Countering President Obama’s assertion that he offered no alternative to Washington’s plan for an Iran nuke deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after landing in Israel that there was indeed an alternative offered.
“After my short visit to the United States, I return to Israel knowing that many around the world heard what Israel has to say about the impending deal with Iran,” Netanyahu said. “In my speech before the Congress, I presented a practical alternative, which would impose tougher restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, extending Iran’s breakout time by years.”
“I also called on the P5+1 to insist on a deal that would link the lifting of those restrictions to Iran’s ceasing its sponsorship of terrorism around the world, its aggression against its neighbors and its calls for Israel’s destruction,” he continued. “I heard encouraging responses from both Democrats and Republicans. They understood that the current proposal would lead to a bad deal and that the alternative is a better deal. Happy Purim.”
Speaking from the nuclear talks in Switzerland today, Secretary of State John Kerry said they won’t be “distracted by external factors or politics.”
“Most importantly, as President Obama said yesterday, we know that no one has presented a more viable, lasting alternative for how you actually prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said. “So, folks, simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan, and nor would any of our P5+1 partners support us in that position. And it’s very important to remember we have partners in this effort – France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia – all of whom have similar feelings about the importance of what must be done here.”
Talks will resume on March 15, he added, “recognizing that time is of the essence, the days are ticking by, and important decisions need to be made.”
Like Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, Kerry advised worrying about Iran’s terrorist activities after the deal.
“Now, for all the objections that any country has to Iranian activities in the region – and believe me, we have objections and others in the world have objections – the first step is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Kerry said.
The Taliban in Afghanistan said reports that it is willing to negotiate have been greatly exaggerated — and are “baseless,” in fact.
Press reports last month indicated that the Afghan government and Taliban would sit down for Pakistan-moderated negotiations in the coming weeks. But the jihad is still on, the group calling itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan said in a statement today.
“The media has been publishing false reports periodically over the past week asserting the heating up of negotiations and even fabrications about visits by the delegations of Islamic Emirate. We reject all such claims. There is no such process taking place and neither can such matters shape up behind closed doors or be kept hidden,” the Taliban said. “If there was anything taking place in this regard, the Islamic Emirate would have informed the media and its countrymen through its official channels.”
They said they support a “dignified peace as a necessity and aspiration of its countrymen” — but in a Sharia state of mind as “the main factors fueling this war are the presence of foreign invaders and continued anti-Islam activities.”
“Since Jihad is an individual obligation due to the presence of invaders therefore the Islamic Emirate until now deems the use of weapon as upholding this command,” the statement continued.
“Since all reports about negotiations are baseless, which seem to be the work of intelligence circles, hence no one should believe them. Such baseless rumors have been circulated many times over the past 13 years but all praise is due to Allah, it has failed in harming the Mujahideen or cultivating distrust. This wave of lies shall also pass by fruitless this time around and time shall prove everything.”
The Taliban further stated it believes “such rumors are the work of secret agencies with sinister goals therefore the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on its nation to be vigilant as ever about enemy plots and not be fooled by mere propaganda.”
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told PBS that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impassioned address to a joint session of Congress about the Iran nuclear threat won’t damage President Obama’s efforts to strike a deal with the Islamic Republic.
“I mean the fact of the matter is the president said there’s nothing new because we have been hearing these arguments from Prime Minister Netanyahu privately and publicly for some time now. He’s made very clear his opposition to the type of deal that we’re pursuing,” Rhodes said.
“What we heard today was a lot of different arguments we’ve heard from different places from the prime minister pulled together in one space. As the president said, he made similar arguments before the joint plan of action was agreed over a year ago and that has actually borne out as a successful effort to halt the progress of Iran’s program and roll it back in certain elements.”
Rhodes said Netanyahu “has been clear about his view but we don’t think he’s putting forward an alternative that can deal with the issue of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as effectively as the type of deal that we’re negotiating.”
He said the administration remains adamant about not roping in the regime’s other behaviors — support for terrorism, support for Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels included — because “the nuclear challenge is distinct.”
“But the day after a deal is reached if we get an agreement, our concerns about other Iranian activities in the region will be exactly the same as they are today. We’ll be just as concerned about their support for terrorism, their support for Hezbollah, their destabilizing actions in the region as we are today,” he said. “But the fact is if you can verifiably ensure that they’re not able to get a nuclear weapon, we will be more secure and the region will be more secure.”
Asked why the Israeli government is so worried, Rhodes replied, “I think the prime minister has a longstanding view on Iran that takes a particular line that opposes this type of diplomatic agreement.”
“But the fact is the type of deal that he laid out today is one that is simply unattainable. That involves Iran dismantling its entire nuclear structure. It involves Iran changing the nature of its behavior in the region. That’s a recipe for no deal,” he continued. “Not only will the Iranians not agree to that. No other country in the world would support us in taking that position in the negotiations.”
He also defended the sunset clause in the agreement, stressing “the fact of the matter is the same type of options that we have in place today to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon will be available to the president of the United States in 10, 15 years — whenever the conclusion of the duration of the deal is.”
As far as how negotiations are proceeding, Rhodes said “it’s going to come down to a question of political will on the Iranian side.”
“We can see what this could look like but we’re not there because the Iranians saw further to move on some issues we really care about and we’re not going to make a bad deal as the president said. We have had plenty of opportunity to accept the bad deal and we haven’t done it.”
It’s no secret on Capitol Hill that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) aren’t the best of friends, and that was evident in their very different reactions to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress yesterday.
Hoyer was seated next to Pelosi and jumped to his feet with enthusiastic applause often, while “near tears” Pelosi fidgeted and acted uncomfortable.
He was behind Pelosi at a press conference later, video above, and cast priceless looks in her direction as she described her near-tears experience.
Finally, Hoyer issued his own statement on Netanyahu’s speech:
“Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before a joint meeting of Congress regarding the ongoing negotiations with Iran, and I share his concern that Iran has shown it cannot be trusted. I remain hopeful – though skeptical – that an agreement can be reached, which is clearly the best option. If there is an agreement, at a minimum it must dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, include what Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken called ‘the strongest, most intrusive inspection and access program that any country has ever seen,’ and deal with militarization. America’s policy toward Iran has consistently been and must continue to be prevention, not containment.”
Hoyer appeared side by side with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in D.C. on Sunday. “Democrats and Republicans don’t always agree, but when it comes to the safety and security of Israel, we will stand together,” Hoyer said.
— Bridget Johnson (@Bridget_PJM) March 3, 2015
The pundits have been going crazy since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress today. What spoke loudest, though, was the thundering applause during some two dozen standing ovations for Bibi. And while much was made of Democrats being angry over the speech, there were just a couple of lines specifically related to President Obama’s nuke deal that made the majority of Dems sit out the ovation.
Here are some of Bibi’s best lines from the historic address:
TWEETING AYATOLLAH: “Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated — he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.”
HEZBOLLAH: “For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. He said: If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.”
IRAN’S NONEXISTENT MODERATION: “At a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations. We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror. Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation! Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before.”
IRAN AND ISIS: “Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire. In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.”
MILITANT ISLAM: “The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.”
CONCESSIONS: “Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran. The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb. Break-out time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb. According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s. And if — if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that break-out time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.”
INSPECTIONS: “Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn’t stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb…. Now, I know this is not gonna come a shock — as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.”
PATH TO A BOMB: “That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb. So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse? Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year.”
ARMS RACE: “This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.”
THREE DEMANDS: “Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state… If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.”
HAGGLING: “Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.”
BAD DEAL: “My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it. Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends. A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb. A better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally.”
STANDING UP TO TERROR: “You don’t have to read Robert Frost to know. You have to live life to know that the difficult path is usually the one less traveled, but it will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace, we all desire. My friend, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is.”
A VOW TO ELIE WIESEL: “Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, ‘never again.’ And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace. But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.”
STANDING TALL: “As a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand…. You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.”
A California Democrat said he didn’t see much agreement among his colleagues with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) assertion that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insulted the intelligence of Congress.
“I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation,” Pelosi said in a statement after the address.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a pro-Israel lawmaker who has been working on the Iran nuclear threat for many years, stressed that “every speech includes an awful lot of stuff that members of the audience already know, and then you build from that.”
“Look at any State of the Union address, and you will see an awful lot of things you already knew, and then that’s the foundation for whatever proposals or additional information the speaker wants to provide,” Sherman told CNN.
“I think that Netanyahu did a very good job of reminding us and giving us additional reasons why we cannot accept a nuclear Iran. There was not a lot in the speech about how to put more pressure on Iran, so that Iran agrees to a reasonable deal. And that is the program we’re still trying to discover.”
Sherman said Netanyahu’s speech could be “one of 1,000 different things” to ultimately prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
“We’re in a tough position. None of the options available look all that inviting. There are ways to put more pressure on Iran. We ought to be doing that. And, at the same time, I will be interested in looking at the deal that comes out of the Swiss negotiations,” he said. “I’m hoping that we see intrusive inspections, because I’m just as concerned about sneak-out as I am breakout of this agreement.”
Asked directly about Pelosi’s reaction, Sherman replied, “I don’t think there were many people on the floor who thought that.”
“You saw the reaction there. If the speech was condescending, it was condescending to everybody in the room. And yet the vast majority of the people in the room didn’t find it condescending,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean that it didn’t repeat a lot of things that a lot of us knew. But that’s not condescension. That’s oratory. Every speech, pick at random any State of the Union speech for the last 10 years, and look at how many sentences in that speech remind you of what you already know, tell you things that everybody agrees with, remind you of how dedicated we are to our veterans, for example. You have got to have a lot of stuff in a speech that everybody already knows and agrees with before you present your additional ideas and your additional insights.”
As you’ll hear in the above slip-up, President Obama said today: “The prime minister I think appropriately pointed out that the bond between the United States and America is unbreakable, and on that point, I thoroughly agree.” The third-party CQ transcript agreed on the wording.
An omission of Israel while citing “the United States and America” could be a case of the Mondays, a tired president, a slip of the tongue.
But when the White House released the official transcript from the Oval Office comments, they changed “and” to “of.” Which still didn’t make sense, but someone may have come to the conclusion it sounded less silly:
The White House has a history of changing transcripts to fuzz out certain things said by President Obama, such as when last year when he visited his old home in Chicago.
“Because Michelle and I and the kids, we left so quickly that there’s still junk on my desk, including some unpaid bills. I think eventually they got paid — but they’re sort of stacked up. And messages, newspapers and all kinds of stuff,” he said in comments documented by members of the press corps traveling with the president.
However, the White House transcript later released said: “We left so quickly that there’s still junk on my desk, including some — (inaudible) — newspapers and all kinds of stuff.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) objected to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coming to Congress to speak today, but she revealed after the address that she disagrees with the timeframe of the Obama administration’s plan.
Feinstein said Sunday that it was “arrogant” for Netanyahu to suggest he was speaking on behalf of worldwide Jewry, but was in one of the front seats for his address today. She even stood and applauded when some of her colleagues remained seated.
“I think it was a very powerful speech. I think it reinforced the very close Israeli-American relationship. And I think he clearly admitted that the United States has really done more for Israel than virtually any other country in terms of money over the tenure of Barack Obama, money for security, for Iron Dome, for financing of equipment, et cetera. It’s clear he doesn’t like what he thinks the deal is,” Feinstein told CNN.
“Now, I don’t know whether he knows or he doesn’t know. But what he didn’t say was what would happen if there was no deal or what would happen if the four European nations and China and Russia all agreed and the United States did not. And he didn’t make a suggestion as to what Israel would find agreeable. He simply said, there’s nothing that we agree with here. And then he made a number of pronouncements of terrible things that could happen.”
Feinstein did, however, agree with Netanyahu’s demands that a deal insist Iran stop aggression against his neighbors, stop supporting terrorism and “stop threatening to annihilate my country.”
“The question is, that if there is a deal and if Iran is willing to give up its nuclear pursuits, at least with exception of the peaceful on — peaceful pursuit and then have all of the fissile material moved out, that that would — might indicate a change. But there is no question as to what Iran has done. The game — the terrible games that have been played and it’s got to stop,” she said.
The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said she couldn’t comment on the breakout time for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, but she did comment on the administration’s intention to shoot for a 10-year deal with the Islamic Republic.
“One of the things that I’ve seen in my lifetime is time goes by very fast. And 10 years is not a long time. Fifteen or 20 years is a much better period of time in terms of changing behavior,” Feinstein said.
“My preference would be that it be a longer deal and that we’d be able to guarantee a longer period of breakout. But that’s just me. What he didn’t say is what would happen if there is no deal. What would Israel do? What would Israel expect the United States to do? What in many — much of his rhetoric suggested is that there’s a very real possible likelihood of Israel taking aggressive action.”
Netanyahu said “because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact” under the deal, “Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.”
“A decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children,” he said. “We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could product many, many nuclear bombs.”
President Obama didn’t watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, and after reading a transcript of the address insisted there was “nothing new” there.
But an evidently irked commander in chief took more than 10 minutes to relay that thought in the Oval Office today.
The press pool was allowed in for a photo op with new Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan.
Netanyahu’s speech began at 11 a.m., and this morning the White House added an 11:30 a.m. videoconference call with British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and European Council President Donald Tusk “to discuss Ukraine and global security issues.”
Obama told reporters that there was a lots of context in Netanyahu’s speech on which they agree, including “that Iran has been a dangerous regime and continues to engage in activities that are contrary to the interest of the United States, to Israel, and to the region.”
On the “core issue” of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the president said, “the prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives.”
“Now, the deal that we are trying to negotiate that is not yet completed would cut off the different pathways for Iran to advance its nuclear capabilities. It would roll back some elements of its program. It would ensure that it did not have what we call a breakout capacity that was shorter than a year’s time. And it would subject Iran to the most vigorous inspections and verifications regimes that have ever been put in place,” Obama said.
“The alternative that the prime minister offers is no deal, in which case Iran will immediately begin once again pursuing its nuclear program, accelerate its nuclear program, without us having any insight into what they’re doing. And without constraint.”
Actually, Netanyahu called for a better deal: “My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it,” the prime minister said. “Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends. A better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb. A better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally.”
Obama acknowledged “it may be that Iran cannot say yes to a good deal,” as negotiations continue with the Islamic State.
“If we’re successful in negotiating, then, in fact, this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Nothing else comes close. Sanctions won’t do it. Even military action would not be as successful as the deal that we have put forward,” he maintained.
“And I think it is very important not to be distracted by the nature of the Iranian regimes’ ambitions when it comes to territory or terrorism.”
Even though the president objects to bipartisan legislation that would allow Congress to review and sign off on any nuclear agreement, Obama said “let’s wait until there’s absolutely a deal on the table that Iran has agreed to, at which point everyone can evaluate it.”
“We don’t have to speculate. And what I can guarantee is that if it’s a deal I’ve signed off on, I will be able to prove that it is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” he said. “And for us to pass up on that potential opportunity would be a grave mistake. It’s not one that I intend to make, and I will take that case to every member of Congress once we actually have a deal.”
Obama stressed the administration line that “it is very important for us not to politicize the relationship between Israel and the United States.”
“It’s very important for all of us Americans to realize that we have a system of government in which foreign policy runs through the executive branch and the president, not through other channels,” he added.
“…So what I’m focused on right now is solving this problem. I’m not focused on the politics of it. I’m not focused on the theater of it. And my strong suggestion would be that members of Congress as they evaluate it stay similarly focused.”
Relaxed in a front-row seat, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was like any other member of Congress listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech.
Reid, who is recovering from eye surgery, got a shout out at the beginning of the address.
“Harry, it’s good to see you back on your feet,” Netanyahu said. “I guess it’s true what they say, you can’t keep a good man down.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, seemed agitated during the speech and slipped out of the chamber quickly before Netanyahu even left.
In a statement afterward, Pelosi said she was “near tears” during the address — but not because of the prime minister’s impassioned defense of the Jewish people or the presence of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in the chamber.
“The unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel are rooted in our shared values, our common ideals and mutual interests. Ours is a deep and abiding friendship that will always reach beyond party. Americans stand shoulder to shoulder with the Israeli people. The state of Israel stands as the greatest political achievement of the 20th century, and the United States will always have an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” Pelosi said.
“That is why, as one who values the U.S. – Israel relationship, and loves Israel, I was near tears throughout the prime minister’s speech – saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the P5 +1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation,” she said.
The House minority leader said Netanyahu “reiterated something we all agree upon: a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable to both our countries.”
“We have all said that a bad deal is worse than no deal, and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is the bedrock of our foreign policy and national security,” Pelosi added. “As President Obama has said consistently, all options are on the table for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), though, was a much more enthusiastic audience member.
Hoyer appeared side-by-side with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at the AIPAC conference on Sunday night, praising the bipartisan nature of congressional support for Israel.
UPDATE: Pelosi made the lead on state-owned Iran Press TV.
Senators have introduced a resolution not just honoring slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov but pressing the Obama administration to back anti-Putin activists and add more Russian officials to Magnitsky Law sanctions.
Nemtsov was shot to death Friday night just steps from the Kremlin and Red Square as he crossed a Moscow bridge.
“Vladimir Putin instructed the heads of the Russian Investigative Committee, Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service to form an investigative group and keep the course of the investigation into the crime under personal control,” the Kremlin said in a statement Saturday.
“The President stated that this cruel murder has all the makings of a contract crime and is absolutely provocative in nature. Vladimir Putin expressed his deep condolences to the family and friends of the tragically deceased Boris Nemtsov.”
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) rallied 15 co-sponsors for the resolution calling for a speedy and thorough investigation of Nemtsov’s murder and details a short history of Putin opponents who wound up dead.
It recognizes the “courageous work” of Nemtsov and encourages the release of “all surveillance tapes” around the crime scene from “different sources and angles.”
It asks Obama to add to the Magnitsky list, which sanctions Russian officials engaged in human rights violations, names that had previously been suggested by Nemtsov. It also asks the president to send a high-level delegation to Nemtsov’s funeral.
It further asks Obama to “significantly increase” U.S. government support for “like-minded partners in the Russian Federation and the region to combat the flow of propaganda and the climate of hatred created by President Putin.”
“Boris Nemtsov was the definition of courage. I was honored to know him and bear witness to his defense of his beloved Russia. He stood up for the most basic right of expressing public dissent. His killing is shocking and outrageous to the civilized world but, sadly, not unexpected in Putin’s Russia today,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who championed the Magnitsky law named after Russian attorney and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in custody.
“At the Helsinki Commission, we rely greatly on the personal testimony of people like Mr. Nemtsov who have direct experience and expertise on their own country’s compliance – and noncompliance — with international human rights commitments,” Cardin added. “These individuals should be able to speak the truth here, and in their home countries, without fear of violent retribution.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), another co-sponsor, said Nemtsov’s murder is “another tragic reminder of how far off the path towards a free and open society Russia has fallen.”
“The world deserves a full account of the circumstances surrounding his death, and not just a sham hunt for the ‘real killer’ orchestrated out of the Kremlin,” Gardner said.
“A clear message must be sent to the Russian people from the people of the United States: We mourn the loss of this great humanitarian activist, we hear your calls for freedom and liberty, and we are forever your ally in the fight for a more just, open, and democratic society.”
Pressed on the Nemtsov murder, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “we’ll see” if there’s a real investigation into the slaying of Putin’s foe.
“Well, given the stature that Mr. Nemtsov had attained, primarily because of his advocacy for the rights of the Russian people, that if ever there were a situation in which a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation were warranted, this is certainly it,” Earnest said.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel will be in the House chamber to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.
But first, Wiesel stopped Monday at the Dirksen Senate office building — accompanied by his wife, coming straight from the airport — for a heart-to-heart with Israel supporters and a bank of TV cameras to remind America that “silence is not an option.”
Code Pink interrupted the meeting in the Senate hearing room, brandishing signs criticizing AIPAC and one that read “parking for Palestinians only.” Many of those who showed up to hear Wiesel bore lanyards from the AIPAC megaconference at D.C.’s convention center.
The crowd chanted “get out” at Code Pink, and organizer Rabbi Shmuley Boteach lectured the protesters after they grabbed hold of a mic. They were led out by Capitol Police before 86-year-old Wiesel arrived.
Boteach called Wiesel “the living face of the six million murdered in the Holocaust.”
“The privilege of hearing Elie Wiesel on any occasion is historic,” the rabbi explained, but Wiesel coming to Washington to support the Jewish state on the eve of Netanyahu’s address made it an especially “historic discussion.”
“I learned to rely not on the promises of our friends but the threats of our enemies,” Wiesel said. “When our enemies make threats, take them seriously.”
“…If they say so and they repeatedly say so we should take them seriously.”
Wiesel implored members of Congress in a February ad to attend Netanyahu’s address.
“It is important for him to speak, it’s important for the American people to listen to him,” he told Monday’s audience. “When the prime minister of Israel speaks it’s not a political event; it must be viewed in historic terms.”
Wiesel said that to feel OK about a deal with Iran, “I need proof that whatever I read about Iran is not so.”
“When evil begins its work don’t give it another chance,” he said.
Boteach noted that the professor would have the chance to assess a grade to Netanyahu’s speech. “I’m giving him an ‘A,’” Wiesel preemptively replied.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) was supposed to be at the event, but withdrew after Boteach ran a New York Times ad this past weekend calling out National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s “blind spot” on genocide, from Rwanda to the current administration negotiations with Iran.
“Since 1998, I have taken advantage of every opportunity to urge the toughest sanctions on Iran, including nearly twenty presentations at AIPAC policy conferences,” Sherman said in a statement. “I cannot appear at a forum which was advertised using an unwarranted incendiary personal attack. I will be working with Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and others, to create appropriate forums to focus on the danger posed by Iran.”
At the event, Boteach said if the ad was “construed as a personal attack that was not our intent.”
“I personally want to offer an apology to anyone who was offended, including Ms. Rice herself,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was there, telling Wiesel “you are truly an American hero, a Jewish hero and a hero of the world.”
The senator met with Netanyahu earlier in the day and described the Israeli leader as “Churchillian.”
“This is not about powering the lights,” he said, referring to Iran’s claim that it wants nuclear power for peaceful energy purposes.
The Democratic author of Iran sanctions measures that have drawn ire from the Obama administration took aim at his critics and embraced his allies in a passionate address before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, also took a dig at National Security Advisor Susan Rice as he rallied the conference crowd in the speaking slot after the administration official.
“I take issue with those who say the prime minister’s visit to the United States is ‘destructive’ to U.S.-Israel relations,” Menendez said. Rice made such comments in an interview with PBS aired last week.
“And tomorrow I will be proud when I escort Prime Minister Netanyahu to the House Chamber to give his speech,” he continued. “To show him the respect he deserves from every American who cares about our relationship with the only true democracy in the Middle East.”
The senator stressed that “when it comes to defending the U.S.-Israel relationship, I am not intimidated by anyone — not Israel’s political enemies, and not by my political friends when I believe they’re wrong.”
Menendez noted the “political timing” of Netanyahu’s speech “may have been unfortunate,” but British Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain came to Washington in January to lobby Congress against Iran sanctions. “It seems to me that if it’s okay for one prime minister to express his views, it should be good for all prime ministers,” he said.
“…I know there are more than a few people here in Washington who say that I’m outspoken in my defense of Israel – and, frankly, I’m not only proud of it, I’m fully prepared to stand on this stage today – or on any stage anywhere, anytime – to carry that message to both the friends and enemies of Israel around the world.”
He also ripped at the administration’s goals for a nuclear deal, saying it “has to be built on more than mothballing Iran’s program – more than on an inspection-and-verification regime focused on monitoring a one-year breakout capability.”
“You can be certain, the mullahs are not going to call us in Washington when they decide to breach the agreement. They are going to sneak-out – covertly, gradually, over time – when they think we’re not looking, just as they have in the past and they are going to parse the words of this agreement and argue – as they have already – about whether a nuclear advancement technically violates the agreement,” Menendez said.
“…Here we are, near the end of negotiations, and the goal posts have moved from dismantlement to reconfiguration. From a peaceful nuclear program to just enough to detect break out. From no right-to-enrichment to getting an alarm system.”
And he got in another dig. “A deal cannot be built on trust alone. It cannot be built on hope. It cannot be built on aspirations or good intentions like the North Korea deal,” he said. A new report found that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is undergoing “significant expansion” that could results in a stockpile of 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.
“I can tell you one thing: as long as I have an ounce of fight left in me, as long as I have a vote and a say and a chance to protect the interest of Israel, the region, and the national security interests of the United States – Iran will never have a pathway to a weapon. It will never threaten Israel or its neighbors, and it will never be in a position to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Not on my watch,” Menendez vowed.
He also said the world “must always have Israel’s back” when the Jewish state is being pushed to negotiate with a Palestinian regime that includes Hamas.
“We hope and pray for peace, but we must always have Israel’s back, and having Israel’s back means fighting back against efforts by any nation or any anti-Semitic terrorist group – any haters or Holocaust deniers who try to delegitimize Israel,” the senator said.
Menendez repeatedly earned enthusiastic standing ovations throughout his address.
“As I’ve said here many times and on many occasions, the Holocaust was the most sinister possible reminder that the Jewish people in exile lived in constant jeopardy. But while the Shoah is central to Israel’s identity, it was never the reason behind its founding, and it is not the main justification for Israel’s existence today,” he said. “The true justification is written in thousands of years of undeniable history that lead to an undeniable conclusion: the re-establishment of the State of Israel in modern times is the result of a political reality that has grown from strong, deep roots going back to the time of Abraham and Sarah.”
“The argument for Israel’s existence – the argument for its legitimacy – does not depend on what we might say in speeches.”
National Security Advisor Susan Rice warmed up the crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention this evening by demonstrating her grasp of Hebrew pronunciation, but it wasn’t enough to win their confidence on the nuts and bolts of her address — the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.
“As President Obama has repeated many times: we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. As he said in Jerusalem: ‘Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.’ And he added, ‘America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran,’” Rice told the sellout crowd of 16,000 at the Washington Convention Center.
“President Obama said it. He meant it. And those are his orders to us all.”
Following the AIPAC tradition of not booing speakers but voicing their opinion by withholding their clapping, that line drew just a smattering of applause.
“With the Joint Plan of Action, we have already succeeded in halting Iran’s nuclear program and rolling it back in key areas. Let’s recall what has been achieved over the last year. Iran is doing away with its existing stockpile of its most highly enriched uranium. Iran has capped its stockpile of low enriched uranium. Iran has not constructed additional enrichment facilities. Iran has not installed or operated new centrifuges, including its next-generation models. Iran has stopped construction at its potential plutonium reactor at Arak. In short, Iran is further away from a nuclear weapon than it was a year ago—and that makes the world safer, including Israel,” Rice said. You could count the claps that garnered on a couple of hands.
Not that the audience was sleepwalking through the speech. When Rice said “a bad deal is worse than no deal,” the crowd leaped to its feet with applause.
She defined a “good deal,” then, as “one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”
And there were lines that Rice’s speechwriter likely didn’t intend to be crowd favorites, but were.
“I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment capacity entirely,” she said, sparking cheers and applause.
“But, as desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable. Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable. The plain fact is, no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses.”
Then, Rice said, “I know that some argue we should just impose sanctions and walk away ” — another big applause line.
“Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran, but they shouldn’t play the spoiler now. Additional sanctions or restrictive legislation enacted during the negotiation would blow up the talks, divide the international community, and cause the United States to be blamed for the failure to reach a deal — putting us in a much weaker position and endangering the sanctions regime itself,” she said. “Meanwhile, the Iranians are well aware that if they walk away from a deal, Congress will pass new sanctions immediately — and President Obama will support them.”
Rice said at the beginning of her speech “all options on the table” — but toward the end of her speech maintained “there’s simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better — or longer — than the type of deal we seek.”
“Sound bites won’t stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” she said. “Strong diplomacy – backed by pressure – can. And, if diplomacy fails, let’s make it clear to the world that it is Iran’s responsibility.”
Obama’s advisor also tried to walk back her boss’ characterization of the “violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.”
“And, when anti-Semitism rears its head around the world, when Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris are singled out and murdered by terrorists, when synagogues are attacked and cemeteries defaced, we have to call it by name,” Rice said. “It’s hate. It’s anti-Semitism. It reminds us of the most terrible chapters of human history. It has no place in a civilized world, and we have to fight it.”
After Rice’s speech, the White House released her remarks as prepared for delivery rather than as delivered. The transcripts issued by the administration with remarks as delivered include indications of where audiences applauded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu rocked the house at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee mega-conference in Washington this morning, teasing his speech to a joint session of Congress tomorrow to focus on his rift with the administration over “the best way to prevent Iran from developing those weapons.”
Netanyahu received a standing ovation from the crowd at the mere mention of his name by AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr, who introduced the prime minister.
And he received thunderous applause, cheers, and an extended standing ovation befitting a rock star when he finally took the stage before the packed crowd of 16,000.
“As prime minister of Israel I have a moral obligation to speak out about these dangers while there’s still time to avert them,” he said of Iran, which “envelops the entire world with its tentacles of terror.”
“The days when the Jewish people are passive in the face of threats to annihilate us, those days are over,” Netanyahu said, garnering a massive ovation. “Tomorrow as prime minister of the one and only Jewish state I plan to use that voice.”
“Never has so much been written about a speech that hasn’t been given,” he quipped.
He thanked the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, as “a man who knows how to take the heat.”
Still, he said, “reports of the demise of the U.S.-Israeli relations are not only premature, they’re just wrong.”
“My address is not to show disrespect to President Obama or the office that he holds — I have great respect for both,” Netanyahu said, adding he’s been “deeply grateful” for Obama’s support for Israel.
The address also is “not intended to inject Israel into the partisan debate,” he added, noting the military assistance from Congress including the Iron Dome missile defense system. “Working together has made Israel stronger; working together has made our alliance stronger.”
“I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here,” he said. “Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”
The purpose of his visit, Netanyahu said, is “to speak up about a potential deal with Iran that could threaten the survival of Israel.”
He framed the disagreement as matter of differing perspectives in the U.S. and Israel, where leaders in Washington worry about the security of its citizens while Israel worries about the survival of its citizens.
“America lives in one of the world’s safest neighborhoods; Israel lives in the world’s most dangerous neighborhood,” he said.
In his nine years as prime minister, Netanyahu stressed, “not a single day, not one day I didn’t think about the survival of my country and the actions that I take to ensure that, not one day.”
“And because of these differences, America and Israel have had some serious disagreements over the course of our nearly 70-year-old friendship,” he said, citing historical instances where Washington called out Israel beginning with David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of statehood.
“Despite occasional disagreements, the friendship between America and Israel grew stronger and stronger, decade after decade. And our friendship will weather the current disagreement, as well, to grow even stronger in the future.”
As the region “descends into medieval barbarism,” he said, Israel is “the one that upholds these values common to us and to you.”
“As Christians in the Middle East are beheaded and their ancient communities are decimated, Israel’s Christian community is growing and thriving, the only one such community in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said, drawing a loud standing ovation.
Of U.S.-Israel rifts: “Disagreements in the family are always uncomfortable, but we must always remember that we are family.”
Power to AIPAC: Obama’s Commitment to Israel Maybe Not ‘Heard Anymore, But We Have to Keep Repeating It’
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference that stories about Iran nuclear negotiations and rifts between Washington and Jerusalem don’t stress enough how committed President Obama is to Israel.
The reaction to Power was lukewarm, with some remaining seated and not applauding in the huge convention center hall as she took the stage.
Power touted how the U.S. has blocked “bitterly unjust,” “biased” and “ugly” actions by member states at the UN “to treat Israel unequally.”
“The United States of America will not rest until they stop,” she said.
Then Power, speaking before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quipped, “As a few of you may have heard, the Prime Minister of Israel is in town. Rumor has it that he may be giving a couple of speeches.”
“You may also have heard lately of tension” between the White House and the prime minister’s office, she added.
Power said “politics and policy” need to be viewed distinctly and remember “what the United States does each and every day to combat anti-Semitism in the world,” she said.
The U.S.-Israel relationship “firmly transcends politics and it always will.” Members of the AIPAC board stood and applauded this line, and slowly some other members of the 16,000-strong crowd followed.
The relationship “should never be politicized and it cannot or will not be tarnished or broken” as “the stakes are too high for that,” she added.
Power acknowledged Iran negotiations “have generated reasonable debate,” and punted the ball to National Security Advisor Susan Rice to discuss those in greater detail at tonight’s AIPAC session.
Stories about the negotiations, she lamented, rarely mention “the strategic foundational agreement between U.S. and Israel.”
“The United States will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons, period,” she declared, drawing a standing ovation from less than half of the room.
Obama, she stressed, “will keep his commitment” to Israel’s security “whether negotiations collapse.”
Maybe, she added, Obama has made this point in the same way so often “that it isn’t heard anymore, but we have to keep repeating it.”
“We believe diplomacy is the preferred route,” Power said. “There will never be a sunset on America’s commitment to Israel’s security.”
A new Gallup poll released today finds Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorability rating at its highest point in the U.S. since 1998.
Bibi’s favorable rating is at 45 percent, a 10 percent climb since 2012.
Just 24 percent of Americans view Netanyahu in a negative light.
“His current favorable rating ties his highest rating among the six times Gallup has measured it, spanning his three tenures as prime minister,” states Gallup’s analysis.
The poll was conducted Feb. 8-11. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu on Jan. 21 to address a joint session of Congress, which takes place tomorrow. This morning, Bibi addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference before a sellout crowd of 16,000.
Ten percent fewer Americans have no opinion of Netanyahu (“unsure” or never heard of him) — 31 percent today compared to 41 percent in 2012.
“Even if Netanyahu has seen his relationship with the White House deteriorate, it appears to have had no impact on his standing with the American people,” Gallup concludes.
This ad appeared this weekend in The New York Times to precede National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s Monday evening speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s This World: The Values Network took out the ad:
Boteach expanded on these thoughts a few days ago, writing that Israel has no reason to entrust its security to Rice “because of her record of trivializing genocide” while on President Clinton’s national security team.
UN Ambassador Samantha Power quoted Rice in her 2002 book as saying during the Rwanda Genocide, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November congressional election?”
“This is an astonishing statement. Here you have Susan Rice hearing about the murder of 330 people very hour for 3 months and her response is, How will this affect us politically?” Boteach writes. “That Rice would have brought up the midterm elections as a more important consideration than stopping the mass murder of so many men, women, and children that their bodies were damming the rivers of Rwanda is one of the most heartbreaking pronouncements ever uttered by American official.”
“Rice then joined Madeline Albright, Anthony Lake, and Warren Christopher as part of a coordinated effort not only to impede UN action to stop the Rwandan genocide but to minimize public opposition to American inaction by removing words like ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ from government communications on the subject.”
The rabbi added that it’s “nearly as painful watching Rice now attack the Jewish state, which lost one third of its entire people in a genocide of four short years, about how its elected leader is destroying its relationship with the world’s greatest superpower simply because a weaker nation insists on standing up for itself and speaking truth to power.”
Cue the outrage machine.
The National Jewish Democratic Council called the ad “disgusting and astonishingly beyond the pale,” adding “Rabbi Boteach must apologize to Susan Rice immediately and explain why he would spread and promote such falsehoods.”
Pro-Palestinian J Street, which is running the #BibiDoesntSpeakForMe campaign to coincide with AIPAC and the prime minister’s address to Congress, said Rice wasn’t high enough in the administration during the genocide to be assessed any blame.
“This advertisement amounts to a scurrilous scapegoating of a devoted public servant and a good friend of Israel,” J Street said in a statement. “It is full of incendiary language, accusing the Obama administration of treating Israel like Czechoslovakia in 1938, a vile, false and offensive characterization that has no basis in fact. The Obama administration has been a staunch friend and defender of Israel and has taken unprecedented measures to protect its security.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman said there was “no justification for this incendiary personal attack,” adding it was “not only an ugly distraction from the real issue, it is reckless.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition placed their own NYT ad highlighting Iran’s statements about America and Israel, and released a video ad.
Senators on opposite sides of the aisle were unified today in their insistence that Congress weigh in on a nuclear agreement with Iran even as the White House indicated Saturday that President Obama would veto such a bill.
Opening the sold-out American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington this morning, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined hands and raised them in solidarity while greeting the crowd.
“I’m glad we’re negotiating … nobody wants another war with anyone,” said Graham, stressing that Congress needs to “look at the deal, debate the deal and vote on the deal… if it is a good deal, I will vote for it.”
He added that the “political resume in history will look very bad” of a senator who votes against the deal just to cast an anti-Obama vote. The White House doesn’t even want a vote, though, with National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan arguing lawmakers “should give our negotiators the best chance of success, rather than complicating their efforts” — and stay out of it.
Graham said his definition of a “good deal” would not allow Iran “one day to develop a nuclear weapon” or lock in place an enrichment program. It would allow the Islamic Republic a “peaceful nuclear energy program that can never turn into a weapons program.”
“Quite frankly, you can’t trust Iran,” Cardin noted, stressing that we “must have an enforceable agreement.”
The Maryland Democrat said the only reason that Iran is negotiating now is because of sanctions pressure, thanks to Congress. “They don’t want to voluntarily give up their nuclear weapons program, so we’ve got to keep the heat on,” Cardin said.
Graham noted the problem of the negotiating partners in the P5+1: “I don’t really have a lot of faith in the Russians to get us to the promised land.”
“As we negotiate with the Iranians they have toppled four Arab capitals,” he said, citing the Houthi overthrow in Yemen, support of Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, and Shiite militias “wreaking havoc” in Iraq. “This is what they’re doing without a nuclear weapon… and what do you think they want to do long term? Become part of the family of nations?”
“They lie, they cheat, they kill Americans, they would destroy Israel tomorrow if they could — so understand who you’re dealing with.”
Cardin said that after multiple delays “Iran’s got to make a decision whether it will move forward or not.”
“If they decide not to move forward then we have to toughen the sanctions, we have to toughen the isolation… we have to make sure there are consequences for their actions,” he said. “…This affects regional security, it affects global security, so there’s a lot at stake.”
Graham highlighted how “not one Arab nation has felt the need to go nuclear because Israel is perceived to have a nuclear weapon, because they’re afraid Israel will wake up and wipe them off the map” — but he’s been assured by Arab leaders that Iran going nuclear will spark an arms race.
The biggest applause line of the morning was when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech to Congress was mentioned.
Cardin said he didn’t agree with the way the speech was booked, but “don’t lose focus — the bad guy is Iran.”
“The focus must be on Iran negotiations — we can never allow Israel to become a political wedge issue.”
Graham promised to “be there on the front row,” listen to Netanyahu, “then I’ll decide what’s best for America.”
The South Carolina Republican said the thousands of AIPAC lobbyists in town, who will swarm Capitol Hill on Tuesday to press for a veto-proof majority for Congress to review any Iran deal, are more important than Bibi’s visit. “You are the Marines,” Graham told the crowd. “The Marines have landed in Washington… you’re going to make more difference than any speech any politician could deliver.”
“God bless you,” he added. “If you weren’t here, I don’t know what would happen.”
Cardin said that despite the row over Netanyahu’s speech the U.S.-Israel relationship is “strong, I think it’s bipartisan, I think it’s bicameral.”
Cardin will be introducing legislation this week along with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that would compel the U.S. to stop doing business with those who join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Graham patted his colleague on the shoulder as he spoke: “If I’m not a co-sponsor, I will be.”
Graham, who’s chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that holds the purse strings on international aid, said Cardin’s legislation is “absolutely important to put the world on notice.”
“I’m going to put the UN on notice,” he said, promising that if the international body accepts anti-Semitism “running rampant through Europe we’re going to cut off their money, too.”
On ISIS? “I see radical Islam running wild in the Middle East… and if you don’t want to admit that you won’t defeat it,” Graham said. “It is our fight. The king of Jordan is right about it, and he’s next if we don’t watch it.”
“They want a master religion, just like the Nazis wanted a master race … this is our war, too; this is a war of good people against evil and there’s only one outcome that’s acceptable — they lose, we win.”
AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr told the crowd that they’ve spent “hours” lobbying for lawmakers to attend the Netanyahu speech.
“We hope and urge members of Congress to be there to hear what he has to say,” Kohr said, noting only “dramatic pressure” will compel Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the CPAC straw poll for the third year in a row to close out the conservative conference in Washington today.
Seventeen names were on the straw poll ballot, picked according to whether they’ve been hiring staff, telling donors they’re considering a run, visiting presidential forums or dropping in on early primary states.
Paul won with 25.7 percent of the vote, followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 21.4 percent.
“I am humbled by the enthusiastic support and encouragement I received this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference,” Paul said in a statement released by his PAC. “Our party is filled with constitutional conservatives who have chosen to stand with me for a third consecutive straw poll victory.
“…The Constitutional Conservatives of our party have spoken in a loud and clear voice today. I plan on doing my part and I hope you will join me as I continue to make the GOP a bigger, better and bolder party.”
In third place was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) with 11.5 percent, followed by pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 11.4 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with 8.3 percent.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) got 4.3 percent, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) got 3.7 percent.
The straw poll had 3,007 votes, a 20 percent increase over last year’s conference participation. Forty-two percent of those voting were students.
Three out of 10 CPAC voters said foreign policy would be their most important issue in picking a presidential candidate. Seven in 10 wanted a “peace through strength” foreign policy when asked about international disengagement.
Just 18 percent said illegal immigrants should be able to stay in the country and apply for citizenship, while 11 percent said they should stay but not be allowed to apply for citizenship.
Four in 10 thought marijuana favored the legalization of taxed marijuana for recreational and medical use, while 27 percent said it should remain illegal.
Most important attribute in a presidential candidate, from a list of offered choices, was a “solid conservative record.” Just 17 percent thought the most important quality was for the candidate to appeal to independent voters.
Deal-breakers? The biggest ones were expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, backing Common Core (58 percent said they would never vote for a GOP nominee who supported it), and supporting immigration reform. Just 18 percent said supporting gay marriage was a deal-breaker.
Paul addressed the conference in jeans and rolled-up shirtsleeves on Friday, with his usual pack of loyal supporters bringing down the house and waving “stand with Rand” signs.
He took plenty of shots at presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, arguing the former secretary of State’s “abdication of responsibility, her refusal to provide an adequate defense for Benghazi, her dereliction of duty should forever preclude her from higher office.”
“It’s time for Hillary Clinton to permanently retire,” Paul added.
Paul won the 2014 straw poll with 31 percent of the vote. Cruz came in second a year ago with 11 percent support, Carson got 9 percent, and Christie had 8 percent. Walker did not attend last year’s conference and had 7 percent. Rubio got 6 percent back then.
A Bangladeshi-American secularist blogger who had received frequent threats from Islamists was hacked to death on a Dhaka street Thursday night.
Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh used its Twitter account to claim responsibility for the murder of Avijit Roy before its account, Ansar Bangla 7, was taken down.
“The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment,” read one of the tweets.
Roy is a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Georgia and was in Bangladesh for a month, according to the Associated Press. He reportedly has a daughter currently attending school in the U.S. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, was with him at the time of the attack and was severely wounded, with one of her fingers severed by the pair of machete-wielding attackers.
Roy’s blog in the 90 percent Muslim country, mukto-mona.com, translates to “free thinking” and featured atheist, humanist and nationalist writers. He was also an author whose books included The Philosophy of Disbelief and The Virus of Faith — further stoking outrage of Islamists.
He and his wife had just left a book fair when they were attacked. Roy was struck in the head and died on the operating table at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, Reporters Without Borders said.
“The measures so far taken have not led to the arrest and trial of the perpetrators and instigators of crimes of violence against journalists and bloggers. The police and judicial authorities need to focus on the right target,” Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk, said. “It is unacceptable for them to spend so much time searching news outlets, arresting journalists, censoring news and investigating bloggers, when the many attacks on bloggers are still unpunished.”
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki opened Friday’s briefing with the attack and said the administration “condemns in the strongest terms the brutal murder of Avijit Roy, which was horrific in its brutality and cowardice.”
“Avijit was a journalist, a humanist, a husband, and a friend, and we extend our condolences to his family and friends. He was taken from us in a shocking act of violence,” Psaki said. “This was not just an attack against a person, but a cowardly assault on the universal principles enshrined in Bangladesh’s constitution and the country’s proud tradition of free intellectual and religious discourse.”
“…Clearly, we know his background, which was why I outlined it, but don’t have anything to ascribe in terms of a motive in this case.”
But Islamists targeting secularist bloggers is sadly nothing new in Bangladesh.
In 2013, they put out a call for bloggers deemed blasphemers to be murdered. In January 2013, blogger Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed by Islamists yet survived. On Feb. 15, 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider, a blogger who also criticized Islamic fundamentalism, was hacked to death and no one was convicted in the attack.
Ansar al-Islam took credit for Haider’s slaying in a November Facebook post, and included Mohiuddin’s face on a hit list of future targets.
“We call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to leave no stone unturned in investigating and prosecuting the attack on Avijit Roy and Rafida Ahmed Bonna,” Committee to Protect Journalists Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said. “This attack is emblematic of the culture of impunity that pervades Bangladesh, where the lack of accountability in previous attacks on the press continues to spurn a deadly cycle of violence.”
Reporters Without Borders said 19 bloggers have been listed as targets on Islamist websites since the 2013 demonstrations.
Instead of going after the Islamists, the press-freedom group said, the Bangladeshi authorities began shutting down websites and arresting bloggers.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush knew he would face a firing squad of sorts at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, and did so describing himself as a “practicing reform-minded conservative.”
Some walked out at the beginning of the speech, led by a Tea Party supporter carrying a Gadsden flag, but the house was still packed as his detractors stayed to boo or heckle the governor.
Bush had just as many supporters, who frequently jumped to their feet to applaud the governor. Love him or hate him, the CPAC crowd was hanging on his every word.
With no opening remarks, Bush conducted the interview Q&A style with Sean Hannity, standing instead of seated as some previous speakers were.
Bush quipped that he used to be mad at his mom for saying the White House had seen enough Bushes, but “since that time she’s had a change of heart and that’s all right by me.”
“I have to show what’s in my heart. I have to show I care about people and their future. It can’t be about the past,” he said of the family legacy.
Conservatives in Washington, he said, “have been principled in opposing the overreach” of the Obama administration, but “need to start being for things again.”
“It’s good to oppose the bad things but we need to start being for things.”
Being for the right policies that stimulate economic growth will bring out voters who “don’t know they’re conservative,” Bush argued. “We will be able to get Latinos and young people and other people you need to get to get 50.”
Responding to boos over his immigration policy, Bush said his critics should read his book, Immigration Wars, before casting an opinion on his positions.
“A great country needs to enforce its borders,” he said, adding that he also wants to “narrow family petitioning” to a spouse and minor children “so it’s the same as every other country.”
“There is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal citizenship” where they work and make a contribution to society, he said.
The division in the crowd was most evident at this point, with some booing and heckling while others were standing and applauding.
“The simple fact is this nation needs to start growing again … we need to change the subject to high sustained economic growth,” Bush said. Of the argument that U.S. citizens should get jobs before immigrants, he replied, “You either believe that the pie is static, that’s the left’s point of view… someone’s benefit is someone else’s detriment” or growing the economy “at a rate that looks more like the ’80s.” His target? Four percent.
“There’s going to be opportunities for all. We don’t believe in the government divvying it up to get our crumbs.”
Bush stressed that he doesn’t agree with President Obama’s executive actions. “The Congress ought to pass a bill that does not allow him to use that authority.”
On Common Core, he said “our standards have to be high enough… our students need to be career-ready.”
“In this Department of Education there is a risk they will intrude” on the states and localities, he said. “…The federal government role, if any, is to provide incentives for more school choice.”
Bush, who eliminated the affirmative action system in Florida, said there are now more minorities in the college system there than in the previous “discriminatory” one.
On fighting ISIS, he stressed that “we can’t disengage in the world and have a good results.”
“We’ve managed to mess up every relationship in the world” under Obama, “even Canada, which is hard to do.”
By restoring trust between critical coalition countries such as Egypt and the White House, Bush said such power could put a “noose” on ISIS and “take them out.”
He endorsed Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) idea of creating a safe zone for the Free Syrian Army and said he didn’t want conditions on boots on the ground in order to allow intelligence and special forces capability to “make a difference.”
He panned the Iran nuclear negotiations, adding “there should be no light between us and Israel” and calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress “very important.”
Bush was also asked about his “Terry’s Law” efforts in the Schiavo case. “I acted on my core belief that the most vulnerable in society should be at the front of the line,” he said.
When Hannity said he was going to pose a question he was asking of all the politicians who joined him on stage during the conference, Bush quipped, “Boxers.”
The end of Bush’s Q&A session differed from the other 2016 hopefuls in that he shook hands and took selfies with the crowd.
The CPAC audience was packed to hear the winner of the confab’s straw poll the previous two years, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) didn’t disappoint his faithful.
Paul’s address was delayed by Senate votes, and he showed up in jeans with rolled-up shirt sleeves to ask, “Will you, lovers of liberty, rise to the occasion?”
They did rise to their feet, waving “stand with Rand” signs distributed outside the ballroom.
“When politicians accept censorship, when politicians accept imprisonment without trial, when politicians accept torture, even of the innocent, as necessary, then lovers of liberty must rise,” the senator said. “We must rise and stand with our forefathers who stared down the king. We must rise as free men and women and reclaim our birthright. We must protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic!”
Paul declared “our freedom is at risk from a Supreme Court that fails to protect our liberty.”
“In the mistake of the century, Justice Roberts affirmed the power of government to force you to buy insurance. Justice Roberts argued that we must presume Obamacare constitutional,” he said. “I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t we presume liberty? Just as we are presumed innocent, so too we should be presumed free!”
The ophthalmologist vowed to “make it my mission” to repeal “every last bit” of Obamacare.
“To defend our country, we need to gather intelligence on the enemy. But when the Intelligence Director lies to Congress, how are we to trust them?” Paul said. “Are we to trust them to collect and hold every American’s phone records? I say, that your phone records are yours. I say the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business!”
Paul took plenty of shots at presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, arguing the former secretary of State’s “abdication of responsibility, her refusal to provide an adequate defense for Benghazi, her dereliction of duty should forever preclude her from higher office.”
“It’s time for Hillary Clinton to permanently retire,” he added.
Paul said he envisions the perfect national defense as “unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by nation building.”
“We must realize, though, that we do not project strength by borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan. It angers me to see mobs burning our flag and chanting ‘death to America’ in countries that receive our foreign aid. I say it must end. I say not one penny more to these haters of America.”
Chants of “President Paul” interrupted the senator’s speech.
He talked about the “two Americas” described by Martin Luther King Jr. and the “undercurrent of unease” he found on his trips to “trips to Ferguson, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago. “…Those of us who have enjoyed the American Dream must break down the wall that separates us from ‘the other America.’”
Paul brought up the case of Kalief Browder, a Bronx teen who spent three years at Rikers Island without charge after being accused of taking a backpack.
“It is not the desire for wealth that drives us — what drives us is the desire for freedom,” he said. “The history of man is a history of men and women striving to restrain the power of government and expand the realm of freedom.”
Among the field of potential presidential hopefuls speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference today, Donald Trump touched on foreign policy while pitching his business cred to do a better job negotiating than diplomats do.
Someone in the audience yelled “you’re fired!” at The Apprentice host at the beginning of the speech, which Trump brushed off.
“A lot people think I’m doing this for fun. I’m not doing this for fun… Washington is totally broken and it’s not going to get fixed until we put the right person in that top position,” Trump said.
With an eye toward lawmakers in Congress, he declared “the Republicans have to toughen up.”
“If I decide to run and win, nobody would be tougher” on ISIS, Trump vowed. “…I’d just hit them really hard.”
One of the foreign policy problems, he said, is “we have diplomats doing our negotiating” and diplomats “know nothing about negotiating.”
Asked where he was on deciding to run for president on a scale of 1 to 100, Trump replied, “75 to 80 — I am really inclined. I want to do it so badly.”
Declaring that “we have two more years of peril to go,” former UN Ambassador John Bolton focused his Conservative Political Action Conference speech on a searing criticism of Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary and her husband were a year ahead of me in law school,” Bolton told the crowd. “I have been burdened with them 20 years longer than the rest of the country… in short, I am ready for Hillary.”
“Her four years at the State Department demonstrate that she is not fit to be the president of the United States…. On national security issues Hillary’s record is indistinguishable from Barack Obama’s.”
To a conference renowned for putting foreign policy on the back burner, Bolton stressed “why national security issues must be at the center of the issues” in 2016. “I fully expect to play a role in that debate one way or the other.”
He called an impending nuclear deal with Iran “the biggest act of American appeasement in contemporary history.”
“President Obama has the worst relationship with Israel since the state of Israel was created in 1948.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) indicated at this morning’s Conservative Political Action Conference that if he decides to run for president he’ll focus squarely on that instead of a backup plan to stay in the Senate.
But he demurred on where he is in the decision-making process, refusing to answer Sean Hannity’s question on where that decision is on a scale of 1-100.
The senator did stress why he would run for the highest office in the land.
“America doesn’t owe me anything, but I have a debt to America that I will never be able to repay,” Rubio told the CPAC crowd, elaborating on the history of his parents’ immigration from Cuba. “For me, America isn’t just a country, it’s the place that literally changed the history of my family.”
Now, he asked, “What kind of country we are going to be?”
“Sometimes you wouldn’t know we’re an exceptional nation by listening to the left… by listening to the president,” Rubio said. “When was the last time you heard about a boatload of American refugees arriving on the shores of another country?”
“God is still blessing America,” he said, but “our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us” as President Obama “treats the ayatollah in Iran with more respect than the prime minister of Israel.”
“Today our nation is on the road to decline,” but “we are one election away from triggering another American century.”
Rubio stressed the need for regulatory reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, and placing a focus not just on college but vocational training. “We shouldn’t be stigmatizing those vocational careers,” he said. “…Not everyone should be forced to get a four-year degree in order to find a job.”
He advocated a Sunni force including Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and other nations in the region to take the fight to the Islamic State, “and you will wipe ISIS out.”
“Imagine if we had a president who understood that the way to defeat ISIS is not to find them a job,” the senator said.
On President Obama’s immigration executive actions, Rubio stressed that it’s not a question of policy but of constitutional authority. Noting that he wants to cut taxes but wouldn’t approve of doing it unilaterally, he said, “I don’t know where [Obama] suddenly found the constitutional power to do this.”
Rubio also addressed critics of his participation in the Senate Group of Eight that forged an immigration reform compromise.
“It wasn’t very popular; I don’t know if you know that from some of the folks here,” he quipped.
He said the comprehensive agreement addressed problems that must by tackled, including visa overstays, more fencing needed along the border, and an immigration system that “can’t continue to be based on family alone” but brings in more highly skilled workers.
Rubio said he learned from the process. “What I’ve learned is you can’t even have a conversation” about legalizing those currently in the country illegally “until future immigration is brought under control.”
The only way people will agree to a step-by-step immigration reform is if the government follows through on the first steps, he said. “The only way forward … you can’t just tell people we’re going to secure the border, we’re going to get e-Verify, you have to do it.”
Asked about how the GOP caucus is performing in the Senate, Rubio cited a “dispute” between those who think the job is about managing the government rather than improving the system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has addressed the conference in past years, is not a speaker at this CPAC.
On 2016, Rubio said he hasn’t “made that decision yet” and must “decide through careful prayer.” He added “I don’t want to be in politics my whole life” — quipping he’d like to do other things like maybe own an NFL team.
The senator even got in his standard water joke, a self-deprecating reference to his notorious sip in his 2013 State of the Union response. Hannity noted that some of the sleepy morning crowd may have stayed up too late last night drinking. “There’s nothing wrong with drinking, Sean,” Rubio said as he took a swig of water.
Rubio faced a lightning round for his quick reaction to a few names:
Hillary Clinton? “Yesterday.”
Bill Clinton? “Really yesterday.”
The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wielded a snowball on the Senate floor today to counter statements by the Obama administration that have ranked climate change as the greatest global threat.
“Despite a long list of unsubstantiated global warming claims, climate activists and environmental groups will cling to any extreme-weather related headline to support their case for global warming and to instill the fear of global warming in the American people,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.
“President Obama is using a similar tactic in order to scare Americans into supporting his extreme climate change agenda. In a recent interview, President Obama agreed that the media overstates the dangers of terrorism while downplaying the risks of climate change. His press secretary, Josh Earnest, later reiterated that President Obama believes climate change affects far more Americans than terrorism,” he continued. “According to the President, the biggest challenge we face IS NOT the spread of Muslim extremists in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen or Nigeria.”
“It is not Russia aggression against NATO and the US as well as its invasion of Georgia and the Ukraine. It is not the expansion of Iranian influence and sponsorship of terrorism throughout the Middle East, or its pursuit of a nuclear weapon and a system to deliver it. It is not North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear weapon stockpile and improving their delivery systems to include the January 23 launch of a submarine launched ballistic missile called the KN-11. It is not the continued capture and killing of reporters, missionaries, businessmen, Christians, and other non-Muslims, in what has clearly been a religious confrontation being pursued by Islamic extremists.”
Obama’s position “that global warming is our biggest problem is underscored by the fact that he won’t even publicly state that the 21 Egyptians executed by ISIL were Coptic Christians,” Inhofe said. “And he goes out of his way to downplay the actions and dangers of ISIS, even though the group continues to terrorize the world.”
“…According to the president, our biggest threat is not the continued threats made by extremists against the United States and its citizens. It is not the successful attacks carried out in the United States in places such as New York, Boston, and Fort Hood or potential attacks of lone-wolves or sleeper cells against soft targets like the Mall of America, which is the most recent subject of an ISIL threat.”
Inhofe said that “even as these atrocities are taking place, President Obama is telling the world that climate change is a greater threat to our nation than terrorism.”
“This is just another illustration that this president and his administration is detached from the realities we are facing today and into the future.”
The snowball was allowed on the floor as a prop by unanimous consent. It was eventually chucked at Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who was presiding over the Senate, and caught by a page.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had an offer for President Obama at today’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
“I’ve got a deal for you,” Jindal said in his early evening speech while talking about Obama’s references to the Crusades. “I’ll keep an eye out for the medieval Christians. Why don’t you do your job and go after the Islamic terrorists?”
The potential 2016 candidate referenced his recent trip to London, where he irked critics by citing no-go zones in Muslim neighborhoods and called out clerics for not doing enough to stop extremism. “They didn’t like it,” the governor said, adding that he stressed Islamic extremists aren’t martyrs but “these individuals are going to go straight to hell exactly where they belong.”
Jindal also took issue with recent words from the State Department about the nature of the ISIS fight. “How have we won victory in any war other than killing our way to victory?” he said.
“We don’t need a war on international poverty; we need a war on the evil that is radical Islamic terrorism,” he said.
Jindal spoke of his parents’ immigration from India and how others must assimilate too. “We used to be a melting pot; now the politically correct crowd says we’re a salad bowl,” he said.
“By the way, I am tired of hyphenated Americans …we are all Americans.”
Jindal spent considerable time hammering at domestic policy as well as terrorism.
“We must repeal every single word of Obamacare — not a little bit, all of it,” he said. “While Republicans in Washington are about to wave the white flag of surrender on amnesty they’re about to wave the white flag of surrender on Obamacare.”
“This election wasn’t about getting a nicer office for Sen. Mitch McConnell … this election was about taking our country back and that starts by repealing Obamacare .”
The governor also stressed the “need to remove Common Core from every classroom.”
Asked about his plans for the next presidential election, Jindal said regardless of whether he is the candidate “in 2016 it is not an option for us to not win this election.”
“Anyone thinking about running for president… they need to think about what they would do if they were elected president,” he said. “I want a leader that remembers what they promised us when they asked us to vote for them.”
With a raised voice and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker vowed to create more jobs and opportunity to a standing-room only crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference today.
He also fielded a handful of questions from the audience, including one on how he’d handle the threat of ISIS.
“Sometimes people in the media don’t understand that as a governor I get a threat assessment from FBI,” Walker replied, adding, “I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power” to ensure that the threats posed by radical Islamists “do not wash up on American shores.”
“If I can take on 100,000 protesters I can do the same across the world,” Walker said, without offering specifics.
One of those opponents interrupted the speech, yelling “you suck” and something about American workers. “They come from Wisconsin as well,” Walker quipped, shouting down the protester and bringing the crowd to its feet.
His speech hinged largely on his successes as governor, but he touched briefly on foreign policy.
“We have a president…whose former secretary of State actually gave a reset button to the Russians! To the Russians!” Walker exclaimed.
“We need a president, a leader who will stand up and say we will take the fight to them and not wait” for ISIS to attack, he said. “…We need a leader who will stand with Israel.” Referencing next Tuesday’s address to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Walker said the country needs a leader who “understands” that when a prime minister visits to make a case on Iran’s nuclear threat “we should show him our respect.”
“We need to show the world that in America you have no greater ally and no greater enemy,” the governor said before reverting to domestic policy.
That was largely a message of liberation from government control.
“In America we celebrate our independence from the government, not our dependence on it,” Walker said, touting his accomplishments in Wisconsin on concealed carry, castle doctrine, and voter ID.
“Our school scores are better … because we put the power back in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers.”
In reference to a 2016 run — he stressed that his lawyers said he needed to note they’re still in the exploratory stage, something followed by chants of “run, Scott, run” — Walker said “we need to go back to look at the great founding principles of this country.”
“Not to go back in time… but to use that as a guide,” he said.
“They tried to recall me. They made me their No. 1 target,” Walker said of his electoral experience, adding that it would help “should we choose to run for the highest office in the land.”
“I’ve been running three times in the last four years.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) got both cheeky and testy with the media today when pressed on what his caucus will do with a “clean” Department of Homeland Security funding bill that breaks off the de-funding of President Obama’s immigration executive actions.
The Senate let the “clean” appropriations bill proceed on a 98-2 cloture vote yesterday. The two “nays” came from Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
But the caucus is already splitting further on the bill. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership, said he won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t block the immigration funding.
“At least 22 times, President Obama said he didn’t have this authority. At least half a dozen of my Senate Democrat colleagues publicly agreed and objected to the president’s executive amnesty. We must uphold the Constitution and the law,” Blunt said.
“President Obama is more likely to sign legislation that is attached to funding the department, which is why I still believe the House-passed bill was the right approach to addressing this problem.”
Boehner battled back against the White House characterizing the rifts as a Republican fight. “All Republicans agree that we want to fund the Department of Homeland Security and we want to stop the president’s executive actions with regard to immigration,” he said.
Still, the speaker is noncommittal about what the House will do with the scaled-back version of their bill.
“House passed a bill six weeks ago. It’s time for the Senate to do their work,” Boehner said. “I don’t know what the Senate can produce or what they can’t produce. If they produce something, we’ll decide what we’re going to do after we see it.”
Will he be able to persuade his caucus to vote for the bill? “When I see what the Senate actually passes, then I’ll know,” he replied.
Does he feel that this is challenging his speakership? “No. Heaven sakes, no. Not at all.”
“The courts have stopped the president’s executive action, at least temporarily. But having said that, I think there’s a role for Congress to play in defending the Constitution and upholding the rule of law. And we intend to do that,” he added.
At the next question, Boehner replied, “If ands and buts were candy and nuts every day would be Christmas.”
Pressed further about the DHS funding expiring this weekend: “We passed a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security six weeks ago — six weeks ago. It’s time for the Senate to act. We passed a bill to fund the department six weeks ago. How many times do I have to say it?”
Reporters were frustrated that he kept answering the questions the same way. Boehner responded to the next one with air kisses toward a male reporter.
“That’s just a kiss, that’s all,” he quipped.
“Several,” the reporter replied.
On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held a joint presser to accuse Republicans of seeking a DHS shutdown.
If House Republicans “send over a bill with all the riders in it” after the Senate passes a clean version, Reid said, “they’ve shut down the government.”
“We are not going to play games. We’ve been working for a month to come up with a clear funding proposal the president can sign, so they can — they can put all the riders on it they want, we will not allow that to take place,” he said.
“I think what they’re demonstrating, though, is that immigration is not the reason they’re shutting down the government, it was the excuse they were using. Because now, they have an out from what the judge did — said in Texas, and now they still want to shut down government,” Pelosi said. “So understand, shutting down government is their motive, and that’s what they have to be held accountable for.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stood by his temper in a Q&A at the Conservative Political Action Conference today, noting that the White House should be told to shut up.
Fielding questions before the audience of conservative activists from radio host Laura Ingraham, Christie was asked about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s seesaws on social issues and asked how he would be as a socially conservative candidate.
“I just stand on my record. I’m pro-life. I ran as a pro-life candidate,” he said, adding that he was the first New Jersey governor ever to speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of statehouse.
“People make certain assumptions because … you’re a Republican from New Jersey. Don’t believe what the media will tell you that you can’t get elected as a pro-life candidate.”
Ingraham asked him about some of the descriptors that even his friends use about him: “explosive,” “short-tempered,” “hot-headed.”
“Here’s the word they miss: the word they miss is passionate. I’m the son of a Sicilian mother and an Irish father which means in my household I got to learn about dispute resolution really early,” Christie said. “…I care about fighting for the people I represent. I care about the fights worth fighting.”
He stressed that he has no political consultant in his ear “like Charlie Brown’s teacher.”
And of his October comments to a heckler at a press conference? “Sometimes people need to be told to sit down and shut up… there’s so much ridiculous stuff being spewed out of the White House someone should say just shut up.”
Christie also answered questions about education and focusing on the middle class as far as job creation.
He was also asked about his deep polling deficit among potential 2016 candidates.
“Is the election next week?” Christie quipped, citing his big totals in gubernatorial races. “I’m not worried about what polls say 21 months before.”
If he runs, the governor said, he’ll wage a “hard-fighting” campaign. “I’ll take my chances on me,” he said. “I’ve done pretty well so far.”
Christie cited early polls for the 2008 election that showed a race between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.
He also said he’s not concerned about Jeb Bush’s fundraising power. “Sometimes those special interests, more than anything they hate the truth,” he said.
Yesterday Christie held his 128th townhall meeting with no screened questions. “That the kind of interaction we should have with the people we’re working for.”
Asked what he gave up for Lent, Christie quipped he told his priest he was giving up the New York Times — but was told to give up something he’d actually miss instead.
The Obama administration has selected its representative to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference beginning Sunday in Washington.
National Security Advisor Susan Rice will be facing a highly skeptical crowd to pitch the White House case for the twice-extended Iran nuclear negotiations and impending deal framework.
In addition, UN Ambassador Samantha Power will be addressing the conference.
The White House made clear Monday that President Obama isn’t interested in attending the giant conference, which sold out for the first time ever. More than 16,000 pro-Israel activists will be converging upon the Washington convention center.
Obama last addressed the conference in 2012, when he was stumping for re-election votes.
In 2013, Vice President Joe Biden address AIPAC. Biden is heading to Uruguay “the first week in March,” according to the White House, for their presidential inauguration and will also hold meetings in Guatemala.
Last week, the State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke at the conference last year, will be out of town at an undetermined location.
The conference coincides with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 address to a joint session of Congress. That’s also the lobbying day of the conference, when thousands of pro-Israel activists will flood Capitol Hill.
Netanyahu will address AIPAC Monday morning.
In an interview with PBS aired Tuesday, Rice called Netanyahu’s congressional address “destructive.”
“The relationship between Israel as a country and the United States as a country has always been bipartisan. And we’ve been fortunate the politics have not been injected into that relationship. What has happened over the last several weeks, by virtue of the invitation issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu on two weeks in advance of his election is that on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship,” Rice said.
“It’s always been bipartisan. We need to keep it that way. We want it that way. I think Israel wants it that way. The American people want it that way. And when it becomes injected or infused with politics, that’s a problem.”
Aboard Air Force One en route to Miami yesterday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Rice “was referring to is how reducing the U.S.-Israeli relationship to just a relationship between two political parties is destructive to a relationship between our two countries that for generations had been strengthened through bipartisan cooperation, not just in this country but in Israel.”
“I think it is entirely consistent with what the president has already said, that the U.S.-Israel relationship has been strengthened because you have seen leaders in both parties in both countries signal their strong support for that relationship,” Earnest added. “And allowing this relationship to be subjected to party politics does weaken the relationship. It’s not good for that relationship.”
Other speakers at AIPAC include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
More than half of the Senate and two-thirds of House lawmakers are expected to attend, according to AIPAC organizers.
Secretary of State John Kerry was asked by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) at today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing whether he would define ISIS as “Islamic radical terrorists.”
“Well, I think many of them are. Not all of them. But many of them are. And certainly, the top leadership, al-Baghdadi and folks around him, are formulating their concept of the caliphate — of the caliphate on the basis of their interpretation of Islam,” Kerry said.
“To the degree they are establishing a caliphate and hanging some of their notions of — of organization and discipline and — and — and battle based on that, there is a component of it that is a distorted sense of — of — of Islam.”
“But also, there’re a lot of criminals and thugs and adventurers and thrill-seekers and — involved in this. There’s a kind of criminal anarchy in all of it, notwithstanding whatever basis they want to claim with respect to Islam.
And — and it is important in coming at this that you not empower them through the language we use to be able to make the argument to their people that, in fact, we’re at war with Islam and they’re building that up as a recruitment tool and we create our own problem. I think that’s what people are trying to be sensitive to here.
Now, when you get into the deep analysis, yes, there are clearly very distorted sense of radical extreme Islam being put forward. The victims are anybody who stands in their way or people who are different or who have different beliefs. They can be Christians. They can be Yazidis. They can be officers and police officers who are Sunni and — and trying to stand up for their village or their town, in Mosul.
I mean, they go out and kill the mayor. They kill young kids. They’ll kill, you know, people they think are apostates.”
Kerry was also asked why ISIS does what it does.
“They do this for power and for the extension of their — the leaders for their misguided notion of their caliphate and their desire to be the power that is defining not only their version of Islam but to have the power within that region to run the show,” he said.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) asked Kerry to “define ISIL.”
“Well, ISIS is self-defining. They are the combatants and those who have pledged allegiance to them who have formed a caliphate, fly a flag, wear their black uniforms and are engaged in a struggle both within Syria and Iraq, most directly, but also in what they call distant provinces as they try to establish their caliphate,” Kerry replied.
Federal officials today charged three New York residents on charges of trying to join ISIS, with one offering to assassinate President Obama for the Islamic State.
Two Uzbekistan citizens — Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, and Abror Habibov, 30 — were charged, along with one Kazakh, 19-year-old Akhror Saidakhmetov. Each faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
The New York office of the FBI said authorities began watching Juraboev in August 2014 when he posted on an Uzbek-language jihadi website. He and Saidakhmetov forged a plan to travel to Turkey to join ISIS, and the latter was arrested today at JFK trying to board a flight to Istanbul.
Juraboev’s flight was scheduled for next month, and he was arrested today in Brooklyn. Habibov, who was allegedly helping finance their trip, was arrested in Jacksonville, Fla. All lived in Brooklyn.
Juraboev and Saidakhmetov are legal permanent U.S. residents, while Habibov visited legally and overstayed his visa.
“This is real. This is the concern about the lone wolf inspired to act without ever going to the Mideast or the concern of once they get to the Mideast acquire fighting skills, capabilities and then attempting to return to the country,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters today.
United States Attorney Loretta Lynch, whose nomination to replace Attorney General Eric Holder is stalled in the Senate, said in a statement the flow of fighters “represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies.”
“As alleged in the complaint, two of the defendants in this case sought to travel to Syria to join ISIL but were also prepared to wage violent jihad here in the United States. A third defendant allegedly provided financial assistance and encouragement. We will vigorously prosecute those who attempt to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad on behalf of ISIL and those who support them,” Lynch said. “Anyone who threatens our citizens and our allies, here or abroad, will face the full force of American justice.”
Juraboev made this threat to kill Obama in the August 2014 web posts. Saidakhmetov expressed his intent, reportedly to an informant, to buy a machine gun and shoot police officers and FBI agents if they stood in the way of his plan to go join ISIS.
Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressman today to stop making fun of what State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
At this morning’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) asked Kerry about Harf’s comments last week, in which she said “we cannot win this war” by killing ISIS and job development was one facet of the plan to combat extremism.
In clarifying her comments on CNN, Harf then said her argument about getting to the “root cause” of terrorism “might be too nuanced an argument for some.”
“Harf espoused the interesting proposition that we should create a jobs program for people who might be inclined to support groups like ISIS, jobs for jihadists. She didn’t call it that, but I will,” Chabot said in his questioning of Kerry. “And just where will these jobs come from? I guess not at the mall. It’s apparently too dangerous to work there now. And are these shovel-ready jobs, or are they yet to be created, like Keystone Pipeline jobs?”
“And Mr. Secretary, did Ms. Harf consult with anyone else in the State Department, yourself or anyone, before announcing this new initiative? If not, who did she consult with?” the congressman continued. “I realize that according to Ms. Harf, many of us are not nuanced enough to grasp the wisdom of such an enlightened proposal, but I and, I’m sure, some of my colleagues would appreciate some insight on where in the heck this idea came from.”
Kerry said that’s not what the deputy press secretary was saying “if you take the full breadth of what Marie Harf was talking about.”
“In fact, what she was talking about is the notion that if all we do is have a military approach to the problem of violent religious extremism, whether it’s Islamic or other — or whether there’s violent extremists, we’re going to fail,” he said. “You will have the next secretary of State or the one thereafter, a continuum of presidents coming to you with new acronyms for new groups that are a new threat.”
“And everything that came out of our White House summit on violent extremism underscored the fact that there’s one component that you have to do for sure, which is the military. You have to take ISIS fighters off the battlefield the way we are, and that’s for certain. But if you don’t want them just replenished, like the three kids from Britain who just traveled ostensibly to Syria to join up.”
Kerry called it “a spreading cancer” that “is not going to be eliminated by just shooting at people once they finally get to the battlefield.”
“Everything that came out of the conference we just had the other day pointed to the need to deal with prevention,” he said, referencing last week’s conference on violent extremism hosted by the White House.
Chabot tried to get in another question, but Kerry interjected, “Don’t — don’t make fun — don’t make fun of what she was talking about.”