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Why 2016 Presidential Candidates Are Waiting to Jump In

Why 2016 Presidential Candidates Are Waiting to Jump In

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- We know they're running -- so why don't they say so?The looming 2016 presidential campaign has no shortage of putative contestants, from the big-name players like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton to the relative unknowns like neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Most of them are talking and acting like candidates, making frequent trips to early primary states, raising money for their political organizations, lining up campaign staff, and courting support from local Republicans and key activist groups.But so far, only one has announced he's running for president: Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, officially launched the 2016 presidential race when he announced his candidacy at Liberty University this week.Some presidential races start earlier than others. In 2008, when the White House was similarly about to be vacated by a second-term president, Hillary Clinton announced her campaign in January 2007, while then-senator Barack Obama and Mitt Romney announced theirs in February. In 2012, things happened a bit later, with Newt Gingrich entering in May and Romney in June.Things used to get underway much, much later. Sen. Eugene McCarthy didn't announce his 1968 presidential campaign until November 1967. Nowadays, campaigns usually take up much more time, and candidates jump in early.So what's causing our current contestants to wait?Big-Timers Don't Need to DeclareFor the likes of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, perceived frontrunners whose last names precede them, there's less advantage to jumping in early. Primary voters already know who they are, so the media buzz of a campaign announcement isn't as valuable as it is for someone like Cruz."There will always be relative unknowns like Ted Cruz who don't register very high in the national polls but see a benefit in getting out ahead of the pack and establishing themselves early," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Romney on his presidential runs."As a first time candidate in 2008, Mitt Romney found himself in that position and he wanted to get out of the blocks early so he could introduce himself nationally and begin to raise his name ID," Fehrnstrom said. "In 2012, he was in a different place -- he was better known, with an existing support network -- and he could delay an announcement."It's About the MoneyCandidates want to post the strongest fundraising totals they can, especially early in a campaign, in order to appear strong, impress donors and prove they're viable.For that reason, it makes sense to wait until the beginning of a quarter to start raising money."I'd expect a lot of them to announce in early April to give themselves three months to show they have some fundraising chops," said David Keating, president of the conservative Center for Competitive Politics, which opposes current campaign-money restrictions.Campaigns will report their fundraising totals quarterly in 2015, and the second quarter begins on April 1. According to Keating, it might be a good idea to wait until after the quarter begins to post the biggest-possible numbers in July.Super PAC ActionOnce you're a candidate, you're bound to federal campaign-money restrictions, and you can't solicit donations over the $5,200 limit if that money will be used to support your candidacy.But until then, you can get away with a little bit more.Jeb Bush, for instance, reportedly raised money for the super PAC that will eventually back his candidacy, appearing at a $25,000-per-couple fundraiser this week. Once he becomes a presidential candidate, he must officially cut ties with the super PAC -- and only ask for donations of $5,200 or less, according to the federal limit.It's not about message coordination, just fundraising, Keating said: "It would be very dangerous for someone who's not a candidate to sit down with a super PAC and say, 'If I become a candidate, this is what my plan is, and this is what I'd need you to do.' I think that would be a pretty clear violation."He might not be able to plan his super PAC's moves, but once Bush announces, his super-PAC fundraising days will be over. In the meantime, he can play a bit looser within the rules.Senators Will Probably Get in EarlierHere's one reason Ted Cruz might have jumped in first: Unlike Bush and other governors and former governors who haven't yet announced, Cruz and his fellow senators are already beholden to federal restrictions.As federal officeholders, Cruz and Sens. Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham can't solicit donations over $5,200 -- while Bush and the governors are either beholden to state laws or no laws at all.So for Cruz and the senators, there's less of an advantage to waiting.For Everyone Else, the Waiting Game Is RealFor candidates who aren't frontrunners and who don't have established fundraising networks or relationships with national activist groups, there's a lot more to think about: Is running for president worth it? Will anyone donate to my campaign if I run? Can I actually win?For the lower-tier candidates, it's worth watching and waiting to see how audiences and activist groups respond in Iowa and New Hampshire -- and whether any bigger-name candidates make mistakes and drop in the polls, opening up some room for everyone else.Avoiding the Microscope -- For NowOnce a candidate announces, the media turns on the bright lights, turning heightened attention to a candidate's policies and record. That's one deterrent from getting in."Better-known candidates tend to wait as long as possible to avoid full-on media scrutiny and regulatory oversight," Fehrnstrom said.In other words: It's not just the campaign-finance rules, but the added attention that constitutes the downside of officially jumping in.

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White House Continues to Back Yemen as Model for Successful Counterterrorism

White House Continues to Back Yemen as Model for Successful Counterterrorism

Brent Stirton/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House continues to hail Yemen -- a country that is descending into chaos -- as a model for fighting extremism, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Wednesday.“The White House does continue to believe that a successful counter-terrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country,” Earnest told reporters at the White House. “That is a template that has succeeded in mitigating the threat that we face from extremists in places like Yemen.”President Obama has long pointed to the counterterrorism campaign in Yemen as a model for the fight against ISIS.“This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,” Obama said in September as he outlined his strategy to degrade and destroy ISIS.But today, the U.S. strategy in Yemen has virtually collapsed amid the fall of the American-backed government. The U.S. embassy in Yemen has been shut down and U.S. military personnel have been evacuated.“We have not seen that kind of progress in terms of strengthening the central government, I think you could make a pretty strong case that we've seen the opposite of that, but we do continue to enjoy the benefits of a sustained counterterrorism security relationship with the security infrastructure that remains,” Earnest said. “There are elements of the Yemeni government that we continue to be in touch with that continue to further our efforts to apply pressures to extremists that seek to operate in that country.”

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Park Service Turns to Dogs to Fix National Mall’s Ongoing Problem

Park Service Turns to Dogs to Fix National Mall’s Ongoing Problem

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Spring in Washington, D.C. means cherry blossoms and hordes of tourists flocking to the National Mall. And with peak season right around the corner, the National Park Service is dealing with a “crappy” problem as well.Large swaths of the National Mall are covered in feces, courtesy of the very large population of Canada Goose that make their home on the picturesque grounds.The National Park Service says that just one goose produces as much as "2-3 pounds" of waste per day.It’s not just disgusting for the folks who step in it. The geese waste may be causing major damage to the infrastructure on the National Mall, including the famous Reflecting Pool that runs between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument.“The presence of geese is leading to the degradation of the [Reflecting] pool water due to defecation in and on walkway near the [Reflecting] pool,” the Park Service said.The Park Service announced it has launched a new program that it calls “goose harassment services” -- and it could be a very clever solution to a really crappy situation. Cue the Collies -- the Park Service wants to use border collies to fix the goose problem.These dogs are bred to herd sheep so the Park Service's goal is to have them do the same with the geese, forcing them into different areas to do their business and enabling park officials to clean up the mess and maintain some spots as “geese free.”This is not a job for rookies. The Park Service says that dog handlers must have five years of experience with Canada Goose harassment with dogs in order to take part.Wildlife on federal lands is not a new issue for the Park Service, which oversees 23 national parks just within the District of Columbia.In 2012, it launched a project to cull the exploding population of white-tailed deer in the Washington’s Rock Creek Park. Sharpshooters were used to hunt the deer and the meat was later donated to local soup kitchens.But don’t worry -- the geese on the Mall will be kept safe.The National Park Service specifically says in its contract: “No water fowl or other living creature shall be killed, harmed or injured in any way.”

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Madison opting out of test could cost Idaho $10 million

Madison opting out of test could cost Idaho $10 million(Courtesy Idaho Education News) REXBURG — Madison School District Superintendent Geoff Thomas says his students will not be taking the state-adopted standardized test next month, even though that may defy a federal requirement and could cost Idaho more than $10 million. “It certainly could be that extreme,” said Tim Corder, special assistant to Superintendent of […]

Romney on Emerging 2016 Field: I’m ‘Going to Be Aggressively Neutral’

Romney on Emerging 2016 Field: I’m ‘Going to Be Aggressively Neutral’

ABC/ DONNA SVENNEVIK(WASHINGTON) — As the 2016 presidential race looms ahead, former Republican nominee Mitt Romney assessed the fresh crop of potential Republican nominees Tuesday, starting with newly-minted presidential candidate Ted Cruz. “He is a person of very sound capability and I think you’re going to hear a lot from him,” Romney said of Cruz, who announced the launch of his campaign on Monday. Romney said that he remembers Cruz speaking at the RNC in 2012 without notes and noted the Texas senator “spellbound the audience there.” On his own 2016 endorsement, Romney said, “I’m going to be very, very aggressively neutral in this process.” “I like Jeb Bush a lot. I think he’d be a terrific president. I like Marco Rubio. Scott Walker, I like a lot…Chris Christie, boy the guy tells the truth in your face if he disagrees with you.” Asked if Christie can overcome low poll numbers, Romney said, “America loves a comeback, and Chris is poised to do that.”Follow @ABCNewsRadio Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Jeb Bush Calls US Approach to Iran ‘Foolish’

Jeb Bush Calls US Approach to Iran ‘Foolish’

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — In an op-ed posted Wednesday in the National Review, Jeb Bush says that in the Middle East, Iran is “primary instagator” of the region’s conflict, and calls the United States “foolish” in its approach for handling that nation.“Consider American policy towards Iran, a nation that has waged a relentless campaign of terror and war-by-proxy against U.S. troops and American allies for more than three decades. The administration believes Iran will become a responsible partner for peace once it signs up to a deal that largely leaves in place its nuclear infrastructure,” the 2016 presidential hopeful writes. “In a region that is in a near-constant state of conflict -- with Iran as a primary instigator -- this approach is foolish.” Bush notes that he’s previously criticized President Obama’s foreign policy, most recently at the Chicago Global Forum, where he called Obama’s foreign policy “weak and uncertain.” With Iran, Bush writes, “Instead of projecting American determination and leadership, [Obama] has either withdrawn from the stage or chosen to trust our enemies.”In recent days, Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the P5+1, a six-nation group of global powers, have achieved “substantial progress” on an agreement, which would allow Iran nuclear capability, providing they will not use it to make an atomic bomb.Bush says, however, that the deal is too risky.“It is clear that nothing -- not public opinion, not opposition from his own party in Congress, and not even the facts -- will deter President Obama from a potentially risky agreement that may well allow Iran to intimidate the entire Middle East, menace Israel, and, most of all, threaten America.” Follow @ABCNewsRadio Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Congress May Further Probe Special Immigration Program for Wealthy

Congress May Further Probe Special Immigration Program for Wealthy

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans in Congress voiced strong objections Tuesday in response to a scathing Homeland Security investigation that found a senior official appeared to give special treatment to politically-connected applicants when he ran a little-known federal program that offers visas to those who invest $500,000 in a job-creating business.U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he viewed the findings of the Homeland Security Inspector General “extremely concerning” and said he will hold hearings Thursday to determine if further investigation is needed."These allegations appear to be at odds with [the immigration agency’s] expressed mission to 'administer the nation’s immigration system fairly, honestly and correctly,'" McCaul said.The Inspector General’s investigation focused on the leadership of Alejandro Mayorkas, who served as director of the immigration program known as EB-5, an obscure but increasingly popular method for obtaining highly-sought-after American Green Cards. The program caters to wealthy foreigners, requiring them to invest $500,000 or sometimes $1 million in a qualifying U.S. project that promises to create jobs.

In late 2013, Mayorkas was promoted by President Obama to deputy secretary of the department over objections from Republicans who had already begun to hear rumblings of problems with his handling of the immigration program.The IG report came on the heels of an ABC News investigation that revealed that a number of visa recipients were approved despite objections from career officials, who found instances where foreign applicants accused of fraud, money laundering, even involvement in child pornography, had received permission to move to the U.S. The ABC News investigation also found evidence that spies and even possible terrorists had attempted to exploit the visa program to enter the country.The Inspector General’s report focused on allegations that Mayorkas had exerted improper influence on behalf of politically connected EB-5 applicants.“The juxtaposition of Mr. Mayorkas’ communication with external stakeholders on specific matters outside the normal procedures, coupled with favorable action that deviated from the regulatory scheme designed to ensure fairness and evenhandedness in adjudicating benefits, created an appearance of favoritism and special access,” the report found.Mayorkas wrote a robust response to the report, saying his efforts were focused on improving a troubled program, and were always vetted by agency attorneys. On Tuesday, he issued a statement saying, "While I disagree with the Inspector General’s report, I will certainly learn from it and from this process.""The EB-5 program was badly broken when I arrived at USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services]," he said. "I could not and did not turn my back on my responsibility to address those grave problems. I made improving the program a priority and I did so in a hands-on manner, through cases, policies, and sweeping personnel and organizational changes."The Inspector General's findings did not reach conclusions about Mayorjas's motives.“Regardless of Mr. Mayorkas’ motives, his intervention in these matters created significant resentment in USCIS. This resentment was not isolated to career staff adjudicating within the EB-5 program, but extended to senior managers and attorneys responsible for the broader USCIS mission and programs,” it said.Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley, an early critic of the EB-5 program, said the Inspector General’s findings validated his objections to the way Mayorkas had run the immigration office.“Digging into the report and reading about specific cases, you can see just how questionable Mr. Mayorkas’ ethics and judgment were,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “And, just as bad, is the blind eye that the Obama administration turned when elevating this individual to the number two slot at the Department of Homeland Security.”Both the ABC News investigation and the Inspector General’s report were based on numerous interviews with a group of insiders that included senior immigration officials and documents provided by agency whistleblowers. The inspector general said 15 different federal employees shared similar stories of Mayorkas intervening on behalf of influential applicants.“The sheer number of whistleblowers who came forward is a darn good indication as to how bad things were at the agency,” Grassley said. “They are courageous people for reporting these very serious allegations despite fear of retaliation, especially given that Mr. Mayorkas was being elevated by the President to be Deputy Secretary.”Reaction to the report fell largely along partisan lines, and the report may have lasting political reverberations. Among those who profited from the EB-5 program was Anthony Rodham, the brother of presumptive Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. The report specifically noted that Rodham attempted to contact Mayorkas. Messages left for Rodham by ABC News were not returned.While Republicans voiced strong objections, Democrats rallied around Mayorkas, focusing on the fact that the Inspector General failed to find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, issued a statement saying the investigators and whistleblowers misunderstood Mayorkas’ actions.“The Inspector General provided no definitive determination of wrongdoing and instead found that Deputy Secretary Mayorkas’ hands-on and reform-minded leadership style may have been misinterpreted,” Thompson said, adding that the report “paints a picture of an advocate and manager who demanded reform and responsiveness from his agency.”Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, had a similar reaction, praising Mayorkas as a “dedicated, thoughtful, and talented public servant” and a change agent.“As many of us know, change at any kind of organization isn’t always easy and can meet resistance,” he said.But even Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged in a statement that the report raised issues that should not be ignored or overlooked.“I believe there are lessons to be learned from the Inspector General’s report -- by Ali, and all of us who are leaders in public service,” Johnson wrote. “Each of us in leadership must be mindful that, when we become involved in individual matters that happen to reach our desk, we risk the appearance of preferential treatment and the suspicion of our subordinates. As public servants, we must maintain the trust and confidence of all those around us, and be above reproach. I have discussed this with Deputy Secretary Mayorkas and I am confident he understands this.”

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President Obama Mistakenly Refers to Afghan President Ghani as ‘President Karzai’

President Obama Mistakenly Refers to Afghan President Ghani as ‘President Karzai’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- While announcing his plan to slow the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday, President Obama made a high-profile slip of the tongue, and somehow wound up complimenting the very leader he mean to criticize. The U.S. will maintain 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 “in part so that President Karzai – who has taken on the mantle of commander-in-chief in a way that we have not seen in the past from an Afghan president – can do a serious review,” Obama said during a press conference in the East Room Tuesday, gesturing towards the new Afghan president. Problem is, the current president of Afghanistan isn’t Karzai – it’s Ashraf Ghani. Obama’s comment was presumably meant as a not-so-subtle jab at Ghani’s predecessor, President Hamid Karzai, whose icy relationship with Obama made headlines. Karzai, whose second term ended in 2014, repeatedly slammed the U.S. for its role in Afghan civilian casualties, claimed America had attempted to undermine the Afghan government, and even suggested the U.S.-led forces could “leave” the country. Ghani, on the other hand, has routinely lauded the U.S./Afghanistan partnership and Tuesday thanked American troops – and even “the American taxpayer” – for their role in his nation’s security.

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Report: State has ‘sunk’ $61 million into Schoolnet

Report: State has ‘sunk’ $61 million into Schoolnet(Courtesy Idaho Education News) The state has “sunk” about $61 million into a flawed statewide instructional management system, and now has few options going forward. That’s the conclusion of a state report criticizing the Schoolnet project — a system that was supposed to provide teachers with real-time data on student development and growth. “Poor management, […]

Why a Legendary Golfer Brought John Boehner to Tears

Why a Legendary Golfer Brought John Boehner to Tears

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- John Boehner is notorious for letting his tears flow, publicly displaying his emotions from time to time during his four-plus years as House speaker. So, when Congress honored one of Ohio’s most beloved sons -- golfing legend Jack Nicklaus -- it was a safe bet that Boehner, an avid and capable golfer himself, would become weepy. He did not disappoint with the waterworks. At Tuesday's ceremony, the golfing legend's son, Jack Nicklaus II, recounted one of golf’s most iconic moments, when the "Golden Bear" won the 1986 Masters and the younger Nicklaus was his caddy. As he paid an emotional tribute to his father, Boehner and the elder Nicklaus listened, seated next to each other, both wiping away tears. “Dad had made me a part of it,” Jack Nicklaus II said of his father’s legendary victory. “I knew I had Dad’s full focus. I felt like I mattered, and I felt loved. That is what it’s like to be his son.” Boehner has known Nicklaus for about 20 years, according to an aide. He testified before the Education and Workforce Committee when Boehner was chairman and the duo has golfed together on a handful of occasions, according to the aide. When Boehner stood to deliver his own remarks, the Ohio Republican found a box of tissues at the podium and playfully tossed it to Nicklaus. But perhaps the speaker should have kept it for himself. “That day we were a part of something special -- something bigger just as we now are today,” Boehner said through tears. “Because in golf, as in all other things, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. And no one has played it better for longer than Jack." “So in the immortal words of CBS golf announcer Verne Lundquist: 'Yes sir! The Congressional Gold Medal goes to the gentleman from Ohio, the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus!'”

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Secret Service Director Comes Under Fire by House Panel

Secret Service Director Comes Under Fire by House Panel

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Secret Service faced another round of angry questions by a House Panel on Tuesday about agents' questionable behavior and a potential bomb that sat outside the White House unchecked for more than an hour this month. House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, questioned Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy over the possible bomb threat that was left unattended just outside the White House gates.“For 17 minutes, 17 minutes, traffic continued through the intersection and several pedestrians walked within feet of the potential bomb,” Chaffetz said. Chaffetz said he didn’t understand how the Secret Service did not immediately respond after a woman dropped what she said was a bomb outside the White House gates. “These agents placed themselves, their colleagues, the president and his family in potential danger,” he said on Tuesday. The potential bomb and the Secret Service agents who nearly drove over it were all caught on a Washington DC Police Department security camera. Clancy told the panel on Tuesday that agents did not inform him until several days after the incident, and that an independent investigation is currently under way.

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Ted Cruz Will Sign Up For Obamacare

Ted Cruz Will Sign Up For Obamacare

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Newly minted presidential candidate Ted Cruz will soon sign up for healthcare coverage throughObamacare, a law he has vigorously fought to repeal since joining the Senate."We'll be getting new health insurance and we'll presumably do it through my job with the Senate, and so we'll be on the federal exchange with millions of others," Cruz said in an interview with CNN Tuesday.Cruz and his family currently have health insurance coverage through his wife’s employer,Goldman Sachs. Cruz's wife, Heidi, is a managing director at the company and will take a leave of absence to campaign for her husband, causing her family to lose their healthcare coverage, according to CNN.Most members of Congress are required to obtain healthcare coverage through the federal exchanges established by Obamacare. The exception is for those who are covered by Medicareor receive coverage through their spouses, like Cruz previously did.“Well, it is written in the law that members will be on the exchanges without subsidies just like millions of Americans so that's – I think the same rules should apply to all of us. Members of Congress should not be exempt,” Cruz told the Des Moines Register.Throughout his three-year Senate career, Cruz has been on a crusade to repeal Obamacare - most notably when he led a 21-hour filibuster against the president's healthcare plan on the Senate floor in 2013. The tactic caused many people to blame Cruz for the government shutdown that lasted for 16 days.Cruz launched his presidential campaign yesterday on the five-year anniversary of the president signing the Affordable Care Act into law and committed to repealing the legislation if he becomes president in 2017."Instead of the joblessness, instead of the millions forced into part-time work, instead of the millions who've lost their health insurance, lost their doctors, have faced skyrocketing health insurance premiums, imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare," Cruz said at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia Tuesday.

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Obama Announces Slowdown of Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Obama Announces Slowdown of Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama on Tuesday announced a slowdown in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, keeping 9,800 in place through 2015.While Obama is sticking to his goal to end the war by the end of 2016, he said the U.S. will now leave more troops in place over the next several months than was previously expected, citing a request by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.“America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over but our commitment to the Afghan people, that will endure,” Obama said.The pace of the drawdown in 2016 will be determined at a later date, the president said "to enable the U.S. troop consolidation to a Kabul-based embassy presence by the end of 2016."Obama’s announcement came after he and Ghani spent the morning meeting at the White House, where Ghani was largely expected to urge Obama not to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as planned.Obama has pledged to end the United States’ longest war by the end of 2016, pulling out all but roughly 1,000 of the almost 10,000 U.S. troops now in the country.While the U.S. currently plans to withdraw roughly half of its troops by the end of this year, Ghani reportedly wanted all U.S. troops to remain in place through next year to support Afghan security forces.“The question is: How much flexibility is there in the drawdown between where we stand today and that endpoint in early 2017?” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday. “That will be the subject of some discussion with President Ghani. President Ghani has indicated a desire to bring that up and discuss that personally with the president.”Ghani’s first trip to Washington as president is also an opportunity to publicly cement the strategic relationship between the new Afghan government and the U.S. after years of rocky relations under President Hamid Karzai.Unlike his predecessor, who had a strained relationship with Obama and was often harshly critical of U.S. policies, Ghani is seen as “clearly more cooperative,” Jeff Eggers, senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the National Security Council, told reporters last week.“There is a clearly positive vision now for Afghanistan that President Ghani holds,” Eggers said. “And it’s important, I think, that our leadership and the audience here in Washington sees that qualitatively different relationship and that more positive vision.”Ghani’s five-day trip has been packed with high-level meetings. In addition to meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Ghani had a full day of discussions at Camp David Monday with Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.On Wednesday, Ghani will address a joint meeting of Congress and, on Thursday, he will meet with world leaders at the United Nations.

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Top Homeland Official Accused of Political Favoritism

Top Homeland Official Accused of Political Favoritism

Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas declines to answer questions on camera from ABC News' Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross.. ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tainted the image and integrity of the immigration program he oversaw by fostering “an appearance of favoritism and special access” in how the agency treated projects that would bring visas and Green Cards to wealthy foreign investors, a new report from the agency’s Inspector General says.“The juxtaposition of Mr. Mayorkas’ communication with external stakeholders on specific matters outside the normal procedures, coupled with favorable action that deviated from the regulatory scheme designed to ensure fairness and evenhandedness in adjudicating benefits, created an appearance of favoritism and special access,” the Inspector General’s report concluded.The DHS IG report specifically focused on allegations of special treatment afforded to a Las Vegas casino project championed by Sen. Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, and an electric car enterprise led by Terry McAuliffe, who is now Virginia's governor, and involving Anthony Rodham, the brother of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.At the time the Office of Inspector General launched the probe, Mayorkas was head of a program known as EB-5, which offered a path to Green Cards to foreign investors willing to put $500,000 into a job-creating U.S. business -- a program whose popularity exploded under his stewardship.

Similar issues within the immigration program were the focus of an ABC News investigation that aired last month, which found that officials in the Department of Homeland Security had ignored pointed warnings from federal agents and approved visas for immigrants suspected of having committed fraud, money laundering, and even one applicant with alleged ties to a child porn website. Several of those cases involved investment projects whose executives had sought and received help from powerful political figures to lobby Mayorkas for support.Five different Homeland Security whistleblowers spoke with ABC News about a range of cases where visas were approved despite numerous red flags. They said objections were often ignored because the immigration program is so popular within the Obama administration and with members of Congress from both parties. As the EB-5 visa program has grown in popularity, the programs critics have become increasingly concerned about the administration’s failure to adequately address abuses that have continued to surface.“It is shocking,” Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican said at the time. “Particularly when you have FBI. and other law enforcement agencies that are saying national security could be compromised or is being compromised -- that's enough for us to be concerned.”Mayorkas turned down requests from ABC News to be interviewed about the program, and hustled away from the camera when he was approached to talk about it during a public event in Washington late last year.Concerns about the agency and Mayorkas’ stewardship have simmered for years. When he was promoted to Deputy Secretary, Republican senators took the unusual step of boycotting his confirmation hearing, complaining that he should not be approved until the ongoing investigation into his conduct by the Inspector General was completed. The hearings went forward without the Republican committee members, and he was ultimately confirmed.During the confirmation hearings, Mayorkas called allegations of impropriety "unequivocally false.""I say it unequivocally, and I say it after 16 years of service to this country: I have never, ever in my career exercised undue influence to [change] the outcome of a case," Mayorkas told a Senate panel. "I have never based my decisions on who brings a case, but rather upon the facts of the law."Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee said the Inspector General’s findings were “highly concerning.”“In an unprecedented move, Mr. Mayorkas was confirmed by the Senate on a party-line vote led by Senator Reid, despite being under investigation for his management of USCIS and the EB-5 investor visa program,” Chaffetz said. “This report confirms the concerns surrounding Mr. Mayorkas' suitability for the position were well founded. “The Inspector General report released Tuesday said investigators had interviewed 15 whistleblowers, a group that included “very senior” department officials and attorneys “who each had direct contact with Mr. Mayorkas and were in a position to witness the events.”“Each conveyed the same factual scenario,” the report said. “Certain applicants and stakeholders received preferential access to DHS leadership and preferential treatment in either the handling of their application or petition or regarding the merits of the application or petition…Many witnesses provided emails, written contemporaneously with the events, to support their allegations of special access and treatment.”The report said that investigators interviewed Mayorkas, and he told them that each time he intervened in an EB-5 case, he did so “to improve the EB-5 process or to prevent error.”“He took a hands-on approach when a case warranted his personal involvement,” the report says. “Mr. Mayorkas told us that his sole motivation for such involvement was to strengthen the integrity of the program; he said he had no interest in whether a particular application or petition was approved.”One of the projects studied in the report -- the electric car start-up venture once overseen by McAuliffe and supported by Rodham -- has already proven to be politically combustible.The immigrant funding became fodder for attacks on McAuliffe during his 2013 run for governor. McAuliffe was accused by political opponents of trying to prod Mayorkas and later then-Sec. Janet Napolitano to approve visas for investors more quickly. He denied, however, that he sought undue influence. Rodham oversaw the EB-5 financing aspect of the business through a separate venture, called Gulf Coast Funds Management Regional Center. He also emailed Mayorkas in a push to speed up processing of immigrant visas, the report says.ABC News provided a copy of the report to McAuliffe’s press office and sought comment and has not yet received a response. Messages left for Rodham have not been returned.When it appeared the electric car venture was headed for a denial, “Mr. Mayorkas told his staff that he wanted to review the decision…” the report says. “Many EB-5 officials found this highly unusual because past USCIS Directors typically had not scrutinized individual decisions; they found this level of scrutiny unsettling.”During one meeting to discuss the electric car venture, the report says Mayorkas intervened directly in the decision making process, “saying he would rewrite the decision himself.”“One meeting participant said that ‘everyone froze’ when Mr. Mayorkas said, ‘Let me take it home and rewrite the report,’” the report says. “The participant was ‘stunned’ by Mr. Mayorkas’ suggestion, saying ‘the entire turn of events made me extremely uncomfortable.’ Another participant told us the request made it appear that Mr. Mayorkas was dictating the results, which ‘looked bad.’ Ultimately, the participants dissuaded Mr. Mayorkas from rewriting the decision himself.”Mayorkas provided the Inspector General’s office with a detailed response, in which he defended his actions.“I was vigilant in guarding against any appearance of impropriety,” he wrote. “I consistently and systematically consulted with USCIS attorneys about my communications. I consistently and systematically shared the communications with them. I actively sought their counsel and the advice of others. Not once do I recall being advised to proceed differently.”Supporters of Mayorkas dismissed the report as a political attack.Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police called him “a man of impeccable integrity” and “the inspector general’s office has squandered two and a half years on an investigation and couldn’t come up with something substantive and had to say something.”Investigators said they could not determine Mayorkas’ motivations.“Each of these decisions was legitimately within his purview, and we take no position as to the wisdom of any of these actions,” the report said. “However, the complaints we heard were not simply policy-based disagreement[s]…Rather, they centered on his actions that appeared to give special access and special consideration to a small group of applicants and stakeholders.”The Inspector General's office initially began investigating Mayorkas after having already taking an earlier look at growing concerns about the risk of political influence infecting a program. In a December 2013 audit, the office suggested such perceptions may have been unavoidable, concluding, "Outside influence may require USCIS senior leadership to become involved in the EB-5 adjudication process, thereby creating the perception of special treatment and internal influence by senior managers."But internal Homeland Security documents obtained by ABC News as part of the February report showed that the program has become a magnet for those seeking to sidestep the scrutiny of the traditional immigration process.In one case, immigration officials pushed through a visa application from Chinese investor in a Las Vegas hotel project despite an internal review that found the investor had previously been turned back at the border, and much of his visa application had likely been fabricated, immigration records show.A Feb. 1, 2013 Homeland Security internal review obtained by ABC News also lays out in stark detail the breadth of the troubles afflicting some of the roughly 600 so-called regional centers -- private sector entities certified by Homeland Security to recruit foreign investors for specific business ventures that will qualify for EB-5 visas. The document summarizes 41 investigations, some open and some now closed, into allegations ranging from espionage to fraud to drug trafficking involving investors in various EB-5 investment projects.One regional center, run by an Iranian-born businessman living in Beverly Hills, California, was approved to raise roughly $25 million in investment money from foreign sources even when one of his businesses was being raided by agents. Federal officials told ABC News the businessman is suspected of allegedly smuggling banned items to Iran.Another regional center raised money from Chinese investors to finance the construction of federal buildings, including an FBI headquarters building in San Diego, raising what one internal document called “national security concerns” that “pertain to Chinese investors having visibility to FBI blueprints/information.”Advocates for the program also acknowledged the visa program had suffered from occasional failures. But they touted the numerous successful projects that have been financed through this form of foreign investment, and credit it for spurring job growth through some of the toughest years of the shaky economy.“I don't think we should let a few anecdotes cast a cloud over an entire industry,” Peter Joseph, executive director of the Association to Invest in the U.S.A., told ABC News at the time.Joseph noted the program is now so popular that the 10,000 visas allotted in 2014 for EB-5 investors were claimed in a matter of months, and he is lobbying for its expansion. The money has paid for popular projects -- a Brooklyn basketball arena, a California winery, a Vermont ski lodge, even a Hollywood movie studio -- that have supported an estimated 42,000 jobs.“It's a win for the investor, who's seeking to get an immigration benefit, along with a return on their investment, along with the American worker who's able to get to work, thanks to the capital investment coming through the program,” Joseph said.

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Sen. Dan Coats Will Not Seek Re-Election in 2016

Sen. Dan Coats Will Not Seek Re-Election in 2016

US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Dan Coats announced on Tuesday that he will not seek re-election in 2016 -- opening up the possibility of a Democratic pick-up in the next election."This was not an easy decision," Coats, R-Ind., explained in a statement. "While I believe I am well-positioned to run a successful campaign for another six-year term, I have concluded that the time has come to pass this demanding job to the next generation of leaders."He added that he looks forward to "continued engagement in Indiana in many other ways."Coats first served in the Senate from 1989 to 1999 and became a U.S. ambassador to Germany in 2001. He returned to the Senate in 2011.Coats is the third senator and the first Republican to announce their retirement over the last two months. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., will also retire in 2016.

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Boehner ‘Shocked’ by Report Israel Spied on US/Iran Nuke Talks

Boehner ‘Shocked’ by Report Israel Spied on US/Iran Nuke Talks

Caleb Smith / Office of the Speaker(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker John Boehner says he is shocked and baffled by a report that Israel spied on nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, and leaked information to Congress in an effort to derail a prospective deal.“I read that story this morning and frankly I was a bit shocked because there’s no information revealed to me whatsoever,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday, in response to a report in the Wall Street Journal.Boehner said he was “not aware at all” of this happening with any of his members. “I was shocked by the fact that there were reports in this press article that information was being passed on from the Israelis to members of Congress. I’m not aware of that at all,” he said.Asked whether it would have been inappropriate if the report is true, Boehner replied: “I’m not sure what the information was, so -- I’m baffled by it.”

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Palestinians to Obama: We Told You So About Netanyahu

Palestinians to Obama: We Told You So About Netanyahu

State Dept(WASHINGTON) -- Now that President Obama is calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an unwilling partner in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Palestinian representatives in the United States have a simple message for him: We told you so.“Ever since [Netanyahu] came to power in 2009, he did not have any intention whatsoever to deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” said Maen Areikat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s representative to the United States.“I think he is telling the world, 'Here I am. I want to show you my true skin,'” he added.

Obama said the United States would re-evaluate its policies towards Israeli-Palestinian issues after Netanyahu said, the day before parliamentary elections, that he would not see a Palestinian state established if he were re-elected.“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership," Obama said in an interview with The Huffington Post Saturday. "And so, that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”Netanyahu’s Likud party went on to victory, which many political observers attributed to Netanyahu's comments on a Palestinian state and other comments that were seen as driving divisions between Israeli Jews and minorities. He has walked back those statements -- most recently apologizing to Israeli Arabs in remarks at his official residence Monday evening -- but the White House insisted the damage was done.Areikat said the government he represents understands why Obama gave Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt until now, but that just looking at domestic Israeli politics, it was clear he was never serious about peace talks -- which have started and stopped twice since Obama and Netanyahu took office.Netanyahu ran his campaign largely on security issues and the threat he said would befall Israel if his center-left opponents took over.“This whole shift in Israeli politics in recent years was fundamentally based on misperceptions, false presentations, a culture of fear exported to the Israeli people about the security issues,” Areikat said. “This current government succeeded in somehow selling what it sold its own public to the rest of the world, especially the United States.”The Israeli embassy in the United States did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.One policy shift the Obama administration has already floated is to support, or at least not actively oppose, a United Nations Security Council resolution defining Palestinian statehood, which it had previously opposed because it believed such a move could jeopardize direct talks, which it believed were more effective.Last week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Netanyahu’s comments “have consequences for actions that we take at the United Nations and other places,” although during the Huffington Post interview Obama would not say whether or not he would support such a resolution.But the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, suggested that was one way the U.S. could register its disillusionment with Netanyahu.“A United Nations Security Council resolution legislating the two-state solution would be an appropriate option to defend the two-state solution which enjoys a global consensus,” he said.Airekat said that while supporting a U.N. resolution would be a step in the right direction, he wanted the U.S. to also urge Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank.“Nobody knows what the United States is planning to do. We are hoping together to hear from them in the coming days about what they have in mind,” he said.So far, the United States has only signaled that it might make changes, without actually making any yet. But long wait times are nothing new for participants in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- something Mansour seemed to acknowledge when he spoke generally of this new shift in US policy.“This process will likely take time," he said. "However, we do hope it happens quickly.”

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Secret Service Video of White House Incident Released

Secret Service Video of White House Incident Released

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Surveillance video that captured a crash involving allegedly intoxicated Secret Service agents was released Tuesday showing a car driving at a slow speed just outside a White House checkpoint.The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released the video from the incident that occurred earlier this month -- and the video seems to corroborate statements made by the director of the Secret Service that initial reports of the alleged crash were overstated.The D.C. Police video from March 4 shows the government vehicle driving at a slow speed when it pushed aside a plastic barrel standing outside a checkpoint. Before that incident, the video shows someone dropping a suspicious package in the area, but the video also shows no police tape or any other indication that there was an active crime scene when the government vehicle drove through it.Last week, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy insisted recent reports of a “crash” at the White House by potentially intoxicated agents driving a government vehicle “are inaccurate,” and he pushed back on any suggestion that his agency deliberately "erased" other surveillance video showing the incident.With several cameras in the area of the White House, video from certain angles of the incident were lost because, “by practice,” the cameras tape over their content every 72 hours, Clancy told lawmakers.Nothing had been deliberately “erased,” he added.Nevertheless, he said he has instructed his staff to contact the manufacturer of the cameras to see whether the company that built them can help retrieve the lost video."We understand it’s a concern,” he said. “We're doing everything we can to retrieve those images and be as transparent as we can be."

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‘My Shop’: ‘President Abraham Lincoln’ Shows Off His Office

‘My Shop’: ‘President Abraham Lincoln’ Shows Off His Office

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — It’s been awhile since President Abraham Lincoln has sat down for an interview with the media.But in the lead up to the 150th anniversary of his assassination, the 16th president sat down with Power Players -- well, sort of -- for a rare exclusive interview in his White House office.“I call it my shop,” professional Lincoln impersonator Fritz Klein said during an in-character interview at a White House Historical Association exhibit that aims to recreate Lincoln’s office as it looked when he inhabited the White House in the 1860s.“This room is the center of life, it seems,” Klein said, posing as Lincoln. “I get my hair cut in here. I get shaved in here. I get the mail in here. I get briefed on the previous day’s occurrences. The public attends to their personal requests in here…My secretaries are right across the hall, and they come in at all hours, no matter what I'm doing, with notices from this or that general, and so, it's a hub of activity.”The White House room that was formerly Lincoln's office is today the Lincoln bedroom. It's located on the second floor of the White House and is part of the first family's private residence.The exhibit was designed based on a sketch that depicted President Lincoln and his cabinet posed in his office for the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. It’s a day our fake Lincoln recalls with great pride, saying, “I've never done anything that I was more certain was right.”“We had a public reception as everybody does on New Year's Day, and I spent at least two hours shaking hands with the public. Well, my hand was nearly crippled by the time I returned to sign the document,” Klein said. “And I had to massage it and again wait nearly 30 minutes before I could do so, because I was convinced, if I signed that document in a way that looked irregular, someday, when people…look at it and they would say 'Look, he hesitated.' But once my hand was in better shape, I signed it.”The exhibit includes life-size cutouts of President Lincoln and his cabinet, as well as props used in the making of the DreamWorks film Lincoln, so as to give visitors an immersive impression of what Lincoln’s office looked like. And, of course, a precise depiction of Lincoln’s office would not be complete if it did not capture certain aspects of the not-so-tidy president. Accordingly, books and papers are strewn across the desk and floor.“I've been accused of being unorganized, but anybody who knows me knows that that's absolutely true,” Klein said jokingly, with a smile characteristic of Lincoln.“I generally walk around while various members of the cabinet are talking. Tad may burst in at any moment, much to the chagrin of my friends here,” he continued. “At the end, I am compelled to sum up everything…and occasionally decisions are made as a group. Generally I make them, though."On the topic of his signature style and dress -- complete with a beard and top hat -- Lincoln explained that his hat serves a dual purpose by both protecting his head from the elements and also acting as a casual filing system of sorts.“There's some portions of speeches, sometimes I receive notes that need to be attended to and I'll pop them in her,” Lincoln said, gesturing at the contents held within the inside rim of his hat. “Most of my clothes, including my hat, I purchase at Brooks Brothers.”And on his distinctive beard, Lincoln explained how the whiskers came to be.“I sprouted it because when I was running for president, I had a letter from a little lady out in western New York who thought I would look a good deal better with whiskers,” Lincoln explained. “I don't know quite what to say when somebody tells you would look better if your face was all covered in hair, but nonetheless. But I grew them, partly on her advice. And some people have said they agreed with her.”For more of the interview with Lincoln impersonator Fritz Klein, and to learn more about the exhibit that is open now through the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, check out this episode of Power Players.

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Collapse of Yemeni Government Devastates US Counterterrorism Efforts

Collapse of Yemeni Government Devastates US Counterterrorism Efforts

Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A year after President Obama declared that Yemen had become a model for successful U.S. counterterrorism campaigns, the White House is now facing tough questions about why the security situation there has collapsed.Yemen is on the verge of civil war with the U.S.-backed central government apparently overwhelmed by the Shiite militia Houthis who control the capital of Sanaa and are in the midst of seizing other cities.With the U.S. closing down its embassy and withdrawing the remaining 100 Special Service Forces from Yemen, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing that Yemen had previously served "as a template for the kind of strategy that we would employ and have employed to mitigate the threat from extremists around the world."Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the relocation of U.S. personnel "has not forced us to suspend our counterterrorism operations," claiming that "we continue to actively monitor threats and have resources prepared in the region to address them."However, some Washington lawmakers are worried about losing Yemen, which had become a major intelligence hub in the region, especially since the country is the headquarters for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State also poses a threat to Yemen's stability.Follow @ABCNewsRadio Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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