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The PJ Tatler

Bridget Johnson

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

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama steered this into a criticism of Congress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fort Hood Terrorist Attack Purple Heart Recipients to Get Benefits

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Loretta Lynch Investigate Hillary Clinton’s Emails?

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BREAKING: Al-Qaeda Seizes Commercial Airport on Yemen Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 16th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Israeli prime minister’s office)

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

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#BringBackOurGirls: Boko Haram Toll Even Worse Than You Think

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

Of those kidnapped girls:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unanimous: Senate Committee Gives Bipartisan Approval to Iran Bill

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boehner said he hadn’t seen the revised bill.

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

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

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Rubio: People Will ‘Be Very Reasonable’ About 12 Million Illegal Immigrants If Border Secured First

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Sean Hannity on Monday night that he hasn’t changed his position on immigration, arguing that “we still need to do immigration reform.”

“I talked today about needing to modernize our immigration system. And I think the American people are prepared to do that, but not until they know that future illegal immigration is under control,” Rubio said after his announcement that he’s running for president. “And right now, they have a president that refuses to enforce the immigration laws — in fact, through executive order, has ordered his agencies not to enforce those immigration laws. So I think immigration reform as long as Barack Obama’s president is virtually impossible.”

“I think we need a president that first begins to enforce our laws, puts in place methods that improve the way we enforce the law. And if we do that, then I think people will be very reasonable after that about what to do with the 12 million that are here.”

Rubio said his plan to deal with some 12 million illegal immigrants would come “after we’ve proven that illegal immigration’s not going to happen in the future” and would require “you have to come forward, undergo a background check, pay a fine, start paying taxes.”

“And what you would get is a work visa that allows you to be in this country to work and to travel. And that’s all you should be allowed to have for at least a decade or longer. And after that, they would be allowed to apply for permanent residency, but just like anybody else would, not a special process,” he said.

“I know that there are people out there that say, no, they should only have the work permit for the rest of their lives. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good idea, but if that’s the only way we can move forward on it, I would explore it.”

Rubio also pushed back on the argument that, like President Obama, he doesn’t have enough experience to be commander in chief.

“President Obama’s been a failure not because he was only in the Senate for four years. He’s been a failure because his ideas are bad. I don’t care if he had been in the Senate for 50 years. If he had done what he’s done now, he would have failed, too. His ideas don’t work,” he said. “Second of all, there’s major differences. I served nine years in the Florida legislature in the majority, two of them as speaker of the house in the third largest state in the country. I wasn’t a legislative back-bencher. I’ll have served a full term in the Senate before I’m president.”

“I’ve taken seriously my role on both the Intelligence Committee and the foreign policy — and the Foreign Relations Committee. So I think there’s some dramatic differences. But the biggest is his ideas don’t work, and ours do.”

On the hot-button states issues of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, Rubio said there are “two issues at play.”

“One is discriminating against a person because of that person’s background, their preference, their ethnicity. That’s wrong. We all believe that’s wrong and immoral. So, no, I don’t believe that a caterer can tell a gay person or a lesbian person we’re not going to offer you services,” Rubio said. “There’s a difference between discriminating against the person and saying I don’t want to offer services to an event. The same sex wedding is an event. It is not a person. It is an event that is going on. And I don’t think you can force someone to participate or provide professional services to an event that goes contrary to the teachings of their faith, in fact, forces them to violate their own religious conscience.”

The senator said the country must “acknowledge and address” the fact that “there are millions of young African-Americans in this country who do feel like they’re treated differently both by law enforcement and sometimes by individuals.”

“Quite frankly, Sean, I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed it myself. And not necessarily with police, but maybe a friend of yours and you go to a store or something and you hear the stories when they come back and they were followed around and so forth. And that’s problematic. And we need to admit that,” he said. “By the same token, not every instance that involves unfortunately an African-American victim and a white police officer or a person is necessarily indicative of a race problem. So we need to be careful about that.”

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Vox Editor Slips a ‘Tostada’ Into Rubio Platform

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

This tweet last night from Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein:

Klein said he made a typo:

 

 

 

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‘Yesterday Is Over’: Rubio Jumps in Campaign Ring vs. ‘a Leader from Yesterday’

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

After “months of deliberation,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told an audience at Miami’s Freedom Tower this evening that he will run for president of the United States.

Rubio let the cat out of the bag earlier in the day while addressing donors on a conference call.

The senator said he chose the Freedom Tower as the place to launch his campaign “because it is a symbol of our nation’s identity as the land of opportunity.”

“How, united by a common faith in their God given right to go as far as their talent and work would take them, a collection of immigrants and exiles, former slaves and refugees, became one people, and together built the freest and most prosperous nation ever,” he said in prepared remarks, with a segue into his family’s own immigrant experience. “…My father became a bartender. My mother a cashier, a maid and a Kmart stock clerk. They never made it big. But they were successful. Two immigrants with little money or education found stable jobs, owned a home, retired with security and gave all four of their children a life far better than their own.”

The country’s leaders, Rubio said, “put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999.”

“…At the turn of the 19th century, a generation of Americans harnessed the power of the Industrial Age and transformed this country into the leading economy in the world. And the 20th century became the American Century. Now, the time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American Century.”

The member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee stressed that if “America accepts the mantle of global leadership, by abandoning this administration’s dangerous concessions to Iran, and its hostility to Israel; by reversing the hollowing out of our military; by giving our men and women in uniform the resources, care and gratitude they deserve; by no longer being passive in the face of Chinese and Russian aggression; and by ending the near total disregard for the erosion of democracy and human rights around the world; then our nation will be safer, the world more stable, and our people more prosperous.”

“This election is not just about what laws we will pass. It is a generational choice about what kind of country we will be,” he said.

Rubio characterized Hillary Clinton’s Sunday campaign launch as “a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday.”

“Yesterday is over, and we are never going back,” he declared.

The senator added that “we must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them.”

“That is why today, grounded by the lessons of our history, and inspired by the promise of our future, I announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America,” Rubio said, adding that he recognizes “the challenges of this campaign, and the demands of the office I seek.”

“I have heard some suggest that I should step aside and wait my turn,” the 43-year-old added. “But I cannot. Because I believe our very identity as an exceptional nation is at stake, and I can make a difference as president.”

“I am humbled by the realization that America doesn’t owe me anything; but I have a debt to America I must try to repay. This isn’t just the country where I was born; America is the place that changed my family’s history. I regret my father did not live to see this day in person. He used to tell me all the time: En este pais, ustedes van a poder lograr todas las cosas que nosotros no pudimos. ‘In this country, you will achieve all the things we never could.’”

“Whether or not we remain a special country will depend on whether that journey is still possible for those trying to make it now: The single mother who works long hours for little pay so her children don’t have to struggle the way she has. The student who takes two buses before dawn to attend a better school halfway across town. The workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices and the bartenders who tonight are standing in the back of a room somewhere” — like his dad.

Rubio acknowledged the campaign will take him away from his wife, Jeanette Dousdebes, and their four children, who joined him onstage after the speech.

“But I have chosen this course because this election is about them,” the senator said.

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Congressman on House Floor: ‘Feels Like Open Hunting Season on Black Men’

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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A member of the Congressional Black Caucus ripped his House colleagues on the floor today for not doing more to stop police shooting.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) declared “it feels like open hunting season on black men — and I am outraged.”

“In fact, all Americans are at risk when bad actors in law enforcement use their guns instead of their heads,” Johnson said.

“Despite bipartisan, nationwide calls for action, despite my bills to reform the broken grand jury process, hold police accountable, and end militarization, and despite my colleagues’ bills to encourage body cameras, this Congress does nothing. No hearings, no blue ribbon commissions, no nothing.”

One of Johnson’s bills would put federal regulations on how local grand juries hear cases in which police officers are accused of killing civilians. The Grand Jury Reform Act would compel local agencies to comply with the new process by restricting federal funding.

Johnson asked unanimous consent to enter into the congressional record a list of people killed by police since Ferguson — “so my colleagues will no longer ignore this crisis.”

Not all on the list are African-American, including Daniel Elrod, shot by Omaha police after allegedly stealing from a dollar store, and Antonio Zambrano-Montes, a Washington state man shot and killed after police said he was throwing rocks at cars.

The list leads off with Walter Scott, the South Carolina man shot in the back after fleeing a traffic stop, and includes Akai Gurley, who lived in the projects in Brooklyn and was killed by an NYPD rookie who blindly fired while patrolling a dark stairwell.

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Would This Hillary Running Mate Spell Real Trouble for the GOP?

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Hillary Clinton jumped into the presidential race on Sunday, but could it be her running mate that throws the biggest hurdle in the path of the GOP?

Clinton took months to make official what people had been speculating about her entrance into the race, and during that time she and Bill were cultivating a relationship with a Democrat lauded as one of the party’s major up-and-comers.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, 40, was mayor of San Antonio from 2009 until 2014, when he resigned during his third term to take the cabinet post. He delivered a keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Back in August, the Washington Post reported that the Clintons invited Castro to their home in Washington “for a private dinner that friends described as a chance for Democratic leaders from different generations to become better acquainted.”

Castro “traveled to New York in July to join Hillary Clinton, as well as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, at a children’s song and dance performance for the Bronx Children’s Museum’s youth arts program. And in March, Hillary Clinton sat next to Henry Cisneros, who served in her husband’s Cabinet, at a private luncheon in New Mexico, where Cisneros said they discussed Castro and his political future.”

More from the WaPo story:

Said another person familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to alienate either camp, “The Clintons are keeping the Castros very close to them.”

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering illustrates how the Clintons are trying to acclimate themselves into a Democratic Party that has evolved and nurtured new stars in the years since they ceded the stage to Barack Obama in 2008.

For the Clintons, there are clear advantages to building an alliance with Castro. A young and dynamic figure who broke onto the national scene with his keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Castro is arguably the only Hispanic Democrat with a broad following. Although his background as a Mexican American could have broad appeal to Hispanic voters, Castro does not speak fluent Spanish.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, married to a Mexican immigrant, speaks Spanish, as does first-generation Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Castro’s grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1920.

Of course, Castro’s last name on the ticket may bring other connotations to Clinton’s campaign, in the mainstream press as well. On Friday, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell brought Castro’s twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), on to talk about Cuba — because “you have a Cuban-American background.”

“Well, I’m Mexican-American. But same last name,” Castro replied.

Rep. Castro said he believes Hillary is the best candidate”and I do think that ultimately she’ll be the Democratic nominee.”

“I do think people want to see a competition. That’s natural. It is a competition and not a coronation. But she’ll go into race as the best qualified, most experienced candidate of anybody in the field, Republican or Democrat,” he said.

On his brother as vice presidential candidate? “Of course, if you ask me, I would put him on, but I’m saying that as a brother,” Julian Castro said. “No, I think my brother would be great at whatever he does, but he’s focused right now on doing a great job at HUD.”

The New York Times’ Nate Cohn says Republicans can win without converting Hispanic voters — estimating Hispanics “will represent just 12 percent of eligible voters, and between 9 and 10 percent of actual voters,” with negligible gains in battleground states. Randy Borntrager, political director of People for the American Way, disagrees about Hispanic voters’ impact, arguing at the Huffington Post that Latinos put key Senate races within reach for Democrats even though they ultimately lost.

Mitt Romney got 27 percent of the Latino vote in 2012; George W. Bush won 44 percent of Hispanic voters in 2004. A Rubio pollster has estimated the eventual Republican nominee needs more than 40 percent of the Latino vote to win the presidency.

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Wasserman Schultz: Like a ‘Prune’ with ‘Some Tinsel,’ Rubio Not ‘Fresh and New’

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) insists that her party’s presidential primary will be “competitive,” but not like “the clown car Republican candidates that are developing on the other side.”

Wasserman Schultz mentioned former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley when asked on MSNBC this morning how, possibly, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s entrance into the race sets the stage for competition among Dems.

“Look, I’m not prepared to make predictions about who our nominee is going to be. I think that we are going to have a primary,” she said. “I think there will be more than one candidate for president in this race on our side. And I think that, regardless of who or how many, we are — all of our candidates will present a stark contrast to the Republicans who simply continued to want to focus on more of the trickle-down economics that has failed, that got us — our economy into the worst economic crisis that we’ve faced in the Great Depression. And President Obama and Democrats in Congress helped bring us out through now 61 straight months of job growth in the private sector, and that’s a pretty stark contrast.”

“If you want to reach the middle class, we will elect a democratic president in 2016. And I think regardless of who that nominee is, that’s what voters will choose to do.”

Wasserman Schultz noted that Clinton is polling well, but “polls mean very little right now.”

“What’s going to matter at the end of the day is that the voters in America are going to choose the 45th president of the United States based on who they think has their back,” she said. “It’s very clear that, whether it’s Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democratic nominee is, that voters want to make sure that the candidate for president that they vote for is going to stand up to make sure that if you want to work hard and play by the rules in this country that you’ll have a fair shot to succeed. And you can climb those ladders to the middle class.”

The chairwoman dismissed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who’s announcing his candidacy this evening, as a “flat-Earth society worshiper.”

“And they’re going to try to portray him as some kind of new and fresh face. He is nothing more than the same old, tired Republican policies that he’s embraced,” Wasserman Schultz said. “…So really, I mean if you want to put what is essentially a prune and package some tinsel around it. That does not make you fresh and new.”

“Oh, I mean, look, a guy who says — who represents the state of Florida who lives in South Florida, can see the flooding that occurs on Ocean Drive, when there is a huge amount of rain, to continue to be a climate-change denier, is not fresh and new, he’s more of the same,” she continued. “…Just because he is Hispanic, does not mean that he automatically earns the votes of Hispanic voters across this country.”

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Menendez on Prosecution: ‘Cannot Imagine’ Any Admin Going to ‘Such Lengths’ to ‘Undermine’ Country

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In his first TV interview since he was indicted by the Justice Department, Sen. Robert Menendez told Fox News Sunday that he will be vindicated to continue to “fight for our national security and against a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Asked if his strong criticism of administration policies on Iran and Cuba led to his indictment, the senator replied, “Look, it’s very clear that I have very strong views about democracy and human rights in Cuba and a policy that I think undermines our efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Cuba.”

He also has “a very clear concern to the national interests and security of the United States and our ally to the state of Israel about Iran and its nuclear weapon ambitions, but I cannot imagine that an administration, this or any other, would go to such lengths and undermine our constitutional democracy.”

President Obama, Menendez said, “has a misguided calculation that if you open your hands to dictators that they will un-clench their fists.”

“And while Raul Castro may have said some nice things about President Obama, at the same time, just last month, we had 600 arrests of innocent people inside of Cuba who were detained, many political activists and human rights activists who were not allowed to leave the country to go to the Panama Summit. And last year we had 1,600 detentions and there are still many long political prisoners sitting and languishing in Castro’s jails,” he said.

“And when you say that and provide those facts as well as their violations of armed shipments in contravention to international law and a whole host of other things like having one of the ten top terrorists of the FBI list in their country, then people change their attitude about what this policy is all about.”

On Iran, Menendez called Obama’s shift to try to “contain or administer” Iran’s nuclear program “a fundamental change in our global policy.”

“Many of us before the framework agreement was announced said is this going to be in writing because if, in fact, it’s not in writing then you’re going to have different interpretations and sure enough, you have different interpretations, you have different interpretations on sanctions relief. The Iranians shouldn’t get a sign-in bonus,” he said of Tehran coming out and contradicting the White House point of view.

“You have different interpretations about research and development, that’s critically important because how far can they advance their research and developments? Or at some point their breakout could even be shorter.”

Plus, the senator added, “inspections are incredibly important.”

“They still have not come clean with the International Atomic Energy Administration over their past militarization efforts weaponizing their nuclear program,” he said. “So, we need to know how far did they get in their weaponization efforts so that we understand not only the breakout time, but how quickly they can weaponize that effort. All of these and many other elements are clearly in dispute.”

Menendez wouldn’t disclose the nature of his conversations about the Corker-Menendez bill mandating that Congress be able to review any final deal. “Let me just simply say, I’m not backing off,” he said.

“I honestly believe that it is congressional duty — and I would say to all my colleagues who originally believe that there was a congressional duty here — to review whatever agreement comes about,” he said. “This is simply a review process. That review may determine that at the end of the day people will think that it is an inappropriate deal. They may determine that it is not… But at least after 2 1/2 years of negotiation the Congress should have 60 days to be able to review probably the most significant nuclear nonproliferation agreement of our times.”

“…What I am not open to considering is delaying and/or not pursuing a vote for the Congress to ultimately have a process, an organized, thoughtful process to review any final deal that may be achieved. And I believe such a process no way undermines any potential negotiations from here to June.”

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Heat Turned Up on Obama to Recognize Armenian Genocide After Pope Angers Turkey

Monday, April 13th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Armenian lobbyists say that Pope Francis angering Turkey over recognition of the Armenian genocide sets the stage for President Obama to keep a 2008 campaign promise — or not.

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

That’s never happened.

In a Mass marking the 100th anniversary of the killing of 1.5 million Armenians, the pope said, “In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the twentieth century,’ struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenseless children and the infirm were murdered.”

“It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honour their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester,” the pontiff said. “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!”

The Turkish foreign ministry, in addition to recalling its ambassador to the Vatican and summoning the Holy See ambassador in Turkey for consultations, issued a lengthy statement accusing Pope Francis of practicing “discrimination between the sufferings by solely emphasizing the sufferings of the Christians and foremost the Armenians.”

“With a selective point of view, he ignored the tragedies that befell on the Turkish and Muslim people who had lost their lives in World War I. During this Holy Mass, history was instrumentalized for political aims… Given his statements of today, we understand that Pope Francis is under the influence of the Armenian narrative which persists to derive enmity from history instead of leaving a legacy of friendship and peace to the future generations.”

“…What we expected from a divine rank as the Holy See is not to give credit to the one-sided interpretations of historical events and to religious discrimination but rather to support peace and joint approaches that will ensure a global language which rejects ethnic and religious discrimination, especially nowadays when our world is facing confrontations, divisions and intolerance.”

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

Earlier this month, Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) led a letter with 48 bipartisan colleagues calling on Obama to recognize the killings as genocide in his expected April 24 statement.

“A clear recognition of the Armenian Genocide, particularly in this Centennial year, would affirm that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence,” the lawmakers wrote. “A principled presidential statement clearly citing the Armenian Genocide would help strengthen condemnations of the past, and recognize the important relationship the United States shares with Armenia today.”

Armenian National Committee of America Executive Director Aram Hamparian said the pope’s “historic sermon on the Armenian Genocide sets the stage for President Obama to honor his own pledge to recognize this horrific crime.”

“By openly rejecting Turkey’s gag-rule against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, President Obama would, with a bold stroke, end a truly shameful era of complicity in Ankara’s efforts to deny the truth and obstruct justice for this crime,” Hamparian said. “Such a principled position by President Obama would put America back on the right side of this issue, while also advancing U.S. regional interests in fostering a better future for Armenian-Turkish relations based upon an honest reckoning with the past.”

In a separate statement, Hamparian stressed that “Turkey underestimates, at its own risk, the power of our worldwide movement – a profoundly moral movement inspired by truth and driven by our shared hope for a fair and enduring peace based on a just international resolution of the Armenian Genocide.”

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It’s Official: Hillary Clinton Announces Presidential Run

Sunday, April 12th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Hillary Clinton is officially running for president.

The news was leaked in an email from her campaign manager, former chief of staff to President Clinton and counselor to Obama John Podesta, shortly before her video announcement.

Podesta, who was also president of the Center for American Progress think-tank, left the Obama administration in February.

The video with her announcement was released at the point her campaign website, HillaryClinton.com, went live.

The campaign video focuses on Americans making transitions, whether planting a spring garden or getting ready for a baby. “Retirement means reinventing yourself in many ways,” one woman in the video says.

“I’m getting ready to do something, too,” Hillary then says in the video. “I’m running for president.”

“The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” the former first lady and secretary of State continues, striking a tone favored by supporters of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion. So you can do more than just get by, you can get ahead and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong.”

“So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote. Because it’s your time, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) was maybe the quickest lawmaker to issue a Clinton endorsement.

“Whoopee, Hillary is off and running! I’m ready for Hillary. And America is ready for Hillary. She is going to break that glass ceiling once and for all,” said Mikulski, who’s retiring at the end of this Congress.

“When we put Hillary in the Oval Office, she will make history and change history. She will take our hopes and dreams with her. She’s got the right stuff and the right agenda – jobs, families, opportunity for all. Hillary 2016!”

The Democratic National Committee issued a statement stressing that it’s “just the beginning of the next race for the White House,” but “a crucial period to spread the word on why our 45th president should be a Democrat.”

“We are so excited to welcome her to the race,” the DNC said of Hillary.

Clinton’s campaign said she’ll stop in Iowa this week, “ramping up” to another campaign kickoff in mid-May, including house parties in all 50 states.

The “ramp up” will include building “a nation-wide grassroots organization” as Clinton spends time “engaging directly with voters.”

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Earnest Calls McCain ‘Naïve and Reckless’ for Citing Supreme Leader’s Words on Nuke Deal

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The White House protested today that senators shouldn’t be listening to what the supreme leader of Iran says about the nuclear framework.

In response to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments about the the White House fact sheet being “wrong on most of the issues” of the deal and stressing that there might not be a deal with the “devilish” United States, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a statement yesterday noting that the remarks “suggest that Iran and the Obama administration are on very different pages.”

“It is the Supreme Leader, not Iran’s president or foreign minister, who really calls the shots in Tehran,” McCain said. “So for him to say, as he did today, that Iran will not permit inspections of its nuclear facilities anytime, anywhere — and that sanctions relief must be complete and immediate — would appear to be a major setback.

“These differences need to be thoroughly explained by the Administration if we are to give serious consideration to this agreement.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest replied that the five-term senator, former presidential nominee and current chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has no idea what he’s talking about:

The White House has maintained that everything from insistence on elements of the deal to statements about destroying Israel and America are just rhetoric for Iranian leaders’ domestic audience.

Iranian leaders — from negotiators to the parliament, in addition to Khamenei — said in the weeks preceding the framework agreement that they would not accept a deal that doesn’t lift all sanctions immediately. Current statements just reiterate that demand.

 

 

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India Saves 1,000 Non-Indians from 41 Countries in Yemen Evacuations

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

India is winding down its evacuations from war-torn Yemen, and the numbers are impressive.

After the airports closed and many foreigners, including Americans, were left stranded with no way to leave the country, the Indian government began using military transport and special Air India flights to evacuate people from Sana’a to Djibouti. The State Department advised Americans there to contact Indian diplomats for exit out of the country.

About 4,600 Indian citizens were rescued. And nearly 1,000 people from 41 other countries were saved, as well, including three Pakistanis. Pakistan also rescued 11 Indians, according to The Times of India.

India’s minister of external affairs, retired Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh, led the charge, accompanying many of the flights personally and tweeting about the operations. Singh used to be chief of staff for the Indian Army.

Upon arriving in Delhi today, Singh told reporters “there was trouble in evacuating them, yet we did our task.”

India now plans to close its embassy in Sana’a. The U.S. closed its embassy in early February, and weeks later citizens were told to evacuate yet airports were closed and a suggested evacuation ship couldn’t dock.

Jamal al-Labani of Hayward, Calif., was killed last week by shrapnel from a mortar round in Aden. His family told CNN that he was trying to get out of the country, as directed by the State Department, but didn’t know how. He’d talked about crossing the border by land into Oman and then flying to Egypt, but was killed before he could put that plan into action.

The Obama administration maintains that, despite the fall of the country and stranded Americans, its Yemen policy remains successful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Defense Secretary: Asia Rebalance Means Best Military Equipment Goes There

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told U.S. troops in South Korea that President Obama’s Asia rebalance will mean the newest, best equipment will go to the region.

Carter said at the Osan Air Base event that the rebalance “means is that a lot of our newer capabilities, the ones that we’re making investments in, are going to be flowing into this theater because of the importance we attach to it.”

“So you probably know we’re building new stealth fighters, a new stealth bomber, several new ship classes, a number of new Army equipment sets of all kinds, ranging from vehicles to command and control and so forth,” he said.

“And because this is a very demanding theater, and because, as I said, half of the world’s population and half of the world’s wealth resides in this theater, it makes sense that we have — and some of the most demanding kinds of situations, potential military situation, also are out here, we need to do that.”

The Defense secretary stressed “that’s what the whole rebalance is about.”

“Let’s focus our newer capabilities out here. So you’ll see a lot of the new stuff showing up here first. And that’s deliberate and that’s appropriate because this is a demanding theater and that’s what rebalance is all about,” Carter said.

“God forbid anything happens out here, it’s big trouble and it hasn’t happened because you’re ready, as we say, to fight tonight. We don’t take that for granted. And the other thing I don’t take for granted is that you have families. You have futures that you want to make sure are secure. And that — and we need people who are as talented and dedicated as you are. We’re incredibly lucky as a military to have people like you.”

The Pentagon needs “to work at attracting and retaining good people,” he admitted.

“It’s not automatic and I’m really committed to doing that. I know that you do what you do because you love the country and you love the mission. And that’s great. But, you know, you also have to take care of your families. You have to take care of your future and so forth, so you have other concerns,” Carter said. “And we can’t ask you to do what you do just without paying adequate attention to your situation as human beings, as well as your situation as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. So I try to keep that in mind.”

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If He Could Do It All Again… Obama Says He Would Explain Policies Better

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

If President Obama could go back to 2008 and give himself a bit of advice, what would it be?

That question was posed to Obama by a student at a townhall forum in Jamaica.

“I suppose I could have started dying my hair earlier so then people wouldn’t say, man, he’s getting old,” he quipped.

But Obama went back to his early stimulus programs and bailouts.

“I think that — keep in mind that when I came into office we were going through the worst global financial crisis since the 1930s, and so we had to make a series of decisions very quickly, many of which were unpopular. Overall, I think we got it right. I think we did the right thing. And because, I think, we took these steps, not only were we able to avoid the kind of Great Depression that we saw in the 1930s, not only was America able to bounce back and start growing more rapidly than most of our peers, drive down unemployment faster, create more jobs faster, but that also had an impact on the global economy and it had an impact on the Caribbean economy, that we were able to bounce back quicker than we might have if we hadn’t taken those steps,” he said.

“But it was, I think, costly politically.”

Thus, Obama continued, “what I would have probably advised was that I might have needed to warn the American people and paint a picture for them that was more accurate about the fact that it would take some time to dig ourselves out of a very big hole.”

“Because FDR, when he came into office, the Great Depression had already been going on for two, three years, and so people understood how serious it was,” he said. “With us, we came in just as people were really starting to feel the impacts.”

“And trying to paint a picture that we’ll make it but it’s going to take some time, and here are the steps that we need to take — I think I would have advised myself to do a better job spending more time not just getting the policy right, but also describing it in ways that people understood, that gave them confidence in their own future. I think that would probably be the most important advice that I would have given myself.”

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‘I May Try to Shame’ Human-Rights Violators, Obama Says Before Praising China’s Rise

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama told a group of students at a townhall forum in Jamaica that he thinks human-rights violators should be publicly tsk-tsk’d, and in the next breath said the rise of China as a superpower is a fantastic thing for the world.

“Every society, as I said, is at a different phase in development, in their own history; they have different cultural traditions. And so the way I think about it is, is that the United States has certain core values and principles that we believe deeply in. And we don’t necessarily expect that every country will formulate how to secure those ideals and those principles,” Obama said. “…And that doesn’t mean that we won’t work with a country that doesn’t precisely abide by those principles, but we will still speak out.”

“There are times where a country is clearly engaging in activities that are so egregious that it’s not culturally specific; it typically has to do with a government wanting to exert control over people and oppress them. And in those instances, I think it is entirely appropriate for us to speak out forcibly and, in some cases, to not do business with them.”

He gave as an example North Korea.

“And then there are some issues that may be culturally specific, but you know what, I think they’re wrong. I won’t — we’re not going to try to force that country to change, but I may try to shame that country,” Obama said. “…There are times where we’ve got allies who are not observing all the human rights we would like, and there are times where there are countries that are adversaries of ours where they do some things quite well. And you can’t expect us, or any country, to be perfectly consistent in every circumstance.”

The president said he’ll “use different tools depending on what we think will bring about the most change.”

“In some cases, it will just be a diplomatic statement; in some cases, it may be serious enough that we will organize — try to organize the United Nations or other multilateral forums to speak out against certain practices. In some cases, it may be so egregious that we need to sanction them, and we will try to organize the international community in that way.”

If it gets so bad that genocide starts happening, Obama continued, we may “need to intervene because this government is so brutal and so unacceptable that we need to protect people.”

“But we do that in the context of an international conversation so that we’re not simply making these decisions — or we’re not so arrogant that we’re not paying attention to what the rest of the world community is saying,” he said.

Two questions later, Obama was asked about the rise of human-rights violator China.

“It is U.S. official policy and it is my strong belief that we should welcome China’s peaceful rise. What China has done in the last 20, 30 years is remarkable. More people have been lifted out of poverty in a shorter period of time than perhaps any time in human history,” Obama said of the communist behemoth. “And that’s good for the world. I mean, we should be more fearful of a poorer, collapsing China than a China that is participating in the world marketplace and trading and is getting along with its neighbors and part of the international order, because there are a really large number of Chinese people and we want them to be doing well.”

“So our policy is not to fear China’s peaceful rise. Where we get concerned with China is where it is not necessarily abiding by international norms and rules, and is using its size and muscle to force countries into subordinate positions. And that’s the concern we have around maritime issues.”

Human Rights Watch’s report on China stresses myriad continuing and often worsening conditions for those practicing free expression or worshipping as they choose. Forced abortions, communist “reprogramming,” and persecution of journalists and cyberdissidents continue unabated.

“China’s human rights activists often face imprisonment, detention, torture, commitment to psychiatric facilities, house arrest, and intimidation,” the group notes. One of those still in custody is Obama’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo.

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Hillary Expected to Launch Presidential Campaign This Weekend

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Multiple outlets are reporting that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce her intention to gun for the Oval Office this weekend.

The New York Daily News cited an unnamed source “close to the campaign”:

The former secretary of state is likely to announce via video and social media as she kicks off her long-expected second shot at the White House.

She’s expected to begin her campaign with a series of smaller events in early-voting states including Iowa and New Hampshire, though it remains to be seen how low key the high-profile candidate will be able to keep her trip.

Business Insider cited its own source, someone “with knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s plans,” confirming that she’ll announce this weekend.

Reuters reported “a variety of sources in the Clinton orbit said they were anticipating an imminent announcement but would not confirm a report in the New York Daily News that the announcement was expected on Sunday”:

Clinton is likely to make her intentions known through a social media announcement followed by campaign travel. This focus on digital communications is an attempt to connect with young voters, who Clinton needs to become American’s first woman president.

In her previous presidential run in 2008, Clinton lost to the current president, Barack Obama, in part because of the Obama campaign’s clever use of social media to draw attention to his candidacy and raise huge sums through small donations.

Her campaign is expected to concentrate on making the 67-year-old former first lady relatable to ordinary Americans. Clinton spent four years jetting to foreign capitals as Obama’s first-term secretary of state but has had limited day-to-day contact with everyday Americans.

The weekend announcement would put Clinton just before Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) Monday announcement.

Unlike the morning announcements of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rubio’s announcement at the Freedom Tower in Miami will hit TV screens in the early evening.

Rubio’s campaign said that demand for events tickets exceeded the capacity of the venue, so an overflow viewing area will be set up on the southeast corner of NE 6th Street and Biscayne Boulevard.

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