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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Obama: No Fixes to Obamacare Until GOP has ‘Change in Attitude’

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama stepped out at the White House daily briefing today to again berate Republicans for challenging Obamacare — in what appeared to be an attempt to get politicians to stop talking about the law’s negative effects before midterm elections.

Obama announced “as more data comes in, we now know that the number of Americans who’ve signed up for private insurance in the marketplaces has grown to 8 million people.”

“Before this law added new transparency and competition to the individual market, folks who’ve bought insurance on their own regularly saw double-digit increases in their premiums. That was the norm. And while we suspect that premiums will keep rising, as they have for decades, we also know that, since the law took effect, health care spending has risen more slowly than at any time in the past 50 years,” he said.

“…And this thing is working. I’ve said before, this law won’t solve all the problems in our healthcare system. We know we’ve got more work to do. But we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans, and take insurance away from millions more, which is why, as I’ve said before, I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been.”

Republicans, he charged, “still can’t bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working. They said nobody would sign up; they were wrong about that. They said it would be unaffordable for the country; they were wrong about that. They were wrong to keep trying to repeal a law that is working when they have no alternative answer for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions who’d be denied coverage again or every woman who’d be charged more for just being a woman again.”

“I know every American isn’t going to agree with this law, but I think we can agree that it’s well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about, and that continues to be the economy, because these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost.”

Instead of taking dozens of votes to repeal, replace or otherwise fix Obamacare, Obama said, lawmakers could have taken votes “to create jobs by investing in things like infrastructure or innovation, or 50 votes to make it easier for middle-class families to send their kids to college, or 50 votes to raise the minimum wage or restore unemployment insurance that they let expire for folks working hard to find a new job.”

“The point is, the repeal debate is and should be over,” he added. “The Affordable Care Act is working. And I know the American people don’t want us spending the next two-and-a-half years re-fighting the settled political battles of the last five years. They sent us here to repair our economy, to rebuild our middle class, and to restore our founding promise of opportunity, not just for a few, but for all. And as president, that’s exactly what I intend to keep doing as long as I’m in this office.”

On House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) charge that Obama is without cause attacking the GOP on immigration reform, the president slightly smirked and said he “actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday.”

“I wished him happy Passover. And what I said to him privately is something that I would share with him — that I’ve said publicly, which is, there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama added. “…I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do. I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans, because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this.”

Obama said any changes in Obamacare, such as those sought by the business community, would “require a change in attitude on the part of the Republicans.”

“The challenge we have is, is that if you have certain members in the Republican Party whose view is making it work better is a concession to me, then it’s hard in that environment to actually get it done,” he said. “And I recognize that their party is going through, you know, the stages of grief, right? Anger and denial and all that stuff. And we’re not at acceptance yet.”

Obama said he doesn’t predict his hoped-for GOP attitude adjustment until after November elections, “because it seems as if this is the primary agenda item in the Republican political platform.”

“And if the Republicans want to spend the entire next six months or a year talking about repealing a bill that provides millions of people health insurance without providing any meaningful alternative, instead of wanting to talk about jobs and the economic situation of families all across the country, that’s their prerogative. At some point, I think they’ll make the transition. That’s my hope, anyway.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), one of the GOP doctors in Congress, said that while Obama “repeatedly pats himself on the back over the number of people that were forced to sign up for his insurance scheme, millions of Americans are experiencing real and significant repercussions.”

“The President has now taken to mocking those that point out the negative consequences. The impacts are very real,” Barrasso said in a statement. “It’s clear that the President remains totally focused on coverage instead of care.  He is either ignoring reports from across the country—or he isn’t hearing them. Either way, he is out of touch with Americans who have lost their doctor, had their insurance cancelled and watched their premiums spike all because of this failing law.”

“This isn’t a political fight, as the president is fond of repeating. His latest victory lap is a hollow one for the millions of Americans that have suffered as a result of his policy.”

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Kerry: ‘In the Year 2014,’ Fliers Telling Jews to Register are ‘Grotesque’

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed that Donetsk Jews received fliers ordering them to register with pro-Russian authorities, calling the news “grotesque.”

Appearing with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton after a Geneva meeting on the Ukraine crisis, Kerry said “the parties agreed today that all sides must refrain from the use of violence, intimidation, or provocative actions. And we strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism, and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism.”

“Let me say a quick word about that. Just in the last couple of days, notices were sent to Jews in one city indicating that they had to identify themselves as Jews. And obviously, the accompanying threat implied is – or threatened – or suffer the consequences, one way or the other,” Kerry continued.

“In the year 2014, after all of the miles traveled and all of the journey of history, this is not just intolerable; it’s grotesque. It is beyond unacceptable. And any of the people who engage in these kinds of activities, from whatever party or whatever ideology or whatever place they crawl out of, there is no place for that. And unanimously, every party today joined in this condemnation of that kind of behavior.”

The U.S., Russia, Ukraine and EU agreed “all illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.”

“Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes,” continues their statement.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters today that the U.S. is still looking into who was behind the fliers.

“As we said in the joint statement, all four parties very clearly condemn anti-Semitism. So again, I don’t have more details on where the reports are coming from, but I know we’re looking into it,” Harf said. “I think the Secretary made very clear that we take this very seriously.”

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Chilling: East Ukraine Jews Ordered to Register with Pro-Russia Authorities

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson


Israel’s Ynet News is reporting on a chilling flier given to Jews in the eastern Ukrainian province of Donetsk, ordering them to register with the local authorities:

A leaflet distributed in Donetsk, Ukraine calling for all Jews over 16 years old to register as Jews marred the Jewish community’s Passover festivities Monday (Passover eve), replacing them with feelings of concern.

The leaflet demanded the city’s Jews supply a detailed list of all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportion and see their assets confiscated.

It was signed by the head of government in the region and was distributed by masked men outside the Donetsk synagogue after Passover prayers, and beyond. The region is home to about 17,000 Jews.

The leaflet was written in Russian and had Russia’s national symbol on it, as well as the Donetsk People’s Republic insignia.

“Dear Ukraine citizens of Jewish nationality,” the flyer began, “due to the fact that the leaders of the Jewish community of Ukraine supported Bendery Junta,” a reference to Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement which fought for Ukrainian independence at the end of World War II, “and oppose the pro-Slavic People’s Republic of Donetsk, (the interim government) has decided that all citizens of Jewish descent, over 16 years of age and residing within the republic’s territory are required to report to the Commissioner for Nationalities in the Donetsk Regional Administration building and register.”

The leaflet detailed what type of documents the Jewish citizens would need to supply: “ID and passport are required to register your Jewish religion, religious documents of family members, as well as documents establishing the rights to all real estate property that belongs to you, including vehicles.”

If the message was not made clear enough, the leaflet further stipulated the consequences that would come to those who failed to abide by the new demands: “Evasion of registration will result in citizenship revoke and you will be forced outside the country with a confiscation of property.”

To add insult to injury, the leaflet demanded the Jews pay a registration fee of $50.

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Obama Suggests Republican Successor Would Continue Some of his Policies

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Vice President Joe Biden said he wouldn’t do a thing differently if he decides to shoot for the White House, while President Obama suggested that a Republican victor would continue some of his policies.

Obama and Biden went on the road together yesterday to promote job training at a New York community college.

When CBS asked whether a 2016 run would alter what Biden is doing for the president, the veep responded, “There is nothing I would do differently.”

“If I absolutely knew I wasn’t going to run or I absolutely knew I was, there’s nothing I’d do differently over the next seven, eight, ten months. We have a very important job to do. The president and his agenda is one I strongly believe in, and we have upcoming elections in 2014,” Biden said.

“If I decide to run, believe me, this would be the first guy I talk to. But that decision hasn’t been made, for real. And there’s plenty of time to make that. We have a lot of work to do between now and November.”

Obama lauded Biden as “somebody who I think will go down as one of the finest vice presidents in history,” while also giving some kudos to Hillary Clinton.

“He has been, as I said earlier, a great partner in everything that I do. I suspect that there may be other potential candidates for 2016 who have been great friends and allies. I know that we’ve got an extraordinary secretary of State who did great service for us and worked with me and Joe to help make the country safer,” he said.

“Whoever the Democratic standard bearer is is going to continuing to focus on jobs, making sure that our kids are getting a great education, making sure that we’re rebuilding prosperity from the middle class out in this country. And I am very much interested in making sure that some of the stuff that we’ve gotten started continues.”

When asked if that meant supporting someone who would essentially continue a third term for the Obama presidency, Obama interjected, “Oh, I don’t want to start — I don’t want to necessarily jam them up.”

“We all are a part of this relay race, whether we’re vice presidents, presidents. You know, the truth is that we build off of what folks have done previously. And in some cases that includes, by the way, Republican presidents. That’s the beauty of democracy. It keeps on evolving,” he continued.

“And I’m sure that there are going to be some things that, whoever the next president is, want to continue. There are going to be some things I’m sure they want to do differently. But the trajectory, hopefully, is going to continue to be one in which we’re broadening opportunity for every American.”

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Obama: Putin’s Invasions Really Come from a Place of Weakness, Not Strength

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told CBS that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine is really done out of weakness, not strength.

“Contrary to all the rhetoric that you’re hearing from Russia, there’s no excuse for not only Russian troops being massed along the borders of Ukraine, but also, there’s no excuse for the covert support and certainly the rhetorical support that you’re seeing for these militias that are taking over government buildings and causing chaos,” Obama said.

“What I’m saying is, is that the Russians generally have not been respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And that’s not simply my opinion. That’s world opinion,” he continued. “The question now becomes whether or not this can be de-escalated and resolved in a way that gives Ukrainians a chance to make their own decisions about their own lives.”

“What I’ve said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going consequences. Mr. Putin’s decisions are not just bad for Ukraine. Over the long term, they’re going to be bad for Russia.”

The president stressed, though, “we want to give diplomacy a chance as long, ultimately, the decisions are being made by Ukrainians, not by Russians, not by Americans, not by other European nations, but by Ukrainians themselves.”

“None of us think that somehow Ukraine can ignore Russia, should be hostile towards Russia, but we also don’t think that Ukraine should be a vassal state. Now, what we have said consistently is, is that we’re not going to see a military resolution to this problem,” he said.

“What Mr. Putin has been doing he does out of sense of weakness, not strength. The fact that he’s willing to endanger his economy and lose all credibility all around the world the way he has is indicative of the fact that Ukrainians are unsatisfied with a relationship in which you’ve got another country trying to dictate their foreign policy and their economy, and they want to move forward.”

When asked about this week’s tauntin of a U.S. warship in the Black Sea with repeated passes by a Russian fighter jet, Obama brushed off the assertion that it could have been a mocking gesture.

“I have to tell you that everybody around the world understands the superiority of our military. And as commander in chief, I don’t make decisions based on perceived signals. We make decisions very deliberately based on what’s required for our security and for the security of the allies,” he said. “The Russians understand that. They’re not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians. We don’t need a war.”

During a four-hour television interview today, Putin was asked by a small child if Obama would save him from drowning.

“I don’t want to be drowning!” Putin said, laughing. “… I don’t think I have a close personal relationship with Obama. I think Obama is courageous and a good person, and for sure he would save me.”

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U.S., South Korean Defense Officials Huddle in Washington About Stopping Kim Jong-un

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Department of Defense and South Korean Ministry of National Defense wrapped up their fifth defense dialogue in Washington this week with an agreement to “substantively” increase cooperation against North Korean aggression.

Over the course of the two-day meeting, ROK Deputy Minister for Defense Policy Yoo Jeh Seung met with the U.S. Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defense Mark Lippert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy Elaine Bunn, the Pentagon said.

“The two sides reaffirmed the shared view that recent North Korean provocations, including recent missile launches, artillery fire in the Yellow Sea, the infiltration of small unmanned aerial vehicles, and the looming threat of a fourth nuclear test undermine stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region. The two sides also addressed ways to strengthen coordinated actions and the importance of continued close collaboration within the alliance to enable better deterrence of and response to North Korean provocations,” the DoD described the meeting.

“The two sides discussed ways to strengthen the combined defense posture to defend the Republic of Korea and to deter North Korean aggression by enhancing combined Alliance capabilities, and continuing combined exercises. The ROK and U.S. also discussed the ROK proposed conditions-based approach to wartime OPCON transition. The ROK and the U.S. will continue cooperating to develop the future command structure, combined operational plans, ROK critical military capabilities, and U.S. bridging and enduring capabilities.”

Particularly welcome was the South Korean National Assembly’s recent ratification of more cost-sharing support to “offset costs associated with stationing U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula.”

“The 2014-2018 agreement will provide for continued ROK support in logistics, labor, and construction and will help ensure that we have the resources necessary for the combined defense of the Korean Peninsula,” the Pentagon said.

“The two sides also addressed various areas of alliance cooperation, including regional and global cooperation, and efforts to counter weapons of mass destruction and interdiction, command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence interoperability, and cyber and space cooperation.”

That included a “continued U.S. commitment to provide and strengthen extended deterrence for the ROK using the full range of military capabilities, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, conventional strike, and missile defense capabilities.”

“The two countries discussed implementation of the tailored deterrence strategy to include combined exercises to ensure that deterrence and extended deterrence remains credible, capable, and enduring,” the Pentagon continued. “Both sides also discussed efforts to counter North Korean missile threats, including the continued combined development of comprehensive counter-missile capabilities to detect, defend against, disrupt, and destroy North Korean missile threats, in particular strengthened missile defense interoperability, including the ROK ‘Kill Chain’ and Korean air and missile defense systems.”

A sixth round of talks is scheduled in Seoul this July.

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Schumer Lobbies Pentagon for Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans’ Parade

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is lobbying the Defense Department to host an official welcome-home ticker-tape parade for Iraq and Afghanistan vets down Broadway in Manhattan.

Schumer said former Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to get this after President Obama announced an end to the Iraq war, but was told by the Pentagon that the conflicts are interrelated and “because many people who served in Iraq went to serve in Afghanistan and vice versa, that they shouldn’t do it.”

“Now, the president called for combat to end by the end of 2014. Hagel seconded this. So, now is the time to get moving and prepare and do the great parade that New York can do down the Canyon of Heroes. I talked to DoD. And — they, you know, they’re the bureaucracy of bureaucracies, and they’re jumping through 100 hoops. But they have been very positive,” the senator told MSNBC.

It can be done without the Pentagon, he added, but with cooperation “we can have the top military brass come. We can have flyovers. We can have all kind of military bands and everything else. It will be a grand, grand parade.”

“So, the other parades were good. But to give these women and men who served us and risked their lives for us, the recognition they deserve, there is nothing like a parade in the Canyon of Heroes with the full support of our nation’s Defense Department and all extra things that that entails.”

Schumer, who says he cut his “political teeth” protesting the Vietnam war back in the day, stressed it was “wrong” that those veterans didn’t get a parade for a decade.

“There was just so much anger at the establishment in Vietnam that it boiled over unfortunately into the veterans as almost symbols of the establishment,” he said. “In Iraq, people thought the war was wrong. But there wasn’t the same hostility to the whole way America was going. Vietnam was sort of an awakening to a lot of people.”

He conceded “it will take some money,” but said the city of New York is willing to chip in as are many veterans organizations.

“I think paying for it won’t be the hard part. It’s getting it organized. And we’ll have to figure out when we can do it,” Schumer said, adding Veterans Day would be a “great” day to hold the parade.

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There’s a New Obama Selfie in the House

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson


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Graham: Allowing Enrichement Puts Iran Nuclear Deal ‘on the Road to Armageddon’

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he’s “begging” the Obama administration to not give Iran the right to enrich uranium in the ongoing P5+1 talks to arrive at a final agreement.

“I’m sure they will probably continue to negotiate, but here’s what you need to understand about the negotiations. The Obama administration is about to give the ayatollahs in Iran the right to enrich uranium,” Graham told Fox. “This is what they did with North Korea. They allowed the North Koreans a small enrichment program and they were gonna monitor it with the U.N. weapons inspectors. Well, guess what? And that sanctions. The North Koreans have nuclear weapons.”

“We’re on the path to repeating Iran the same mistakes we had in North Korea. I am begging the Obama administration if the Iranians have a nuclear power program, fine, just control the fuel cycle. Do not allow them to enrich uranium. You’ll have a North Korean result on your hand and in the Mideast if the Iranians get a nuclear capability, Sunni Arabs are gonna want one of their own and you are on the road to Armageddon.”

A senior administration official said on background last week that “on some issues, if you can move forward, you may open up trade space on another issue.”

“When we’ve talked about enrichment before, that has many, many pieces to it – from stockpiles to facilities to enrichment levels to centrifuge production,” the official said. “I mean, it’s just a myriad of subsets. And that’s true of every issue.”

Graham said Iran’s recent attempt to send a 1979 hostage-taker to New York as its UN ambassador raises questions about their motives and sincerity.

“If they are really sincere about wanting to reach a peaceful resolution, that nuclear program, why would they do this to begin with? This really tells you all you need to know about this Iranian regime. They are a bunch of thugs,” he said.

“The largest state sponsor of terrorism for the last 30 years. They killed our American soldiers in Iraq providing weapons to people in Iraq to kill American soldiers. They are trying to develop a nuclear weapon, not a peaceful power program. And this is just — tells you all you need to know about the Iranians.”

July 20 has been set by the negotiating parties as the deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran.

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Military Satire Site Rips at Fort Hood ‘Workplace Violence’ Designation

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

If you’re familiar with The Onion, you’ll love the military version: The Duffel Blog. This satire site counts generals to privates among its readers, and today angered Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) with a satire claiming he introduced a bill that would require vets to knock on neighbors’ doors and warn they could snap as a high-risk “powder keg of post traumatic stress.”

Contributors include “disgruntled Marines, annoyed Army guys and sickened sailors,” Duffel Blog founder and former Marine Sgt. Paul Szoldra once quipped. And their coverage since the first Fort Hood shooting has been telling.

From “President Obama Says Latest Fort Hood Shooting ‘Definitely’ A Terrorist Attack,” published Saturday:

Following the speech, many of the president’s supporters hailed Obama as a strong wartime leader, citing his declaration that a ‘red line’ had been drawn and that any further attacks from terrorists on U.S. soil would draw a firm rebuke and censure in the United Nations.

While determined to bring the terrorists — and terror groups that supported this latest attack — to justice, some have raised questions on the differences between the latest attack and the tragic workplace violence incident that happened in 2009, where then-Maj. Nidal Hasan accidentally tripped over his beard and shot more than 40 people.

“There are absolutely no similarities in these two cases aside from the application of violence against our servicemen and women,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney to reporters. “Maj. Hasan had never deployed in support of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, so he was obviously unable to absorb any sort of extremist message, and he targeted soldiers in a single location, which meant he clearly had issues relevant to that specific location or population.”

When asked if Hasan’s Muslim faith had any bearing on the decision to label that incident ‘workplace violence’ instead of a terror attack, Carney was adamant that it did not.

…The military had already begun planning overseas contingency operations to rout terrorist networks in Killeen, Texas, Pentagon sources said.

At press time, witnesses had apparently overheard Carney later instructing a nearby aide to double-check the shooter’s DD214 document to ensure he had ties to radical Army terror networks.”

Previous Fort Hood coverage has included “Nidal Hasan Says He’s Amish In Last Ditch Effort To Save Beard”:

Most outsiders assumed from Hasan’s name, his parents’ Palestinian background, and his business card tagline of “Soldier of Allah”, that he was Muslim. The judge, Col. Jeffrey Tribley, pressed Hasan for more information on this discrepancy.

“Yes sir. I am Muslim and Amish,” Hasan responded. “This of course means that my beard is two-times as important to my religion, and under religious exceptions in the UCMJ, it is required.”

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West Virginia Man Indicted for Threatening to Kill Sen. Manchin

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A federal grand jury handed down an indictment Tuesday against a 49-year-old West Virginia man for threatening to kill Sen. Joe Manchin (D).

Steven Anthony Major of Barboursville, W.Va., was arrested March 21 after making four calls to the senator’s Charleston and D.C. office from March 17-20. He reportedly left his real name while making threats against Manchin and his family.

“During these calls, Mr. Major told Senator Manchin to stay out of the State of West Virginia and made several violent threats including, but not limited to, the following: ‘You a dead man, you don’t f*** with me [sic];’ ‘Your kids and your wife are done;’ ‘[Senator Manchin] and his family going to have bullets in their brain [sic],’” states the affidavit filed last month.

Major faces four counts in the threats, each carrying up to 10 years in prison.

Last April, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was the target of a poisoning attempt when a ricin-laced letter was sent to his office. It was intercepted at a mail-sorting facility before reaching the senator.

James Everett Dutschke, 42, also sent a ricin letter to President Obama, then tried to frame an Elvis impersonator. He pleaded guilty and will be sentenced May 14, with a 25-year sentence possible.

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Biden Sent to Boston as Obama Holds Immigration Meeting; Press Denied ‘Moment of Silence’ Access

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama sent Vice President Biden up to Boston to mark the one-year anniversary of the marathon bombings while he stayed in Washington for an Oval Office meeting on immigration reform.

“This morning, the President met with faith leaders in the Oval Office to discuss the importance of taking action to pass commonsense immigration reform,” the White House said in a statement. “The faith leaders shared with the President stories about the impact the failure to fix the immigration system has on families in their congregations and communities. The President expressed deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system. He emphasized that while his Administration can take steps to better enforce and administer immigration laws, nothing can replace the certainty of legislative reform and this permanent solution can only be achieved by Congress.”

“The President and the religious leaders expressed their longstanding commitment to immigration reform as a moral imperative and pledged to continue to urge Congress to act on reform as soon as possible. The President thanked the faith leaders for their leadership on this issue and their tireless efforts to encourage Congress to finish the job.”

Congress is out on spring break. In the meeting were senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; Dr. Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association in Chicago; Luis Cortes, president, Esperanza in Philadelphia; JoAnne Lyon, general superintendent, The Wesleyan Church in Indianapolis; Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville; Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta; and Dieter Uchtdorf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in North Salt Lake City.

The White House said Obama marked the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon attack with a closed-press moment of silence while meeting with senior advisers in the Oval Office.

In the afternoon, he had a meeting scheduled with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. In the evening, the president and the first lady planned to mark the beginning of Passover with a closed-press Seder with friends and staff in the Old Family Dining Room.

Press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the daily briefing that “without reading out private conversations that the president has had, I think the president believes that there is an opportunity that still exists for House Republicans to follow the lead of the Senate, including Republicans in the Senate, and take up and pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

“And, today’s meeting, that the president had with faith leaders, demonstrates and reinforces the fact that there is a broad, unusually broad coalition that supports that effort, that supports comprehensive immigration reform, and all the benefits that making reform the law would provide to the country, to our security, to our economy, to our businesses,” he added.

The first question Carney received was a request to open Obama’s observation of the Boston Marathon bombings to the White House press pool.

“Well, the president’s going to have a moment of silence in the Oval Office. There’ll be some senior advisers there. It’s during the course of a meeting. We certainly think that the — the moment is important but it is mostly important in Boston, and I appreciate the request,” Carney replied, arguing that if they let one independent media photographer inside other news organizations may feel at a “competitive disadvantage.”

“So, that goes to one side of the argument, but not the one that has to do with access of the free press,” he said.

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Republican National Committee Marks Tax Day by Suing IRS

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Republican National Committee marked Tax Day by suing the Internal Revenue Service.

The lawsuit charges that the IRS is withholding records sought by the RNC’s May 2013 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, in which the committee sought to review documents and correspondence related to criteria used for reviewing and approving 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations.

The FOIA request seeks all documents dated between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 20, 2013, containing the words “tea party,” “patriot,” and/or “9/12 project,” referring to the group created by Glenn Beck, along with any documents pertaining to increased scrutiny of 501(c)(4)s, especially using “be on the lookout for” criteria.

Submitted by associate counsel Jonathan Waclawski, the FOIA letter requests “a similar quick response as Pro Publica received.” ProPublica revealed last May that, in its request to see the applications of 67 nonprofits, the IRS gave them confidential information on conservative groups.

That’s left the IRS with 226 business days, by the RNC’s count, to fulfill the request. The committee said the agency “requested several extensions in order to complete the RNC’s request, but has yet to present the information.”

“The RNC believes the undue delay in producing the requested documents is unacceptable and inexcusable, given that many of these documents have been already produced to other requesting entities. Release of the requested documents is in the public interest, as Americans deserve to know how the IRS interprets and enforces the tax laws—and why it would deliberately target people because of their values and beliefs,” the RNC said in a statement.

The filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia details numerous letters over the past year in which in the IRS told the RNC that it was still trying to locate the requested information. A letter dated Jan. 16 said, “I will contact you by April 18, 2014, if I am still unable to complete your request.”

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the party filed suit “because the Obama administration has a responsibility to be transparent and accountable to the American people.”

“The IRS has a legal obligation to answer our inquiry for these records. On Tax Day especially Americans deserve to know whether they can trust the agency to which they’re sending their taxes,” Priebus said.

“If the IRS and the Obama administration don’t have anything to hide, why not answer the request? Their delays and distractions make Americans think they’re trying to cover up their actions, just like ex-IRS employee Lois Lerner. We’re going to keep fighting to hold the IRS and Obama administration accountable because Americans deserve a government that treats them fairly and not one that harasses them because of their beliefs nor an administration that goes after its perceived political enemies.”

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Jerusalem Mayor: City ‘Will Never Function as, God Forbid, a Divided City’

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The mayor of Jerusalem told CNN that “God forbid” the city be carved up in a peace plan to give the Palestinians East Jerusalem as the capital of a state.

“Let me take you back 3,000 years. Jerusalem is the capital of the world, the temple of the middle, and it was never divided to the tribes. But everyone was welcome to come to the city of Jerusalem. The DNA of Jerusalem is a united city respecting all people, residents, visitors, and Jerusalem has a role to play,” Mayor Nir Barkat said.

“And that DNA of the past, that’s how Jerusalem functioned for a thousand years, is our future. By definition it cannot be divided. Our role is to open up and to enable people that come peacefully to the city of Jerusalem to have freedom of religion that did not existed for 2,000 years. Today you go to walk the streets of Jerusalem, you’ll find that the churches are managed by the Christians, the mosques are managed by the Muslims, and the Jews manage the Jewish sites. It was not like that.”

The Palestinians have said that any deal which doesn’t give them East Jerusalem is a non-starter, and the plan being pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly includes half of the city in return for the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

“There are solutions to that, but there is not a solution of, God forbid, dividing the city of Jerusalem. It will never function. It’s against the DNA of the city. And by the way, there is not one example of a city in the world that ever got split and became functional,” Barkat said.

“…You can call Ramallah, the center of the Palestinian people, they can bring their embassy to Jerusalem. They today have freedom of movement, freedom of religion. Today Jerusalem is an open international city, and by the way it’s doing extremely well. Jerusalem, if you look at the trends in the city of Jerusalem, our economy has been growing 8 percent from year to year.”

Barkat stressed that “satisfaction of all residents — Muslims, Christians, Orthodox, secular, is otherwise, our crime rates are .1 an average of any American city. When I fly to the States I pray because I know I’m 10 times more exposed to crimes in the United States than I am back home in Jerusalem. And all of that, the economy going north, crime rates going south, all of that, we must be doing something right.”

And giving half of that to Palestinians, he added, is “a very clear no.”

“I’m committed to serve all my residents, the Muslim, the Christian, the Jewish residents. For me they’re all the same. That’s what the Jewish tradition, that’s what the Jewish Bible says. You’ve got to treat everyone equally, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. And there are gaps to close on the Arab neighborhoods, and the Jewish neighborhoods, and I’m committed to closing those gaps,” Barkat said.

“I think it’s a demand that has to be off the table, because whoever raises such a demand doesn’t understand the importance of the city of Jerusalem as a united city. And unfortunately, sometimes I feel that Israel does not have a partner to negotiate with because the charter of, unfortunately, many of the Palestinians and our neighbors is to destroy Israel. And when somebody wants to destroy Israel, sometimes we feel that this is a salami-style negotiations,” he continued. “Let’s take a piece now and then we’ll argue about the rest. It’s — the whole concept of negotiating with the Palestinians has to take another route. They have to understand that Jerusalem will never function as, God forbid, a divided city.”

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Intel Dem: Putin ‘Questions Whether We Have the Will to Step Up to the Plate’

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said that the sanctions against Russia need to be far more biting than some travel bans on high-ranking officials.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN that he was in Ukraine a couple of weeks ago and “Ukrainians were worried about exactly what’s happening — that the Russians would provoke violent confrontations on the streets of Ukraine and use it as a justification to invade.”

“And I think the U.S. really needs to do a few things. We need to step up our sanctions, and that means really trying to get Europe together around sector wide sanctions if the Russians further incur into Ukraine,” he said. “Sanctions on their energy industry, on their mining industry, on their banking industry, things that would really cripple Russia’s economy. And now this is going to be hurtful to Europe as well. It won’t be great for us either, but if Europe and the United States are serious about deterring further Russian aggression, we’re really going to have to go with sector-wide sanctions.”

Schiff also advocated deploying “NATO assets to our NATO allies in the region to give them some level of confidence that we’re going to stand behind Article V of the NATO treaty, that says an attack on any of the NATO countries is an attack on all of the NATO countries.”

The White House said President Obama called Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday and “expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine.”

“The President emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized. The President reiterated the importance of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s border in order to defuse tensions,” said the readout from the administration. “…The President noted Russia’s growing political and economic isolation as a result of its actions in Ukraine and made clear that the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist.”

“The President noted the upcoming contact group meeting in Geneva and said that while he continues to believe that a diplomatic solution is still possible, it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine’s borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials.”

The EU, U.S., Russia and Ukraine are scheduled to hold talks in Geneva on Thursday.

Schiff said “the problem has been the sanctions have been too mild, too target-specific, going after a few of the oligarchs that really haven’t hurt the Russian government or the Russian people.”

“Sector-wide sanctions, on the other hand, would really cripple Russia’s economy. It would make Putin pay a real price and it will take a little of the luster off of his bellicose foreign policy,” he added. “Right now the Russians applaud what Putin is doing. If the Russians got to feel the economic impacts they might decide this is not such a great course for Russia after all. But I think the only thing Putin is going to respect is strength and I don’t think we’ve shown it significantly in the response we’ve had yet.”

“…And I think if we want to prevent a third kind of territorial invasion, you know, after Georgia, now Ukraine, we’re going to have to really get serious about imposing substantial costs and repercussions. We have the power to do it. We and Europe have the power to do it. The question is, do we have the will to do it? I think Putin right now questions whether we have the will to step up to the plate.”

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Boehner Challenger Accuses Speaker of ‘Electile Dysfunction’

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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A primary challenger of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is hitting at his challenger by using, well, the mispronunciation of the Speaker’s name.

In the campaign ad meant to resemble a Cialis commercial, teacher and Tea Party candidate J.D. Winteregg accuses Boehner of having a “electile dysfunction.”

“It could be a question of blood flow. Sometimes when a politician has been in D.C. too long, it goes to his head and he just can’t seem to get the job done,” the ad states, advising “if you have a Boehner lasting more than 23 years, seek immediate medical attention.”

Boehner has held Ohio’s 8th Congressional District since 1991.

He faces three challengers in the May 6 primary: Winteregg, Matthew Ashworth, and Eric Gurr. Winteregg filed a campaign finance report at the end of last year reporting nearly $1,600 in his campaign war chest; Boehner had more than $2.8 million on hand.

The only congressional leader ever known to admit electile dysfunction, of course, was Bob Dole.

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FBI Warns Students Against Being Recruited as Foreign Spies

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Federal Bureau of Investigation today warned American students abroad to be mindful of other countries trying to recruit them for intelligence purposes.

More than 280,000 American students studied abroad last year, the FBI said, gaining language and cultural skill that “makes these students tempting and vulnerable targets for recruitment by foreign intelligence officers whose long-term goal is to gain access to sensitive or classified U.S. information.”

The bureau stressed the case of Glenn Duffie Shriver, sentenced to four years in federal prison three years ago for taking $70,000 from the Chinese government to apply for U.S. government jobs.

The FBI said students leaving for study abroad should view a video on the case before leaving the country.

“Foreign intelligence officers don’t normally say they work for intelligence services when developing relationships with students—they claim other lines of work,” the agency warned. “Intelligence officers develop initial relationships with students under seemingly innocuous pretexts such as job or internship opportunities, paid paper-writing engagements, language exchanges, and cultural immersion programs.”

“As relationships are developed, the student might be asked to perform a task and provide information—not necessarily sensitive or classified—in exchange for payment or other rewards, but these demands grow over time. Intelligence officers might suggest that students—upon completion of their schooling—apply for U.S. government jobs (particularly for national security-related agencies).”

The FBI specifically warns students to “minimize your contact with people who have questionable government affiliations.”

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Kansas Congressman Says Jewish Center Victims Attended his Church

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Kansas Republican congressman said two members of his church were teenage boy and grandfather shot and killed outside of the Jewish community center in Overland Park yesterday.

“I didn’t know them personally, but our entire community feels connected to this family,” Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) told CNN. “This is a suburban area of Kansas City. This is an area of lots of schools and families. And yesterday afternoon when this news came out that this killing had occurred right here in Overland Park just about 12 blocks from my house, it struck all of us personally.”

“I attended church services later in the day about 5:00 where our pastor, Adam Hamilton, at the United Methodist Church of Resurrection informed us that the people who had been killed had not been identified at that time were members of the congregation, usually attend that service, were volunteers in the church and were really just upstanding community members.”

Yoder said not much is known about the third victim, a woman shot outside an assisted living center.

“I will say, standing in front of the Jewish community center, which is a center that serves the entire community. We’ve got a very active Jewish community here with a very active community that attends the center and is involved. The first shooting occurred here, but the second shooting occurred almost eight blocks away at a village for a retirement community that also serves people of many denominations,” he said. “And so we don’t know much about the victim there yet, but we do know that the rampage started here and moved on down the road and took another victim. We’re still trying to learn about what occurred there. But, obviously, it’s something that stunned a lot of us.”

Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, of Aurora, Mo., who also goes by the last name Cross, was arrested in the shootings and was filmed yelling “Heil Hitler” as he was led away. Miller is a former KKK leader.

“We don’t know enough about what his motives are but, boy, his history tells us a lot about what his motives probably were,” Yoder said. “This is an individual that we’re learning this morning had a long history of anti-Semitism, racism, had been the head of several white supremacy groups. He is a Missouri resident, we understand, from several hours away that, as far as we can tell, had no connection to our community here in suburban Kansas City, who drove, apparently, into our community yesterday to commit these acts.”

“Now, to pick the Jewish community center and to pick the Village Shalom, given his background, really tells us these are probably targeted killings and that he had anti-Semitism as his driving force as he arrived here yesterday.”

The congressman said the Christianity of the two Jewish center victims proves “his anti-Semitism hit home to our entire community, no matter what religion you’re from.”

“But it appears to be driven by hate. And I know the FBI is investigating this today… And so we’ll hopefully learn much more in the hours and days to come.”

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Kerry: ‘Climate Science Is Unambiguous’ with ‘Wake-Up Call After Wake-Up Call’

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Marking the release of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group 3 report over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry said the document “makes very clear we face an issue of global willpower, not capacity.”

The report warned that greenhouse gases have built up at an unprecedented rate and said switches to clean energy are needed immediately to avert catastrophic global warming. The scientists involved said it’s not a matter of phasing out fossil fuels but phasing out plants that don’t use carbon-capture technology.

“We’ve already had wake-up call after wake-up call about climate science. This report is a wake-up call about global economic opportunity we can seize today as we lead on climate change,” Kerry said in a statement Sunday. “So many of the technologies that will help us fight climate change are far cheaper, more readily available, and better performing than they were when the last IPCC assessment was released less than a decade ago. Good energy solutions are climate solutions and this report shines a light on energy technologies available right now to substantially reduce global emissions.”

“These technologies can cut carbon pollution while growing economic opportunity at the same time. The global energy market represents a $6 trillion opportunity, with 6 billion users around the world. By 2035, investment in the energy sector is expected to reach nearly $17 trillion,” he continued.

“We already know that climate science is unambiguous and that every year the world defers action, the costs only grow. But focusing only on grim realities misses promising realities staring us right in the face.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who gives a weekly speech warning about climate change on the Senate floor, is using this week’s recess to go on a climate-change tour along the country’s southeast coast from the Carolinas to Miami.

“Climate change is among the most serious issues facing Rhode Island. It affects our economy, our homes and businesses, and our very way of life,” said Whitehouse. “We’re doing what we can in Rhode Island to limit the damage of climate change, but this is a worldwide problem that we can’t address alone. We need other states – and ultimately other nations – to join us in reducing emissions, investing in clean energy, and taking steps to adapt to the changes that are already occurring.”

“This road trip will be an opportunity for me to see how climate change is affecting other areas of our country; to hear about what these states are doing to address climate threats; and to bring new ideas back to Washington as I continue working to get Congress to wake up and take action on this issue.”

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State Department Catches on to Russia’s Nefarious Intentions in Ukraine

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Several weeks after Russia invaded Crimea and annexed the peninsula, the State Department says it has evidence of Russian support for the “destabilization” of Ukraine.

“On April 12, armed pro-Russian militants seized government buildings in a coordinated and professional operation conducted in six cities in eastern Ukraine. Many of the militants were outfitted in bullet-proof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed and carrying Russian-origin weapons. These armed units, some wearing black and orange St. George’s ribbons associated with Russian Victory Day celebrations, have raised Russian and separatist flags over the buildings they seized, and called for referendums and union with Russia,” the department said in a note to media on Sunday.

“Even more so than the seizure of main government buildings in Ukrainian regional capitals Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv last weekend, these operations bear many similarities to those that were carried out in Crimea in late February and culminated in Russia’s illegal military intervention and purported annexation of Crimea. In the earlier Crimean case, highly organized, well-equipped, and professional forces wearing Russian military uniforms, balaclavas, and military gear without identifying insignia moved in first to take control of Crimean government and security facilities before being later replaced by regular Russian military forces.”

The State Department said simultaneous takeovers in Donetsk, Slavyansk, Krasnyi Liman, Kramatorsk, Chervonoarmiysk, and Druzhkovka are an indication that the April 12 operations were planned in advance.

“There are reports that additional attempts to seize buildings in other eastern Ukrainian towns failed. Inconsistent with political, grassroots protests, these seizures bear the same defining features and tactics across diverse locations, including takeover of government administration buildings and security headquarters, seizure of weapons in the targeted buildings, forced removal of local officials, rapid establishment of roadblocks and barricades, attacks against communications towers, and deployment of well-organized forces. In Slavyansk, armed units have now also moved beyond the seized buildings to establish roadblocks and checkpoints in the nearby area,” the note said.

“The Ukrainian Government has reporting indicating that Russian intelligence officers are directly involved in orchestrating the activities of pro-Russian armed resistance groups in eastern Ukraine. In addition, the Ukrainian Government detained an individual who said that he was recruited by the Russian security services and instructed to carry out subversive operations in eastern and southern Ukraine, including seizing administrative buildings. All of this evidence undercuts the Russian Government’s claims that Ukraine is on the brink of ‘civil war.’”

In a statement to European leaders last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Gazprom “is compelled to switch over to advance payment for gas deliveries, and in the event of further violation of the conditions of payment, will completely or partially cease gas deliveries.”

“In other words, only the volume of natural gas will be delivered to Ukraine as was paid for one month in advance of delivery,” Putin said. “Undoubtedly, this is an extreme measure… However, the fact that our European partners have unilaterally withdrawn from the concerted efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, and even from holding consultations with the Russian side, leaves Russia no alternative.”

The State Department noted that the “events of April 12 strongly suggest that in eastern Ukraine Russia is now using the same tactics that it used in Crimea in order to foment separatism, undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, and exercise control over its neighbor in contravention of Russia’s obligations under international law.”

“In the face of these provocations, the legitimate government of Ukraine in Kyiv continues to show restraint and has only used force when public safety was at risk and attempts to resolve the situation through dialogue failed. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was in the region on Friday, April 11, to discuss the central government’s willingness to work with regions on decentralization – including such issues as local elections, local control of budgets and finances and education, and enshrining Russian as an official language – in advance of the May 25 presidential elections.”

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DCCC Chairman: ‘Significant’ Number of GOPs ‘Animated by Racism’

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said that a “significant” part of the GOP base is overwhelmed by racist beliefs that are stalling immigration reform.

On CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) was asked about a recent quote from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.): “I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill,” she said. “I’ve heard them say to the Irish, if it were just you this would be easy.”

“The American people want solutions in Congress. They want people to oppose certain policies for the right reasons,” Israel responded before being pressed on whether he believed Republicans in Congress are racist.

“Not all of them, no, of course not. But to a significant extent the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism and that’s unfortunate,” Israel said.

“Well look, we don’t need to get our base out because frankly we’re ready to pass an immigration bill. And we’d rather pass an immigration bill than worry about the election. We have got 190 Democrats ready to vote on a comprehensive immigration bill today. We can do it today. And we know that not every Republican is going to agree with us on that. It passed the Senate with 67 bipartisan votes. All we need is 20 Republicans, just 20 to vote for that bill and it will be law and we don’t have to have this debate anymore,” he continued.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called Pelosi’s assertion “both wrong and unfortunate.”

“You know, there have been a lot of executive overreaches by this administration. We see the latest with Lois Lerner and the whole IRS scandal. We’re now finally getting to see the email traffic back and forth. The American people just want to know the truth. They want to know the truth about what really happened and the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. They want to know what happened in Benghazi. They want to know answers and that’s all that we’re trying to do. Just give us — just cooperate with the Congress. Cooperate with the investigations. Give us the information we’ve requested so our constituents can know the truth,” Walden said.

“Fewer witch hunts, more solutions would be good for America right now,” Israel interjected.

“This is not a witch hunt when you’re trying to find out why the IRS — whether it’s Republican or Democrat, I don’t want the IRS targeting any group, whether it’s liberal or conservative,” Walden said. “And if they have, somebody should be held accountable, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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SPLC Says Kansas Shooter a ‘Raging Anti-Semite’ Who Plotted Assassination of Center’s Founder

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Southern Poverty Law Center said the suspect in the deadly shootings at a Kansas Jewish center and assisted living facility is a “raging anti-Semite” who has been on their radar for a while.

Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, of Aurora, Mo., who also goes by the last name Cross, allegedly drove to Overland Park, Kansas, and killed a 14-year-old boy and his grandfather outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City. He then drove to the Village Shalom Retirement Community in Leawood, where a woman was shot to death.

The SPLC sued Miller, the former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in the 1980s for “operating an illegal paramilitary organization and using intimidation tactics against African Americans.”

“After subsequently forming another Klan group, the White Patriot Party, he was found in criminal contempt and sentenced to six months in prison for violating the court settlement. He went underground while his conviction was under appeal but was caught by the FBI with a weapons cache in Missouri. He served three years in federal prison after being indicted on weapons charges and for plotting robberies and the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees. As part of a plea bargain, Miller testified against other Klan leaders in a 1988 sedition trial,” the SPLC said.

“Miller is a raging anti-Semite who has posted more than 12,000 times on Vanguard News Network (VNN), whose slogan is ‘No Jews, Just Right.’ VNN founder Alex Linder has openly advocated ‘exterminating Jews since December 2009. Miller, a close partner to Linder, has called Jews ‘swarthy, hairy, bow-legged, beady-eyed, parasitic midgets.’ Miller is also one of VNN’s largest donors and he printed and distributed thousands of copies of VNN’s newsletter, The Aryan Alternative.”

The SPLC said it spoke with Miller’s wife, Marge, “who has apparently never been active in the white supremacist movement,” and confirmed that Miller had gone to a casino in Missouri.

In a statement late last night, President Obama said he had his team “to stay in close touch with our federal, state and local partners and provide the necessary resources to support the ongoing investigation” in this “horrific shooting.”

“While we do not know all of the details surrounding today’s shooting, the initial reports are heartbreaking,” Obama said.
“I want to offer my condolences to all the families trying to make sense of this difficult situation and pledge the full support from the federal government as we heal and cope during this trying time.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) said he was “shocked and sickened” by the slayings.

“Kansas is a place where every person of every kind should be safe from violence or persecution,” Moran said. “My deepest regrets are with the victims’ loved ones and my thoughts are with the entire community, which has had its sense of comfort and safety threatened by today’s events. I join all Kansans in proclaiming that these horrific acts of violence have absolutely no place in our communities, our state or our country.”

Miller has run for public office three times: as a Democrat for North Carolina governor in 1984, as a Republican for the Senate in North Carolina in 1986, and as an independent write-in candidate in 2006 for the House seat held by now-Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

The SPLC said it is preparing to release a two-year study showing that “nearly 100 people in the last five years have been murdered by active users on another prominent racist website,”

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Rep. Lewis Says ‘History Will Not be Kind’ to America If One Bill Not Passed

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), while stressing that those who think nothing has changed in terms of civil rights should rethink that and walk in his shoes, said “history will not be kind” to the country if Congress fails to pass immigration reform.

Lewis, 74, was one of the original Freedom Riders and famously made peace in 2009 with a former Klansman who beat him at a 1965 march.

MSNBC’s first questions to the congressman, though, were about how he would equate gay rights with the civil rights movement.

“If two women or two men want to fall in love and get married, it’s their business. You cannot have equality for African-Americans or for Latinos or Asian-American, Native-American, white American, and not have equality for gay individuals,” Lewis said.

“…In the final analysis, we are one people and it doesn’t matter whether we are black or white, or whether we are Latino or Asian- American, Native-American, or whether we are gay or straight. As Dr. King said, we have to learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we’re going to perish as fools.”

The civil rights movement of the MLK era, he stressed, “changed America forever.”

“Our country, our people. Our country is so much better. The American people are better. People woke up and said Congressman John, I want to ask you to forgive me for what we did. I hear it in Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi, all across America. There’s a greater sense of community. There’s a greater sense of family in our country today,” Lewis said.

“And people ask me now that — tell me, where is the next step? Where is the next movement? I was not old enough to be with you, but I’m with you now. And then I hear some people saying nothing has changed. I just say come and walk in my shoes and I will show you change.”

When asked what’s left “undone” from the 1960s, he said immigration reform.

“We have millions of people standing and living in the shadow. People need to come out and state them on a path to citizenship. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not just. It’s immoral to have millions of our citizens — some of these young people, the only place they know is America,” he continued. “And I’m convinced that history will not be kind to us if we fail, as a nation and as a people, to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And we should do it now and not delay.”

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Will Independent Maine Senator Bolt to Caucus with GOP?

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Independent Maine Sen. Angus King votes with the Democrats 94 percent of the time, but if the Republicans take control of the upper chamber in the fall he might switch his caucus affiliation.

King made the suggestion after his surprise vote to support the Republican filibuster of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

“I’ll make my decision at the time based on what I think is best for Maine,” he told The Hill.

“Sen. King only told The Hill newspaper what he’s always said – that his guiding principle is, and always will be, to do what is right for Maine,” his spokeswoman, Kathleen Connery Dawe, said Thursday, according to The Kennebec Journal. “He’s a proven consensus builder and will continue to work with members on both sides of the aisle, regardless of who’s in charge. He believes the people of Maine sent him here to find solutions, and that’s all he’s focused on.”

King, who replaced retired Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after his 2012 victory, saying he wanted an independence guarantee before caucusing.

“I ran on the platform of trying to call them as I see them, not be able — not be locked into a party position one way or the other. And that’s what I want to try to maintain,” he said back then.

But he also acknowledged that it’s about power: getting committee assignments from the ruling party.

King vowed to be a “bridge” between the two parties, but has been a reliable vote for Reid even as moderate Dems such as Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have fallen away on key votes.

In September, King accused Republicans who were trying to repeal Obamacare of trying to kill people.

“That’s a scandal — those people are guilty of murder in my opinion,” King told Salon. “Some of those people they persuade are going to end up dying because they don’t have health insurance. For people who do that to other people in the name of some obscure political ideology is one of the grossest violations of our humanity I can think of. This absolutely drives me crazy.”

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The First GOP Woman in the 2016 Ring?

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A trip by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to early primary state New Hampshire this weekend will be about more than just a speech at a Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity rally.

A Blackburn aide confirmed to RealClearPolitics that she’s flirting with the idea of a presidential run:

“If there’s a door to kick down, she’s willing to kick it down,” the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. “These are the kinds of events you go to — test the waters, and see what the reaction is.”

…“There is kind of a void to fill there,” the Blackburn aide said of the likely GOP presidential field. “Whenever there’s been a need for leadership or someone to get out there and fight the fight, she’s always been the first in line and she’s not afraid of it. She’s not afraid to go toe to toe with anybody.”

Both a social and fiscal conservative, the 61-year-old congresswoman has served in the House since 2003 and ran unopposed in 2012. She serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and was formerly communications chair for the conservative Republican Study Committee caucus.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was the only woman who ran for the GOP nomination in 2012. She won the Ames Straw poll, but placed sixth in the Iowa caucuses, eventually dropped out and endorsed Mitt Romney.

Bachmann has expressed no interest in a 2016 try.

Other women who could possibly seek the nomination are Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the highest ranking GOP woman in Congress and chair of the House Republican Conference who gave the official party response to the State of the Union address this years, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and governors Susana Martinez (N.M.), Nikki Haley (S.C.) or Mary Fallin (Okla.).

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Vowing to be ‘True Independent Voice,’ Scott Brown Jumps in the Ring

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) formally kicked off his campaign Thursday to oust Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on a strong anti-Obamacare platform.

Introduced by former Gov. John Sununu (R-N.H.), Brown told a crowd in Portsmouth that a fixture of the Senate campaign in which he filled late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat would be around for this campaign as well: his truck.

“I’m pretty proud of that old GMC Canyon. It’s got close to 300,000 miles on the odometer, and it’s sure looking good with those license plates that say, ‘Live Free or Die,’” Brown said, noting how he used it on his “listening tour” through the state after launching his exploratory committee a few weeks ago, going to “bakeries, candy stores, gun shops and outfitters, homes, offices – and, OK, maybe a few pubs in between.”

“As you know, I worked with Senator Shaheen in the U.S. Senate for three years. She is a nice person, but wrong on the issues facing the people of New Hampshire. She made that clear when she cast the deciding vote that forced Obamacare on this state and our country. A lot of people aren’t aware of that vote to pass Obamacare,” he continued. “But it’s important to know if we are ever going to get past Obamacare and get America moving in the right direction. I am running to be a true independent voice for New Hampshire. I am running to hold Senator Shaheen accountable. And I will need your strength, help and votes to succeed.”

“…These days, Senator Shaheen wants to change the subject to anything other than Obamacare. The only problem is, when we turn to other issues, it’s the same story. This is a senator who last year voted with President Obama 99 percent of the time. Whenever President Obama needs her, she’s there, and apparently he needs her a lot.  Is a rubber stamp what the people of New Hampshire want and expect in a senator? … I didn’t think so.”

It’s no secret that Brown’s entrance into the race is causing Shaheen a lot of heartburn.

Shaheen tried without success to get Brown to sign a “people’s pledge” to bar outside money from the race, as Brown signed in his unsuccessful 2012 campaign against Elizabeth Warren.

Shaheen campaign manager Mike Vlacich said Brown is “counting on the big banks to buy him New Hampshire’s Senate seat.”

“The people of New Hampshire know Jeanne Shaheen. They know they can depend on her to fight for them and make a difference for New Hampshire,” he added.

Polls show Brown gaining on Shaheen, who has a 47 percent approval rating.

After his campaign announcement, Brown launched an “Obamacare Isn’t Working” tour at Next Step Bionics and Prosthetics in Manchester.

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GOP: Changing Captain at HHS Won’t Right Obamacare’s Sinking Ship

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Congressional Republicans pounced on the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after five years at the helm of the agency, with one senator noting that changing the leadership at the agency won’t fix the “disaster” of Obamacare.

The White House was expected to formally announce Sebelius’ resignation today. She was notably not at President Obama’s side when he recently touted signup numbers in the Rose Garden.

“Kathleen Sebelius had a supremely difficult job implementing a law as unpopular and unwieldy as ObamaCare,” House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement. “Her tenure as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services may be at an end, but Americans will be dealing with the repercussions of the president’s health law for a very long time.”

“Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius’ resignation does not really hold the Obama Administration accountable for the failed law,” said Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is challenging Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in the fall on an anti-Obamacare platform. “Thousands of Louisiana families lost the healthcare plans they liked. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted trying to implement, and then fix, a broken website. It does not matter who is in charge of HHS, we still need to repeal Obamacare and replace it with solutions that put the patient in charge, not Washington.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) noted that “even though Secretary Sebelius will be gone, every promise the President made about Obamacare – if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor; health care costs will be lowered; and if you like your health plan you can keep it – will remain broken.”

“Changing the Secretary won’t change the problem – a disaster is still a disaster,” Moran added.

Obama is expected to nominate Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to fill the job.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he was “so pleased” that his fellow West Virginian was picked. “Sylvia’s experience in both the public and private sector, matched with the bipartisan relationships she has built over the years, shows that she is a public servant ready to take on this country’s challenges,” Manchin said. “I am confident that her leadership will ensure that we enact commonsense fixes to the Affordable Care Act to help improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate health committee, said he’s also happy with the choice.

“This is the right decision,” Alexander said. “The challenge for Ms. Burwell, or any other successor, is to help Congress find the right way to repair the damage Obamacare has done to American families.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus warned that Sebelius’ replacement will “inherit a mess.”

“No matter who is in charge of HHS, ObamaCare will continue to be a disaster and will continue to hurt hardworking Americans,” Priebus said. “It’s time for President Obama to admit that Democrats’ signature law is a failure and heed Republican calls for patient-centered healthcare reform.”

“We are now left with so many questions and so few answers after witnessing endless delays, glitches, excessive costs and cancellations because of this misguided and dangerous law,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.). “I look forward to a thorough investigation of what has transpired and how it related to her management of Obamacare’s implementation. The American people deserve accountability and answers.”

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Carney Says Iran’s Hostage-Taker Pick ‘Not Viable’ for UN Ambassador

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House declared Iran’s pick for UN ambassador to be “not viable” a day after the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to block terrorists from entering the United States as envoys.

The bill, in response to Tehran naming Hamid Aboutalebi to the UN post, was a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).

Aboutalebi, formerly Iran’s ambassador to Belgium and Italy, was a member of Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line when the group took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Iran submitted a visa application for Aboutalebi to come to New York and serve as Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“Well, we share the Senate’s concerns regarding this case and find the potential — the nomination is extremely troubling. The U.S. government has informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters today. “The legislation passed by the Senate underscores just how troubling this potential nomination would be.”

When asked if President Obama would sign the Senate’s bill, though, Carney tried to be extra-careful to not irritate Iran.

“First of all, this is a potential nomination. We’ve informed the government of Iran that this potential selection, rather, is not viable,” he said. “It’s a potential selection. As I understand it, it has not been formally made. We’ve informed the government that that selection’s not viable.”

A senior administration official said on background yesterday that “if in fact this possible nomination were in fact the person nominated, it would be extremely troubling, as both our deputy spokesperson has said and as the White House spokesperson has said.”

“We are taking a close look at this case now and we have raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran through a variety of channels that we use to convey our concerns,” the official said. “All I can say at this time regarding this is that if this possible nomination were the nomination, it would be extremely troubling, and we have raised those concerns with the Iranians.”

A member of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission. Mohammad Hassan Asafari, said the Senate’s action to “bar Aboutalebi’s entry as Iran’s designated ambassador at the UN is sheer interference in the internal affairs of the UN,” according to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.

“The Americans are not entitled to the right to oppose the entry of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s representative at the UN and the U.S. Senate approval is illegal,” Asafari said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said Aboutalebi, “the ambassador who has been introduced[,] is qualified for the position and has had important diplomatic posts in European countries and Australia and has shown a good, effective and positive performance during his previous [diplomatic] career and missions.”

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Reid: ‘Really Rich, Rich, Rich, Rich, Rich People’ Keep Women from Equal Pay

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters after a policy luncheon today that “really rich, rich, rich, rich, rich people” are trying to keep women from earning as much as men.

Democrats were on the offensive for Equal Pay Day, when President Obama issued executive orders to prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation and to collect information from federal contractors on pay broken down by sex and race.

“For the last few days, you’ve heard it, you’ve heard it, and you’ve heard it. I’m going to repeat it today. In America, a man who works the same job a woman has makes more money than she does. It takes a woman until today every year to make up for what she lost last year,” Reid said.

“So my Republican colleagues, I guess, think that pay gap doesn’t matter that much since I had not a single person come to the floor — well, we’ve had a couple. One of them came and said it was a bill for trial lawyers,” he continued. “But basically they do nothing but stand in the background and filibuster. I get it. Two Congresses ago, they did it last Congress, and they’re doing it this Congress, filibustering our moving to this important piece of legislation.”

Reid spoke of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which comes to the floor Wednesday with heavy opposition from Republicans.

“These really rich, rich, rich, rich, rich people like the Koch brothers, they prefer to go along with women being paid less than men. And like so many things here, the Republicans in the Senate go along with what the Koch brothers want,” he said. “This issue boils down a fundamental question: Whose side are you on? As usual, the Republicans are siding with the rich and not obviously being too concerned about what’s happening with women in America, not getting paid as much as men for doing the exact same work.”

Reid was asked if he’s going to get to the minimum wage bill, seeking a hike to $10.10, before the end of the week.

“I don’t think so. I have a lot of other things I’m going to do,” he said. “I want to put lots of nominations we’re going to move on, as early as probably today. So we’ll have to have a ton of votes before the week is done.”

Then the majority leader was asked by another reporter if he’s “been successful in explaining to America who they are.”

“Well, I haven’t been successful enough, because I’m going to continue. But I do feel good about this, no one knew who the Koch brothers were until we started this little deal here. And now about half the people in America know who they are,” Reid declared. “By the time we finish this, everyone is going to know who these — the two richest brothers in the world are.”

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Marking Rwandan Genocide, Senators Stress Need to Respond to Atrocities

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A trio of senators introduced a resolution Monday night marking the 20th anniversary of Rwandan genocide and urging the U.S. to do all in its power to prevent future atrocities.

The 100 days of terror that claimed some 800,000 lives began on April 7, 1994.

The resolution comes from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs Chairman Chris Coons (D-Del.), and subcommittee ranking member Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Along with recognizing the heinous crimes suffered by Rwandans and expressing support for the people as they continue to recover, the legislation “affirms it is in the national interest of the United States to work in close coordination with international partners to prevent and mitigate acts of genocide and mass atrocities.”

It “condemns ongoing acts of violence and mass atrocities perpetrated against innocent civilians in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan and elsewhere,” “urges the President to confer with Congress on an ongoing basis regarding the priorities and objectives of the Atrocities Prevention Board,” and “urges the President to work with Congress to strengthen the United States government’s ability to identify and more rapidly respond to genocide and mass atrocities in order to prevent where possible and mitigate the impact of such events.”

It supports U.S. and international efforts to “strengthen multilateral peacekeeping capacities; build capacity for democratic rule of law, security sector reform, and other measures to improve civilian protection in areas of conflict; ensure measures of accountability for perpetrators of mass atrocities and crimes against humanity; and strengthen the work of U.S. and international institutions, such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which are working to document, identify, and prevent mass  atrocities and inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred and prevent genocide.”

“The United States Senate joins the people of Rwanda in mourning this tragic day and honoring the memory of all whose lives were taken,” Coons said. “Though no consolation to the families of those lost, the world has the responsibility to fulfill the promise of ‘never again.’ It is my hope that the memory of the Rwandan genocide will continue to embolden world leaders to act decisively in the face of genocide and mass atrocities, compelling us to act to protect civilians and prevent the loss of innocent lives.”

“As we consider the U.S. and international response to ongoing atrocities in the Central African Republic, Syria, South Sudan, and Sudan, I strongly support U.S. leadership, and close coordination with the international community, to prevent and mitigate mass atrocities,” he added.

Flake stressed that the U.S. should be “working with the international community to prevent mass atrocities and protecting populations at risk of crimes against humanity.”

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Rand Paul Must Wear Blumenthal’s Huskies Tie After NCAA Game

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Kentucky’s senators have to pay up to the Connecticut delegation after the Huskies beat the Wildcats in the NCAA championship game last night.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wagered a selection of Kentucky Derby-Pies from Kern’s Kitchen in Louisville. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) put Stew Leonard’s brownies and UCONN Dairy Bar ice cream on the line.

“Kentucky has made an unbelievable run and is one win away from its 9th National Championship. Big Blue Nation couldn’t be more proud and excited. So, I look forward to enjoying desserts after Kentucky beats UConn tonight,” Paul said before the game.

McConnell noted they’d already won brautwurst and cheese in a wager over the Wisconsin game. “I do believe, however, that some dessert is in order,” he quipped.

Blumenthal, one of the eventual victors, said Monday he’d “eat a light dinner so I can save room for derby pie.”

Murphy said he looked forward “to a big portion of humble pie from my friends from Kentucky.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said before the game that President Obama’s picks “washed out in the brackets

The Senate wager grew as the day went on…


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Congressman Caught Kissing Staffer, Says He’s ‘Always Tried to Be an Honest Man’

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A freshman congressman has admitted “falling short” after a grainy video showed him kissing a staffer in his home district.

The video published by The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe, La., showed Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.), a married father of five, kissing his scheduler, also married.

“There’s no doubt I’ve fallen short and I’m asking for forgiveness,” McAllister said in a statement. “I’m asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve. Trust is something I know has to be earned whether your [sic] a husband, a father, or a congressman. I promise to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I’ve disappointed.”

“From day one, I’ve always tried to be an honest man. I ran for congress [sic] to make a difference and not to just be another politician. I don’t want to make a political statement on this, I would just simply like to say that I’m very sorry for what I’ve done,” he continued. “While I realize I serve the public, I would appreciate the privacy given to my children as we get through this.”

McAllister, a local businessman who was endorsed by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, defeated State Sen. Neil Riser, seen by many as the establishment favorite, in a November special election. His campaign commercials included one asking voters to pray for him and another getting ready for church with his family.

There’s been no public reaction yet from House leadership, but when Rep. John Souder (R-Ind.) had an affair with a district staffer in 2010 Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked him to resign. Souder did.

The West Monroe newspaper said the video came from an anonymous source. The staffer has reportedly been removed from his payroll.

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Senate Unemployment Insurance Bill Passes, Throwing Curve at GOP in Election Season

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Democrats gained enough Republican support to push a five-month extension of long-term unemployment insurance through the upper chamber on Monday, plunking the assistance bill unpopular with House GOPs in the lower chamber seven months before midterms.

It seemed that a compromise would be unworkable after the 2008 recession-era benefits providing assistance to those searching for work for up to 99 weeks expired on Dec. 31.

Republicans protested a lack of pay-fors, while Democrats seized on the GOP block of the bill to paint the right as not caring about workers in an election-year.

Six Senate GOPs — Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) — helped Dems finally move the legislation in a 59-38 vote, making the fourth time the charm. The bill was co-sponsored by Heller and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Heller said Nevada’s unemployment rate “remains one of the highest in the nation, which means this extension cannot wait any longer.”

“It has been three months since emergency unemployment benefits expired for the millions of people actively searching for work,” the senator continued. “Through no fault of their own, American job seekers have been wondering how they will cover their mortgage, pay their utilities, fill up their car with gas, and put food on the table for their families.”

The bill allows for retroactive payments dating back to December and pays for the legislation through a combination of offsets that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill, which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024.

The price tag on the benefits extension is nearly $10 billion. A Fox News poll taken in January found 69 percent supporting an extension to at least a year, far past the current 26 weeks.

“Today the Senate acted in a bipartisan way to reinstate emergency unemployment insurance for 2.3 million Americans who depend on it as they search for work. As I’ve said time and again, Washington needs to put politics aside and help these hard-working, responsible Americans make ends meet and support their families as they look for a job,” President Obama said in a statement. “Each week Congress fails to act on this crucial issue, roughly 70,000 long-term unemployed Americans lose their vital economic lifeline.”

“I urge House Republicans to stop blocking a bipartisan compromise that would stem this tide, take up the bill without delay, and send it to my desk,” he added. “Let’s remove this needless drag on our economy and focus on expanding opportunity for all Americans.”

“There is a strong bipartisan majority for passage in the House. It is now up to Speaker Boehner to respond to the will of the American people, who understand that people who are unemployed don’t want to be unemployed,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on the Senate floor. “The unemployed in this country are suffering. They suffered for too long. The job growth that has come as a result following the recession has been weak. And the least we can do is respond.”

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Rubio Wants Kerry to Come Up with Venezuela Crisis Assessment

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today called on Secretary of State John Kerry to turn his attention toward the Western Hemisphere and provide Congress with a full assessment of the crisis in Venezuela.

Kerry is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Rubio is a member, on the State Department’s budget request tomorrow.

Rubio told Kerry in a letter today that he’s concerned about the administration’s “half-hearted response to this dire situation” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s “brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.”

“To date, the government’s barbaric repression has resulted in 39 deaths, more than 2,200 detentions, and at least 50 documented cases of torture. There is evidence that several of these atrocities are being committed by uniformed members of the Venezuelan National Guard, a component of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, as well as paramilitary elements of the so-called ‘People’s Guard’ that is closely affiliated with the National Guard. We have additional reports of radical leftist armed groups as well as Cuban regime intelligence officials and operatives working on behalf of the Maduro government to intimidate opposition members and, at times, carry out attacks against protesters,” Rubio wrote.

“As you would agree, it is more important than ever for the American public and lawmakers to clearly understand the nature of the situation in Venezuela and its repercussions for American interests and those of the broader Western Hemisphere. Therefore, I appreciate your assessment on the following concerns.”

Rubio asked Kerry to provide an assessment of the Venezuelan military’s involvement in the crisis as well as “the level of involvement of the Cuban government in the internal affairs of Venezuela.”

“Since March 17, the Maduro government has arrested and summarily convicted at least five democratically-elected opposition mayors, and is taking steps to selectively prosecute Assemblywoman Maria Corina Machado, a leading opposition member in Venezuela’s national legislature. The government’s actions are facilitated by the fact that 80 percent of Venezuelan judges and 95 percent of public prosecutors have not been properly installed in their posts, and instead serve under a provisional status hostage to Maduro’s whims. Other supposedly independent human rights guarantors in the Venezuelan system, such as the ombudsman, have attempted to deny the use of torture against demonstrators,” the senator continued.

“…Please provide an assessment of the Venezuelan National Guard’s involvement in illicit trafficking and other trans-national criminal activities. Please provide an update on the presence of individuals designated as ‘kingpins,’ under OFAC procedures, in high-level positions of the Venezuelan government, including in the security apparatus.”

Rubio said it’s “vital that the U.S. government stand with those Venezuelans who have bravely called out the brutality and dishonesty of the Maduro government.”

Venezuela has been getting infrequent mentions lately at the State Department and White House press briefings.

“Secretary Kerry has said, and I have said, certainly, that there are a number of policy options on the table for how we could help foster a peaceful solution here. We have said one of them could be sanctions, but I have nothing to predict in terms of what that might look like. What we’ve been more focused on, quite frankly, is what you’ve heard me talk a lot about – that the importance of getting a third-party mediator talking to both sides here to try and get some peaceful resolution of this going forward,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on March 28.

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Obama to Sign Executive Orders on Equal Pay Targeting Federal Contractors

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

With Lilly Ledbetter at his side, President Obama will announce two executive actions tomorrow to mark Equal Pay Day while urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this week.

The bill would “revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages” and “revises the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience.”

Critics say the bill would constrain merit pay, hamper flexibility for working mothers, and put undue burdens on employers.

The main sponsor, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), had been urging Obama to take executive action along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), sponsor of the House version. Obama’s order will prohibit federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation and will collect information from federal contractors on pay broken down by sex and race.

“I applaud President Obama’s decision to take executive action to ensure that contractors doing business with the United States government are not retaliating against hardworking Americans seeking equal pay for equal work. I urged President Obama to take this important step while we work to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress so that women fighting for equal pay will no longer be fighting on their own,” Mikulski said in a statement.

“It’s been more than half a century since the Equal Pay Act but women still make just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. Women should no longer be sidelined, redlined or pink slipped,” she added. “I call on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so we can put change in the lawbooks and change into checkbooks of working families across America.”

DeLauro and Mikulski argue that the wage gap costs women $434,000 over their careers.

“Tomorrow we mark Equal Pay Day, the day when an average woman’s earnings finally catch up to what her male colleagues made the prior year,” DeLauro said. “A key part of ending what President Kennedy called the ‘serious and endemic’ problem of unequal wages is having the knowledge that you are being paid less in the first place.”

The congresswoman noted that Ledbetter’s case began when the former Goodyear plant supervisor found out she was being paid less because of an anonymous note, so “in order to detect and combat pay discrimination, employees must be able to share salary information with their coworkers without fear of punishment.”

“I constantly hear from women across the country that unequal pay continues to happen and is hard to uncover,” she said. “This is not just about women; it is about ensuring families, who are more reliant on women’s wages than ever, are not being shortchanged. Collecting data is a necessary step if we are to identify and end patterns of pay disparity. I am pleased the Labor Department will be taking steps to finally deal with this scourge head-on. And I could not applaud more strongly the President’s Executive Order banning retaliation among federal contractors. Now Congress needs to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so we can ensure women succeed and America succeeds.”

The 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act overturned the 180-day statute of limitations for women to contest pay discrimination. It was the first bill Obama signed and Ledbetter worked for him on the 2012 campaign trail.

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