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The PJ Tatler

Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Steve King Legislation Aims to Block Federal Courts from Hearing Any Marriage Cases

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced a bill today to block federal courts from hearing cases on same-sex marriage in an effort to “stop the court from destroying traditional marriage and preserve the votes of millions of voters in states that have passed bans on same-sex marriage.”

King’s Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act amends U.S. Code to say “no court created by an Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage, section 1738C, or this section.”

“No Federal funds may be used for any litigation in, or the enforcement of any order or judgment by, any court created by an Act of Congress, on any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage, section 1738C, or this section,” the bill continues.

King said in a statement that “for too long, federal courts have overstepped their constitutionally limited duty to interpret the Constitution.”

“Rather, federal courts have perverted the Constitution to make law and create constitutional rights to things such as privacy, birth control, and abortion. These unenumerated, so-called constitutionally protected rights were not envisioned by our Founding Fathers,” the congressman said.

“I urge the House to bring this bill to the Floor.”

Earlier this month, Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jim Lankford (R-Okla.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) along with 51 House members filed an amicus brief on four same-sex marriage state bans the Supreme Court is set to weigh with arguments on April 28.

“As Members of Congress, amici have a compelling interest in defending the principles of federalism and the separation of powers implicated in these cases. Federalism and the separation of powers provide critical structural guarantees of the liberty of all American citizens, including amici’s constituents. Amici thus have an interest in defending the division of authority between the federal government and the States, and in preserving the separation of powers between this Court and the political branches,” the brief states.

“Amici believe that a judgment of this Court imposing a judicially mandated revision of state laws defining marriage would circumvent the proper resolution of these profound and divisive issues through state democratic processes. Such a decision could damage the rights of a self-governing people. It would set an unwarranted precedent, with effects far beyond this case, of federal encroachment into a traditional area of state concern, and of judicial pre-emption of an area that the Constitution allots to democratic process.”

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Defense Secretary: ‘Stamp Out’ Dirty Jokes to Fight Sexual Assault in Ranks

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Georgetown University students today that dirty jokes are among the military behaviors that need to be corrected to stop sexual assault in the ranks.

“Our military is based on an ethos of honor, and this is dishonorable,” Carter said of the military’s sexual assault problem. “And second, we’re based on trust. We have to have trust. You have to trust in the soldier in the foxhole next to you. You have to trust in the sailor you’re underway with. You have to trust in the airmen on your wing. And you have to trust in the Marine on your flank. And these violations and these assaults are not just violations of the law, they are violations of that trust, which is essential to our mission.”

“Next, we, of course, have to put people in situations that are unlike any other. You serve all serve in a rigid chain of command, and for good reasons. You’ll likely be separated from your families for extended periods of time. And you’ll probably, at some point, live and work in austere conditions. Those types of environments are essential. But unfortunately, they present opportunities for predators to put our people at risk and compromise our missions and our values. And so, our institution has a particular reason to combat sexual assault.”

Carter cited the Pentagon’s 2014 estimates: at least 18,900 service members, including 10,400 men and 8,500 women, experienced “unwanted sexual contact.”

“Too few of them, particularly men, reported these incidents as assaults,” he said, adding that “prevention requires us not just to stop assaults, but also to stamp out permissive behaviors like tolerance for degrading language, inappropriate behavior, and sexual harassment that too often contribute to and lead to sexual assaults.”

“…One key to prevention is to understand that sexual assaults often occur in environments where crude and offensive behavior, unwanted sexual attention, coercion, and sexual harassment are tolerated, ignored, or condoned. These behaviors detract from our mission and put our people at risk, and you have to be a part of the solution.”

Carter challenged the students, which included ROTC cadets from Georgetown, the University of Maryland, Howard University, George Mason, and George Washington University, “to say ‘enough’…enough to dirty jokes, to excessive drinking, to hazing, to sexual advances, and to any suggestion that coercion is appropriate.”

“I need you to intervene when you think an assault may occur.  And, if for some reason you’re concerned about taking action, I need you to get help… from a friend, law enforcement, a chaplain, or from a more senior officer. Sadly, for too many of those assaulted, the crime is made worse by how he or she is treated after the attack…after they’ve reported it,” he said.

“When victims are most vulnerable, their leadership and their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines need to stand by them in solidarity, not turn their back or turn away. We need those assaulted to have people they can count on.  It may not be easy, but I need you to be one of them…in person and also online.”

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Pucker Up: Boehner, Pelosi Get Bipartisan in Rose Garden

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Republicans and Democrats came together on Tuesday for the Rose Garden signing of the Medicare “doc fix,” a bipartisan bill that raised reimbursements for physicians while creating new payments models.

The bill passed 92-8 in the Senate, and was passed in the House 392-37.

President Obama quipped during the ceremony, “I shouldn’t say this with John Boehner here, but that’s one way that this legislation builds on the Affordable Care Act. But let’s put that aside for a second.”

Obama thanked “everyone for showing that Republicans and Democrats can come together, put aside partisanship, not just on must-dos, but on things that actually make the country work better.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said lawmakers have “shown there is common ground for entitlement reform without tax increases on hardworking Americans.”

“Now we have to build on this common ground to do what needs to be done to save our entitlement programs and solve our spending problem. There is certainly a long way to go, but this is a good step in the right direction,” Boehner said. “It will help seniors have better access to their doctors, encourage patients to think more like consumers, and save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars for decades to come.”

But nobody was paying as much attention to what was being said in the Rose Garden as they were The Kiss:

 

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Kerry: ‘Only Thing Our Generation’ May Be Remembered for Is Not Acting on Climate Change

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry asked Americans to “crank up the volume” today on Earth Day, arguing “we still have time to make a difference” on climate change, “but it’s fast running out.”

“Make no mistake: If we let this opportunity pass us by, that may be the only thing our generation is remembered for,” Kerry warned in a statement.

He used California’s current water crisis as a model of climate change devastation. “America is once again on a dangerous path – along with the rest of the world. Climate change, if unchecked, is an urgent threat to health, food supplies, biodiversity and livelihoods across the globe,” he said.

“The solution to climate change is staring us in the face. It’s energy policy. If we pursue a global clean energy economy, we can cut dramatically the amount of carbon pollution we emit into the atmosphere and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.”

Kerry said the only question is whether “national and local leaders will summon the political will to do it effectively and soon.”

“It’s difficult to determine whether one specific storm or drought is solely caused by climate change, but the growing intensity of storms and changing weather patterns should be a clear signal. Here in the United States, California is enduring the fourth year of its worst drought in recorded history,” he said.

“This is just the beginning. If we don’t make significant changes – quickly – scientists say we can expect sea levels to continue rising to dangerous levels, more intense and frequent extreme weather events, severe disruptions to food supplies and prolonged resource shortages.”

President Obama is visiting the Florida Everglades today. The White House marked Earth Day with a fact sheet of “new steps to protect the people and places climate change puts at risk.” Most of the initiatives consisted of reports, national parks restoration, and helping communities map flood risks.

On Thursday, the Department of Agriculture “will announce new voluntary actions it will take in partnership with farmers, ranchers and forest land owners to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions and support President Obama’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.”

Today a group of East Coast Democratic senators will introduce a bill that “prohibits the U.S. Department of Interior from issuing leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil or gas in the North, Mid-, or South Atlantic Ocean.”

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White House Summons Armenian Leaders to Tell Them Obama Won’t Honor Genocide Pledge

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House pulled together Armenian leaders Tuesday to placate the community in advance of their latest ball-dropping on President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to recognize the Armenian genocide.

But activists who have long been asking Obama to keep his word were not placated.

Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes confirmed to Armenian-American leaders that Obama will once again not recognize the genocide in his annual statement for this week’s genocide remembrance day.

“President Obama’s surrender to Turkey represents a national disgrace. It is, very simply, a betrayal of truth, a betrayal of trust,” said Armenian National Committee of America chairman Ken Hachikian.

“With the world’s attention drawn this April 24th to worldwide Armenian Genocide Centennial commemorations, President Obama will, tragically, use the moral standing of our nation not to defend the truth, but rather to enforce of a foreign power’s gag-rule,” Hachikian added. “He has effectively outsourced America’s policy on the Armenian Genocide to Recep Erdogan.”

The other group in the room with McDonough and Rhodes was the Armenian Assembly of America. Executive Director Bryan Ardouny said in a statement afterward that Obama’s “unwillingness to speak truthfully about the Armenian Genocide is not what we expect from a world leader on the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.”

“His failure to use the term genocide represents a major blow for human rights advocates and sets the clock back on genocide prevention.”

In a readout of the White House meeting, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said, “Recalling the deep ties between the Armenian and American peoples, they discussed the significance of this occasion for honoring the 1.5 million lives extinguished during that horrific period, and welcomed the principled advocacy of the Armenian American community on behalf of justice.”

“They  pledged that the United States will use the occasion to urge a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts that we believe is in the interest of all parties,” Meehan said. “They also noted that the President has asked Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew to lead a Presidential Delegation to Yerevan on April 24, to stand in solidarity with the Armenian people as they commemorate this most solemn of anniversaries.”

Obama has been called out by Armenian groups every year of his presidency for not using the G-word.

“The facts are undeniable,” Obama said in a Jan. 19, 2008, statement. “An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106 and S.Res.106), and as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Meanwhile, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced a resolution Monday commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

“It is past time for this atrocity to be recognized for what it was: a targeted ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population. This resolution makes clear that it is unacceptable to deny the facts and history of the Armenian Genocide and continue to silence the voices of those who perished,” Menendez said. “As the world gathers to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24th, the United States must commit itself to recognizing the full meaning, magnitude and history of this genocide in order to both honor the innocent victims and prevent similar tragedies from happening again.”

“More than 20 countries, 43 U.S. states and Pope Francis have unequivocally affirmed the Armenian Genocide and it is time for the United States to join them,” Boxer said.

Kirk stressed that “100 years is far too long not to call the murder of 1.5 million Armenians what it was: genocide.”

Turkey has paid D.C. lobbyists handsomely over the years to work against the Armenian Genocide resolutions that surface each Congress. Turkey has recalled its ambassador in a huff whenever the bill has made it out of committee.

A large Turkey caucus in Congress — the Caucus on U.S.-Turkey Relations & Turkish Americans — also helps derail genocide legislation.

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Earnest: Iran Has Already ‘Suffered’ for Holding U.S. Hostages Because They Don’t Get to Be as Cozy with Washington

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that Iran has already “suffered consequences” for holding Americans hostages — not having warmer relations with Washington.

At today’s press briefing, Earnest responded to a letter sent by Marine vet Amir Hekmati, held by Iran since 2011 on trumped-up charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, to congressional leaders.

“While I am thankful that the State Department and the Obama administration has called for my release and that of my fellow Americans, there has been no serious response to this blatant and ongoing mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and they continue on with impunity,” Hekmati wrote, noting that “Secretary Kerry sits politely with the Iranians, shaking hands and offering large economic concessions” as they charged another American, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, with espionage.

“As a war veteran who defended our nation in its time of need, I ask that you also work to defend my dignity and that of my fellow Americans by putting in place serious consequences for this serial hostage-taking and mistreatment of Americans by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence for clearly illegal purposes.”

The administration has repeatedly said it brings up the cases of Hekmati, Rezaian, Saeed Abedini and Bob Levinson on the sidelines of Iran nuclear talks, but refuses to link the hostages to the nuke deal.

“I don’t want to speculate about any possible future action, but I will say something that’s similar to what I said before, which is that we continue to be very concerned about the unjust detention of a number of Americans inside of Iran,” Earnest vaguely answered after being read the “serious consequences” passage of Hekmati’s letter.

“We have made those concerns known in quite public fashion. We’ve also made those concerns known privately, directly with the Iranian leadership. As recently as a month or two ago, Secretary of State John Kerry, on the sidelines of his nuclear negotiations with his Iranian counterpart, raised his concerns about this unjust detention. So we’ve made very clear to the Iranians that we’re concerned about the treatment of Americans inside of Iran, and that this continues to be a high priority for U.S. foreign policy.”

Still, Earnest was pressed on whether the administration believes there should be “serious consequences” for the four American hostages.

“There is no doubt that the unjust detention of Americans in Iran has continued to serve as an impediment to better relations between the United States and Iran. There’s no doubt about that,” Earnest replied. “So there already have been consequences that Iran has suffered as a result of this. But, again, I’m not going to speculate about any sort of future actions that we may take to further compel the Iranians to release those Americans who are being unjustly detained inside their country.”

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said in a joint statement yesterday that Rezaian, who was arrested in July, “is being persecuted because of his profession as a reporter and his American citizenship” and the case “is just the latest example of the true nature of the Iranian regime.”

“The Obama administration should demand Mr. Rezaian’s immediate release along with all other Americans wrongfully imprisoned in Iran prior to concluding a nuclear deal with this brutal regime,” Rubio and Kirk said.

But House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN today that there doesn’t need to be a quid pro quo.

“I think they’re trying to maintain the solidity of the nuclear negotiations and not have it disrupted by bringing in other issues in the region, as vital as they are,” Schiff said. “And also while they want to continue raising these hostage issues, they don’t want it to be a chip the Iranians can play. And I think the harder we press them in some respects, the harder the pushback and more the Iranians think this is really valuable, these hostages are valuable, we should keep them because we can exact more from the Americans.”

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Podesta Drops in on Senate Dems’ Meeting to ‘Introduce’ Hillary’s Campaign

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman addressed his caucus at a closed-door policy luncheon today.

John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Clinton and counselor to Obama, was also president of the Center for American Progress think-tank. He left the Obama administration in February and is no stranger on Capitol Hill.

Reid said Podesta and Amanda Renteria, Hillary’s national political director, “came to our caucus to introduce us in a very broad, quick fashion to Secretary Clinton’s campaign for president of the United States.”

“We know Amanda. We know John. Amanda was Debbie Stabenow’s chief of staff. John Podesta has been everybody’s chief of staff,” Reid added. “It has worked out — they were very, very informative to us. I appreciate their coming there. And we look forward to a number of other opportunities to be able to show the profile we have for the next president of the United States.”

Podesta told PBS that they’re aiming for a “tight and disciplined campaign,” with the ground game being run by Robby Mook, who “worked in the campaign in 2008 in the states” and managed Terry McAuliffe’s successful gubernatorial campaign. “He’s built a fabulous team. I think we’ll have the most diverse campaign in presidential history.”

“And we have a set of values in this campaign that means that people who remember what we’re about which is to improve the lives of every day Americans will succeed. People who are tight and disciplined will succeed. And if people are not that, then there will be no place for them in the campaign,” Podesta added.

Hillary’s chairman acknowledged he’s “confident we’ll have primary opposition.”

“And one of the things we’re going to do is fight for every vote. We don’t take any of this for granted,” she said.

“I said she will debate her primary opponent, you know. And of course, she’ll do that. We expect to be challenged and we will run a campaign in all 50 states and the territories to get the nomination and then we will run a national campaign if we are lucky enough to be the nominee of the party.”

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McConnell: ‘Significant Number’ of Democrats Love My Senate

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said today that Democrats are loving the post-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) era.

“I think the way the Senate is being run is very popular with a significant number of Democrats who have come over to me frequently and say thank you for changing the way the Senate is operating,” McConnell told reporters on the Hill today after a closed policy luncheon. “So we’ve given them an opportunity, and they’ve taken that opportunity. And so I think they do deserve some credit for it.”

McConnell pointed out that the GOP majority has held 100 roll call votes on amendments in the 114th Congress alone, while Reid allowed 15 roll call votes on amendments last year.

“The difference is I’m taking up bills and they’re open for amendment. They took up bills and they weren’t open for amendment. They’d take up a bill, fill up the tree, file cloture, score a point and move on,” he said.

“The majority gets to set the agenda…the majority leader gets to decide how the bill is going to be conducted. I don’t see any equivalency at all. And the majority sets the tone. The opportunities have been given to the minority to participate and I’m glad they’re taking advantage of that.”

McConnell promised to make progress on bills that have passed out of committee on a bipartisan basis between now and Memorial Day.

“We’re going to move to the Lynch nomination. Then we’ll go to the Iraq nuclear bill that came out of the Foreign Relations Committee unanimously. We have in the queue an elementary and secondary education bill that came out of that committee unanimously,” he said. “We have a cybersecurity bill that came out of Interior 14-1. And we believe tomorrow the Senate Finance Committee will report out an important trade promotion authority bill which will give us the opportunity — give the administration the opportunity to wrap up the Trans-Pacific agreement which has been under negotiation.”

“And I think particularly important for Republicans is we’re hoping there might be a president of a different party a year-and-a- half from now, and this is a TPA that goes for five or six years, thereby providing an opportunity for the next president should he or she want to be an active free-trader to send agreements up to us and get them approved.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Reid pick to succeed him as Democratic leader when he retires, had a different view on the dynamic when speaking to reporters today.

“I think Senator McConnell is learning a lesson: When he tries to divide us, he fails. It’s happened now on three different issues, and we hope, instead of him spending his time trying to divide us, that he works with us,” Schumer said.

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Podesta: Hillary Campaign Successfully Telling America ‘This Is Not About Her’

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of Hillary Clinton’s new presidential campaign says he thinks it kicked off with the right message: “that this is not about her.”

John Podesta told PBS that her announcement video and subsequent road trip to Iowa served their purpose of underscoring that the campaign is “about every day Americans and what she wants to do to be their champion.”

“Look, we are on week one of a 19-month campaign. So I think that the press will have plenty of time to ask her questions. But right now she wants to have a dialogue with the voters and I think she doesn’t want that necessarily intermediated with just through reporters’ questions. She wants to go directly to voters to listen to their stories, to understand what the challenges of their lives are,” he said when the lack of press access to the candidate was noted.

Clinton, who got back in the van and headed to New Hampshire, is “in a ramp-up phase,” Podesta stressed.

“I think at this point she wants to have — she laid down the challenges that she thinks that are facing America starting with building a new economy for the future. That’s going to reward people for hard work. And she is definitely going to put specifics on it. But again, this is going to be a long campaign and we are in a phase where we’re building out the campaign organization. She’s talking to voters,” he said.

“Sometime next month when we have a more official, if you will, launch of the campaign she’ll explain to the American public what she wants to do. And that’s the appropriate moment where she will begin to put specific policy proposals out. But that’s not going to be a one-shot only deal. I know you want to see the whole platform today. But we have 19 months and we’re going to build up to a position where people really understand what — why she wants to be a champion for every day Americans, what she’s going to do and why she thinks she’s the best candidate to do it.”

Podesta said he’s “sure” Clinton will have some ideas about “tough regulation” and “fighting against dark money” in campaigns.

“I think the first thing that she will do in quite frankly, and that this will set her apart from her Republican opponents, is that she’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who protect the right of every American to vote not every corporation to buy an election. So you know, that is, I think, going in position for her. And I think that we need campaign finance reform. There’s too much dark money in politics and she would like to see it out,” he said.

“…We will take money if it’s legal, obviously. And if it’s from, you know, we’re just going to have to have the resources to — to compete in this election, which is going to be supercharged with special interest money coming at any Democratic candidate but particularly Hillary Clinton.”

Podesta said the campaigns is going to be “asking people to raise money from their friends and neighbors,” but “we’re not going to cut off resources from people who have participated in the political system and have a right to.”

He added that Clinton will release her health records “at an appropriate time.”

“There will be reassurance from her doctors that — when it’s appropriate. And if there is anything to see in there, you’ll see it.”

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State Department Goes After Domestic Greek Terrorists

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department announced today that it’s designated two Greeks who are members of domestic rebel groups as terrorists.

Christodoulos Xiros and Nikolaos Maziotis were given their terrorist designations under Executive Order 13224, which “targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.”

“As a result of these designations, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Xiros and Maziotis have any interest is blocked and any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen. U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with Xiros and Maziotis, or to their benefit,” the State Department said.

Until his 2002 arrest, Xiros was a chief assassins of 17 November, a domestic Greek terrorist group that had staged attacks since the 1970s.

“After his escape, he publicized a manifesto focusing on his discontent with the Greek government. Xiros was re-arrested by Greek police in January 2015 while planning to carry out armed assaults in Greece, possibly with the intent to free other prisoners. At the time of his arrest, Xiros was likely coordinating with members of Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei, a group designated by the State Department under E.O. 13224 in 2011,” the State Department release continued.

Nikolaos Maziotis leads the Greek terrorist organization Revolutionary Struggle.

“He was arrested with six other alleged members of Revolutionary Struggle in 2010, but went missing in the middle of his trial. In April 2014, under the leadership of Maziotis, Revolutionary Struggle claimed responsibility for a bomb blast in central Athens outside the branch offices of the Greek central bank. On July 16, 2014, Maziotis was re-arrested by Greek police after a shootout in Athens’ central tourist district, which left four people wounded. Revolutionary Struggle was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State on May 18, 2009 and is most well-known for a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 2007.”

The State Department, in conjunction with the Justice and Treasury departments, vowed to “take such actions against terrorists and terrorist groups in Greece and elsewhere.”

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Graham 91 Percent Sure He’s Running for President

Monday, April 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he’s 91 percent sure he’s going to run for president, and needs the needle to move up “another point or two” before he takes the plunge.

“I’ve got to put the financing together. It sort of goes like this: Exceed expectations in Iowa,” Graham told MSNBC this morning. “Finish in the top tier in New Hampshire, win South Carolina. And by then, I think three or four people are left. And I’d be one of those three or four.”

It’s going to certainly be a campaign heavy on foreign policy.

“This whole idea, their problems are their problems, makes no sense because radical Islam is trying to kill us, not because we’re in Libya and Iraq, because we just don’t agree with their religion,” he said. “…Radical Islam is not a grievance about us supporting dictators.”

“This is a religious war. They’re trying to purify their religion. They’re trying to create a caliphate in the Mideast, destroy Israel, and come after us.”

Graham acknowledged that he and Hillary Clinton are friends, but saying that means he can’t run a strong campaign against her “would disqualify Jeb because, apparently, Bill is like his illegitimate brother.”

“The bottom line is there used to be a day in American politics where you could like people and say: You’re going to take the country one way and I’m going to take it another way. You’re not a bad person, I just disagree with you,” he said. “I don’t dislike Hillary Clinton. I think she’s the third term of Barack Obama. I think she’s the architect of failed foreign policy. Her and Bill did a better job of selling Obamacare than he did. So to me, if we can get a qualified nominee, she loses, because she represents a failed president. She is part of it.”

Not counting himself, who could win South Carolina in 2016? “I think Jeb would do well. The Bushes are well-likedAn,” Graham replied. “Anybody who do — wins New Hampshire, other than Mitt Romney — I like Mitt Romney, but he would never play. I don’t think Chris Christie would go from New Hampshire to South Carolina. Marco would. Anybody that wins New Hampshire is going to do pretty well in South Carolina. Don’t discount how New Hampshire affects South Carolina. But Marco, you know, Jeb, there are several people that could do well.”

Graham gave some more opinions on CNN Sunday on the other Republicans in the field.

“Marco Rubio, I think, will be president some day. Whether 2016 is his time, time will tell. He embraced immigration reform. He seems to have backed off. I’ll let him explain why. I think comprehensive immigration reform while securing your border and dealing rationale with 11 million is the only way we’re going to solve this problem. I like Rubio,” he said.

Graham previously disagreed with Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) assertion that the Second Amendment is the ultimate defense against government tyranny.

“The ultimate check against government tyranny is an informed electorate who will elect people who believe in limited government. I don’t want to embrace the idea we want people to take to the streets with guns. I want people to go to the voting booth and check an out of control government by electing conservatives,” Graham said.

On Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), “the Lindsey Graham view of foreign policy is going to beat Rand Paul’s libertarian view of foreign policy.”

“He said at this summit that a terrorist detained under the law of war at Gitmo is entitled to a trial. I’ve been a military lawyer for 33 years. A member of al-Qaeda or their affiliate group can be detained under a law of war as long as their threat to our nation without a trial,” Graham said. “He wants to fight a crime. I’m fighting a war. Big difference.”

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‘It’s Not a Fad, So Don’t Get Mad’: The ISIS ‘Jihadi Wives’ Poem

Monday, April 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

This poem was posted on a file-sharing site three days ago with the preface, “We are not slaves to our inclinations when will the west understand?!”:

We are the jihadi wives
We feel no shame
We are the jihadi wives
It’s all in the name

Wife to a warrior
It’s not a fad
Wife to a muwahid
So don’t get mad

Attempting to defame our names
Calling it democracy
Attempting to defame our game
A loosing mockery

We are the jihadi wives
Take down this memo
We are the jihadi wives
Raising a new nation

Enjoying ardul izzah
Preparing our cubs for your slaughter
Enjoying ardul izzah
The next to come might be your daughter

The muhajiraat keep expanding
Coming from all across the globe
The muhajiraat keep expanding
Coming bolder and stronger

Jihadi wives here to stay
Supporting martyrdom or victory
So be displeased as you you
Jihadi wives here to stay

The “cubs,” or ISIS children, are put into indoctrination programs and training camps at an early age. There was no designated author of the “Jihadi Wives” poem, but ISIS has been making a concerted effort to lure women to the Islamic State to become brides to their fighters.

One ISIS handbook advises women to arrange contacts beforehand, to learn some conversational Turkish, not travel on the same plane in groups larger than three, buy a SIM card for a cell phone at the airport, and to “be chill to the airport officers.” Once at a hotel, the woman would call contacts for a ride to a home of an ISIS sympathizer in preparation to cross the border at night or dawn. It cautions that if you leave your luggage at the safehouse “they might steal your stuff.” The guide also recommends bringing an extra abaya in case a woman rips hers while crawling under barbed wire at the border.

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Webb on Iran: Nuke Deal Is a Treaty, So Congress Must ‘Really Scrub’ It

Monday, April 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Potential 2016 presidential candidate and former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has a very different view on the Iran nuclear negotiations than the Obama administration.

“I don’t believe that you can have a legally binding international commitment without the full consent of the Congress, not the oversight that they are offering in this bill, although I would say I think [Bob Corker] has made quite an accomplishment by getting this bill through the committee in the form that it is,” Webb told CNN on Sunday.

Any eventual deal needs to be treated just like a treaty: “Specific approval.”

“And I said this when the Bush administration was putting together the strategic framework agreement in Iraq in ’08. I said it when President Obama said he was going to have a binding legal arrangement with respect to climate change. You cannot do that without the specific consent of the Congress,” he added.

Webb stressed that “we don’t want to be sending signals into this region that we are acquiescing to the situation where Iran might become more dominant.”

“We don’t know what is in this, the particulars. So, it’s vitally important that Congress come forward and examine this agreement in detail and get a vote,” he said.

“We know our interpretation of the outline of the agreement. And we see that Iran has given its interpretation, which is another reason why we need to really scrub this whole idea.”

Webb warned that “the end result of this could well be our acquiescence in allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.”

“We don’t want that. I don’t — I’m not — I don’t think the Iranians really want that, because, if they look in this region, they’re going to see that you’re going to have proliferation,” he said. “But we need to really be on top of this. And I think the piece that Secretary Kissinger and George Shultz wrote in The Wall Street Journal summed it up about as well as it could summed up.”

That op-ed by the pair of former secretaries of State, which eviscerated what had been revealed about the framework, was panned by the administration as unrealistic.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said she heard “a lot of sort of big words and big thoughts” in the piece, “but I didn’t hear a lot of alternatives about what they would do differently.”

Webb, a Vietnam veteran who was an assistant secretary of Defense and secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, stressed “the questions that Kissinger and Shultz raised about verification and what was on the other side are really important.”

“That’s why the Congress needs to scrub this and give specific approval, if — and I am saying as someone who potentially could be in — obviously in the executive branch, but I think it’s healthy for the country,” he added.

Of that potential challenge to Hillary Clinton, Webb said he’s “looking at it and looking at it hard.”

“I think the reality, obviously, I have been independent all my political career. It’s how I could work comfortably in the Reagan administration and then comfortably serve as a Democrat. But we’re never going to have this financial leviathan machine that is going to pull in $2.5 billion, as some people do,” Webb said in reference to Hillary’s expected fundraising haul.

“I’m never going to have a political consultant at my side whispering what I should say or how I should dress or whether I ought to go to Wal-Mart or not. But what we do have is long experience on the issues in and out of government, strong beliefs about where the country needs to go, and I think the kind of leadership that — where we can govern and we can pull in people who love our country and try to develop some strong positions on fairness at home and common sense and foreign policy.”

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Is Reid’s Fall Making Life Easier in the Senate for Manchin?

Monday, April 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Though Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has complained about the frustration of partisanship in Congress, he’s decided to stay right where he is in 2018 instead of plotting a return to the governor’s mansion.

First he’ll have to get through his 2016 re-election bid. But maybe his decision has something to do with the new leadership in the upper chamber.

“Harry’s a good man, OK. His leadership and the things he thought would work did not. So with that, you just move on,” Manchin told MSNBC this morning.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is retiring at the end of the 114th Congress and wants the leadership reins to go to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The senator released a statement Sunday saying that “it has been a harder transition than I had expected” from governor to senator, “but I believe that, after five years, we are beginning to make a difference.”

“We are simply bringing a greater sense of bipartisanship and commitment to working together for the good of the American people. It is because of that optimism that I have decided to continue serving the people of West Virginia in the United States Senate. My main purpose in the Senate, has, and always will be, to represent the great people of West Virginia to the best of my ability, and I have always said that when my country succeeds, my state succeeds. I feel that I can have the greatest impact on West Virginia and America by staying in Washington,” Manchin said. “This place may not be working now, but I’m not going to stop fighting to make it work.”

Manchin told MSNBC he’s “seen some glimmers of hope” in the upper chamber.

“I think we put our country before we put our political party or our politics,” he said.

A key focus of the senator right now is prescription drug abuse.

“This drug culture we have, it is killing America and it’s definitely a number-one killer in West Virginia. That’s the thing I can do, maybe make a difference and change some things and save some peoples’ lives,” Manchin said. “…The bottom line is you don’t hear anybody that’s running for president talking about the number-one killer in America. And I don’t know why. And we keep bringing more powerful drugs on. Why does the FDA keep approving it? I’ve got two bills right now to try to stop that and not — and just go ahead and pass things through that are killers.”

In the GovTrack rating of senators’ votes, Manchin has drifted more into red territory than any other Democrat.

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The Senate’s Red Line: No Immediate Sanctions Relief as Demanded by Iran

Sunday, April 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The leader of the panel that unanimously passed out of committee a bill requiring congressional approval of any deal with Iran vowed to stop any sanctions repeal that isn’t incremental.

Iran has insisted publicly for many weeks now that it will not accept anything less than all sanctions repealed on the day they sign the final deal.

“As you know, at present, right now, the leadership in Iran is telling their citizens one thing. Our president and others are telling us another. The only way we will ever know what are the details, understand what is in the classified annexes is for us to pass these pieces of legislation that are before us, because, otherwise, we may never know until way after the fact exactly what the agreement is,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told CNN this morning.

“So, look, I think it’s very important, yes, that the phased — the sanctions be phased, so that we see how Iran is behaving, and whether they are actually living up to the arrangement, that we are building up trust,” Corker said. “But, no, to alleviate those on the front end obviously just gives them immediately more money to conduct terrorist acts throughout the Middle East and to continue the hegemony that they have been involved in for the last several years.”

Asked directly if he would stop the Obama administration from lifting sanctions in a manner that was not phased in over time, he replied, “Yes.”

The chairman stressed there are “lots of questions right now, when you start teasing out the details from Secretary Kerry and others.”

“What are our abilities to — on an instant, to get into these facilities, to know what is happening? Are we going to go back to exactly what happened under Saddam Hussein, where they kept moving the ball, where, for months and months and months, we didn’t have the ability to get in?” Corker asked.

“…The public will never see, never see the classified annexes. And I think, on their behalf, they want someone, they want Senator Cardin, myself, our colleagues, the 98 others who will have the opportunity to do this, to actually see those details prior to the sanctions being relieved, to be able to debate those, and certainly to be able to make sure that they comply.”

Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) declared on CNN that “America is stronger today” because of the 19-0 vote on the Corker-Menendez bill last week.

“It’s not unusual to have any administration disagree as to what role Congress should play in any of the work that they are doing, but I think we have worked out the right way, the right way for a thoughtful review by Congress to look at sanctions, since we imposed the sanctions, as to how those sanctions will be handled,” Cardin said.

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Fox this morning: “Don’t think there’s a snowball chance in hell that a Congress is going to approve this framework the way it’s set up.”

“The ayatollah saying he gets immediate sanction relief with no intrusive inspections,” Graham said. “…And I don’t think there’s any chance we’re going to lift congressional sanctions as long as you have hardened sites like Fordow still open.”

“If the final agreement doesn’t allow any time, anywhere inspections, it has a large enrichment program, it keeps Fordow, an underground secret site, reinforced site open that he will get his — it will be rejected large enough to override a veto because members of the Senate understand that this is the most consequential vote we will ever take and the Iranians can’t be trusted, they lie, they cheat.”

As the White House, knowing it was defeated on Corker-Menendez, acquiesced and said it could live with the bill as written, Congressional Republican leadership fired a shot across President Obama’s bow Saturday by turning the weekly GOP address over to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), co-author of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill.

“Iran is the world’s biggest state sponsor of terror. Iran’s aytatollahs are now trying to build their own nuclear weapons. Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to annihilate Jewish families across the state of Israel,” Kirk said.

“Four years ago I authored a bipartisan Iran sanctions Legislation that passed the Senate by a vote of 100-0. These sanctions forced Iran back to the negotiating table. They were so effective that they dropped the value of Iran’s currency by three-quarters. This was probably the entire reason why the Iranians even showed up at the negotiations,” he continued.

“Lately, Iran has tried to backtrack on the promises they made to President Obama. Iran now wants sanctions immediately lifted, which would fund Iran’s terror subsidiaries with billions. Secretary Kerry recently testified before the Senate and said it would only take two more months for Iran to build a bomb. We must use strong economic pressure on Iran to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons.”

Stopping Iran from getting the bomb, the senator stressed, is “the greatest challenge to peace in our time.”

“After the Holocaust we promised ‘never again,’” Kirk said. “We must keep terrorists from hurting our allies and our nation.”

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ISIS Claims Car Bomb at U.S. Embassy in Kurdistan

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

ISIS targeted the U.S. Embassy in Irbil today, with a suicide car bomb detonating in the Kurdish capital at about 5:30 p.m. local time.

Kurdish news site Rudaw noted that the embassy is located in a Christian neighborhood, Ainkawa, which is frequented by Westerners and was busy on a Friday evening.

The bomb detonation was followed by about an hour of gunfire being exchanged between Kurdish security forces and the terrorists.

“The duck-and-cover protocol was activated at the U.S. consulate. All chief of mission personnel have been accounted for. There are no reports of injuries to chief of mission personnel or to the local guards,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters today.

“Host nation fire assets responded to extinguish the fire. Local authorities have also responded and are securing the area. We appreciate the rapid response of the Kurdistan and regional government authorities to this matter, and we will work with them to investigate the incident to determine the facts behind the explosion.”

Kurdish media reported that one American was injured in the attack; the State Department said no embassy personnel were hurt. Four people were killed and 18 injured in the attack. ISIS claimed responsibility on Twitter.

Harf was asked about the shock of terrorists infiltrating an otherwise safe city.

“I think that Iraq remains a dangerous place. Many parts of it do. So I’m not going to get into specifics, but we know that the security environment there is quite a challenging one, and obviously take a number of security precautions when it comes to our people and our facilities,” she said.

Angus King (I-Maine) said on CNN moments ago that there wasn’t “final confirmation” to lawmakers that ISIS was behind the attack, but noted that it was a “pretty sophisticated and powerful bomb” that targeted the embassy.

“It really is very difficult to secure a major city,” King said, adding that heightened security protocols at the embassy “served their purpose today.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s “closely monitoring” the developments.

“I was just in Irbil earlier this month, visiting with local officials and security personnel,” Gardner said. “The Kurdish people are our allies in the war against extremism in the region, and it’s important for the United States to continue to offer them our support.”

 

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Perry: ‘We Saw a Crazy Man Walk Into the White House…’

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

While running through a list of national security failures, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit today that “we saw a crazy man walk into the front of the White House and nobody seemed to know where he came from.”

Upon the audience bursting into laughter, Perry clarified, “And I am talking about the crazy man that walked through that wasn’t supposed to be there, OK?”

That would be Omar Gonzalez, who jumped the fence and ran through the open door of the White House back in September.

“I know somebody will take that wrong,” Perry added.

Perry issued a scathing criticism of the current White House occupant during the address, particularly on foreign policy.

“You see individuals being led to a beach in Libya and be beheaded. You see a young Jordanian pilot burned alive in front of us. You see these young Christian college kids that are murdered. And there is — there’s pessimism in the world. And we think back and we look at Libya and we see what happened to Libya. We see Egypt. We think about our best friend and most reliable partner, the most vibrant democracy in the Middle East, treated the way Israel’s been treated. We think about Syria. And we realize that we missed an incredible opportunity to stop ISIS in its tracks in Syria early by funding the Syrian rebels. And we could’ve gotten rid of Assad as well, I would suggest to you, but our president stood back,” the governor said.

“And then they left, ISIS, and went into Northern Iraq and at that particular point in time, I will suggest to you, had the Americans delivered lethal weapons to those Peshmerga fighters in Northern Kurdistan, that they would have stopped ISIS. They were fighting for their country. They’re fighting for their family. But we didn’t. And today, ISIS controls a greater part of that region of the world than the entirety of the size of the United Kingdom. And while all that was going on, there was somebody watching. Vladimir Putin was watching. And he realized that Crimea wasn’t going to be a problem to annex.”

Perry sounded like a guy who will be tossing his name into the ring at this first-in-the-nation state gathering of Oval Office hopefuls.

“Two things I learned in 2011, number one is you got to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire and you’d better be healthy and you’d better spend like years here,” he quipped.

Perry also stressed that “to be prepared to stand on a stage and talk about this myriad of issues, whether it’s domestic policy, monetary policy, whether it’s foreign policy, takes years of intense study.”

“And I spent the last three years in that, in that mode, being able to stand up and discuss all of these issues and do it in a way that is very profound and impactful,” he said. “…But with that said, I will suggest to you that the next President of the United States really needs to be someone who has deep experience as an executive.”

“That that executive experience is incredibly important to the next leader of this country because we’ve spent eight years with a young, inexperienced United States senator. And I will suggest to you economically, militarily and foreign policy wise, we’re paying a tremendous price.”

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Obama on Russian Missile Sale to Iran: No Big Deal, They’re Just ‘Defensive’

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama said today he’s “surprised” that Russian President Vladimir Putin actually waited until now to sell missiles to the Iranians.

Putin said during a live Q&A program yesterday that it was acceptable to lift the ban on selling the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran because Tehran is “demonstrating a lot of flexibility and an obvious desire to reach a compromise on their nuclear program.”

Putin also stressed that it’s Russia’s prerogative to lift a unilateral ban and that Iran “does not pose any threat to Israel whatsoever.”

He said that since Russian companies made the $900 million equipment, “Why should we take the loss?”

Appearing at the White House today with Italian Prime Minister Mattero Renzi, Obama said the sale “was slated to happen in 2009, when I first met with then-Prime Minister Putin.”

“They actually stopped the sale, paused or suspended the sale at our request. And I’m frankly surprised that it held this long, given that they were not prohibited by sanctions from selling these defensive weapons,” Obama added.

“When I say I’m not surprised, given some of the deterioration in the relationship between Russia and the United States, and the fact that their economy is under strain and this was a substantial sale. I do think that it sends a message about how important it is for us to look like we are credible in negotiations if in fact a deal fails, and we are needing to maintain sanctions.”

Obama steered this into a criticism of Congress.

“Because I’ve heard some in Congress who are opposed to this deal say either let’s just slap on even more sanctions, or we’ll do sanctions unilaterally, regardless of what other countries are willing to do. The reason that the sanctions regime has worked is because painstakingly we built an international coalition that has held this long,” he said.

“And if it is perceived that we walked away from a fair deal that gives us assurances Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, then those international sanctions will fray. And it won’t just be Russia or China. It will be some of our close allies who will start questioning what — our capacity or the wisdom of maintaining these.”

Obama stressed that “we don’t want to put ourselves in that position.”

“We want to make sure that if there’s no deal on the Iran nuclear program, it’s because the Iranians were not willing to accept what the international community considered to be an appropriate and fair approach to this problem,” he added.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he called Putin earlier this week to express “grave concerns” about the sale.

“The Prime Minister told President Putin that this sale will only encourage Iranian aggression in the region and further undermine the stability of the Middle East.”

Israel has expressed concern that the missiles will make their way to Hezbollah.

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Reid Relieved He Didn’t Suffer Brain Damage in ‘Freak Accident’

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said his brain is learning to adjust to the injuries he suffered over the winter holiday break.

Reid still wear sunglasses around the Senate and has undergone surgery to repair a fractured eye socket.

“Things happen. This was a freak accident and I’m not blind in my right eye. But I’m so grateful that it didn’t do any damage to my brain, almost got smacked in the temple there,” Reid said of what he says was an accident with home workout equipment. He also suffered fractured ribs.

“And I’m — accepted where I am just and I look around, it’s easy to do. People have a few more problems than you have,” he told MSNBC. “The main problem of not being able to see out of one eye, the real problem it takes awhile for my brain to adjust. So I have trouble with depth perception.”

“But right now, I stumble a bit, once in a while. I’ll get over that. Your brain will adjust to that and I’ll be fine.”

Reid wants former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to replace him in the Senate when he retires at the end of the 114th Congress.

“The Senate is a better place because of women. Men and women are different. I’m so impressed with how women appear to me to be more patient… I wish I could articulate the way I really feel about how much better the Senate is because of women,” he said.

“I’m so happy, gratified that during the time that I was majority leader and now the time I’m minority leader, that we have women who lead these committees. I mean, we had Feinstein, head of intelligence, Boxer, environment and public works, Patty Murray, budget, she’s going to labor HHS. Maria Cantwell, small business. On and on with these women who are just so dynamic and prior to Mikulski, and I can be here, they weren’t around.”

So in turn, Reid stressed, “the country is ready for a woman to be president of the United States and of course the Senate’s ready for a woman being — it’s just a question of time until they will replace Reid and Schumer, there will be leaders that come from the ranks of women who serve so adequately here in the Senate.”

Reid has endorsed Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to take his spot as Senate Democratic leader.

Reid admitted that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently told him on the Senate floor that he was going to “kick the s**t” out of him.

“And I said to him, John, if I were in your position, I would do the same thing. He said, you know, I felt so sentimental when I heard you say that. That’s what he said. John McCain and I are friends. I understand — we came to the House together. We came to the Senate together,” Reid said. “It’s how we talk to each other. I would like to be able to tell everybody here, my female colleagues haven’t said something comparable to me, but they have.”

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Putin: Iran ‘Does Not Pose Any Threat to Israel Whatsoever,’ So Have Some Missiles

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a live Q&A program that it was acceptable to lift the ban on selling the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran because Tehran is “demonstrating a lot of flexibility and an obvious desire to reach a compromise on their nuclear program.”

“In effect, all participants in the process have announced that an agreement has been reached. Now they only have the technical details to deal with, and they will complete this before June. This is why we made this decision,” Putin said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week there was “no more need” for the 2010 embargo, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif lauded the move by “an important partner.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Putin on Tuesday to warn that the sale would only wreak more havoc in the Middle East.

“If someone fears that we have started cancelling the sanctions, apparently our colleagues do not know that the supply of these systems is not on the UN list of sanctions,” Putin continued in the Q&A, during which he answered 74 audience questions over nearly four hours. “We suspended this contract absolutely unilaterally. Now that there is obvious progress on the Iranian track, we do not see why we should continue imposing this ban unilaterally – I would like to emphasize this again.”

“As for the list of sanctions envisaged by the UN resolutions, we will of course act in unison with our partners. We have always cooperated with this, and I would like to stress that we have made a large contribution to the settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Putin stressed that since Russian companies made the $900 million equipment, “why should we take the loss?”

“As far as Iran is concerned, it is a completely different story that does not pose any threat to Israel whatsoever. It is a solely defensive weapon,” he added. “Moreover, we believe that under the current circumstances in the region, especially in view of the events in Yemen, supplies of this kind of weapon could be a restraining factor.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters today that they have “significant concerns” about the sale and “previously made our objections known.”

“We, look, aren’t going to speculate into Russia’s decision-making, I think. That was part of what he talked about today. Certainly the case that Russia’s economy has been under incredible strain, and that as some press reports have noted, it may be that Russia is doing this purely for the money involved, given they need an influx of finances, given the state of their economy,” Harf said. “We do not, and we agree with what President Putin did say, that we don’t expect this to impact the unity of the P5-plus-1 inside the negotiating room. He said that, and we certainly believe the same.”

“A possible reason may be for the money,” she said of the arms sale.

“The easiest way for the Russians to help fix their economy is to stop doing the things that required sanctions to be put on in the first place,” Harf said.

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Fort Hood Terrorist Attack Purple Heart Recipients to Get Benefits

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Army Secretary John McHugh has directed that all of the Purple Heart recipients at Fort Hood be eligible for the full scope of benefits under the medal.

Thirty-six soldiers and surviving family members from the 2009 terrorist attack received Purple Hearts after Congress passed the defense bill with language directing the Pentagon to award the medals.

“In addition to the Purple Heart medal, there are certain other benefits for which Soldiers receiving the Purple Heart are traditionally eligible,” McHugh wrote in a memo. “I intend to ensure that the Soldiers receiving the Purple Heart under the expanded criteria also receive all other related benefits for which they are eligible.”

“After making the determination that the victims of the Fort Hood attack are now eligible for the Purple Heart, it seems only right and fair that these Soldiers also receive the benefits it traditionally entails. That’s why I directed an expedited process to make certain that happens.”

Those benefits include hostile fire pay and “combat-related special compensation for retired soldiers whose disability is attributable to an injury for which they were awarded the Purple Heart,” according to the Fort Hood press office.

Additional benefits may be forthcoming, according to McHugh, who ordered a review to be on his desk in 30 days.

“Last week’s ceremony was an important step toward honoring the heroes of that day, and I am pleased the Army has moved swiftly to ensure the Fort Hood Purple Heart recipients will receive all the benefits for which they are eligible,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who introduced the Purple Heart legislation that was ultimately folded into the defense bill.

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Will Loretta Lynch Investigate Hillary Clinton’s Emails?

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Loretta Lynch still isn’t on the Senate calendar since her November nomination, and that’s given dubious senators more time to demand answers from President Obama’s pick to replace Attorney General Eric Holder.

In an April 2 letter, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) asked Lynch if she would investigate Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of private email — and deletion of many of those emails — during her time as secretary of State.

Vitter charged that Clinton “failed to meet her general duty under 44 U.S.C. §3101 to ‘preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency and designed to furnish the information necessary to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and of persons directly affected by the agency’s activities.’”

“As a federal attorney, it is your responsibility to uphold our laws. In fact, during your nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you presented yourself as a candidate committed to impartial enforcement of the law and pointed to your record of prosecuting public corruption on a fair and non-partisan basis,” the senator wrote.

“…Clinton’s actions certainly warrant such investigation.  If you are confirmed as Attorney General Eric Holder’s replacement, will you commit to a vigorous and transparent investigation of the allegations that Clinton used her personal email account and server to shield politically-sensitive material from FOIA requests?  If your investigation of these allegations demonstrate violations of federal record-keeping laws, I request that—in your capacity as top lawyer for the American public—you appoint a Special Counsel to prosecute these violations to the full extent of the law.”

Vitter asked for a reply by April 13, and Lynch responded on Wednesday.

“In my current role as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, my awareness of this issue has been limited to media reports and therefore, I do not have enough information at this time to determine whether action by the Department of Justice is warranted,” she wrote.

“You also requested that I appoint a Special Counsel in the event the Department investigates this matter and finds violations of federal record-keeping laws,” she continued. “I assure you that, if I am confirmed as Attorney General, I will exercise my discretion as Attorney General in an appropriate manner in all cases. As I testified at my confirmation hearing, if I am confirmed as Attorney General, the Constitution and the laws of the United States will be my guide in exercising the powers and responsibilities of that office, and I will fulfill those responsibilities with integrity and independence.”

Lynch’s nomination passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 26 with the backing of three Republicans: Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.).

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BREAKING: Al-Qaeda Seizes Commercial Airport on Yemen Coast

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula just captured an airport for their own personal use, according to multiple reports coming out of Yemen.

The Riyan Airport on the Gulf of Aden coast near Al Mukalla is serviced by two Yemeni commercial carriers, Felix Airways and Yemenia.

AQAP seized Al Mukalla, a seaport city of about 300,000 people, at the beginning of this month. They freed terrorists being held in a prison there.

The seizure of the airport comes after a drone strike killed AQAP Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish, a former Guantanamo detainee who became an AQAP spiritual leader after being released to Saudi Arabia in 2006. Al-Rubaish was placed in the Saudis’ terrorist rehab program but escaped to Yemen.

AQAP issued a eulogy for al-Rubaish on Tuesday, saying he “died as a result of a cowardly Crusader strike which killed him with a number of his brothers Monday night.”

“On his path, the people of knowledge walk on and follow on his footsteps, and others should follow in his footsteps. And this is his blood and his body parts today shout and scream for the people of knowledge and da’wah to come to the fields of sacrifice and jihad,” the statement from the terror group said. “Come to the fields of education and da’wah, come to where the plants grow and raises the foundation and raises the edifices of the high deen. Come to where knowledge is pure and models are made for your Ummah.”

AQAP’s leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, is also the general manager of “core” al-Qaeda and has the ability to call terror attacks around the world.

“We have said, when it comes to our counterterrorism strategy, we continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and we have capabilities postured in the area to address them,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday, not confirming the report of the AQAP mufti’s death. “As we’ve said, we will continue to take action to disrupt any imminent threat to the United States and our citizens.”

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Christie on GOP Nod: ‘The Game Hasn’t Even Come Close to Beginning’

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kept quiet as his Bridgegate scandal died down, but with three senators in the 2016 presidential campaign he appears ready to vie for the GOP nomination.

Christie said he won’t decide on running for the Oval Office until after June 30, his state’s budget deadline. But he’s been working the ground in New Hampshire with town halls and hand-shaking in diners.

“If I run, I will beat her,” Christie declared on Hugh Hewitt’s show when asked about Hillary Clinton.

States he thinks he could win that Mitt Romney did not? “I think Pennsylvania’s a state that is very much in play. I think New Mexico is a state that’s very much in play. I think the state that I’m in today, New Hampshire, is a state that would be very much in play. And so you know, let’s start off with those three,” he said. “And Colorado, by the way, a fourth, Colorado, would be very much in play.”

Christie stressed that he was re-elected in his home state, which hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate in 42 years, with 61 percent of the vote, 51 percent of the Hispanic vote, 22 percent of the African-American vote, and 56 percent of women voters.

“Those are the type of numbers we’re going to have to run up across the country to be able to have the type of sweeping victory you want to have to maintain a Republican House and Senate, and have a Republican president. You don’t have to theorize that with me. You’ve seen I’ve done it in what is one of the bluest states in America after governing as a conservative for four years,” he said.

“…We understand that the mainstream media in this country is liberal, and they put forward liberal causes, and they support liberal candidates. And in light of that kind of atmosphere, we’ve elected Ronald Reagan. We’ve elected George Bush 41. We’ve elected George Bush 43. There is no reason we can’t do that when we have the best candidate. We can overcome that. And I’m not going to be one of those people who is going to whine and moan and complain about the media.”

Entitlement reform is the linchpin of Christie’s early campaigning, as he proposes “a modest means test that only affects those with non-Social Security income of over $80,000 dollars a year, and phases out Social Security payments entirely for those that have $200,000 dollars a year in retirement income.”

“These programs were set up to try to prevent poverty. Someone making $200,000 dollars or more is not in danger of being in poverty,” he said.

The payroll tax would be eliminated for anyone who’s working after the age of 62 under Christie’s plan and the retirement age would be raised to 69. “We have to have a reasonable phase in period the same way we have to have a reasonable phase in period for the elevation of the retirement age,” he said.

“I’m going to come forward in the next two months with four major policy addresses like the one I gave today. Today was the first one. And as you saw, it was very direct, very specific, very substantive. The next three topics are going to be on national security and national defense, and taxes and economic policy, and on a national energy policy, because we need to have a national energy policy to confront the issue you discussed, and lots of other issues regarding energy policies going forward. So stay tuned, and we’ll talk about that when we talk about the national energy policy.”

Christie, who predicted that the eventual GOP nominee will be a governor, was asked on NBC this morning if his moment as a serious GOP presidential contender has passed.

“I don’t know and neither do you,” he said. “…I’ve been the frontrunner before. It’s a place where the bull’s-eye is on your back and everybody’s shooting at you. So that’s OK. I’m fine with exactly where I am right now, because I haven’t changed. Because all that other stuff’s artificial. And so the game really begins. And the game hasn’t even come close to beginning.”

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Netanyahu: World ‘Lulled Into Slumber on Bed of Illusions’ Decades After Holocaust

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned at this evening’s Yad Vashem ceremony to mark Yom HaShoah that the civilized world has been “lulled into slumber on a bed of illusions” this many years after the Holocaust.

“In the years before World War II, the free world tried to appease the Nazi regime, to gain its trust, to curry its favor through gestures,” Netanyahu said at the Holocaust Memorial Day event. “There were those who warned that a compromising policy would only whet Hitler’s appetite, but these warnings were ignored due to the natural human desire for calm at all costs.”

The prime minister spokes of those who like to repeat the phrase “never again,” vowing that the Holocaust’s lessons have been learned.

“They declare: ‘We will not turn a blind eye to the expansion aspirations of a violent tyranny.’ They promise: ‘We will oppose evil things as soon as they begin.’ But as long as these announcements are not backed by practical actions – they are meaningless,” Netanyahu said.

“Did the world truly learn a lesson from the inconceivable universal and Jewish tragedy of last century? I wish I could tell you that the answer to this was positive.”

He warned that “just as the Nazis aspired to crush civilization and to establish a ‘master race’ as ruler of the world while annihilating the Jewish people, so too does Iran strive to gain control over the region and then spread further, with the explicit intent of obliterating the Jewish state.”

“Iran is advancing in two directions: The first is developing the ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons and accumulate a stockpile of ballistic missiles, and the second – exporting the Khomeinist revolution to many countries by heavily using terrorism and taking over large parts of the Middle East,” he continued. “Everything is out in the open – it is all taking place in broad daylight, in front of cameras. And yet, the blindness is immense. ”

Netanyahu solemnly noted the “determination and lessons that were acquired in blood seventy years ago are now dissipating, and the darkness and fog of denying reality are taking their place.”

“The bad deal that is being made with Iran demonstrates that the historic lesson has not been internalized,” he said. “Instead of demanding a significant dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program and conditioning the removal of the limitations imposed on it on the cessation of its aggression, the superpowers are leaving Iran with its nuclear capabilities, and even allowing it to expand them many times over regardless of its steps in the Middle East and around the world.”

Iran’s rulers “continue to encourage subversion and terrorism, and disseminate destruction and death” as the world sleeps.

“The powers turn a deaf ear to the crowds in Iran shouting: ‘Death to America; Death to Israel.’ They turn a blind eye to the scenes of execution of those who oppose the regime and members of minority populations. And they hold their peace in the face of the massive arming of terrorist organizations,” Netanyahu said. “At the most, they make a halfhearted statement for the record. ”

“We will not allow the State of Israel to be a passing episode in the history of our nation!”

The White House has not yet issued a statement on Yom HaShoah, which ends Thursday evening.

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu met with 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Avraham Niederhoper. He gave Niederhoper a copy of Rabbi Phil Chernofsky’s book And Every Single One Was Someone, which features one word — Jew, six million times.

“I keep it here to remember, not only to remember, but to prevent,” Netanyahu said. “What they did to you, they want to do to us. Today it is possible to fight; then it was not.”

(Photo: Israeli prime minister’s office)

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‘I’m Not Going to Hurt Them’: Rubio Would Attend a Gay Wedding

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said his personal opposition to same-sex marriage wouldn’t stop him from attending a gay wedding.

Rubio told Jorge Ramos, a host for Univision and Fusion, “if it’s somebody in my life that I care for” who was walking down the aisle, “of course I would” attend.

“I’m not going to hurt them simply because I disagree with a choice they’ve made or because I disagree with a decision they’ve made, or whatever it may be,” he added. “Ultimately, if someone that you care for and is part of your family has decided to move in one direction or another or feels that way because of who they love, you respect that because you love them.”

Rubio compared the dilemma to the Catholic Church’s prohibition on divorce and remarriage without an annulment.

“I’m a member of the Catholic faith that teaches, for example, that divorce is wrong,” Rubio said. “But if someone gets divorced, I’m not going to stop loving them or having them a part of our lives.”

On Tuesday, Rubio was asked on CNN about a Pew poll showing 61 percent of Republican voters under the age of 30 support same-sex marriage.

“That is an issue that will largely be determined at the state level, since marriage laws have always been defined by the states,” the senator said. “I’m — not, for example, ever supported a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage because I believe states define marriage in their laws. And if in fact people feel that way, as that poll says, then they can petition a state legislature to change the law.”

“But the second point I would make is, I don’t — I think there’s still a significant number of Americans that believe that the definition of marriage should be that of one man and one woman, as it has been for thousands of years… They’re a large minority. In essence, there are still parts of this country that believe that way,” Rubio continued.

“But irrespective of it, we’re in a republic. If you want to change the marriage laws of your state, go to your state legislature and get your legislators to change it. I don’t believe the court system is the appropriate way to do it. And I don’t believe Washington and the Supreme Court is the appropriate way to do that.”

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Iran Parliament Releases Nuke Deal Fact Sheet: Sanctions Gone on Day One, ‘Conventional’ Inspections

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Complaining that the White House released a fact sheet on the nuclear framework with facts the Islamic Republic didn’t agree to, the Iranian parliament’s Nuclear Committee released the country’s own fact sheet today.

It stresses that, despite the back and forth with Washington over when sanctions relief would be seen, the deal they agreed to includes “immediate termination of all sanctions in a single step and on the first day of the implementation of the final agreement.”

The fact sheet, released as an “exclusive” by the semi-official Fars News Agency, says the Join Comprehensive Plan of Action period “should be limited to five years, in which about 10,000 active centrifuges operating at Natanz and Fordo now will continue nuclear fuel production by enriching uranium below the 5% grade.”

“During the five-year period, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to keep the excess centrifuges installed at Natanz and Fordo or will gradually dismantle them, and at the end of the 5-year period, it will replace all the existing centrifuges, including the active or inactive ones, with the new generation of (IR-N) centrifuge machines with the help of the new spaces and infrastructures which will have been already prepared and will use them without any limitation.”

The amount of enrichment, the sheet says, “should be specified based on the country’s practical needs and the number of 10,000 centrifuges has also been specified on this basis.”

“The 5-year period in this factsheet has been has been specified with respect to the date when Iran’s nuclear fuel contract with Russia for the Bushehr nuclear power plant will end; hence, the rules and limitations for the components of the enrichment cycle should be set in such a way that the Islamic Republic of Iran will be able to supply the fuel needed for the power plant after the end of the contract with Russia,” it continues. “Operation of 10,000 centrifuges and developing and having a 10-ton enriched uranium stockpile will enable the Islamic Republic of Iran to supply the fuel needed for the Bushehr power plant in the year when the fuel supply contract with Russia (28-30 tons) ends.”

“…If the country would need 20%-degree (enriched) uranium, the nuclear fuel production line for purity levels lower than 5% will be altered to enrich uranium to the 20%-grade after connecting the centrifuge cascades to each other again.”

Inspections will be approved “at conventional levels similar to all other countries.”

“Given the Islamic Republic of Iran’s opposition to the world arrogance, endorsing and implementing the Additional Protocol will provide the world arrogance (a term normally used for the US and its western allies) with legal grounds to stage their preplanned plots against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” it states.

Not only does Iran insist that P5+1 countries, the EU and the UN Security Council will cancel all sanctions on day one, but they must agree to “avoid imposition of new nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.”

The White House has brushed off consistent contradictions from Iran about the nature of the nuclear framework as merely rhetoric for domestic consumption.

“Clearly the Iranians, for their own purposes, are emphasizing different elements of that framework agreement,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told MSNBC on Tuesday.

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‘Stop Treating the Kuffar’: ISIS Trying to Lure Western Doctors

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A British jihadist who left the United Kingdom to join ISIS is urging doctors practicing in the land of the “kuffar” in the West to come to the Islamic State and treat patients there.

The message from Abu Sa’eed Al-Britani was posted on a file-sharing site this month and comes as ISIS has been murdering Iraqi doctors in occupied territory who refused to treat the jihadists. Mosul is home to the second-oldest medical school in Iraq.

“Alhamdulillah, in this blessed land, the land of Tawheed, the land of the Khilafah, the land of Jihad, we strive and struggle with our blood and sweat to establish a land where the Muslims may live in peace and security. Many brothers have attained martyrdom in the process and many are waiting. And from amongst those waiting are those who are crippled and maimed, laying in hospital beds without proper treatment,” Al-Britani, believed to be a former grocery employee from southern England, says in part of his “Message of the Mujahid” series.

“When the jihad in Sham started, many doctors fled the country to live in Turkey or other countries. This caused an insufficient number of remaining doctors to treat the wounded,” he continues. “I have been to the hospitals up and down the State and so many hospitals lack not only manpower but also doctors who are qualified for their jobs. I have seen many trainees training others on how to treat wounds, and many errors are committed by these untrained, unqualified, inexperienced helpers.”

“…I can narrate so many incidents I saw and heard of here in Sham which just shows the great importance of qualified doctors that are needed. It has happened to so many brothers here that they get different answers/solutions from different doctors. One doctor will say I do not need surgery while another will say I do. This is too common and majority of the injured brothers can testify to this.”

Al-Britani speaks of hospitals getting “packed out with brothers being unattended.”

“The huge number of injured brothers makes it difficult on the few doctors to attend to everyone. Likewise, during heavy fighting, the doctors do not get sufficient sleep and their schedules are re-arranged, and circumstances force them to do overtime; and when a doctor is tired he tends to forget. Such slips can have major impacts,” he says.

Still, ISIS is open to medical students as well as board-certified doctors.

“You do not need to be an expert in your field to make a difference here, even someone with a year or two of studies is a big help. As I mentioned previously, we have brothers here who have not studied anything, yet due to the lack of doctors they help out in the hospitals, and many times, even help in major surgeries and operations,” Al-Britani continues. “…I do not wish to sound harsh, but my brother please fear Allah as He should be feared, stop treating the Kuffar and come treat the wounds of your brothers.”

“You may be getting a high wage in the west, but what about the high rewards in the hereafter? The wage here may not be as much as you get in the west but do we live for this life or do we live for the hereafter? Is money more important than the life of your Muslim brother?”

Al-Britani goes on about ISIS members who have been disabled or died due to shoddy medical treatment, including “nerves accidentally cut” and others “left alone and abandoned by their Muslim doctors at the time when they need them the most.”

“Remember this well: Allah is testing them through their injuries, but Allah is also testing you to see how you will react… Will you betray your brothers or will you come to their aid? Your brothers are here, laying in hospital beds waiting for your response.”

Al-Britani has also advertised other jobs for people who want to help ISIS but don’t want to fight, including bomb-maker, teacher, administration positions, fitness instructor and press officer.

A Saudi doctor who made headlines for running off to join ISIS, Faisal bin Shaman al-Aanzi, was killed last year.

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Scott Backs Body Cameras as ‘Greater Protection’ for Cops and Citizens

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) threw his support in principle behind a legislative effort in his home state to require that all state and local police officers in South Carolina wear body cameras.

“I believe that having law enforcement officers wear body cameras provides greater protection for both law enforcement officers and citizens,” Scott said in a statement this morning. “As the South Carolina Legislature begins consideration of S.47, a number of important questions must be asked and answered in regards to implementation of a body camera program. I look forward to a robust debate on those questions and making progress on this matter.”

“As the debate begins in South Carolina, I will continue to look at possible federal solutions in regards to this issue as well,” Scott vowed. “I am committed to working with communities, law enforcement, public officials and others to improve the interaction between police officers and communities throughout the nation.”

Scott quickly spoke out after the slaying of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old man fleeing from a traffic stop who was shot in the back by former North Charleston officer Michael Slager.

“The horrific video that came to light yesterday is deeply troubling,” the senator said April 8. “It is clear the killing of Walter Scott was unnecessary and avoidable, and my prayers are with the Scott family as they go through this ordeal. The swift action taken by [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] and the relevant authorities upon receiving the video shows the severity of this terrible event.”

“With several protests planned today, I join community leaders in North Charleston in calling for peace. I understand the hurt, the frustration and the anger many are feeling today. But violence solves nothing,” Scott added. “We must come together as a community, as a state, and as a nation in working to bring our communities together and rebuild trust.”

The senator was born and raised in North Charleston and is no relation to the victim.

Walter Scott’s family has also called for peace and there have been no violent protests in the city.

The senator attended a memorial service for Walter Scott on Saturday, along with Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.). Sanford said afterward that Congress would pursue “legislative remedies,” according to The New York Times.

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Administration Reasoning: Castros Said ‘Many, Many, Many’ Times They Don’t Like Terrorism

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Senior administration officials told reporters that several factors went into rescinding Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism, including the Castros telling them “many, many, many” times that they don’t like terrorism.

President Obama yesterday submitted to Congress notice of the administration’s intent to remove Cuba’s terrorist designation.

“After a careful review of Cuba’s record, which was informed by the Intelligence Community, as well as assurances provided by the Cuban government, the Secretary of State concluded that Cuba met the conditions for rescinding its designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.

“As the president has said, we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but our concerns over a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions fall outside the criteria that is relevant to whether to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. That determination is based on the statutory standard – and the facts – and those facts have led the president to declare his intention to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” Earnest said. “More broadly, the United States will continue to support our interests and values through engagement with the Cuban government and people.”

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes sniped at critics on Twitter, “Put simply, POTUS is acting to remove #Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list because Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”

Congressional critics say otherwise. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who keeps a running list of Cuba’s activities that sponsor terrorism, warned just a week ago that the White House was putting “alarming” pressure on the State Department to rush the removal of the terrorist designation.

A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call after the White House announcement that “the Cubans have for a long time shown us many, many, many speeches by their leaders, both Fidel and Raul, in which they have rejected terrorism.”

“Many instances, in fact, of terrorist acts that they have decried publicly, I think the latest probably being the Charlie Hebdo incident in France,” the official added. “But certainly, there are lots of incidents that they can point to. And in terms of commitments for the future, they point to both statements by their leadership and ratifications of international treaties, and the assurances that they gave us.”

That official acknowledged the review time was “well within the period of time that the president gave to us,” but insisted the process was “extremely rigorous.”

Another official called “the pledge or the assurances that they will no longer support acts of terrorism in the future” an “important component of this evaluation.”

Congress has 45 days from the receipt of Obama’s report to block the removal of the terrorist designation. Obama could then veto that.

Menendez said the administration’s action gives “no explanation, no justification, and no comfort” to the family of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, who was “murdered in cold blood” by Joanne Chesimard — on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted Terrorists list and harbored by Havana.

“This decision to take Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism sends a message that you can continue to be complicit as Cuba has – with North Korea and China – in the smuggling of jets, missiles, and other weapons in direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions – and do it with impunity,” Menendez said. “This decision to remove Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism allows Basque terrorists wanted by Spain, and members of FARC wanted by Colombia, to see Cuba as a place of refuge.”

“How can we say Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism when the Castro regime continues to harbor dozens of other American fugitives: cop killers, plane hijackers, bomb makers, arms traffickers? For Cuba to be removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, it must demonstrate changed behavior through verifiable actions, not empty rhetoric. Cuba remains as repressive today as ever and is undeserving of this potential newfound designation.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) noted that the Obama administration’s policy toward Cuba has been “ask, and you shall receive.”

“This is being done only for political reasons and not in accordance with the law,” she said. “For months, the Obama administration deceived the American people by conveying that opening embassies and the SST designation were not linked in these misguided talks. But this unwise decision to remove Cuba from the SST list illustrates that the Obama administration is willing to concede to the demands of the Castro brothers in order to set up an embassy in Cuba. Removing Cuba from the terrorist list does not help the Cuban people as they are still left oppressed and without even basic human rights while emboldening its oppressors.”

Ros-Lehtinen stressed that recently “Castro thugs beat U.S. citizens and Cuban pro-democracy activists in Panama and now the regime is being rewarded for such actions by being removed from the SST list.”

“This removal will only undermine U.S. national security and send a signal to the Cuban people that, instead of disapproving of the Castro regime’s methods, the U.S. is rushing to embrace two decrepit tyrants in their twilight,” she said. “Sadly, President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terror list is based on politics and not facts.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the decision “sends a chilling message to our enemies aboard that this White House is no longer serious about calling terrorism by its proper name.”

“This is yet another example of President Obama viewing the world through rose-colored glasses,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “President Obama is trying to find redeeming qualities in the Cuban regime regardless of the facts. But the facts are clear, there has been no change in the nature of the Castro brothers’ regime.”

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Sanders Mocks Hillary’s Scooby Van: ‘I Can’t Think of an Interest of More Significance’

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) mocked Hillary Clinton’s “Scooby van” tour and the horde of press following it while stressing that America has no idea what she’s running on.

“I’m sure there is great national interest about the Scooby van; I can’t think of an interest of more significance to the American people,” Sanders quipped yesterday on MSNBC.

The self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist wants the focus turned to issues such as super PACs and Keystone. “I would hope very much that serious debate on serious issues is what we do in any campaign,” he said.

Sanders promised to give a decision on his own presidential aspirations “pretty soon.”

“If I run, I want to run a serious campaign. I want to make sure that we have the financial resources to do it,” he said, noting that his money comes from small donors, “not billionaires.”

The “most important issue” for a candidate to focus on, he said, “is are we prepared to take on the billionaire class which has so much power over our economic and political life.”

Meanwhile, “Why don’t you tell me what Hillary Clinton is campaigning on? Do you know?”

“You don’t know and I don’t know and the American people don’t know,” Sanders said.

This morning on MSNBC, Sanders declared “no president, not Hillary, not Bernie Sanders, not anybody, will succeed unless there is a mass mobilization of millions of people who say enough is enough, Koch brothers and billionaires can’t have it all.”

“I’ve known Hillary Clinton for many years and I like Hillary Clinton very much and clearly this is a very capable person, but she has to answer some very significant questions.”

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#BringBackOurGirls: Boko Haram Toll Even Worse Than You Think

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

It’s been one year today since Boko Haram attacked the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria, and abducted 276 schoolgirls, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign. More than 200 of those girls are still missing after dozens managed to escape over the year, but a new report from Amnesty International puts the number of women and girls kidnapped by the terrorists since the start of 2014 ten times higher.

“At least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the start of 2014 and many have been forced into sexual slavery and trained to fight,” Amnesty states in a 90-page report based on nearly 200 witness accounts, including 28 women and girls who escaped captivity.

In that timeframe, more than 5,500 civilians have been killed as Boko Haram rampaged across northeastern Nigeria to declare their caliphate. The terror organization formally pledged allegiance to ISIS at the beginning of March.

The report details how “men and boys are regularly conscripted or systematically executed and young women and girls are abducted, imprisoned and in some cases raped, forcibly married and made to participate in armed attacks, sometimes on their own towns and villages.”

Of those kidnapped girls:

Boko Haram would take the women and girls they abducted directly to camps in remote communities or to makeshift transits camps such as one established in Ngoshe prison. From transit camps Boko Haram would move them to houses in towns and villages and indoctrinate them with their version of Islam in preparation for marriage.

Aisha, aged 19, spoke to Amnesty International about how she was abducted from a friend’s wedding in September 2014 along with her sister, the bride and the bride’s sister. Boko Haram took them to a camp in Gullak, Adamawa state, home to approximately 100 abducted girls. One week later, Boko Haram forced the bride and the bride’s sister to marry their fighters. They also taught Aisha and the other women and girls how to fight.

“They used to train girls how to shoot guns. I was among the girls trained to shoot. I was also trained how to use bombs and how to attack a village,” Aisha told Amnesty International. “This training went on for three weeks after we arrived. Then they started sending some of us to operations. I went on one operation to my own village.”

Aisha said that during the three months that she was held captive, she was raped repeatedly, sometimes by groups of up to six fighters. She also saw more than 50 people killed by Boko Haram, including her sister. “Some of them refused to convert. Some refused to learn how to kill others. They were buried in a mass grave in the bush. They’ll just pack the dead bodies and dump them in a big hole, but not deep enough. I didn’t see the hole, but we used to get the smell from the dead bodies when they start getting rotten.”

Amnesty estimates the Boko Haram army at about 15,000, and the number of attacks and raids on towns since the beginning of 2014 at 300. “During their attacks on towns, they would systematically target the military or police first, capturing arms and ammunition, before turning on the civilian population. They would shoot anyone trying to escape, rounding up and executing men of fighting age,” the report states, adding this witness account:

Ahmed and Alhaji, aged 20 and 18, were seated with other men, waiting for their throats to be cut after Boko Haram took over Madagali on 14 December 2014. Ahmed told Amnesty International that even though his instinct told him to run, he could not. “They were slaughtering them with knives. Two men were doing the killing…We all sat on the ground and waited our turn.” Alhaji only managed to escape when a Boko Haram executioner’s blade became too dull to slit more throats. “Before they got to my group, they killed 27 people in front of me. I was counting every one of them because I wanted to know when my turn would come.” He said that at least 100 men who refused to join Boko Haram were executed in Madagali on that day.

… A 15-year-old boy from Bama, spared by Boko Haram due to his disability, told Amnesty International that he had witnessed 10 stonings. “They stone them to death on Fridays. They will gather all the children and ask them to stone. I participated in the stoning… They will dig a hole, bury all the body and stone the head. When the person dies, they will leave the stones until the body decays.”

Many Christians told Amnesty investigators “they suspect members of the Muslim community of informing Boko Haram where Christians live, or of not sharing information about prospective Boko Haram attacks.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that the administration is “very concerned” about the report, “and we continue to be supportive of the efforts of Nigerians to counter the depraved tactics that are employed by Boko Haram.”

“For a year now, people around the world have been concerned about the safety and well being of those girls that were kidnapped,” Earnest said. “The United States has taken steps to try to augment the capabilities of the Nigerian security forces to counter the threat that’s posed by Boko Haram, but also to try to find the girls who were kidnapped.”

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Unanimous: Senate Committee Gives Bipartisan Approval to Iran Bill

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Corker-Menendez bill requiring congressional approval of any deal with Iran was headed to the Senate floor after unanimously passing out of the Foreign Relations Committee today.

The 19-0 vote may not be as unified in the full Senate — Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), for example, said her “aye” vote would be gone if any amendments were added that she doesn’t like — but the bipartisan negotiations to get the bill to point rose “to the high calling of what the United States Senate is all about,” according to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).

The White House relented on its absolute veto threat shortly before the committee marked up the bill. “I won’t be in a position to be ultimately definitive about whether or not we’ll be able to support the product that emerges,” Earnest told reporters today before the committee meeting. “…We would vigorously oppose any sort of extraneous element not at all related to the agreement that could undermine our ability to implement the agreement.”

The final product before the committee was scaled down to cover only the nuclear deal. It clearly states that sanctions on Iran for human rights, missile testing and terrorism will remain in place.

It did, however, strip language originally inserted into the bill by Menendez that would require certification by President Obama to Congress that Iran was not sponsoring acts of terrorism against Americans. Menendez said that the new sanctions language satisfied his concerns about terrorism not being disregarded in the Iran deal, and added that he’ll continue to pursue Iran’s terrorist activities through other avenues.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) tried to reintroduce the certification language into the bill as an amendment, which failed 6-13. Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said it was “well intentioned,” but unrealistic to expect Obama to make this certification.

“This idea that we could essentially get Iran to renounce terrorism is unrealistic,” Earnest said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has been the most vocal White House loyalist on the committee, said the “benign” nature of the compromise — which also nicks the review period from 60 to 52 days, including the White House reply and congressional rebuttal periods — led the administration to pull back on its veto threat.

Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) retorted that he had a “180-degree view” on the quieting of tough talk from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The administration’s change of heart in the previous two hours, Corker stressed, was simply because they realized “the number of senators they knew would support this legislation.”

Corker said the bill “forces the administration to bring to us every detail if there happens to be a final agreement,” and puts congressional oversight on compliance not seen in the North Korea nuclear agreement.

“This puts Congress in its rightful role,” he said, crediting Cardin with “valiantly” rallying more Dems to support the bill.

Corker also credited Menendez, who took the reins of the committee from John Kerry when he left to be secretary of State, with helping transform the panel into “more than just a debating society” but a committee passing significant security legislation.

“Let’s send a message to Tehran that sanctions relief is not a given and not a prize for signing on the dotted line,” Menendez declared.

Senators made clear that amendments will be coming on the floor, including one from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), back at work the day after his presidential announcement, requiring that Iran recognize the state of Israel.

Boxer urged her colleagues to “refrain from trying to solve every problem with Iran” in the legislation, or she’ll scuttle her support.

“I’m concerned about more than ‘disrupting the delicate balance of this bill,’ I’m concerned about the destruction of Israel,” Rubio retorted before reading some of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s tweets. “At some point when someone says they want to destroy, you take them seriously… you don’t build ballistic missiles because you want to do some fancy fireworks show.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who was also instrumental in building Democratic support, called “offensive” the insinuation that lawmakers who want congressional approval of an Iran deal must want war.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) suggested that the White House embrace the Corker-Menendez bill and utilize it as leverage “as it moves toward any final agreement, which Congress should be able to judge on its merits.”

“Last evening, Secretary Kerry and other senior Administration officials briefed the full House on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. It is clear that many fundamental issues such as verification and sanctions relief must be better addressed if a viable and supportable final agreement with Iran is to be reached,” Royce said in a statement after the Senate committee passage. “Senator Corker’s legislation, which would rightly give Congress a say on this agreement after negotiations are complete, strengthens the Administration’s hand at the negotiating table.”

Earnest still stressed that “the president of the United States is the one who is given the authority under the Constitution to conduct foreign policy.”

“Therefore, it is his decision to make — to make about whether or not to enter into an agreement,” he said. “But we have acknowledged that Congress does have an important and legitimate role when it comes to voting on the sanctions that Congress passed.”

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Inside the Kerry Briefing of ‘Skeptical and Quiet’ Senators on Iran Deal

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

One of the key senators who has earned the ire of the White House by his determination to keep Iran from nuclear weapons capability said today’s closed-door administration briefing was more talking, less listening.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who were at the negotiating table in Switzerland, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew met with House lawmakers on Monday and senators today, trying to whip them to the position of not taking any actions on Iran as the P5+1 works on a final deal.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), co-author of the sanctions bill with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), told reporters after the meeting that “several members seemed to be skeptical,” including Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Kirk branded the overall mood in the room as “skeptical and quiet,” but when it came to their myriad questions and concerns the administration essentially filibustered.

“Moniz went on for a while,” he said, adding some senators were “upset” as they were given “no time for questions … only a few questions” made it through.

On the stark differences between Iran’s position on the nuclear framework and Washington’s assertions, “they just glossed over it,” Kirk said.

The senator has not only prepared a chart that compares the differences between the two countries’ statements, from inspections to sanctions, but has a list of all Americans killed by Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism.

Kerry “just asked us to hold off,” but “there was no veto threat in the room.”

Still, Kirk knows that President Obama has not abandoned his veto threat, and is “so emotionally invested in this” he would make the “mistake” of a veto.

The senator accused the White House of pushing the deal on purpose. “They want to get it through the presidential election because they want a Democrat in the White House,” Kirk said. “That was obvious.”

“…It’s clear the Iranians are delaying because they have not finished their nuclear weapon yet.”

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Boehner Won’t ‘Rule Out’ Even More Bills on Iran Deal

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today that his chamber is ready to take up the Corker-Menendez bill on approval of any Iran deal as soon as the Senate is done with it.

Boehner also indicated it may not be the last Iran bill dealing with the negotiations that will come through his chamber.

Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House have been lobbying lawmakers ahead of this afternoon’s meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to consider the legislation.

They’re also busy at work trying to spread the message that lawmakers just want to kill any Iran deal.

“No,” Boehner replied to that charge in front of reporters today. “What I’m trying to do is to make sure that if we’re going to have an agreement with the Iranians, it’s one that will, in fact, work and will be upheld on all sides. But from everything that I’ve heard about the so-called framework, all it is is really an agreement to keep talking. I haven’t seen anything concrete come out of this yet.”

“But I’ve got concerns and I’ve voiced those concerns and I’ll continue to voice them,” he added.

Congress, the Speaker said, “absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal” — the crux of Corker-Menendez. “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, who appears to want a deal at any cost.”

In the upper chamber, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has been working on a compromise that will earn the support of even more Democrats. The White House still wants no bill at all, and has threatened to veto Corker-Menendez.

It’s a small comprise, shortening the number of days Congress would have to review the bill from 60 to 52 — if President Obama meets a July 9 submission deadline. The P5+1 deadline for a final deal is June 30.

A 60-vote threshold would be needed in the Senate to approve the deal.

Boehner said he hadn’t seen the revised bill.

“But I’m hopeful that the Senate will move the Corker- Menendez bill here over the next couple of weeks, and frankly, I would expect the House to take that bill up,” he said.

“At this point, I wouldn’t rule out anything else,” Boehner said of additional Iran action. “But at this point, I think the Corker-Menendez bill is taking center stage.”

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