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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Boehner Challenger Accuses Speaker of ‘Electile Dysfunction’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FBI Warns Students Against Being Recruited as Foreign Spies

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kansas Congressman Says Jewish Center Victims Attended his Church

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Independent Maine Senator Bolt to Caucus with GOP?

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First GOP Woman in the 2016 Ring?

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bachmann has expressed no interest in a 2016 try.

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

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

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Marking Rwandan Genocide, Senators Stress Need to Respond to Atrocities

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Senate wager grew as the day went on…

 

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

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rubio Wants Kerry to Come Up with Venezuela Crisis Assessment

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama to Sign Executive Orders on Equal Pay Targeting Federal Contractors

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama Adviser Pfeiffer: Dems Will Keep Senate Because of Obamacare, Not in Spite of Law

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Democrats are going to keep the Senate in the fall because of Obamacare, not in spite of the healthcare law.

“I do think that the Republican argument of repeal is a political loser. What they are arguing now is that the 7 million people who signed up through the exchanges, and the millions more who got it from Medicaid and other ways, they are going to take healthcare away from all of those people,” Pfeiffer told CBS. “And then what they are going to do for the millions of Americans — the 85 percent of Americans who had healthcare before the Affordable Care Act — is that they are going to take away their protections, because embedded in the Affordable Care Act was the Patients Bill of Rights.”

“So we will go back to the days where men paid more than women — or women paid more than men for the same health care, seniors paid more for prescription drugs, and insurance companies had all the power. That is not a good argument to make.”

Pfeiffer acknowledged that there’s “a lot more work to do” with Obamacare, particularly in how the sign-up system has functioned.

“We have to ensure that the 7 million folks who signed up have a good transition into health care. We have a number of people who were in the queue when the deadline hit who we have to get signed up,” he said.

“We don’t have complete data yet, but 200,000 additional people have signed up this week. So that’s progress. And we have to continue implementing the law. There was a celebratory moment, we all felt pretty good when we hit this mark that no one thought we were going to hit. But it is not a victory lap.”

Pfeiffer also said they’re studying the demographic data of sign-ups, and “what we have thus far through February is perfectly in-line with what the insurance companies say they need to have a good mix.”

“And all indications are, particularly if we follow the same example that Massachusetts did, more young and healthy people come in at the end,” he said.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), though, said “we’ve got the math in our favor” for Republicans to take the Senate.

“The polls are very clear. I saw something on RealClearPolitics saying that 111 consecutive polls have said that Obamacare is viewed unfavorably, not favorably. And there’s a good reason for it. Costs are going up and people are losing their choices of healthcare providers. So no, it’s not popular. And particularly in the Senate seats that are up this year, it’s pretty unpopular,” he told Fox this morning.

“…But look, it’s going to depend on good candidates. I think we have some great candidates and what the mood of the country is. And right now, you know, people are discouraged about the economy, as they should be. It has not turned around. And they’re very concerned about Obamacare and how it’s going to affect them and their families.”

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Clinton Marks Rwandan Genocide with Tweet While Ban Admits Shame of the UN

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwanda genocide by a tweet from President Clinton about the country’s humanity as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted the world body still felt “shame” from its inaction to stop the slaughter.

Hutu militants slaughtered some 800,000 people over the course of 100 days in 1994. A ceremony marking the solemn anniversary in Kigali included a dramatic reenactment of the UN blue helmets leaving the people in their hour of need.

Clinton, who has admitted that his administration could have and should have done more to stop the murderers armed with machetes, did not attend the anniversary ceremony. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair did, along with Ban.

“In the face of violence in Rwanda, the Security Council withdrew the United Nations peacekeeping operation, thereby taking away the sorely needed international ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground. The United Nations was also deeply tarnished by its actions and inactions at Srebrenica. So, we have worked hard to draw on the lessons of those failures,” Ban said at the International Conference on the Prevention of Genocide in Brussels.

“There are grounds for encouragement. No longer can it be claimed that atrocity crimes are only a domestic matter, outside the realm of international concern. At the same time, there are far more reasons for worry. The international community often proves reluctant to act, at times even when atrocity crimes are happening. The reasons may vary, from competing definitions of national interest, to the complexities and risks of a given situation, to a perceived lack of capacity. There may be little appetite for new financial or military commitments. But, is that sufficient reason to look away? Is that not merely an echo of what we heard 20 years ago?” he continued. “The conflicts in Syria and the Central African Republic are nightmares for the vulnerable most directly affected. But, they are also a challenge to everything we have put in place — the pledges, the mechanisms — to exercise our collective responsibilities to prevent such crimes from happening or recurring.”

President Obama issued a statement noting that the genocide “shook the conscience of the world.”

“We salute the determination of the Rwandans who have made important progress toward healing old wounds, unleashing the economic growth that lifts people from poverty, and contributing to peacekeeping missions around the world to spare others the pain they have known,” Obama said.

“At this moment of reflection, we also remember that the Rwandan genocide was neither an accident nor unavoidable. It was a deliberate and systematic effort by human beings to destroy other human beings. The horrific events of those 100 days—when friend turned against friend, and neighbor against neighbor—compel us to resist our worst instincts, just as the courage of those who risked their lives to save others reminds us of our obligations to our fellow man,” he continued. “The genocide we remember today—and the world’s failure to respond more quickly—reminds us that we always have a choice. In the face of hatred, we must remember the humanity we share. In the face of cruelty, we must choose compassion. In the face of intolerance and suffering, we must never be indifferent. Embracing this spirit, as nations and as individuals, is how we can honor all those who were lost two decades ago and build a future worthy of their lives.”

Rwandan President Paul Kagame wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the divisions that led to the genocide were put in place by colonial rulers who categorized Rwandans as Hutu or Tutsi.

“Africans are no longer resigned to being hostage to the world’s low expectations. We listen to and respect the views of others. But ultimately, we must be responsible for ourselves,” he wrote.

“A few years ago I met a young man who was one of 12 people pulled alive from under 3,000 corpses in a mass grave at Murambi. He still lived nearby, totally alone. When the perpetrators he recognized came home from prison, terror surged again through his body. I asked him how he managed and he told me, ‘I could not do it unless I was convinced that these impossible choices are leading us somewhere.’ To prevent genocide, it is not enough to remember the past. We must also remember the future.”

 

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Afghans Defy Taliban, Show Up in Droves to Vote

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Saturday’s presidential election was an awesome success for Afghanistan: about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters stood in long lines to pick President Hamid Karzai’s successor. Problems seen at some voting stations were due to sheer demand, such as running out of paper ballots and long lines that election officials had to close off at the appointed time of 4 p.m. The Independent Election Commission said about 65 percent of the voters were male and 35 percent female, and this ratio was certainly reflected in the images Afghans were tweeting from all around the country.

The Taliban made a bit of mischief, but nowhere near what they promised — shutting down the entire process — or claimed (1,000 attacks). To add injury to insult, Afghan forces killed a senior Taliban commander, Qari Ziaduddin, in Faryab province Sunday night.

Complaints have been filed against every candidate, but election observers said the vote was nothing like the 2009 ballot-stuffing bonanza. Candidates are making claims based on their exit polling and other estimates but partial results will not be released until later this week and preliminary results are due April 24, reports Tolo News. Multiple televised presidential debates helped stoke voter fervor and increased knowledge about the candidates.

If one of the eight candidates does not clear 50 percent, it will go to a runoff. It’s shaping up to be a heat between Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister turned Karzai opponent, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official who once hired James Carville as a campaign consultant.

“The open and responsible debate among the candidates over the past two months, and the turnout for these elections, demonstrates to the world that the Afghan people want to determine their own future,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “The Afghan National Security Forces should be commended for providing the security which enabled these elections to take place.”

“The Afghan people secured this election. They ran this election, and most importantly, they voted in this election,” Secretary of State John Kerry said.

President Obama praised the vote as “keeping with the spirited and positive debate among candidates and their supporters in the run-up to the election.”

But the most important statements — with their words and with their feet — came directly from Afghans:

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Suspends Health Program in Uganda After Staffer Arrested Under Anti-Gay Law

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department announced that the U.S. suspended a healthcare clinic in Uganda after a government raid and arrest of one staffer under new anti-gay laws.

The law signed in February by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni hands down a sentence of life in prison for many same-sex acts. Also receiving prison time under the bill are those who don’t report gays to the government or any organizations or individuals that support gay rights. Ugandans can also be sentenced for attempted homosexual acts or same-sex activity committed outside the country.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said today the administration is “deeply concerned” that a U.S.-funded health clinic and medical research facility, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), was raided by Ugandan authorities on Thursday.

One of the facility’s employees, a Ugandan accused of conducting “unethical research” and “recruiting homosexuals,” was arrested and released the same day.

“This incident significantly heightens our concerns about respect for civil society and the rule of law in Uganda, and for the safety of LGBT individuals,” Harf said.

“The MUWRP is engaged in efforts to improve public health and save lives. The Ugandan government is responsible for protecting all of its people, and attacks and intimidation of health care workers are unacceptable. The safety of health workers must be respected. We have temporarily suspended the operations of MUWRP to ensure the safety of staff and beneficiaries, and the integrity of the program.”

The project is a collaboration between Makerere University and the U.S. Military HIV Research Program.

“We are working with police to understand the circumstances under which this person was detained. Until we have greater clarity as to the legal basis for the police action, the operations of the program are temporarily suspended to ensure the safety of staff and the integrity of the program. We are working directly with the patients of MUWRP to ensure there is no interruption in their care,” the MUWRP said in a statement, referring further questions to the U.S. government.

The U.S. Military HIV Research Program has been conducting HIV research in Uganda since 1998 and expanded its portfolio to include prevention, care and treatment activities in 2005 under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The project recently expanded to studying other communicable diseases as well.

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Stockman Calls Weapons Ban on Fort Hood a ’20-Year Experiment That’s Failed’

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) said the Fort Hood shooting shows that the policy of not allowing personal handguns on the base “is a 20-year experiment that’s failed.”

“This has only been in place 20 years. We’re not talking 50 or 100 years. This has only been 20 years. And since it’s been in place you see a rapid increase in this kind of violence on bases,” Stockman, whose congressional district runs from east of Houston to the Louisiana border, told Fox today.

Stockman called the tightening of gun restrictions at Fort Hood after the 2009 massacre by Nidal Hasan “a bizarre response.”

“I know there are some generals that are saying hey, we shouldn’t still allow them to protect themselves, but these are young men and women we say we want them to protect us. And it only makes sense if we’re trusting them to protect us — we should trust them to protect themselves. And this is a notion that we need to give them the right to protect themselves. It’s a crazy notion that we train them and then we don’t allow them — to say you can’t have a gun. It doesn’t make sense.”

He added that “you look at all the gun violence, almost all in what is called gun-free zones.”

“People that are out there committing crimes are not stupid. And this is a soft target. And it will continue to be a soft target until we give our soldiers the right to carry the weapon that they’ve been trained to use.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, still on his trip to Asia, told Bloomberg News “it’s a terrible statement” that servicemen and women found themselves under fire at a base on home soil again.

“I recognize that. We all do. But like anything, we’ve got to figure out what happened and what went wrong. We have been adjusting to and implementing a number of recommendations that came out of the 2009 Fort Hood incident, the Navy Yard incident last year, to further bring more security and further security to our bases,” Hagel said. “And we’ll see what comes out of this as to how do we assure in every way possible the safety and security of those bases.”

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McDermott: Obamacare Envy Will Spread Across Country and ‘Drive the Republicans Crazy’

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said his Republican colleagues in the House “really apoplectic” at the Obamacare numbers this week but will eventually try to fix and smother the healthcare law “to death.”

“They don’t know what to do. It turned out exactly as Ms. Sebelius predicted and they don’t know how to deal with success. They have lost and they can’t admit it. So they keep throwing all kinds of crazy ideas against the wall, hoping something will stick,” McDermott told MSNBC.

“But I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. They’re ultimately going to admit they failed, and they’re going to pivot and start to say they’re here to help fix it. And they’re going to try and love it to death. That’s going to be their next trick.”

Seven Democrats joined all Republicans on Thursday to repeal Obamacare’s 30-hour definition of full-time employment and restore the traditional 40-hour work week.

But McDermott predicted Obamacare will gain in popularity heading toward midterms.

“What they realize is that we’ve got six months until we get to election. And during that period of time, people are going to be talking all across this country back and forth from one state that has it to one state that doesn’t. They’re calling their sister who lives in Tennessee or their brother who lives in Alabama, and they’re going to say we got this great thing in California. And pretty soon people are going to start to say to their members of Congress, well, what have you done about it? You said we were against this. You said this was a bad thing. But my sister says it’s really great for her,” the congressman said.

“And that’s going to turn the American people, because they’re gradually getting the idea. There is seven million people who got something they didn’t have before. And they are safe and secure. And they’re going to tell their family about it. And that’s going to drive the Republicans crazy. They’re going to have to come around to accepting.”

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States Claim California Violating Commerce Clause with Egg Law

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Iowa legislators are battling at the state and federal level against California’s egg law, saying it violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and put undue hardship on farmers in other states.

A law takes effect next year in California that forbids the sale of eggs from farms where the cages don’t meet certain humane size requirements, where a hen has enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend its wings.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tried to introduce a provision in the Farm Bill declaring the law unconstitutional, but it was stripped from the final version.

The Iowa House passed a resolution this week calling for California to repeal the law, noting one out of every five eggs in the U.S. is produced in Iowa and arguing it would raise prices for Californians.

“I appreciate the bipartisan effort of the Iowa House in taking another step forward in ensuring we protect both Iowa and American famers and producers, including egg producers, from California’s unconstitutional overreach,” King said in a statement. “The resolution stems from my amendment to the Farm Bill (Protect Interstate Commerce Act, PICA), that was adopted by the United States House of Representatives, but was not included in the final version of the Farm Bill. This was due to the aggressive Vegan Lobby’s – the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), nationwide misinformation campaign against my amendment.”

“Taken together, my work on the Farm Bill, Governor Branstad’s work in joining the multi-state lawsuit over this issue, and today, the Iowa House’s work in condemning California’s actions, Iowans have led the fight against this unconstitutional law. Working together we can restore the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.”

Six states — Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa — have taken California to court over the law, which the Humane Society has vowed to defend. The HSUS says more than 90 percent of American egg-laying hens are currently confined in barren battery cages, “which are cruel and are breeding grounds for Salmonella.”

“It’s just not appropriate to jam six or eight birds in tiny spaces so they cannot move,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at Humane Society. “These states are trying to force their sub-standard eggs on California consumers, even though the California legislature has declared such eggs to be repugnant to the state’s values and a threat to public health.”

The HSUS also points out that the original ballot initiative passed in 2008, giving factory farms several years to bring cages up to standards.

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Unemployment Rates Rise for Women, Blacks in March

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent for March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning, a number that’s shown little movement since December.

“The unemployment rate for adult women increased to 6.2 percent in March, and the rate for adult men decreased to 6.2 percent. The rates for teenagers (20.9 percent), whites (5.8 percent), blacks (12.4 percent), and Hispanics (7.9 percent) showed little or no change. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.4 percent (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier,” the Labor report said. The jobless rate for women was 5.9 percent in February and 12 percent for blacks.

“The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more), at 3.7 million, changed little in March; these individuals accounted for 35.8 percent of the unemployed.” The labor force participation rate and employment-population ratio also remained stagnant.

The Obama administration, though, latched onto the part of the report that found total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 192,000 in March.

“The economy continued to add jobs in March at a pace consistent with job growth over the past year. Additionally, the unemployment rate was steady while the labor force participation rate edged up. While today’s data indicates that the recovery is continuing to unfold, the President still believes further steps must be taken to strengthen growth and boost job creation,” Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement. “In this regard, the Senate’s decision yesterday to move forward with the consideration of a bill to reinstate extended unemployment insurance was an important step in the right direction.”

“In addition to encouraging this and other action in Congress, such as raising the minimum wage and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, the President will continue to act on his own executive authority wherever possible to expand economic opportunity for American families.”

Long-term unemployment benefits expired at the end of last year. A bill to reinstate the stimulus-era package cleared a cloture vote in the Senate on Thursday and is expected to pass Monday, but is unlikely to clear the House without major revisions.

“I’m glad more Americans have found work, but our economy still isn’t creating jobs for the American people at the rate they were promised,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “Under the Republican jobs plan, the House has passed dozens of bills that would help fuel economic growth by expanding all types of energy production, protecting families and small business from ObamaCare, improving education and job training, and more.”
“Senate Democrats have no excuse for standing in the way of these common-sense jobs measures, many of which passed with bipartisan support, and I urge them to act immediately.”

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Rep. King: Bringing Guns Onto Base Could Interfere with Discipline

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said allowing people to bring weapons onto a base such as Fort Hood should be looked into, but he said officers would have to weigh in on whether it would “interfere with discipline.”

“First, I think we should look into increasing security both at checkpoints and also at, you know, is more security needed within the base itself. As far as carrying weapons, I think we should look at that. But I remember just from my days in the Army, there’s a certain element of discipline involved, people living in close quarters. You have a situation where in the barracks on a Saturday night you may have arguments, fights, whatever,” King told CNN this morning.

“And I just — I would like to talk to the sergeants, the NCOs, the officers and people on the ground to see if they feel that would interfere with the discipline that they need, with the control they need,” he said, adding, “I mean, if you have such a large base and people can walk in apparently with weapons, should those on the base be allowed to defend themselves?”

“But before we go that far, I would really want to look at it. Again, I’m just going back, because this was a long time ago, but just on base, I don’t know if I would have felt comfortable if the guy in the bunk next to me had a gun and we just had an argument or a discussion.”

King continued that “NCOs and sergeants, they have to be pretty tough on their troops at times.”

“Again, do they want those men and women to be having weapons with them at night after something like that occurs? But again, to me, it’s something we have to look at. We have to open it up. This has to be reopened because there’s all the factors I just gave which could be negative. On the other hand, if someone had had a weapon yesterday, you know, they could have stopped this perhaps, you know, right away. So, but, again, we have to open it up and look at it, yes,” he said.

The congressman stressed that “terrorism has not been ruled out” in the killing of three service members and wounding of 16 by Army truck driver Ivan Lopez.

“Right now there are no indications of terrorism. But I can tell you that all avenues are being explored,” he said. “…We should still be very concerned about terrorism. Fort Hood was attacked once before and there was an attempted attack in July of 2011 that was stopped.”

The mental illness component, though, is “very significant.”

“I think we have to do better screening as far as psychological testing. We have to make sure that the people on the ground, the platoon sergeants, the company commanders, that they are watching very carefully for any signs of mental illness or any type of psychological disturbance, any cases of anger management,” King said. “…In the military, we are getting more money appropriated for more programs for mental health, suicide prevention, for PTSD. That is being done. But not enough. I think much more has to be done. We also have the issue of the National Guard and Reservists who don’t get the same level of treatment as far as mental health that the regular Army does. So that has to be increased.”

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Army Secretary: Fort Hood Shooter on Meds, Showed No Sign of ‘Likely Violence’

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Army Secretary John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning that the Fort Hood shooter was on psychiatric meds but an evaluation indicated no signs that he would become violent.

The previously scheduled hearing with McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno was intended to review the Army’s fiscal year 2015 budget request and current posture.

“We meet with heavy hearts,” Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said at the beginning of the hearing. “Once again, our Army must recover from an act of unspeakable violence here at home. Much remains unknown about the shooting incident yesterday evening at Fort Hood, including the question of what prompted this horrible attack. All that is certain is that lives have been lost and that families are grieving. We all share in their grief. Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, please convey this committee’s condolences to the men and women of Fort Hood and the Army, and please be assured that this committee will fully support your efforts to care for those affected.”

Levin asked the officials to begin their testimony with any comments on Fort Hood.

McHugh said the shooter, identified as Army truck driver Ivan Lopez, 34, had visited psychiatrist last month and showed “no sign of any likely violence either to himself or others.”

He was taking medications including Ambien, the secretary said.

Lopez, who joined the Army in June 2008, was in Iraq for four months in 2011 but his record showed no signs of injury. McHugh said the shooter was a Puerto Rico native, and even though it’s not initially suspected “possible extremist involvement is still being looked at very carefully.”

A spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico National Guard said Lopez joined in 1999 and went on a mission to the Sinai Peninsula in the mid-2000s, according to the Associated Press. Lt. Col Ruth Diaz said Lopez left the Guard for the Army in 2010.

Odierno told the committee that some of the procedures put in place at Fort Hood after the 2009 massacre by Nidal Hasan “did help us yesterday,” adding that the toll “could have been much worse.”

President Obama was on a fundraising trip in Chicago when the shooting happened and returned to Washington as scheduled on Wednesday night.

On Air Force One, Obama hopped on a conference call with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, Chief of Staff of the Army General Ray Odierno, FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, according to the White House.

“The President directed his team to utilize every resource available to fully investigate the shooting. As the President said earlier tonight, these brave men and women serve with valor and distinction, and when at home they need to feel safe. The Fort Hood community is strong and resilient, and the President emphasized the importance of doing everything we can to ensure the community has every resource needed to recover, heal, and come back stronger than before,” the White House said.

“The Department of Defense has the lead on the investigation with support from federal partners including the FBI, as well as state and local law enforcement personnel. The President will continue to receive updates as new information becomes available and has directed that his team do everything it can to assist the families of those lost and wounded today.”

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Iran’s New UN Envoy ‘Not Something We Can Just Turn a Blind Eye Toward’

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A New York Democrat said despite the difficulty in blocking another country’s diplomat from coming into the U.S., anyone who participated in the 1979 hostage taking in Iran needs to be stopped.

“Let me just say for Ted Cruz and Eliot Engel to agree on something, it’s got to be right,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) quipped to CNN.

“Look, this fellow, by being an interpreter for the group that took American hostages, was certainly complicit in their capture,” he said of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was a member of Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line when the group took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. “And I just think it’s a terrible insult to the United States at a time when Iran is talking with us, purportedly is doing that in good faith, Iran continues to make mischief and wreak havoc in other places of the world. They are negative in Syria, they are a major funder of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization. They continue to do that with impunity. And now this, which is a real slap in the face.”

“The Iranians should withdraw their nomination and should send somebody else, because this — all of us that were alive at the time remember that hostage crisis, and that is not something I think we can just turn a blind eye toward.”

Engel said it’s “obvious” the ayatollah is pulling the strings on these provocations as Iran’s new president tries to project a facade of moderation.

“It’s just very, very troubling. It’s a slap in the face to Americans. And it ought to be withdrawn. And, you know, it’s very difficult for us to block a diplomat from coming in. But if it’s proven that he was part and parcel of it, I would urge our authorities to deny him entry into the country,” he said.

“…So it’s as if the Iranians are thumbing their nose at us and saying, well, we’re going to negotiate with you but we’re not going to change any of our bad behavior while we’re negotiating. It seems to me if you’re really serious in having negotiations that are fruitful, you’d stop some of the outrageous behavior. And sending this diplomat to New York as their representative to the U.N. is just another indication that the Iranians think they can get away with anything. And that, I think, is an ominous sign to their seriousness in these nuclear talks.”

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Obama Calls Ryan Budget a ‘Stinkburger’ or ‘Meanwich’

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama had interesting words to describe House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) latest Path to Prosperity budget at the University of Michigan yesterday.

In remarks to students pitching a minimum wage hike to $10.10 per hour, Obama said he stopped at Zingerman’s, a deli in Ann Arbor “because the sandwiches are outstanding” and “Zingerman’s is a business that treats its workers well, and rewards honest work with honest wages.”

“The reuben is killer,” he said. “So I ordered like the small  — and it didn’t look that small. So I gave half to Valerie Jarrett, who’s traveling with us. And then after I finished the half, I wanted the half back. But it was too late. All she had left was the pickle. So I took the pickle.”

“What Zingerman’s can do on its own, what even I can do as the head of the executive branch of the federal government, that doesn’t reach everybody.  If we’re going to do right by our fellow Americans, we need Congress to get onboard,” he said before lobbying for the minimum wage bill. “…It wouldn’t require any new taxes. It doesn’t require new spending. It doesn’t require new bureaucracy. But what it would do is help those families and give businesses more customers with more money to spend. And it would help grow the economy for everybody. So you would think this would be a no-brainer.”

Obama first compared Ryan’s budget to the movie Groundhog Day: “If this all sounds familiar, it should be familiar because it was their economic plan in the 2012 campaign, it was their economic plan in 2010.”

“If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s, they’d have to call it the Stinkburger, or the Meanwich,” he said.

The Budget Committee passed Ryan’s budget this week for the fourth year in a row, notwithstanding Democratic objections.

“This budget lays out a long-term vision for the country. It will grow the economy and create jobs. It will strengthen key priorities like national security and Medicare,” Ryan said. “It will restore fairness by rooting out cronyism. And it will stop spending money we don’t have.“It is absolutely critical that we tackle these challenges, and tonight, we took a step in the right direction.”

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Schumer to DHS: Are You Guys Watching Security at New World Trade Center?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says “alarming” breaches of security at the construction site of the new World Trade Center call for an immediate Department of Homeland Security review of Port Authority security procedures.

One World Trade Center is scheduled to open to the public this year. Recently, a 16-year-old boy dressed like a construction worker squeezed through a fence, got past security and climbed to the top of the 1,776-foot skyscraper where he spent two hours alone. Three skydivers have also gotten to the top and security guards have been discovered literally sleeping on the job.

“The Freedom Tower should have top-notch, foolproof security, not something that can be fooled by a teenager and a couple of daredevils,” said Schumer. “It’s disconcerting that within six months, there have been a number of safety breaches involving such obvious problems as a hole in a fence. The Department of Homeland Security should make sure the city’s number one terror threat is safe from future harm and move forward with a federal review of security procedures at the World Trade Center site.”

Schumer noted the obvious — the harm that could have come to the city if those breaching security were nefarious instead of pranksters — and said DHS needs to be doing some oversight on the hundreds of millions in federal funds allocated to site security.

“These kinds of lapses in security are unacceptable and further investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must be conducted to examine whether this is a systemic problem and action is needed to boost security at the site,” Schumer wrote to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.

“…All of these breaches of security in a short period of succession point some serious flaws in the security at the World Trade Center site that need to be addressed immediately before terrorist actors seeking to do harm are the ones who break through.”

Schumer noted that a surveillance system was purchased for the building in August “but has yet to be installed.”

“The security plan surrounding the site is more commonly known as the ‘Ring of Steel’ and is supposed to be an impregnable, multi – layered set of measures encircling the World Trade Center. A tremendous amount of resources are being committed to secure the site, yet they seem to be failing at an alarming rate. The plan involves 25 barriers, 13 guard booths, and a large number of streets are being closed or restricted to traffic. Additionally it involves over a thousand police officers, counterterrorism forces, and security guards protecting the site,” the senator wrote.

“I urge you to have the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conduct an internal review into the security plan of the site and address any flaws that may be allowing unauthorized individuals to make their way into the site undetected.”

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‘Another Disaster’ at Fort Hood: Active Duty Soldier Turns Shooter

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

forthoodsite

Fort Hood was on a shelter-in-place order this afternoon with an active shooter on the base.

From KCEN TV:

We have reports that there are several injuries from this shooting. There is at least one patient being transported to the hospital.

We are also getting reports of victims in the Battle Simulation Center on 65th and Warehouse.

The suspect is still at large. The shooter was said to be in building 33026 which is the Medical Brigade Building.

Reports have said that he was driving a gray Toyota, described as a white male in an Army Combat Uniform, and carrying a .45 handgun.

 

UPDATE 6:45 p.m. EST: The Fort Hood press office has released a statement: “There has been a shooting at Fort Hood and injuries are reported. Emergency crews are on the scene. No further details are know at this time.”

The incident comes days after an FBI division sent out an alert about a recruit suspected of planning an assault like that committed by Nidal Hasan, who received a death sentence last year for the 2009 massacre at the base:

“On 20 March 2014, the Kansas City Division FBI became aware of an individual named BOOKER aka Muhammad Abdullah Hassan who had publicly stated his intention to commit jihad, bidding farewell to his friends and making comments indicating his jihad was imminent. BOOKER had been recruited by the US Army in Kansas City, Mo., in February 2014 and was scheduled to report for Basic Training on 7 April 2014. Kansas City Division Agents interviewed BOOKER on 20 March 2014.”

The title of the alert was “Planned Fort Hood-inspired Jihad against US Soldiers by Army Recruit” and was distributed to Marine Corps officials.

UPDATE 7 p.m. EST: Deputy press secretary Josh Earnest tells the White House pool: “The President has been informed of reports of a shooting at Fort Hood. He’ll continue to receive updates on the situation throughout the evening.” Obama is in Chicago this evening for a DNC event. UPDATE 7:15 p.m. EST: One shooter is reportedly dead at the scene, but Fort Hood officials have not confirmed any reports of dead or wounded. Officials are still trying to determine if there is another shooter. UPDATE 7:30 p.m. EST: From Fort Hood press office:

Fort Hood’s Directorate of Emergency Services has an initial report that a shooter is dead but this is unconfirmed. The injured personnel are being transported to Carl R. Darnall Medical Center and other local hospitals. Numerous law enforcement agencies are in support and on the scene. The number of injured are not confirmed at this time. No further details are known at this time. The post is currently still on lock down.

UPDATE 8 p.m. EST: House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) tells CNN that four people are confirmed dead and 14 are injured, per briefings that the congressman received from various agencies. He said the known shooter is named Ivan Lopez, but McCaul stressed there are concerns about a second shooter on the loose and a possible “conspiracy.” McCaul said there are no apparent terror links at the moment, but the situation is still fluid.

UPDATE 8:15 p.m. EST: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in Hawaii for the ASEAN defense ministers meeting, gave a brief statement to media. “Fort Hood is still locked down… We don’t have all the facts yet… I have no additional facts or figures,” he said.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who represents Fort Hood, told CNN, “This incredible military family at Fort Hood is going through another disaster.” Carter has staff on the ground near the base and said the shooter died of “probably a self-inflicted wound.” The Department of Homeland Security released the name of Lopez to Congress members, saying he’s active military, a truck driver, and was in full uniform.

The congressman said four of the wounded taken to area hospitals are in critical condition, one very critical. Unlike McCaul’s report, he said one person was confirmed dead. Carter called the reports of a second shooter “very similar to the Hasan shooting,” and added that “the Army’s very thorough” in combing through the installation to dispel that report.

UPDATE 8:30 p.m. EST: Statements from Texas’ senators: “Tonight, Texans’ hearts are once again very heavy,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “The scenes coming from Ft. Hood today are sadly too familiar and still too fresh in our memories. No community should have to go through this horrific violence once, let alone twice. I ask that all Americans join Sandy and me in praying for the victims, their families and the entire Ft. Hood community.”

“My prayers are with all in the Fort Hood community who have been impacted by today’s shooting, including first responders who have been actively working to move people out of harm’s way and secure the area,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “Our office will continue to closely monitor the situation and stands ready to offer assistance as necessary.” Obama also delivered remarks on the shooting at a Chicago steakhouse.

“Any shooting is troubling. Obviously this reopens the pain of what happened at Fort Hood five years ago. We know these families. We know their incredible service to our country and the sacrifices that they make. Obviously our thoughts and prayers were — are with the entire community. And we are going to do everything we can to make sure that the community at Fort Hood has what it needs to deal with the current situation, but also any potential aftermath,” he said.

“We’re heartbroken that something like this might have happened again. And I don’t want to comment on the facts until I know exactly what has happened, but for now, I would just hope that everybody across the country is keeping the families and the community at Fort Hood in our thoughts and in our prayers.”

UPDATE 10:50 p.m. EST: In a press conference at Fort Hood, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley said that the shooter was on medication for psychiatric issues while being treated for depression and anxiety.

Milley said all of the victims were military: three dead in addition to the shooter, and 16 injured. The commander wouldn’t confirm the shooter as Lopez, saying next of kin had not been notified, but said the shooter had served four months in Iraq in 2011 and “self-reported” a traumatic brain injury though was not wounded in combat. He was currently being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder but was “not yet diagnosed” and “was not in the process of being transitioned out of the military.”

The shooter used a Smith and Wesson .45 that was “purchased recently in the local area.” Milley said the shooter began shooting in one building, got in a vehicle and kept firing while driving, then went to another building to continue shooting. He was confronted in a parking lot by a female officer and shot himself in the head.

“I don’t think soldiers should have concealed weapons on base,” Milley said, arguing that the base has law enforcement that reacted “very rapidly.

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Senator Accuses Obama of Trying to Implement UN Arms Trade Treaty Without Congress

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The senator leading the bipartisan coalition against the UN Arms Trade Treaty is concerned about new administration efforts to implement the treaty without bringing it through Congress.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) wrote President Obama today to mark the first anniversary of the majority-rule adoption of the treaty by the UN General Assembly.

On Oct. 15, 2013, 50 members of the Senate sent a letter to Obama “pledging to oppose ratification of the treaty, and giving notice that we do not regard the U.S. as bound to uphold its object as purpose.”

“In that letter, we set out six substantive concerns for this position, and invited your response,” Moran noted. “Though Assistant Secretary of State Tom Countryman stated in November that the administration is ‘ready to discuss [the treaty] with people who don’t agree with us…and have offered to do so…repeatedly with very little response,’ we have not received even the courtesy of an acknowledgement.”

A year ago, the Senate passed 53-46 an amendment to keep the U.S. from joining the treaty. Democrats signing the Moran letter were Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

“I must conclude from this fact that your administration is not interested in responding substantively to the concerns we have raised. Particularly in view of our constitutional responsibility for providing advice and consent on treaties, and of your proclaimed intention to rely on executive actions to achieve your policy objectives, I find this troubling,” Moran wrote.

In December, Obama signed into law the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibited the Defense Department from funding any part of the treaty before it’s ratified.

“The views of the Senate having been made clear, I was concerned when your administration announced a new conventional arms export control policy on January 15. While Assistant Secretary Countryman stated in November that ‘becoming a party to the treaty would not require any additional export or import controls for the United States, full stop,’ the new policy, announced only two months later, bears a strong similarity to the criteria and standards in the treaty,” Moran continued.

“I therefore regard this new policy as an effort on the part of your administration to implement the treaty without obtaining the advice and consent of the Senate. I do not regard this policy as required by the treaty’s object and purpose: I view it as a voluntary effort to implement the treaty. I am disturbed both by the secrecy of the process that produced this new policy and the disregard it shows for the role of the Senate, in particular. I therefore call upon you to withdraw this policy and to consult fully with relevant committees and concerned offices as you revise it.”

Moran urged Obama to “notify the treaty depository that the U.S. does not intend to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty, and is therefore not bound by its obligations.”

“I pledge to continue leading my colleagues in opposing the ratification of this treaty, and wish to repeat our previous notice that we do not regard the U.S. as bound to uphold its object and purpose,” he said. “Lastly, I now urge you to end any and all efforts to implement the treaty before it passes completely through the entire U.S. ratification process, and thereby to show the respect for the constitutional processes that you are sworn to uphold.”

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