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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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Despite Recidivism Revelations, Admin Releases to Kuwait al-Qaeda Recruiter with London Ties

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Last night, Republicans took control of the Senate in the 114th Congress. This morning, the Obama administration announced the population of Guantanamo Bay would drop by one.

The Defense Department said Fouzi Khalid Abdullah Al Awda had been cleared for transfer to Kuwait.

Al Awda, 37, is an experienced terrorist recruiter with London ties, returning to his home country as intelligence agencies have been on the alert for Western jihadist recruitment.

“Detainee is assessed to be a member of al-Qaida,” reads the 2008 DoD assessment. “Detainee’s name is included on al-Qaida affiliated documents, and he was reported to have sworn bayat (oath of allegiance) to UBL. Detainee has been identified as an associate of UBL and his spokesman, Sulayman Abu Ghayth. Detainee is a reported member of a London-based al-Qaida cell under Abu Qatada and is assessed to be an extremist recruiter and courier. Detainee attended militant training at al-Qaida and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LT) camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan and was identified as receiving suicide training.”

He then “participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces and served on an Islamic committee providing inspiration to fighters in Tora Bora.”

The assessment noted his history of “jihadist combat” and ties to “extremist affiliated” NGOs, and adds that he “has received coded communications from a Kuwaiti extremist.”

Al Awda was determined to be a high risk to the U.S., a high detention threat and of high intelligence value.

His father was a Kuwaiti pilot, and Al Awda came to the U.S. as a young child when his father was sent to train here. Al Awda graduated from the University of Kuwait in 1998 with a degree in Islamic studies and traveled to Pakistan shortly thereafter; the same year he was spending time with Abu Qatada’s group in London. He then worked for the Kuwaiti government in its Alms and Charities Agency.

“Detainee was also identified as being in Bosnia fighting alongside Arab mujahideen,” the report states.

In 1999, he was in Houston on what he said was a visit to his sick grandmother.

Al Awda was in the mountainous border region of Afghanistan near Pakistan when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened. He was soon captured by Pakistanis and turned over to the U.S. in January 2002.

“While in detention, detainee has made statements that illustrate hostile intentions towards the US.” The report also notes he’s in good health.

The DoD said today that a July 14 review board “determined continued law of war detention of Al Awda does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

“The United States is grateful to the Government of Kuwait for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The United States coordinated with the Government of Kuwait to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”

There are now 148 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.

Late last month, Fox News reported that as many as 20 to 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees, some set free within the past few years, are believed to have joined terrorist groups fighting in Syria.

“Well, we know that some of the detainees that have come out of Guantanamo have gone back to the fight, to the battlefield. We’re aware of that,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters on Oct. 31. “And we think that overall the policy of getting to close Guantanamo is clearly in the interests of the United States, as the president has articulated, which when I — I was in the United States Senate, I supported it.”

“It’s an imperfect world. It’s a dangerous world,” Hagel continued. “This is why we pay so much attention to getting commitments from host countries in securing those commitments and doing everything we can within our power to assure that those commitments, not to allow those detainees to go beyond what is required in order to secure them in these different host countries that take them. But we do know that some have joined the fight.”

“Host countries” have included Sudan, where leader Omar al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The country received one detainee last December.

Asked if this recidivism bothered him, Hagel replied, “Yes, of course it does.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey added, “We believe that the recidivism is a — is a relatively small fraction of those detainees, which have been placed into conditions where their risk — where their risk of recidivism is mitigated.”

“But even one would not make someone wearing the uniform very content,” Dempsey said. “So we — I provide my advice in every case to the secretary of Defense who, as you know, is the certifying official. And the exact number is actually being assessed inside of the intelligence community, so I can’t comment on that.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the 30 percent who return to battle aren’t just going in as low-level fighters, but “they also are in positions of leadership.”

“In one case, there are many Yemenis, he wants to send them back there. So rather than to have a place it to incarcerate them where they belong, particularly there’s many who have been judged too dangerous to be released,” McCain said. “The president wants to get rid of them in order to close Guantanamo. That’s the overriding factor in his calculations and it’s disgraceful, because in the long run, it puts the lives of American men and women serving in the military in danger. It’s a fact.”

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Another Dem Incumbent Defeated? Sullivan Leads Begich

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

After trying to distance himself from President Obama, Sen. Mark Begich (D) found Alaska wasn’t far enough away from the White House.

With 50 percent of the vote, former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan was on the road to unseating Begich, who had 44 percent of the vote with 78 percent of precincts reporting.

Begich went home and said he wouldn’t concede Tuesday night.

Sullivan emerged from a heated GOP primary to challenge Begich. The field included Joe Miller, who defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in the 2010 primary only to lose to the incumbent as she waged a write-in campaign in the general election.

Miller eventually endorsed Sullivan.

Begich angered Murkowski, though, by using her image in his campaign ads. She demanded that he remove the ads that made them look like voting buddies.

Begich said the disagreement was just about Murkowski not liking how she looked.

“She doesn’t dispute the facts that we vote 80 percent of the time on every single item,” he said. “…She shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. She didn’t like the photo.”

“This is not a situation where you want to make sure you got a pretty picture on the TV,” Murkowski shot back. “That was an offensive statement. And I don’t appreciate that.”

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Almost-Upset in Virginia? Warner Holds Slim Lead as Gillespie Shocks

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie delivered a shock to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) tonight in a seat that was considered reliably Democratic.

The shock? That Gillespie came so close despite a steady lead for Warner in the polls.

The race ended up so close that Warner declared victory late in the night but Gillespie had not conceded.

“We are going to be patient here and be respectful of all the voters,” Gillespie said. He didn’t say if the campaign would ask for a recount, but the margin means he’d be able to under state law.

Warner took 49 percent of the vote to 48.5 percent for Warner with 99.9 percent of precincts reporting.

That was a difference of 12,150 votes separating the two.

Libertarian Robert Sarvis, who ran for governor last year, took a notable chunk of the vote: 53,594 votes, or 2.4 percent.

Gillespie took giant swaths of rural areas in Virginia while Warner’s saving grace was suburban D.C.

Warner, who touted the endorsement of former GOP Sen. John Warner, was confident at a rally in Old Town Alexandria on Monday night.

“They want bipartisan problem-solvers and that’s what I’ve been about,” Mark Warner said. “If we don’t find that common ground, we have the stupidity of sequestration coming rushing back next year and those commitments, not just on the military side, but on our ability to invest in education and infrastructure and research, will be sadly undermined.”

Gillespie vowed Monday to a crowd in Sterling, not far from D.C., that ”we are going to surprise a lot of the experts in Washington, D.C., here in Virginia tomorrow.”

“We have been outspent, you’ve probably noticed that. But we have not been outworked — and hard work beats big money every time,” Gillespie said.

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Great Night for GOP in Governor’s Races, Including Maryland Upset

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Republicans appeared to sweep the majority of toss-up gubernatorial races Tuesday night and also snatched a state Democrats were expected to win: Maryland.

In the race to succeed Dem Gov. Martin O’Malley, Republican businessman Larry Hogan upset Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Brown was ahead by 13 points in one mid-October poll. Hogan pulled ahead by 5 points in the latest poll.

With 88 percent of precincts reporting, Hogan had 52 percent to Brown’s 46 percent.

In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn fell to GOP businessman Bruce Rauner, who got more than 50 percent of the vote to Quinn’s 46 percent with most precincts reporting. Quinn slightly led in polls going into Election Day.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder held onto his seat against a challenge from former Rep. Mark Schauer (D). The tally with 81 percent of precincts reporting was 51 percent to 47 percent.

Republicans also held off challenges in states where they were expected to win narrowly, including Nikki Haley’s victory by 17 points in South Carolina and Nathan Deal’s defeat of Jimmy Carter’s grandson by 8 points in Georgia.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was considered a prime Dem target, but was leading challenger Paul Davis by two points with 86 percent of precincts reporting.

Margins were razor-thin with the GOP slightly ahead as the count continued in Connecticut, Maine and Colorado.

Massachusetts was also tight with 98 percent of precincts counted: Republican businessman Charlie Baker had 48 percent to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s 47 percent.

The Republican Governors Association, led by Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), was issuing a stream of congratulatory messages throughout the evening — including on the Dem defeat in President Obama’s state.

“It’s time to bring back Illinois with Governor Bruce Rauner,” said Christie. “Rauner proved in this race that he is the antidote to Illinois’ longstanding woes; his leadership is exactly what the state needs to shake the status quo for good and become competitive again. With Bruce Rauner at the helm, brighter days are ahead for Illinois.”

The GOP did lose a key race in Pennsylvania as Gov. Tom Corbett was knocked out of office by Democratic businessman Tom Wolf. Obama campaigned for Wolf.

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Ernst Turns Harkin’s Iowa Senate Seat Red

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

In a state flooded with campaign stops from 2016 hopefuls, a blue seat turned red today as voters picked a replacement for retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

State Sen. Joni Ernst got 51 percent of the vote over Rep. Bruce Braley’s (D-Iowa) 45 percent, with 75 percent of precincts reporting.

Ernst’s victory not only turns a seat red but also gave the Senate Conservatives Fund one of its few victories of this election cycle.

She becomes the first woman to represent Iowa in the U.S. Senate.

Braley made a series of slips during the campaign, including derisively noting that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was just a farmer without a law degree who could lead the Senate Judiciary Committee in a GOP-controlled upper chamber.

Harkin added to Braley’s faux pas roster with comments made last week at the Story County Democrats’ fall barbecue and published Sunday night by BuzzFeed.

The veteran senator said Ernst shouldn’t win the race to replace him simply because she’s “really attractive and she sounds nice.”

“I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa,” Harkin said.

He tried to backtrack. ”I shouldn’t have said those things, I know that. I regret anytime someone feels offended by what I have said,” Harkin said. “But I am only human and I can make mistakes sometimes in how I say something. In fact, I have complimented her on running a very good campaign.”

Ernst, who becomes the first woman to represent Iowa in the U.S. Senate, said she was offended but would ”shake it off” — like the Taylor Swift song.

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Not Enough Fans for Crist as Scott Remains Florida Governor

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

With a couple of party changes under his belt, former Gov. Charlie Crist will not be moving back into the Florida governor’s office.

Democrat Crist and Republican Gov. Rick Scott were neck-in-neck heading into the vote.

Crist had 47 percent of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting. Scott had 48 percent of the vote.

Libertarian Adrian Wyllie pulled nearly 4 percent of the vote.

Crist’s campaign filed an emergency motion Tuesday night to keep voting booths open two extra hours in Broward County because they said voting irregularities caused long lines.

Crist called Scott to concede around 11:30 p.m. EST.

The heated race included high-profile names stumping in the presidential swing state as well as a debate tiff over Crist’s insistence on having a portable fan propped at his feet during the face-offs.

Bill Clinton rallied for Crist on Monday night.

“We’ve got two huge problems in America — political dysfunction and educational and health care inequality,” said Clinton.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie campaigned for Scott. ”We know this is Florida. We know elections are always close. And so we don’t want to take one voter for granted,” Christie said, warning of going back to the “bad old days of the Charlie Crist governorship.”

 

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Hagan Ousted in North Carolina

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) was defeated by GOP challenger Thom Tillis tonight.

Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, had 49 percent compared to Hagan’s 47 with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

President Obama recorded a last-minute radio ad for Hagan, calling the incumbent “tireless” in “creating job opportunities here at home and supporting a higher minimum wage.”

“But Republicans have been cutting investments in education while protecting tax breaks for the wealthy, so let’s send them a message by voting for someone who shares our priorities,” the ad continued. “Voting is easy, so stand with me, President Obama, and take responsibility in moving North Carolina forward by voting for Kay Hagan on Nov. 4. A Senator you can count on.”

The polls were too close to call as voting booths opened.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) also held onto her seat after a challenge from singer Clay Aiken. Ellmers won 59-41 percent over the Democrat.

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Kansas Sen. Roberts Shuts Out Independent Challenger Orman

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) held off an independent challenger in a closely-watched race with no Democrat.

With 75 of precincts reporting, Roberts had 52 percent compared to Greg Orman’s 44 percent.

Orman suggested he’d caucus with whichever party won the majority.

Democratic nominee Chad Taylor withdrew from the race on Sept. 3. Roberts painted Orman as a Soros-supported liberal Democrat disguised as an independent.

The 45-year-old Orman identified as a Republican before 2007, changed to the Democratic Party, then declared himself Independent in 2009.

Vice President Joe Biden, though, did a radio interview today and confidently predicted that Orman is going to “be with us” — in the Democratic caucus.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said “there’s no conversations that I’m aware of along those lines” between the administration and Orman.

“It is my understanding that Mr. Orman has not indicated which party he’ll caucus with. I can’t account for any conversations the vice president may have had. But I’m certainly not aware of any special knowledge that is retained by any White House staffer I’ve spoken to about this issue,” Earnest said. “I have not spoken with the vice president about it, so I do not know who he has talked to.”

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Walker Slams Dem Challenge with Definitive Win

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) hung on today — and then some — in the face of a challenge from Democrat Mary Burke.

Walker had 57 percent of the vote and Burke had 43 percent with 47 percent of precincts reporting.

The race between the two narrowed later in the summer, with the race branded a “toss-up” and polls too close to call.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, though, declared that Walker made up ground with a good week heading into Election Day.

Unions and the Democratic Party machine pulled out all the stops to defeat Walker.

President Obama campaigned for Burke a week ago, not mentioning Walker by name at a rally.

“You have a chance to choose a governor who doesn’t put political ideology first, who’s not thinking partisan first. She’s going to put you first,” Obama said.

Walker told supporters Monday that his race was the Democrats’ “Waterloo.”

“They’re afraid that tomorrow we might send a message, not only here in the Badger State, we might send a message to the country, to people at the local level, the state level, maybe even the federal level,” he said. “If you stand up and think more about that next generation than you do about the next election, the voters will stand with you.”

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Perdue Tops Nunn, Avoids Georgia Senate Runoff

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Georgia Senate race won’t be headed for a runoff as the Republican surpassed the necessary 50 percent plus one vote threshold.

Democrat Michelle Nunn had just 41 percent of the vote compared to 57 percent for Republican David Perdue with 67 of precincts reporting.

Perdue replaces retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top GOP on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Georgia runoff would have taken place on Jan. 6. That’s after the 114th Congress will come into session.

Perdue maintained a slight lead in polls going into the vote.

Democrats went in the election up in arms about 40,000 “missing voters” — registrations gathered in three counties by the NAACP and the New Georgia Project. A voter registration drops out of the system after 30 days if the registrant’s identity isn’t able to be verified.

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GOP Takes Colorado Senate Seat: Gardner Defeats Udall

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Heralded as one of the strongest GOP candidates of the 2014 campaign cycle, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) snagged Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) seat Tuesday.

Gardner had nearly 51 percent of the vote with 59 percent of precincts reporting. Udall had 43.8 percent of the vote.

Udall, a first-term senator, was derisively dubbed “Sen. Uterus” for focusing his campaign on Gardner’s views on abortion, personhood and birth control. Gardner is anti-abortion and also supports making the birth control pill available over the counter.

The Denver Post gave one of the most notable endorsements of the campaign season in picking Gardner over Udall.

“Rather than run on his record, Udall’s campaign has devoted a shocking amount of energy and money trying to convince voters that Gardner seeks to outlaw birth control despite the congressman’s call for over-the-counter sales of contraceptives. Udall is trying to frighten voters rather than inspire them with a hopeful vision,” the paper said in its editorial. “His obnoxious one-issue campaign is an insult to those he seeks to convince.”

Gardner overtook Udall in the polls over the past month and developed a steady lead.

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Shaheen Keeps Seat Despite Aggressive Brown Challenge (UPDATE: Concession)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Despite an aggressive challenge from a former Massachusetts senator, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) appeared to have held onto her seat Tuesday.

Shaheen had 51 percent compared to Scott Brown’s 49 percent with 42 percent of precincts reporting, and networks called the race.

But with 77 percent of the vote in, just a few hundred votes separated the two.

Brown refused to concede as Shaheen remained within striking distance.

The incumbent had been leading in most polls ever since Brown announced he would gun for her seat. The gap between the two, though, had narrowed considerably in the weeks leading up to the election.

Brown released a video Sunday featuring former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling voters that today was the “last chance to pass judgment on President Obama’s record.”

“Scott Brown will lead us in a new direction with more jobs and renewed sense of pride a and purpose,” Romney said. “For a better future, join me in supporting Scott Brown for Senate.”

Shaheen campaigned Sunday with Hillary Clinton.

“The momentum and excitement is undoubtedly behind Senator Shaheen going into Election Day,” Shaheen communications director Harrell Kirstein said Monday. “As Hillary Clinton said, there are two types of senators: there are showhorses and there are workhorses. Senator Shaheen is a workhorse who always puts New Hampshire first. New Hampshire families know that and they are fired up to get to the polls tomorrow to cast their ballot and reelect Jeanne Shaheen to the United States Senate.”

UPDATE 1 a.m. EST: Brown conceded the race, telling supporters that he is happy enough to see Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ousted as Senate majority leader.

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Louisiana Senate Race Goes to Dec. 6 Runoff

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) are headed for a runoff to see if Landrieu will keep her seat.

Landrieu got 41 percent and Cassidy got 44 percent with 9 percent of precincts in; under Louisiana’s system, a candidate needs to clear 50 percent plus one vote to win the seat outright.

Tea Party favorite Rob Maness, predicted to be the “shocker” winner of the night by Sarah Palin, got 11 percent.

Cassidy and Landrieu have to face off again on Dec. 6.

Cassidy steadily held an edge on the incumbent going into Election Day. He got the endorsement of  Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who will be running for governor in 2015, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Dr. Ben Carson, former Arkansas  Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Ambassador John Bolton.

Maness was backed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, which only endorsed a few Senate hopefuls who made it past the primaries.

Landrieu’s campaign has been a mixed bag, as environmentalists on the left pan her for being too friendly to oil companies and the candidate has panned her state for not being friendlier to Obama.

“The south has not always been the friendliest place for African- Americans,” Landrieu said recently. “It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”

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GOP Boots Pryor: Tom Cotton Takes Senate Seat

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Republicans ousted the senior senator from Arkansas today as Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) defeated Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

CNN called the race moments ago.

Pryor sometimes defected to the GOP side on key Senate votes, and he tried to play up those centrist credentials in the race.

“Mark understands that no man, woman or political party has all the answers. Instead, by listening to Arkansans and reaching across the political aisle, he has a proven record of finding common ground and bipartisan solutions,” said his campaign website. “Putting Arkansas first, regardless of political consequences, is his trademark in the Senate.

But Cotton, a 37-year-old first-term congressman, played up Pryor’s connections to the policies of President Obama.

“After just a year in Washington, I’ve got bad news. It’s a whole lot worse than we thought. Both parties put off hard decisions. They keep on spending, and the debt just piles up. They just don’t get it,” Cotton said in an ad released Thursday. “If you like Washington today, I’m probably not your candidate. But if you’re ready to make things right, I’m ready to serve.”

Cotton began to open a comfortable lead over Pryor in September.

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First GOP Pickup Also First Woman Senator for West Virginia

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) was the first blue-state Senate pickup for the Republican Party tonight.

She also becomes the first woman to represent West Virginia in the upper chamber.

Capito held a steady lead over her Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

Capito was leading 60 percent to 38 percent for Tennant with about one percent of precincts reporting.

Tennant brought in liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to campaign on her behalf, a curious choice for a candidate campaigning as a centrist in a coal state.

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McConnell Holds on to Senate Seat

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

After a challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held on to keep his seat.

With 6 percent of precincts reporting, CNN called the race based on exit polls. McConnell had 55 percent of the vote compared to 42 for Grimes.

If the Republicans win the evening, that’s a double win for McConnell as he’ll likely become the majority leader in the 114th Congress.

The race was closest in the spring. Then McConnell began to open a lead that only grew wider heading into Election Day.

Even the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee temporarily gave up on Grimes, pulling its funding mid-October only to come back a week later with an ad buy.

“Every day, our opportunity for victory grows — but the election isn’t over until the ballots are counted. In order to win this year, it’s critical that we fully fund our Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) efforts to maximize Republican turnout!” McConnell said in a Saturday fundraising pitch for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“If our GOTV efforts fail, Republicans won’t have enough votes at the ballot box. If we fail, Republicans will lose. I’m in the middle of a competitive race, and so are many other Republicans running for Senate this year.”

 

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VIDEO: GOP Congressman Reports ‘Machine Malfunction’ at Nearly 40 Sites Putting Votes in Dem’s Box

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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The Republican congressman in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District said voters at nearly 40 polling places have reported being unable to cast a vote for him.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.), first elected in 2010, represents the heavily military district including Norfolk, Hampton and Virginia Beach. He served in the Marine Corps Reserve.

His opponent, Democrat Suzanne Patrick, is a former undersecretary of Defense and a retired Navy commander.

The race has been rated “safe GOP” by Real Clear Politics.

Rigell’s campaign reported soon after polls opened this morning that ”received numerous, credible reports of poll machine irregularity at voting precincts in Virginia’s Second Congressional District.”

“This is very troubling. It is critical that every voter verifies the final summary page before pushing the ‘cast ballot’ option,” read the email to supporters.

“If your voting machine incorrectly recorded your vote, PLEASE report this issue immediately by phone: 757-425-0680 or by email: Esmel@ScottRigell.com,” the message continued.

Five hours later, the Rigell campaign sent out another email saying “this disenfranchisement of voters strikes at the very heart of our republic.”

“You may have heard on the news about the massive amounts of voting irregularities occurring in the Second District,” said the message from Rigell. “Because of a machine malfunction, we have had reports of nearly 40 different polling locations in which voters are attempting to vote for me, and it comes up as our opponent.”

The campaign released video it says was shot at a polling station in Virginia Beach. In the video, the voter has voted for Republican Ed Gillespie for Senate, but when he touches Rigell’s name the box fills in for Patrick.

“The voting machine cast a ballot for the Democrat when I was touching Republican. I notified the poll worker and he said it’s a calibration issue. Funny thing is, it did not happen on the next page with other ballots,” wrote the voter who posted the YouTube video. “He said, ‘that’s because you’re hitting the center of the box. You need to touch the top of the box.’ Well imagine that! Who knew that I should be hitting anywhere OTHER than the center of the box?!?!?”

Rigell encouraged voters having issues to contact his office or the Virginia Beach Registrar’s Office.

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Libertarian Party Says Votes for Their Candidates Have ’100 Times the Impact’ of Dem, GOP Votes

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Libertarian Party comes into Election Day telling voters that casting a ballot for Libertarian candidates is worth “100 times” a vote for a Democrat or Republican.

Libertarian candidates — including Amanda Swafford for Georgia Senate, Chad Grimm for Illinois governor, Adrian Wyllie for Florida governor, and Sean Haugh for North Carolina Senate — are poised to impact close races tonight.

In a statement, the party said it’s proud of that fact: “Political leverage! Libertarian Party candidates have it in 2014.”

“Unlike the Democratic and Republican candidates, our Libertarian Party candidates for public office have one rock-solid issue — and a clear, powerful message,” the party said. “Our rock-solid issue: To dramatically expand and advance individual liberty in America.”

“Our clear, powerful message: Vote for us, elect us, and we will do everything we can to dramatically roll back today’s Big Government. To dramatically shrink the size, power, authority, responsibility, taxes, and spending of federal, state, and local Big Government. Voting Libertarian is voting to give people back their own lives. Their own choices. Their own destinies.”

The Libertarians touted how the party is receiving more media coverage than ever — usually in the context of whether candidates will be spoilers to Dems or GOPs in tight races.

But the party said it’s “because voters are looking us over.”

“Because 18- to 35-year-old voters are voting for Libertarian Party candidates in higher and higher numbers. Because the Libertarian Party issues and proposals are the growing choice of a new, young generation. Because this young generation of voters is talking about us and our government-shrinking, liberty-expanding issues — with their friends and families.”

Voting for Libertarians today, the party argued, “turns up the volume of the word of mouth.”

“Your vote may well have 100 times the impact of each vote cast for a Democratic or Republican candidate. It just might attract more and more voters to the Libertarian Party — to the Libertarian alternative — in 2015 and 2016. And get us closer to the Libertarian tipping point.”

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The Potential Incoming Senate Chairman Feared by Congressional Environmentalists

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The senator who comes to the floor every week that Congress is in session to plead with colleagues to tackle climate change fears the next possible chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The top Republican on the committee, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), will be running for governor next year. The next-highest GOP on the panel is Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

With a Republican majority in the Senate, he’d take the gavel away from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the committee and that ardent weekly climate-change speaker, told MSNBC that Boxer put the committee in “a very good direction.”

“Having Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who claims that the entire climate change thing is just a big hoax, having him in charge, that really changes things for the worse,” Whitehouse said.

“When the gavel changes, the ability not only to control legislation but to investigate changes, and one of the things we can clearly see coming is the intention of the Republicans to torment the president, either with the kind of mishmash of poison Republican pills attached to must-pass legislation… or just flat out investigations, candidates are using the word ‘prosecute’ about the president and you can get a sense where they’re likely to go,” he said. “Those are two of the things they can do.”

Whitehouse pointed out that one of the “easiest” things Inhofe could do is “refuse to reauthorize EPA because the chairman has a lot of discretion about what goes forward.”

“Once the substance of something comes the committee, then every senator has a bit of involvement but where the really strong stoppers are for them is without a committee chairman, you really can’t get a bill out of committee, and if you can’t get a bill out of committee to the floor, the only way to bring it to the rule is under what’s called Rule 14, where the majority leader brings it directly to the floor and with a Republican majority leader, you’re not going to get it that way either,” he continued. “So, they can essentially shut down legislation.”

Whitehouse has introduced several environmental bills in the 113th Congress.

“They could bill a undo the restrictions on carbon coming out of existing power plants and attach it to, say, the highway bill, and just dare the president: What are you going to do? You’re going to shut down the highway program? And I think they’re less averse to government being broken because of the nature of their philosophy. So if they break it, I think they mind less, even though it’s our American government, and particularly in the environmental area,” the senator said.

“Bear in mind that in the House where they control it already, they have passed more legislation attacking environmental regulations than they’ve passed to repeal Obamacare.”

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Wasserman Schultz: Dems Poised for Victory Because Obama ‘Really Is Our Best Asset’

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) is confident that her party is going to keep control of the Senate.

“I agree with the vice president,” she told CNN yesterday of Joe Biden’s prediction.

The reason is “twofold,” the chairwoman said. “We have — going into Election Day — a superior ground game that’s run circles around the Republicans. We have more absentee ballots, 25,000 more absentee ballots requested in Iowa and more returned in Iowa. We have almost 50 percent of the early vote in North Carolina, is Democrats, to 32 percent for the Republicans,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“We really significantly increased our early vote turnout here in Florida over our 2010 turnout. And this was a razor-thin election four years ago. Charlie Crist will be elected the first Democratic governor in the 21st century in Florida because the bottom line is voters are going to the polls the last few weeks and tomorrow asking themselves one question, who has my back, who cares about the issues that matter the most to me, making sure I can reach the middle class and fighting for me to be able to succeed and Republicans who have taken us backwards.”

Wasserman Schultz said Republicans will be hurt at the polls by being “obstructionists over and over again.”

“And Ted Cruz just today doubled down on that obstruction and promised that if for some strange reason they do take the majority, that he’s going to push as hard as he can to make sure that just like the obstruction in the House, that the Senate digs in and does as much to block the president and stop him from making progress as they could,” she said.

The Texas senator has not given his support, should the GOP win the Senate, to presumptive Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Wasserman Schultz said that despite senatorial candidates not eager for President Obama to lend them a hand, “the president really is our best asset. He’s our best [get out the vote] motivator, our best fundraiser.”

“Look, I’ll stack up our surrogates against Republican surrogates any day,” she said. “We’ve got President Obama and Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, President Clinton, and they’ve got Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Rand Paul. So, we’re in pretty good shape in terms of who’s been deployed to stump for our candidates.”

The chairwoman said women are “turning out and overwhelmingly supporting our Democratic candidates like Mark Udall, like Bruce Braley” for a reason.

“I mean, the gap between Republicans and Democrats with women is huge not only because we’ve supported women’s right to make their own health care choices instead f of their bosses or politicians, but also because we support equal pay for equal work and the Republicans have blocked it at every turn,” Wasserman Schultz continued. “And we support an increase in minimum wage and Republicans don’t and have blocked it every turn.”

“So, the pocketbook, bread-and-butter middle class issues that voters are going to be deciding these elections on are what is going to drive our success tomorrow. And at the end of the day, that is the question that will turn on for every single voter. They want to make sure that they’ve got elected officials all across this country — and I’m on the ballot tomorrow, too — I know what I hear from my constituents is that they want us to work together. They want us to focus on jobs and the economy.”

What voters “don’t want,” Wasserman Schultz asserted, “is a Republican majority in the Senate that would double down on suing the president for doing his job or shutting the government down like Ted Cruz led the fight to do it a year ago which cost our economy $24 billion.”

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Priebus: ‘Incompetency Malaise’ Driving Leads for GOP in Early Voting

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the Republican National Committee said last night that he thinks GOP candidates are faring well in early voting because of “incompetency malaise.”

“That’s what you’re seeing across the country in early vote, and absentee ballot voting. The Democrats aren’t performing as well as they should. And I think we’re doing very well as a party on the early votes and it is because I think people feel like there’s this incompetency malaise across the country,” Reince Priebus told Fox. “They really don’t think that this president is performing whether it’s foreign policy, domestic policy, people aren’t better off and they want to see the different direction in the country.”

“And I think that our candidates are better, our ground game is much better and I think everything being combined, we’re going to have a big night tomorrow night.”

Despite Democrats’ assertions that they have a superior ground game, Priebus claimed that this time the Republicans have picked up their game.

“I mean, you can see where we are in early votes in Iowa. So just so you understand, we’re tied or even in a lot of these states where, for example, in Iowa, in 2010, we were 21,000 votes down in Iowa in 2010. That’s all wiped away. In Colorado, we are 100,000 votes ahead in Colorado tonight. That’s not guesswork. That’s the reality,” Priebus said.

“I mean, that’s the actual votes in the box. And so, the reality is that people in this country that want to see change. If they vote, if people vote that want a different direction, we will have a very big night in our Republican Party. ”

The Wisconsin native says that in the heated gubernatorial campaign in his home state Democrat Mary Burke “hasn’t landed the punch.”

“Scott had a very good last week…  I don’t see her getting too far,” Priebus said.

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Clyburn: Obama ‘Not Going to Be Acceptable Because of His Skin Color’

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The assistant Democratic leader in the House told MSNBC this morning that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is right about her read on how President Obama is perceived in the South.

“The south has not always been the friendliest place for African- Americans,” Landrieu said recently. “It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said “she knows the history of Louisiana, like I know the history of South Carolina.”

“And the fact of the matter is she reads some of the mail that she gets and I read some of the mail that I get. And for anybody to say that there is nothing that’s racial … you’re just not telling the truth. The fact of the matter is we know that with a lot of people — I don’t care what [Obama] does, he is not going to be acceptable because of his skin color,” Clyburn said.

“Now having said that, I do believe that those of us who are sophisticated in this process have got to do a better job of nuancing these things in a way that we can benefit from them. Because I think that when you talk about expanding Medicaid, in South Carolina 59 percent of the people on Medicare are children, 7 percent are senior citizens, 13 percent are disabled. And we should be focusing on those children, those disabled, those senior citizens. And a majority of the children, a majority of the senior citizens, a majority of the disabled, that will benefit from Medicaid are white people. These are not black people.”

The assistant leader said his party has “got to start focusing on that and developing a message that will make people come face-to-face with the realities of their conditions, and that is what we have been a little bit afraid of.”

“And I just think that that’s a fear that we just got to get over. We’ve just got to get over it because none of us can successfully change our skin color or — no more than we can change our agenda,” Clyburn continued. “And there are gender biases existing in this country. And we’ve got to work through those things. And those of us who are Democrats, we have a history of being fair on civil rights and those kinds of activities. We’ve got to stick with that agenda and work through it and don’t be ashamed or afraid of it.”

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The ‘Establishment Clown Car’ Flap in Kansas: Did Roberts’ Challenger Insult Dole?

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), in danger of losing his seat to Independent Greg Orman, said a dig at the GOP’s “establishment clown car” was a swipe at war hero and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas).

Dole, 91, campaigned with Roberts over the weekend. “We can’t lose any Republicans, or it’s going to be harder to get the majority,” Dole said. Roberts pointed out that “everybody in the party, virtually from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush to Senator [Ted] Cruz” came out to campaign for his re-election.

Asked about the GOP putting its muscle into the race, Orman said Friday, ”It sort of seems like a Washington establishment clown car to me. Every day, a new person comes out of that car.”

Roberts decried the comment as calling Dole a “clown.” Orman accused the senator of “distorting” his words.

“I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for Senator Dole,” Orman said. “I talked at length throughout this campaign about Senator Dole as an example of the kind of senator and the kind of representation we need in Washington, someone who can reach across the aisle, someone who can forge consensus among people who have different ideas and get things done for the American people.”

There’s now disagreement over whether Orman has apologized to Dole.

“The whole incident has just been an indication of how out of touch my opponent is. He has insulted Bob Dole, who’s an American icon and certainly a Kansas icon. Everybody in Kansas, all the veterans groups — I don’t know how he could say something like that,” Roberts told Fox this morning.

“You call Bob Dole a clown, and then you have a lengthy statement that goes into a political diatribe. All he had to do is just apologize to Bob. The latest we hear he indicated in a very strong statement he didn’t apologize to Bob Dole,” he continued.

“…Basically calling Bob Dole a clown and then waiting to apologize or not apologize regardless of what the story is, that’s going to follow him throughout his whole career, regardless if he’s in politics, which he won’t be. But regardless of politics, everybody will think, ‘Well, there’s Greg Orman. Here’s the guy that insulted Bob Dole by calling him a clown and then waiting around and not apologizing.’ That’s outrageous.”

The latest poll out of Kansas shows Orman at 42.5 percent and Roberts at 41.8 percent.

“Greg Orman is not shooting straight with Kansas or, for that matter, now that this is a national race, with the people involved. He is not an independent. He’s a liberal Democrat. The Soros family in Hollywood, they don’t give money to independents. They give them to liberal Democrats — same with the AFL-CIO. We differ completely on the issues. He will caucus with the Democrat majority. A vote for Greg Orman is a vote for Obama,” Roberts said.

“This election is about so much more than just me. We’ve had the full spectrum of the Republican party coming in, endorsing me. They know me. They trust me. But they also know that the road to a Republican majority runs right through Kansas.”

Orman has said he’ll caucus with the majority if he wins a Senate seat.

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Paul Hopes Criminal Justice Reform Emerges If No Indictment: ‘This Isn’t Just Ferguson’

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he hopes “something constructive” comes out of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., even if no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson is returned by the grand jury.

Paul recently visited the St. Louis suburb, where he “sensed that there’s an undercurrent of unease,” and met with residents and community leaders.

The mistrust of police and the judicial system is “really throughout the United States,” the senator added. “This isn’t just Ferguson.”

“The war on drugs has had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Hispanics. White kids are using drugs also, but they’re not going to jail. Black kids, brown kids are populating our jails. It’s destroying our families. They sense it. And that’s why there’s this unease between police and the African-American community,” Paul said.

“It’s also not a very integrated police force. I don’t have all the answers or know exactly why not, but I did want to hear from them. And I’m a big proponent of saying that the war on drugs needs to be changed dramatically and we need to quit saying that the answer is to put people in jail for a decade or two and throw away the key, and that’s the end of their life.”

On Ferguson, Paul said he’s “tried not to weigh in on the specifics of the case, because I don’t know the police officer, and it’s all secret and it’s a grand jury.”

“And I don’t want to be the federal guy that comes in and says, oh, I know what’s always right for a community,” he added.

“But I do want to be the one who says that, let’s channel this into — the anger or the upset or the unease, let’s channel it into something positive. And so what I suggested when I was in Ferguson was, I suggested I want more people to vote. You want more people to vote,” Paul said.

“I will help you get more people to vote. And the biggest thing impeding voting in our country — we have talked about voter I.D. and all that — that’s not the problem in our country. The problem is people who have had felony convictions are prevented from voting.”

Paul has been pressing at both the federal and state levels to get the voting rights of nonviolent felons restored.

“And I have several pieces of legislation to try to allow people to vote. And I think if they channel their energy into registering to vote — Ferguson is over 60 percent African-American. If they would register people to vote, they can have a bigger voice in their community and a constructive voice in the community,” he said.

“I have six different bills to try to give people back the right to vote, to try to let you expunge your record, to try to treat this more as a health problem and less as an incarceration problem. This is an indirect way of addressing the unease in Ferguson. But I don’t have a specific answer where I can make everything right in Ferguson.”

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Kerry: Those Who ‘Choose to Ignore’ UN Climate Change Report ‘Do So at Great Risk for All’

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The United Nations came out with a climate change report Sunday that Secretary of State John Kerry ominously declared to be “another canary in the coal mine.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that greenhouse gases causing global warming are “higher than ever.”

“The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen,” the report said. “It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions.”

“Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are higher than ever, and we’re seeing more and more extreme weather and climate events, whether it’s storm surges, devastating heat waves, and torrential rain, across the globe. It’s not a coincidence. With this report, we have yet another round of authoritative, peer-reviewed science to prove it,” Kerry said in a statement.

“The bottom line is that our planet is warming due to human actions, the damage is already visible, and the challenge requires ambitious, decisive and immediate action,” he said.

“We can’t prevent a large-scale disaster if we don’t heed this kind of hard science. The longer we are stuck in a debate over ideology and politics, the more the costs of inaction grow and grow. Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said “the scientific community across the world is sounding the alarm.”

“Climate change is real and it will have devastating consequences around the globe unless we act boldly and decisively,” Sanders said. “Many Republicans now respond to the crisis of climate change by saying they are not scientists and therefore have no opinion. Well, most of them are not doctors but they respect doctors’ opinions on cancer and heart disease. Most of them are not generals but they respect the opinions of our military leaders. It’s time for them to respect the views of the scientific community on climate change.”

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the UN report actually “says nothing new.”

“Similar to previous reports, the latest findings appear more political than scientific. People are tired of the re-packaged rhetoric. It’s time to stop fear mongering and focus on an honest dialogue about real options,” Smith said.

“It also appears that the U.N. is once more attempting to provide cover for costly new regulations and energy rationing. Yet the EPA has admitted that electricity regulations will have no discernible impact on the global temperature. America cannot afford to drive its economy over a cliff with the hopes that the rest of the world will make the same mistake.”

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Biden Says His Political Prognosticating Sharper Than the Pundits: ‘We’re Going to Keep the Senate’

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Vice President Joe Biden declared to CNN that he’s just doesn’t “get the feeling that the odds makers are giving,” stressing, “We’re going to keep the Senate.”

“I’ve been in 66, 67 races all told,” Biden said in a nod to his political sixth sense.

If Dems do lose the Senate? “Well, I don’t think it will change anything in terms of what we — what we’re about. We — we know we have to get done the last two years, and quite frankly, going into 2016 the Republicans have to make a decision whether they’re in control or not in control, are they going to begin to allow things to happen, or are they going to continue to be obstructionists? And I think they’re going to choose to get things done.”

The veep said that a GOP majority doesn’t change the way the White House does business.

“I don’t think we have to change. I think we have to be — I think we have to be more direct and clear about exactly or what it is we’re looking to do,” Biden said. “And look, we’re ready to compromise. I think they’re going to be inclined, because the message of the people, and I’m getting it all over the country, is they’re tired of Washington not being able to do anything.”

Biden stressed his multiple Senate runs. “And one of the things I know about Senate races off years and on races, and on years, the same as governor’s races, is it’s all local. It all gets down to what the specific issues in that — in that district or that state is. And each senator makes a judgment about whether or not it will be — he thinks it’s helpful or hurtful,” he said of Democrats eschewing campaign help from President Obama.

“Look, we’ve been seeing this a lot. There are lots of places where first term, second term, George Bush didn’t show up, the older Bush, Reagan. I mean, you know, every state is different. And look, here’s the deal. If you look at every single major issue in this campaign, the American public agree with our position: from federal support for infrastructure to minimum wage to marriage equality, every single time.”

Biden opined that “the public is concerned and frightened because it’s a frightening world.”

“I think the public should not be as anxious as they are, but it’s understandable why they are. There is no existential threat to the United States right now. There are fewer than five cases of Ebola in the entire United States of America,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out — we, the president and I, have to figure out how to better communicate exactly what’s being done. That’s part of the problem. That’s part of the dilemma.”

About the race for the White House in 2016, Biden said “there’s plenty of time to make that decision.”

“I mean, look, everybody talks about how, you know, everything is going to be done by the summer. And I don’t see that at all. I’m confident and if I decide and I haven’t made a decision,” he said. “…If I run, I’m confident I will be able to mount a campaign that can be financed, and it will be credible and it will be serious.”

Biden said he’d “absolutely” run if Hillary Clinton does.

“That’s not the reason not to run or to run. The question is,am I convinced I am best positioned of anyone else to lead the country the next four years?” he said.

“That’s a decision I have to make… but I honest to God have not made up my mind. It’s just that basic, that simple.”

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D.C. Cop Ambushed by Ax-Wielding Man Week After New York Terrorist Attack

Friday, October 31st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

D.C. police are on alert after an ax-wielding man slammed the blade into the driver’s-side window of a patrol car as an officer sat inside.

The officer luckily wasn’t struck by the ax in the attack that came a week after two NYPD officers were struck by an ax-wielding assailant.

The New York attacker, 32-year-old Zale Thompson, a convert to Islam, was shot and killed by police, who confirmed it was a terrorist attack. The D.C. attacker is still on the loose.

The D.C. cop chased his attacker and got into a scuffle with him, dislocating his shoulder, officials said. The assailant got away.

More from NBC4:

It happened shortly before 3:20 a.m. Friday, as an officer with the city’s Fifth District was patrolling in a marked squad car in the 3800 block of 13th Street NE. The officer noticed what police called a suspicious person, who avoided the officer by entering an alley. The officer followed in his car, where he was ambushed by the man with the ax, police said.

…Police K-9 units tracked a suspect to the 1000 block of Perry Street NE, near Michigan Avenue, but have not found him.

…Officers were going door- to-door in the area, searching for the suspect. The assailant will face felony assault charges once apprehended.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in a statement posted on the department’s Facebook page that “as of now we have a general lookout for a black male, 6’-1” to 6’-2” with a stocky build.”

“We have several leads that we are following up on at this point, but the investigation continues,” Lanier said.

“Lately, we have been putting out a lot of information to the force in regard to remaining vigilant at all times. While we do not have any information at this point on the motivation surrounding today’s attack, this situation underscores the need to always maintain a very high level of situational awareness while we are working,” she said.

“Recent incidents targeting uniformed law enforcement officers in Quebec, New York City, and now to one our own here in Washington, D.C. are reminders that we must always be ready for any eventuality. I encourage all members to maintain a high awareness of your environment, and to always notify the dispatcher of the location when investigating or entering suspicious situations.”

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Did Kerry Apologize to Netanyahu? Israeli Media Say Yes, State Dept. Not So Sure

Friday, October 31st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss ”the importance of deescalating tension” in Jerusalem.

“The secretary emphasized the importance of refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric and preserving the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters today. “He also spoke with President Abbas this morning. He expressed his serious concern about the escalating tensions in Jerusalem.”

“He stressed the importance of both sides taking steps to calm the situation, refrain from actions and rhetoric that could inflame the situation and work cooperatively to lower tensions and discourage violence.”

Given Kerry’s “strong relationship” with leaders involved, Psaki said, he felt talking with both was “an important component of what we’re doing.”

Yehuda Glick, a U.S.-born activist who has campaigned for the right of Jews to pray at the Temple Mount, was hit in a drive-by shooting Wednesday night after attending a conference about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Israel temporarily closed the Temple Mount in response as Palestinian jihadists called for more attacks.

The State Department chided Israel, saying “we believe that Muslim worshippers should be able to worship” at the al-Aqsa mosque.

Kerry is scheduled to meet Monday with top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to “discuss the way forward for the Middle East, the situation in Gaza, and lowering tensions in Jerusalem.”

Psaki was prodded on whether the Kerry-Netanyahu conversation included discussion of a senior administration official telling The Atlantic that Bibi is a “chickenshit” and “coward.”

“Let me check with him. I didn’t have a chance to ask him that question this morning,” Psaki said, not confirming reports in Israel that Kerry had apologized for the comments.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Kerry reiterated what he said many times publicly, which was that these don’t represent his views or the president’s views. But I’ll check with him,” she said. “He likely reiterated just as I said.”

Pro-Paletinian lobbying group J Street sent out a fundraising email today on behalf of Senate Democratic candidates Michelle Nunn (Ga.), Bruce Braley (Iowa), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Mark Udall (Colo.), warning of “forces hostile to Middle East diplomacy” taking control of the upper chamber.

“Just this week, media reports indicated that Prime Minister Netanyahu hopes to pit Congress against the Obama Administration to prevent a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran or the Palestinians. You can bet he’s counting on the Senate falling into neocon hands to allow for such an outcome,” the email said.

“But with victories for Michelle, Bruce, Jeanne and Mark we can save the Senate and score a victory for diplomacy this Tuesday.”

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King: Not Aware of ‘Any Specific Threat’ Requiring DHS Security Upgrade

Friday, October 31st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said he believes this week’s decision to step up security around federal government buildings is more an “abundance of caution” than a distinct threat.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered the Federal Protective Service to “enhance its presence and security at various U.S. government buildings” in Washington as well as “other major cities and locations around the country.”

The Federal Protective Service is tasked with protecting more than 9,500 federal facilities owned or leased by the General Services Administration.

DHS said 1.4 million visitors and occupants pass through these buildings daily.

“We are taking this action as a precautionary step, to safeguard U.S. government personnel and facilities, and the visitors to those facilities,” Johnson said. “The reasons for this action are self-evident: the continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials, and the acts of violence targeted at government personnel and installations in Canada and elsewhere recently.”

Rep. Peter King (D-N.Y.) told CNN he believes Johnson increased security out of an abundance of caution.”

“There was just a series of events over the last several weeks, including ISIS really making very effective use of social media, that I believe the Homeland Security secretary believed that especially with what happened in Canada with the two soldiers being killed, Canadian parliament being attacked and with the NYPD officer being actually attacked with an axe in New York City, in Queens, with federal buildings being a target, it’s important to get this done. That was never necessary in New York because they were always at a high level of security,” King said.

“But, no, I’m not aware of any specific threat other than the constant stream and very sophisticated stream coming from is encouraging these kind of attacks upon the police, upon the military. So these are not the actual members of ISIS or even declared followers of ISIS but even people on the fringes, such as the man in Queens who attacked the police officer. These are sympathizers who can be motivated by these type calls from the ISIS leadership.”

The White House recently revived warnings of an “imminent threat” from Khorasan, an al-Qaeda chapter in Syria.

“I am not aware of any specific threat that would require what Jeh Johnson did as far as the upgrading of the security,” King said.

“I think it’s an accumulation of events. The Khorasan group is a — ‘imminent’ is a typical word. I’m not aware of an imminent threat from the Khorasan group other than the fact they have been a threat for the last couple of months. And the same with ISIS. But I’m not aware of any imminent in the country right now.”

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Dem Rep on Ebola ‘Fear-Mongering’: ‘We’ll Look Upon It One Day Like Terri Schiavo’

Friday, October 31st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Democratic congressman compared Republicans’ Ebola “fear-mongering” to the fight for Terri Schiavo’s life and accused politicians of stoking fear to take back the Senate.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) argued on CNN that Maine nurse Kaci Hickox, quarantined after returning from Sierra Leone, “has a right as a citizen of the United States — unless she’s committed some criminal act or is a danger to the welfare of the public — to have freedom of access of movement.”

“This is just part of a fear, it’s kind of understandable, but unfortunately, it’s been stirred up and caused by fear-mongering politicians who see poll-driven numbers in their anticipation of next Tuesday’s election to try to take the Senate for Republicans and for the White House in 2016 for Republicans, who are doing everything they can to avoid science,” Cohen said.

“Same Republicans who many don’t accept evolution, don’t accept climate change and don’t accept biology. We had them in 2012 saying women couldn’t get impregnated when they were raped. They refused science. They’ll say whatever they think is attractive to their base and have done that in this circumstance.”

The congressman said “we really haven’t had a great problem” with the deadly virus.

“One person came back from Dallas. That — Mr. Duncan, he passed. The two nurses were treated immediately. I think we learned the proper protocols, and maybe the way they put their equipment on, they’re free of Ebola. The doctor in New York followed all the protocols. He’s being treated. Nobody else has had Ebola,” Cohen continued.

He said he didn’t know why Ebola czar Ron Klain has been AWOL since being appointed, “but I’m sure there’s a good reason.”

“He’s very — he is outstanding on policy, he’s been an outstanding government official.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statements should be enough to sway states on quarantine, Cohen argued.

“They wouldn’t listen to him. They don’t listen to 97, 98 percent, whatever it is, of the scientists who say there’s climate change. Ron Klain saying something doesn’t make any difference. I think this is strictly driven by politics, fear-mongering, and I think we’ll look upon it one day like Terri Schiavo.”

Schiavo was the woman in a vegetative state who was starved to death in 2005. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, began living with another woman in 1994 and remarried soon after he won the right in court to have Terri’s life taken.

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Obama Leaves Maine Without Meeting Defiant Quarantine Nurse

Friday, October 31st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama campaigned in Maine yesterday, but didn’t meet with the nurse who treated Ebola in Sierra Leone yet refuses to stay in her home for the 21-day quarantine.

Kaci Hickox is supposed to be under quarantine until Nov. 10. She spent 72 hours isolated in New Jersey after flying into the country, and was released to go back to her Maine town of Fort Kent.

She went for a bike ride yesterday, and Gov. Paul LePage said “her behavior is really riling a lot of people up.”

“What the CDC has indicated is that these risk assessments should be performed to determine what sort of risk individuals pose to others in the community. And then that also should guide the degree to which the health of that individual is monitored upon their return for three weeks,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One yesterday.

“That guidance has been shared by the CDC to state and local officials who ultimately are responsible for putting in place policies that they believe are in the best interest of protecting their citizens. And, again, we believe that those decisions should be driven by science, but ultimately it’s state and local officials that have the authority for implementing these policies,” Earnest said.

“So what I can tell you about the situation as it relates to Ms. Hickox is that officials at the CDC who are experts in this field have been in regular touch with public health officials in Maine who are responsible for setting the policies in the state of Maine. That is at it should be. And the President believes that the scientific expertise that has been amassed at the CDC should be freely shared with state and local officials in Maine. He also believes that those officials in Maine should be guided by the science as they implement the policy that they believe is in the best interest of the people of their state.”

Earnest said Obama doesn’t support Hickox defying the quarantine order, but “recognizes that it’s state officials’ responsibility to implement these policies.”

He added he’s “not in a position to render a judgment” on whether Maine’s policies are “guided by the science.”

Obama was campaigning for Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) in a toss-up race to oust LePage.

Earnest said there have “certainly not” been conversations between Obama and LePage about Hickox. “I’m not aware of any conversations from anybody at the White House with Ms. Hickox, and I don’t know of any plans at this point to place any calls,” he said.

Obama will give an economic speech in Rhode Island today before flying back to Washington to welcome trick-or-treaters at the White House.

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Hagel on Gitmo Detainees Returning to Terrorism: ‘It’s an Imperfect World’

Friday, October 31st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged Thursday that military leaders aren’t “content” about the prospect of former Guantanamo detainees finding a new home in the ranks of ISIS.

Fox News reported that as many as 20 to 30 former Guantanamo Bay detainees, some set free within the past few years, are believed to have joined terrorist groups fighting in Syria.

“Well, we know that some of the detainees that have come out of Guantanamo have gone back to the fight, to the battlefield. We’re aware of that,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters. “And we think that overall the policy of getting to close Guantanamo is clearly in the interests of the United States, as the president has articulated, which when I — I was in the United States Senate, I supported it.”

“It’s an imperfect world. It’s a dangerous world,” Hagel continued. “This is why we pay so much attention to getting commitments from host countries in securing those commitments and doing everything we can within our power to assure that those commitments, not to allow those detainees to go beyond what is required in order to secure them in these different host countries that take them. But we do know that some have joined the fight.”

“Host countries” have included Sudan, where leader Omar al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The country received one detainee last December.

Asked if this recidivism bothered him, Hagel replied, “Yes, of course it does.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey added, “We believe that the recidivism is a — is a relatively small fraction of those detainees, which have been placed into conditions where their risk — where their risk of recidivism is mitigated.”

“But even one would not make someone wearing the uniform very content,” Dempsey said. “So we — I provide my advice in every case to the secretary of Defense who, as you know, is the certifying official. And the exact number is actually being assessed inside of the intelligence community, so I can’t comment on that.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the 30 percent who return to battle aren’t just going in as low-level fighters, but “they also are in positions of leadership.”

“In one case, there are many Yemenis, he wants to send them back there. So rather than to have a place it to incarcerate them where they belong, particularly there’s many who have been judged too dangerous to be released,” McCain said. “The president wants to get rid of them in order to close Guantanamo. That’s the overriding factor in his calculations and it’s disgraceful, because in the long run, it puts the lives of American men and women serving in the military in danger. It’s a fact.”

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Dem Senator: ‘Those Responsible Should be Held Accountable’ for Netanyahu Slur

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Democratic senator blasted the senior administration official’s anonymous comments to The Atlantic calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and “coward,” saying the White House needs to hold the guilty party responsible.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) issued a statement this afternoon stressing that “outlandish remarks made by anonymous sources leave scars that mask the truth of America’s relationship with Israel: we have no greater ally in the Middle East.”

“I’ve just spent two days in New York at the UN meeting with diplomats, including the Israelis who thanked me profusely for all the United States has done to support their efforts,” said Cardin, co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission. “The truth is that Israel has one and only one reliable ally that exercises its leadership at the UN to support its friend Israel and that is the United States. President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu understand the strategic importance and the special bond between our two countries.”

However, the senator continued, “the only parties that benefit from anonymous sources making inappropriate comments about one of America’s closest allies are those who want to weaken the unified, bipartisan support for Israel in both the legislative and executive branches of our government.”

“The leaks and side-shows need to end; those responsible should be held accountable,” Cardin said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday he doesn’t “know of any effort” underway to find or punish the official who insulted Netanyahu.

“Again, there are anonymous comments like this that are shared with reporters like yourself on a pretty regular basis, and what we have found to be the most effective tactic is to help all of you understand the proper context for those comments,” he said.

“In this case, I’m not sure there is a proper context for those comments, because they are so directly in opposition to the true view and policy of this administration.”

Earnest said President Obama had no plans to call Netanyahu to apologize, and press secretary Jen Psaki said at the State Department today that they were “working to schedule a call” with Secretary of State John Kerry.

“I can assure anybody who thinks that that the president and the secretary of state don’t feel — feel that those comments were inappropriate and counter-productive and they’ll feel that way next Wednesday as well,” Psaki said of speculation that the administration is holding back open criticism of Netanyahu until after midterm elections.

The State Department has denied the remarks came from one of their people, and Rep. Brad Sherman  (D-Calif.) said the White House “assured me that the pejorative statements were not made by anyone at the White House.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called it “unprofessional for administration officials to air their dirty laundry in such a public way.”

“I am getting tired of hearing about the leaks and denials,” Engel said. “This ought to be the last time we hear of such talk because it is getting to a point where nobody believes the denials anymore.”

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Kerry: If Israel ‘Wants to Be a Jewish State’ It Must Accept Two-State Solution

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the word “chickenshit” to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as a senior administration official told The Atlantic, but in the same breath described the country as one that “wants to be a Jewish state.”

As soon as the article was brought up to Kerry today at the Washington Ideas Forum, he said “the long game, as everybody knows from the investment I made much of last year, is to find a way to bring the parties to make peace in the Middle East.”

“We still believe it is doable, but it takes courage, it takes strength. You have to be prepared — both sides have to be prepared to compromise in order to do it,” he said. “Here’s what I know, and I think all of you know this, viscerally and intellectually. And I’ve asked this question of people in the Middle East.”

“One of the great challenges for Israel is obviously not to be a bi-national state. It wants to be a Jewish state. To be a Jewish state, you clearly have to resolve the issue of two states.”

Kerry argued that “if you don’t and you are a unitary state and people have equal rights to vote and participate as citizens, is Israel going to have a Palestinian prime minister?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Not going to happen.”

Netanyahu regularly refers to Israel as the Jewish state.

“So therefore, what is the solution here? How do you move forward?” Kerry said. “And what we’re trying to do is evenhandedly and hopefully thoughtfully strengthen Israel’s ability to free of rockets — not strengthen, to make it free of rockets, to — to end this perpetual conflict in a way that provides for the complete security of Israel, which has a right totally to be free of tunnels coming into its country, terrorists jumping out of a tunnel with handcuffs, with tranquilizer drugs, guns next to a kibbutz. No country would tolerate that.”

Kerry said to put pressure on the parties the administration needs “to work quietly and effectively, and we condemn anybody who uses language such as was used in this article.”

“It does not reflect president. It does not reflect me. It is — it is disgraceful, unacceptable, damaging, and — and — and I think neither President Obama nor I — I’ve never heard that word around me in the White House or anywhere,” he added.

“I don’t know who these anonymous people are who keep getting quoted in things, but they make life much more difficult, and we are proud of what we have done to help Israel through a very difficult time.”

Kerry lauded Obama for being “supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself in the recent — obviously, in this recent war.”

“But at the same time, the president wants to try to nurse the parties together to resolve these differences.”

On the Nov. 24 deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran, Kerry said he’s “not gonna give it odds.”

“As I said to the president recently, I’m not going to express optimism,” he said. “I’m going to express hope.”

“Whether Iran can make the tough decisions that it needs to make will be determined in the next weeks. But I have said consistently that no deal was better than a bad deal. And we’re going to be very careful, very — very much based on expert advice, facts, science as to the choices we make,” Kerry continued, adding it shouldn’t be an ”ideological or political decision.”

“If we can do what we’ve said, what the president set out in his policy — the president said they will not get a bomb. If we could take this moment of history and change this dynamic, the world would be a lot safer, and we’d avoid a huge arms race in the region where Saudis, Emirates, Egyptians, others may decide that if they’re moving towards a bomb, they gotta move there, too.”

Yesterday Daniel W. Drezner, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggested in the Washington Post that there could be a reason for the foul language.

“The one thing this kind of trash-talking does is send a signal to Iran about the U.S. commitment to a nuclear deal,” Drezner wrote.

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Boxer: ‘So Sad to See the Party of Lincoln’ Attempting to ‘Suppress the Vote’

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned last night on MSNBC that “everything is at stake” in this election “including our democracy, the right to vote.”

“There are seven horrible laws on the books, very bad voter suppression, voter I.D., the worst kind… every one of those, every single one of those signed by a Republican governor,” Boxer said. “This is one of the biggest issues of this election of our time.”

“Everyone who cherishes that right to vote, get out there and defy the pundits who say, ‘Oh it’s just going to be terribly low turnout.’ We have the power to change it. And this issue, there are many issues on the line. We know that. The fair-shot agenda, equal pay for equal work, minimum wage, reducing interest rates on college loans. All those are very important. But this one, the party that stands for the right to vote is the Democratic Party.”

Boxer said she knows “it’s a fact” that the Republican Party is “trying to suppress the vote.”

“It is so sad to see the party of Lincoln has taken this approach,” she said. “They can’t win on the issues so they’re trying to stop people from getting to the polls.”

The senator plans on introducing the Right to Vote Act, which rolls together two House bills and “basically says, ‘OK, states, if you want voter I.D. they have to be offered free and on time. And if you are forcing someone to go buy their birth certificate you have to foot the bill. And if your law is so difficult that people can’t do it then they can go and they can vote.’”

“And they can sign an affidavit that they are who they are and they live where they say they live under penalty of law. And it’s a stiff fine, if anyone lies — $250,000 or five years in prison, or both,” Boxer continued.

“We need to hold control of the United States Senate. And we have to hope we can gain control of the House for that, keep our loses to a minimum there. And it is up to us. It is up to us… If you keep Democrats home because you don’t want them to vote and they can’t get to vote, you have a better shot at controlling the Senate.”

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