A member of the House Intelligence Committee said one of the mysteries still remaining for members of Congress about the Benghazi attack is exactly what Ambassador Chris Stevens was doing in the Libyan city.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said lawmakers have learned that the CIA did inform people at the diplomatic facility “that there’s been a lot of chatter.”
“We want you on high alert. And, you know, they shared that information with the RSOs over at the temporary facility, even invited the guys over to spend the night with them,” he said on Fox.
“And I don’t know why in the world the ambassador would have been making that trip. He made a — we understand that he did go to the opening of a school or something there in Benghazi. And two of the CIA agents were asked to go along with him on that for extra protection. But what other than that he was doing there, we really don’t know.”
Congress heard testimony during the Benghazi hearings that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was interested in opening a consulate there, but numerous theories have been floated since the Sept. 11, 2012, assault about Stevens’ actual reason for the visit.
“What’s interesting is that when we heard this testimony that when they arrived at the facility, that none of the RSOs or the regional security officers that were there were armed. In fact, one of them was barefoot. We had one individual testify that he saw two of them riding around in a Land Cruiser,” Westmoreland said.
“And so, you know, none of them had a weapon. As far as they know, no shots were fired. And so, I mean, that is completely inadequate especially in Libya at the time of September the 11th. And so we don’t understand exactly what kind of preparations these gentlemen have. Now, what we understand is the guy that was leading the thing had just graduated from the school there at the State Department and had been in Benghazi less than 10 weeks.”
Westmoreland said he believes that much of it boils down to “they wanted us to, you know, look like we weren’t afraid, that we were trying to be part of the neighborhood and that was just not the case.”
“And the security that was even sent down with the ambassador was very light. And in fact, they took the same route that the British ambassador had been fired upon about three months earlier,” he said. “So I don’t know how much really preliminary work they had done on preparing for the ambassador to be there.”
Levin: ‘Common Sense Criteria’ Needed to Weed Out 501(c)(4) Groups ‘Engaging in Political Decision Making’
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) cautioned this morning that new rules coming from Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to more sharply define what qualifies as a 501(c)(4) need to be carefully assessed, but said the intention of the rules is spot-on.
“By law, tax exempt 501(c)(4) groups are supposed to be doing social welfare work, not influencing campaigns using money from undisclosed donors,” Levin said. “In a long overdue decision, the IRS is finally proposing using objective, common sense criteria to identify campaign activities by 501(c)(4) organizations and end suspicions it is engaging in political decision making.”
“The specific criteria that have been proposed need to be carefully evaluated, but the general approach of replacing subjective analysis with objective criteria is encouraging, because it promises to reduce concerns about political bias, make tax and campaign laws more consistent, and streamline the review process which will save money for both taxpayers and nonprofits,” he added.
But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said it’s simply an effort to crack down on conservative groups in the wake of the IRS scandal.
“This new effort by the Obama administration to limit traditional advocacy efforts by social welfare organizations will have a much more profound impact on grassroots and community organizations than on the well-heeled groups it supposedly targets,” Issa said. “The fact that the administration’s new effort only applies to social welfare organizations — and not powerful unions or business groups — underscores that this is a crass political effort by the administration to get what political advantage they can, when they can.”
“The Committee’s interim report into the IRS’s targeting scandal explained how the Citizens United decision caused the IRS to handle conservative tax-exempt applicants in a distinct and unfair manner,” the chairman added. “The regulation released today continues this Administration’s unfortunate pattern of stifling constitutional free speech.”
The Treasury Department said it expects to receive “a large number of comments” on the proposed guidance and will weigh them in the consideration process.
“This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations,” said Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark J. Mazur. “We are committed to getting this right before issuing final guidance that may affect a broad group of organizations. It will take time to work through the regulatory process and carefully consider all public feedback as we strive to ensure that the standards for tax-exemption are clear and can be applied consistently.”
This proposed guidance defines the term “candidate-related political activity,” and would amend current regulations by indicating that the promotion of social welfare does not include this type of activity, according to Treasury. The proposed guidance also seeks initial comments on other aspects of the qualification requirements, including what proportion of a 501(c)(4) organization’s activities must promote social welfare.
“This is part of ongoing efforts within the IRS that are improving our work in the tax-exempt area,” said IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. “Once final, this proposed guidance will continue moving us forward and provide clarity for this important segment of exempt organizations.”
Under the proposed guidelines, candidate-related political activity includes:
- Communications that expressly advocate for a clearly identified political candidate or candidates of a political party.
- Communications that are made within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) and clearly identify a candidate or political party.
- Communications expenditures that must be reported to the Federal Election Commission.
- Grants and Contributions
- Any contribution that is recognized under campaign finance law as a reportable contribution.
- Grants to section 527 political organizations and other tax-exempt organizations that conduct candidate-related political activities (note that a grantor can rely on a written certification from a grantee stating that it does not engage in, and will not use grant funds for, candidate-related political activity).
- Activities Closely Related to Elections or Candidates
- Voter registration drives and “get-out-the-vote” drives.
- Distribution of any material prepared by or on behalf of a candidate or by a section 527 political organization.
- Preparation or distribution of voter guides that refer to candidates (or, in a general election, to political parties).
- Holding an event within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) at which a candidate appears as part of the program.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is planning on introducing bicameral legislation after the holiday break to thwart Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) attempt to stock the D.C. Circuit with President Obama’s picks.
Before senators left for the Thanksgiving break last week, Reid invoked the “nuclear option” to allow nominees to pass cloture with a simple majority vote.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduce the Court Efficiency Act in April, and King will now introduced it in the House and and push for its immediate consideration in the House Judiciary Committee and on the floor. The bill would simply eliminate the three vacancies on the court that Reid is attempting to fill by killing the filibuster, and add one judgeship each to the Second Circuit Court and the Eleventh Circuit Court.
“The D.C. Circuit ranks last in both the number of appeals filed and appeals terminated. The caseload is so low, in fact, that current judges on the D.C. Circuit have told me that if these seats were filled, there wouldn’t be enough work to go around,” Grassley argued. “It only makes sense to move these seats where they are needed most and can be an efficient use of taxpayer resources.”
“But rather than adopt a reasonable good-government approach, the Senate majority has demonstrated once again that it is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve its political ends, in this case stacking the deck with judges it believes will rubberstamp key elements of the president’s agenda, including health care reform and cap and trade.”
King said noted that the court enjoys not just a small workload, but the “unique responsibility of reviewing matters pertaining to federal agencies.”
“It is not at all surprising that given this court’s responsibility, the president would want to shore up support for his agenda there. Additionally, the fervor to fill these judgeships, which led to an unprecedented change in Senate procedure, obviously stems from a similar motivation amongst Senate Democrats,” King said.
“Given the enormous costs to taxpayers each judgeship entails, and the dubious political motivations behind packing the D.C. Circuit, I think it is imperative that the House act immediately to protect the integrity of the Court, taxpayers, and future litigants.”
If a bipartisan consensus can be found anywhere on the Hill right now, it’s that neither party’s lawmakers appear to want to hear passengers yakking in the plane seat next to theirs.
In fact, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) vowed yesterday to introduce legislation to stop the Federal Communications Commission from allowing cell phone conversations on airplanes.
“Imagine two million passengers, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts,” Alexander said. “The Transportation Security Administration would have to hire three times as many air marshals to deal with the fistfights.”
“Stop and think about what we hear now in airport lobbies from those who wander around shouting personal details into a microphone: babbling about last night’s love life, bathroom plans, next week’s schedule, orders to an assistant, arguments with spouses. Imagine this noise while you travel, restrained by your seatbelt, unable to escape,” he continued.
“The FCC commissioners will earn the gratitude of the two million Americans who fly each day by deciding: text messages, yes; conversations, no.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) sent a letter Friday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler arguing that allowing cell phone use would be a safety issue and potentially increase incidents of “air rage.”
He noted that the Association of Flight Attendants has come out against the proposed change on the ground that in-flight phone calls would be “disruptive and distracting.”
“Putting the nuisance factor aside, I’m concerned this could present a serious flight-safety issue,” Begich said. “We need people to be paying attention to cockpit announcements and the flight attendants, not talking on the phone. And we certainly don’t need any more potential causes for the growing phenomenon of ‘air rage.’ The thought of having a constant cellphone yammering on every flight makes my head hurt.”
A YouGov/Huffington Post poll conducted over the weekend found 31 percent of respondents believing that people should be able to talk on their phones during flight, while 49 percent were opposed.
A solid majority, 63 percent, believe text messaging in-flight should be allowed.
President Obama told major studio representatives assembled at DreamWorks today that Hollywood has made the world a better place even people know nothing else about the U.S.:
Believe it or not, entertainment is part of our American diplomacy. It’s part of what makes us exceptional; part of what makes us such a world power.
You can go anywhere on the planet and you’ll see a kid wearing a “Madagascar” T-shirt. You can say, “May the force be with you,” they know what you’re talking about. Hundreds of millions of people may never set foot in the United States, but thanks to you, they’ve experienced a small part of what makes our country special. They’ve learned something about our values.
We have shaped a world’s culture through you. The stories that we tell transmit values and ideals about tolerance and diversity and overcoming adversity, and creativity that are part of our DNA. And as a consequence of what you’ve done, you helped shape the world’s culture in a way that has made the world better.
They might not know the Gettysburg Address, but if they’re watching some old movie, maybe Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner or The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Will and Grace and Modern Family, they’ve had a front row seat to our march towards progress.
Obama did gently chide industry folks about gun violence on screen:
When it comes to issues like gun violence, we’ve got to make sure that we’re not glorifying it because the stories you tell shape our children’s outlook and their lives. Now, earlier this year, leaders from this town sat down with Vice President Biden to talk about what Hollywood could do to help keep our kids safe. This was in the wake of Sandy Hook. And those conversations need to continue. The stories we tell matter. And you tell stories more powerfully than anybody else on the earth.
But I want to make clear, even as we think long and hard about the messages we send, we should never waver from our commitment to the freedom that allows us to tell those stories so well. Protecting our First Amendment rights are vital to who we are and it’s also good business. Because in the global race for jobs and industries, the thing we do better than anybody else is creativity.
Iran’s foreign ministry said today that the “fact sheet” released by the White House isn’t correctly representing the nuclear deal it signed.
“What has been released by the website of the White House as a fact sheet is a one-sided interpretation of the agreed text in Geneva and some of the explanations and words in the sheet contradict the text of the Joint Plan of Action (the title of the Iran-powers deal), and this fact sheet has unfortunately been translated and released in the name of the Geneva agreement by certain media, which is not true,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said, according to Fars News Agency.
After the White House released that fact sheet early Sunday, Tehran released what it says is the full text of the agreement.
And Iran stressed it had not signed over any enrichment rights, while the White House said Iran did not have a right to enrich uranium.
Afkham said Tehran is not happy that Washington strayed from the actual wording of the agreement, which is why negotiations were delicate in the first place.
From Los Angeles today, White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed that President Obama and his staff have been calling “senior members of Congress” to “brief them on the situation” — namely, to try to convince them to not pass new sanctions on Iran.
“While we have been traveling over the course of Sunday, Monday, now Tuesday, senior members of the President’s national security team at the White House have been in touch with many members of Congress to describe to them our position as it relates to these talks and how we see — and what we see as the best path for moving forward,” Earnest said.
“Because of the phased agreement that we’ve struck with them, the Iranians will not use additional talks as cover to make progress on their nuclear program,” he added. “So we have before us a really important if not historic opportunity to resolve this situation peacefully. So we’ve got a very important six months ahead of us here, and this diplomatic opportunity should not be complicated by additional sanctions legislation at this point.”
Um, is it just me or is it disconcerting that Iran seems to have a totally different view of the nuke deals terms?
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) November 27, 2013
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases — from Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. — on the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.
The challenge hinges on whether employers can opt out of the requirement because of the religious convictions of the business owners.
Arguments will likely be heard in March with a decision in June.
White House press secretary Jay Carney just issued a statement on the news:
The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration asked the Supreme Court to consider a legal challenge to the health care law’s requirement that for-profit corporations include birth control coverage in insurance available to their employees. We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.
We do not comment on specifics of a case pending before the Court. As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor. The President believes that no one, including the government or for-profit corporations, should be able to dictate those decisions to women. The Administration has already acted to ensure no church or similar religious institution will be forced to provide contraception coverage and has made a commonsense accommodation for non-profit religious organizations that object to contraception on religious grounds. These steps protect both women’s health and religious beliefs, and seek to ensure that women and families–not their bosses or corporate CEOs–can make personal health decisions based on their needs and their budgets.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) blasted the decision, saying “allowing a woman’s boss to call the shots about her access to birth control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and age.”
“In weighing this case my hope is that the court realizes that women working for private companies should be afforded the same access to medical care, regardless of who signs their paycheck,” Murray said. “We can’t allow legal precedent to dictate that the personal beliefs of those in positions of power can block those who aren’t from making their own health care decisions. That is a slippery slope that could lead to bosses dictating everything from an employee’s ability to access HIV treatment to their ability to vaccinate their children.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said “by failing to protect religious freedom, the Senate guaranteed that the courts would have to act.”
“I’m pleased the Supreme Court has decided to hear this important case,” Blunt added. “The HHS mandate is an enormous government overreach and it violates Americans’ constitutional rights. Employers should not be forced to choose between giving up their business for their faith or giving up their faith for their business.”
The former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said he fears that the Obama administration won’t even enforce its Iran deal unless Congress passes legislation.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) called the agreement “a victory for Iran.”
“It’s a defeat for the U.S. What it does is it allows Iran to maintain the key component of its proposed nuclear weapons plan, you know, the whole idea of enriched uranium. And we’ve now basically given the right to have that. In return, they are not giving up any of their centrifuges and we are going to lessen the sanctions,” King said on Fox.
He noted that the rollback of sanctions isn’t so much about the amount — about $7 billion — as the problem of claiming that you can just put back in place that which has been repealed.
“It’s very difficult to put a sanctions program in place. Once you start to unravel it, it’s I think going to unravel very quickly. And already we see countries around the world, especially in Europe and Asia, trying to, you know, get involved in agreements with Iran. They see real potential there,” King said.
King stressed that Congress must “certainly attempt” to legislate the deal.
“I’m sure that Ed Royce, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House will have his own legislation. Basically from what I’ve seen, I think, from Senator Menendez and Senator Schumer and Senator Mark Kirk are talking is right now the way to go, and that’s to basically make sure this agreement is, you know, to the extent it can be enforce, to say that there will be severe sanctions imposed if it’s violated in any way. Any agreement, any violation of this agreement whatsoever by Iran will result in even more severe sanctions and these will be very severe,” he said. “And my concern is that without this legislation, the administration is not going to really attempt to enforce this agreement.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) vowed before the upper chamber left on recess to bring a sanctions bill to the floor at the beginning of December, but King noted that the White House pressure will come down on him hard to keep it away from a vote — which could score a veto-proof majority.
“There’s going to be tremendous pressure brought on Harry Reid and the Democrats not to go forward with it. And they may feel they have the best of all worlds. You can have a number of Democrats endorse this legislation, but never have to vote on it and never really have to defy the administration,” King said.
“I’m not questioning the motives of Senator Schumer or Senator Menendez. I’m just saying the reality is if Senator Reid doesn’t want to move, no one’s going to move him. And that’s — so he has the administration behind him. It well could be locked in. It’s still important we keep the pressure and do all we can and make it an issue. And I’m not saying a political issue, but really a national issue where the American people know what the stakes are here. And that can cause Harry Reid to back down.”
King added that the deal with Iran is “probably worse than it looks.”
“So I think this fits into his overall view of the world, that if the United States and Israel in particular would just back away a bit and let Iran move forward in peace, that we can all love each other. I think it’s a very misguided attitude. I think it’s going to be extremely damaging to the U.S. and we just can’t allow this to go on.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee spoke out Monday night about its “many concerns” over the Iran agreement and hailed lawmakers who have thus far voiced similar reservations.
“Now that the P5+1 has inked an initial agreement with Iran, America must not only ensure full Iranian compliance but also insist that any final deal deny Tehran a nuclear weapons capability. Tough sanctions legislation passed by Congress and vigorous diplomacy pursued by the administration have brought Iran to negotiations,” AIPAC said in a lengthy statement.
“However, the initial agreement raises many concerns—including implicit acceptance of Iranian enrichment. Congress has provided the leverage to spur Iran to seek talks; now it must press the administration to negotiate a verifiable agreement that will prevent Iran from ever building nuclear weapons. Congress must also legislate additional sanctions, so that Iran will face immediate consequences should it renege on its commitments or refuse to negotiate an acceptable final agreement.”
AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, scheduled for March, draws the vast majority of Congress and requisite administration representation.
The group’s measured stand against the Iran deal as-is indicates that they’re ready to put their lobbying and campaign might behind lawmakers who do the right thing. AIPAC highlighted lawmakers who have come out against the deal, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
Their email to supporters notes what the administration says about the key points of the deal, then highlights its flaws:
- The deal dismantles none of Iran’s existing program, allowing 9,000 centrifuges to continue operating and an additional 10,000 centrifuges to remain in place. After six months, if no agreement is reached, Iran will remain in a position to double the pace of its enrichment.
- Iran will retain all of its nuclear material and will be able to continue the research and development aspects of its program. Thus, Iran will retain 5-7 bombs worth of low-enriched uranium.
- The agreement imposes no restrictions on Iran’s nuclear weaponization efforts, beyond Iran’s commitment in the deal not to seek nuclear weapons. Iran thus far has denied inspectors access to key facilities, such as Parchin, where the IAEA suspects nuclear weapons-related experiments have been conducted.
- The P5+1 pledges not to seek further reductions in Iranian oil exports, and to permit insurance and shipping companies to facilitate permissible oil sales. The agreement also allows Iran to repatriate $3-4 billion dollars in oil proceeds held abroad.
- The P5+1 will suspend sanctions targeting petrochemical exports, gold and precious metal trading, Iran’s auto industry and the provision of spare parts for civilian aircraft.
- The interim agreement does not require that Iran come into compliance with six mandatory U.N. Security Council resolutions, which demand Iran suspend all enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy water activity and comply fully with IAEA demands. The interim agreement merely states that Iran will “address” U.N. Security Council concerns.
- Instead, the interim agreement stipulates that the final agreement will allow Iran to continue mutually agreed upon enrichment activities. American officials deny that they recognized any Iranian “right” to enrich, but appear to have conceded as a practical matter that Iran will be allowed some enrichment capacity.
- Allowing Iran to maintain a domestic enrichment capability and its existing nuclear infrastructure raises serious concerns that Iran will be able to resume nuclear-weapons related activities at will.
- The agreement pledges that the P5+1 and Iran will work on resolving prior concerns of the IAEA with the military character of Iran’s nuclear program, but does not require that Iran satisfactorily resolve IAEA concerns.
- The agreement also includes an option to extend the negotiating window beyond an initial six month period. This creates the possibility that the initial agreement will become a de-facto final agreement—with Iran receiving more sanctions relief simply to maintain the current deal or in response to additional cosmetic measures.
AIPAC called on Congress to pass sanctions legislation, something many senators have promised to do after the Thanksgiving break despite the White House lobbying against it.
“The U.S. must ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Any final agreement must deny Iran both uranium and plutonium paths to develop nuclear weapons,” AIPAC said.
President Obama partied with the stars in Beverly Hills on Monday night to raise cash for the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is off to a running start for 2014, though, raising $4.8 million in October in its best off-cycle month ever and outpacing the National Republican Senatorial Committee by a cool million.
In a tent on the grounds of Magic Johnson’s mansion, the former Lakers star hailed Obama as “the greatest leader in the world.”
With ticket prices between $2,500 and $15,000 a head, the crowed included Samuel L. Jackson and Diane Keaton along with some L.A. Clippers players and members of Congress.
“Magic has become our prime example of somebody who was blessed with incredible fame and fortune from a sports career and understood his next step is to build institutions and businesses, and employ people, and go into communities that folks said weren’t worth anything and suddenly find that they’re worth a whole lot if somebody is willing to invest in them,” Obama said, noting that the two last met on the basketball court for Obama’s 49th birthday “and I just want to tell you it wasn’t pretty.”
Obama said after “hard, tough questions” they know which policies work, and “what’s stopping us is a failure of our politics and a lack of ambition.”
“And we shy away from what might be hard. And our politics all too often encourages people to think selfishly or short term. And that’s what the debate in Washington is about and that’s what the debate in this country generally is about right now,” he said.
At the home of entertainment industry heavyweight Haim Saban (producer of Power Rangers and chairman of Univision), Obama sat down for dinner with people paying $16,200 each.
President Obama brought former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, now chancellor of the University of California system, along to an immigration reform speech in San Francisco’s Chinatown today, where he was interrupted by protesters wanting him to issued an executive order to stop all deportations.
Obama squeezed the speech in between four fundraising events on the West Coast.
He began, though, by praising himself on the Iran nuclear deal.
“Now, some of you may recall that when I first ran for president I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world, one that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of our engagement with the world. And as president and a commander in chief, I’ve done what I said: We ended the war in Iraq, we brought our troops home. Osama bin Laden met justice. The war in Afghanistan will end next year,” Obama said.
“And as the strongest, most powerful nation on the face of the Earth, we’ve engaged in clear-eyed and principled diplomacy even with our adversaries in order to begin to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and to place the first real constraints in a decade on Iran’s nuclear program,” he added, failing to note that the funding for the program to dismantle Syria’s massive chemical weapons stockpile may run out at the end of this month.
“‘Cause I firmly believe in what President Kennedy once said. He said, ‘Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.’ I believe that. And this diplomacy, backed by the unprecedented sanctions we brought on Iran, has brought us the progress that was achieved this weekend. For the first time in a decade we’ve halted the progress on Iran’s nuclear program. Key parts of the program will be rolled back.”
Obama claimed “international inspectors will have unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear-related facilities,” although the agreement does not expressly include unannounced inspections.
“So this will help Iran from building a nuclear weapon. And, over the coming months, we’re gonna continue our diplomacy with the goal of achieving a comprehensive solution that deals with the threat of Iran’s nuclear program once and for all. And, if Iran seizes the opportunity and chooses to join the global community, then we can begin to chip away with the mistrust that has existed for many years between our two nations,” he said.
“None of that’s going to be easy. Huge challenges remain, but we cannot close the door on diplomacy, and we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict. And tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it is not the right thing for our security.”
“It is not the right thing for our security,” he repeated, waiting for the applause.
“Now, this progress and the potential it offers reminds us of what is possible when the United States has the courage to lead; not just with the force of arms, but with the strength of diplomacy and our commitment to peace. That’s what keeps us strong. That’s what makes us a beacon for the world. That’s how I will continue to lead so long as I’m president of the United States.”
The fourth-ranking Republican in the House leadership broke a congressional record last night by being the only member of Congress to give birth three times while in office.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), 44, is also the highest-ranking woman in the House.
“Nothing compares to the miracle of bringing a new life into the world. She’s beautiful and seems to be taking it all in stride. Our hearts are full,” she posted last night on her Instagram page announcing the birth of Brynn Catherine, whose Nov. 24 arrival into this world fits in nicely with the congressional calendar at the beginning of the Thanksgiving recess.
McMorris Rodgers gave birth to her son, Cole, in April 2007 and daughter Grace in December 2010.
“She looks forward to continuing her duties as House Republican Conference Chair and running again for re-election next year to represent Washington’s Fifth District,” her spokesman said.
The congresswoman’s other record is being the first member to give birth while in the congressional leadership.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the bipartisan Group of 14 working on new Iran sanctions, said Congress’ legislation is going to be something that “really defines the end game.”
“I think there’s bipartisan support to dismantle the plutonium reactor and to stop enriching in Iran completely. After 30 years of chaos, mayhem and murder by the Iranian regime, should they really be allowed to enrich uranium?” Graham said this morning on CNN.
“The 20 percent uranium that’s been diluted, that’s a good start. If they want a commercial nuclear program, let the international community provide them fuel rods, like we do with Canada and Mexico. There is no right to enrich. So we’re so far away from what I think an acceptable end game is that I think you’re going to see Congress weigh in more aggressively, not less,” he added.
That was suggested Sunday by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who indicated that a sanctions bill is not dead despite the administration’s wishes.
“We had these guys on the rope. What I was looking for is an interim deal that went a long way toward the final deal. This actually leaves in place everything that would allow them to make a weapon. It doesn’t dismantle anything. It doesn’t really roll back their capability. And if you’re Israel, you got to wake up and look at this deal as a nightmare because the capability to go nuclear is very much in place, hasn’t been reduced much at all,” Graham said.
“And remember North Korea? There were inspectors everywhere all the time and sanctions were in place and the U.N. is not going to be a picket fence to keep the Iranians from going nuclear in the eyes of the Israeli. No Israel government is going to rely on the U.N. to stop the advancement of the Iranian nuclear program. They want it dismantled. I want it dismantled.”
Graham said the strategy needs to be getting Iran to the table, then “you let them know what the final deal will look like and say, take this or else.”
“We’re dealing with people who are not only untrustworthy, this is a murderous regime that murders their own people, that has created chaos and mayhem throughout the whole world, the largest sponsor of state terrorism, and we’re treating them complexly out of sync with who they are. That’s what bothers me so much. This deal doesn’t represent the fact that we’re dealing with some of the most thuggish people in the world,” he said.
The senator predicted a sanctions bill will emerge in the next couple of weeks “that will be bipartisan and tie the sanctions to the end game.”
“My goal is to get new sanctions in place and the only way they can be relieved is if you dismantle the reactor, not suspend construction. That if you stop enrichment, not just pause it, I think the new round of sanctions will be focused on an end game that will make the world safe and prevent Iran from having a nuclear capability. Right now the interim deal leaves their capability totally intact,” he said. “The new round of sanctions will be focused on the end game and it is coming soon.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, who called Israel “rabid dogs” and openly denounced the West during the nuclear negotiation process, hailed President Hassan Rouhani for the deal forged at the P5+1.
“Definitely, the success was made relying on the divine blessing and the support of the Iranian nation,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.
The ayatollah added that “Iranian authorities should always maintain the spirit of resisting against excessive demanding.”
Khamenei’s letter to Rouhani was actually a response to the president, who wrote to the Supreme Leader to advise him that his nuclear deal had gone through.
“Undoubtedly, this breakthrough is the result of God’s blessings, the Leader’s guidelines and unwavering support of the Iranian nation,” Rouhani wrote to the ayatollah.
Rouhani also said “world powers have come to the conclusion that sanctions and pressures will prove futile, and as Iran stated from the very beginning, there is no way to reach agreement but through mutual respect and respectful negotiations.”
Senior Military Aide to the Iranian Supreme Leader Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi said a weak U.S. has failed to rein in the “Islamic awakening.”
“Some people think that the Americans have controlled the waves of Islamic awakening. The Americans are not able to harness the Islamic awakening the same way that they couldn’t control the Islamic Revolution (of Iran), the Islamic awakening cannot be stopped,” Safavi said, according to Fars.
While the U.S. maintains that there is no recognized right to enrich uranium, Iran says it wouldn’t have approved a deal otherwise. Iran’s Foreign Ministry says the deal allows Iran to continue its activities at Arak, Fordow and Natanz while stipulating that no additional sanctions will be imposed on Tehran.
Secretary of State John Kerry returns to Washington today for what’s expected to be the start of furious lobbying of Congress to stop additional sanctions against Iran. The Senate plans to vote on new sanctions after returning from Thanksgiving, and key Democrats in support of sanctions have already emerged as suspicious of the White House deal.
President Obama mentioned neither his Iran nuke deal or the bungled Obamacare rollout to supporters at a fundraising stop in Seattle on Sunday evening, calling Congress the biggest impediment to future progress.
Obama didn’t show up at the private home event, for which ticket prices ranged from $16,200 per person to $32,400 per couple, until two and a half hours after it began. It benefited the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and included Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and DCCC chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).
“Obviously, there are such enormous challenges that we face all across this country and internationally, and this year we’ve seen issues ranging from the tragedy of Sandy Hook to disclosures at the NSA to the shutdown and the potential of default to continuing issues surrounding the Middle East and peace there,” he told the crowd. “And so it’s understandable, I think, that sometimes people feel discouraged or concerned about whether or not we can continue to make progress. And one thing that I always try to emphasize is that if you look at American history, there have been frequent occasions in which it looked like we had insoluble problems — either economic, political, security — and as long as there were those who stayed steady and clear-eyed and persistent, eventually we came up with an answer; eventually we were able to work through these challenges and come out better on the other end.”
Among noting his accomplishments, Obama said, “We’ve been able to not only create the possibility of all people enjoying the security of health care, but we’ve also been driving down the cost of health care, which benefits people’s pocket books, their businesses.”
The president said he’s “incredibly optimistic” about the future, but “the biggest barrier and impediment we have right now is a Congress — and in particular, a House of Representatives — that is not focused on getting the job done for the American people, but is a lot more focused on trying to position themselves for the next election or to defeat my agenda.”
“I’m not a particularly ideological person. There are some things, some values I feel passionately about. I feel passionate about making sure everybody in this country gets a fair shake. I feel passionate about everybody being treated with dignity and respect regardless of what they look like or what their last name is or who they love. I feel passionate about making sure that we’re leaving a planet that is as spectacular as the one we inherited from our parents and our grandparents. I feel passionate about working for peace even as we are making sure that our defenses are strong,” Obama continued.
“…What we’re looking for is the advancement of ideas that are going to vindicate those values that are tried and true, and that have led this country to the spectacular heights that we’ve seen in the past.”
To do that, he said, Pelosi needs to become speaker again.
“There will not be a point in time where I’ve got an opportunity to get something done where I don’t do it simply because of politics,” Obama said. “But those opportunity have been few and far between over the last several years, and the American people can’t afford to wait in perpetuity for us to grow faster, create more jobs, strengthen our middle class, clean our environment, fix our immigration system.”
On Sunday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked who most influenced President Obama on the Iran deal, and he offered up three names: Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, UN Ambassador Samantha Power and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
“Well, the president — a number of the president’s national security team have been very involved in this. The most public aspects — or those who have been most publicly involved in this process have obviously been the Secretary of State and the Undersecretary of State, Wendy Sherman, who has been our point person for a lot of the P5-plus-1 talks,” Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Seattle, where Obama attended DNC and DCCC fundraisers. Sherman used to lead campaigns for the Democratic National Committee long before being named to her key nuclear negotiator post.
“But obviously, Susan Rice and Ambassador Power, in their roles at the United Nations, have been instrumental to all of this. But there are a number of members of the president’s national security team at the White House that have been involved, as well. And they will continue to be involved in that process moving forward,” Earnest said.
When asked for examples of how they’d be involved, Earnest replied, “Nothing that I can share at this point.”
This morning the National Security Council announced that Rice was being sent to Afghanistan to smooth the waters with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The 2,500-member Loya Jirga, composed of Afghan tribal leaders and elites, called on Karzi to sign the bilateral security agreement with the U.S., which allows a residual force in the country beyond the 2014 pullout, before the end of this year.
Karzai won’t sign it, though.
Karzai’s term is good for a few more months as presidential elections are on April 5; candidates include some of his starkest opponents and his brother Quayum. As of three preconditions to sign the agreement, Karzai wants “transparent” presidential elections, progress in talks with the Taliban, and a pledge by the U.S. to not raid any more homes.
“If there is one more raid on Afghan homes by U.S. forces, there is no BSA. The U.S. can’t go into our homes from this moment onward,” Karzai told the Loya Jirga.
Washington wants the agreement signed now, but Karzai said he’ll get to it after April elections.
So Obama sent Rice over to Afghanistan to twist Karzai’s arm.
NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden claimed the visit that began Saturday and ends tomorrow is really “a long planned trip to visit our troops and civilians around the holidays, while also assessing the situation on the ground.”
“Afghanistan continues to be one of the United States’ top national security priorities, and this trip is an opportunity for Ambassador Rice to take stock of our efforts and meet with American troops serving in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and our civilians at the U.S. Mission to Afghanistan. On behalf of President Obama, she is thanking the men and women who are away from their families this Thanksgiving and serving in harm’s way,” Hayden said.
“She will hear directly from U.S. troops, diplomats, and development professionals about our efforts as we move toward the responsible conclusion of our combat mission at the end of 2014 and as we continue to strengthen Afghanistan to ensure that it can provide security, governance, and opportunity for its people. Ambassador Rice will also meet with Afghan civil society leaders and Afghan officials, as well as visit U.S.–supported assistance projects.”
The pact with Washington would leave 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops in the country after the pullout date spread across nine bases.
“The U.S. insists the deal, which has taken months to negotiate, must be signed before the end of this year in order to secure plans for how many troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014,” Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported.
The White House just released a readout of what it says transpired on President Obama’s call to Israel:
President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu today to discuss the P5+1’s first step agreement with Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The two leaders reaffirmed their shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The President noted that the P5+1 will use the months ahead to pursue a lasting, peaceful, and comprehensive solution that would resolve the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Consistent with our commitment to consult closely with our Israeli friends, the President told the Prime Minister that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding our efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution. The President underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran’s intentions. The President and Prime Minister agreed to stay in close contact on this issue as the P5+1 and Iran negotiate a long-term solution over the next six months.
Obama then left for DNC and DCCC events Seattle on a West Coast fundraising swing with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Netanyahu blasted the danger of the P5+1 agreement at this morning’s cabinet meeting. Dem supporters of Israel also said that a sanctions bill will move forward despite the administration’s promise to Iran that they won’t face new sanctions.
Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, nephew of King Abdullah and ambassador to London, called Obama’s rush to make a deal with Iran as “incomprehensible.”
“Appeasement hasn’t worked in the past, and I don’t think it will work in the 21st century,” he was quoted as saying. “That is why the frustration really is toward the main players within the United Nations Security Council, that’s their responsibility. And they will share also the blame, whatever deal comes out, they are responsible for it.”
“We are not going to sit idly by and receive a threat there and not think seriously how we can best defend our country and our region.”
A leading Democratic proponent of new sanctions against Iran indicated Sunday morning that he “expects” a six-month window of time in legislation being forged over the Thanksgiving break by the Group of 14 — but he won’t give up legislation altogether as stipulated in the P5+1 agreement.
That pits the most recent past chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the current one.
Current Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he continues “to support a two-track policy of diplomacy and sanctions with Iran.”
“In my view, this agreement did not proportionately reduce Iran’s nuclear program for the relief it is receiving. Given Iran’s history of duplicity, it will demand ongoing, on the ground verification,” Menendez said in a statement. “Until Iran has verifiably terminated its illicit nuclear program, we should vigorously enforce existing sanctions. I do not believe we should further reduce our sanctions, nor abstain from preparations to impose new sanctions on Iran should the talks fail. I will be monitoring the enforcement of existing sanctions not covered by the interim agreement to ensure they are being robustly enforced.”
“I expect that the forthcoming sanctions legislation to be considered by the Senate will provide for a six month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran, but will at the same time be immediately available should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement,” he added.
However, the administration wants no passage of sanctions at all. A copy of the deal released by Iranian media in the early morning hours states “the U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions.”
Secretary of State John Kerry vowed to lobby the Hill to keep its hands off Iran.
“I believe Congress will recognize that this deal actually has a great deal of benefit in it. And I look forward to going up and working with our colleagues on the Hill in order to try to persuade them that this is not the moment to increase sanctions,” Kerry told ABC this morning. “I’m confident that as Congress examines what we’ve been able to achieve here, and as they measure the fact that if you didn’t do what we’re doing, they would be marching forward and putting more centrifuges in, enriching more, moving closer to a weapon. What we have done absolutely, unequivocally allows us to get into Fordow, know what they’re doing in that enrichment, stop the enrichment. And if they’re not prepared to do the things necessary to be able to have a peaceful program – truly peaceful and provable as such – then the sanctions can be turned back up, and of course, he always has every other option available to him as commander in chief.”
Menendez added that it’s his “fervent hope that this interim agreement leads to a final agreement with Iran that will ensure that it cannot acquire nuclear weapons capability, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions, as well as long-term access to Iran by the IAEA to detect any effort by Iran to re-start its illicit nuclear program.”
Other leading Democrats on the Group of 14 were similarly wary.
“This disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “I intend to discuss that possibility with my colleagues.”
“It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table, and any reduction relieves the psychological pressure of future sanctions and gives them hope that they will be able to gain nuclear weapon capability while further sanctions are reduced,” Schumer continued. “A fairer agreement would have coupled a reduction in sanctions with a proportionate reduction in Iranian nuclear capability.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said “the real test is whether a final permanent agreement rolling back Iran’s nuclear capability can be achieved during this brief, six-month negotiated pause.”
“Past Iranian conduct gives little cause for hope. Without strong sanctions, tough enforcement and vigilant monitoring and inspection, my fear is that even this interim agreement may encourage or embolden countries or companies that seek to exploit loopholes or weaknesses in the existing sanctions, and that is why renewed resolve is critically important to enhance enforcement,” Blumenthal continued.
“Sanctions brought the Iranians to the table. Strengthening sanctions and enforcement of them is vital to create incentives and increase pressure if this interim step is unsuccessful. I believe there is a continued need for the Senate to pass even tougher sanctions. I will work with colleagues on a bipartisan bill that tightens trade and currency restrictions along with other sanctions if this interim agreement produces no progress.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said a window of time that would allow Iran to reach nuclear weapons capability “would not be acceptable to the Congress, nor the American people, and I hope the international community.”
“Are we concerned that Iran may try to circumvent this agreement? You bet we are concerned about it and we’ll watch to make sure we do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement forged in the early morning hours in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear program a “historic mistake.”
Netanyahu made his first comments on the P5+1 deal at the beginning of a Sunday cabinet meeting.
“What was achieved last night in Geneva is not an historic agreement; it is an historic mistake,” Netanyahu said. “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”
“For the first time, the world’s leading powers have agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran while ignoring the UN Security Council decisions that they themselves led. Sanctions that required many years to put in place contain the best chance for a peaceful solution,” he continued.
“These sanctions have been given up in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that can be cancelled in weeks. This agreement and what it means endanger many countries including, of course, Israel. Israel is not bound by this agreement. The Iranian regime is committed to the destruction of Israel and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. As Prime Minister of Israel, I would like to make it clear: Israel will not allow Iran to develop a military nuclear capability.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, making the rounds on the morning news shows, said on ABC the deal “is not the art of fantasy or the art of the ideal.”
“It’s the art of the possible, which is verifiable and clear in its capacity to be able to make Israel and the region safer,” Kerry said. “…Therefore, Israel will be safer, the region will be safer.”
When confronted with Netanyahu’s reaction, Kerry defended the deal as “the beginning and first step.”
“It leads us into the negotiation so that we guarantee that while we are negotiating for the dismantling, while we are negotiating for the tougher provisions, they will not grow the program and their capacity to threaten Israel,” he said. “Israel will actually gain a larger breathing space in terms of the breakout capacity of Iran. It’s just clear.”
President Obama spent the early part of this week lobbying senators in order to prevent the passage of any new sanctions on Iran, but now lawmakers have formed a working group to draft new sanctions and get them passed ASAP.
Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated on the floor that he will support a new sanctions bill against Iran.
“The Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill, when the Senate returns after Thanksgiving recess,” Reid said. “And I am committed to do so.”
Shortly after Reid’s pledge to let a sanctions bill move, a Group of 14 was announced to forge bipartisan legislation.
The senators in the group are Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“A nuclear weapons capable Iran presents a grave threat to the national security interest of the United States and its allies and we are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring this capability,” the senators said in a joint statement.
“We will work together to reconcile Democratic and Republican proposals over the coming weeks and to pass bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation as soon as possible.”
That shouldn’t be very hard, considering the large bipartisan majorities that have passed sanctions bills in the past. However, some Dems including Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have indicated they want to stick by Obama’s wishes and not pass new sanctions while negotiations are ongoing in Geneva.
“The purpose of sanctions was to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they have succeeded in doing so. Tacking new sanctions onto the defense authorization bill or any other legislation would not lead to a better deal. It would lead to no deal at all,” Feinstein said a week ago.
Pro-gun-control Democrats in the Senate are angry with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for blocking reauthorization of a law that would ban 3-D printable guns that lack metal parts.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tried to bring up the Undetectable Firearms Act on Thursday evening. The law, which passed in 1988, bans guns that can’t be spotted by metal detectors.
The last reauthorization, in 2003, passed both chambers of Congress unanimously. It sunsets on Dec. 9.
Schumer and Blumenthal argued that reauthorization is needed quickly because of the rapid development of technology in which a 3-D printer can be used to piece together a plastic gun.
“Nothing about this simple and commonsense legislation requires even a moment’s delay or debate,” Blumenthal said this morning.
“Hidden, undetectable firearms serve no purpose other than to make it easier for criminals to take lives. That is why both houses of Congress unanimously approved reauthorization of the law in 2003,” he said. “Delaying these protections simply puts innocent American lives at risk. We need to stop playing politics with public safety and extend these protections immediately.”
Schumer and Blumenthal’s partners on pushing for the extension have been Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).
“We are looking at a world in which anyone with a little bit of cash can bring an undetectable gun that can fire multiple bullets anywhere — including planes, government buildings, sporting events and schools,” Schumer said last week. “3-D printers are a miraculous technology that have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, but we need to make sure they are not being used to make deadly, undetectable weapons.”
While acknowledging that the bill would likely eventually pass, Sessions told Schumer “this is not a good day” for the legislation.
The Dem sponsors tried to bring up the reauthorization after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dropped the nuclear option.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that the nuclear option not only detonated the filibuster, but most of the leverage he held to get answers from the Obama administration about Benghazi.
“After today, I fully expect President Obama to stack the D.C. Circuit Court with liberal, rubber-stamp judges. This court has primary jurisdiction over lawsuits that challenge Obamacare regulations. It is no accident the rules were changed to stack this court,” Graham said after the vote Thursday.
“President Obama is committed to protecting Obamacare, his signature achievement, regardless of the damage done to millions of Americans,” he continued. “He is even willing to throw the judiciary into chaos if necessary. Any American who wants to bring a legal challenge to the thousands of Obamacare rules and regulations lost big today.”
Graham then noted that “the hold I placed on many Obama nominees until Congress was able to speak with the Benghazi survivors has been greatly eroded.”
The senator said he was “very pleased” that his hold resulted in the first Senate interview of a State Department Benghazi survivor on Wednesday, 14 months after the attack.
“I, along with several Senate colleagues, spoke at length to this individual who provided new and compelling information about the attacks on our compounds in Benghazi,” Graham said.
“Unfortunately, Americans who want to get to the truth about what happened in Benghazi were hurt by today’s vote. Without the ability to delay nominations, presidential administrations are likely to be even more successful in their stonewalling efforts,” he said.
“Finally, one of the great concerns about this rule change is without the requirement to work with the minority party to select judges, the judiciary will become dominated by ideologues. One of the biggest winners of this move is liberal groups who will be pushing radical, liberal judges to serve on the federal bench.”
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran (R) is trying to get an amendment tacked onto the defense appropriations bill that would require the U.S. government to probe the threat posed by Al-Shabaab.
Moran’s amendment requests a classified, joint intelligence assessment from the Departments of State and Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to evaluate the threat of Al-Shabaab to the United States and U.S. citizens in the Horn of Africa.
That would include a requirement to probe Al-Shabaab’s funding sources and the nature of its relationship with al-Qaeda.
“As Al-Shabaab attempts to seek resources and recruits within the United States and successfully carried out an attack on civilians in Kenya, it’s imperative that we adequately assess the risk this U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization poses both domestically and to Americans serving in the region,” Moran said.
Moran said that reports on Al-Shabaab, listed as a foreign terrorist organization in 2008, aren’t current or comprehensive enough.
Al-Shabaab’s donors are believed to include people within the United States, in addition to its fundraising through smuggling, extortion, kidnapped civilians, and stealing from Islamic charities.
The group is getting a renewed focus on Capitol Hill after the September 2013 terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, that left at least 61 civilians and six Kenyan soldiers dead.
However, the Senate adjourned until Dec. 9 without taking up the defense bill.
The bill failed to pass a cloture vote yesterday after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sought to kill any debate on amendments.
That vote came when Republicans weren’t exactly in the mood to help Dems with any votes, as just a couple of hours before Reid had detonated the nuclear option to push through President Obama’s nominees.
President Obama managed to work in a thin reference to the first bill he signed into law — an equal pay for equal work bill — in his proclamation declaring today an official Day of Remembrance for John F. Kennedy. He also noted Kennedy’s Berlin speech as a key accomplishment, something Obama did during his 2008 campaign and then again this June with less fanfare:
A half century ago, America mourned the loss of an extraordinary public servant. With broad vision and soaring but sober idealism, President John F. Kennedy had called a generation to service and summoned a Nation to greatness. Today, we honor his memory and celebrate his enduring imprint on American history.
In his 3 years as President of the United States, John F. Kennedy weathered some of the most perilous tests of the Cold War and led America to the cusp of a bright new age. His leadership through the Cuban Missile Crisis remains the standard for American diplomacy at its finest. In a divided Berlin, he delivered a stirring defense of freedom that would echo through the ages, yet he also knew that we must advance human rights here at home. During his final year in office, he proposed a civil rights bill that called for an end to segregation in America. And recognizing women’s basic right to earn a living equal to their efforts, he signed the Equal Pay Act into law.
While President Kennedy’s life was tragically cut short, his vision lives on in the generations he inspired — volunteers who serve as ambassadors for peace in distant corners of the globe, scientists and engineers who reach for new heights in the face of impossible odds, innovators who set their sights on the new frontiers of our time. Today and in the decades to come, let us carry his legacy forward. Let us face today’s tests by beckoning the spirit he embodied — that fearless, resilient, uniquely American character that has always driven our Nation to defy the odds, write our own destiny, and make the world anew.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 22, 2013, as a Day of Remembrance for President John F. Kennedy. I call upon all Americans to honor his life and legacy with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. I also call upon Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officials of the other territories subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff on the Day of Remembrance for President John F. Kennedy. I further encourage all Americans to display the flag at half-staff from their homes and businesses on that day.
Right after the nuclear option was invoked to get nominees through the Senate on a simple majority instead of 60-vote cloture threshold, President Obama flooded the Senate with nominees.
This includes two U.S. attorneys and two judges for the superior court in D.C.:
Andrew Mark Luger, of Minnesota, to be United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota for the term of four years, vice B. Todd Jones, term expired.
Damon Paul Martinez, of New Mexico, to be United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico for the term of four years, vice Kenneth J. Gonzales, resigned.
Sherry Moore Trafford, of the District of Columbia, to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for the term of fifteen years, vice Natalia Combs Greene, retired.
Steven M. Wellner, of the District of Columbia, to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for the term of fifteen years, vice Kaye K. Christian, retired.
Brad R. Carson, of Oklahoma, to be Under Secretary of the Army, vice Joseph W. Westphal.
Maureen Elizabeth Cormack, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Richard A. Kennedy, of Pennsylvania, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for a term expiring May 30, 2016, vice William Cobey, term expired.
Leslie Berger Kiernan, of Maryland, to be Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform, with the rank of Ambassador.
Leslie Berger Kiernan, of Maryland, to be Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform.
Heather L. MacDougall, of Florida, to be a Member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for a term expiring April 27, 2017, vice Horace A. Thompson, term expired.
David Radzanowski, of the District of Columbia, to be Chief Financial Officer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, vice Elizabeth M. Robinson.
John Roth, of Michigan, to be Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, vice Richard L. Skinner, resigned.
Going against the Obama administration’s lobbying heading into the next round of nuclear negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated on the floor today that he will support a new sanctions bill against Iran.
“I believe we must do everything possible to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons capability, which would threaten Israel and the national security of the United States,” Reid said.
Of the current negotiations, Reid said he supports the White House effort and wants the talks “to produce the strongest possible agreement.”
“However, we are also are aware of the possibility that the Iranians could keep the negotiations from succeeding. I hope that will not happen,” he continued. “But the Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill, when the Senate returns after Thanksgiving recess. And I am committed to do so.”
“A number of Senators have offered their own amendments on Iran in the Defense Authorization bill, and I know that other Senators also have their own sanctions bills. I will support a bill that would broaden the scope of our current petroleum sanctions; place limitations on trade with strategic sectors of the Iranian economy that support its nuclear ambitions, as well as pursue those who divert goods to Iran,” Reid said.
“While I support the administration’s diplomatic effort, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December, shortly after we return.”
Key Democrats had already begun peeling away from Obama and his insistence that new sanctions not be passed as he peels back some existing sanctions as concessions.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, joined their colleague Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Republicans Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in demanding that Kerry take any rollback of sanctions off the negotiating table.
“We are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability,” the senators wrote to Kerry.
“It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities,” they continued. “…We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.”
Reid’s support for sanctions increases the likelihood that Congress will be able to override a presidential veto. The last sanctions bill in the House passed with a whopping 400-20 majority.
“While these negotiations are still going on at this fragile stage — and we ought to know in the next few weeks where these negotiations are going to end up — now is not the time for new sanctions,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said this week. “That would find the United States isolated, when we now have the international community with us, supporting a diplomatic solution. And it would take the pressure off Iran.”
In the post-Obama-phone-call era of renewed relations with Iran, and just as the latest round of talks began between the P5+1 and Iran over its nuclear program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted and posted on his Facebook page a comment he made while addressing the Basij paramilitary force:
Twitter users quickly pointed out that the photo the Iranians used is a 2007 image of IDF soldiers helping get the attacking dog away from the woman.
A senior U.S. official at the talks in Geneva called Khamenei’s remarks “uncomfortable,” prompting Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to issue a rebuke:
The statements made by Iran’s Supreme Leader are more than “uncomfortable.” They should be condemned. http://t.co/LAM13FCYDx
— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) November 20, 2013
UN Ambassador Samantha Power said on CNN this morning that she’d “obviously condemn the comments of the Ayatollah, which are abhorrent.”
“What I will say is that we have decades of mistrust, partly on the basis of comments like this, partly on the basis of the continued steady progress toward a nuclear weapon,” she said. “And that’s why we’re in the negotiations in the first place, right, is to ensure that a regime like that does not acquire a nuclear weapon, pose a threat not only to Israel but to the broader region and to mankind.”
And that image from Khamenei followed other inflammatory tweets, including a veiled threat at France for standing up for Israel at the P5+1.
#Arrogance has no regard for the lives of nations; the crimes against the indigenous & killing of 100,000 Japanese ppl with atomic bomb etc.
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
I put an emphasis on supporting the govt.; I also put an emphasis on ensuring Iranian nation’s right. #IranTalks
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
#Zionist regime is severely weakened & is doomed to decline. Every phenomenon generated by force is not viable.
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), busted for buying cocaine from an undercover officer in Dupont Circle, will take a leave of absence from his job to seek treatment.
Radel said he’ll donate his salary to charity during that time. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession on Wednesday and was sentenced to a year of probation and a $250 fine (incidentally, the same amount he offered the officer for the cocaine).
“I’m sorry. I have no excuse for what I’ve done. And I’m not going to sit here and try and make any excuses for what I’ve done. I have let down our country. I’ve let down our constituents. I’ve let down my family. Including my wife, and even though he doesn’t know it, I’ve let down my 2-year-old son. I’m here tonight to take responsibility for what I did,” the freshman congressman told reporters.
Radel said he’s been receiving treatment since the bust at the end of October and would continue to do so to “be a better man.”
He said he held the news conference “because it is important that I share the message of responsibility.”
“I’m owning up to my actions. I am taking responsibility and I’m living it very publicly. I’m being held accountable for the decisions that I made in my life and I am — I have found treatment and I’m working on treatment and like anything in life I have to rebuild that trust and I fully understand that and I will do that,” he said. “I have to rebuild the trust with Southwest Florida, with the constituents, with this home that I love so much and means so much to me. And I also need to do it for my family, for my wife and for my son.”
Radel’s wife, former news anchor Amy Wegmann, wasn’t present at the presser.
“My wife is my rock and she has been so supportive through this, and I came to her and I told her what had happened, and she said, ‘I married you in — to be with you and stick with you in good times and bad,’ and she has been incredible,” he said. “I do have trust to rebuild and I have to mend her heart, which I’ve broken, and I’ve broken a lot of hearts, and I need to regain that trust and rebuild our relationship, but she has stuck with me and will continue to stick with me, and I’m just so proud to have my wife. She is my rock through all of this.”
The congressman said he’s “going to start with intensive inpatient treatment.”
“Sometimes in life you need a wake-up call. This is my wake-up call. I’ve been struggling with this, but I have had my wake-up call and I now know what I need. I need to take responsibility, own up to the decisions that I’ve made, and move forward, and I’m doing just that,” Radel added.
His staff will keep the office open and serve constituents’ needs during his absence.
“I knew that this day would come. I knew it would come. I had had to be accountable and responsible and open with my wife, and all of my family,” said Radel. “…I grew up with a mom who struggled with alcoholism. It is not an easy thing to deal with. Now I don’t want my son to go through that.”
Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office said Boehner won’t be calling on Radel to resign. ”Members of Congress should be held to the highest standards, and the alleged crime will be handled by the courts. Beyond that, this is between Rep. Radel, his family, and his constituents,” the office said in a statement.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Republicans shouldn’t be seen cheering the demise of Obamacare or hastening its untimely end.
“Obviously many of us like myself warned about the problems we’re seeing with Obamacare and not just with the rollout but with the program itself,” Walker told Piers Morgan last night on CNN.
“But as I have cautioned to many other Republicans in my statement across the countries, we need to be very careful,” he continued. “We need to be joining with Americans whether they were for or against the Affordable Care Act and joined in their frustration, not in anyway look like we’re relishing this or if Obamacare goes over the cliff we shouldn’t be the ones pushing it. We should be back trying to help everyday Americans find a better, a better alternative and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
Walker said that Obamacare failing on its own merits justified his own feelings at the time of the government shutdown that it was hard to justify the GOP strategy.
“I do think drawing attention to Obamacare and the preceded failures was important, but as we’ve seen you don’t need a Republican to point that out,” he said. “Everyday people are finding out sadly every day that not only is the website not working but the program itself is not working. And it seems like every time someone from this administration comes forward that there seemed to be even more problems on the horizon including even more details about the website itself not only not working but not being fully built out.”
When asked on Fox Business Network if he is eyeing a 2016 presidential run, Walker said he’s focusing on his next gubernatorial campaign.
“I am up for governor next year. I’m going to focus on that, not just because I am on the ballot in 2014 but because what I point out in the book is that many of the key battleground states in America in 2010 were ultimately states where Democrats control everything. The chief executive and the legislative branches, we flipped all those things in the 2010 election in Wisconsin and a lot of my neighboring states. That was the key to our success,” Walker said.
“And so the reason I say we should focus on ’14 first is we can hold the House for Republicans. We can elect, particularly with the failures of Obamacare, we can elect reform-minded people in the United States Senate. And then after we do that we can put a new chief executive nationally who will help us lead the cause. But we have to do it focusing on ’14 first.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this morning on MSNBC that his “wording was clumsy” when he said “white suburban moms” opposed Common Core standards because they reveal that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
“My message was very, very simple. When you raise standards that’s a challenging thing. I was challenging state school chief officers to do a better job articulating why raising standards is the right thing for all children,” Duncan said.
“What happened historically is far too many states, and you know this well, they dummy down standards, and were lying to children and families across this country for far too long,” he continued. “When you lie to children, only group that benefits, guess who that is? It’s politicians. Children lose, parents lose ultimately, our country loses. Many states around this country are doing very hard work of raising standards now. It’s the right thing, but we have to better communicate that to parents. That was the message I was trying to make.”
When pressed on the meaning behind his words, Duncan said they were the “exact opposite” of any administration divide-and-conquer strategy.
“My point was that when you dummy down standards, when you’re lying to children, that affects all children. That affects all families,” the secretary said. “Even in more affluent suburban areas, not just in the inner city. Every child needs to have high standards. That was my very simple point, and we need to do a better job collectively articulating to parents why we want their children to be competitive not in their district or in their state, our children are smart, as talented, as creative, as entrepreneurial, as hard working, as children anywhere in the world.”
“We have to level the playing field for them. They are competing for jobs with children in India, China, Singapore, South Korea. That’s the competition. We all need to come together to help our students be successful there, and the best way to do that is with great teachers, which is what we’re here to talk about today.”
Duncan, who used to be CEO of Chicago’s public school system, claimed he’s “the most non-political person you’re ever going to meet. I could care less about politics.”
“My job is simply to fight for children. I’ve worked with everyone — Republican, Democrat, left, right, it doesn’t matter,” he added. “We want to reduce the dropout rates, we want to increase high school graduation rates. We want to make sure our children are going to some form of higher education. We’re fighting not just for education, we’re fighting for a stronger country, a stronger economy. Put politics and ideologies — I think that gets in the way. Let’s just work together on behalf of kids. Let’s fight for children.”
Levin Says Gillibrand, Cruz Trying to Remove ‘Powerful Tool’ from Military Sexual Assault Prosecutions
The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman stood fast against lawmakers trying to take sexual assault cases out of the hands of military commanders, stressing that the chain of command remains “indispensable” to solving the problem.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her bipartisan coalition, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), are trying to get their language changing how sexual assault cases are prosecuted inserted into the defense reauthorization bill being debated on the floor this week.
Gillibrand and Cruz penned a column together advocating their proposal to pull cases out of the chain of command, which appeared in USA Today this morning. “According to the Defense Department, 3,374 cases of unwanted sexual contact were reported last year, resulting in just 302 trials and 238 convictions. Moreover, the Defense Department estimates there were nearly 23,000 additional cases of unwanted sexual contact that went unreported. That means, in total, there were 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact — a 37% increase over the previous year,” they wrote. “Such a substantial increase requires our immediate attention. That is especially true considering that many of these are very serious allegations, not mere complaints about inappropriate jokes or disagreeable verbal comments. More than half of the 2012 reported cases — 61% — cited in the DOD’s report involved serious assaults, such as rape, aggravated sexual assault, or non-consensual sodomy.”
“And the Inspector General for the Department of Defense has discovered disturbing problems with a portion of sexual assault cases that were pursued; more than 10% of the 501 cases examined from 2010 had significant deficiencies, lacking basic elements such as simple witness interviews,” Gillibrand and Cruz continued. “Strikingly, across the branches, a majority of service members — 74 percent of females and 60 percent of males — perceived barriers to reporting these crimes. And, that’s only among the soldiers who were willing to report.”
But Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) argued on the floor that the bill that passed out of committee — language objected to by Gillibrand and Cruz — includes new protections for sexual assault victims while not changing the military justice structure.
“These important reforms were the work of almost every member of the Armed Services Committee. The desire to remove this stain from our military is bipartisan and it is strong,” Levin said, adding that the “most basic reason” to oppose the Gillibrand amendment is “it removes a powerful tool from those who are indispensable to turning this problem around, our military commanders. Our military commanders are the indispensable tool to turn this around.”
Levin noted that he met with retired military women who said “the problem is not commanders.”
“The problem is a military culture, they told us that too often tolerates excessive drinking and barracks banter that borders on sexual harassment or crosses that line; that fails to recognize the existence of service members who appear to be ‘good soldiers’ but in fact are sexual predators; a culture that values unit cohesion to such an extent that those who report misconduct are more likely to be ostracized than respected,” he said. “None of these problems are unique to the military, but they are exacerbated in the military by the frequent rotation of military assignments, which can make it easier for predators to hide.”
“We cannot strengthen our efforts to prevent sexual assaults by reducing the likelihood of prosecution. We know from history, and from the facts, that that is the result of taking this decision away from the hands of commanders. We know of the 100 cases where other authorities, civilian authorities, have decided not to prosecute, but where the commanders then decided to pursue it anyway. That’s just in the last two years. And we don’t know of any cases that go in the other direction.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also vocally spoke against the Gillibrand amendment, saying, “The problems that you see in the military, they’re all over the country — they’re just talked about more in the military.”
Levin said he supports a substitute amendment from Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) that would further strengthen the bill’s reforms, including allowing victim input in the prosecution of perpetrators, extending the reforms to service academies, and allowing victims to challenge any subsequent discharge from service.
Democratic supporters of President Obama and his healthcare law are itching for the administration to step up enrollment efforts while the Obamacare exchange website is still not fully functional.
Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski fired off a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday asking that she immediately jump on the ball to expand and publicize alternate methods for people to enroll.
“As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ work to repair the healthcare.gov website continues, we urge you to ensure that uninsured Americans are able to enroll in health plans through all available means” Cardin and Mikulski told Sebelius.
“Although we received repeated assurances from the Administration in the weeks before and since the healthcare.gov web site opened, previous targets set by the Administration for full operability of the web site have not been met,” the Dem senators write. “We are concerned that while the web site’s troubles remain unresolved, healthy individuals will abandon attempts to apply on line, and we want to ensure that they can learn about plans and apply for coverage. Further, if and when additional glitches in the web site arise, Americans should have additional easy-to navigate avenues to apply for coverage.”
They noted that Section 1411 of Obamacare provides Sebelius the flexibility to “modify the methods used under the program established by this section for the Exchange and verification of information if the Secretary determines such modifications would reduce the Administrative costs and burdens on the applicant, including allowing an applicant to request the Secretary of the Treasury to provide the information described in paragraph (3) [household income and family size] directly to the Exchange or to the Secretary.”
Cardin and Mikulski asked Sebelius to use her power “immediately” to take measures including:
(1) Informing the public that individuals and families who do not qualify for tax credits can apply for coverage directly with participating insurance companies where they will receive the same comprehensive coverage and prices listed on the healthcare.gov web site;
(2) Creating a mechanism through which individuals and families who qualify for tax credits can apply for coverage directly to insurance companies and authorize the companies to directly interface with the hub to verify income, family size, and citizenship;
(3) Enabling navigators on the HHS toll-free line and in communities to access health plan information without having to rely on the healthcare.gov web site;
(4) Making paper application forms and detailed information about coverage options widely available through a web page that is independent of the healthcare.gov web site;
(5) Enabling individuals to complete the application form on line as taxpayers can file their income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service; and
(6) Ensuring that paper application forms and information about coverage options are available to the public at community health centers, hospitals, public libraries and other locations.
Some congressional Democrats are counting on a grass-roots movement to push their legislation calling for an increase in Social Security payments instead of a benefits cuts.
The effort, led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), comes as the budget conference committee is trying to hammer out a deal with hot-button issues like the debt ceiling, sequestration and entitlement reform on the table.
Sponsor Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told MSNBC that the benefits hike will make Social Security work “the way it should work.”
“The debate frankly has been all about the discussion of how do we reform entitlements and how do we save Social Security. But when I hear a conservative politician in this town, say reform entitlements, restructure, they are not sustainable or when they say we need to fix Social Security or save Social Security. They are always talking about making cuts on Social Security. And the debate should not be about how much we’re going to cut Social Security, the debate should be about retirement security,” Brown said.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said Congress “refuses to face the fact that the pension system in this country is being eroded very rapidly.”
“We ought to be thinking about how we can strengthen the program and making it stronger, not talking about chained CPI and reducing it,” he added.
Brown said “somebody making $50,000 or $100,000 a year pays a higher percentage of her income in the Social Security than somebody making $500,000 or a billion dollars a year.”
“And we’re simply saying that everybody should pay the same percentage of their income in Social Security. That will strengthen Social Security, not strengthen it by cutting it the way that Ted Cruz just said … But will strengthen it because it will have more revenue,” he continued.
Brown argued that any increase will go right back into the local economy, giving seniors the opportunity to live “older years with a little higher standard of living.”
“I think it’s going to take a movement from the people and the people have got to start sending in messages to their congressmen and saying we want you to cut Social Security, but increase it. And I think scrap the cap is a good slogan for them to use. I think you’re going to find that more and more people are going to be pressing their congressmen about this. That’s the only way it will happen,” McDermott said. “In the state of Washington, we just raised in a little town, the minimum wage to $15. It was done by the people.”
Some members of Congress are turning their focus from discrimination against African-Americans to discrimination against African-Europeans.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), ranking Democratic member of the Helsinki Commission, introduced a resolution yesterday that outlines instances of racial profiling in the UK, France, and Germany and recognizes injustices against black Europeans.
The bill urges European governments to draft hate-crime laws, revise textbooks, combat inequality, and institute hiring practices similar to affirmative action.
An estimated seven to 10 million individuals of African descent currently live in Europe, particularly in France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, Hastings noted.
“The story of Black Europeans remains widely untold, rendering many of their past and present contributions to the political and social life of Europe invisible or forgotten. Furthermore, similar to the experiences of many African Americans, they have increasingly become the targets of discrimination, pernicious racial profiling, and violent hate crimes impacting equal access to housing, employment, education, and justice,” he said.
Hastings met this week with 10 leaders of the black European community for a Helsinki Commission briefing.
“Their personal testimonies offered a raw and honest glimpse into the realities of many Blacks living in Europe, and provided an opportunity for lawmakers, human rights advocates, and others to interface on solutions to addressing issues of inequality, discrimination, and inclusion in the 57 North American and European countries that make up the region of the OSCE,” he said.
The congressman summed up his resolution as calling “for the adoption of a Joint US-European Union Action Plan to develop transatlantic solutions to combat racial discrimination and promote racial equality in Europe.”
“I believe that our government can do more to help advance human rights and inclusion, including more partnerships with Black European communities and the public and private sectors; increased parliamentary activities such as legislation and policy, speaking out against racism, and increasing the political participation of racial minorities; and working with the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID),” Hastings said.
“This resolution reaffirms the importance of inclusion and the full and equal participation of people of African descent around the world in all aspects of political, economic, social, and cultural life.”
Iran’s foreign minister delivered an English-language YouTube message before the start of the next round of talks over its nuclear program arguing that its “rights are not granted, and since they’re not granted, they cannot be seized.”
“What is dignity? What is respect? Are they negotiable? Is there a price tag? Imagine being told that you cannot do what everyone else is doing, what everyone else is allowed to do. Will you back down? Would you relent? Or would you stand your ground?” Javad Zarif said.
Zarif argued that nuclear energy is “about Iranian nation moving forward as an equal, in a new realm, defined by peace, by prosperity, by progress.”
The Obama administration is willing to bend on allowing Iran to have a nuclear energy program, but other countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia and France fear that the Islamic Republic will simply use this to mask its nuclear weapons development, as it has all along.
“This does not mean that we have hit a dead end. There is a way forward, a constructive path towards determining our destiny to advance, to make progress, to secure peace, to go forward,” Zarif continued. “The choice is not submission or confrontation. This past summer, our people chose constructive engagement through the ballot box, and through this they gave the world a historic opportunity to change course.”
“We all need a sober appreciation of our common destiny, our common challenges and our common opportunities. We also need the conviction that imposition is not sustainable, a conviction that we cannot gain at the expense of others, a conviction that we either win together or lose together. That balance is key to success,” he added.
“Honest dialogue and real confidence, this is all dependent on equal footing, mutual respect and common interest, but more so, on dignity for all. We promise this to our people and to the world, and we always keep our promises.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Russia today to lobby for a tougher stance against Iran in talks.
“Our job is to try to sway the Russians, as we have been doing with all the players,” said Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin. “Russia is not going to adopt Israeli positions wholesale. But any movement, even small, in the Russian position can affect the negotiations.”