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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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U.N. Official: Holder Needs to Start Arresting CIA Officers, Government Officials Named in Report

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The United Nations special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights called for the prosecution of CIA officers and other government officials after the release of a report detailing enhanced interrogation techniques used against a handful of terror suspects.

Ben Emmerson, a British barrister with experience on the tribunals for the Rwanda and Khmer Rouge genocides, said in a statement that he welcomed the “belated publication” of the report, issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee days before Democrats hand over the gavels of committee chairmanships over to Republicans.

“It has taken four years since the report was finalised to reach this point. The Administration is to be commended for resisting domestic pressure to suppress these important findings,” Emmerson said, noting that in 2013 he called for the report to made public in full “without excessive and unnecessary redactions.”

“The summary of the Feinstein report which was released this afternoon confirms what the international community has long believed – that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law,” he said.

“The identities of the perpetrators, and many other details, have been redacted in the published summary report but are known to the Select Committee and to those who provided the Committee with information on the program.”

Emmerson said “it is now time to take action.”

“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” he said. “The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

He added that the CIA officers involved in the interrogations who “physically committed acts of torture therefore bear individual criminal responsibility for their conduct, and cannot hide behind the authorisation they were given by their superiors.”

“However, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorisation of these crimes. Former Bush Administration officials who have admitted their involvement in the program should also face criminal prosecution for their acts.”

Emmerson said the first step needs to be Eric Holder making some arrests.

“President Obama made it clear more than five years ago that the US Government recognizes the use of waterboarding as torture. There is therefore no excuse for shielding the perpetrators from justice any longer. The US Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible,” the rapporteur continued.

“Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction. The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to. However, the primary responsibility for bringing them to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.”

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Blitzer to Feinstein: ‘I Assume You Would Feel Guilty’ if Americans are Killed Because of CIA Report

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) defended the release of the CIA enhanced interrogation report in a testy exchange with CNN today, arguing that ISIS “may seize” upon the report, “they may not.”

Feinstein pushed for the release of the report in the waning days of her chairmanship before handing over the gavel to Republicans in the 114th Congress.

“Look, there is no perfect time to release this report,” she said when asked about the potential risk to American lives because of its publication, as the White House warned Monday. “This began 12 years ago. We have worked for five-and-a-half years to document records as to what happened.”

Feinstein accused host Wolf Blitzer of doing “a good job, certainly, of hyping the warnings.”

“Is it possible that something would happen?” she said. “Yes. But it’s possible that something happens even without this. There have been beheadings. There have been attacks without this report coming out. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t clean our house. It doesn’t mean that an Intelligence Committee that has worked for five-and-a-half years to put together a cogent report that we believe will stand the test of time shouldn’t release it.”

“The world is an unstable place. You know as well as I do, ISIL is pure evil. They may seize upon it, they may not. But they are going to continue to behead. They are going to continue to destroy. They are going to continue to kill innocent people until they are stopped. And I deeply believe that.”

The report, the senator said, is “what America is all about. We admit our mistakes. We commit ourselves to never let these mistakes happen again. And that’s what this is all about.”

“But if Americans are killed as a result of this report and they tell you that, I assume you would feel guilty about that,” Blitzer replied.

“I would feel very badly, of course. I mean what do you think, Wolf Blitzer?” Feinstein shot back.

“But we lose control. At the end of this year, the Republicans take control. And there’s some evidence that this report would never see the light of day,” she continued. “We believe it should see the light of day. And let me say this. This is a 400-plus-page summary. It is not the 4,600 page documentary of all of the detail of what happened. That can be declassified and released one day at an appropriate time.”

“But in the meantime, to get out what the executive summary said, that these EITs did not work, that the program was not well administered, that it was not well managed, I think, is extraordinarily important. That, yes, there were black sites where people who were not qualified to do the interrogation did interrogation.”

She then dug into what “CNN is doing this these days.”

“You are really hyping it to a point — obviously, they’re going to take 96 hours before the report came out to secure all our facilities,” she said of the extra security ordered for U.S. installations worldwide.

Blitzer noted that they’re simply reporting on what the FBI, DHS and Pentagon have been telling U.S. personnel around the globe.

“Do you have a question?” Feinstein retorted.

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Kerry: Torture Report ‘Marks a Coda to a Chapter in Our History’

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry, who reportedly expressed concern to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about the timing of the release of a report on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, said it “marks a coda to a chapter in our history.”

“Release of this report affirms again that one of America’s strengths is our democratic system’s ability to recognize and wrestle with our own history, acknowledge mistakes, and correct course,” Kerry said in a statement, lauding President Obama, who “turned the page on these policies when he took office and during week one banned the use of torture and closed the detention and interrogation program.”

“It was right to end these practices for a simple but powerful reason: they were at odds with our values,” he said. “They are not who we are, and they’re not who or what we had to become, because the most powerful country on earth doesn’t have to choose between protecting our security and promoting our values.”

Kerry said the report “sheds light on this period that’s more than five years behind us, so we can discuss and debate our history – and then look again to the future.”

“As that debate is joined, I want to underscore that while it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant to reexamine this period, it’s important that this period not define the intelligence community in anyone’s minds,” he continued. “Every single day, the State Department and our diplomats and their families are safer because of the men and women of the CIA and the Intelligence Community. They sign up to serve their country the same way our diplomats and our military do. They risk their lives to keep us safe and strengthen America’s foreign policy and national security. The awful facts of this report do not represent who they are, period. That context is also important to how we understand history.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed yesterday that Secretary of State John Kerry called Feinstein to discuss “the implications of the timing” of the release. The White House warned that U.S. interests could be at risk after the report’s release.

“He’s the secretary of State, and oftentimes, he makes proposals, and certainly he worked with Dianne – Senator Feinstein for decades,” Psaki said. “I’m not going to get into more specifics other than to convey that it was known he was going to make the call; it was a call to discuss, as I described, implications as the Secretary of State on our foreign policy priorities.”

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GOP Leaders: CIA Report an ‘Ideologically Motivated and Distorted Recounting of Historical Events’

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Republican leaders slammed a new report on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques in the War on Terror as slanted and “simply wrong.”

The lengthy declassified executive summary was released today, days before Democrats turn over control of Senate and committee chairmanships to the GOP.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who defended the release of the study on the Senate floor today, said the CIA redacted 7 percent of the original report.

“The CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were not an effective weapon to gather information,” Feinstein said, noting that the CIA’s program was “far more brutal than people were led to believe” with “poorly trained” interrogators who had histories of “personal problems” including violent tendencies.

The report found that the CIA “actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight” on the programs, and “impeded effective White House oversight” as well.

It also alleges that the CIA’s interrogations “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions” while “numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections” were ignored.

It asserts that the programs “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

“As we have both stated before, we are opposed to this study and believe it will present serious consequences for U.S. national security,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement. “Regardless of what one’s opinions may be on these issues, the study by Senate Democrats is an ideologically motivated and distorted recounting of historical events.”

“The fact that the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program developed significant intelligence that helped us identify and capture important al-Qa’ida terrorists, disrupt their ongoing plotting, and take down Usama Bin Ladin is incontrovertible,” McConnell and Chambliss added. “Claims included in this report that assert the contrary are simply wrong.”

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the report “is troubling for a variety of reasons, most of which are not found in its pages.”

“Enhanced interrogation techniques employed by members of our intelligence community saved American lives, and Senate Democrats should thank these brave men and women who worked to protect us – not vilify them,” Cornyn said.

“I cannot think of a greater disservice to our men and women serving in the military and in our intelligence field than to hand terror groups like ISIL another recruiting tool and excuse to target them. Due to the political calculations of some, the American people and our allies across the globe are less safe today than they were before.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who is retiring at the end of the 113th Congress, said it was “wholly appropriate” to conduct the review but the public release could serve to “only inflame our enemies, risk the lives of those who continue to sacrifice on our behalf, and undermine the very organization we continuously ask to do the hardest jobs in the toughest places.”

The White House said yesterday that there are “some indications” that the report’s release could lead to “greater risk” for U.S. installations and Americans abroad.

President Obama issued a statement on the report noting that “in the years after 9/11, with legitimate fears of further attacks and with the responsibility to prevent more catastrophic loss of life, the previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country.”

“As I have said before, our nation did many things right in those difficult years. At the same time, some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values. That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad,” Obama said.

“…No nation is perfect.  But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.  Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong—in the past.”

CIA Director John Brennan acknowledged “that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.”

“Yet, despite common ground with some of the findings of the Committee’s Study, we part ways with the Committee on some key points,” Brennan said in a statement. “Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives. The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa’ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”

“…The record does not support the Study’s inference that the Agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program. Moreover, the process undertaken by the Committee when investigating the program provided an incomplete and selective picture of what occurred. As noted in the Minority views and in a number of additional views of Members, no interviews were conducted of any CIA officers involved in the program, which would have provided Members with valuable context and perspective surrounding these events.”

More: 

Kerry: Torture Report ‘Marks a Coda to a Chapter in Our History’

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Senator: ‘Only Congress Can Dissolve Mistrust’ by Passing Racial Profiling Legislation

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) took to the floor of the upper chamber to press for congressional action to forbid law enforcement on the city, county, state and federal levels from engaging in racial profiling.

“I’m a strong supporter of our independent Judicial Branch and the grand jury system, but I understand the frustration felt by so many Americans,” Cardin said. “After the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, which were heaped on top of incidents in Florida, California, and elsewhere around the country, it’s no wonder that people – especially people of color – are losing confidence that we have a system where all of our citizens are treated equally under the law.”

The initial suspicion for many is that individuals were stopped solely because of the color of their skin, not because they were observed in criminal activities. That’s discriminatory profiling, and it’s just plain wrong,” he said. “Discriminatory profiling is un-American and not what we believe in. It is a waste of precious resources and it turns communities against law enforcement.”

Cardin said Attorney General Eric Holder’s updated guidance for law enforcement is welcome. That was revised to prohibit profiling based on new categories such as national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, and sexual orientation.

“I was pleased to see that this guidance mandates new data collection, which will make it easier to track profiling complaints,” the senator continued. “I am wholly disappointed that this updated guidance does not extend to state and local law enforcement, nor does it fully cover the Transportation Security Administration  and Customs and Border Protection, all of which should be covered.”

He stressed that Holder “could have gone further, and should have gone further, but his actions only make it clearer that Congress must act to make permanent a ban on discriminatory profiling and hold police accountable for engaging in discriminatory profiling, by passing the End Racial Profiling Act (S. 1038).”

Cardin introduced that bill in May 2013. It would require any agency receiving federal funding to maintain anti-profiling policies and procedures deemed acceptable by the federal government.

A companion bill was introduced in the House by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

“Only Congress can close these harmful loopholes for good and dissolve some of the mistrust of law enforcement in our minority communities,” the senator said. “DOJ has moved in the right direction but this new guidance is truly a missed opportunity.”

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Senate Passes Sanctions Against Venezuela

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama should soon receive a bill to levy to sanctions against the Maduro regime in Venezuela for rampant human rights abuses.

The Senate passed Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) bill by voice vote yesterday.

It would block the assets and travel of anyone who “has perpetrated, or is responsible for ordering or otherwise directing, significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela against persons associated with the antigovernment protests in Venezuela that began on February 4, 2014″ or “has ordered or otherwise directed the arrest or prosecution of a person in Venezuela primarily because of the person’s legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly.”

It would also sanction anyone who assists human-rights abusers in Venezuela.

The House passed a sanctions bill, authored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), by unanimous consent in May. Ros-Lehtinen said she hopes the lower chamber takes up the Senate bill “immediately so that with President Obama’s signature, Venezuela’s oppressors will be denied visas to enter the United States and their properties along with their assets will be frozen.”

“We in the United States have an obligation to shine a bright spotlight on Venezuela’s abuses and must object to the severe human rights violations committed by the Maduro government and his paramilitary thugs,” Menendez said.

“Targeted sanctions to include asset-freezes and additional visa bans against the individuals involved in this violence are a necessary and long overdue response. We must always stand against human rights violations, political persecution and recrimination anywhere in the world, and certainly in our hemisphere,” he said. “The Venezuelan people deserve a brighter future, not the dismal nightmare they’re enduring at the hands of President Maduro. Our fight to deliver hope and renewed opportunity to Venezuela has only begun.”

The White House hasn’t given any recent indication of which way Obama might go with his pen. In fact, the administration has barely brought up the socialist regime in recent months.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of the Senat bill, called it “a long overdue but important step to demonstrate America’s commitment to the human rights and democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people in both words and actions.”

“These sanctions will go after Maduro regime officials and thugs who have spent all of 2014 authorizing and carrying out assassinations, beatings, unjustified incarcerations, kangaroo court trials and absurd indictments of its political opponents and innocent Venezuelans demanding a better future,” Rubio said.

“I congratulate my House colleagues, particularly Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, for their work in passing Venezuela sanctions legislation earlier this year. Before this Congress adjourns, I am hopeful that, for all the challenges the Venezuelan people have faced this year, we can at least end it on a positive note by turning these sanctions into a law signed by the President and implemented by the administration.”

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UAE: Attacks on Americans by Woman in Niqab a ‘Personal Terrorist Act’

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Two Americans have come under attack in the usually-safe United Arab Emirates, though officials there claim the woman in the niqab suspected in both crimes is not linked to any terror organizations.

Whereas the phrase “lone wolf attack” is popular with U.S. authorities, the UAE is calling the recent crimes in their country “a personal terrorist act.”

Kindergarten teacher Ibolya Ryan, 47, was stabbed to death by a veiled woman in the bathroom of a posh mall in Abu Dhabi last week. She leaves behind three kids.

The same woman is accused of planting a nail bomb outside a 55-year-old Egyptian-American doctor’s home, according to The National. Abu Dhabi officials defused the bomb and sent the man and his family to a hotel under guard.

The bomb was located by his 13-year-old son, who luckily didn’t touch it and notified his dad.

The suspect in custody, caught through the use of surveillance video despite her attempts to cloak her identity, is an Emirati national in her 30s, reportedly of Yemeni descent.

“The investigations show that the accused has recently logged into some terrorist websites through which she acquired the terrorism ideology and learnt how to manufacture explosives. After scrutiny, the seized materials used in manufacturing were shown to be primitive,” a source told The National. “She selected her victims randomly.”

Crime is low in the UAE. The government has a low tolerance for extremist activities, recently including CAIR and European Muslim organizations on its terror list.

The U.S. Embassy sent out a message to citizens at the end of October warning that an anonymous posting on a jihadist website had encouraged attacks on American teachers and international schools in the Middle East.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters last week that she didn’t want to “jump to conclusions.”

A new message to citizens was sent out Friday.

“The authorities stated their commitment to bring the perpetrator to justice and to uphold the reputation of the UAE as a country of security and safety. The U.S. Embassy is engaged at the senior-most levels of the UAE Government to ensure the safety and security of U.S. citizens in the UAE,” the Embassy message says.

“Building on our security message of December 3, we use this opportunity to remind U.S. citizens to keep their security and situational awareness levels high. We suggest that all U.S. citizens be vigilant of their surroundings and events unfolding around them. Vary your routines and schedules.”

The National, the English-language newspaper owned by the UAE government, has given extensive coverage to the attacks and even started an online condolence book for Ryan.

The paper ran an article this morning on renewed debate over whether the niqab should be worn in public:

A handful of members from the Federal National Council said the incident was not enough to call for a nationwide ban of the niqab, and all said that wearing it was a personal choice.

Ahmed Al Mansouri, a Dubai FNC member and political analyst and founder of the Crossroads of Civilisations Museum, said that even though the niqab was a cultural garment and held no religious significance in his opinion, wearing it was a personal choice that could not be denied.

“In Abu Dhabi, the face veil is associated with culture, not religion,” he said. “Some don’t want to admit it, but it is cultural.”

…Almost half of the FNC’s female members, however, suggested taking precautionary measures to avoid a re-occurrence of that type of incident.

Dr Mona Al Bahar, also a Dubai member and a sociologist, said the UAE should not suffer from one person’s wrongdoing. She said that the public should not ponder on how the niqab was abused, but how such a crime could happen and the shock that it was perpetrated by a UAE national.

“Yes it tainted the image of the niqab,” she said. “There can be measurements to ensure it doesn’t happen again,”

She suggested a possible check at mall entrances of veiled women to prove their identity.

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Earnest: ‘Some Indications’ CIA Interrogation Report Will Spark ‘Greater Risk’ to Americans Abroad

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House says it’s warned U.S. installations around the world to brace for potential violent reaction to a report on enhanced interrogation techniques to be released tomorrow by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The chairwoman of the committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has planned to release the panel report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program for some time, complaining in August that the CIA had made too many redactions in the declassified copy.

“Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public,” she said Aug. 5.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that they, too, have been preparing for the report, while stressing the timing of the release has always been up to the Intel committee.

Feinstein hands over the gavel of the committee when the lawmakers leave for the holiday recess as Republicans take over chairmanships in the 114th Congress.

“There are some indications that this — that the release of the report could lead to a greater risk that is posed to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world,” Earnest said. “So, the administration has taken the prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place at U.S. facilities around the globe.”

Still, Earnest said President Obama “strongly supports” the release of the report.

“The president, on his first or second day in office, issued — took the steps using executive action to put an end to the tactics that are described in the report,” he said. ”And the president believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired.”

“There are obviously gonna be some limits about what can be said, given the classified nature of the program. But because of the scrupulous work of the committee and the administration and the intelligence community in particular, we’ve declassified as much of that report as we can. And we want to be sure that we can release that report, be transparent about it, and be clear about what American values are and be clear about the fact that the administration believes, and that in a way that’s consistent with American values, that something like this should never happen again.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the committee who’s been pushing for the release of the report, said the contents won’t change the hatred of those around the world “already angry at the United States because torture was used in the past.”

“The report compares very carefully what the CIA told the Congress and the American people about interrogation. And the report compares that to these internal memoranda that came from CIA officials. And the fact is, there’s a big gap between the two,” Wyden told MSNBC.

The senator stressed that the report is “meticulous,” with 38,000 footnotes.

Wyden noted how CIA Director John Brennan has said he had no interest in revisiting the matter while he was “very interested in secretly examining Senate files.”

“So again and again, the American people have not gotten the straight story. Now with a meticulously documented report, they’re going to make up their own mind,” he added.

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed today that Secretary of State John Kerry called Feinstein to discuss “the implications of the timing” of the release.

“He’s the secretary of State, and oftentimes, he makes proposals, and certainly he worked with Dianne – Senator Feinstein for decades,” Psaki said. “I’m not going to get into more specifics other than to convey that it was known he was going to make the call; it was a call to discuss, as I described, implications as the Secretary of State on our foreign policy priorities.”

Yet she veered back to the administration line, stressing Kerry
supports the release” and “believes it’s up to Senator Feinstein to determine the timing.”

“But certainly, one of the benefits of having been in the Senate for 29 years is the ability to call a former colleague and convey, ‘Look, this is what I’m seeing and hearing around the world,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”

Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a joint statement slamming the “one-sided report” that cost more than $40 million yet didn’t interview one CIA official.

“It is unconscionable that the Committee and the White House would support releasing this report despite warnings from our allies, the U.S. State Department, and a new coordinated Intelligence Community document assessing the increased risk to the United States the release of this report poses. We are concerned that this release could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies,” the senators said.

“Simply put, this release is reckless and irresponsible. We have written to the administration reminding them of these concerns.”

Both the House and Senate intelligence panels have usually enjoyed a good deal of bipartisanship, but Risch and Rubio called the report “a partisan effort that divided members of the committee, and the committee against the people of the CIA.”

“We voted against this report because it is flawed, and voted against declassifying this report because we believed that its release could put American lives at risk, be used to contribute to propaganda against the United States by our enemies, and damage U.S. foreign policy and counterterrorism efforts.”

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Kerry to Kennedy Center Crowd in Lengthy Speech: My Most Important Skill is Listening

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

In a nearly 2,000-word speech at the Kennedy Center Honors last night, Secretary of State John Kerry stressed that the most important thing about his job is listening to others.

Attendees at the gala ranged from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Steven Spielberg and Whoopi Goldberg.

President Obama and Kerry were also among those honoring Al Green, Tom Hanks, ballerina Patricia McBride, Sting and Lily Tomlin.

“The bad news is that for almost 30 years I was a senator, and some people are born to dance, some people are born to sing, but let me tell you, senators are born to talk,” Kerry told the audience.  ”…But today, I find myself in a job where nothing is more important than listening. It’s a job with incredible highs and devastating lows.”

Kerry said one of “the lowest of those lows” was learning “an idealistic young photojournalist named Luke Somers” was killed by terrorists in Yemen during a failed rescue attempt. “It was a sickening contrast — a young man who carried a camera to bring light to the world was struck down by those who know only darkness,” he said.

“We can’t defend those freedoms effectively unless we act but also unless we listen. And I can tell you that in the past two years I have packed a lifetime of listening into a very short period of time. In the process, I have heard and seen how the United States is perceived around the world,” he continued. “And through it all, I have found that some people have problems with our policies, some resent our prosperity, and even a few have doubts about how well our political system is functioning.”

Kerry lauded American culture as “a glorious blend of everything from Albanian to Zimbabwean, and every letter in between is filled.”

“And when all of our traditions come together, they create a kind of universal language that is a very significant asset for the American brand,” he said.

He then tried to connect his diplomatic prowess to the celebration at hand.

“People make connections in lots of ways, and sometimes that connection is quicker to take hold through music, dance, theater, film more so than the words of a diplomat, even a charismatic and handsome diplomat,” Kerry said. “Call it what you will, whether it was Nixon’s Ping-Pong diplomacy or today’s cultural diplomacy, all I can tell you is the connection of this endeavor of the arts connects — it touches, really, something deep in every human spirit. And whether it’s the pianists or dobro players, Zydeco bands, jazz singers, filmmakers, dance companies, and artists that we send to every single corner of the globe, this is about citizen diplomats who go to remote and troubled communities and open doors for conversations with the young, with the poor, and the too-often overlooked.”

“There’s no coincidence that among those who ignited revolution in Central Europe a generation ago was a playwright, Vaclav Havel; and that among those who sparked the democratic uprising in Tunisia, almost four years ago, was a rapper who grew up idolizing America’s hip-hop pioneers. In Beijing, the blogger and multidimensional artist Ai Weiwei is a voice of conscience. And yes, in Russia, a certain all-female rock band has gotten under the skin of you-know-who,” he said in a reference to punk band Pussy Riot.

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Family of Man Shot by NYPD Officer Firing Blindly Says Sharpton Tried to Hijack Funeral

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island have driven nationwide protests, along with the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice as the boy played with a toy gun in a park.

The video of the Rice shooting in Ohio shows cops driving up next to the boy. Officer Timothy Loehmann, who was dismissed from his previous department for concerns including being “weepy” on the gun range, pops out of the vehicle and immediately shoots the kid.

But there hasn’t been as much attention from politicians and pundits on the case of Akai Gurley, who lived in the projects in Brooklyn and was killed by an NYPD rookie the day before he planned to drive to Florida to surprise his mother on Thanksgiving.

Officer Peter Liang and his partner, both new to the force, were patrolling a dark stairwell at the Pink Houses project — not on a specific report of a crime, but because of a recent spate of criminal activity at the projects. Gurley and his girlfriend were on the seventh floor and tired of waiting for the elevator, so headed for the stairwell. When they opened the door, the officers were coming down from the eighth floor. Liang reportedly got spooked and fired into Gurley’s chest from a distance of about 10 feet. The officer told his superiors it was an accidental discharge.

His girlfriend, Melissa Butler, began running down the stairs and Gurley tried to follow, collapsing on the fifth floor landing. He was unarmed.

Butler ran to a neighbor to call 911, then began trying to perform CPR on Gurley. But Liang didn’t call in the shooting until five minutes after the 911 call. The New York Daily News reported that Liang, who may have been told to avoid vertical patrols of the dark stairwells in the first place, was texting his union rep before aiding the wounded man.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged “the deceased was not engaged in any activity other than trying to walk down the stairwell.” The case is now going to the grand jury, WCBS reported Friday.

Gurley was laid to rest this weekend, sparking more protests. But his family told Al Sharpton, who decided he was going to give the eulogy at the 28-year-old’s funeral, to back off when he tried to run the show.

From the New York Post:

Gurley’s relatives told Sharpton to stay away rather than turn the somber ceremonies into a spectacle.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Gurley’s aunt, Hertencia Petersen, told The Post. “He just wants to take credit for this when he’s never even contacted my sister [Gurley’s mother].

“Who made you the spokesperson of our family? We just want to bury our nephew with dignity and respect.”

Petersen was stunned that Sharpton and his National Action Network billed him as the eulogist for a Friday funeral, when they were planning on a Saturday service and wanted a speaker who actually knew Gurley.

“How can you do a eulogy for someone you don’t even know? It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

By late Friday, Sharpton accepted a rare defeat and backed off, though he blamed it on “confusion and division” within the Gurley family.

The family didn’t get any offers of help, either, to fly Gurley’s mother and stepdad up from Florida for the funeral. Petersen turned to the SEIU, of which she is a member as a healthcare worker, to help raise funds to get relatives to the funeral.

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Garner’s Widow: ‘Murder’ of Husband Not ‘a Black and White Thing’

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Like one of Eric Garner’s daughters stressed to CNN last week, the widow of the 43-year-old man who died after being placed in a chokehold move by an NYPD officer said it’s not an issue of race.

Esaw Garner and her late husband met as kids, and had been together more than two decades before his July death on Staten Island.

The videotape of the encounter and the grand jury’s decision last week to not indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo sparked outrage, as has a new video showing unconcerned officers around Garner as he lay unconscious on the sidewalk.

“I feel that he was murdered unjustly. I feel like — I don’t even feel like it’s a black and white thing, honestly, you know, in my opinion. I really don’t feel like it’s a black and white thing. I feel like it’s just something that he continued to do and the police knew, you know, they knew. It wasn’t like it was a shock. They knew. You know?” Esaw Garner told Meet the Press on Sunday.

Eric Garner is seen at the beginning of the video frustrated, complaining that police are always hassling him. He’d been previously arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.

“They knew him by name. They harassed us. They said things to us. We would go shopping. You know, they — hi, cigarette man. Hey, cigarette man and wife. You know, stuff like that,” Esaw said.

“I would just say, I would just keep walking, don’t say anything, don’t respond, you know, don’t give them a reason to do anything to you. And he just felt like — but they keep harassing me. And I say, just ignore them, Eric. He said, how much can I ignore them? I would say, just stay away from the block. You know? Just find something else to do.”

She acknowledged that he was a heavy guy whose health issues got in the way of his attempt to work at the city’s Parks Department. But, she stressed, “I feel like he was murdered.”

And she hopes that Pantaleo will someday, somehow get his day in court. “It would only be right not only for my husband but for all the other young men and women and my sons. I have two sons, you know, that I have to train now. I have a 15-year-old. I won’t even let him go two blocks away from my house,” Esaw said. “On Halloween night, he wanted to go out trick or treating. And I kept him in the house. I went and bought him all kinds of candy from Duane Reade and told him, please stay in the house. I just don’t want him to go outside because now that everybody knows who he is, you know, that he’s Eric Garner’s son, you know, I fear.

“And now my other son is in college. And he is in Jersey in Newark, and I make him call me — he’s like, mom, I’m 20. Call me like at least in the morning before you go to class, when you get out of school, don’t go to no parties, don’t do this. You know, I’m so afraid of what could happen to them in the street, by the police. I’m afraid of the police.”

She has since left Staten Island.

“I’m not going to say he was a career criminal. But I’m going to say he had a past of being arrested. And he never, not once, ever resisted arrest. He has done a little bit of time,” she said of her late husband. “He accepted his time when the judge handed it to him.”

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Uruguay Gets Six-Pack of Gitmo Detainees in Biggest Transfer Since 2009

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Pentagon announced Sunday that six detainees at Guantanamo Bay had been shipped to Uruguay.

The transfer follows last month’s relocation of detainees to Slovakia, Georgia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Syrians Ahmed Adnan AhjamAli Hussain Shaabaan, and Omar Mahmoud Faraj trained with al-Qaeda in Tora Bora and were captured by the Pakistanis in 2001.

Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Bin Abess Ourgy “possessed information suggesting he had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks as well as other planned suicide attacks, and had reported associations with senior al-Qaida members including Usama Bin Laden,” said a 2007 Defense Department report.

Mohammed Tahanmatan, a Palestinian, was a member of Hamas who went to Afghanistan to train with the Taliban. “During detention, detainee has stated he hates all enemies of Islam, including Americans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims who do not think as he does,” stated his 2008 report.

Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a Syrian with terror ties from Libya to Pakistan, was captured at an al-Qaeda safe house in Lahore in 2002.

“The United States is grateful to the Government of Uruguay for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The United States coordinated with the Government of Uruguay to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

It’s the largest group of inmates to be transferred in one batch from the prison since 2009.

Uruguay is within the region that Iran and Hezbollah have been staking out to increase operations in Latin America.

The population of Gitmo now stands at 136.

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Bush: ‘Sister-in-Law’ Hillary Clinton Would Be Defeated by Jeb

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President George W. Bush opened up to CNN in an interview aired Sunday about his close friendship with his “brother from another mother” President Clinton.

What does that make Hillary Clinton?  ”My sister-in-law,” Bush quipped.

When asked if his brother from the same mother, Jeb, could beat his sister-in-law in 2016, Bush replied, “Yes, and I think he’d beat her.”

He acknowledged that Hillary is a “very” formidable opponent. “No question. So is he, though.”

“Do I think she’ll run? I have no clue. I have no clue. But I know this but like Jeb, she knows what it’s like. And she’s — she’s taking her time. She’s got a new complicating factor in that she’s a grandmother, like you and like me from the grandfather side, she’s going to understand the joys of what it’s like.”

Bush, who once said that he looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and saw his soul, said he thinks the invader of Ukraine has become a “more zero sum type thinker.”

“In other words, I don’t — haven’t talked to him in years but it’s almost as if he says that if the West wins, I lose and if I win the West lose,” he said. “As opposed to, what can we do together to enhance our respective positions.”

The former president said he thinks the current president has a “good goal” for going after ISIS, but “then have you to put plans in place to achieve the goal.”

“And it seems like to me the initial plans are being adjusted. All I hope is that we succeed because ISIS is lethal,” Bush said. “They’re lethal not only for the people in the neighborhoods in which they leave. They’re lethal to our security.”

“Time will tell. It hadn’t been all that long since he stated the goal. So, hopefully what he does works. If it doesn’t work, hopefully he’ll change.”

Bush said his brother Jeb has been silent about his deliberations on whether he’ll run for president.

“He knows I want him to run. If I need to reiterate it, I will. Run, Jeb. I think he’d be a great president.”

Bush, who pushed for a guest-worker program during his time in the White House, said he thinks Jeb’s position on immigration is “a conservative position” that remembers family values “don’t stop at the Rio Grande.”

He weighed in on last week’s decision by a grand jury in New York to not indict an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner.

“I thought, how sad. You know, the verdict was hard to understand but, you know, I haven’t seen all the details. But it’s sad that race continues to play such, you know, kind of an emotional divisive part of life,” Bush said.

“I remember back when I was a kid in the ’70s and there was race riots with cities being burned. And I do think we have improved. I had dinner with Condi the other night and we talked about this subject. And yes, she just said, you just got to understand that there are a lot of, you know, black folks around that are just incredibly more and more distrusting of law enforcement, which is a shame because law enforcement’s job is to protect everybody.”

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Director of Michelle Obama’s Nutrition Policy Leaving White House

Monday, December 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and President Obama’s personal chef from the time he was a senator is leaving the White House.

Sam Kass, an occasional golf partner of Obama’s as well, joined the first family in Hawaii last year during the holiday season. The Obamas attended his wedding in New York state this August.

Kass joined the White House as a chef from the moment the Obamas moved in, and was promoted to senior policy adviser for nutrition policy last year.

The office of the first lady said in a statement this morning that Kass will be leaving at the end of the month to live in New York full-time.

“His departure concludes a tenure of dedicated service not only to the First Family, but also to the Obama Administration as a key player in the development of nutrition policy,” the statement said. “…Kass will remain engaged with the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative and the continuing effort to advance childhood nutrition. His successor will be named in the new year.”

President Obama said Kass left an “indelible mark” on the White House by constructing their organic kitchen garden and “brewing our own Honey Brown Ale.”

“And with the work he has done to inspire families and children across this country to lead healthier lives, Sam has made a real difference for our next generation,” he added. “Over the years, Sam has grown from a close friend to a critical member of my team, and I am grateful for his outstanding work and look forward to seeing all that he will continue to achieve in the years ahead.”

Michelle Obama said Kass moved “from discussions about children’s health around my kitchen table in Chicago to setting the strategic vision of a national campaign in the White House.”

“Sam leaves an extraordinary legacy of progress, including healthier food options in grocery store aisles, more nutritious school lunches, and new efforts that have improved how healthy food is marketed to our kids,” she said.

Over the summer, Kass asked to speak at a conference of the School Nutrition Association but was rebuffed by the group’s leadership in the wake of clashes between the administration and school cafeterias on lunch standards and burdensome regulations.

“We didn’t feel [our members] wanted to hear the rallying call,” the CEO of the group told Politico at the time. “We felt it was best he not come.”

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VIDEO: SNL Goofs on Sharpton for Garner Coverage

Sunday, December 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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“For the first time in my life everyone agrees with me… this must be what it feels like to be Beyonce!” says Kenan Thompson portraying Al Sharpton on Saturday Night Live.

The skit takes shots at Sharpton’s teleprompter goofs — he of “counter-tourism” fame — but also how he interviews guests.

In the skit, “Sharpton” also put his own spin on the famous photo of Sgt. Bret Barnum and 12-year-old Devonte Hart at the Portland protests.

SNL wasn’t done with Ferguson, though, posting a “Cut for Time” segment online about St. Louis news anchors trying to do their peppy morning show after the riots.

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Obama Undergoes CT Scan for Sore Throat

Saturday, December 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama underwent a CT scan today as doctors tried to determine the cause of his chronic sore throat.

“This morning, an ear, nose and throat specialist from Fort Belvoir Medical Center conducted a fiber optic exam, under my supervision, of the president’s throat based on symptoms of sore throat over the past couple weeks,” Dr. Ronny Jackson, physician to the president and director of the White House Medical Unit, said in a statement.

“The exam revealed soft tissue swelling in the posterior throat and I, in consultation with the specialist, determined that further evaluation with a routine CT scan was prudent,” Jackson said. “The CT scan was conducted this afternoon purely as a matter of convenience for the president’s schedule. The CT scan was normal.”

“The president’s symptoms are consistent with soft tissue inflammation related to acid reflux and will be treated accordingly.”

Obama had the tests conducted at Walter Reed. He was there for less than an hour this afternoon before arriving back at the White House.

“The president has been complaining of a sore throat. In light of that and given that the president has free time in his schedule this afternoon, Dr. Jackson, the president’s physician, recommended he go to Walter Reed for some diagnostic tests,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. “According to Dr. Jackson, the quickly scheduled test is a matter of convenience for the president, not a matter of urgency.”

Obama spent part of last weekend golfing at Andrews Air Force Base, but it has been raining today in Washington.

The president’s week kicks off Monday with a visit from Prince William; on Tuesday, he’ll tape an interview with Stephen Colbert at George Washington University.

On Wednesday, Obama will pitch his executive actions on immigration in a Nashville speech.

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Rangel: ‘This Great Country of Ours Has a Cancer Called Racism’

Friday, December 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said “there’s no way in the world to deal with” the police brutality cases being protested around the country unless, “as awkward as it is,” we say “that this great country of ours has a cancer called racism.”

“The police are only symbolic of attitudes that people have. They’re not born with it,” the 84-year-old, 22-term congressman said this morning on CNN. ”They learn how to do it, and they treat people differently because of their color.”

“You know, when people start to think, it hasn’t been that long ago we were picking cotton without any names of our own, without any culture, and 60 years ago there was a question as to whether or not we had civil rights, whether we had voting. I say that because we’ve come a good distance from where we were when we were brought into this country.”

Rangel said the country needs to admit there’s still work to be done on racial equality.

“You know, when I marched with Dr. King, I never believed I would hear Lyndon Johnson saying what he did. I never thought this — I was out there politically more than believing in my heart that we were going to turn this country around,” he said. “But when the dogs came out, when the kids got bombed at church, when white folks said, ‘oh my God, that could be me,’ things changed, and things are changing now.”

He added that “we screw it up,” noting that “when God gives birth to these little kids, they haven’t the slightest clue as to who to hate and who to dislike.”

Rangel said being educated on what people go through isn’t limited to the African-American experience, stressing his conversations with an Irish friend who told him what Irish immigrants endured and the experience of the Italians who are “still are suffering with the Sopranos and whatnot, and they are treated really mean by people… even today.”

“If you can put your feet, or kids’ feet, into shoes that we have to walk because we are the kids of former slaves, I think as Americans you would say thank God I’m born in America, thank God it’s time that we can change, and thank God we can get rid of this cancer we have,” he said.

Rangel added that eradicating racism is also a matter of national security. “We have so many damn enemies, we cannot afford to be fighting among ourselves because of color and background,” he said.

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Lott to ‘Renegade’ Conservatives in Senate: Mind Your Majority Leader

Friday, December 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said that young upstarts in the upper chamber need to listen to their leadership more.

Lott told Bloomberg TV on Thursday that he wants ”to be careful trying to give the new majority leader Mitch McConnell advice because he’s an experienced hand.”

“He knows what he’s doing. He’s been saying and doing the right things.”

Lott advised McConnell to “co-opt” new senators by bringing them in, meeting and talking with them.

“Try to make sure that they don’t go off advocating some process or some position that is just procedurally not going to happen or politically dynamite without any real good results,” he said. “So I think Senator McConnell has been working for this opportunity for many, many years. I saw him today and he feels good about not only the challenges but the opportunities that he’ll have.”

“But I do get agitated when we have some new people come to Washington and they start trying to dictate what the leadership should do or how they should proceed. I’m not saying they shouldn’t speak up, but when you’ve got a leadership team that you elect, you should listen to them a little bit. We got a lot of potential leaders in Washington. What we need more of is a few more followers that will help actually produce a result.”

Lott said he’s talking about the “hell-no caucus” who are “willing to shut down the government, and that’s just not good sense, I think.”

“I’m a conservative just like they are, but I think that if your only answer is no or let’s don’t do anything, that’s not conservative or liberal. We got a lot of things in this country that need to be dealt with, whether it’s immigration reform or tax policy or energy policy,” he continued.

“And just saying no’s not good enough. We got – we need some action. American people are fed up with gridlock and they want to see the Congress do some things that are important to the people. And if you’ve got sort of a renegade group that’s saying no, we’re not going to do that, we’re not going to do that – look, you have leaders. You have a good leader in Mitch McConnell. You ought to listen to him and be prepared to follow him to get something done for the country.”

Lott was specifically asked if Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Dr. Ben Carson are qualified to be president.

“I admire Dr. Ben Carson very much. I don’t suspect that he will be the nominee,” he replied. “I think we’ve got some really possibly outstanding candidates that are governors or former governors. I lean more toward somebody that’s been in elected office, that’s been in a management-type position like governors.”

“Not to say that – I was a senator – that maybe senators shouldn’t be considered. But generally speaking, particularly right now, I think we need an experienced hand that’s actually run something like a state, a big state. And we’ve got some good candidates out there that we should take a look at.”

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Obama Nominates Carter to Lead Pentagon; Hagel Skips Ceremony

Friday, December 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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President Obama nominated former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel at the helm of the Pentagon, an announcement not attended by Hagel.

Carter handed in his resignation in October 2013 after Hagel was picked for Defense secretary. He’d been a highly knowledgeable and powerful force inside the Defense Department, serving as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from April 2009 until October 2011, when he assumed the DSD role.

He’s a noncontroversial pick who should receive quick confirmation from the Senate. Hagel had promised to stay on at the Pentagon until his successor was confirmed.

A Defense official told the White House pool that Hagel would not attend the ceremony because he “believes strongly that this day belongs to Ash Carter and his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense.”

“As Secretary Hagel knows better than most, today is a day that is to celebrate Ash, his family, and all that he will accomplish,” the official added. “The Secretary is proud of Ash and of their friendship and does not want in any way to detract from or distract the proper focus of the day.”

Obama began the announcement with a self-back-pat for the new job numbers out today. The unemployment rate was steady at 5.8 percent with 321,000 non-farm jobs added.

He lauded Carter as someone who combines “strategic perspective and technical know-how” and who is a fan of Motown.

“We’re going to have to squeeze everything we can out of the resources we have,” Obama said of the Pentagon mission going forward.

Hagel released a statement stressing he “strongly supported” Carter’s nomination.

“Over a distinguished career of public service, Ash has served eleven secretaries of defense. He has held the number two and number three jobs at the Pentagon – and, for both, was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate. He is a renowned strategist, scientist, and scholar with expertise spanning from international security and counterterrorism to science, technology, and innovation. And I know that Ash and Stephanie are committed to America’s men and women in uniform, and their families,” Hagel said.

“In my first year as secretary, when Ash was my deputy, I had the opportunity to work with him on some of our nation’s toughest national security challenges. I relied on him to lead some of the Defense Department’s most important initiatives,” he continued.

“If confirmed as secretary of defense, Ash Carter would make important contributions to our nation’s security and armed forces. I urge the United States Senate to confirm Ash without delay, and, until then, I look forward to continuing my service as secretary and ensuring a smooth transition.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reacted positively to Carter’s selection, noting his wealth of experience.

“However, it does not matter how qualified a nominee is for Secretary of Defense if the White House will not engage them in decision making,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. “The new Secretary must be empowered to develop a cohesive long-term plan to combat threats such as ISIS. America cannot continue to lead from behind on issues of national security at home and abroad, and this administration needs to let experts, not politics, drive our policies.”

“I expect he will face tough questions at his confirmation hearing about President Obama’s failing national security policy, but I expect he will be confirmed,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

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McKeon Farewell: ‘Shame on All of Us’ If We Cannot Take Care of Our Troops

Friday, December 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The retiring chairman of the House Armed Services Committee delivered a scathing rebuke of administration defense policy in his farewell speech on the floor yesterday, arguing that the troops’ sacrifice is repaid with failing equipment and pay cuts.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), whose 22 years in Congress have included famous tangles with the White House over weak policy, bid goodbye to colleagues as the defense reauthorization bill passed 300-119.

McKeon said he hopes a bill can come to the floor next year that ends defense sequestration. ”When that solution comes, it will be a tough vote on both sides,” he said. “For some of my colleagues, it might be a fatal vote. I pray that you will hold this thought in your hearts when that vote comes: Remember the great sacrifice our troops are making around the world.”

“Right now, they are walking patrol in the mountains of Afghanistan. They are at sea within missile range of Iran. They are flying wingtip-to-wingtip against Russia bombers over the North Sea. They are nose to nose with the North Koreans. They are sweating in the equatorial heat of Africa, fighting a horrible disease. They are standing on the sand of Iraq, risking everything against a brutal enemy. They take those risks, they make those sacrifices, because of you. They do it for you. They do it for us. For their families, for their flag. For our freedom,” McKeon continued.

“And how we have repaid them? With equipment that is falling apart. By laying them off while they’re off in war zones. By docking their pay and their medical benefits. By throwing them out of the service and onto a broken economy.”

The congressman quoted Lord Byron: “They never fail, who die in a great cause.”

“I’ve met our forces on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, dirty and sweaty from fighting. I’ve watched too many families spend long months waiting for the deployed to come home. I’ve seen too many heroes put into the ground. They never failed us. Not once,” he said. “So shame on us, if we’re unwilling to pay back the debt we owe them. Shame on all of us, from the White House down, if we cannot make far less a sacrifice on their behalf.”

McKeon said it will fall on the 114th Congress and President Obama “to make these injustices right.”

“So please, show our troops the respect they deserve. Give them the tools they need. Help keep them safe. Honor their service, with your service. I know you will do the right thing.”

Befitting a McKeon, he left the chamber with an old Irish blessing.

“May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand,” the chairman said. “To this great body, and to our troops – wherever you may be — may God bless you and keep you, and may God bless America.”

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FBI Adds Accused Honor Killer to Top 10 List While Skirting Issue of Honor Killings

Friday, December 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The FBI added to its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list an Egyptian sought for the honor killing of his daughters in Texas in 2008.

Yaser Abdel Said, 57, was a cab driver from Lewisville, Texas. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to his arrest.

The bulletin says the feds suspect Said could have gone back to Egypt or is hiding in Egyptian communities within the U.S.

On January 1, 2008, Said persuaded his estranged daughters Amina, 18, and Sarah, 17, to visit him on the premise he was going to take them to get some food. “Instead, he allegedly drove them in his taxi cab to a remote location and used a handgun to murder them,” the FBI said. “One of the girls was able to make a 911 call and was heard screaming for help, saying she and her sister were being shot by their father. Their bodies were discovered several hours later in the cab, which was abandoned outside a hotel in Irving, Texas.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, Irving police “said they explored all possible motives for the murders” and cited “previous domestic problems” in the family.

Relatives have said that Said physically abused the teens and threatened to kill them after discovering they had boyfriends. “A documentary film about the murders said Said shared a belief held in some parts of the world that women in a family are the property of men,” said the DMN report.

The documentary released this year, The Price of Honor, argues that Said did not flee to Egypt. It also revealed, through Amina’s own communications, her plan to protect her boyfriend from her dad and her prediction that her father would eventually kill her.

The film also argued that U.S. law enforcement mismanaged the case and needs to “raise the bar” on how honor killings are confronted.

The FBI bulletin on Said’s addition to the Top 10 list, also released in Arabic, doesn’t mention honor killing at all.

“Yaser Abdel Said is wanted for his alleged role in committing a terrible act of violence against his own daughters,” said Diego Rodriguez, special agent in charge of our Dallas Field Office. “Adding him to the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list shows our commitment to seek justice for Amina and Sarah.”

“We believe that the combination of publicity, the significant reward, and the team of experienced investigators working the case from the Dallas Violent Crimes Task Force and the Irving Police Department will result in Said’s arrest,” he said.

“In addition to Egypt and Canada, investigators believe Said has ties to the Dallas-Fort Worth region and the New York City area,” the bulletin states. “He frequents diners—including Denny’s and IHOP restaurants—smokes Marlboro Lights 100s cigarettes, and loves dogs, especially tan- and black-colored German Shepherds. He may be working as a taxi driver.”

Special Agent Gil Balli, a task force supervisor who is leading the investigation, said because of the “cold-blooded” nature of the slayings the FBI need “to catch this individual and prevent him from harming anyone else.”

Said becomes the 504th person added to the Ten Most Wanted list since its inception in 1950.

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Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Hands in Resignation

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Defense Department is losing its undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness not six months after she was confirmed by the Senate.

Jessica Wright, who retired as a major general in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, had done the duties of her job as acting undersecretary since Jan. 1, 2013, and was confirmed June 25, 2014. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was nominated on Jan. 7, 2013, and his pending resignation was announced Nov. 24.

The Pentagon said this evening that Wright submitted her letter of resignation to President Obama and Hagel.

“She has decided to step down from her position effective March 31, 2015, in order to spend time with her family and enjoy her retirement,” the statement said.

“I want to thank our Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, Jes Wright,” Hagel said in a statement. “Thank you Jes for your service to this country, and the many, many long and distinguished years that you have given to our nation.”

Hagel’s clashes with Obama that led to his involuntary resignation included ISIS strategy and concerns that the administration’s defense cuts were hurting readiness.

In March, Wright told a House Armed Services subcommittee that “we believe that the quality of life of our military personnel is — is — is good.”

“At this point in time quality of life is good but quality of service, we believe, for our military member is lower. And so we would like to balance that for our service member,” she said.

That balance, she said, was figuring out how to pull enough from compensation to pay for needed training.

As an example, Wright noted the fighter squadrons grounded in 2013 for budget reasons.

“To bring that training up to a level where their readiness is sufficient takes a very long time. If we don’t use the money that we can get from that balanced approach then we will never get those fighter pilots to the proficiency that we need to get them to perform the mission that we’re asking them to perform,” she testified.

Wright was the first female aviator in the Army National Guard and the first female maneuver brigade commander in the Army.

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House Passes Bill Blocking Obama’s Immigration Executive Actions

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The House passed a bill this afternoon to neuter President Obama’s executive order on immigration, a vote in the waning days of the lame-duck session that will do little but put lawmakers on the record for or against the president’s actions.

The White House threatened a veto earlier in the day.

Rep. Ted Yoho’s (R-Fla.) Executive Amnesty Prevention Act states, “No provision of the United States Constitution, the Immigration and Nationality Act, or other Federal law shall be interpreted or applied to authorize the executive branch of the Government to exempt, by Executive order, regulation, or any other means, categories of persons unlawfully present in the United States from removal under the immigration laws (as such term is defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act). Any action by the executive branch with the purpose of circumventing the objectives of this statute shall be null and void and without legal effect.” It would be retroactive.

The final vote was 219-197. Seven Republicans voted against the measure: Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), and David Valadao (R-Calif.). Gohmert and Stutzman protested that Yoho’s bill didn’t go far enough.

The three Democrats to vote for the bill were Blue Dog Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Only Peterson is returning for the 114th Congress.

“The United States Senate should take this bill up and pass it,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. “For the outgoing Senate Democrat majority to do anything less would be an act of monumental arrogance. The American people elected us to heed their will, and not to bow to the whims of a White House that regards the legislative process established by the Constitution as little more than a nuisance.”

The Office of Management and Budget, in its veto recommendation, said Yoho’s bill “would make the broken immigration system worse, not better.”

“By attempting to restrict the Administration’s ability to conduct national security and criminal background checks on undocumented immigrants, H.R. 5759 would make the Nation’s communities less safe. By attempting to make it more difficult for undocumented workers to register and pay taxes, the bill would hurt the Nation’s economy as well.”

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Boehner: GOPs ‘Griping the Most’ on Immigration Signed Off on Short-Term Funding Punt

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters today that the lower chamber will focus next week on keeping the government open “while keeping our leverage so that when we have reinforcements in the Senate, we’re in the strongest position to take additional actions to fight the president’s unilateral actions.”

Boehner wants to pass long-term funding of all departments except Homeland Security, which would receive short-term funding and punt immigration to the spring.

He argues that the best way to confront President Obama’s executive action is when the GOP has a majority in the Senate.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), meanwhile, is lobbying House conservatives to go the shutdown route a la 2013.

“The simple thing that I would urge to every Republican who spent the last year campaigning across this country saying ‘If you elect me, we will stop President Obama’s amnesty,’ do what you promised,” Cruz said at a rally on the Hill yesterday. “Doing what you promised doesn’t mean, as it so often does in Washington, sending a really stern letter and having a meaningless show vote.”

The House is voting on the Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014, a bill from Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) to block Obama’s action. The Office of Management and Budget issued a veto threat today.

“The bill’s objective is clearly to nullify and block implementation of these executive actions, which would have devastating consequences,” the OMB statement said. “…The President’s actions will increase accountability in the Nation’s broken immigration system while he continues to urge the Congress to finish the job and pass commonsense immigration reform that offers meaningful solutions to the broken system.”

Boehner said that the short-term funding course of action “is based on numerous conversations with our members and I frankly think it gives us the best chance for success.”

“…And we listened to some members who were, frankly, griping the most. This was their idea of how to proceed.”

Boehner said he expected “bipartisan support” for the plan, as well.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said the short-term DHS funding would be damaging.

“A stop-gap funding measure would create harmful ripple effects for state and local governments who receive support from the Department for emergency response and law enforcement needs,” Carper said in a statement. “The Secret Service would be unable to move forward with new training and the hiring of additional Secret Service agents – something that Congress called on the agency to do just a few months ago. It would also hurt the Department’s efforts to bring on more Border Patrol agents and other resources to stem the flow of migrants crossing the border and to fund new border surveillance technology.”

Boehner also argued that the 114th Congress will be a better time to chip away at Obamacare.

“Listen, we have worked and voted and voted and voted to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. It’s hurting families, it’s raising cost, and it’s frankly wrecking the best health care delivery system the world has ever known,” he said.

“And so we’ve — we’ve put an awful lot of effort in it. I haven’t gotten very far. But again, come January, we’re going to have a Republican House and a Republican Senate, and we’ll be in a stronger position to deal with not just only the issue of the president violating the Constitution, but in a stronger position to deal with the Affordable Care Act.”

When asked if he planned on not inviting Obama to address the nation in the State of the Union address, Boehner replied, “Listen, the more the president talks about his ideas, the more unpopular he becomes. Why would I want to deprive him of that opportunity?”

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Obama Refuses to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Again

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama again used a national security loophole to keep the U.S. Embassy from moving to Jerusalem as required by a nearly 20-year-old law.

“I hereby determine that it is necessary, in order to protect the national security interests of the United States, to suspend for a period of 6 months the limitations set forth in sections 3(b) and 7(b) of the Act,” Obama wrote in a memorandum to Secretary of State John Kerry, mirroring what he’s written every six months.

Under the 1995 act, which was overwhelmingly approved in the House and Senate, the Embassy was supposed to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999.

George W. Bush suspended the requirements of the bill, too, but always included this sentence in his memos: “My Administration remains committed to beginning the process of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.”

The Obama administration considers Jerusalem on the table for potential division in a final-status agreement.

Two months ago, the White House accused Israel of “poisoning” the peace process with construction in Jerusalem.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Oct. 1 that the U.S. is “deeply concerned by reports that Israeli government has moved forward with the planning process in the sensitive area — or in a sensitive area of east Jerusalem.”

“This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they were to proceed with tenders or construction in that area,” Earnest continued. “This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere, not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations.”

“It also would call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

Since then, a U.S. citizen baby was killed in a terror attack at a Jerusalem light-rail station and three American rabbis were killed in a vicious synagogue attack.

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Bush Admin Official: ‘I Wish Hugo Chavez Had Passed Earlier’

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A former assistant secretary of State in the Bush administration said in an Al Jazeera forum that things would be better today if late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez died earlier.

Chavez came to power in 1999 and set about trying to create his socialist Bolivarian Republic until his March 2013 death.

In an episode of Head to Head airing Friday on Al Jazeera, former Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich, a Cuban-American with vast experience in Latin American affairs, was asked by a member of the Oxford Union audience if he regretted how relations between the U.S. and Venezuela are today.

“Yes, I feel regret. I wish that Hugo Chávez had passed earlier,” Reich replied, adding, “I don’t want to put myself in the position of the person who made that decision… he died of cancer, as you know.”

Reich noted that the regime accused him of injecting Chavez with cancer. “This shows you the ridiculousness of the allegations.”

The Al Jazeera host suggested that their paranoia wasn’t unfounded since the U.S. tried to kill Fidel Castro.

“The U.S. did, and, and I’m sorry that it failed. Just like, if we had been able to kill Hitler in 1938, we should have with no regrets,” Reich said.

He stressed that he had nothing to do with the 2002 coup against Chavez, “and what I used to joke at that time is if I had something to do with the coup it would probably have turned out differently.”

Branding the Venezuelan government an “authoritarian regime,” Reich argued with the host on the legitimacy of elections that kept Chavez in power.

Reich also said the Cuba embargo should be “kept as it is” as long as the Castro regime is in power. President Obama is considering using executive actions to dial it back despite continuing human rights violations and the five-year imprisonment of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross.

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Holder Launching Civil Rights Investigation Into Garner’s Death

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Attorney General Eric Holder emerged at the Justice Department podium in primetime to announce that his department will proceed with a federal civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner.

Holder’s announcement came just hours after a grand jury on Staten Island decided to not indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was placed his arm around Garner’s neck while pulling him to the ground and keeping him there during the July arrest. Garner complained he couldn’t breathe, and soon after died of a heart attack.

Holder said that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Civil Rights Division of the DOJ and the FBI had been monitoring the local grand jury proceedings “closely,” and will now conduct an “independent, thorough, fair and expeditious investigation.”

The attorney general said he’d been in touch with Garner’s widow, President Obama and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio about the DOJ decision.

“We have all seen the video of Mr. Garner’s arrest. His death, of course, was a tragedy. All lives must be valued,” Holder said. “Mr. Garner’s death is one of several recent incidents across the country that have tested the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve and protect.”

“This is not a New York issue or a Ferguson issue alone. Those who have protested peacefully across our great nation following the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson have made that clear.”

Holder stressed that the “vast majority of our law enforcement officers perform their duties honorably and are committed to respecting their fellow citizens civil rights as they carry out their very challenging work.”

“It is for their sake as well that we must seek to heal the breakdown in trust we have seen,” he said.

Holder acknowledged that “substantial numbers of people” are “disappointed and frustrated” in today’s grand jury verdict. “I know many will plan to voice their disappointment publicly through protests,” he said. “This is the right of all Americans.”

He urged protesters to remain peaceful and “not to engage in activities that deflect our attention from the very serious matters our nation must confront.”

Garner’s wife, Esaw, told media, “My husband’s death will not be in vain; as long as there’s a breath in my body I will fight the fight.”

“I don’t know what video they were looking at; evidently it wasn’t the same video the rest of the world was looking at,” his mother, Gwen Carr, said.

“We’ve gotta make this right, and we’re so happy that the federal government is now talking about taking over and investigating. We asked them twice before,” Carr added.

She urged protesters to “make a statement, but make it in peace. Do what you have to, but do it in peace.”

Obama delivered a few thoughts on the Garner decision as news broke during the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

The video showing Garner’s death, he said, “speaks to the larger issues that we’ve been talking about now for the last week, the last month, the last year, and, sadly, for decades, and that is the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.”

“And there’s going to be, I’m sure, additional statements by law enforcement. My tradition is not to remark on cases where there may still be an investigation,” Obama said. “But I want everybody to understand that this week, in the wake of Ferguson, we initiated a task force whose job it is to come back to me with specific recommendations about how we strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color and minority communities that feel that bias is taking place; that we are going to take specific steps to improve the training and the work with state and local governments when it comes to policing in communities of color; that we are going to be scrupulous in investigating cases where we are concerned about the impartiality and accountability that’s taking place.”

“And as I said when I met with folks both from Ferguson and law enforcement and clergy and civil rights activists, I said this is an issue that we’ve been dealing with for too long and it’s time for us to make more progress than we’ve made,” he added. “And I’m not interested in talk; I’m interested in action. And I am absolutely committed as president of the United States to making sure that we have a country in which everybody believes in the core principle that we are equal under the law.”

New York’s senators called on the Justice Department to investigate soon after the verdict was announced.

“The Justice Department must launch a Federal investigation into Eric Garner’s death as soon as possible,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted.

“While this decision is shocking, I want to echo the statement of a wide range of leaders inside and outside of government who are urging that protests remain peaceful in the aftermath of this decision,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The death of Eric Garner is a tragedy that demands accountability. Nobody unarmed should die on a New York City street corner for suspected low-level offenses. I’m shocked by this grand jury decision, and will be calling on the Department of Justice to investigate.”

The congressman who represents Staten Island, Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), defended the job done by the grand jury.

“There’s no question that this grand jury had an immensely difficult task before them, but I have full faith that their judgment was fair and reasoned and I applaud DA Donovan for overseeing this case with the utmost integrity,” Grimm said in a statement. “As we all pray for the Garner family, I hope that we can now move forward and begin to heal together as a community.”

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who represents the Bronx, said the decision “just adds to the feeling of that our criminal justice system is failing minority victims and letting the perpetrators get away.”

“Today’s decision will rightfully reignite the sense of outrage that many felt after the Ferguson grand jury decision, especially in New York,” Serrano said. “While I understand their frustration, I encourage people to express it through peaceful means. We don’t need to resort to violence to make our voices heard.”

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No Indictment in Videotaped NYPD Chokehold Death

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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A grand jury on Staten Island has decided to not indict a New York Police Department officer in the death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold and died of a heart attack.

Garner, who suffered from asthma, was captured on video telling arresting officers that he couldn’t breathe as Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s arm was around his neck, pushing him face-first toward the sidewalk.

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, saying compression of the neck and chest with asthma, obesity and hypertensive cardiovascular disease as contributing factors killed Garner.

Officers suspected Garner, 43, was selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. A full video of the incident was shot by a bystander, which shows Garner arguing with police but not being physically aggressive before he was taken down. Witnesses said he caught the eye of cops when he helped break up a fight on the sidewalk.

The grand jury was given a broad slate of charges to consider ranging from reckless endangerment up to second-degree manslaughter.

Previous complaints against the 29-year-old cop in the incident include a 2012 settlement for a public strip-search that cost the city $30,000. Another lawsuit against Pantaleo alleges he arrested a man with no cause.

Garner’s 18-year-old son, Eric Snipes, told the New York Daily News on Tuesday that there would not be riots regardless of the verdict.

“It’s not going to be a Ferguson-like protest because I think everybody knows my father wasn’t a violent man and they’re going to respect his memory by remaining peaceful,” Snipes said. “It’s not going to be like it was there.”

Activists on Twitter were urging protesters to meet at Union Square this evening. Tonight is the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center in New York.

Pantaleo issued a statement saying he “became a police officer to help people and to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

“It is never my intention to harm anyone and I feel very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” the officer said. “My family and I include him and his family in our prayers and I hope that they will accept my personal condolences for their loss.”

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Gowdy Warns GOPs to Not Take the Shutdown ‘Bait’

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said Republicans need to be careful to not “take the bait” with a dramatic response to President Obama’s immigration executive action.

Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) are holding a noontime press conference with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has been urging House conservatives to force a shutdown if lawmakers refuse to defund Obama’s immigration programs.

Gowdy noted this morning “the House is debating right now how to respond to it.” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to pass long-term funding for all departments except Homeland Security, which would receive funding until the spring and give a GOP-majority Senate and House the chance to tackle immigration funding in the 114th Congress.

“I think it’s careful that we not take the bait. You know, what the president wants us to do is to over-respond so our public approval ratings are as low as his,” Gowdy told Fox.

“My personal preference in terms of strategies is for the Senate to use advice and consent,” he continued. “You just spoke about ambassadors who can’t find the country they’re going to on a globe. That’d be a great place to start, where John McCain said, ‘You know what, Mr. President? You want to act like an emperor? We’re going to do our job and not confer advice and consent and not approve some of your nominees.’ That is where I would start if I were calling the shots, but I’m not.”

Gowdy said he would go after both nominations and funding, but “the funding gets into a shutdown debate, which we, historically, have never won.”

“The advice and consent, I think most of my fellow citizens want legitimate, serious ambassadors going to foreign countries. We want good judges. We want good cabinet level officials,” he said. “So I think with respect to advice and consent, my fellow citizens would be on our side.”

McCain told Fox yesterday that he doesn’t expect a government shutdown.

“I do not expect that because I just don’t think most of us believe that that’s a viable option,” the senator said. “We need to rifle-shot these programs to keep from a government shutdown. As far as the other aspect of it, no, we shouldn’t shut down the government. But at the same time, there are certain things that we just shouldn’t compromise on either. So it’s — very tough decisions are going to be made in the next few days.”

“I am absolutely convinced that our lesson from this last election that they want us to govern — and we will govern and we’ll have a positive agenda. And if the president wants to veto the results of that positive agenda, he can. But we will be coming forward with progressive and productive legislation to send to the president of the United State and that way we can elect a Republican president in 2016.”

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Paul: If You Label Some Conservative and Others Not, ‘You Miss What’s Going on’ in GOP

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called it a “mistake” for people to label some in the Republican Party as “conservative” and others not.

Paul made the comments on Fox last night after host Megyn Kelly noted, “Jeb Bush was considered to have taken some sort of a shot at conservative Republicans yesterday suggesting that the GOP doesn’t need conservatives to win the White House and what it needs is a candidate who would be willing to lose the primary in order to win the general.”

“I think your first mistake is when you talk about conservatives in the third person, if you don’t consider it’s a ‘we’ rather than ‘them,’ you miss what’s going on in the Republican Party,” Paul replied. “We are a conservative party. As a conservative, I can’t understand really even referring to conservatives in this third person.”

The senator announced yesterday that he’s running for re-election, while his campaign teams figures out how he might run for president at the same time.

“Right now we’re only announcing for one office, so it’s really not a controversy” of how he’ll legally run for both in Kentucky, he told Fox.

“But let’s say, hypothetically, in the spring we’re having this discussion again and we were considering running for the nomination, I think there are many different ways it could be done. Probably the simplest way is the primaries in Kentucky are controlled by the party and we could simply move up our primary, make it a caucus, we’d be more relevant and then the law wouldn’t apply. So that’s probably the easiest way to fix things should I decide to run,” Paul said.

“Is the message that I’m bringing to the country, is it viable? Is it something that’s enough different that Republicans will pause and say, you know what? This is a Republican that can attract African-American votes. This is a Republican that can attract independent votes. Is that going to resonate enough to pull new people into the party so say hey, this is a party big enough to win Illinois, a party big enough to win Pennsylvania and Ohio again. That’s what the debate will be about. We’ll see things come down. I’ll make my decision probably in the March-April timeframe.”

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House Dem Leader: GOP Caucus Needs to Find Its Anchor

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the House Democratic Caucus said his party is benefiting from having a better “anchor” than lawmakers on the other side of the aisle.

“I think the Republican Party is trying to figure out who it is, you know, this internal civil war they’re having,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) told MSNBC this morning.

“But once they do, then you know where the anchor is. And on the Democratic side, you — there’s a better sense of where the anchor is. And you do exactly as you said. You come together. You figure out where the middle is. And then you get things done,” he continued.

“And we’ve not been able to get things done because as you can see with immigration, there is a far right element to the Republican party that’s unwilling to let the right do what it would like to do, and that is get us moving. And it’s unfortunate.”

Becerra likened House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) trying to get his caucus to agree to punt the immigration funding fight to next year to “John the gambler, the poker player, coming out of his caucus, saying we’re not talking about shutting down the government.”

“And a whole bunch of the poker players at the table saying, hey, this isn’t good enough. We’re — we’re ready to shut down the government,” he said. “And he’s hoping, I believe, that there will be enough votes, Republicans, and maybe he can gather a few Democrats that he can get something out of the House.”

“And he’s got to do that, because he’s got to try to navigate the ship. And unfortunately, you gotta — he’s gonna have a crew, part of the crew that wants to shut the government down. And so, I think he’s — I think Speaker Boehner does not want to shut the government down. But I believe he’s got an element in his Republican caucus that does.”

This morning Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has previously held secret meetings with a core group of House Tea Party allies to try to sway House action, issued a statement saying “both Houses should use the power of the purse” to stop President Obama’s immigration executive action.

“We should pass a short-term continuing resolution that includes language defunding the implementation of the president’s executive action on amnesty,” Cruz said, arguing that a dozen Senate Democrats have expressed concern with Obama’s unilateral action. However, while Democrats have expressed displeasure with the executive action, most have said they agree with the policies and purpose.

“Most people will tell you, OK, let’s get tough on the border. Let’s get tough at the workplace so we don’t let Americans violate the law and hire people who don’t have the right to work. Let’s deal with those who have been trying to come in the right way for years and are upset that the process doesn’t work with legal visas. And then let’s deal with the 10, 11 million people who are here, who some of whom have been working a long time, paying taxes. Give them a chance. And the rest, go ahead and start deporting,” Becerra said.

“And most people would tell you there’s a common sense way to do this. They just don’t see why Washington can’t understand that.”

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Scott: NAACP Ignoring Historic Victory Was ‘No Slight’ at All

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sworn into office yesterday as the South’s first black senator to win election since Reconstruction, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he hold no ill will toward the NAACP for not recognizing his historic victory.

“It’s no slight, to be honest with you,” Scott told Fox News on the Hill.

“Ultimately, I’m thankful for those who actually know who I am, who celebrate the success of me and my family, particularly my grandfather and my mother, who paid a high price to make sure that I had an opportunity to succeed,” he said.

“This is a good day. Frankly, the fact that the NAACP does not weigh in, in a positive position has been my experience for the last four years of elected office. Nothing has changed. That’s OK with me.”

Scott also gave some insight into how communities can move forward in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury verdict and protests.

“Perhaps one of the things that we could focus on as a nation and as a community is having a vision, a positive, constructive vision about the future,” he said. “I am so thankful that we have law enforcement officers who are willing to put their life on the line to serve people that they never met before. And at the same time, I understand the pain and misery that comes with living in poverty.”

“So when you put those two together, I would love to see a positive outcome. One of the ways that we have a positive outcome are to bring stakeholders to the same table and have a serious conversation about moving forward.”

Scott said he’s reached out to “friends of mine” in the Congressional Black Caucus and at the Urban League.

“I also reached out to Hispanic leaders, as well as white leaders, so that we could bring people together,” he said.

“The one thing that has made America the most amazing country on Earth is the ability to overcome obstacles. We are good at that when we focus on the future and not simply getting mired in the past.”

By focusing on his “opportunity agenda,” which includes school choice, the senator said he believes “we can move the country in the right direction.”

“But we need more mentors showing up in neighborhoods that are at risk. We could take those at-risk kids and make them into high-potential kids. This takes work. It doesn’t take just merely having a good vision. It takes rolling up your sleeves up and going to work.”

Asked if his next stop is the White House, Scott replied “no” before quipping, “I think the next step is going to vote in about three minutes.”

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McCain: New Defense Secretary Warned That ‘He Will Not Have Influence’

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Defense Department was mum today on whether President Obama is poised to nominate Chuck Hagel’s former No. 2 to fill his job, but Ashton Carter will likely have an easy road to confirmation.

A road that will be lined with lawmakers warning the former deputy secretary of Defense that he’ll be neutered by the White House.

“I’m obviously mindful of the swirl out there in the media environment today about the potential nominee for next secretary of Defense,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters today. “So let me just say right at the outset that this is a decision that only the president can make and only the president can announce. And it’s up to the president and the White House to determine the timing of any such announcement.”

“I have no information to share with you today about who the nominee might be or when the nominee might be announced,” Kirby continued. “For our part here in the Pentagon, Secretary Hagel is focused on doing his job as secretary of Defense, making sure that our men and women have all the support and resources they need to conduct the missions that they’ve been told to conduct around the world, to include many of them in harm’s way. And I think that’s important to remember as we start to head in towards the holiday season.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “as soon as we’re in a position to start making those announcements, we’ll be sure to let you know.”

“I personally am a pretty strong advocate, people who have previously performed well in deputy roles being promoted to the top job,” quipped the former deputy to Jay Carney. “So that’s been a recipe for success in filling previous personnel positions.”

After Obama selected Hagel for Defense secretary, he personally asked Carter to stay at the Pentagon as Hagel’s deputy. Carter resigned in November 2013.

“I think he’s a very good man. I think he’s been very good on defense acquisition and some other programs,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told Fox. “I just hope that he realizes that if he takes the job, he will not have influence, just as his three predecessors didn’t, on national security policy. As long as he understands that, then so be it.”

Democrats signaled approval with the potential pick, as well.

“Carter is an ultimate professional. He knows the Department of Defense inside and out, is a former assistant secretary for acquisitions and weapons development,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Bloomberg. “He is a real professional, digs and drills down on questions. And I think he’s a very solid choice for the president.”

“He’s got broad experience in the Department of Defense, knows it well and also knows Capitol Hill and the dynamics of dealing with all of the complexities of the Department of Defense, especially now when we have a major engagement against ISIS and have other challenges that are — other national security, as well as fiscal challenges,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told CNN. “So he’d be a great choice.”

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Short-Term DHS Funding Strategy Would Punt Immigration Fight to 2015

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Republican leadership should “step up and put these extremists in their place so that we can govern like adults” while trying to pass funding to keep the government running.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) proposed to the GOP caucus behind closed doors that a viable strategy would be to pass funding for most of the government through September and leave the department that would fund Obama’s immigration executive action, Homeland Security, on a short-term spending approval.

The move would basically punt the immigration standoff to next year when Republicans have control of both houses of Congress.

“I think they understand that it’s going to be difficult to take meaningful action as long as we’ve got Democratic control in the Senate,” Boehner told reporters.

“Listen, we’re taking a look at a number of options in terms of how we address this. Now, this is a serious breach of our Constitution — it’s a serious threat to our system of government and frankly we have limited options and limited abilities to deal with it directly,” he said. “But that’s why we’re continuing to talk to our members. We have not made and decisions on how we are going to proceed, but we are in fact going to proceed.”

Reid emerged from his policy luncheon with “just a gentle reminder — nine days, the government runs out of money.”

He also stressed that Democrats want “a long-term omnibus dealing with all of our appropriation bills,” meaning they could put their foot down over Boehner’s short-term DHS funding plan.

“I think it would be quite a burden for the Republicans to bear if the first thing out of the box is government being unfunded,” Reid said. “…There’re still factions within the Republican Party who want to take these extreme measures. We read about them and hear about them everyday. So there’s nothing new in this instance.”

“But for these extremists, there’s always a reason to try and poke the president. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. At some point, it’ll be time for responsible Republicans to step up and put these extremists in their place so that we can govern like adults. I hope this will happen sooner rather than later.”

Reid called it “kind of unfortunate they’re talking about not doing Homeland Security, but that’s the way it is.”

Still, it wouldn’t be an automatic rejection from his caucus, Reid said.

“I think it’s a shame that they’re not going to include the very important Homeland Security appropriation bill, but I understand why they’re doing it. We’ll take a look at it,” he said. “We’ve had a long discussion in caucus. Let’s see what they send us, what’s in it, and we’ll make that decision then.”

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Holder at MLK Church: DOJ Determined to ‘Help End Racial Profiling, Once and for All’

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Speaking at the Atlanta church of Martin Luther King, Jr., Attorney General Eric Holder said last night that “it’s apparent that our nation’s journey is not yet over” from the tribulations of the civil rights movement.

“And so we return once more to this hallowed place to seek shelter from a terrible storm – a storm that I’m certain we will weather, so long as we continue to stand united – and unafraid to address realities too long ignored,” Holder told the crowd at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

He wouldn’t give details on the progress of the federal investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson as well as practices of the Ferguson Police Department, only to say that the probes are “ongoing and active.”

“I understand that the need for this trust was made clear in the wake of the intense public reaction to last week’s grand jury announcement. But the problems we must confront are not only found in Ferguson. The issues raised in Missouri are not unique to that state or that small city. We are dealing with concerns that are truly national in scope and that threaten the entire nation,” Holder said.

“…Our overall system of justice must be strengthened and made more fair. In this way, we can ensure faith in the justice system. Without that deserved faith, without that reasoned belief, there can be no justice. This is not an unreasonable desire – it is a fundamental American right enshrined in our founding documents.”

Holder said the loss of Brown or any young life is “heart-rending, regardless of the circumstances.”

“And it is deeply unfortunate that this vital conversation was interrupted, and this young man’s memory dishonored, by destruction and looting on the part of a relatively small criminal element,” the attorney general continued.

“Dr. King would be the first to remind us that acts of mindless destruction are not only contrary to the rule of law and the aims of public safety; they threaten to stifle important debate, ‘adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.’ They actively impede social progress by drowning out the legitimate voices of those attempting to make themselves heard.”

Holder renewed MLK’s call “for all those who seek to lend their voices to important causes and discussions, and who seek to elevate these vital conversations, to do so in ways that respect the gravity of their subject matter.”

“I urge all Americans to stand in solidarity with those brave citizens, in Ferguson, who stopped looters from destroying even more local businesses, who isolated people responsible for acts of violence, and who rejected lawless and destructive tactics – just as I have urged them to stand with law enforcement personnel to ensure the rights of protestors and defuse tense situations whenever and wherever possible.”

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