A Veterans Affairs access audit found that wait times for veterans to see a doctor jumped even as the department was coming under fire for alleged secret wait lists.
A criminal investigation is probing claims that veterans died waiting for appointments and were shuffled onto secret wait lists in order to create better stats for the VA system. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned May 30.
A new audit from the VA, though, shows that wait times got worse as the scandal unfolded.
Out of 141 audited nationwide, 6,004,350 appointments were scheduled as of May 15, with 242,069 of those over 30 days.
On June 1, that 4 percent rate had jumped to more than 10 percent.
As of that day, 6,186,720 were scheduled and 621,985 of those had passed the 30-day mark. In the audit of June 15 appointments, 6,187,973 were scheduled and 636,436 of these waited more than 30 days.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson today, asking for an explanation of “this across-the-board, unacceptable rise.”
“Simply put, the VA seems to be going in exactly the wrong direction in seeking to address dangerous and deadly health care delays,” Blumenthal said, noting that in some states the wait time had quadrupled. “…Such statistics raise serious questions. Why are the wait times increasing? Is there a lack of administrative resources? A shortage of doctors or other critical health care professionals? Are the numbers themselves valid and consistently reported?”
“The VA cannot improve the delivery of health care or restore trust and confidence in its integrity and effectiveness without clearly and accurately explaining these numbers.”
Blumenthal also called on the VA more than a month ago to release results of site-specific audits “in order to provide the public — and especially the veterans and their families who use the health care services provided at these facilities – with a clear understanding of the scope of the problems at those facilities.”
President Obama’s nominee to replace Shinseki, former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald, is making the rounds on the Hill this week to meet with senators. Tomorrow afternoon McDonald will sit down with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Amid accusations of election irregularities, the preliminary results of the Afghanistan presidential election released today show a reversal of fortune for a candidate who once used a Clinton adviser for his campaign.
In May, the results of the first round of voting had former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah ahead with 45 percent of the vote, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former chancellor of Kabul University, World Bank official and finance minister, with 31.6 percent.
Today, the preliminary results of the June runoff were announced by Afghanistan’s election commission — putting Ghani ahead with 56.44 percent of the vote and Abdullah behind with 43.56 percent, according to Tolo News.
Turnout in the first round of voting was a little over 7 million. In the runoff, 8,109,403 ballots were cast. Out of the latter total, 62.37 percent of the voters were male and 37.63 percent were female.
Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, head of the Independent Election Commission, said they accept both fraud and technical problems occurred, including 928 polling sites that didn’t open.
“The announcement preliminary result does not mean the winner has been announced,” Nuristani said. “The investigation of votes could have impacts on the final results, so we demand the candidates and their supporters to stay calm.”
An Abdullah spokesman told Tolo News that the number of votes announced raised alarm, as they were told the ballots along with fraudulent ones numbered about the same as the first round of voting.
“We do not accept the results announced this evening by the IEC,” Mujib Rahman Rahimi told the Afghan news network. Preliminary results were announced four days later than planned, and an official final tally is due July 22.
Abdullah has accused election officials and the administration of President Karzai of orchestrating election fraud and his only route of appeal, the Electoral Complaints Commission, is run by a Karzai appointee.
After the Taliban took over, Ghani taught at UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. After the fall of the Taliban, he returned to his home after 24 years away and became chief adviser to Karzai, receiving wide coverage in international media. Ghani ran against Karzai in 2009 yet finished fourth; he hired James Carville as a campaign consultant then. He’s for women’s rights but also supports negotiating with the Taliban if the terrorists agree to a ceasefire first.
Citing Karzai’s corruption, Abdullah, a doctor and former adviser in the Northern Alliance that battled the Taliban and al-Qaeda before the coalition invasion, ran for president in 2009 but withdrew due to the tainted election process. He has criticized Karzai’s intention of negotiating with the Taliban.
This is what Abdullah’s lead looked like after the first round of voting. Islamist candidates — Wahhabist Islamist warlord Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf and Qotbuddin Helal, a high-ranking member of the Taliban-allied insurgent group Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan — just managed to clear 10 percent.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who just returned from Afghanistan with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), says the intelligence community is unified in its assessment that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) is a direct threat to the United States.
“According to director of national intelligence, the FBI director and most of our intelligence community, ISIS presents a direct threat to the homeland in Syria, now Iraq,” Graham told CBS on Sunday. “Americans and Western Europeans are going to help their cause. And they can flow back here. So, yes, they are a direct threat to the homeland and they’re getting much stronger as we speak.”
“I think it’s important to recognize that we did have this situation stabilized, thanks to the surge, that we could have left a residual force behind which would have stabilized the situation,” McCain said.
“This is not like a hurricane or an earthquake. This didn’t have to happen. This is a failure of United States policy. And, by the way, there still is none that I can discern, either a policy or a strategy, to handle this situation.”
McCain called the new caliphate, which encompasses an area stretching across Syria and Iraq that eclipses the size of Jordan, “the largest and richest enclave of radical terrorism in history.”
“And one of the things that we need to do, of course we want Maliki to be replaced, but we got to stop ISIS first. And that means that we’re going to have to do airstrikes. And we need to step up our support for the Free Syrian Army that is really right now getting very badly beaten,” McCain said.
“…You’re going to see the same result in Afghanistan. We just came back from there. They feel abandoned.”
“I think the big fear I have about what we’re doing in Afghanistan is that we have great capability now. We can watch a part of the world that is a safe haven for terrorists. Thirteen years after 9/11, there are more safe havens. There are more terrorist groups with more weapons and more capabilities than before 9/11, and we’re having less capability, less presence,” Graham said.
“If we get down to 1,000 troops by 2017, and dismantle our eyes and ears in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will haunt us far worse than Iraq. The counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan is a front-line defense against — for the homeland and it is being destroyed by this idea of leaving completely in 2017,” he continued.
“Mr. President, reverse your course. Keep our counterterrorism capabilities in effect to protect us here at home.”
McCain stressed that they’re not advocating combat troops.
“We’re advocating leaving sustaining capability to give them the capabilities that they don’t have right now,” he said.
A Republican congressman said he believes Americans would accept the illegal immigrants in the country already as long as the administration gets serious about border security.
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who unsuccessfully ran for majority leader as a conservative alternative to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), said the administration can’t use the excuse of violence in Central America as the reason so many unaccompanied children are being sent to the border.
“The reality is that the violence that existed in the Central American country is for a long period time. The level of poverty has existed in the Central American countries over a long period of time,” Labrador told NBC on Sunday.
“But it’s over the last few years that you have seen an increase in the number of children coming to the United States… The administration estimates are that it’s going to be about 60,000 to 90,000 this year. It’s going to increase 150,000 to 200,000 next year.”
Now, the congressman noted, the White House is sending administration officials on TV to “say they are doing everything they can to stem the flow but that their number one priority is to actually make sure we do right by these children.”
“The thing this administration needs to do is immediately deport these families, these children. I know it sounds harsh, I know it sounds difficult, but they are creating a crisis at this time that’s actually going to harm these children,” Labrador said.
Labrador was part of last year’s Group of Eight immigration negotiators, which also included Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), John Carter (R-Texas), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Sam Johnson (R-Texas), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).
“These children, as your own reporting says, these children are going to come through the border. They are going to come from Central America. Many of them are being raped, many of them are being harmed. This is an outrageous thing that is happening to these children. We need to take a strong stand against what’s happening and against these illegal cartels,” Labrador continued.
He was asked whether there was a solution not focusing on deportation that included illegal immigrants already in this country.
“You know, Americans are great people. I think they’re willing to deal with the 11 million people if we feel that there’s going to be border security. Right now the frustration you see in Murrieta, the frustration you see all throughout the United States, is because they feel that this administration is doing nothing about border security,” Labrador said, referencing the buses carrying illegal immigrants that were stopped by a crowd of residents in a Southern California town.
“If we can feel safe in our homes, if we can’t feel safe in our homeland, if we can feel that we can actually are to be able to stem the flow of immigration, I think the American people are very nice people.”
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, though, said he didn’t think the protest in Murrieta reflected the feelings of the Riverside County city of 100,000.
“I look at it, and it is unfortunate to see that type of hostility directed at women and children on a bus, frankly. I do not believe that that band of individuals that you showed in your lead-in reflects Murrieta, California and it certainly does not reflect the response we’ve seen across the southwest in general,” Johnson told Meet the Press.
“The broader response across the southwest has been very different in places like McAllen, Texas; Nogales, Arizona where the city governments, the population at large, faith-based organizations have really stepped up to support the border patrol to do the humanitarian thing here,” he added. “The media is focused on that band of individuals in Murrieta, California. I don’t think that even reflects the sentiment in Murrieta, frankly.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was vague Sunday about what caused his department to bump up security at airports in the wake of the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL), telling NBC on Sunday that “obviously we’re concerned any time a terrorist organization acquires territory, picks up capability.”
On Wednesday, Johnson issued a statement stressing DHS would “continue to adjust security measures to promote aviation security without unnecessary disruptions to the traveling public.”
“DHS continually assesses the global threat environment and reevaluates the measures we take to promote aviation security. As part of this ongoing process, I have directed TSA to implement enhanced security measures in the coming days at certain overseas airports with direct flights to the United States,” Johnson said. “We will work to ensure these necessary steps pose as few disruptions to travelers as possible. We are sharing recent and relevant information with our foreign allies and are consulting the aviation industry.”
“These communications are an important part of our commitment to providing our security partners with situational awareness about the current environment and protecting the traveling public,” he added. “Aviation security includes a number of measures, both seen and unseen, informed by an evolving environment.”
One of the threats posed by ISIS is the group’s aggressive recruitment of foreign jihadists who would hold passports to the U.S. or European countries.
“Our job is to try to anticipate the next attack, not simply react to the last one. So we continually evaluate the world situation. And we know that there remains a terrorist threat to the United States. And aviation security is a large part of that,” Johnson told Meet the Press.
“So this past week, I directed that we step up our aviation security at last point — at some last point of departure airports coming into the United States. This is not something to overreact to or overspeculate about, but it’s something we felt was necessary. We do this from time to time. We ratchet it down from time to time,” he added.
When asked if the DHS intended to ratchet up security on domestic flights as well as international ones, the secretary replied, “We continue to evaluate things.”
“The screening we have right domestically from one domestic airport to another is pretty robust as the American traveling public knows. In this instance we felt that it was important to crank it up some at the last point of departure airports and we’ll continually evaluate the situation,” he said.
Johnson said he believes “that we’ve taken the appropriate measures to deal with the existing situation and not unnecessarily burden the traveling public.”
“As I said, the terrorist threat potential out there still remains and a lot of it centers around aviation security, which we continually monitor,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security is coming under fire for awarding a lucrative immigration-related contract to the firm under fire for clearing Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.
Just last week, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a bill inspired by allegations against US Investigations Services LLC (USIS) to keep contractors from conducting the final quality reviews of their own background investigations.
The Justice Department alleged that USIS put a stamp of approval on its own incomplete investigations in order to receive federal government payments.
Still, the company will be doing checks for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he was “deeply troubled” by the $190 million contract.
“Snowden – now a houseguest of Russian intelligence – has done irreparable damage to the national security of the United States, endangering the lives of Americans around the world. Our nation’s top military officer has told Congress that the leaks of our ‘military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures’ will take billions of dollars to overcome,” Royce said.
“There is no good reason – bureaucratic or otherwise – why the United States should continue to do business with a company with this kind of track record, especially contracting with a key immigration agency. I strongly urge the Administration to reconsider this award in light of this company’s past performance,” he stressed. “A $190 million contract to a company that has so poorly served the United States is indefensible.”
USIS, which began contracting with the Office of Personnel Management in 1996, has been accused of using a software program to give incomplete applications the OK, concealing this practice from OPM and then billing OPM for inadequate background investigations.
“We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country’s sensitive and secret information,” said Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, in October. “The Justice Department will take action against those who charge the taxpayers for services they failed to provide, especially when their non-performance could place our country’s security at risk.”
Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) is offering 15 $1,000 rewards to uncover any voter fraud that could help him successfully challenge Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) primary victory.
McDaniel has not conceded the race, with Cochran having 50.9 percent of the vote and his Tea Party challenger coming in with 49.1 percent.
McDaniel has been soliciting donations from supporters to mount a legal challenge and last Friday sent out an email asking for volunteers to send their contact information to a legal firm to help investigate the Cochran camp.
Today he announced an “Election Integrity Challenge and Voter Fraud Reward” to distribute $1,000 rewards to up to 15 individuals “who provide evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in voter fraud on or leading up to the June 24, 2014, Republican primary runoff election in Mississippi.”
A pastor claimed Monday that he was given money by the Cochran campaign to pay members of his church community $15 each to vote.
Now, McDaniel is soliciting $15 donations to fund his rewards.
“The most important issue here is maintaining the integrity of the electoral process here in Mississippi,” McDaniel said. “These allegations of criminal behavior on behalf of the Cochran are troubling, and any evidence of fraud will be turned over to the authorities to be investigated.”
The Cochran campaign tried to hold a press call yesterday to respond to the allegations of the McDaniel camp, but the call was crashed by McDaniel supporters after the conference number was leaked on Twitter.
Two members of Congress met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today to convey their condolences for the killings of three teens and to express their support for Israel.
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped from the kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank on June 12. Naftali was a dual citizen with an American passport. Their bodies were discovered this week.
The visit from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, comes as the White House said Wednesday that President Obama had not called Netanyahu.
“I don’t have any calls to read out at this point, or any calls to give you an indication that we’re planning — but as we consider calls like that, we always have a discussion about whether to read them out and if we’re in a position to do so, I’ll make sure that you guys are informed,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Following their meeting with Netanyahu, Ros-Lehtinen and Deutch said in a joint statement that “these last few days have been a trying and difficult time for the people of Israel after the bodies of three of their sons were found.”
“As an entire nation mourned, we mourned with it. We conveyed our deepest sympathies to Prime Minister Netanyahu and reaffirmed to our closest ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel, that the United States stands firmly with it as it struggles to cope with the tragic loss of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad and as it seeks to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the lawmakers said.
Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen also discussed with Netanyahu “the threats that Israel faces as the stability of the region continues to deteriorate.”
“The growing threat of extremism in Syria and Iraq, and the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program, could have severe repercussions throughout the region, and these toxic obstacles put both Israel and U.S. national security interests at risk,” they said. “We vowed to continue our unwavering support for the people of Israel and their safety and security, and will do whatever we can to ensure Israel maintains her qualitative military edge so that she can defend herself from all threats.”
At a eulogy for the boys on Tuesday, Netanyahu reminded mourners that “a deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies.”
“They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion,” he said. “This is the secret of our strength; it is the foundation of our unity.”
— Daniel Meron (@dmeron) July 3, 2014
— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) July 3, 2014
— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) July 3, 2014
— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) July 1, 2014
— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) July 3, 2014
Gun-control advocates flocked to the side of Target today after the retail chain asked gun-permit holders to not pack heat inside the store.
“As you’ve likely seen in the media, there has been a debate about whether guests in communities that permit ‘open carry’ should be allowed to bring firearms into Target stores. Our approach has always been to follow local laws, and of course, we will continue to do so. But starting today we will also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target – even in communities where it is permitted by law,” interim Target CEO John Mulligan said in a statement today.
“We’ve listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members,” Mulligan continued.
“This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) responded by running down to Target to buy a couple bags of candy.
“Today, I shopped at Target because it’s doing the right thing on guns,” Blumenthal said. “Target knows that allowing customers to carry guns in its stores is not consistent with providing parents and their children with a safe and secure place to shop. I applaud Target’s decision to change its gun policy – a decision that reflects growing public support for gun safety across the country. Customers are no safer when they carry guns into Target, or any other store or restaurant.”
The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America began putting pressure on Target to keep guns out of its stores after open-carry advocates posted pictures online of shoppers with their guns.
“I am pleased that Target has announced its commitment to prioritize customer safety by asking guests not to bring firearms into Target stores,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “As noted in a letter to Target’s CEO last month after a loaded gun was found in the toy aisle of a South Carolina Target store, when policies are not in place to prohibit firearms in stores, everyone is at risk. Today’s announcement demonstrates a strong sense of responsibility by Target’s management, and follows the customer-friendly approach other companies, such as Starbucks and Chipotle, have taken to prohibit firearms in their establishments.”
“The fight against gun violence in our communities isn’t something any one person or organization can take on alone. I applaud Target for the implementation of this policy, and encourage other retailers to follow their example,” Murphy continued. “I also want to recognize the advocates, consumers, and everyday citizens who pushed Target to ban guns in its stores. These advocates are working tirelessly to encourage Congress and private organizations to take a stand against gun violence, and I’m proud to stand with them every step of the way.”
Blumenthal and Murphy have failed to advance stricter gun-control laws in the Senate after the Sandy Hook shooting in their home state.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is running for president, and Turkish media have noticed that his campaign logo looks a lot like President Obama’s.
Obama and Erdoğan have been close, with Obama calling the Turkish leader “an outstanding friend.”
According to Hurriyet Daily News:
Both logos feature a sun to symbolize hope, with the circular shape of the Erdoğan logo tracing the outline of a tunnel. According to AKP officials, the sun – like the light at the end of a tunnel – is where a hard, zigzagging road leads, in reference to Erdoğan’s “journey of life.”
They added that the colors and typography have been designed to portray values like “sincerity, power, peace, union, prestige and assertive targets.”
The Erdoğan campaign also announced two official mottos on July 1: “National will, national power” and “The man of the nation, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”
Erdoğan, of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), is aiming to secure the presidency in the first round of balloting next month.
“When my nation tasked me with the prime ministry, we became the prime minister of 77 million [citizens], not only of those who voted for the [Justice and Development Party - AKP]. Everybody shall know that we will be the president of the Republic of Turkey, but not of a segment and a party, if we get elected on Aug. 10. Nobody shall doubt: I will be everybody’s president no matter who they vote in favor of or not,” Erdoğan told supporters, referring to himself as “we.”
Today the leaders of five political parties — the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Democratic Left Party (DSP), Democrat Party (DP) and Independent Turkey Party (BTP) — issued a joint declaration of support for the presidential bid of Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, a former secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
And People’s Democratic Party (HDP) presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş kicked off his campaign today at the infamous Madımak Hotel in Sivas, where Islamists attacked and killed 35 artists and intellectuals gathered in 1993 because one of the attendees had translated Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
“Those who are governing cannot ask for an account. Because those who need to render an account are them,” Demirtaş said in reference to the AKP. “They are not going to bring anybody to account. It is only by building a real democracy and a real government of the people that justice can be served in Sivas.”
GOP senators warned the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency that a rulemaking effort to define waters under federal regulatory control could put the kibosh on July Fourth celebrations.
The “waters of the U.S.” rule would redefine “tributaries,” “adjacent waters,” and “neighboring waters” under the Clean Water Act, resulting in a broad expansion of government jurisdiction that could include backyard ditches, floodplains, ornamental creeks, and more.
“As Independence Day approaches, we write to express concern for a cherished Fourth of July tradition: celebratory fireworks to commemorate our nation’s founding. In the past few years, misguided citizen lawsuits have threatened community fireworks shows. We are concerned, on the eve of the celebration of this great nation’s founding, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to foster expanded efforts to undermine this form of celebration,” 10 senators wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “If finalized, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) proposal to expand the Clean Water Act’s definition of the ‘waters of the United States’ may enable litigious environmental groups to jeopardize fireworks displays throughout the country.”
The senators, led by Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member David Vitter (R-La.), noted that Lake Tahoe nearly had to cancel its fireworks show over an environmentalist lawsuit that claimed the display would pollute the lake and violated the Clean Water Act.
“Similarly misguided approaches to the Clean Water Act have led some legal observers to question the future viability of community fireworks shows,” wrote the lawmakers.
“…If the proposed ‘waters of the United States’ rule becomes final and serves as the eventual basis for future citizen suits against those who organize fireworks shows, we fear few homeowners, communities, or local organizations will be able to conduct fireworks displays as they have for decades or longer.”
Senate Republicans launched a legislative effort last month to try to block the EPA from issuing the final “onerous” regulations. In March, the EPA began a “robust” 90-day “outreach effort” to gather input in shaping a final rule, maintaining that the directive isn’t groundbreaking but a clarification effort needed to clearly define streams and wetlands protection after Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.
Critics, though, charged that the administration embarked on an unprecedented breach of private property rights without scientific basis.
The EPA wants to cover “most” seasonal and rain-dependent streams, which account for about 60 percent of stream miles in the country, arguing they have “a considerable impact on the downstream waters.”
Wetlands “near rivers and streams” would be protected under the CWA, and “other types of waters [that] may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant.”
Signing Vitter’s letter were Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), and John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
“Commemorative fireworks displays have been a part of our nation’s history since its founding,” they wrote. “However, there are individuals and groups who would like to significantly limit this tradition through heavy-handed citizen suit litigation under the Clean Water Act and other laws.”
“Finalization of the proposed ‘waters of the United States’ rule could unduly encourage proponents of this tactic, lending further and additional reason for the withdrawal of the proposed rule. As we celebrate the Fourth of July later this week, we appreciate your attention to this important matter.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced a bill to amend the Hobbs Act to make any violence committed as a part of labor union organizing a federal crime.
The Hobbs Act covers extortion by the wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear — including payoffs to officials or payments to unions from employees that violate labor contracts.
Current law imposes criminal penalties for acts of robbery or extortion affecting interstate commerce, Vitter noted, but a loophole makes an exception for union violence.
“Over the last four decades, union officials have gotten away with thousands of acts of violence and extortion – all because of a legal loophole. And all too often, the targets of this violence – hardworking men and women – are the very people unions claim to represent,” Vitter said. “We need to stand up for the workers who would rather work than follow the orders of their union leaders.”
Vitter’s co-sponsors are Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Pat Roberts (R-Kansas).
The bill would impose the maximum fine of up to $250,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to 20 years for anyone who commits crimes such as robbery, extortion, or an act of physical violence to any person or property during a labor dispute.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) introduced a similar measure in the House a year ago. It has been sitting in a House subcommittee with 16 GOP co-sponsors.
That bill would authorize imposition of a fine of up to $100,000, 20 years’ imprisonment, or both for obstructing, delaying, or affecting commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce by robbery or extortion or threatening physical violence to any person or property in furtherance of a plan or purpose to interfere with commerce by threats or violence.
An Arizona Democrat said race is one of the key reasons why Republicans aren’t moving forward on immigration reform.
Rep. Raul Grijalva told MSNBC that he sees the influx of illegal immigrants on the southern border, including thousands of unaccompanied minors, as “not necessarily a resource issue, as much as it is the fact that we have no immigration reform out of a broken system.”
“And that breakage is what is causing of the isolation of people, it’s causing the break up of families and it is causing less security and less economic growth for this country,” he said. “On the two subsectors in my district, there’s 4,500 Border Patrol agents, Humane Sector, 691, Douglas, another 400. That’s almost 6,000 Border Patrol agents there. And so I think it’s the mission as well that we know that the cartels and organize crime are responsible for human smuggling, drug smuggling, we should be after breaking that up and we should be about tying up their assets that are in the JP Morgans of the United States, like we do with terrorist groups, like we do with other enemies of this country and begin to shrink their capacity to be doing what they’re doing. I think that’s the target of the long-term.”
Grijalva argued that only immigration reform would stop the problem, and said Republicans not getting on board “is about politics and voting base that they are afraid of, and afraid will never align with them.”
“It is also about a very simple issue with the Republicans that if they can suppress votes, eliminate votes then they continue to retain power, they come up with excuses, ‘it’s Obama’s fault, we can’t trust him,’” he said. “They come up with excuses about not doing anything. Chamber of Commerce is for immigration reform. Seventy-plus percent of the American people are for immigration reform. The economy is for immigration reform. And yet, yet, despite all of the pleading, all the compromises, all the concessions, we get a ‘no’ from Boehner.”
When asked if President Obama should move forward on executive orders where Congress doesn’t act, the congressman replied, “I think the president needs to be bold, he needs to be ample, we need to unify families and we need to look at this issue, not just as deportation, detention issue but as an issue of unification.”
“You know, this great nation of ours is from many there is one. This is the immigrant experience we’re going through right now and we should be about integrating people and not doing what we’re doing, leaving people in the shadows and segregating people,” Grijalva continued.”I also think that underlining this whole issue, in particular this immigration issue we’re confronting, underlining that is the issue of race. You like it or not, it’s part of partial, the Republican Party has linked those two things together and it makes it even a more dangerous kind of issue not to settle and not to come to some conclusion with.”
The Libertarian Party said that the 5-4 decision at the Supreme Court in favor of Hobby Lobby on the contraceptive mandate isn’t, in the grand scope of Obamacare, really that big of a deal.
“It’s strange that liberals and conservatives are making this ruling out to be a huge deal. All the ruling does is remove a very narrow coverage requirement, in very specific cases; 99.9 percent of Obamacare is upheld,” Libertarian Party Executive Director Wes Benedict said in a statement today. “It’s true that closely held corporate entities should not be forced to pay for this particular contraceptive coverage. But focusing on that narrow issue misses the bigger point: No employer should be forced to provide any health coverage at all.”
“This ruling just draws the line between freedom and regulation arbitrarily. If these employers are free to ignore this particular mandate, why aren’t other employers free to ignore other Obamacare regulations? They should be,” Benedict said. “Obamacare is unjust and unconstitutional from top to bottom. No employer should be forced to provide health coverage to its employees, or penalized by government if it doesn’t.”
“Religion is not the issue. The fact that these employers have religious motives doesn’t matter,” he continued. “Employers have the right to associate freely with their employees, and to come up with any mutually agreeable employment terms, whether their motives are religious, secular, generous, greedy, or whatever.”
“This ruling is a tiny island in a huge sea of Supreme Court rulings that have supported the federal government’s desire to regulate and control.”
Libertarian Party Chair Nicholas Sarwark said removing prescription requirements from birth control pills “would advance liberty by giving easier access to birth control for people who want it without putting their employer in the middle of their personal choices.”
“Government doesn’t make men get prescriptions for condoms, there’s no reason it should make women get prescriptions for birth control pills,” Sarwark said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been advocating making the Pill over the counter since 2012, and Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner (R), running against Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) this fall, recently came out in favor of the OTC conversion as well.
United Nations investigators have determined that Iran has been violating the arms embargo as the U.S. heads back to the negotiating table with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.
Deputy Secretary William J. Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy R. Sherman, and National Security Adviser to the Vice President Jacob J. Sullivan left today for Vienna, according to the State Department.
The delegation is barreling toward a July 20 deadline for a final agreement with Iran.
But Reuters reported Friday on a confidential report that found Iran shipping arms to Sudan.
The UN panel concluded that a shipment of rockets and other weapons, concealed on the Klos C and seized by Israel in March, originated from Iran and could have been headed to Sudan as a transit point for Gaza or points in Northern Africa.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) called the report “more evidence of Iran’s destructive and destabilizing role in the region.”
“Iran was caught red-handed — this shipment is likely the tip of the iceberg. This report should be released for all to see,” Royce said.
“During testimony in front of the Committee in March, Secretary Kerry pledged to take action once all the facts are known—I urge him to do so now,” the chairman added. ”Tehran has shown no interest in playing a constructive role in the region. Imagine an Iranian regime unrestrained by any international sanctions.”
At Monday’s White House press briefing, spokesman Josh Earnest even downplayed the involvement of Iran in Iraq.
“It is not in the interest of Iran for there to be this sectarian strife, instability, these grotesque acts of violence and terrorism being perpetrated on their borders; that it’s in the best interest of Iran for there to be a — for them to have a stable neighbor,” Earnest said.
“And the best way for Iraq to be stable and to confront the destabilizing threat that’s posed by ISIL is for the political leadership in Iraq to come together and unite the country in the face of that threat. And by uniting the country and governing in an inclusive way, Iran can have the kind of stable neighbor on their border that they would like to have, that’s in the best interest of their country.”
The Syrian Coalition, though, countered that the move of ISIS through Iraq was “Iranian-made.”
“Assad, Iran’s arm in the region, was not predicting the outcome of the conflict, but was planning to create a new reality in the region with the help of his allies,” said coalition vice president Nora Al Ameer.
A D.C. delegate to Congress said the Obama administration should get busy on a work-around to circumvent the religious objections to some types of birth control held by business owners such as Hobby Lobby.
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said that as a result of the 5-4 decision Monday, which found that a privately-held business could limit coverage on types of birth control they saw as being akin to abortion, “many women and families will be unable to prevent unintended pregnancies.”
“Unfortunately, those who are most likely to be affected are girls and young women who are not prepared to be parents,” Norton said.
“…Most forms of contraception will continue to be covered by the Affordable Care Act’s no co-pay provision for birth control. The decision applies only to ‘closely held corporations,’ which are owned by fewer than five people with more than 50 percent of the outstanding stock.”
Norton noted that “the Court leaves open the possibility that even employees of such corporations could be covered by the Affordable Care Act’s contraception provision if the federal government creates some distance between closely held corporations and the mode of payments for contraception, such as the accommodation already provided to protect nonprofit organizations that claim religious objections.”
“I urge the administration to make this accommodation available for employees of closely held corporations as soon as possible in order to prevent more litigation and interference with women’s reproductive health,” she said. “Every effort must now be made to take advantage of the five-man court majority’s effort to cabin its decision and to stress its narrow reach.”
However, the compromise touted by the administration on providing contraceptive coverage to nonprofits such as employers associated with the Catholic Church is working its way through court, as well.
“At first glance, the new rules have struck some people as a modest improvement. They appear to expand, in a limited way, the kind of religiously-affiliated entities that can claim exemption from providing insurance coverage for contraceptive and abortion-related services under the new Affordable Care Act,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in February 2013.
“The White House has made no concessions to the religious conscience claims of private businesses, and the whole spirit of the ‘compromise’ is minimalist… The scholar Yuval Levin has stressed that the new HHS mandate proposal, ‘like the versions that have preceded it, betrays a complete lack of understanding of both religious liberty and religious conscience.’ In reality, despite the appearance of compromise, ‘the government has forced a needless and completely avoidable confrontation and has knowingly put many religious believers in an impossible situation.’”
President Obama told a reception held in the East Room of the White House Monday evening to mark LGBT Pride Month that his executive order on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will be followed by another executive order, as well.
Obama lauded his healthcare law as ensuring “you can no longer be denied health insurance on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“We’ve still got a little more work to do. I’ve repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Right now, there are more states that let same-sex couples get married than there are states who prohibit discrimination against their LGBT workers. We have laws that say Americans can’t be fired on the basis of the color of their skin or their religion, or because they have a disability. But every day, millions of Americans go to work worried that they could lose their job -– not because of anything they’ve done but because of who they are. It’s upsetting. It is wrong,” he said.
In November, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) spokesman said he would not support ENDA because “this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small-business jobs.”
GOP aides also stressed that protections for gays and lesbians already exist under law.
“The majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies to protect their employees because it’s the right thing to do and because many say it helps to retain and attract the best talent. And I agree. So if Congress won’t act, I will. I have directed my staff to prepare an executive order for my signature that prohibits discrimination by federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Obama said.
“And I’ve asked my staff to prepare a second executive order so that federal employees –- who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation –- will now formally be protected from discrimination based on gender identity as well,” he announced.
“So we’ve got a lot to be proud of, but obviously we can’t grow complacent. We’ve got to defend the progress that we’ve made… We’ve got to keep fighting for an AIDS-free generation, and for the human rights of LGBT persons around the world.”
The president also tried enlisting the LGBT activists to direct some of their energy toward pushing his policy agenda.
“And that means fighting for poor kids. And it means fighting for workers to get a decent wage. It means showing compassion for the undocumented worker who is contributing to our society and just wants a chance to come out of the shadows. It means fighting for equal pay for equal work. It means standing up for sexual — standing up against sexual violence wherever it occurs.”
President Obama faces a congressional deadline tomorrow to deliver a plan on dealing with the crisis in Syria, and there are no signs that the administration is going to meet it.
A bipartisan resolution passed the Senate by unanimous consent on April 3 — introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and co-sponsored by lawmakers as diverse as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — “expressing the sense of the Senate concerning the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighboring countries, resulting humanitarian and development challenges, and the urgent need for a political solution to the crisis.”
The resolution noted that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at the time had registered more than 2,500,000 Syrian refugees, nearly 80 percent of whom are women and children, and by the end of this year the United Nations estimates the number of refugees will increase to 4,000,000.
“Nearly 500,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict are children under the age of five, and more than 11,000 children have been killed and thousands more have suffered severe injuries, including burns, shrapnel wounds, the severing of limbs, and spinal cord injuries.”
It stressed that “70 percent of Syria’s health professionals, up to 80,000 people, have fled the country, cases of typhoid, tuberculosis, polio and other diseases are rampant and increasing, and medical personnel inside Syria are deliberately targeted by parties to the conflict.”
While calling on the international community to step in and condemning the violence that has wracked the country for more than three years, the resolution concluded by calling on Obama “to develop and submit to the appropriate committees of Congress within 90 days from adoption of this resolution a strategy for United States engagement in addressing the Syrian humanitarian crisis, to include assistance and development, and protecting human rights inside Syria and in the region.”
As Oxfam notes in its countdown clock, his 90-day window runs out tomorrow.
“Since 2011, the fighting that has devastated Syria has driven nearly 10 million people from their homes. Close to 2.8 million—more than half of whom are children—have fled to neighboring countries. Syria’s people, and those who are giving them refuge, desperately need help to meet their basic needs for food, clean water, shelter, and medical care. The US has been generous with humanitarian aid for those affected by the conflict; however, the Obama Administration has not yet delivered a plan for how to address and end this crisis,” the aid organization notes.
“In a rare showing of bipartisan unity, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution in April calling on President Obama to deliver to Congress a strategy for how the US can address the crisis that is now destroying so many lives. Will President Obama meet the July 2 deadline requested by the Senate?”
Since President Obama announced on June 19 that he would be sending 300 military advisers to Iraq, the number of U.S. personnel deployed has incrementally crept up.
Today, Obama notified House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate President Pro Tempore Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) as required by the War Powers Resolution that he ordered “approximately 200 additional U.S. Armed Forces personnel to Iraq to reinforce security at the U.S. Embassy, its support facilities, and the Baghdad International Airport.”
“This force consists of additional security forces, rotary-wing aircraft, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support,” he said. “This force is deploying for the purpose of protecting U.S. citizens and property, if necessary, and is equipped for combat. This force will remain in Iraq until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.”
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement that the additional personnel arrived in Iraq on Sunday and today “from locations within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.”
“Capabilities provided include a detachment of helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, which will bolster airfield and travel route security. Similar to the U.S. security personnel who arrived in Baghdad earlier this month to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, they will integrate with existing U.S. embassy security teams,” Kirby said.
“The presence of these additional forces will help enable the embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”
In addition to this, Kirby continued, “the approximately 100 personnel already prepositioned in the Central Command region — previously announced by the Defense Department in mid-June — will also move forward to Baghdad to provide security and logistics support.”
“These forces are separate and apart from the up to 300 personnel the president authorized to establish two joint operations centers and conduct an assessment of how the U.S. can provide additional support to Iraq’s security forces as they confront the grave threat posed by ISIL,” he said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked at today’s briefing whether Obama was “hopeful” that U.S. allies would contribute to security forces in Iraq.
“I would assume — and I think with a lot of confidence — that the leaders of these other countries will be making a similar calculation to the one that the president has made, which is that our interest in that country — or our activity in that country will be governed by what the president assesses to be in the best interest of American national security,” Earnest said.
“That will continue to be the criteria that the president will use as he makes decisions about U.S. actions there, and I assume that other countries and other country’s leaders will be making a similar calculation.”
Republicans on the Hill cheered the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, particularly as they try to chip away at President Obama’s healthcare law, but Democrats said it steeled their resolve to press on.
“Today’s Supreme Court decision makes clear that the Obama administration cannot trample on the religious freedoms that Americans hold dear,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “Obamacare is the single worst piece of legislation to pass in the last 50 years, and I was glad to see the Supreme Court agree that this particular Obamacare mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”
Fifteen current members of Congress, including McConnell, voted for RFRA in 1993.
The court found that privately held companies, such as family-owned Hobby Lobby, do not have to provide contraceptives to employees that violate the owners’ religious beliefs.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is an important victory to protect Americans’ fundamental right of religious freedom,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who authored the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” and filed an amicus brief in support of Hobby Lobby. “Americans should not be forced to choose between giving up their business for their faith or giving up their faith for their business. I applaud the Court’s decision today, which simply affirms the fundamental religious freedom that Americans have enjoyed for more than 220 years.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called the ruling “another blow against the Obama Administration’s unprecedented overreach into the lives of Americans.”
“The Justices made it clear that the Administration does not have the power to force religious leaders and organizations in our country to replace their own moral standards with Washington’s one-size-fits-all mandate,” Barrasso said.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is also another reminder that the President’s health care law was poorly written and continues to hurt more people than it helps.”
Democrats, though, were slower to react, lambasting the decision while weighing how the high court ruling could affect legislative efforts going forward.
“It is no surprise that Republicans have sided against women on this issue as they have consistently opposed a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. Republicans have also blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would bring us closer to the promise of equal pay for women,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). “In the wake of this dangerous precedent set by the Supreme Court, Democrats in Congress will continue to fight on the issues of importance to women and their families.”
“While the First Amendment protects the rights of an individual to freely practice his or her religion, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that a for-profit corporation is capable of religious belief. Hobby Lobby is a nationwide chain employing more than 13,000 full-time employees and earning more than $2 billion in annual revenue. It is organized as a for-profit corporation and its owners receive all of the benefits that go along with that structure,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
“The argument that such a business – as opposed to its owners – has religious beliefs is an unfortunate, if predictable, consequence of the decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The Court has decided that the religious beliefs of a corporation’s owners are more important than those of the vast majority of Americans who see no conflict between their religion and safe, legal methods of contraception,” Coons continued.
“Decisions about a woman’s health care should be made in a doctor’s office, not in a boardroom. If certain contraceptive options violate a woman’s personal religious beliefs, she is free not to pursue those options, but her employer should not be allowed to make that decision for her.”
Former President Clinton told NBC in an interview aired Sunday that if there’s a Republican candidate who can beat his wife, he’s not going to name names.
“Why would I encourage him?” Clinton quipped. “Unless I thought it would cause that person to lose the nomination, then I would announce it in a heartbeat.”
He insisted that he’s just a bit player in whether or not Hillary Clinton takes a stab at the nomination. “That’s exactly what I am. I’m a foot soldier in an army. I will do what I am instructed to do,” he said.
“You reach our age, you just look at it differently. We have had wonderful lives. We have been incredibly blessed and we’re looking forward to being grandparents,” Clinton continued.
“And I’m for — you know I’ve said, I said in 2008, I have said it every chance anybody has given me, of all the people I’ve ever worked with, I think she’s got — she’s the most gifted public servant I have ever worked with, even if we are married. That’s what I believe. And I believed it when we were going out together. And I believe it when I asked her to marry me and she said no. Nothing’s changed my opinion in more than 40 years. But it’s — has to be her decision.”
Clinton continued to defend his wife against her comments about being broke when they emerged from the White House.
“You have to live in the moment, not with memory. It is factually true that we were several million dollars in debt. Everybody now assumes that what happened in the intervening years was automatic. I’m shocked that it’s happened. I’m shocked that people still want me to come give talks. And so I’m grateful,” he said.
“But she’s not out of touch. And she advocated and worked as a senator for things that were good for ordinary people. And before that, all her life. And the people asking her questions should put this into some sort of context… so I think if you don’t give the most adept answer to a question because you immediately remember what you felt like the day we left, as opposed to what it looks like to everybody else now who’s having trouble, you can say, ‘OK, I’ve got to clean that up,’ which she did.”
Clinton also dismissed the assertion that Benghazi could negatively affect Hillary’s campaign.
“When 10 different instances occurred when President Bush was in office where American diplomatic personnel were killed in around the world, how many outraged Republican members of Congress were there?” he said. “Zero.”
Two influential New York congressmen — a Democrat and a Republican — teamed up to successfully keep a local facility from being used to house unaccompanied illegal-immigrant children.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), past chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, objected to a former Northrop Grumman facility being used to house the kids.
The Department of Health and Human Services dropped consideration of the Bethpage facility, a Superfund site which is a part of the former Grumman Aerospace complex, under pressure from the lawmakers.
“I was happy to learn that the site in Bethpage will no longer be considered to house unaccompanied minors entering U.S. borders illegally,” Israel said in a statement. “While we must find viable and humane options to deal with the influx of these children, stockpiling them in a warehouse close to a Superfund site was an inhumane and unfeasible solution.”
“I am pleased that HHS agreed that the Bethpage industrial park is not appropriate to shelter hundreds if not thousands of illegal immigrant children from the southwest border,” King said. “Going forward I urge the administration to find a humanitarian solution that focuses on stopping the flow across the southwest border and increasing security efforts.”
HHS was reportedly considering five sites in New York for temporary housing and had rejected two — a hotel resort in Grand Island and a warehouse in Rochester — before King and Israel knocked the Grumman site out of the running.
The Bethpage facility, the Peregrine Business Park, was already scheduled for renovations for future use.
The congressmen argued that “volatile organic compounds still exist in the soil and groundwater,” making it inappropriate for housing children.
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has taken the crumbling lines between traditional Democrats and Republicans and broken voters’ ideologies into categories that give a bit more insight into independent and swing voters.
Pew found in its recently released survey that “both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.”
Their typology is broken down into eight groups:
Steadfast Conservatives are staunch critics of government and the social safety net and are very socially conservative. Business Conservatives share Steadfast Conservatives’ preference for limited government, but differ in their support for Wall Street and business, as well as immigration reform. And Business Conservatives are far more moderate on social issues than are Steadfast Conservatives.
At the other end of the spectrum, Solid Liberals express liberal attitudes across almost every realm – government, the economy and business and foreign policy, as well as on race, homosexuality and abortion – and are reliable and loyal Democratic voters.
…Young Outsiders lean Republican but do not have a strong allegiance to the Republican Party; in fact they tend to dislike both political parties. On many issues, from their support for environmental regulation to their liberal views on social issues, they diverge from traditional GOP orthodoxy. Yet in their support for limited government, Young Outsiders are firmly in the Republicans’ camp.
Hard-Pressed Skeptics have been battered by the struggling economy, and their difficult financial circumstances have left them resentful of both government and business. Despite their criticism of government performance, they back more generous government support for the poor and needy. Most Hard-Pressed Skeptics say they voted for Obama in 2012, though fewer than half approve of his job performance today.
The Next Generation Left are young, relatively affluent and very liberal on social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. But they have reservations about the cost of social programs. And while most of the Next Generation Left support affirmative action, they decisively reject the idea that racial discrimination is the main reason why many blacks are unable to get ahead.
The Faith and Family Left lean Democratic, based on their confidence in government and support for federal programs to address the nation’s problems. But this very religious, racially and ethnically diverse group is uncomfortable with the pace of societal change, including the acceptance of homosexuality and non-traditional family structures.
And finally, an eighth group, the Bystanders, representing 10% of the public, are on the sidelines of the political process. They are not registered to vote and pay very little attention to politics.
Pew included a quiz to see where you fall.
President Obama will announce this afternoon that he’ll nominate the retired chairman, CEO and president of Procter & Gamble to fill the vacancy at the top of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki stepped down in the wake of the scandal over veterans allegedly dying on secret waitlists while waiting for care.
Robert McDonald, who retired from P&G a year ago, is a graduate of West Point and served as a captain in the Army for five years.
His political donations over the past year have all gone to Republicans: $1,000 each to Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and $500 to Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who is challenging appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) for the seat once held by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was noncommittal to McDonald on Sunday night as word of the nomination got out.
“The VA needs significantly improved transparency and accountability and it needs an increased number of doctors, nurses and other medical staff so that all eligible veterans get high-quality health care in a timely manner,” Sanders said. “I look forward to meeting with Mr. McDonald next week in order to ascertain his views on these important issues.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sits on the committee, said the panel “must ask tough questions to assure this nominee has the management experience and expertise necessary to drastically overhaul the VA.”
“We need to be fully satisfied that he’ll vigorously demand and impose a new culture, with rigorous accountability, and first class services to veterans, our nation’s heroes,” Blumenthal said. “Our nation’s veterans deserve no less – management that achieves reform and results.”
Boehner called McDonald “a good man, a veteran, and a strong leader with decades of experience in the private sector.”
From Oklahoma’s 3rd Congressional District comes one of the most creative challenges to primary results — a candidate who claims the victor is really another man.
Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) easily fended off two challengers on Tuesday, pulling in 82.8 percent of the vote versus Timothy Ray Murray, with 5.2 percent of the vote, and Robert Hubbard with 12 percent.
Murray, who ran against Lucas as a Democrat in 2012 and lost with just 20 percent of the vote, isn’t going down without a fight.
From Murray’s campaign:
The election for U.S. House for Oklahoma’s 3rd District will be contested by the Candidate, Timothy Ray Murray. I will be stating that his votes are switched with Rep. Lucas votes, because it is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike. Rep. Lucas’ look alike was depicted as sentenced on a white stage in southern Ukraine on or about
Jan. 11, 2011.
This is a situation similar to the Senators’ from Kentucky situation in the 2012 election. I am contesting that this matter has happen since his election was blocked, because of the U.S. Defense Department’s use of Mr. Murray’s DNA. To my knowledge, the U.S. Defense Department has not released to the public that information, as it is their confidential information about many people. Congress is likely wanting me to state that all my DNA used will not result in benefits to people I have never had relations with of a family nature. I have been bound to protect that information unless it causes harm to The People.
The contest of election and or petition will be correctly filed with county election boards and with federal offices. I, Hon. Mr. Timothy Ray Murray, fully meet all Constitutional, Federal and Oklahoma requirements for election and for holding Office if the voters’ results show that is the case.
Rep. Lucas’ body double proved to be quite a skilled campaigner:
It was a pleasure visiting with constituents about congressional issues at my Alva town hall meeting. pic.twitter.com/TtBji19N3n
— Frank Lucas (@RepFrankLucas) June 3, 2014
I enjoyed visiting with constituents at my Cherokee town hall meeting. Glad everyone could attend. pic.twitter.com/X7MjQdvI9v
— Frank Lucas (@RepFrankLucas) June 3, 2014
Enjoyed visiting about congressional issues with constituents at my Boise City town hall meeting. pic.twitter.com/SiGaK5ogtR
— Frank Lucas (@RepFrankLucas) June 2, 2014
President Obama brushed off polls reflecting that more than half of Americans have lost confidence in his ability to lead, telling ABC News, “I’ve been dealing with stuff like this since 2009.”
“There have been a number of times where, you know, the punditry said, ‘Gosh,’ you know, ‘how do you turn it around?’ And what we do is stay focused on what matters and chip away at it and try to make progress. People have healthcare. The economy has gotten a lot better. What I do worry about is that right now we’ve got a Republican Party that seems to only care about saying no to me,” Obama said.
He called House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) impending lawsuit for executive overreach a “stunt.”
“You notice that he didn’t specifically say what exactly he was objecting to. I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something while they’re doing nothing,” the president said. “…You’re going to squawk if I try to fix some parts of it administratively that are within my authority while you are not doing anything?”
Obama also touched on the influx of child immigrants at the southern border, stressing “the problem is that under current law, once those kids come across the border, there’s a system in which we’re supposed to process them, take care of them, until we can send them back. It’s a lengthy process.”
“Our message absolutely is, ‘Don’t send your children unaccompanied on trains on through a bunch of smugglers.’ That is our direct message to the families in Central America. Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back. More importantly, they may not make it.”
When asked if the U.S. is under a serious threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), Obama replied, “You know, I think we have been under serious threat my entire presidency. And we have been under serious threat pre-dating 9/11 from those who embrace this ideology.”
He acknowledged they’re “gaining strength in some places, but we’ve also got a lot better at protecting ourselves.”
Obama said Americans aren’t always going to support his foreign policy at every minute “because there are going to be times where the world is messy.”
“One of things you also realize during the course of five years is is that if the problems were easy, somebody else would have solved them already,” he said. “And one of the great challenges of this job, but one of the great privileges of this job is that, you know, you’re tackling stuff that is really tough. And I’m glad that after five years, I’m still here able to do it.”
— Lina Sergie Attar (@AmalHanano) June 27, 2014
The special ambassador appointed to oversee the Obama administration’s drive for a Mideast peace deal is leaving his post and returning to his think tank.
Martin Indyk, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Clinton administration, was director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution when the White House called on him to guide negotiations last summer.
Earlier this month, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Indyk was “absolutely” still on the job when reporters asked whether he was still at work on the peace process, derailed by Fatah and Hamas forging a unity pact.
When asked if there were any plans for Indyk to return to the region, Harf replied, “Not to my knowledge.”
Secretary of State John Kerry today announced that the U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations will be returning to the Brookings Institution.
Deputy Special Envoy Frank Lowenstein will now serve as the Acting Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations.
“Ambassador Indyk has invested decades of his extraordinary career to the mission of helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a lasting peace. It’s the cause of Martin’s career, and I’m grateful for the wisdom and insight he’s brought to our collective efforts,” Kerry said.
“Martin’s simply invaluable, a terrific partner and friend, and he played a vital role in the progress that was made in the negotiations. He’ll continue to work for peace, and as we’ve all said many times, the United States remains committed not just to the cause of peace, but to resuming the process when the parties find a path back to serious negotiations,” he added. “I am very grateful to Martin for his indefatigable efforts and creativity, and I look forward to continue working closely with him.”
A Tea Party leader implicated in the primary season scandal of a blogger entering a nursing home to take photos of a senator’s ailing wife has committed suicide, according to the Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi.
The paper reported this morning that attorney Mark Mayfield, vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party, killed himself. He was one of the three men charged with conspiring with Clayton Kelly to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) wife in her nursing home and create a political video against the incumbent.
Kelly, 28, who wrote posts in support of McDaniel, was arrested by authorities in Madison County last month for taking a photograph of Cochran’s wife, Rose, who suffers from dementia, in her room. Kelly was charged with exploiting a vulnerable adult, conspiracy and photo voyeurism.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Miss.) condemned the blogger’s actions and said he was not connected to the campaign. The Cochran campaign, though, questioned how McDaniel’s campaign manager, state Sen. Melanie Sojourner, apparently knew about the arrest before it hit the headlines.
From the Clarion-Ledger:
Mark Mayfield of Ridgeland, an attorney and state and local tea party leader, was arrested last month along with Richard Sager, a Laurel elementary school P.E. teacher and high school soccer coach. Police said they also charged John Beachman Mary of Hattiesburg, but he was not taken into custody because of “extensive medical conditions.” All face felony conspiracy charges. Sager also was charged with felony tampering with evidence, and Mary faces two conspiracy counts.
The arrest of Mayfield, well-known in political, business and legal circles, caused shock in Mississippi, in a criminal case and election that already had Mississippi in the national spotlight.
On Wednesday evening, the Mississippi Tea Party called what it promised would be an important press conference on Thursday. That news conference was canceled due to “timing conflicts,” then was rescheduled for 4 p.m. for “breaking news.” Less than three hours beforehand, the press conference was canceled yet again “due to the rapidity and volume influx of information.”
(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)
An activist of the Civil Rights Era now serving on the Hill warned that people are “trying to make it harder, more difficult” to vote, “so another generation must stand up and push.”
“I made a decision very early to get involved in the civil rights movement. I was 15 years old in 1955. When I heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. on the radio, when I heard about Rosa Parks and seen like Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking directly to me saying, John Lewis, you, too, can do something. You can make a contribution,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told CNN.
“I grew up 50 miles from Montgomery and growing up there, I saw the signs that said white men, colored men, white women, colored women. I didn’t like it and Dr. King provided a way out for me. It was not easy. We were beaten. Yes, we were jailed and we lost some friends, lost some relatives, some colleagues, but we didn’t give up. We didn’t give in. We kept the faith.”
Lewis remembered that “during the ’60s, I had people who would pour hot water, hot chocolate, hot coffee on many of us.”
“Put lighted cigarettes out in our hair or down our backs. Pull us off the stool and spit on us, but we were trained to look straight ahead and be as ordinarily and peaceful as possible,” he said of the lunch counter protests.
“When I was beaten on a bridge by a state trooper, I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death, but I was prepared and I was ready, but to do all I could to end segregation and racial discrimination and gain the right for all of our citizens to participate in a democratic process.”
The congressman said his parents chided him to mind the signs dictating where whites and coloreds could be. “Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way. That’s the way it is.”
“But Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. It’s my hope and my prayer that the next generation of young people will stand up and speak up and speak out and confront the injustice, confront the evils that we see around us and be bold and be courageous,” Lewis said.
“I knew two of the young men and had met one of the third young men that was beaten, murdered in Mississippi, two young white men and one young black man, went out to investigate the burning of a church just 50 years ago,” he added. “And I tell young people and students all the time, these three young people didn’t die in Vietnam. They didn’t die in the Middle East or Eastern Europe or in Africa, they died right here in our own country. That’s why it’s so important for young people, for young children to understand that when they become 18 they must register. They must go out and vote in every election.”
The Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant, aka ISIL or ISIS, aka the successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq, has taken social media terrorism to a whole new level since the group began storming through Iraqi cities. In addition to tweeting pictures of their parades, guns, swimming parties, shopping, cupcakes and truck decals…
— Islamic State Media (@ISIS_Conquests) June 20, 2014
— canan (@jbck24) June 20, 2014
— Brenda StoterBoscolo (@BrendaStoter) June 20, 2014
— Bridget Johnson (@Bridget_PJM) June 25, 2014
Now, apparently jihadists and their cats are a thing, because what better way to burnish their pop-culture creds than furry animals?
Did you know: Cats can drink from the water for ablution(pre-prayer wash) in Islam? pic.twitter.com/85JpYn368r
— Islamic State of Cat (@ISILCats) June 25, 2014
— Islamic State of Cat (@ISILCats) June 25, 2014
Milk for the kitties pic.twitter.com/fjdR0nhUFb
— Islamic State of Cat (@ISILCats) June 25, 2014
I Luvs My Mujahid pic.twitter.com/UnEwlY13IB
— Islamic State of Cat (@ISILCats) June 25, 2014
Still haven’t seen them issue motivational posters with the phrase “Dogs wag, cats wage jihad.”
No sooner had President Obama praised Libya on its elections for a new Council of Representatives than the White House followed up with a condemnation of the assassination of a human rights leader in Benghazi — slain for voting.
“While yesterday’s vote demonstrates the power of individual Libyans in determining their future, we recognize that elections are just one step in Libya’s broader democratic transition. Libya’s new government must now focus on building consensus to address the challenges of establishing security, providing effective public services, and ensuring an inclusive political process,” Obama said in a statement this morning. “The United States calls on all parties to renounce violence and resolve differences through political dialogue and participation in the democratic process.”
“The United States was proud to support the Libyan people in the darkest days of their revolution and through their efforts to end the Qadhafi regime, and we remain committed to supporting the Libyan people as they work to lay the foundations of a democratic society during this challenging yet historic time.”
Last night after casting her vote, Benghazi women’s rights activist and lawyer Salwa Bughagis was confronted by five gunmen at her home, stabbed several times and was shot in the head. She died after being rushed to Benghazi Medical Center, according to the Libya Herald.
Bughagis’ husband, who was home at the time, is missing and presumed kidnapped. A gardener was wounded in the attack.
“She had earlier returned home after voting in today’s elections and put pictures on her Facebook page of herself casting her vote today. She was then on Al-Nabaa TV for a few minutes at around 6pm speaking about clashes in the city which she said she could see from her house between security forces and an Islamist brigade. She urged people to go out and vote,” the Herald reported. “…Her support for women’s rights made her a vocal opponent of not only Islamic extremists but also of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Grand Mufti. She was against the hijab, insisting it was not Islamic, and rarely even wore a headscarf.”
Bughagis had moved her family out of the country after a death threat was made against her son. She and her husband returned to vote in this week’s elections.
“The United States strongly condemns yesterday’s brutal and senseless murder of human rights and civil society activist Salwa Bugaighis in Benghazi, Libya,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in a statement issued just after Obama’s. “I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Salwa in Libya in November 2011, soon after the ouster of Qadhafi. I was deeply impressed by her courage, leadership and dedication to building a peaceful, democratic Libya where the rights and freedoms of all Libyan women and men are respected and protected.”
“We join the Libyan people in mourning the loss of Salwa Bugaighis and call on all Libyans to reject violent extremists seeking to silence their opponents and derail the aspirations of the Libyan people,” Rice added.
Republicans on the Hill cheered the 9-0 Supreme Court decision that found President Obama’s January 2012 appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional, while the top Democrat in the Senate maintained that the White House was in the right.
Obama branded them “recess appointments,” but the Senate was actually in pro-forma session at the time.
In September of that year, 41 GOP senators filed an amicus brief in support of the case brought against the presidential appointments. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the appointments of Sharon Block and Richard Griffin were unconstitutional in February 2013.
“The unanimous Supreme Court decision today is a powerful rebuke to the Obama administration and a reminder to others that the Constitution gives the Senate powers the executive branch cannot usurp,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Our founders wanted a president, not a king, and our Constitution is written to protect against precisely the kind of overreach this president demonstrated with his so-called recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said “all Americans should be grateful for the Court’s rebuke of the administration—and the Democratic Majority in the Senate should be embarrassed by its failure, yet again, to stand up to the President and to defend the Senate’s uniquely important role under our Constitution.”
“I was proud to lead the effort to defend the Senate against the president’s unprecedented power grab,” McConnell added.
The challenge to the recess appointments was brought by Noel Canning, a family-owned business in Washington state that fought the NLRB’s determination it must enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a labor union.
“This administration has a tendency to abide by laws that it likes and to disregard those it doesn’t. In this case, that disturbing and dangerous tendency extended to the Constitution itself,” McConnell said. “Whether it’s recess appointments or Obamacare, this troubling approach does serious damage to the rule of law, and the Court’s decision is a clear rebuke of the administration’s behavior.”
“This administration’s efforts to turn the NLRB into a pro-union, anti-business clearinghouse has made it that much harder for our economy to turn the corner and more difficult for folks to get back to work,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
“For too long, our president has operated by fiat, bypassing Congress and overriding the will of the American people,” added Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “Today’s ruling sends a clear message against President Obama’s power grabs and restores more constitutionally-required accountability for all nominations going forward.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the ruling just underscored how important it was for him to drop the nuclear option last fall and lower the cloture threshold for approving Obama’s judicial nominees.
“Since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have done everything possible to deny qualified nominees from receiving a fair up-or-down vote. President Obama did the right thing when he made these appointments on behalf of American workers. The National Labor Relations Board had ceased to function due to Senate Republican obstruction of these three qualified nominees, threatening the livelihood and safety of working men and women throughout the country,” Reid said in a statement.
“More than anything, today’s Supreme Court ruling underscores the importance of the rules reform Senate Democrats enacted last November,” Reid continued. “Without that reform and with today’s ruling, a small but vocal minority would have more power than ever to block qualified nominees from getting a simple up-or-down vote on the floor. Since the November reform the Senate has been confirming qualified nominees at a steady pace and today’s ruling will have no effect on our ability to continue ensuring that qualified nominees receive an up-or-down vote.”
The Oklahoma congressman who beat out a challenger with heavy Tea Party backing in the race to serve the remainder of Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) term said the election wasn’t a matter of establishment versus Tea Party.
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) cruised to victory Tuesday night and avoided a runoff with 57.2 percent of the vote in a field of seven GOP hopefuls that included former Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, who pulled in 34.4 percent of the vote.
The Senate Conservatives Fund endorsed Shannon back in March, calling him “a constitutional conservative who will fight to stop the massive spending and debt that are bankrupting our country.” Before the primary, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) starred in a TV ad for the SCF, saying, “On June 24th, let’s make D.C. listen, and vote T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate.”
“It’s not really much of a battle of the Tea Party versus the establishment. When you come to Oklahoma, you got seven Republicans, primary folks in that challenge, and all of us in any other state in America would have been listed as the conservative voice that’s out there. It’s a very conservative primary, very conservative state,” Lankford told Fox Business on Wednesday.
Lankford, 46, who directed a Baptist camp before coming to Congress in 2011, has been flagged as one of the up-and-comers on the Hill, and was a leading party voice in the media during the government shutdown.
“When you talk about national Tea Party groups — I hear that all the time, national Tea Party groups — which to me is a complete oxymoron — you can’t have anything called ‘national Tea Party groups.’ By definition, it is grass roots, and if it’s not grass roots, it’s not. It’s just claiming the title of that,” he said. “So the grass roots that are actually involved in Oklahoma think very different than the national folks, and what we found out is the grass roots in Oklahoma doesn’t like people from outside of Oklahoma to come in and tell them who to vote for.”
Shannon’s outside endorsements, in addition to Cruz, included Sarah Palin.
“The seven of us that ran in this race remained as friends at the end, and that was very important to us, as well, that it doesn’t become so divisive that somehow, it splits us all up for the battle in November. We’re all very united. We’ve had the opportunity to be able to talk since that — since the election last night. Everyone’s very, very on track and on board together. We started as friends, we’re going to end as friends,” Lankford said.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who barely squeaked past his Democratic challenger in Tuesday’s primary, said there was nothing wrong with Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) strategy of getting Democratic-leaning African-Americans out to vote in the GOP primary.
“Of course not. My God, I think that’s what it’s all about,” Rangel told CNN. “Of course, this is unusual for states to allow people to join in their primaries regardless of their registration. But in the case of Mississippi when clearly they look at the Tea Party candidate and looked at Thad Cochran, they made a determination as to which would be better between the two for Mississippi and, my God, it just seems to me it makes a lot of sense in view of the fact that the Tea Party is so unpredictable and actually don’t care too much about the Republican Party or the country as we can see as to what happened with Eric Cantor.”
Rangel barely held off state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who hasn’t conceded pending an official tally. About 1,800 votes separated the two.
“I did very well in all parts of the district and while he hasn’t conceded I would think the absentee ballots would not make a difference in the outcome of the election,” he said.
President Obama steered clear of the re-election fight of the scandal-tainted 84-year-old congressman, and refused to endorse Rangel two years ago as well.
“And so quite frankly, until you raised it, I’ve never even thought about having the president of the United States call in the Democrat Party, a winner,” Rangel said. “I have been at the White House with the president at least half a dozen times this year. And I am confident that the president and I don’t have any problems at all in terms of the agenda, and it is true that he made a policy of not endorsing.”
“But please take my word for it. I’m not running for a cabinet position. I’ve had the support of all of the legislators in the Democratic Party and the leadership and Nancy Pelosi. And so, my job, basically won’t be in the White House. It will be working in the House of Representatives, and I’ve worked, you know, under Republican and Democratic presidents.”