced a bill this Congress to scrap the paper-based I-9 system and establish an employment eligibility verification system patterned after E-Verify.
With the Conservative Political Action Conference a week away, the American Conservative Union released its 2013 scorecard ranking the most conservative members of Congress.
The ACU scored 25 votes in the Senate, including the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and the Toomey-Manchin gun-control amendment. In the House, lawmakers were similarly scored on 25 bills including missile defense and the farm bill.
The least conservative GOP senator was Susan Collins (R-Maine), while the most conservative Democrats were Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). The least conservative Republican member of the House was New York Rep. Michael Grimm, while the most conservative Dem was retiring Utah Blue Dog Jim Matheson.
Three members of the Senate scored 100 percent: Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah). Coburn is retiring at the end of this year to focus on his personal battle against cancer.
Those who earned perfect scores in the House were Michele Bachmann (R-Tenn.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), Trey Radel (R-Fla.), Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Steve Scalise (R-La.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Steve Stockman (R-Texas). Radel resigned a month ago after a conviction for cocaine possession.
Senators who scored 80 percent or higher were John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Seven senators scored zero: Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
Only one member of the House scored zero: Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who is running for retiring Sen. Harkin’s seat this fall.
After an airline passenger was held at a checkpoint because she presented a D.C. driver’s license as identification, the head of the Transportation Security Administration has been asked to inform his staff that people living in D.C. are indeed Americans.
Ashley Brandt, a preschool teacher living in the District of Columbia, was stopped and initially prevented from boarding a flight in Phoenix on Feb. 18.
D.C.’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), called Brandt to “apologize that a U.S. government employee would question the right of a resident of the nation’s capital to board an airplane,” then took the complaint to TSA Administrator John Pistole.
“While D.C. residents are undemocratically denied voting representation in the House and Senate and full control over their local laws and budget, our residents are American citizens who have all the other rights of citizens, including using D.C.-issued identification to travel by airplane. The undemocratic treatment of D.C. residents by Congress should never extend to similar treatment by federal employees,” Norton wrote to Pistole today.
The delegate said she’s since learned that American citizens of the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands “have encountered similar indignities” from geography-challenged TSA officials.
“The incident involving Ms. Brandt was so bizarre and ludicrous that it has captured press attention and reflects poorly on the management of TSA,” Norton wrote. “I request that you take steps to ensure that all TSA employees are informed now and in their training that identification documents issued by the District of Columbia and the territories must be treated the same as state-issued identification, and to remind them that D.C. residents and the residents of the territories are American citizens and deserve to be treated as such.”
Brandt told the Washington Post that the TSA asked for her passport after rejecting her D.C. license because the District is not a state.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing to make President Obama’s legacy goal of a Mideast peace deal a reality, but now the process is getting bumped up to the Oval Office.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is speaking Tuesday morning at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in D.C.
On Monday he’ll meet with Obama, where the president is expected to pressure the prime minister to accept a Kerry-crafted framework for a Mideast peace process. Netanyahu, however, is eager to discuss Obama’s “historic mistake” on Iran.
This morning the White House announced this will be followed by a visit from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on St. Patrick’s Day.
“The President looks forward to reviewing with President Abbas the progress in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations,” press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “They will also discuss our continuing effort to work cooperatively to strengthen the institutions that can support the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Netanyahu said at a press conference Monday that “without Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, there can be no real reconciliation because the conflict cannot end without the Palestinians basically giving up all national claims to the Jewish state.”
“Peace must also be based on iron-clad security arrangements that enable Israel to safeguard the peace and protect Israel for any contingency because in this volatile part of the world, and we see how volatile it is, there can be no real peace without security,” Netanyahu said, adding that boycott movements “only serve to strengthen Palestinian intransigence.”
The chief Palestinian negotiator told Al-Jazeera this month that things will get “ugly” if a Mideast peace deal isn’t reached by April and warned that the Palestinian Authority — which already controls only half of the two Palestinian territories — could crumble.
“Number one…I cannot accept Israel as a Jewish state,” Saeb Erakat said. “Number two: I cannot accept any document without East Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine.”
This afternoon, President Obama will announce the My Brother’s Keeper initiative designed to “help every boy and young man of color who is willing to do the hard work to get ahead.”
“For decades, opportunity has lagged behind for boys and young men of color. But across the country, communities are adopting approaches to help put these boys and young men on the path to success. The President wants to build on that work. We can learn from communities that are partnering with local businesses and foundations to connect these boys and young men to mentoring, support networks, and skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way up into the middle class. And the Administration will do its part by helping to identify and promote programs that work,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the project.
The initiative will include early-childhood nutrition and education programs with a focus later in life on keeping these students in school and partnering with communities and police “to reduce violence and make our classrooms and streets safer.”
Obama will sign a Presidential Memorandum establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, an interagency effort led by Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson.
Joining Obama today will be Colin Powell, Rahm Emanuel and Michael Bloomberg.
Obama will also meet with a number of business leaders – including Joe Echevarria of Deloitte, Magic Johnson of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake Partners, Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association and Thomas Tull of Legendary Entertainment – “to discuss ways in which they and their companies can work with the Initiative to improve the life outcomes of boys and young men of color.”
“Data shows that boys and young men of color, regardless of socio-economic background, are disproportionately at risk throughout the journey from their youngest years to college and career. For instance, large disparities remain in reading proficiency, with 86 percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade – compared to 58 percent of white boys reading below proficiency levels. Additionally, the disproportionate number of black and Hispanic young men who are unemployed or involved in the criminal justice system alone is a perilous drag on state budgets, and undermines family and community stability. These young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder than their white peers and account for almost half of the country’s murder victims each year,” the White House said.
“The effort launched today is focused on unlocking the full potential of boys and young men of color – something that will not only benefit them, but all Americans.”
A group that supports gay and lesbian candidates for political office has endorsed two gay Republicans running for office.
But the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which says it “endorses qualified, committed openly LGBT candidates who can WIN at the ballot box,” notably left out the gay GOP candidate who perhaps has the strongest chance of winning his race.
Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council challenging Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), featured his partner in a recent campaign ad. The ad, titled “A New Generation Republican,” included a few seconds of DeMaio and partner Jonathan Hale walking together in a parade.
The Victory Fund this week endorsed former University of New Hampshire dean Dan Innis, who is in a primary race with former Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) for the chance to face incumbent Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), and former Massachusetts Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, who is in a tight race against Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in a replay of their 2012 face-off.
“Both Dan Innis and Richard Tisei have demonstrated outstanding leadership and are viewed as visionary leaders that are voices for their constituencies. We are proud to announce their endorsements today,” said Torey Carter, chief operating officer at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, in a statement. “These two candidates have the potential to become the first out LGBT Republicans in Congress.”
Carter said their elections “would shatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party,” but the candidate not endorsed probably has the best shot at doing the shattering. And the Victory Fund is not talking about why it won’t support DeMaio.
The Rothenberg Political Report has called Peters “extremely vulnerable” and noted in its race analysis that “DeMaio may actually start the race with higher name I.D. than the incumbent.” He’s amassed a sizable war chest topping $1 million and has the backing of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). It’s also a top 5 race of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
So in response to the Victory Fund’s selective endorsement, DeMaio and Tisei announced Wednesday that they’d already begun their own victory fund.
Their Equity Leadership Fund vows to “send a strong message to the Republican Party and establishment LGBT groups alike,” and raised $254,625 in just two months at the end of 2013.
“This liberal group did not endorse Carl in 2012 and we’re not surprised they’re not endorsing him in what national observers call the most likely seat to switch parties in the country,” DeMaio spokesman Dave McCulloch told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “When it matters, this group is about a liberal agenda.”