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House Side of Capitol Building Reopens After Asbestos Incident

House Side of Capitol Building Reopens After Asbestos Incident

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — The House side of the U.S. Capitol Building was briefly closed down on Thursday morning after officials said there was a “potential release” of asbestos during overnight repair work.U.S. Capitol Police officers stood guard at every entry point to the House side of the building, while only the basement level was open. Laura Condeluci, public affairs specialist for the Architect of the Capitol, said on Thursday that the potential release occurred during “ongoing asbestos abatement work,” and that samples were collected to determine the extent of asbestos release.By 9:15 a.m. the House wing of the Capitol Building was re-opened, with the exception of the grand staircase and the Tip O’Neill Room. The House had been scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. Thursday, but that was pushed back. The Architect of the Capitol and the U.S. Capitol Police are investigating the incident.
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Kerry Reaches Out to Mahmoud Abbas in Continued Effort to De-Escalate Gaza Tension

Kerry Reaches Out to Mahmoud Abbas in Continued Effort to De-Escalate Gaza Tension

Credit: US Department of State(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday about the ongoing tensions in Gaza.State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Thursday that the discussion touched on how the situation can be de-escalated. “We are open to discussing and using all avenues to do that,” Psaki added.As rocket strikes from Hamas continued to be aimed at Israeli cities and the Israeli Defense Forces continues to aim missiles at “terror targets,” the State Department hopes continued discussions with leaders in the region can be part of the process to ending tensions.
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Lawmaker Accuses Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito of Misleading Senate

Lawmaker Accuses Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito of Misleading Senate

United States Senate(WASHINGTON) — A recent controversial ruling by the Supreme Court reveals that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. were less than transparent during their Supreme Court confirmation hearings, a Democratic lawmaker charged Thursday.And the lawmaker, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is none too happy about it.The Supreme Court ruling last week in the Hobby Lobby contraception case, Durbin said, goes against the landmark 1965 privacy case, Griswold v. Connecticut, which both justices vowed to uphold during their confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee nearly a decade ago.Durbin said he always makes sure to ask conservative judicial nominees whether they support the Griswold ruling, which is at the heart of women’s rights issues.“I asked that question repeatedly of Justice Roberts and Justice Alito to make sure that they would honor that same tradition of privacy. The Hobby Lobby decision violates that fundamental premise,” said Durbin, who serves on the Judiciary Committee.While he noted the justices were careful in their answers, “they both said they stood by the Griswold decision.”Durbin’s comments came Thursday as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders announced new women’s healthcare legislation and sharply criticized the Hobby Lobby ruling.Reid agreed the Senate was misled.“Alito told us who he was. We let it go,” Reid said. “Roberts didn’t. He misdirected us. He’s certainly been a disappointment to us.”Griswold was a landmark case that overturned a Connecticut statute that prohibited the use of contraceptive devices. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the law violated marital privacy, which is protected under the Bill of Rights.“It was a breakthrough,” Durbin said, that placed the rights of individuals and families over a state’s right to ban contraceptives.But nearly 50 years later, contraception is once again at the center of a divisive ruling.In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit companies could deny contraceptive coverage under their company health plans if it violated a religious belief. Alito, writing for the majority, made no mention of Griswold and steered the opinion towards religious rights instead of privacy.Democratic members of Congress responded to the decision with new proposed legislation intended to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act. The bill, which could be introduced as early as next week, would prevent employers from interfering with coverage for conception or other health services guaranteed under federal law.At Thursday’s news conference, Reid called the Hobby Lobby decision the worst Supreme Court ruling in the last 25 years.“It’s wrong for five men to decide what happens to women in America,” he said.As Democrats fight to keep a majority in the Senate in the fall elections, they are trying to draw attention to the court’s decision in hopes of rallying women voters to their side. Even if the Senate approves the legislation, Republican leaders in the House have no intention of following suit. Yet Reid defended the decision to press the issue, saying it was about far more than an election-year tactic.“It would be political malpractice,” Reid said, “if we did not react the way we have dealing with this horrible decision made by the Supreme Court.”
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Ben & Jerry’s Founder Brings Political Flavors to Capitol Hill

Ben & Jerry’s Founder Brings Political Flavors to Capitol Hill

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Lobbying usually doesn’t come with a side of ice cream.But Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield brought some with him to Capitol Hill Thursday, where he joined Rep. Peter DeFazio to advocate for mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.“One spoonful at a time will change the law,” DeFazio, D-Oregon, proclaimed.DeFazio and Greenfield appeared with pro-labeling advocates to protest a bill proposed by House Republicans that would make labeling genetically modified food voluntary.“Companies should be proud to talk about the ingredients they put in their food,” said Greenfield, whose ice cream company is known for their inventive flavors and ingredients. “This is as mainstream of an idea as you can get.”The bill, authored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, would nullify efforts in several states to require GMO labeling; initiatives he called “misleading” in a Kansas newspaper op-ed.“Not a single credible scientific study has shown [genetically modified food] to be anything but 100 percent safe. We should follow the science and make policy accordingly, rather than follow political agendas,” Pompeo wrote.Citing the early medical consensus on the health benefits of cigarettes, DeFazio said that the lack of evidence doesn’t disprove any undiscovered health risks genetic modification might have.“When’s the last time a tomato plant mated with an arctic char? This hasn’t happened in nature before,” he said.Greenfield, who put Ben & Jerry’s on the map with iconic flavors and creative ingredients, has supported state-level efforts to mandate labeling. The company renamed its chocolate brownie flavor to “Food Fight Fudge Brownie” in support of a legal fund to defend Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law that is being challenged in court. (Event organizers passed out ice cream cups of the flavor after the news conference.)Ben & Jerry’s, which Greenfield and his partner Ben Cohen sold to Unilever in 2000, supports a number of progressive political causes, including action on climate change and same-sex marriage.  In 2012, Cohen founded Stamp Stampede, an organization geared toward limiting the influence of money in politics.
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Obama Uses “The Departed” Reference to Explain DC Dysfunction

Obama Uses “The Departed” Reference to Explain DC Dysfunction

The White House(AUSTIN, Texas) — For months President Obama has been slamming Republicans for obstructing his efforts to boost the economy. But on Thursday, he found a new, creative way to explain the problem. Speaking in Austin, Texas, Obama invoked the violent Martin Scorsese thriller The Departed to explain Washington dysfunction. The president compared himself to the no-nonsense character played by Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark) as he ripped Republicans planning to sue him for his use of executive authority. “There’s a scene in the movie where Mark Wahlberg — you know, they’re on a stakeout. And somehow the guy loses the guy that they’re tracking. And Wahlberg’s all upset and, you know, yelling at the guy. And the guy looks up and he says, well, who are you? And Wahlberg says: I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy,” Obama explained. “Sometimes I feel like saying to these guys: I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy,” he said, to laughter and applause from the crowd at the Paramount Theatre. Instead of waging “another political stunt that wastes time, wastes taxpayers’ money,” Obama urged Republicans to work with him to grow the economy.
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Boehner Pins Border Crisis on Obama’s ‘False Hope’

Boehner Pins Border Crisis on Obama’s ‘False Hope’

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker John Boehner pinned ownership of the escalating humanitarian crisis at the southern border squarely on President Obama, complaining on Thursday that the president’s immigration policies have encouraged migrants to stream across our border.Boehner contended that throughout his presidency, Obama has given migrants “false hope” that if they enter the country illegally, they would be allowed to stay.“This is a problem of the president’s own making!” Boehner, R-Ohio, exclaimed to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. “He has been president for five and half years. When is he going to take responsibility for something?”While Congress considers the White House’s $4.3 billion supplemental request, of which $3.7 billion is earmarked for the southern border, lawmakers are also debating whether to revise a 2008 law that says the unaccompanied children cannot be sent back to their native countries. Unaccompanied children must instead be held humanely by the Department of Health and Human Services until the courts release them to a “suitable family member” in the United States.Boehner said Republicans “would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico,” which would quickly return children migrating from other Central American countries to their native countries.House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, said she would prefer to see the language regarding Mexico’s migrants altered to the language pertaining to migrants from non-contiguous countries.“If they wanted to make it uniform, I would have rather they treated the Mexican kids the way they treated the…non-contiguous country kids,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Really, what’s important is to get the supplemental. What price we have to pay to do that, we’ll see in the course of the debate.”“When it comes to children, from my standpoint, I’m like a lioness,” Pelosi proclaimed. “Don’t mess with the children, OK? You want to talk about contiguous or non-contiguous, talk about it all day, but give us the money to deal with it.”As for the supplemental request, Boehner said he believes the House should act before the August recess, but said lawmakers are still working to determine what action the lower chamber could take.“I can tell you this, though. We’re not giving the president a blank check,” Boehner said. “Beyond that, we’ll await further discussions with our members before we make any final decisions.”

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Senate Confirms Shaun Donovan as OMB Director

Senate Confirms Shaun Donovan as OMB Director

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Senate voted 75-22 on Thursday to confirm Shaun Donovan as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget.The confirmation of Donovan, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, completes the latest round of the Obama Cabinet shuffle.On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as the new HUD secretary by a vote of 71-26.Donovan and Castro were both nominated for their respective positions in May by President Obama.
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Reid Skeptical of Changing Law at Center of Border Crisis

Reid Skeptical of Changing Law at Center of Border Crisis

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday he wouldn’t block attempts to change a 2008 law at the heart of the humanitarian crisis at the border, but raised deep skepticism about doing so. The law says the unaccompanied children cannot be sent back to their native countries. Instead, they must be held humanely by the Department of Health and Human Services until the courts release them to a “suitable family member” in the United States.“These children should be treated as humanely as humanly possible, and America set the standard for being able to take care of children in the right way,” Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Thursday.He said Congress should start by passing the president’s $3.7 billion emergency spending request.“My preference would be to pass a bill — a standalone bill. It’s emergency spending,” Reid said. “With this money we can do all kinds of things. We can go after the coyotes, we can go after the drug cartels, and we can take care of these children.”House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Thursday that she would grudgingly accept reversing the 2008 law, as long as it meant passing the emergency spending.Reid did not go that far.“Let’s see what comes to the floor. I told you what my preference is. I think that there are people making a lot of excuses, as they’ve done for a year, to do something productive,” Reid said. “It would be very productive as it relates to the border problems to just give us — give the administration this money so they can start going after these bad guys.”
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Families of Vets Call for Action on Suicide Prevention at Hearing

Families of Vets Call for Action on Suicide Prevention at Hearing

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In an emotional House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing Thursday, a panel of parents decried failures in the VA and the Department of Defense as contributing to the mental pressures that led their sons to take their own lives. “Perhaps none of these hearings have presented the all-too-human face of VA’s failures so much as today’s hearing will,” said committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.Jean and Dr. Howard Somers, the parents of Army veteran Daniel Somers, spoke on their son’s experience navigating the VA system in Phoenix.“He presented there in crisis, he said he needed to be admitted to the hospital,” Dr. Somers said, having to finish for his wife who had started the story but broke into tears. “He was told by their mental health department that they had no beds, and he was told there were no beds in the emergency department. The fact is that he went in to the corner. He lay down on the floor. He was crying. But he was told you can stay here and when you feel better you can drive yourself home.”  Daniel Somers had largely condemned his experience with the system in his suicide letter published by Gawker just 12 days after his death. “Thus, I am left with basically nothing,” Somers wrote. “Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out — and thus deserve better.”The panel cited a 2012 Suicide Data report that estimates 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the U.S. The Somers were also joined by Peg Portwine, the mother of deceased Army veteran Brian Portwine. She blamed the VA and DOD for clearing her son for redeployment following multiple traumatic combat experiences. “Upon returning from the second deployment in 2010, Brian was diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, depression and anxiety,” Peg Portwine said. “I never knew of his conditions.  He deteriorated quickly from December 2010 to May 2010 when he took his life. If the DOD and VA assessed Brian for high suicide risk it was their duty to treat him, but he received nothing.” The parents held back tears along with retired Army Sgt. Josh Renschler as they took questions for nearly three hours and made several broad recommendations for comprehensive changes in mental health treatment in the VA. At the end of the testimony, the members of the committee, several of whom also choked back tears during their inquiries, gave a long standing ovation.
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Koch-Backed Group Previews Obamacare Protest with ‘Creepy’ Video

Koch-Backed Group Previews Obamacare Protest with ‘Creepy’ Video

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Creepy Uncle Sam is back, and he’s coming to the National Mall with a few friends.The conservative group Generation Opportunity, which has financial ties to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, is planning to bring a circus to the nation’s capital in its latest attempt to convince young Americans to opt out of the Affordable Care Act.The “Creepy Care-nival,” announced in a YouTube video released this week, will be “an interactive event that puts the failures of the ‘Affordable Care Act’ (also known as Obamacare) on full display,” according to its website.“The ‘Creepy Care-nival,’ like Obamacare itself, comes with a veneer of excitement, but as soon as you begin to experience it, you realize you are being taken for a ride,” the site states.The video features clowns, fire-eaters and strong-men, along with a “dropped coverage” dunk tank and an “exploding premiums” strength test. Creepy Uncle Sam, who appeared in the group’s first ad surprising a woman at her gynecologist’s office, is introduced in the video as the master of ceremonies.The Virginia-based Generation Opportunity hosted tailgate parties on 20 college campuses in 2013 to encourage young people not to enroll in Obamacare. The group also has television and Internet ads running against Democrats in states with tight Senate races.Obamacare opponents and the administration have fought to attract the attention of young, healthy Americans whose participation in exchanges helps offset the costs of sicker participants. One notable effort was President Obama’s deadpan interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis on the comedian’s “Between Two Ferns” web series — which was just nominated for an Emmy.
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Senate Confirms Julian Castro as HUD Secretary

Senate Confirms Julian Castro as HUD Secretary

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — The Senate confirmed San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday by a vote of 71-26.Castro had been nominated for the position in May by President Obama. The 39-year-old burst onto the scene at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and his name has been floated around as a possible vice presidential pick in 2016.Castro will join his twin brother Joaquin, who is a congressman representing Texas’ 20th District, in Washington.
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Amid Border Crisis, President Obama Urges Congress to Pass Immigration Bills

Amid Border Crisis, President Obama Urges Congress to Pass Immigration Bills

The White House(DALLAS) — Emerging from a meeting on the border crisis with one of his harshest critics, President Obama said he and Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, don’t have a major disagreement about how to handle the problem, the challenge is Congress.”There’s nothing the governor indicated that he’d like to see that I have a philosophical objection to,” the president told reporters, before blaming Congress for the deteriorating situation. “The problem here is not a major disagreement around the actions that could be helpful in dealing with the problem,” Obama claimed. “The challenge is: is Congress prepared to act to put the resources in place to get this done?”“The question is are we more interested in politics or are we more interested in solving the problem,” he asked.
The president urged Republicans to put politics aside and act on his request for $3.7 in emergency funding to cope with the influx of unaccompanied minors flooding across the border — a problem caused by Obama’s policies, according to his critics including Gov. Perry.“Congress has the capacity to work with all parties concerned to directly address this situation,” Obama said. “They’ve said they want to see a solution. The supplemental offers them the capacity to vote immediately to get it done.”Roughly half of the funding would go to the Department of Health and Human Services to provide care for the surge of children crossing the border, including additional beds.The rest would be split between several departments to tackle the issue on both sides of the border, including $1.6 billion to the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to boost law enforcement at the Southwest border and pay for additional immigration judge teams, among other things, and $300 million to the State Department to tackle the root causes of this crisis and to send a clear message to these countries not to send children illegally to the U.S.The president is also seeking more leeway under the current law to speed up the deportation of the unaccompanied children, most of whom are from central America.“The issue is not that people are evading our enforcement officials; the issue is that we’re apprehending them in large numbers. And we’re working to make sure that we have sufficient facilities to detain, house and process them appropriately while attending to unaccompanied children with the care and compassion that they deserve while they’re in our custody,” Obama explained.“While we intend to the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay,” he added.Perry had urged Obama to visit the Rio Grande Valley but reportedly declined an initial offer to greet the president for a quick handshake on the tarmac unless Obama was also willing to have a substantive meeting.The governor has publicly slammed the president for his handling of the crisis, blaming him for the influx of unaccompanied minors and even suggesting he is part of a “coordinated effort” to bring children over the border.“I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from,” Perry told ABC’s Martha Raddatz on This Week on Sunday.In addition to attending a roundtable meeting with local officials and faith leaders to discuss the crisis, Obama and Perry also got some one-on-one time. Perry greeted Obama on the tarmac in Dallas and rode with the president to the meeting aboard Marine One.Despite mounting political pressure, Obama is resisting calls for him to personally visit the border during his two-day visit to Texas.“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo-ops,” said the president, a day after visiting Denver where he shot pool and pressed the flesh with locals. “I’m interested in solving the problem.”
Obama noted his top aides, including his Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, have recently visited the border. “There’s nothing that is taking place there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on.”Perry also offered his own readout of the meeting saying in a written statement, “Five hundred miles south of here in the Rio Grande Valley there is a humanitarian crisis unfolding that has been created by bad public policy, in particular the failure to secure the border…Securing the border is attainable, and the president needs to commit the resources necessary to get this done.”
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Former New Orleans Mayor Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Corruption

Former New Orleans Mayor Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison for Corruption

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(NEW ORLEANS) — Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday after being convicted of bribery and money laundering.Nagin led the city through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Prosecutors, though, say Nagin accepted bribes in the form of money, free trips and gifts. His actions allegedly spanned both of his terms as mayor. Nagin was indicted in 2013 and found guilty in February. The 58-year-old Democrat has denied wrongdoing.
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Declassified Benghazi Transcripts Released Wednesday

Declassified Benghazi Transcripts Released Wednesday

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — The House Armed Services Committee released nine declassified transcripts of interviews conducted in connection with the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were murdered in the assault.The previously classified interviews were part of the committee’s investigation into the actions of the U.S. Department of Defense before, during and after the attack. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said on Wednesday claimed the handful of released transcripts, “definitively show that Republican attacks against our nation’s military servicemembers and former Secretary of State Clinton are completely unfounded and utterly offensive.”
Critics have claimed the Obama administration legally muzzled the survivors of the terror attack, which the president and key aides — as well as Mrs. Clinton — initially blamed on a YouTube video to insulate the president from criticism during the 2012 election. The interviews were conducted between January and April of this year, the committee said. The Department of Defense declassified the released transcripts at the committee’s request. “It’s my hope that the Select Committee on Benghazi will choose not to tread this same ground, but will focus on more productive areas, such as whether the State Department is implementing the sound recommendations of the Accountability Review Board,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, said.
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Ex-CIA Head: ‘Shame on Us for Being Caught’ in Germany

Ex-CIA Head: ‘Shame on Us for Being Caught’ in Germany

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The former head of the CIA and NSA said Wednesday that he’s not at all surprised that the U.S. may have spied on its friends and allies — including recent German allegations that the U.S. purportedly recruited two agents in their national security apparatus — but said it’s a delicate game the U.S. can’t bungle.“All nations do this, but if you do it, you want to be successful at it. You want to be good at it,” Michael Hayden told ABC News in an interview on World News With Diane Sawyer. “To do it and be caught is the worst of all possible worlds… If any of this is true, we have embarrassed someone who is unarguably a good friend. That’s our fault. We should not put good friends in those kinds of circumstances.”Hayden’s comments came just hours after German prosecutors reportedly said that investigators had raided properties in the Berlin area on “initial suspicion of activity for an intelligence agency.” German media reported the man in question worked for the defense ministry and that he was supposedly spying for the U.S. The German media also described the case as “more serious” than one from just five days ago when German authorities arrested a 31-year-old member of Germany’s intelligence service for allegedly passing along sensitive documents to American agents.The 31-year-old was arrested on July 4 and the German Foreign Office pulled U.S. ambassador John Emerson in Berlin away from his Independence Day to discuss the matter. Wednesday, Emerson was once again called in to help “clarify” the spying allegations.The CIA, as well as the White House National Security Council, declined to comment on both spy allegations. Flying on Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to “confirm, deny or comment” on “intelligence matters.”“Talks [are] underway to resolve circumstances in recent news reports,” Earnest told reporters. “We have a strong working relationship, not just between Obama and Merkel, but between governments.”Before the second case hit the headlines, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in China Monday that if true, the U.S. actions would, “be for [her] a clear contradiction as to what [she] considers to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners.”Other German politicians Wednesday sounded off after news of the second scandal, with Social Democratic Party Secretary General Yasmin Fahimi calling on the U.S. to end, “all espionage activities here with immediate effect.”“[The German government has] to demand Washington put all its cards on the table and make it clear that the U.S. can’t have any more spies working for them in Germany,” Parliament member Han-Christian Strobele said.On Wednesday, Hayden, who ran the NSA from 1999-2005 and the CIA from 2006 to 2009, referenced comments he made to the German newspaper Der Spiegel in March in an article titled “Shame on Us” which dealt with revelations that the U.S. had spied on Merkel’s personal communications. When Hayden spoke to Der Speigel, the Wall Street Journal had reported the U.S. had actively monitored the communications of 35 world leaders. Hayden said Wednesday, it should be, “Shame on Us for Being Caught.””We are good friends with the German people… but American and German interests are not identical. There are places where we differ, and leadership intentions or the intentions of a foreign government are always legitimate intelligence targets. I would suspect that all governments pursue that kind of information.”A former senior CIA official told ABC News that he expected the U.S. to be spying on its allies, but not the way it is accused to have done it, especially in the tense diplomatic climate that has reigned since the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.“I am surprised because normally, [after] you have something like the Snowden affair, you have tension… You usually stand down on operational activity or anything that will heighten the tension… You put everybody on ice,” the official said. “When you do spy on an ally, [it’s] a serious decision that has to be done thoughtfully and the gains have to outweigh the risks.”“This is not a routine matter. Everybody uses technical [espionage techniques], you scoop up everything you can,” the official said, referring to signals interception. “But when you get to human intelligence, it’s not a common activity” for allies.Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism advisor to the White House and ABC News consultant, said the U.S. has been collecting information on Germany “since it rolled in there with tanks in 1945,” but the episode is especially “embarrassing” for the U.S. in the wake of the Snowden disclosures.“I think every president is embarrassed when at some point in his administration it’s revealed that the United States is spying on someone,” Clarke said. “[But] there’s nothing new going on except Angela Merkel is learning about it for the first time, apparently.”
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DOJ Announces Priorities to Deal with Immigration Situation

DOJ Announces Priorities to Deal with Immigration Situation

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Department of Justice announced new priorities on Wednesday to help address the surge of immigrants crossing into the country.The series of steps, announced by Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, includes refocusing immigration court resources, providing additional training and support to address violence in Central America, and redoubling efforts to work with other agencies and the Mexican government to investigate those who smuggle immigrants into the U.S. “Individuals who embark on the perilous journey from Central America to the United States are subject to violent crime, abuse, and extortion as they rely on dangerous human smuggling networks to transport them through Central America and Mexico,” Cole said.The Executive Office for Immigration Review will “refocus its resources to prioritize cases involving migrants who have recently crossed the southwest border whom the Department of Homeland Security has placed into removal proceedings,” Cole announced. The EOIR will also hire more immigration judges and publish regulation for appointment of temporary immigration judges. The DHS will also seek additional funding to assist Central American countries in “combatting transnational crime and the threat posed by criminal gangs.”
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Texas Democrat: Obama Looks ‘Detached’ by Failing to Visit Border

Texas Democrat: Obama Looks ‘Detached’ by Failing to Visit Border

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas says he’s a loyal Democrat, but he believes President Obama is starting to “look detached” by not visiting the border during his trip to Texas this week.Cuellar said he was dumbfounded when he saw pictures of the president making a casual evening stop in Colorado as he made his way to Texas. “Look, he’s going to be in Austin, 242 miles away from the border. He’s going to be in Dallas, 500 miles away from the border,” Cuellar told ABC News. “We saw some of the photographs where he was in Colorado, drinking a beer, playing pool. I mean the optics are just horrible.”As the crisis at the border escalates, with no quick solution in sight to stem the tide of unaccompanied minors arriving illegally from central America, several Texas Democrats are voicing rare criticism of a president in their own party. Cueller has been unusually blunt and outspoken at the president’s decision not to visit the border, which he said resulted in a phone call from the White House.“I’m a Democrat, but I will always put party behind what I think is in the best interests of the country,” Cuellar said in an interview on Capitol Hill. “Again, I’m more concerned about the people I represent in Texas than somebody else, with all due respect.”Cuellar, who has served in Congress since 2005, represents a deep Southern Texas district that stretches to the U.S. border. He said the president would be better equipped to tackle the immigration crisis if he witnessed the conditions first-hand.“If you go down to the border, he has to see the kids that I’ve seen, young girls young boys, you know, that have come through very difficult situations. It is a humanitarian crisis, and he can either do two things,” Cuellar said. “One, as a leader, he can be defiant and say I’m going to roll up my sleeves and see the humanitarian crisis. Or he can look detached, appear detached and say I’m doing everything long distance.”The president is set to meet with Gov. Rick Perry of Texas during his overnight trip to Dallas and Austin, but Cuellar said that isn’t enough. “A leader will be judged by how he handles a crisis. He can roll up his sleeves or go down to the border or he can look detached and say I got everything under control,” Cuellar said. “But when you still have 48,000 people coming across a month on the Texas border, I think that’s a humanitarian crisis that the president should give a little personal attention to.”Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, took a softer tone, but said he also wished the president would visit the border. “He should go down and this week is not his last opportunity to do that,” Castro told ABC News. “This is a situation that we know is going to be going on for a while and I hope that eventually he’ll make it down there.”
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In Denver, Obama Rips GOP for Blocking Economic Measures

In Denver, Obama Rips GOP for Blocking Economic Measures

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(DENVER) — Speaking to a hand-picked crowd in Denver Wednesday, President Obama defended his record and slammed Republicans for blocking his efforts to boost the economy.“We are making progress, as bad as the news looks if all you were doing was watching cable TV all day long,” the president told a crowd of 600 gathered outside at Chessman Park. “Thanks to the hard work of you, and some actually pretty smart policies by us, we have come farther and recovered faster than almost any other advanced nation on earth.”Echoing familiar themes in a campaign-style speech, the president went on to tout his “opportunity agenda” to spur economic growth and lift up the middle class. Obama expressed frustration that his “basic common-sense ideas” are being obstructed by Congress and blasted Republicans for saying “no” to a wide array of his proposals.“Congress just said no to fixing our broken immigration system in a way that strengthens our borders and our businesses, despite the fact that everybody from law enforcement to corporations to evangelical — there’s a coalition around immigration reform that’s unprecedented. These guys still can’t get their act together,” he said.“I mean, the best thing you can say for them this year is they haven’t shut down the government so far or threatened to go deadbeat on America’s obligation,” he quipped, “but it is still early.”Obama vowed to continue to take executive actions to circumvent congressional gridlock, despite House Republican plans to sue him.“I don’t know which things they find most offensive, whether it’s creating jobs or easing student loan burdens or raising wages. But it’s really bothering them. They have a plan to sue me. They have a plan to sue me for taking executive actions that are within my authority while they do nothing. I have a better idea. They should do something!” he said. “Rather than engage in political stunts that waste time and taxpayer money, join me. Let’s do some things together.”The president will attend an off-camera Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser in downtown Denver before heading to Dallas.
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Democrats Strike Back on Hobby Lobby Case with Bill

Democrats Strike Back on Hobby Lobby Case with Bill

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Mark Udall fought back Wednesday against the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling with plans for legislation intended to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act.Joined by fellow Democrats from both chambers of Congress and women’s rights groups, the senators urged Republicans to support the bill they have nicknamed “Not My Boss’s Business Act.”“We are here to ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to healthcare,” Murray, of Washington state, said, speaking at the Capitol. “I hope Republicans will join us to revoke this court-issued license to discriminate and return the right of Americans to make their own decision about their own health care and their own bodies.”It’s an issue that Democrats hope will sway voters in the midterm elections. With their control of the Senate in jeopardy, Democrats are trying to energize and awaken liberal voters who tend to sit out congressional elections.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made clear that politics were at the center of the debate. He said he intends to bring the bill to a Senate vote as soon as next week, adding that anyone who opposes the measure faces the risk of being “treated unfavorably come November with the elections.”The bill, the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act, mandates that employers cannot disrupt coverage for contraception or other health services that are guaranteed under federal law. It comes a week after the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling that closely held for-profit companies can deny contraceptive coverage under their company health plans if it goes against a sincerely held religious belief.Although the court issued a narrow ruling focused on contraception in the Hobby Lobby case, some Democratic leaders fear the decision sets a precedent that could allow employers to deny other health care coverage based on religious beliefs.“If bosses can deny birth control, they can deny vaccines, HIV treatment or other basic health services for employees or their dependents,” Murray said.Colorado’s Udall said women should never have to ask their bosses for a “permission slip” to access birth control or other critical health services. Udall, who is among the Democrats facing a tough re-election bid, has publicly criticized his Republican opponent for his voting record on birth control and abortion.The bill is receiving strong Democratic support, with 35 senators signing onto the legislation.Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said Wednesday’s bill “protects the right of all Americans, men and women alike, to make decisions about their medical care in consultation with their doctor, not their boss.”Harkin, D-Iowa, authored the health care act’s provision to protection contraception coverage.Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who has championed women’s rights throughout her career, called the Supreme Court’s decision an “outrage” at Wednesday morning’s news conference and threw her support behind the bill as a congressional fix.“The court’s majority has decided that corporations are entitled to more rights than individual Americans,” Boxer said, calling the majority’s ruling “ideological” and “political.”Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggested that Democrats were simply trying to hold “show votes” to prepare for the November elections.“We’d have a better chance of working our way through the bills that we need to pass if we cut out the show votes and didn’t eat up time trying to score points for the fall election,” McConnell said.Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said she would be introducing companion legislation in the House, joined by fellow Democrats Jerrold Nadler and Louise Slaughter, both of New York, “to ensure that women in American get the health care that they need.”Sixty members have already signed on to co-sponsor the bill, she said.Slaughter said the Supreme Court was “peddling” the country back to the 19th century with its decision.The members were joined on Wednesday by women’s rights groups, including Planned Parenthood, who thanked Congress for its decision to stand up for women.“Bosses should stick to what they know best: the boardroom and the bottom line,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center. “Stay out of the bedroom and the exam room.”
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Boehner Wants National Guard Deployed to Border

Boehner Wants National Guard Deployed to Border

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker John Boehner appealed once again to President Obama Wednesday to deploy the National Guard to relieve the border patrol and send additional personnel to process and remove the children who entered the country illegally.The speaker was also non-committal on the president’s request this week for $3.7 billion to deal with the surge in undocumented immigrants.Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a news conference in the Capitol Wednesday, “It’s time for us to take a serious look at what needs to happen. If we don’t secure the border, nothing’s going to change.”He urged Obama to send the National Guard to the border.“The National Guard is uniquely qualified to respond to such humanitarian crises,” Boehner wrote June 20 in a letter to Obama. “They are able to help deal with both the needs of these children and families as well as relieve the border patrol to focus on their primary duty of securing our border.”Boehner emphasized that the president’s $3.7 billion supplemental request, which lawmakers received on Tuesday, must be reviewed by House appropriators and a GOP immigration working group before he decides what to do next. Boehner refused to say whether he believes the supplemental request is a “blank check” or should be offset by spending cuts.“I’m going to look for the recommendations from [House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers] and the border working group in terms of how we address this,” Boehner said.Boehner also implored Obama in his letter to direct the State Department to begin discussions with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — where many of the children are coming from — “to ensure that apprehended migrants can be promptly and efficiently returned to their home countries.”
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