Right after the nuclear option was invoked to get nominees through the Senate on a simple majority instead of 60-vote cloture threshold, President Obama flooded the Senate with nominees.
This includes two U.S. attorneys and two judges for the superior court in D.C.:
Andrew Mark Luger, of Minnesota, to be United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota for the term of four years, vice B. Todd Jones, term expired.
Damon Paul Martinez, of New Mexico, to be United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico for the term of four years, vice Kenneth J. Gonzales, resigned.
Sherry Moore Trafford, of the District of Columbia, to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for the term of fifteen years, vice Natalia Combs Greene, retired.
Steven M. Wellner, of the District of Columbia, to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for the term of fifteen years, vice Kaye K. Christian, retired.
Brad R. Carson, of Oklahoma, to be Under Secretary of the Army, vice Joseph W. Westphal.
Maureen Elizabeth Cormack, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Richard A. Kennedy, of Pennsylvania, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for a term expiring May 30, 2016, vice William Cobey, term expired.
Leslie Berger Kiernan, of Maryland, to be Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform, with the rank of Ambassador.
Leslie Berger Kiernan, of Maryland, to be Alternate Representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, during her tenure of service as Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations for U.N. Management and Reform.
Heather L. MacDougall, of Florida, to be a Member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for a term expiring April 27, 2017, vice Horace A. Thompson, term expired.
David Radzanowski, of the District of Columbia, to be Chief Financial Officer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, vice Elizabeth M. Robinson.
John Roth, of Michigan, to be Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, vice Richard L. Skinner, resigned.
Going against the Obama administration’s lobbying heading into the next round of nuclear negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated on the floor today that he will support a new sanctions bill against Iran.
“I believe we must do everything possible to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons capability, which would threaten Israel and the national security of the United States,” Reid said.
Of the current negotiations, Reid said he supports the White House effort and wants the talks “to produce the strongest possible agreement.”
“However, we are also are aware of the possibility that the Iranians could keep the negotiations from succeeding. I hope that will not happen,” he continued. “But the Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill, when the Senate returns after Thanksgiving recess. And I am committed to do so.”
“A number of Senators have offered their own amendments on Iran in the Defense Authorization bill, and I know that other Senators also have their own sanctions bills. I will support a bill that would broaden the scope of our current petroleum sanctions; place limitations on trade with strategic sectors of the Iranian economy that support its nuclear ambitions, as well as pursue those who divert goods to Iran,” Reid said.
“While I support the administration’s diplomatic effort, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December, shortly after we return.”
Key Democrats had already begun peeling away from Obama and his insistence that new sanctions not be passed as he peels back some existing sanctions as concessions.
Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, joined their colleague Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Republicans Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in demanding that Kerry take any rollback of sanctions off the negotiating table.
“We are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability,” the senators wrote to Kerry.
“It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities,” they continued. “…We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.”
Reid’s support for sanctions increases the likelihood that Congress will be able to override a presidential veto. The last sanctions bill in the House passed with a whopping 400-20 majority.
“While these negotiations are still going on at this fragile stage — and we ought to know in the next few weeks where these negotiations are going to end up — now is not the time for new sanctions,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said this week. “That would find the United States isolated, when we now have the international community with us, supporting a diplomatic solution. And it would take the pressure off Iran.”
In the post-Obama-phone-call era of renewed relations with Iran, and just as the latest round of talks began between the P5+1 and Iran over its nuclear program, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted and posted on his Facebook page a comment he made while addressing the Basij paramilitary force:
Twitter users quickly pointed out that the photo the Iranians used is a 2007 image of IDF soldiers helping get the attacking dog away from the woman.
A senior U.S. official at the talks in Geneva called Khamenei’s remarks “uncomfortable,” prompting Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to issue a rebuke:
The statements made by Iran’s Supreme Leader are more than “uncomfortable.” They should be condemned. http://t.co/LAM13FCYDx
— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) November 20, 2013
UN Ambassador Samantha Power said on CNN this morning that she’d “obviously condemn the comments of the Ayatollah, which are abhorrent.”
“What I will say is that we have decades of mistrust, partly on the basis of comments like this, partly on the basis of the continued steady progress toward a nuclear weapon,” she said. “And that’s why we’re in the negotiations in the first place, right, is to ensure that a regime like that does not acquire a nuclear weapon, pose a threat not only to Israel but to the broader region and to mankind.”
And that image from Khamenei followed other inflammatory tweets, including a veiled threat at France for standing up for Israel at the P5+1.
#Arrogance has no regard for the lives of nations; the crimes against the indigenous & killing of 100,000 Japanese ppl with atomic bomb etc.
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
I put an emphasis on supporting the govt.; I also put an emphasis on ensuring Iranian nation’s right. #IranTalks
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
#Zionist regime is severely weakened & is doomed to decline. Every phenomenon generated by force is not viable.
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) November 20, 2013
Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), busted for buying cocaine from an undercover officer in Dupont Circle, will take a leave of absence from his job to seek treatment.
Radel said he’ll donate his salary to charity during that time. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession on Wednesday and was sentenced to a year of probation and a $250 fine (incidentally, the same amount he offered the officer for the cocaine).
“I’m sorry. I have no excuse for what I’ve done. And I’m not going to sit here and try and make any excuses for what I’ve done. I have let down our country. I’ve let down our constituents. I’ve let down my family. Including my wife, and even though he doesn’t know it, I’ve let down my 2-year-old son. I’m here tonight to take responsibility for what I did,” the freshman congressman told reporters.
Radel said he’s been receiving treatment since the bust at the end of October and would continue to do so to “be a better man.”
He said he held the news conference “because it is important that I share the message of responsibility.”
“I’m owning up to my actions. I am taking responsibility and I’m living it very publicly. I’m being held accountable for the decisions that I made in my life and I am — I have found treatment and I’m working on treatment and like anything in life I have to rebuild that trust and I fully understand that and I will do that,” he said. “I have to rebuild the trust with Southwest Florida, with the constituents, with this home that I love so much and means so much to me. And I also need to do it for my family, for my wife and for my son.”
Radel’s wife, former news anchor Amy Wegmann, wasn’t present at the presser.
“My wife is my rock and she has been so supportive through this, and I came to her and I told her what had happened, and she said, ‘I married you in — to be with you and stick with you in good times and bad,’ and she has been incredible,” he said. “I do have trust to rebuild and I have to mend her heart, which I’ve broken, and I’ve broken a lot of hearts, and I need to regain that trust and rebuild our relationship, but she has stuck with me and will continue to stick with me, and I’m just so proud to have my wife. She is my rock through all of this.”
The congressman said he’s “going to start with intensive inpatient treatment.”
“Sometimes in life you need a wake-up call. This is my wake-up call. I’ve been struggling with this, but I have had my wake-up call and I now know what I need. I need to take responsibility, own up to the decisions that I’ve made, and move forward, and I’m doing just that,” Radel added.
His staff will keep the office open and serve constituents’ needs during his absence.
“I knew that this day would come. I knew it would come. I had had to be accountable and responsible and open with my wife, and all of my family,” said Radel. “…I grew up with a mom who struggled with alcoholism. It is not an easy thing to deal with. Now I don’t want my son to go through that.”
Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office said Boehner won’t be calling on Radel to resign. ”Members of Congress should be held to the highest standards, and the alleged crime will be handled by the courts. Beyond that, this is between Rep. Radel, his family, and his constituents,” the office said in a statement.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Republicans shouldn’t be seen cheering the demise of Obamacare or hastening its untimely end.
“Obviously many of us like myself warned about the problems we’re seeing with Obamacare and not just with the rollout but with the program itself,” Walker told Piers Morgan last night on CNN.
“But as I have cautioned to many other Republicans in my statement across the countries, we need to be very careful,” he continued. “We need to be joining with Americans whether they were for or against the Affordable Care Act and joined in their frustration, not in anyway look like we’re relishing this or if Obamacare goes over the cliff we shouldn’t be the ones pushing it. We should be back trying to help everyday Americans find a better, a better alternative and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
Walker said that Obamacare failing on its own merits justified his own feelings at the time of the government shutdown that it was hard to justify the GOP strategy.
“I do think drawing attention to Obamacare and the preceded failures was important, but as we’ve seen you don’t need a Republican to point that out,” he said. “Everyday people are finding out sadly every day that not only is the website not working but the program itself is not working. And it seems like every time someone from this administration comes forward that there seemed to be even more problems on the horizon including even more details about the website itself not only not working but not being fully built out.”
When asked on Fox Business Network if he is eyeing a 2016 presidential run, Walker said he’s focusing on his next gubernatorial campaign.
“I am up for governor next year. I’m going to focus on that, not just because I am on the ballot in 2014 but because what I point out in the book is that many of the key battleground states in America in 2010 were ultimately states where Democrats control everything. The chief executive and the legislative branches, we flipped all those things in the 2010 election in Wisconsin and a lot of my neighboring states. That was the key to our success,” Walker said.
“And so the reason I say we should focus on ’14 first is we can hold the House for Republicans. We can elect, particularly with the failures of Obamacare, we can elect reform-minded people in the United States Senate. And then after we do that we can put a new chief executive nationally who will help us lead the cause. But we have to do it focusing on ’14 first.”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this morning on MSNBC that his “wording was clumsy” when he said “white suburban moms” opposed Common Core standards because they reveal that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
“My message was very, very simple. When you raise standards that’s a challenging thing. I was challenging state school chief officers to do a better job articulating why raising standards is the right thing for all children,” Duncan said.
“What happened historically is far too many states, and you know this well, they dummy down standards, and were lying to children and families across this country for far too long,” he continued. “When you lie to children, only group that benefits, guess who that is? It’s politicians. Children lose, parents lose ultimately, our country loses. Many states around this country are doing very hard work of raising standards now. It’s the right thing, but we have to better communicate that to parents. That was the message I was trying to make.”
When pressed on the meaning behind his words, Duncan said they were the “exact opposite” of any administration divide-and-conquer strategy.
“My point was that when you dummy down standards, when you’re lying to children, that affects all children. That affects all families,” the secretary said. “Even in more affluent suburban areas, not just in the inner city. Every child needs to have high standards. That was my very simple point, and we need to do a better job collectively articulating to parents why we want their children to be competitive not in their district or in their state, our children are smart, as talented, as creative, as entrepreneurial, as hard working, as children anywhere in the world.”
“We have to level the playing field for them. They are competing for jobs with children in India, China, Singapore, South Korea. That’s the competition. We all need to come together to help our students be successful there, and the best way to do that is with great teachers, which is what we’re here to talk about today.”
Duncan, who used to be CEO of Chicago’s public school system, claimed he’s “the most non-political person you’re ever going to meet. I could care less about politics.”
“My job is simply to fight for children. I’ve worked with everyone — Republican, Democrat, left, right, it doesn’t matter,” he added. “We want to reduce the dropout rates, we want to increase high school graduation rates. We want to make sure our children are going to some form of higher education. We’re fighting not just for education, we’re fighting for a stronger country, a stronger economy. Put politics and ideologies — I think that gets in the way. Let’s just work together on behalf of kids. Let’s fight for children.”
Levin Says Gillibrand, Cruz Trying to Remove ‘Powerful Tool’ from Military Sexual Assault Prosecutions
The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman stood fast against lawmakers trying to take sexual assault cases out of the hands of military commanders, stressing that the chain of command remains “indispensable” to solving the problem.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her bipartisan coalition, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), are trying to get their language changing how sexual assault cases are prosecuted inserted into the defense reauthorization bill being debated on the floor this week.
Gillibrand and Cruz penned a column together advocating their proposal to pull cases out of the chain of command, which appeared in USA Today this morning. “According to the Defense Department, 3,374 cases of unwanted sexual contact were reported last year, resulting in just 302 trials and 238 convictions. Moreover, the Defense Department estimates there were nearly 23,000 additional cases of unwanted sexual contact that went unreported. That means, in total, there were 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact — a 37% increase over the previous year,” they wrote. “Such a substantial increase requires our immediate attention. That is especially true considering that many of these are very serious allegations, not mere complaints about inappropriate jokes or disagreeable verbal comments. More than half of the 2012 reported cases — 61% — cited in the DOD’s report involved serious assaults, such as rape, aggravated sexual assault, or non-consensual sodomy.”
“And the Inspector General for the Department of Defense has discovered disturbing problems with a portion of sexual assault cases that were pursued; more than 10% of the 501 cases examined from 2010 had significant deficiencies, lacking basic elements such as simple witness interviews,” Gillibrand and Cruz continued. “Strikingly, across the branches, a majority of service members — 74 percent of females and 60 percent of males — perceived barriers to reporting these crimes. And, that’s only among the soldiers who were willing to report.”
But Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) argued on the floor that the bill that passed out of committee — language objected to by Gillibrand and Cruz — includes new protections for sexual assault victims while not changing the military justice structure.
“These important reforms were the work of almost every member of the Armed Services Committee. The desire to remove this stain from our military is bipartisan and it is strong,” Levin said, adding that the “most basic reason” to oppose the Gillibrand amendment is “it removes a powerful tool from those who are indispensable to turning this problem around, our military commanders. Our military commanders are the indispensable tool to turn this around.”
Levin noted that he met with retired military women who said “the problem is not commanders.”
“The problem is a military culture, they told us that too often tolerates excessive drinking and barracks banter that borders on sexual harassment or crosses that line; that fails to recognize the existence of service members who appear to be ‘good soldiers’ but in fact are sexual predators; a culture that values unit cohesion to such an extent that those who report misconduct are more likely to be ostracized than respected,” he said. “None of these problems are unique to the military, but they are exacerbated in the military by the frequent rotation of military assignments, which can make it easier for predators to hide.”
“We cannot strengthen our efforts to prevent sexual assaults by reducing the likelihood of prosecution. We know from history, and from the facts, that that is the result of taking this decision away from the hands of commanders. We know of the 100 cases where other authorities, civilian authorities, have decided not to prosecute, but where the commanders then decided to pursue it anyway. That’s just in the last two years. And we don’t know of any cases that go in the other direction.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also vocally spoke against the Gillibrand amendment, saying, “The problems that you see in the military, they’re all over the country — they’re just talked about more in the military.”
Levin said he supports a substitute amendment from Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) that would further strengthen the bill’s reforms, including allowing victim input in the prosecution of perpetrators, extending the reforms to service academies, and allowing victims to challenge any subsequent discharge from service.
Democratic supporters of President Obama and his healthcare law are itching for the administration to step up enrollment efforts while the Obamacare exchange website is still not fully functional.
Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski fired off a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday asking that she immediately jump on the ball to expand and publicize alternate methods for people to enroll.
“As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ work to repair the healthcare.gov website continues, we urge you to ensure that uninsured Americans are able to enroll in health plans through all available means” Cardin and Mikulski told Sebelius.
“Although we received repeated assurances from the Administration in the weeks before and since the healthcare.gov web site opened, previous targets set by the Administration for full operability of the web site have not been met,” the Dem senators write. “We are concerned that while the web site’s troubles remain unresolved, healthy individuals will abandon attempts to apply on line, and we want to ensure that they can learn about plans and apply for coverage. Further, if and when additional glitches in the web site arise, Americans should have additional easy-to navigate avenues to apply for coverage.”
They noted that Section 1411 of Obamacare provides Sebelius the flexibility to “modify the methods used under the program established by this section for the Exchange and verification of information if the Secretary determines such modifications would reduce the Administrative costs and burdens on the applicant, including allowing an applicant to request the Secretary of the Treasury to provide the information described in paragraph (3) [household income and family size] directly to the Exchange or to the Secretary.”
Cardin and Mikulski asked Sebelius to use her power “immediately” to take measures including:
(1) Informing the public that individuals and families who do not qualify for tax credits can apply for coverage directly with participating insurance companies where they will receive the same comprehensive coverage and prices listed on the healthcare.gov web site;
(2) Creating a mechanism through which individuals and families who qualify for tax credits can apply for coverage directly to insurance companies and authorize the companies to directly interface with the hub to verify income, family size, and citizenship;
(3) Enabling navigators on the HHS toll-free line and in communities to access health plan information without having to rely on the healthcare.gov web site;
(4) Making paper application forms and detailed information about coverage options widely available through a web page that is independent of the healthcare.gov web site;
(5) Enabling individuals to complete the application form on line as taxpayers can file their income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service; and
(6) Ensuring that paper application forms and information about coverage options are available to the public at community health centers, hospitals, public libraries and other locations.
Some congressional Democrats are counting on a grass-roots movement to push their legislation calling for an increase in Social Security payments instead of a benefits cuts.
The effort, led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), comes as the budget conference committee is trying to hammer out a deal with hot-button issues like the debt ceiling, sequestration and entitlement reform on the table.
Sponsor Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told MSNBC that the benefits hike will make Social Security work “the way it should work.”
“The debate frankly has been all about the discussion of how do we reform entitlements and how do we save Social Security. But when I hear a conservative politician in this town, say reform entitlements, restructure, they are not sustainable or when they say we need to fix Social Security or save Social Security. They are always talking about making cuts on Social Security. And the debate should not be about how much we’re going to cut Social Security, the debate should be about retirement security,” Brown said.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said Congress “refuses to face the fact that the pension system in this country is being eroded very rapidly.”
“We ought to be thinking about how we can strengthen the program and making it stronger, not talking about chained CPI and reducing it,” he added.
Brown said “somebody making $50,000 or $100,000 a year pays a higher percentage of her income in the Social Security than somebody making $500,000 or a billion dollars a year.”
“And we’re simply saying that everybody should pay the same percentage of their income in Social Security. That will strengthen Social Security, not strengthen it by cutting it the way that Ted Cruz just said … But will strengthen it because it will have more revenue,” he continued.
Brown argued that any increase will go right back into the local economy, giving seniors the opportunity to live “older years with a little higher standard of living.”
“I think it’s going to take a movement from the people and the people have got to start sending in messages to their congressmen and saying we want you to cut Social Security, but increase it. And I think scrap the cap is a good slogan for them to use. I think you’re going to find that more and more people are going to be pressing their congressmen about this. That’s the only way it will happen,” McDermott said. “In the state of Washington, we just raised in a little town, the minimum wage to $15. It was done by the people.”
Some members of Congress are turning their focus from discrimination against African-Americans to discrimination against African-Europeans.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), ranking Democratic member of the Helsinki Commission, introduced a resolution yesterday that outlines instances of racial profiling in the UK, France, and Germany and recognizes injustices against black Europeans.
The bill urges European governments to draft hate-crime laws, revise textbooks, combat inequality, and institute hiring practices similar to affirmative action.
An estimated seven to 10 million individuals of African descent currently live in Europe, particularly in France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, Hastings noted.
“The story of Black Europeans remains widely untold, rendering many of their past and present contributions to the political and social life of Europe invisible or forgotten. Furthermore, similar to the experiences of many African Americans, they have increasingly become the targets of discrimination, pernicious racial profiling, and violent hate crimes impacting equal access to housing, employment, education, and justice,” he said.
Hastings met this week with 10 leaders of the black European community for a Helsinki Commission briefing.
“Their personal testimonies offered a raw and honest glimpse into the realities of many Blacks living in Europe, and provided an opportunity for lawmakers, human rights advocates, and others to interface on solutions to addressing issues of inequality, discrimination, and inclusion in the 57 North American and European countries that make up the region of the OSCE,” he said.
The congressman summed up his resolution as calling “for the adoption of a Joint US-European Union Action Plan to develop transatlantic solutions to combat racial discrimination and promote racial equality in Europe.”
“I believe that our government can do more to help advance human rights and inclusion, including more partnerships with Black European communities and the public and private sectors; increased parliamentary activities such as legislation and policy, speaking out against racism, and increasing the political participation of racial minorities; and working with the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID),” Hastings said.
“This resolution reaffirms the importance of inclusion and the full and equal participation of people of African descent around the world in all aspects of political, economic, social, and cultural life.”
Iran’s foreign minister delivered an English-language YouTube message before the start of the next round of talks over its nuclear program arguing that its “rights are not granted, and since they’re not granted, they cannot be seized.”
“What is dignity? What is respect? Are they negotiable? Is there a price tag? Imagine being told that you cannot do what everyone else is doing, what everyone else is allowed to do. Will you back down? Would you relent? Or would you stand your ground?” Javad Zarif said.
Zarif argued that nuclear energy is “about Iranian nation moving forward as an equal, in a new realm, defined by peace, by prosperity, by progress.”
The Obama administration is willing to bend on allowing Iran to have a nuclear energy program, but other countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia and France fear that the Islamic Republic will simply use this to mask its nuclear weapons development, as it has all along.
“This does not mean that we have hit a dead end. There is a way forward, a constructive path towards determining our destiny to advance, to make progress, to secure peace, to go forward,” Zarif continued. “The choice is not submission or confrontation. This past summer, our people chose constructive engagement through the ballot box, and through this they gave the world a historic opportunity to change course.”
“We all need a sober appreciation of our common destiny, our common challenges and our common opportunities. We also need the conviction that imposition is not sustainable, a conviction that we cannot gain at the expense of others, a conviction that we either win together or lose together. That balance is key to success,” he added.
“Honest dialogue and real confidence, this is all dependent on equal footing, mutual respect and common interest, but more so, on dignity for all. We promise this to our people and to the world, and we always keep our promises.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Russia today to lobby for a tougher stance against Iran in talks.
“Our job is to try to sway the Russians, as we have been doing with all the players,” said Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin. “Russia is not going to adopt Israeli positions wholesale. But any movement, even small, in the Russian position can affect the negotiations.”
A freshman Republican was charged today with possession of a controlled substance stemming from an Oct. 29 incident in D.C. that allegedly involved cocaine.
Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) will be arraigned tomorrow on the misdemeanor charge issued via a D.C. Superior Court Grand Jury indictment.
“I’m profoundly sorry to let down my family, particularly my wife and son, and the people of Southwest Florida,” Radel said in a statement released after the news broke. “I struggle with the disease of alcoholism, and this led to an extremely irresponsible choice. As the father of a young son and a husband to a loving wife, I need to get help so I can be a better man for both of them.”
“In facing this charge, I realize the disappointment my family, friends and constituents must feel. Believe me, I am disappointed in myself, and I stand ready to face the consequences of my actions,” the 37-year-old congressman continued. “However, this unfortunate event does have a positive side. It offers me an opportunity to seek treatment and counseling.”
Radel added that by facing his problem and overcoming it he can become “an example for others struggling with this disease.”
Radel is a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Transportation committees. He cast House votes the day of the arrest and the day after.
He faces a maximum penalty of 180 days behind bars and up to a $1,000 fine.
Republicans are claiming “temporary victory” for school choice as the Justice Department quietly dropped its request for an injunction that would have blocked Louisiana’s voucher program.
Less than a month ago, 30 senators led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) called on Attorney General Eric Holder to justify his department’s lawsuit against Louisiana’s Scholarship Program that gives low-income students vouchers to escape failing schools.
The DOJ’s petition argued that this could adversely affect racial balance at schools.
“Education needs to be about giving all of our students the best possible opportunity, not about reaching federal quotas determined by bureaucrats in Washington,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said. “I’m relieved that the Justice Department has decided against this particular attack on Louisiana parents and students, but this is a temporary victory. We still need to ensure that families are the ones to ultimately decide where their children will go to school, not some Washington bureaucrat or some executive order. That’s the end goal we need to continue working toward.”
The Louisiana Scholarship Program grants vouchers of $4,500 — $3,000 less than what a public school in the state spends on a student each year. In 2012, after expanding the program statewide, 91 percent of scholarship children were minorities including 86 percent African-American.
“I am relieved these children will now have the opportunity to get a good education,” said Toomey. “But this chance for a better life should never have been in question in the first place. Our children are not statistics. They deserve the opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty and violence through a good education. The fact that Mr. Holder would block any child from a good education is bad enough. The fact that he tried to do so based solely on the children’s race is inexcusable. I am delighted the Justice Department has seen the light and dropped this unfortunate lawsuit.”
The Oct. 24 letter from Toomey, Vitter and the other senators stressed concern “that the Department of Justice’s decision to prevent these needy children from obtaining a valuable education is not consistent with the pursuit of justice, but instead may be the result of improper, partisan motives.”
“It seems to us that a program that rescues needy children from failing schools, gives families a chance to break the cycle of poverty and violence, and saves taxpayers millions of dollars each year is one that should be lauded by the federal government. Instead, the Justice Department is working to sabotage it. Shockingly, the Justice Department is doing so by targeting a small group of children based solely on the color of their skin,” the senators wrote, adding comments they’d received from parents thankful for the program.
A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who voted for the Upton bill last week to let people keep their health plans railed on MSNBC against the treatment his constituents were receiving under the Obamacare exchanges.
“I voted 46 times against their plans to repeal or undermine,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said of Friday’s vote. “This was the 47th vote. This is essentially mirroring what the president said he was going to do, which is allow people to keep their plans. And, you know, if we had a public plan option like I voted for if we had the House bill that was simpler and took away the anti-trust immunity of the insurance industry, we might not be in this mess.”
“We’re in a mess. My state has not gotten one person — not one through the exchange. Say it will take you three weeks after you file your paper application because they don’t expect the exchange to work. They’re running up against the deadline. They’re getting cancellation notices and they got a deadline to get a new plan. This is a fix for one year,” DeFazio continued. “I’ve said since day one, the Senate bill is pretty crummy. It does get to the objective of healthcare for all Americans. It’s going to need a lot of repair. This is not an elegant repair. In fact, I don’t even, you know, think this will go anywhere but we need something like the Landrieu legislation from the Senate. This keeps legislation live. I think we’re going to have to extend the deadline because you can’t say to people, ‘Oh well, you can’t apply, you can’t get accepted but you got a deadline and we’d cancel your insurance.’”
The congressman brushed off assertions that he was damaging Obamacare’s chances of succeeding with “oh, come on, come on.”
“They can spin it anyway they want. This is essentially — this does what the president did by executive order. You know, it’s a little bit extended from that but it’s pretty much the same thing,” DeFazio said.
“Not one person in Oregon, we’ve got all the Medicaid people categorically qualified. That’s taken care of. None of them went through an individual process. Not one person with an individual application in my state has gotten health insurance since October 1st through an exchange and they’re saying now, ‘Go online. Download it. Do it quick. File a paper application.’ Now, come on.”
DeFazio said the legislative process needs to be kept “alive” to fix Obamacare and “we are going to have to extend the deadline or people are going to go bare on January 1st.”
The Justice Department went after a San Francisco restaurant for discrimination after what appears to be a case of an employer trying to be extra careful about not hiring illegal immigrants.
An immigrant authorized to work in the U.S. complained to the DOJ “that Kim Hoang Coffee and Fast Food improperly rejected valid work-authorization documents when re-verifying her authorization for employment, which caused the immigrant to believe she had been terminated.”
The DOJ opened an investigation that “revealed that the employer believed she could ask non-U.S. citizens to produce specific documents to establish work authorization upon initial hire, but did not need to make similar demands of U.S. citizens,” according to the department.
“The INA’s anti-discrimination provision prohibits employers from discriminating against non-U.S. citizens in the employment eligibility verification process by demanding different documentation than U.S. citizens are required to present,” continued the DOJ.
Faced with DOJ charges, the restaurant in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District offered to rehire the employee and pay back wages of $700. “Kim Hoang Coffee and Fast Food must pay $485 in civil penalties to the United States, undergo department training on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA and be subject to monitoring of its employment eligibility verification practices for a period of three years,” the DOJ said.
“Imposing different documentary requirements on individuals based on their citizenship status during the employment eligibility verification process is discrimination prohibited by the INA,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting U.S. citizens and all work-authorized immigrants from document abuse.”
Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Americans needn’t fear about Obamacare because of the government’s stellar track record in running other big-government programs.
On MSNBC this morning, Clyburn was asked about whether the 39 Democrats who broke ranks and voted for the Upton bill last week to let people keep their health insurance were reflecting the views of their constituents.
“Well, you know, I think that may be current thought amongst some people, but Social Security seemed to be run pretty well to me. Medicare runs pretty well. The Veterans Administration runs pretty well. So the government can, in fact, run big programs,” Clyburn said.
The VA has been struggling with a massive claims backlog and doctor shortages, with the Virgin Islands still missing any doctor at its VA center. (Last week, Del. Donna Christensen said at least the VA is now interviewing for the position, after she pushed the agency and had to give them referrals of local physicians.)
“And when the American people had an opportunity to let their feelings be known as to whether or not we should privatize Social Security, they said with a loud resounding no, we do not want to see Social Security privatized. So they must want the government to run it,” Clyburn continued.
“So we’re having a rollout problem. I think it will get fixed. I think the Affordable Care Act allowing people to stay on their insurance policies once they get sick. I think the real big problem to the American people is for you to pay your premium for decades and then all of a sudden something shows up on your X-ray or you go for your second treatment and you get a letter from the insurance company canceling your policies.”
“Cancellation letters,” he added, “are not new.”
“Ever since I’ve been in Congress for 21 years I’ve been hearing from my constituents about getting cancellation letters from insurance companies as soon as they got sick or because they’ve reached some limit for the year or for their lifetime,” Clyburn said. “So I think that we ought to keep plugging along, get this thing fixed, and I think the American people are going to like the Affordable Care Act once they get a chance to use it.”
Like the Obama administration, Clyburn tried to shift much of the burden onto insurance companies.
“If we’re going to be in bed with them, let’s bring them into this process, because a lot of these insurance companies could be signing people up, they could be informing their policy holders,” he said.
“This letter they are sending out — don’t just cancel the policies, let them know what the alternatives are. You’re going to benefit from this in the long run because you’ll get more business. So you ought to be saying to your policy holders these are the alternatives. The policy you got, it will not cover a child born with diabetes, or it has lifetime limit that you may not be aware of. So, here’s what the alternatives are and how we can make your life much better and sell you a policy that may be cheaper and will cover more. I think that burden is on the insurance companies and they ought to go out and sort of man and woman up and get it done.”
As the second round of negotiations with Iran launches over its nuclear program, the UN secretary-general visited Auschwitz and declared that anti-Semitism still exists — along with “rising discrimination” against “migrants, Muslims, Roma and other minorities.”
Ban Ki-moon visited the Nazi death camp in Poland on his way to Warsaw to attend a UN climate change conference.
“I am truly overwhelmed and humbled. No words can adequately express my feelings. How can a state and individuals be so cruel and use systematic brutality against humanity?” Ban said, noting he’d twice visited Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.
“Yet nothing can truly prepare one for this epicenter of evil, where systematic murder unique in human history reached its atrocious climax,” Ban continued. “I stare at the piles of glasses, hair, shoes, prayer shawls and dolls, and try to imagine the individual Jews and others to whom they belonged. I stand in disbelief before the gas chambers and crematorium — and shudder at at the cruelty of those who designed this death factory.”
The secretary-general noted that “decades later, it remains almost impossible to come to terms with the nature and scale of this genocidal crime.”
“Millions of others – including Poles, Sinti, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, the disabled and mentally ill, dissidents and homosexuals — were exterminated in similarly barbarous circumstances,” said Ban. “In the years since, the flames of hatred and persecution have risen again to consume other societies – from the killing fields of Cambodia to the forests of Srebrenica and to the hills of Rwanda. Even today, the fire smoulders. Anti-Semitism retains its hold in too many places. In Europe and elsewhere, migrants, Muslims, Roma and other minorities face rising discrimination — and find too few defenders.”
“The world must never forget, deny or downplay the Holocaust. We must remain ever on our guard. And we must do more, far more, to promote equality and fundamental freedoms,” he concluded. “Every day, around the world, the United Nations strives to fulfill its cardinal mission of preventing any other such descent into darkness.”
After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the UN General Assembly and media blitz in September, many were claiming that he’d reversed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s position of Holocaust denial. In fact, Rouhani did no such thing, saying he’s “not a historian” and it should be up for discussion and debate.
A House ally of President Obama defended his misstatements about being able to keep your health insurance under Obamacare, saying the president may have misspoke but certainly didn’t mean to mislead.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who once famously branded a debt deal Obama made with Republicans a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich,” said on MSNBC last night that it was “phenomenally silly” for the GOP to compare Obamacare’s sad rollout to disasters.
“The great tragedy is that I think many of my colleagues on the other side are actually hoping for rain instead of sunshine. Because they fear the sunshine because it will give people insurance and they think it will be political repercussions that will hurt them instead of saying all of that aside, my number one goal is the American public,” Cleaver said.
On Obama’s broken promise, “at the worst, that the president misspoke and maybe made a mistake in speaking.”
“But it was not to mislead,” Cleaver declared.
“I think the other part of this that is extremely important is that I think in the absence of an agenda, this is the GOP agenda for the next year. And so, in the absence of an agenda, they’re going to concentrate on trying to dismantle something that will help the American public,” he continued.
“Healthcare was one of the chief causes for bankruptcy in this country. And they’re talking about this was something good that the president has destroyed? That’s absolutely ridiculous. We can fix this. As the great theologian said, we’ve seen the enemy and it is us, it is the Congress for failure to fix something that can be repaired rather easily I think.”
House Intelligence subcommittee Chairman Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said that for the first time, last week Congress got to speak behind closed doors with five CIA contractors who witnessed the Benghazi attack.
“Basically, the timelines are the same as far as when these activities started. There is a little discrepancy, between, you know, was it 9:32, 9:42. But, basically we know when it started. The big question has been was there any lull in the activity? And you know in Benghazi, after talking to these guys, it wasn’t unusual at night to hear gunfire or explosions or whatever,” Westmoreland said on CNN this morning.
“So once they got back to the annex, they did take some small arms fire, maybe an RPG, but you know, during the night, it was probably — they were probably arranging for the attack that happened about 5:00. And so, yes, there was movement probably all night and it was probably some probing fire, but as far as an un — just an ongoing gun battle, that was not true,” he continued.
The question of whether there was a lull in the firefight leads to the question of whether additional support could have been brought in.
“I don’t believe it was over after the first attack, but I do believe there was a lull in the fighting. Now, there was still probing, you know, guns being shot. As far as getting somebody else there, they had been a directive issued in August of 11 that basically tell the personnel in Libya, you are on your own. So we are looking into that directive to find out exactly who put that out and this was brought to our attention during the hearing,” the congressman said.
Westmoreland said if not for the security staff who were present, “I believe every American in Benghazi would have been killed at the complex and at the annex.”
“And these guys were very heroic in what they did. And naturally, they were calling for all the support they could get. They were fixing to go into an unknown situation, seven of them. Sure, they were calling for support, but they were calling for the eyes of the drone — the overhead intelligence and, you know, they had been in different places in the world and probably were used to having some different type of coverage, I’m sure they were asking for everything, you know, with the kitchen sink. But what the reality of that coming was — I don’t think was ever there.”
Westmoreland added that he doesn’t think Congress is being stonewalled by the CIA.
“You know, it took us a long time. We want to try to get these witnesses back-to-back, and you can imagine some of these guys have been re-deployed. Some of them had retired. Some of them are working for other companies. They live in different parts of the United States, and different parts of the world, but we want to do something like an attorney would do preparing a case,” he said. “We wanted to get all the FBI, all the CIA, all the State Department, we want to get those out and our committee has had 13 different committee hearings talking to these agencies. Then we wanted the eye witnesses to come in. The last two or three months has probably just been coordination of trying to get them here together because we didn’t want to do them one individually and let an air leak out, so we didn’t want to contaminate the witness. So that’s the reason it took so long.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) defended the assertion in his new book that the next nominee for the GOP presidential ticket has to be a governor, arguing a successful candidate needs to prove on an executive level that he or she is a reformer.
Walker said on CBS that members of Congress whose names have been floated as 2016 hopefuls are “all great people; in fact, if there’s a fan club for Paul Ryan, I would be the president of that.”
But, he added, “overall, people in America, I think, are frustrated with everyone in Washington, not just Republicans, not just Democrats, with — with the lack of getting things done.”
“And in the book, I contrast the fact that in the states where the optimism is, and you even mentioned the numbers in the presidential elections. In 30 states in America, after last November’s presidential election, there are now 30 states with Republican governors, almost as many states with Republican legislated majorities. Why?” Walker said.
“…A proven successful reformer in the states, I think, would go a long way, not just towards winning, but more importantly, towards governing.”
Walker spent yesterday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the Giants-Packers game.
“I think any of the 30 Republican governors would be a marked improvement over this president,” Walker demurred when asked if Christie was the golden ticket to the White House. “…In the end, you look at the difference out there, people see governors as being more optimistic, more relevant, more courageous. And in fact, in all of those states we just talked about in the presidential election, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, all those states are states — were battle ground states, and yet, Republicans are governors in those states.”
A Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, takes office in January in Virginia.
Opening a week that could see the U.S. cave against Iran at nuclear negotiations, French President Francois Hollande flew to Israel on Sunday to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
France has emerged as the principled party in negotiations, taking a stand against other Western powers including the U.S. at talks earlier this month.
Hollande said four conditions would have to be met in order to support an agreement with Iran. “The first demand: put all the Iranian nuclear installations under international supervision, right now. Second point: suspend enrichment to 20 percent. Thirdly: to reduce the existing stock,” he said at a press conference with Netanyahu. “And finally, to halt construction of the Arak (heavy water) plant. These are the points which for us are essential to guarantee any agreement.”
The friendly body language between Netanyahu and Hollande, as opposed to the coolness between Obama and Netanyahu, said it all, but Bibi still took time to laud Paris’ friendship.
“We understand exactly when somebody says that they’re out to destroy you, we’ve learned in our Jewish history to take them seriously. And I think from humanity’s point of view, there should be another lesson. When somebody starts by attacking the Jews, they generally don’t end there, and the fire soon catches and burns many lands,” Netanyahu said.
He noted that Hollande was “visibly moved” by their visit to Yad Vashem.
“François, I want to tell you the burder it places on me, as the Prime Minister of Israel. It is my duty to prevent anyone from credibly threatening or executing another holocaust against the Jewish people. This is my obligation, but I also believe it’s our common obligation for the sake of mankind, for the sake of our common future,” Netanyahu continued.
“At the welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, you said that it is better to be right and in the minority, than to be wrong with a majority. Well, I couldn’t agree with you more. The deal that is being put on the table in Geneva is not a good deal. I believe it’s a bad deal and a dangerous one. I applaud the fact that you, personally, have taken a stance to make it tougher and firmer, but I‘m concerned, gravely concerned that this deal will go through and in one stroke of the pen it will reduce the sanctions on Iran, sanctions that took years to put in place. And in return for this Iran gives practically nothing.”
Netanyahu stressed “this deal is not merely a bad deal.”
“Look how eager, just look how eager the Iranians are, how eager they are to return to Geneva and sign the deal. Now they said that they will not demand that the agreement include a specific reference to their so-called right to enrich, their already backing off of that, predictably. They know, everyone knows, that the agreement enables them to continue enrichment, so they say, we already have the right to enrich in practice,” he said. “…Iran’s dream deal is the world’s nightmare.”
Netanyahu said he’s confident that France shares the goal of protecting the Jewish state from Iranian nukes.
“I know that you share this goal. You said so clearly, words spoken from the heart. They are sincere and real. Your support, your friendship is real. It’s sincere. You’re one out of six, but you are… You said correctly that in critical times it’s important to stand up for what is right. You have done that and I appreciate that,” he said, with a reference to the P5+1 engaging in talks with Iran.
“I know that we are going into… we are in hectic times and I trust the friendship, the sincerity, the warmth of our relationship, not merely to sustain the bond between our peoples, of that I have no doubt, no doubt whatsoever. But also to be a bastion of stability and common sense in the turbulent times that afflict us, and an anchor that can help us protect our peoples and our common civilization for better times.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled Friday a set of July documents from the Department of Health and Human Services showing concern over the healthcare exchange website that likened the possibility of crashing to a plane going down.
In various emails dating between July 8 and July 20, administration officials confirm that they “under oath stated we are going to make October 1st,” but other emails express “we believe that our entire build is in jeopardy.”
HealthCare.gov project manager Henry Chao writes, “I just need to feel more confident they are not going to crash the plane at take-off, regardless of price.”
Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), whose bill to let people keep their insurance plans passed with solid bipartisan support on Friday, noted that on Aug. 1, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified to the full committee, “CMS has already completed the majority of the development of the services required to support open enrollment beginning on October 1, 2013 for coverage beginning on January 1, 2014.”
“Administration officials looked us in the eye and told us everything was ‘on track’ but when we pull back the curtain now, the mess is disturbing. What reason do the American people have to believe that the administration is capable of meeting its November 30 goal for fixing HealthCare.gov or its January 1 promise to deliver health care to Americans across the country? The botched rollout has created a serious question of competence and trust in the administration that we will continue asking at our hearing next week,” Upton said.
“Rather than pushing forward with unachievable deadlines to ‘fix’ its failures outside of Congress, the administration needs to begin working with Congress on a real plan to protect the American people from this disastrous law.”
The Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing tomorrow on the security of the website, where Chao is scheduled to testify.
“The administration was under no obligation to launch the website on October 1, yet did so anyway despite the government’s own programmers warning that the site was full of bugs, security holes, and well behind schedule,” said Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.). “When these latest revelations of incompetency are coupled with news that five million Americans are losing their coverage and millions more are paying higher premiums, it’s no wonder the public has lost faith in the administration’s ability to implement this law.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Ronald Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday that the Army has “just two of the 43 active-duty brigade combat teams fully ready and available to execute a major combat operation.”
The Reagan Library event brought together Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), and more “to address the health of our national defense and stimulate a discussion that promotes policies that strengthen the US military in the future.” The steering committee behind the event ranged from former Secretary of State George Schultz to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Hagel told the crowd that “so much of what I learned about public service, I learned from example that Ronald Reagan gave us all.”
“Though his individual accomplishments were historic, and he will be remembered for many important reasons, probably none more important than renewing the American spirit and calling for Americans to believe in themselves again and for American leadership at a defining time in the world,” he said. “The United States is, once again, at an important time in history, an inflection point that again demands American leadership, supported by a strong economy, strong diplomacy, and a strong national defense, which has been the focus, as we know so well, and appropriately so, been the focus of this conference today.”
Hagel noted that “the world is growing more complex, volatile and unpredictable than what our nation faced just even 10 years ago,” and “one immediate challenge” faced by the Pentagon is “the steep, abrupt and deep spending cuts that have been imposed under sequestration.”
“While our people today are strong and resilient after 12 years of war, they are under tremendous stress from years of repeated deployments, and so are the institutions that support them, train them, and equip them. As you all know, the department is currently facing sequester-level cuts on the order of $500 billion over the next 10 years. This is in addition – in addition – to the 10-year $487 billion reduction in DoD’s budget that is already underway. That means we are looking at nearly $1 trillion in DoD cuts over this 10-year period, unless there is a new budget agreement,” he said.
“These cuts are too steep, too deep, too abrupt. DoD took a $37 billion sequester cut during fiscal year 2013. And we are looking at having to absorb an additional $52 billion sequester cut this fiscal year. And we are currently operating with no budget, but rather a continuing resolution. This is an irresponsible way to govern, and it forces the department into a very bad set of choices.”
Hagel added that in slashing readiness, “the military services have justifiably protected the training and equipping of deploying forces.”
“Consider that since sequestration began, just a couple of examples. The Navy’s average global presence is now down more than 10 percent, with particularly sharp reductions in regions like South America. The Army has had to cancel final training rotations for seven brigade combat teams. That’s more than 15 percent of the entire force, and it now has just two of the 43 active-duty brigade combat teams fully ready and available to execute a major combat operation. Air Force units lost 25 percent of the annual training events that keep them qualified for their assigned missions, and Marine Corps units not going to Afghanistan are getting 30 percent less funding just as the service is facing more demands for more embassy security and more Marines around the world,” he continued.
“In prioritizing readiness, we will have to pursue savings in every area across the department, not only by paring back overhead and infrastructure, but by reforming personnel and compensation policy, a very difficult issue. This may be our most difficult challenge, but without serious attempts to achieve significant savings in this area, which consumes roughly half of the DoD budget and is increasing every year, we risk becoming an unbalanced force, one that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and equipped, with limited readiness and capability. That is not the military that our men and women signed up to be part of,” Hagel added.
“They signed up to be a part of a team that trains, deploys and protects their country. We need to give them the opportunities and the resources they require to successfully accomplish the mission. We must not revisit the mistakes of the 1970s.”
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said she’ll oppose congressional calls for tougher sanctions against Iran on the risk that it could rankle the Islamic Republic’s feelings during negotiations.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly nervous about the prospect of the Obama administration rushing a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Reuters quoted a senior U.S. official today as saying, “I don’t know if we will reach an agreement. I think it is quite possible that we can, but there are still tough issues to negotiate.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she’ll “strongly oppose any attempt to increase sanctions against Iran while P5+1 negotiations are ongoing.”
“The purpose of sanctions was to bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they have succeeded in doing so. Tacking new sanctions onto the defense authorization bill or any other legislation would not lead to a better deal. It would lead to no deal at all,” Feinstein said Friday.
“I am baffled by the insistence of some senators to undermine the P5+1 talks. I will continue to support these negotiations and oppose any new sanctions as long as we are making progress toward a genuine solution.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said “no one who is serious about preventing a nuclear-armed Iran should be comforted” by the almost-deal that happened last weekend in Geneva.
Rumblings after that meeting said it was France that was actually holding the line against giving in to Iran. Tellingly, French President Francois Hollande is flying to Israel on Sunday — his first visit as president — for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yesterday, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) wrote President Obama with their concerns about the “significant sanctions relief” on the table — a value of up to $20 billion.
“Iran would not be required to dismantle a single centrifuge, close a single facility or ship outside its borders a single kilogram of enriched uranium. Furthermore, the accord would allow Iran to continue working on a plutonium reactor, enriching uranium, manufacturing centrifuges, testing ballistic missiles, sponsoring terrorism and abusing the rights of its people. In short, the American people will facilitate the payment of $20 billion in hard currency to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and in return accept a more advanced and dangerous Iranian nuclear infrastructure,” the letter emphasized.
The senators laid out their concerns, not limited to:
The Arak Heavy Water Reactor. How can an agreement allow Iran to continue any work on its Arak heavy water reactor – work that is strictly prohibited by multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions? Once operational, this reactor could produce enough plutonium for two nuclear weapons each year, giving Iran a second path to a nuclear weapon. Due to construction delays, the Arak reactor is currently not scheduled to come online until the middle of next year – meaning Iran is not making any concession whatsoever by agreeing not to activate the reactor in the next six months. In short, accepting work on the Arak heavy water reactor during the next six months will in no way slow Iran’s path to plutonium production.
The Enrichment of Uranium. No agreement should cede to Iran the right to enrich uranium nor allow Iran to continue enrichment at any level – Iran must suspend enrichment as required by United Nations Security Council resolutions. Based on Iran’s current rate of production, 9,000 IR-1 centrifuges would produce 1,380kg of 3.5% enriched uranium over a six-month period – roughly the amount needed to produce one nuclear weapon. Iran is also reportedly demanding that the United States and our partners acknowledge its right to enrich under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a “right” that Administration officials previously testified to Congress does not exist. In short, if allowed to continue enrichment at low levels during the next six months, Iran will have another bomb’s worth of enriched uranium and will claim implicit recognition of a “right to enrich.”
The Centrifuges. No agreement should allow Iran to maintain its current number of installed centrifuges, nor should any agreement allow Iran to continue the manufacturing of centrifuges. If Iran is allowed to keep all of its installed centrifuges and simply promise not to use them all – or not to install more – nothing will have been done to shrink Iran’s nuclear breakout capability. According to the Institute for Science and International Security, thousands of currently installed centrifuges must be disabled or removed to set back Iran’s breakout timeline. Furthermore, without requiring Iran to declare its manufacturing facilities and allow international inspections at those sites, Iran could manufacture 3,000 new centrifuges over a six-month period – and have them ready to install in a matter of weeks. In short, if Iran is permitted to keep its installed centrifuges and manufacture more for the next six months, Iran will improve its nuclear breakout capability.
The Money Transfer. Under the proposal reportedly discussed in Geneva, the United States would waive or suspend sanctions on precious metals (valued at $9.6 billion over six months), petrochemicals (valued at $5-6 billion over six months) and the automotive sector (valued at more than $1 billion over six months) – and repatriate $3 billion in overseas-held funds back to Iran. But without any third-party monitoring or financial controls, these funds may be used to finance terrorism, develop ballistic missiles or brutalize the Iranian people. In short, this proposal hands over $20 billion in hard currency to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
Cooperation with the IAEA. Despite Iran’s supposed agreement on November 11, 2013 to provide greater transparency about its nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after years of engagement, Iran continues to refuse to provide key answers regarding its past work on the weaponization of a nuclear device as well as provide access to facilities and individuals involved in that work. This is not a side issue to be relegated purely to discussions between Iran and the IAEA. In short, this issue goes to the heart of Iran’s history of deception and must be part of any serious negotiation.
They reminded Obama that “once our sanctions pressure is forfeited, the chances for diplomacy to succeed will diminish.”
“Rather than forfeiting our diplomatic leverage, we should increase it by intensifying sanctions until Iran suspends its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in accordance with multiple Security Council resolutions,” the senators continued. “We intend to work with our colleagues to continue to increase pressure on Iran until they comply with all of their international obligations and abandon any effort to retain enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.”
On the House side, the conservative Republican Study Committee encouraged the administration to increase sanctions on Iran.
“Israel is our strongest ally and most trusted friend in the region, and before taking any action, President Obama would do well to consult with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has called any waiving of sanctions ‘very, very bad’ and ‘the deal of the century’ for Iran,” RSC Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) said. “It is time for the Senate to join with us in standing strong against a nuclear armed Iran by taking up the bill passed by the House to increase sanctions.”
The House passed H.R. 850, a bill to increase sanctions on Iran, at the end of July by an overwhelming vote of 400-20.
The Obamas shut down R Street at Florida Avenue NW in D.C. last night for a four-and-a-half-hour celebration of senior adviser Valerie Jarrett’s birthday.
Jarrett turned 57 on Thursday.
The motorcade rolled from the White House to Dupont Circle just before 7 p.m. on Friday, with President Obama and Michelle Obama getting out at Restaurant Nora.
The restaurant, in an otherwise residential neighborhood, is the country’s first certified organic eatery and uses ecofriendly and biodegradable cleansers and decorations. Michelle Obama celebrated her birthday here in 2010.
The White House press pool was socked away at a nearby Italian restaurant for the first half of the dinner then stuck in the press vans for the last two hours. Heavy security surrounded Restaurant Nora as a handful of people stood in the rain to see the Obamas, who were never seen by the press.
The motorcade didn’t leave the restaurant until 11:39 p.m.
In mid-October, healthcare CEOs frustrated with the Obama administration’s glitchy exchange website were invited to the White House to air their grievances — to Valerie Jarrett.
This afternoon, President Obama joined the follow-up meeting with healthcare execs behind closed doors in the Roosevelt Room.
Obama was flanked by Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
“I want to welcome the executives who are here from a lot of the insurance companies that are participating in the marketplace,” Obama said before the meeting. “We all share a similar value, which is we want to make sure that Americans have good, solid coverage that gives them the security they need for themselves and their family members if and when they get sick.”
The names of the insurance executives present weren’t released by the White House — though they were released at the Jarrett meeting — and the press pool was shooed out of the room after Obama’s remarks.
“We had, despite all the problems with the website, over a million people apply. Many multiples of that wanted to see what options were available. Obviously because of the problems with the website some folks have been blocked from seeing the well-priced benefits that are available in the marketplace, and so we’re working 24/7 to get it fixed. The website is working a lot better now than it was a couple of weeks ago,” Obama continued.
The president said the meeting would consist of “brainstorming on how do we make sure that everybody understands what their options are.”
“Because of choice and competition, a whole lot of Americans who’ve always seen health insurance out of reach are going to be in a position to purchase it. And because of the law, we’re also going to be able to provide them help even if they are still having trouble purchasing that insurance. But they’ve got to know what those options are in order to be successful,” he said.
“So I appreciate all these folks coming in. We’re going to be soliciting ideas from them. There’s going to be a collaborative process. We want to make sure that we get this done so that in the years to come every American is going to have the kind of affordable health care that they all deserve.”
There was no indication that Obama intended to talk to the healthcare companies about letting people keep their old plans. In announcing the administrative fix to defer enforcement on plans that don’t meet new minimum coverage standards, White House officials made clear that companies would be under no obligation to give back canceled plans to customers.
In Obama’s weekly address Saturday morning, he’ll try to steer the conversation away from healthcare.
Lawmakers are urging Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and the White House to put the brakes on rulemaking that would drastically expand the agency’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
The redefinition of “waters of the United States” would include all ponds, lakes, wetlands and natural or manmade streams that have any effect on downstream navigable waters — whether on public lands or private property.
“Based on EPA’s draft scientific report, ‘Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters,’ and the agency’s commitment to rely on this report during the rulemaking process, we are concerned that EPA’s final rule may in effect expand federal jurisdiction over all wet areas of a state. This is despite Congress’s limiting of the EPA’s and the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority under the CWA, as the Supreme Court has consistently recognized,” said a letter led by Senate Western Caucus Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Congressional Western Caucus co-chairs Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
In a fast-tracking move, the EPA sent its draft rulemaking proposal to the White House for approval before the scientific study on which the changes are based was peer reviewed.
“If EPA believes that the law should be changed based on new scientific research, we would welcome you sending any proposals to Congress for our consideration. Issuing reports and using them to potentially change a law duly passed by Congress would invite legitimate legal challenges and further erode the public’s confidence in our Constitutional system of checks and balances,” the lawmakers warned.
The senators reminded McCarthy that recently during consideration of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a bipartisan group voted 52 to 44 to reject the EPA’s Clean Water Act Jurisdiction Guidance “which would have also resulted in effectively unlimited jurisdiction over intrastate water bodies.”
“Strong opposition to EPA’s approach is based on the devastating economic impacts that a federal takeover of state waters would have,” they wrote. “Additional regulatory costs associated with changes in jurisdiction and increases in permits will erect bureaucratic barriers to economic growth, negatively impacting farms, small businesses, commercial development, road construction and energy production, to name a few. In addition, expanding federal control over intrastate waters will substantially interfere with the ability of individual landowners to use their property.”
“We urge you to change course and to commit to operating under the limits established by Congress, even if those limits are impermissibly overlooked in the so-called Connectivity Report.”
Today, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member David Vitter (R-La.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) wrote the Office of Management and Budget to ask that they put the brakes on the rule.
“The consequences of a rushed ‘waters of the United States’ rulemaking are too important to ignore. The property rights of millions of Americans are at stake, as many fear their ability to make productive use of their land will become subject to EPA’s regulatory whims. EPA has already sent a dangerous signal by committing to the Connectivity Report well before the Report’s merits have been decided. Further, given that the text draft rule would provide EPA with authority over ponds, tributaries, and ditches never before subject to federal regulation, the significance of the Report and its relationship to the rule make EPA’s premature commitment to the Report even more suspect,” they wrote.
To comply with the EPA’s approach, the lawmakers added, would “make a mockery of OMB’s responsibility.”
“We request that OMB and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs immediately return the draft rule to EPA so that the Connectivity Report can be properly and fully evaluated and the rulemaking may eventually proceed in a credible manner,” they wrote.
Vitter said moving forward with the rule means “the property rights of millions of Americans would be at stake.”
“In an instant, EPA’s expanded jurisdiction would become a federal takeover of all waters in the U.S. That includes your and your neighbor’s pond in the backyard,” he said. “It is troubling to see EPA avoiding the scientific review process on their Connectivity report while redefining this major issue, especially after all the promises we’ve heard from the Agency about increasing transparency and aspiring to use the best available science.”
D.C.’s delegate to Congress introduced a bill to give back pay to the retail, food and custodial workers affected by the government shutdown.
The Low-Wage Federal Contractor Back Pay Act of 2013 would amend the continuing resolution and apply to all three branches of the federal government.
“The idea for the bill was brought to my attention by these federally contracted service workers, some of whom work here on the Capitol grounds providing Members of Congress and congressional staff with daily services,” Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in introducing the bill.
“Many federally contracted workers in federal agencies earn little more than the minimum wage with few, if any benefits, and while others are unionized with little better wages, all are the lowest paid workers in the federal government and should not be punished because Congress failed to do its job and keep the government functioning for 16 days. Congress did the right thing when it gave back pay to federal employees, who work in the same buildings as these low-wage service workers,” Norton said. “However, both groups of workers were victims who deserve to be made whole.”
Norton said she recognizes “that contract workers are employees of contractors, but the distinction between federal workers and at least the lowest-paid service workers who serve the federal government and its employees and keep, for example, their premises clean, fails when it comes to a deliberate government shutdown.”
“Unlike many other contractors, those who employ low-wage service workers have little latitude to help make up for lost wages,” she said. “Low-wage federally contracted service workers could least afford the loss of pay during the shutdown, and should not now have to go to work every day with everyone else in their federal buildings having received back pay except for them.”
“The nation’s capital is the high-profile home of the federal government’s collusion with those that pay low wages through leases and contracts with federal agencies. At least this legislation would provide some parity to these low-wage federal contractor workers.”
Original cosponsors are Reps. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
Conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said President Obama is violating the Constitution by ordering that the healthcare law minimum coverage mandates not be enforced for a year to allow people to temporarily keep their plans.
Senior administration officials yesterday compared the “administrative fix” for millions of plan cancellation notices to the Department of Homeland Security’s deferred action against young illegal immigrants.
“In the President’s remarks this afternoon he once again stepped outside the bounds of his Constitutional authority, this time regarding the failures of his prized legislative accomplishment -ObamaCare,” King said on Thursday evening.
“It is unconstitutional for the President to attempt to rule by executive edict. The President has lied numerous times to the American people by promising them if they like their healthcare plan, they can keep it. He continues to pass the blame and execute modifications and delays that change nothing, and this ‘administrative fix’ is once again not the answer,” King continued.
“ObamaCare cannot be fixed – it is fundamentally flawed. The American people should not have to take the brunt of the President’s political posturing. He must abide by the Constitution and come to Congress, and this time I suggest he should come on bended knee.”
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also zeroed in on the selective enforcement.
“By trying to ignore a problem with existing law instead of addressing it, the president’s proposal is sure to create confusion and prolong uncertainty for millions of Americans,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said. “Americans need a real, legislative solution, not an administrative ploy to create ambiguity by selectively enforcing its own regulations.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said “a decree brought down on high from President Obama is not how the legislative process works.”
“It is unconstitutional for the president to repeatedly bypass Congress and unilaterally change the law to fit his daily political objectives,” she added.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said Obama “should send his proposal to Congress to consider and give Americans the certainty of law over rhetoric.”
The Obama administration promised late last night to veto the bill coming up for a vote in the House today that would let people keep their insurance plans.
The Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013 comes to the floor with 164 co-sponsors, including a couple of Blue Dog Democrats. It could either gain traction with disaffected Dems in the Senate or be merged with Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) similar bill in negotiations.
The White House wants neither, convinced that everyone’s just trying to undermine their signature legislative effort.
“The Administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 3350 because it threatens the health care security of hard working, middle class families. The Nation is experiencing the slowest growth in health spending in the last 50 years. Since 2008, growth in private health insurance spending stayed between three and four percent – significantly lower than earlier this decade when growth reached almost 12 percent. With health care costs rising at such low rates, this bill would be a major step back,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a veto threat issued last night.
“H.R. 3350 rolls back the progress made by allowing insurers to continue to sell new plans that deploy practices such as not offering coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, charging women more than men, and continuing yearly caps on the amount of care that enrollees receive. The Administration supports policies that allow people to keep the health plans that they have. But, policies that reverse the progress made to extend quality, affordable coverage to millions of uninsured, hardworking, middle class families are not the solution. Rather than refighting old political battles to sabotage the health care law, the Congress should work with the Administration to improve the law and move forward,” the notice continued.
“If the President were presented with H.R. 3350, he would veto it.”
The Upton bill, according to the Congressional Research Service, “permits a health insurance issuer that has in effect health insurance coverage in the individual market as of January 1, 2013, to continue offering such coverage for sale during 2014 outside of a health care exchange established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Treats such coverage as a grandfathered health plan for purposes of an individual meeting the requirement to maintain minimum essential health coverage.”
Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) introduced his articles of impeachment against Attorney General Eric Holder today with more than twice the number of original co-sponsors anticipated.
“For nearly five years, Attorney General Holder has systematically deceived Congress and destroyed the credibility of the Justice Department in the eyes of the American people. During his tenure, Mr. Holder refused to cooperate with a congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious and the resulting death of a Border Patrol agent, refused to prosecute IRS officials who unlawfully disclosed private tax records to third party groups, and misled Congress about his involvement in the investigation of a journalist,” Olson said.
“Last year, the House voted to hold Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress, making him the first sitting cabinet member to ever hold this dubious distinction,” he continued. “Still, he continued to mislead and thwart congressional efforts to bring the truth to the American people. Mr. Holder has failed to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed and continues to act in a manner unbefitting of a cabinet official. I urge my colleagues to join me in beginning this process by cosponsoring this measure now. The American people deserve answers and accountability.”
Original co-sponsors of the bill are Reps. Larry Buschon (R-Ind.), Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), David Roe (R-Tenn.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), Roger Williams (R-Texas), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Bill Flores (R-Texas), Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Sam Johnson (R-Texas), Steve Stockman (R-Texas), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
The four charges in the articles of impeachment are:
1. Refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on October 12, 2011, seeking information and documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious. This is a violation of 2 U.S.C. 192.
2. Failure to enforce multiple laws, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the Controlled Substances Act, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. This is a violation of the oath Mr. Holder swore to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office” of Attorney General.
3. Refusal to prosecute the IRS officials involved in the targeting and disclosure of tax records belonging to political donors. This is a violation of the oath Mr. Holder swore to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office” of Attorney General.
4. False testimony under oath before Congress on May 15, 2013, about the Justice Department investigation of journalist James Rosen. This is a violation of 18 U.S.C. 1621.
House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office did not respond to the bill, but rumblings on the Hill are that GOP leaders view it as a distraction while they’re trying to concentrate on exploiting holes in the Obamacare rollout.
The Pentagon has finally agreed to cut short its contract with Russian arms giant Rosoboronexport, roughly halving its agreement to procure helicopters for the Afghan military.
The $572,180,894 firm-fixed-price contract modification announced in June for 30 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts, test equipment, and engineering support services raised ire of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as the state-owned Russian company does substantial business supplying the Syrian regime.
Congress passed a defense reauthorization bill that canceled the contract, but the White House reversed that even though Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a March letter to follow the letter of the law and not use the national security waiver in the NDAA amendment to move forward with the sale.
The DoD has already spent nearly $1 billion total on Mi-17s from Rosoboronexport and, before its decision to cancel the contract, planned to spend $345 million on 15 additional helicopters in Fiscal Year 2014.
“After more than three years of working to convince the Defense Department to end this contract, I’m glad it finally has,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “The idea that the United States Department of Defense would use American tax dollars to buy helicopters from a Russian company that remains a chief supplier to the murderous Assad regime in Syria is absolutely mind-blowing.”
“And to think that as a result, the hardworking men and women at the Sikorsky factory in Stratford had been sending a portion of their paychecks to a foreign helicopter manufacturer is sickening,” he added. “When the DoD buys helicopters, they should buy American helicopters, plain and simple.”
The contract has been a bipartisan issue, but one reason Connecticut Dems jumped in was because of the lost business to Sikorsky in their home state.
“This wrong and wasteful contact should have been canceled a long time ago – preventing taxpayer dollars from indirectly funding the sale of arms to the Assad regime for the slaughter of the Syrian people,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “The Army’s mishandling of this arms program, as well as the Afghan military’s inability to maintain the helicopters, further underscores why this contract should have been canceled long ago. I applaud DOD for correcting this wrong, and hope the agency buys American in the future. We should buy American helicopters, period. I will be introducing legislation shortly to ensure that we do not do business again with foreign companies that enable war crimes in Syria and that the Army has a plan in place to transition Afghanistan to buy American helicopters when needed.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) urged the Pentagon to end all of its contracts with Rosoboronexport.
“That bipartisan legislation made crystal clear to the Pentagon that they need to stop using American taxpayer dollars to subsidize the atrocities taking place in Syria,” DeLauro said. “U.S. taxpayer money should be spent on American made systems, not no-bid contracts that the Afghan Security Forces cannot even fly.”
Senior White House officials told reporters on a call before President Obama’s announcement of his “administrative fix” that the purpose of the yearlong extension is to educate Americans about the plans they should be getting under the Affordable Care Act.
The administration officials also compared the yearlong reprieve to the discretionary authority under which the White House deferred enforcement against young illegal immigrants.
Speaking on background, the officials said the fix was intended to address the “confusion and challenges” surrounding millions of Americans receiving cancellation notices from their insurance companies.
The option to renew plans for one year is viewed as an “extension of grandfathering principles.”
However, to extend plans insurers will be required to “notify consumers what protections these renewed plans do not include” and “notify consumers that they will have new options on the marketplace that will have better coverage and subsidies.”
It “doesn’t include older, noncompliant plans to be sold to new customers in 2014.”
And if someone has already had their plan canceled? “They have the ability to reach out to those individuals and renew their plans for an additional year,” one of the officials said. “It may not be taken by all insurance companies and commissioners; we wanted to make clear it is an option.”
They added they’ll try to ensure “minimal” effect on people’s premiums in 2015.
The focus will be on “transition” instead of continuing to let consumers have the choice of their current plans. “It’s very important here to think about what this is,” an official said.
One official said the individual small group insurance market should be viewed as a “bridge” to better coverage, saying about half of that market only have an individual plan for a year or less before moving into group coverage.
“We will exercise discretion in terms of enforcement,” the official said, saying to these insurance companies they will not require an immediate upgrade of plans “for this universe of people.”
The administration officials made clear that they still won’t support the GOP fix expected on the floor for a vote Friday, complaining that it would allow people to indefinitely keep their chosen plans and “undermine” Obamacare.
The House Rules Committee has a 3 p.m. meeting today to advance the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013, sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
Officials said they “still expect that the marketplaces will be robust, but the fix is just for helping people for whom cancellation of their policy is viewed as a burden.”
One characterized it as “a way to help smooth the transition,” adding that they are “optimistic” about continuing to build the marketplace.
Officials said the message should be that when the White House sees Obamacare problems, “we’re going to fix them.”
Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that his old boss either needs to announce a fix or support a Senate bill to rectify Obamacare’s problems or there will be “huge” Democratic support for a GOP bill in the House tomorrow.
The House Rules Committee has a 3 p.m. meeting today to advance the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013, sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
On the Senate side, support has been growing for Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) bill to allow people to keep their healthcare plans. “This bill provides a simple fix to a complex problem,” said co-sponsor Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “This bill will extend the grandfather date for individual insurance plans so that individuals who have insurance policies they like can keep them indefinitely, unless the individual chooses another plan or the insurer stops providing health insurance in the individual market.”
Gibbs said on MSNBC that people need to “remember it’s a policy problem, not communication problem.”
“Either the White House announces a legislative or administrative fix, and I think that’s probably hard or supports either — probably comes out and support of something like the Landrieu bill in the Senate,” he said.
One of those things “has to happen,” he stressed, or “you’ll see huge numbers of Democrats come out in support of the Upton bill, even if they don’t absolutely believe that that’s this — what solves the problem, that’s what people think will solve the problem.”
The White House just updated the daily schedule to add a statement from President Obama in the press room at 11:35 a.m.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle (D) said he told the White House yesterday “members of Congress aren’t judged by administrative fixes, they’re judged by their voting record.”
“And people wanna be on the record that we made a commitment to the American people that they could keep their insurance if they like it, and we wanna fix that,” Doyle added.
Gibbs said he still thinks “the huge 98 percent of this problem is the website.”
“There’s basically 6.9 million people with a month less, in terms of that window that have to go, that’s gonna put tremendous strain on the website,” he said. “The website is a giant mess, to begin with. And it’s got to be fixed. The good news for the administration is — in the figures they released yesterday, 846,000 people completed an application, covering 1.5 million people. Right? They haven’t yet selected an insurance plan. The 106,000 people have selected an insurance plan.”
“So there’s demand for this. There’s curiosity. There’s demand for health care, that’s not surprising. We had tens of millions of people without health care. The question now is, is there a vehicle.”
“It’s not surprising that the numbers are 100,000 at this point. I mean, people have been told the website’s not working properly,” Doyle said. “Three — three times as many sign-ups in the state exchanges as in the federal exchange. But the bottom line is this, once that website starts to function, as we intend it to function, I — I agree with Robert, I think, a lot of this starts to go away.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told a Brady Campaign event yesterday that just “20, 30 more” co-sponsors are needed on a gun-control bill to push it to the floor, and “there are at least 30 more who would vote for it.”
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) has been tasked with gathering co-sponsors in the House while Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been whipping his colleagues in the upper chamber to revive gun-control legislation.
“At the beginning of every Congress we take an oath of office to protect and defend — that’s our first responsibility. It’s an honor to take that oath, but I’m ashamed to be here to face all of you not having finished the job yet,” said in her opening remarks.
“We must be relentless in how we pursue this, how we protect and defend the American people. In the two decades since the Brady Bill was signed into law, over two million gun requests did not get approved. Imagine: it stopped two million illegal gun purchases and helped protect millions of Americans from the incomprehensible tragedy felt by all of you here today,” she added.
Thompson, chairman of the Democrats’ gun-control task force, has “185, possibly 186″ co-sponsors “at the end of the day,” Pelosi said.
“That’s a large number of co-sponsors for a gun violence prevention legislation. That’s a large number of people to put their name in advance on a bill — not knowing if it’s ever even going to come up. Three, perhaps four by the end of the day are Republicans. But a large number of Republicans have assured Mr. Thompson, and others of us, that they will be there if the bill comes to the floor,” she said.
“Nobody’s political career is more important than protecting the American people. Who among us is of such value that we would not say, ‘I’ll take a risk, so that our kids don’t have to take a risk and be in danger?’ So, I think there’s reason to be hopeful… And when it passes the House, some senators — well-intentioned — would no longer have the excuse: ‘It’s no use my risking my political career because it’s not going any place in the House.’ Let’s prove it. Let’s turn that around.”