A Blue Dog Democrat said that the Reagan administration was probably the best time he can remember for a White House and Congress working together.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) told PBS that there has “never a golden age” for bipartisanship, “but there might have been a bronze age.”
“The Tip O’Neill era, in retrospect, was a pretty harmonious time because Tip could sit down with President Ronald Reagan and get things done after hours. That’s almost no longer true today. There’s such acrimony, and we’re behaving more like a parliament than a Congress because so many of my colleagues vote 99 percent of the time with their political party position,” Cooper said.
“Joe Manchin and I are two of the few that sometimes break with our party because no party has a monopoly on wisdom. I’m a proud Democrat but we need to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the country. That’s our main job.”
Cooper said personalities are part of the reason for the acrimony, but there are also “some larger forces” at play.
“We’ve gotten so darned good at gerrymandering with computers that these districts are preselected to send the most partisan people in America to Washington. And once they get to Washington, they don’t even know each other anymore because nobody lives in Washington. An hour after the last vote we’re all flying back home to be with folks back home,” the congressman said.
“And then there are bigger factors, too. The Internet has changed politics tremendously. It used to be when we had three news channels we had a common set of facts on which to operate from. Today, whether you’re watching Fox or MSNBC, you can see a completely different picture of America. So it’s very hard for people to get along in that environment.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said “we’ve just got to get our act together and start acting like Americans and quit worrying about being Democrats and Republicans.”
Manchin uses a houseboat on the Potomac because he just “couldn’t come to investing in real estate here in D.C.”
“I told my wife, I’m going to buy a boat because then when things get a little bit crazier than what they are now and whatever decisions I make, I can just float away and no one will notice the difference,” Manchin said.
The boat has had other uses, as well.
“It’s really been a great thing for us to have an evening to get a few of our senators together, maybe four, five, six or eight, even more at times. And I try to get a balance of Democrats and Republicans, and people from what you would think from one end of the spectrum to another,” he said.
“One night we had Tom Harkin and Ted Cruz, a beautiful evening. And I know that Tom looked at me and probably Ted looked at me — these are both my friends — and before I knew it, you couldn’t separate the two from conversation.”
The Republican Party has picked Cleveland as the site of its 2016 convention, pending final approval of the site selection committee’s recommendation and successful contract negotiations with the host city.
“A Cleveland convention offers our party a great steppingstone to the White House in 2016, and I’m encouraged by the committee’s recommendation. The team from Cleveland has gone above and beyond the call of duty and I think they’re representative of a city eager to show the country all the fantastic things they have to offer,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said about the selection of the swing-state city.
“The RNC set a new standard for conventions during this process. Not only will the convention be held earlier in 2016, but there are also substantial guarantees in place for funding that put us well ahead of previous conventions and will give our nominee the best opportunity to succeed,” Priebus added.
He gave a shout out to Dallas, which had also been in the running and lobbied for the convention. “The hospitality shown by their city, their team and the Republican community in Dallas has been tremendous,” the chairman said.
Site Selection Chairwoman Enid Mickelsen said the committee “was tasked with difficult decisions and was presented with several strong options to host our convention.”
“I’m confident Cleveland is the right pick for our next national convention,” Mickelsen said. “Cleveland has demonstrated they have the commitment, energy, and terrific facilities to help us deliver a history-making Republican convention.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) called the selection “great news for Cleveland and our entire state.”
“It’s a unique opportunity to showcase the new Cleveland as one of America’s great cities, and to bring dollars and jobs to Ohio. I am really proud of the way the Cleveland community has come together to support the first national convention in Ohio since 1936,” Portman said in a statement. “The Cleveland community deserves the credit for making it happen. I’ll continue to work closely with the Cleveland host committee and the RNC regarding convention planning to help whenever I can to ensure this is a successful convention.”
The Libertarian Party responded to the border crisis in an official statement today, saying the problem is not the flood of people coming across the southern boundary but the war on drugs.
“Should the U.S. government forbid foreign children from entering the United States? The Libertarian Party says no,” Libertarian Party chairman Nicholas Sarwark said in a statement. “It would be unjust and inhumane for the U.S. government to prohibit these children from entering the United States.”
“A great irony is that U.S. government policies have caused the conditions that some of these Central American children are fleeing. The War on Drugs has created a huge black market in Latin America, causing increases in gang activity and violent crime. Some of the affected children naturally try to flee this violence. It is wrong to jeer at them, call them ‘illegals,’ and tell them to get out,” Sarwark continued.
“Many of these children are hoping to reach friends and relatives in the United States. A freer, simpler legal immigration process might result in a safer journey with more adult supervision along the way. In any case, Libertarians support maximizing freedom knowing that risks, including risks to children, are always involved. In some cases, children may be better off migrating, even without adult supervision, than staying trapped in dangerous environments — just ask the Jewish children who escaped from Hitler, or Tutsi children who escaped genocide in Rwanda.”
The party platform stresses that “political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries,” but the party backs “control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.”
“Libertarians do not support forcing people to pay for other children’s welfare, and there are obviously costs associated with helping children who arrive in the United States. However, there are many charitable organizations that have already mobilized to provide that help. A nation of 320 million people can provide sufficient charitable help to the number of children involved (around 50,000 over the last nine months). And if we’d just end the War on Drugs, the number of refugee children would be much lower,” Sarwark said.
The chairman stressed that “our bad immigration laws affect a lot more people than just these children.”
“Many foreigners want to come work in the United States, which benefits them as well as Americans. However, our government makes it impossible for almost all of them to work here legally,” he said.
“Some observers have noted that generous benefit and subsidy programs in the United States, including free education and health care, may be attracting lazy foreigners. The Libertarian Party supports the abolition of government benefits and subsidies, for both natives and foreigners. It’s worth pointing out that foreigners use these programs at a lower rate than natives,” Sarwark continued.
“It’s a shame that many in the media are trying to make Americans feel fear and suspicion toward immigrants. It’s particularly disgusting that protesters would yell at children to make their political point. Immigration is good for foreigners and good for Americans, and we need to change our laws to make immigration much easier.”
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) teamed up today for a bill intended to give nonviolent criminals “a second chance at the American dream.”
The REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) Act would offer “the first broad-based federal path to the sealing of criminal records for adults” through a court petition process.
It would create incentive grants to make the 10 states that set the age of adult criminal responsibility below age 18 change their procedures. Further, the legislation would automatically expunge records of kids who commit nonviolent crimes before age 15. The act would end “the cruel and counterproductive practice of solitary confinement except in the most extreme circumstances in which it is necessary to protect a juvenile detainee or those around them.”
Under the legislation, those who have served their time for use, possession, and distribution crimes “provided their offense was rationally related to a substance abuse disorder and they have enrolled in a treatment program” would be allowed access again to welfare benefits — specifically the SNAP and TANF programs.
“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration,” Paul said. “Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment.”
“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Booker said. ”The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways.”
“It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”
The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blocked an effort by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to stop aid to the Palestinian Authority, saying that the bill shouldn’t be rushed through with unanimous consent.
Paul tried to get consent yesterday for the Stand with Israel Act, which stops all aid while the Palestinian government includes Hamas and refuses to recognize Israel.
But Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the bill should be considered first by the Foreign Relations Committee, where Paul is a member.
“This is an issue I really believe the committee itself should deal with first,” Corker said.
Propping a photo of the three slain Israeli teens — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16 — on the Senate floor, Paul resurrected his bill that was originally introduced on April 29. He unsuccessfully called for unanimous consent on the legislation on May 1.
“I don’t believe that foreign aid should go to countries that persecute Christians. I also don’t believe that foreign aid should go to countries that host terrorists within their government. I’ve had this belief for some time, but I’ve met with a great deal of resistance in the Senate,” Paul said. “…Your foreign aid, your hard-earned American tax dollars continue to flow to these countries no matter what their behavior is.”
The senator charged that “foreign aid is so entrenched in our national psyche that it goes on regardless of the behavior.”
“The Democrats came and said no. President Obama doesn’t want to give up the authority to continue sending money to these countries. Well, a week ago, we had another disaster. In Israel, three young teenagers were killed. The response of Hamas was to stand up and cheer. I can give you the direct response of Hamas — their political director said that — ‘Blessed be the hands that captured them,’” Paul said.
“They stood with glee and cheered when these three teenaged boys were killed in cold blood. These were not soldiers. These were civilians. The news reports are that Hamas has joined this unity government precisely because they are bankrupt. They want to get our money. That’s why they are joining the unity government. What is ours? Ours is a tepid please don’t behave that way. But we have no teeth. The same thing in Egypt, the same thing in Pakistan,” he continued.
“Some will argue that foreign aid is a way to project American power. Well, if it is, we ought to be projecting American values. We should project what America stands for. We shouldn’t be saying here’s some money, do with it what you will.”
A Texas Democrat says border security isn’t about stopping people from coming across the border, but stopping drug traffickers and the like.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), whose district encompasses a chunk of Dallas, told MSNBC that Gov. Rick Perry was off-base on his assessment of the current crisis in which thousands of unaccompanied children originating from Central America have flooded across the southern border.
“What has to be addressed is the security of the border. You know that, I know that, the president of the United States knows that. I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure,” Perry said. “When I have written a letter that is dated May of 2012, and I have yet to have a response from this administration, I will tell you they either are inept or don’t care and that is my position.”
Johnson retorted that “we could talk about homeland security, but I think our borders are fairly secure.”
“But when you look up and see loads of children unaccompanied approaching the border, it is not a matter of that type of security. When we talk about security, we are trying to keep out elements of illegal trafficking of goods. And this could be considered that, but these are human beings,” she said.
“And it is clear that we need to find out who’s bringing the children, who’s making the money. They are not coming here out of the blue sky. It is clear it’s an arrangement. And they are looking for relief. And I don’t know if the relief is in this country or not. Someone had to give permission for these young people to come. It had to be with their parents. I don’t know if their parents are here and paid for them to come or whether the parents intend to follow them or even be with them.”
Johnson said as we “analyze what we’re dealing with,” we’ve “got to find some place to house these young people, because they certainly didn’t do it on their own.”
The congresswoman added there needs to be “more exploration to see if the parents are already here and sending for the children or whether the children are escaping some violence or mistreatment. I think it’s not a simple issue.”
“This country has always been a magnet for immigrants and it continues to be. And we have to deal with that. This country is made up of immigrants. And all of us had to come from somewhere,” Johnson continued. “And so, I’m not saying we open our borders, but I do think it takes time to analyze this influx. This was planned. You don’t get four and five thousand children landing, coming to this country that’s coming from Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador, which means they’ve traveled through more than one country to get here. They didn’t do this alone.”
Johnson added that she doesn’t think President Obama should make a visit down to the border to see the situation for himself.
“I think that he has people in place to take care of that situation. There have been leaders from all over the Congress to visit the border. Homeland Security has been there. What would be the point in the president going?” she said.
“I think maybe if he desires to go see it, fine. But he doesn’t have to go there to see it. He is scheduled to do a business stop at Dallas and one in Austin within Texas on Wednesday and Thursday. If he chooses to go, I think it’s fine. But I don’t think he needs to go and get information.”
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.)