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Prosecution Rests in McDonnell Trial, Closing Arguments Friday

Prosecution Rests in McDonnell Trial, Closing Arguments Friday

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — After the prosecution rested in the trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, closing arguments will begin on Friday.

The jury was sent home on Thursday afternoon and will hear four closing arguments before they will be asked to come to a verdict. McDonnell and his wife are accused of taking gifts from a businessman in exchange for special treatment.

The defense rested on Wednesday. Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams said that he provided the McDonnells with gifts in exchange for help with his business. The McDonnells, however, claim that he was never given special treatment.

The final witness for the prosecution was an FBI special agent who testified that the couple spent most of their nights together, the Washington Post said, a claim that would undermine their defense that their marriage was sufficiently damaged by his political status that they could not have engaged in a conspiracy.

After the testimony ended, defense attorneys moved to have the couple acquitted, but the judge denied that request.

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President Obama Says ‘We Don’t Have a Strategy Yet’ to Fight ISIS

President Obama Says ‘We Don’t Have a Strategy Yet’ to Fight ISIS

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) –  President Obama admitted Thursday that his administration does not have a strategy to combat the militant Islamic group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that has grabbed large chunks of Iraq and Syria.

The president said he would be meeting later Thursday with the National Security Council.

“The options that I’m asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq,” Obama said during a news conference in the White House briefing room, using another acronym for the militant Islamic group ISIS.

When the president was asked if he would seek congressional approval for U.S. attacks on ISIS targets in Syria, he responded, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet…Some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.”

Earlier this week, the president approved military surveillance flights over Syria, but airstrikes in that country have not been authorized. U.S. military planes have carried out over 100 airstrikes in Iraq.

“As commander-in-chief, I will always do what is necessary to protect the American people,” he said. “Our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to [ISIS].”

Obama said he is dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the area to work with allies, and ordered Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to prepare “a range of options” as he considers future military action.

“It also means that states in the region stop being ambivalent about these extremist groups,” Obama said. “This should be a wake-up call to Sunni, to Shia, to everybody that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.”

“We’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out,” he added.

The president promised to continue to consult with Congress in the days and weeks ahead.

“I do think that it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in, or that our consultations with Congress continue to develop, so that the American people are part of the debate.” he said. “I will consult with Congress and made sure their voices are heard.”

Following Obama’s remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the president would have “significant congressional support” if he engages legislators in the development of his plans.

“The President needs to develop a regional strategy, working with our allies, to defeat ISIL and to use the full extent of his authorities to attack this enemy force,” McConnell, R-Ky., wrote in a statement. “But don’t forget, the threat from ISIL is real and it’s growing — and it is time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response.”

Secretary of State John Kerry has also consistently advocated for a powerful response.

“The world must know that the United States of America will never back down in the face of such evil,” Kerry said in a statement released last week. “ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed.”

Following his remarks, Obama was scheduled to meet with his National Security Council in the Situation Room, with Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry.

Since video emerged Aug. 19 showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, Obama has fought back against fresh criticism of his foreign policy, promising to be “relentless” in his fight against the emerging threat posed by ISIS.

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Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to Lead Senate Hearing on Demilitarization of Local Police

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill to Lead Senate Hearing on Demilitarization of Local Police

US Senate(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, will chair a Senate hearing on the militarization of local police, she announced on Thursday.

The hearing will take place on Sept. 9 and McCaskill, the chairperson of the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight — and also a senator from the state where police utilized military-style equipment in confrontations with protesters following the officer-involved shooting death of Michael Brown earlier this month — will lead. McCaskill was one of a number of political leaders who called on local authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, to “demilitarize” the tense situation.

The hearing will be held by the full Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 9.

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Hillary Clinton Breaks Her Silence on Ferguson

Hillary Clinton Breaks Her Silence on Ferguson

State Department(SAN FRANCISCO) — Just off a three-week vacation in the Hamptons, Hillary Clinton used her first day back on the speaking circuit Thursday to address the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, applauding President Obama for his response to the protests and calling for a nationwide effort to improve racial inequalities that she said still persist in the American justice system.

“Watching the recent funeral for Michael Brown, as a mother, as a human being, my heart just broke for his family,” Clinton said during her prepared remarks at a tech conference in San Francisco.

“Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone. Not in America. We are better than that,” she added, referencing “dramatic, terrible” pictures she watched on television.

Brown, 18, was killed when a police officer in Ferguson evidently shot him six times after a confrontation in the street on Aug. 9, setting off two weeks of protests and clashes with police.

Until now, Clinton was silent on the situation.

“Imagine what we would feel and do if white drivers were three times more likely to be searched than black drivers…if white offenders received prison sentences longer than black…if a third of all white men went to prison during their lifetime. Imagine that,” Clinton told an audience of Silicon Valley tech employees. “That is the reality of the lives of so many of our fellow Americans and the communities in which they live.”

The former secretary of state and likely 2016 presidential candidate praised Obama for sending Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson, saying it was “necessary” to find out what happened during the shooting and “see that justice is done.”

Clinton, on vacation most of this month, has faced criticism for her silence during the unrest, particularly last week, when she ignored questions on the subject from two reporters at a book signing on Long Island, NY.

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VA Scandal Taking Center Role in 2014 Political Ads

VA Scandal Taking Center Role in 2014 Political Ads

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Judging by candidates’ ads, the hottest issue in House and Senate midterm elections this year is easily care for America’s veterans.

This month alone, 23 House races and 10 Senate races have seen over 13,000 airings of television ads on the topic of veterans’ healthcare or veterans’ benefits, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG).

The number of ads focusing on veterans’ care and benefits has been steadily climbing in both House and Senate races. In May of this year there were 3,405 airings of TV ads, in June 6,366 airings, in July just over 8,000.

Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president at Kantar Media Intelligence, said the number of political ads on the issue of veterans swamps every other issue.

“I’m struck by how many veterans-themed ads are popping up and really cannot think of any other issue this year… that started resonating in such a widespread way across so many races,” Wilner said.

Serving in the military has always been something candidates tout, especially in what is known as a “bio ad,” or the ad that introduces the candidate to the viewer. This year voters saw GOP nominee Dan Sullivan’s first general election ad telling Alaskans, “The Marine Corps shaped who I am.” Rep. Tom Cotton, running for Senate in Arkansas, touts his service, saying in an ad that the values he learned in the Army is what he’ll bring to Washington. “Serious times deserve serious leaders,” Cotton says.

The VA scandal, though, has given a reason for candidates running that perhaps don’t have a military background to mention their care for veterans. Some are using service members in their ads explaining why the candidate will help fellow veterans.

Republicans have especially taken advantage of the scandal, using it to criticize the Obama administration and their Democratic opponents. The first ad to mention the scandal was the Karl Rove-backed group Crossroads GPS; the ad aired in Alaska in May. “A national disgrace,” the narrator says. “Veterans died waiting for care that never came,” with the spot reminding viewers their “Senator Mark Begich sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee.” Begich then aired two ads of his own featuring veterans, calling the attack ads false, and stressing his efforts to help Alaska veterans get the healthcare they need.

An audit by the VA’s Office of Inspector General released this week, however, found that no veterans died because of delayed care at VA facilities.

Democrats have been more cautious in using the issue in ads. The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is running an ad in Louisiana accusing Republican nominee Bill Cassidy of putting “millionaires before veterans.”

In Iowa, where Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley is in one of the tightest Senate races this cycle against National Guardsman Joni Ernst, a Braley ad features another National Guardsman saying, “We were the longest serving unit in the history of the Iraq conflict,” and because of the extended stay is entitled to extra pay which he says Braley “fought for us” to get. A Crossroads ad then aired hitting Braley on the veterans’ care issue directly, saying he missed meetings of the Veterans’ Affairs committee.

In House races, some candidates are lumping the VA scandal in with other administration crises or other issues. In the fight for New Hampshire’s second congressional district, state Rep. Marilinda Garcia says in an ad the “IRS and Benghazi scandals, the VA disaster, and Obamacare’s broken promises” are all reasons “we need a new generation of conservative leaders” in Washington. In Florida’s 18th district, Democratic incumbent Rep. Patrick Murphy is in a tight toss-up race in the Palm Beach County area. His first general election ad features him talking to elderly veterans and stressing his work on their behalf, as well as “hold(ing) the VA accountable for excessive wait times.”

Labor Day weekend is considered the unofficial kick-off to the midterm season, and it’s only after the summer finally dwindles away that Americans really start paying attention to the campaigns. If that’s true, it’s possible we may see even more ads stressing the VA scandal and mentioning veterans as we get closer to November.

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Immigration Sit-In Outside White House Results in About 100 Arrests

Immigration Sit-In Outside White House Results in About 100 Arrests

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — For the second time in a month, progressive activists disillusioned with the Obama administration’s immigration policies intentionally had themselves arrested outside the White House in what they called an act of “civil disobedience.”

The highly choreographed sit-in, organized by a coalition of labor, immigration reform and religious groups, featured roughly 100 demonstrators who sat down on the sidewalk outside the president’s residence in an area already cordoned off by law enforcement. After several warnings from law enforcement officers on standby, the scores of protesters were peacefully detained for obstructing sidewalk traffic.

The demonstrators are demanding the federal government cease an estimated 1,000 deportations a day of undocumented immigrants, a number likely to rise as the administration grapples with a surge of thousands who have overwhelmed Southwest states in the last several months, creating a humanitarian crisis. The migrants come mostly from Central America, fleeing violence and epidemic poverty.

Hundreds of their supporters looked on, waving picket signs that read “Don’t deport my dad,” and, “Immigration reform is obstructed by racism.”

A mile away at a pre-rally outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency headquarters, organizers said the undocumented “would have justice.”

“Seventeen American citizen children, today, will be losing their moms or dads for a senseless deportation system that ICE does on daily basis,” said AFL-CIO executive vice president Tefere Gebre. “The president can and will stop this. Yes, we can!”

Other groups present included CASA de Maryland, the National Organization for Women and the Sisters of Mercy.

Arrests were made by the National Park Service Police, which has jurisdiction over the park land adjacent to the White House compound. Officers were prepared with tents and foldout tables to quickly process those who were arrested.

Staged arrests inside the nation’s capital are not an uncommon occurrence, and several of the groups present Thursday were veterans of the tactic, used to draw attention to their cause. Typically, detained demonstrators are handed over to the city’s metropolitan police force for processing and released after a few hours, with no fine or further punitive action. Even members of the U.S. Congress have been known to participate.

In June, President Obama announced he would exercise his executive authority to circumvent congressional intransigence on long-term immigration reform. Senior officials told ABC News a decision would come by mid-September, but the end result will likely not be as sweeping as many progressive activists have hoped.

Early summer reports suggested the administration was considering measures that would allow millions of the undocumented to remain in the U.S. without deportation. Now, with the fall midterm elections rapidly approaching, red state Democrats fear comprehensive reform could tip a precariously balanced battle for majority control against them, particularly in the Senate.

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Gillibrand Recalls ‘Porky’ Crack by Male Colleague

Gillibrand Recalls ‘Porky’ Crack by Male Colleague

Office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand(WASHINGTON) — In her upcoming book Off the Sidelines, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., reveals she was the subject of insensitive comments about her weight from male colleagues in the House and Senate.

According to an excerpt posted by People, Gillibrand details an incident in her book where a male colleague saw her in the gym said, “Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!” According to the Huffington Post, Gillibrand responded, “”Thanks, a–hole.”

Gillibrand also discussed an episode where a senator commented on her weight after she lost 50 pounds. The senator grabbed her stomach and said, “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby!”

The New York senator has talked about struggling with her weight after giving birth to her sons, saying she’s fluctuated between a size 6 and size 16. 

In her book, Gillibrand brushes off the comments from her male colleagues.

“It was all statements that were being made by men who were well into their 60s, 70s or 80s,” she writes. “They had no clue that those are inappropriate things to say to a pregnant woman or a woman who just had a baby or to women in general.”

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Prospect of Another DC Shutdown Looms over Immigration Showdown

Prospect of Another DC Shutdown Looms over Immigration Showdown

Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — The prospect of another economically and politically crippling government shutdown looms over President Obama’s talk of taking executive action on immigration next month and Republican threats to thwart him by blocking certain funding measures.

Republicans insist they are not interested in another shutdown and that the possibility is being raised by fear mongering Democrats, but the GOP does raise the possibility of using a September vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government as a weapon against any executive action by Obama.

Obama is considering executive action to fix the country’s immigration system as Congress remains at a stalemate over immigration legislation passed in the Senate last summer. The White House has not laid out a concrete deadline, but it’s expected he will announce his decision in September.

In a letter to the president earlier this week, Rubio warned that any executive action on immigration would kill the prospect of immigration reform in Congress.

“If indeed you move forward on such a decision, I believe it will close the door to any chance of making progress on immigration reform for the foreseeable future,” Rubio wrote.

Rep. Steve King, R-Ill., told the Des Moines Register “all bets are off” for passing a continuing resolution if President Obama decides to take executive action on immigration.

“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear,” King said. “I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that.”

In an interview with Breitbart News, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., hinted at Congress potentially using the budget process to address any executive action on immigration this year.

“There will have to be some sort of a budget vote or a Continuing Resolution vote, so I assume there will be some sort of a vote on this,” Rubio said. “I’m interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue. Beyond that, I’m not sure if the president is going to make this decision before we go back or after.”

Democrats are highlighting these statements as examples of Republicans threatening to allow another government shutdown to take place.

“As we near the 1-year anniversary of the Republican Government Shutdown of 2013 that cost our nation’s economy $24 billion Republican leaders, once again, prefer to threaten another government shutdown over advancing essential legislation,” said Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “It’s time to end the kowtowing to the Tea Party extremist elements, get serious about legislating for the American people, and take these ridiculous threats off the table.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said a government shutdown threat would not make the president reconsider potential executive action on immigration.

“No, it won’t because the president has determined to take the kinds of common sense steps that are required to address the worst problems of our…broken immigrations system,” Earnest said. “It would be a real shame if Republicans were to engage in an effort to shut down the government over a common sense solution like that, but they’ve done it before. Hopefully they won’t do it again.”

A spokesman for Rubio said the senator is not interested in shutting down the government over an immigration fight.

“The only people talking about shutting down the government are partisan extremists like Debbie Wasserman Schultz who are looking for a way to raise money and divert attention from the failed presidency of Barack Obama,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio. “All Senator Rubio has called for is for Senator Reid to allow votes on Republican solutions to the immigration catastrophe our nation faces. Let’s be clear: The only thing Senator Rubio wants to shut down is Harry Reid’s tenure as majority leader by winning a Republican majority this November.”

Congress is set to return from recess on Sept. 8 and will have only a few weeks to pass a continuing resolution to avoid another government shutdown. Last October, the government shutdown for 16 days after Republicans fought to defund the Affordable Care Act.

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Scott Walker Facing Stiff Challenge in Reelection Bid

Scott Walker Facing Stiff Challenge in Reelection Bid

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(MILWAUKEE) — With the election a little more than two months away, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker trails Democratic opponent Mary Burke in a new Marquette University poll.

Although the numbers 48.6 percent to 46.5. percent mean it’s a statistical dead heat, the latest results are largely unchanged from a poll conducted in July.

Walker has been regarded as a rising star within the GOP and a possible candidate for the 2016 presidential nomination, having survived a recall election two years ago over his decision to weaken union workers’ collective bargaining rights.

However, Walker has not been able to shake controversy during his four years in office, including the latest allegations that he illegally contacted outside groups for funding during his bid to avoid a recall in 2012.

Burke, an executive for the Trek bicycle company her father started, has made growing Wisconsin’s economy her top priority.

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Missouri Gov. Names New Public Safety Director

Missouri Gov. Names New Public Safety Director

Office of Governor Jay Nixon(SAINT LOUIS) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon named a new head of the Missouri Department of Public Safety on Wednesday, selecting former St. Louis City Police Chief Daniel Isom for the position.

Isom will take over the position on Sept. 1 for current Director Jerry Lee, who is retiring. Isom currently works as the professor of Policing and the Community for the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The decision comes just about three weeks after a Ferguson, Mo., police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen. Isom will be the first and only black member of Nixon’s cabinet.

Isom’s selection is still subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

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State Department ‘Looking Into’ Reports of Death of Second American ISIS Fighter

State Department ‘Looking Into’ Reports of Death of Second American ISIS Fighter

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday that it was looking into reports that a second American may have been killed in the same battle that caused the death of Douglas McCain, an American jihadi.

“We’ve seen those reports,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said during Wednesday’s briefing. She noted that the department did not have independent confirmation of those reports.

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that McCain, 33, was killed in Syria while allegedly fighting for the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. McCain was apparently killed in the city of Aleppo.

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US Attorney’s Office Declines to Press Charges in Death of Navy Yard Shooter

US Attorney’s Office Declines to Press Charges in Death of Navy Yard Shooter

FBI(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced Wednesday that there will be no charges filed against law enforcement officers in the shooting death of Aaron Alexis, the man who attacked and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last year.

After reviewing witness statements, surveillance video, photographs, diagrams and other evidence and reports, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided that no actions undertaken by law enforcement officers had criminal intent and that their actions were undertaken in the interest of their own defense and the defense of others. Officers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, “acted reasonably at all times to neutralize a life-threatening situation.”

Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor for the Department of Defense, entered the Navy Yard on Sept. 16, 2013, killing 12 civilians and injuring three civilians and a Metropolitan Police Department officer.

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Defense Rests in McDonnell Trial, Closing Arguments Could Begin Thursday

Defense Rests in McDonnell Trial, Closing Arguments Could Begin Thursday

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The defense rested in the trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Wednesday, and closing arguments could begin as soon as Thursday.

McDonnell is accused of accepting gifts in exchange for special treatment of a businessman from Star Scientific. The CEO of the company testified earlier in the trial that he believes he was given access and a platform at the governor’s mansion to promote a nutritional supplement.

McDonnell denied those claims earlier in the trial, saying he accepted the gifts but did not offer special treatment. He also spoke of the toll that his position as governor took on his marriage.

On Wednesday, the 23rd day of the trial, the McDonnells’ daughter took the stand. The Washington Post says that Jeanine McDonnell Zubowsky discussed the tension between her parents when she was growing up.

McDonnell’s daughter also said that the money she was given, she returned upon finding out that the businessman involved in the trial “was a criminal,” according to the Washington Post.

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New Florida Rep, 23, Goes From Parents’ House to State House

New Florida Rep, 23, Goes From Parents’ House to State House

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — Boomerang kids, take heart: One of your own is making a splash in Florida politics.

Jennifer Sullivan, 23, still lives at home with her parents and is just about halfway through college. But the woman who admits she still quibbles with her siblings about who’s stuck with dish duty will soon represent more than 150,000 constituents in the Florida statehouse.

Elected to Florida’s House of Representatives by a 6-point margin Tuesday, Sullivan, a Republican, concedes her age made some voters nervous.

“I understand now that I have to prove myself,” she told ABC News. And she’ll waste no time demonstrating her worthiness once she gets to Tallahassee. She’s particularly eager to get to work repealing Common Core, the controversial education policy.

During the campaign, opponents knocked her for her age and inexperience. One GOP rival’s campaign brochure sneered, “State Representative isn’t an internship or job training course.” Another rival reportedly even attacked her for living at home. But Sullivan dismisses their criticisms as “desperate…grasping at straws.”

“A lot of people are finding that they are still living with their parents because they don’t want to go into debt,” she says. “That just wasn’t financially feasible for me to get an apartment.”

Like any other tech-savvy millennial, Sullivan is now tracking the response to her victory on social media, and is eager to rattle off the stats.

“I have about 54 unread text messages [and] over 300 Facebook notifications,” she says. “I’ve been able to stay up on Twitter so far.”

But she’s far from the stereotypical selfie-snapping, emoji-obsessed 20-something.

She and her friends “didn’t spend [the summer] on the beach chilling out,” she says. “They spent it knocking on doors…because they believe in what I stood for.”

The Vote for Jennifer campaign – nicknamed the #FreshFace campaign – operated out of her parents’ Lake County home. But juggling a hectic campaign schedule with her collegiate workload (she’s taking classes online, through Liberty University) meant she was rarely there.

“I’ve really just been home to sleep and eat, to be quite honest,” she says.

Sullivan, who was homeschooled, acknowledges that running a campaign from her childhood home did come with several distractions.

“Being the oldest of four siblings, it’s always, ‘Who’s going to do the dishes tonight?’” she laughs.

Still, she managed to stage what she calls “an incredible ground game,” raising $10,000 in just 10 days.

Though she knows that Sen. Marco Rubio, a rumored 2016 Republican presidential contender, was elected to the Florida statehouse at 28, Sullivan shrugs off the possibility of an illustrious political career.

“I’m not looking at the national scene,” she says, adding that she’d rather return to her district to work in the private sector when her time in the statehouse is up.

Her advice for other boomerangers with high aspirations?

“Younger [people] are oftentimes written off,” she says. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young.”

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Immigration Judge Calls Courts ‘Alternate Legal Universe’

Immigration Judge Calls Courts ‘Alternate Legal Universe’

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Immigration courts are an “alternate legal universe,” one judge said on Wednesday. There are no bailiffs, no court reporters, no Miranda rights, no witnesses — and it’s happening every day on American soil.

There are more than 375,000 cases pending on the dockets of only 227 immigration judges.

“We look like the guy behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz,” Dana Marks, a federal judge and the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, told a gathering at the National Press Club Wednesday.

“Most members of the public don’t have a clue about the realities of our world,” she said. “Since there’s no statute of limitations in immigration court, the convictions which cause people to come before us in our courtroom can be decades old.”

Marks called immigration courts the “forgotten stepchild within the Department of Justice,” receiving just 1.7 percent of the $18 billion given to immigration enforcement annually.

“Because we have been left to the mercy of the political winds which constantly buffet immigration issues, we have been resource-starved for decades,” she said.

There is a solution, she says, but it would not be quick or cheap – and it would require an act of Congress.

“To be efficient, and operate economically, to guarantee fairness, our immigration courts need to be independent, both from the prosecutors and from the respondents who come before us,” Marks said.

One issue Marks and Denise Noonan Slavin, a Miami-based judge who is the union’s executive vice president, highlighted was the immigration judge’s dual role as judges – or unbiased arbitrators — and employees within the Department of Justice, which often leads to blurred lines.

“The recent docketing changes brought about by the southwest border surge are another example of how we are serving two masters and not necessarily serving the public in the most efficient way,” Slavin said. “There is no other court that would turn the docket on its head at the request of one party. But the immigration court is flipping the docket by moving cases of newly arrived children to the front of the docket at the demand of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Slavin says this flip doesn’t make the most sense, especially when a judge could be deciding the fate of a child, whose parent’s own case may have been already on the docket and now pushed further down.

The administration requested judges to hear children’s cases with 21 days of apprehension following the influx of more than 60,000 children flooding the border since October 2013 – a 100-percent increase since last year. The administration has said they expect to return the majority of the Central American unaccompanied children.

“In the 27 years I’ve been an immigration judge, [I've] never been told what the ultimate outcome should be in a case. However, there are subtle pressures when you know you are supposed to do the case as quickly as possible,” Marks said. “There is a pressure to do things more quickly and that is more difficult.”

Marks adds that she and her colleagues have not seen an impact from President Obama’s initiative to add more judges and lawyers to the cases of unaccompanied minors.

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Ebola Outbreak Becomes Issue in Arkansas Senate Race

Ebola Outbreak Becomes Issue in Arkansas Senate Race

Office of Sen. Mark Pryor | Office of Rep. Tom Cotton(WASHINGTON) — An unexpected issue popped up in the Arkansas Senate race this week — Ebola.Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., released an ad titled “Emergency Response,” highlighting the recent E…

Civil War Hero to Receive Medal of Honor, 151 Years Later

Civil War Hero to Receive Medal of Honor, 151 Years Later

U.S. Army photo(WASHINGTON) — More than a century and a half after his death at the Battle of Gettysburg, a Union Army officer is being awarded the nation’s highest military decoration.

President Obama approved the Medal of Honor for First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing, the White House announced Tuesday.

Cushing was killed in action on July 3, 1863 — at age 22 — during the battle’s third and final day, in the face of Pickett’s Charge, a futile, deadly Confederate advance that threatened to turn the tide of the war.

Cushing served as commanding officer of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps for the Army of the Potomac. During the battle, Cushing’s battery took a severe pounding from the Confederate artillery, and Cushing was wounded in the stomach and right shoulder. Despite his injuries, Cushing refused to leave the battlefield, commanding his men and defending his position on Cemetery Ridge against the charging opposition.

Cushing’s efforts helped the Union Army to fight off the Confederate attack — with the South forced to retreat, sustaining massive losses. The South would never advance that far north again, a flash-point in the Union’s victory.

Cushing was one of 51,000 casualties of the battle. He was buried at his alma mater, West Point.

Despite a marker erected to Cushing on Cemetery Ridge and a monument near his birthplace, the Medal of Honor eluded him. Descendants and Civil War buffs took up the cause in recent decades.

Congress granted a special exemption last December for Cushing to receive the award posthumously since recommendations normally have to be made within two years of the act of heroism and the medal awarded within three years. Cushing has endured a longer wait than any of the 3,468 recipients to receive the Medal of Honor.

Cushing’s Medal of Honor will be awarded on Sept. 15. Other honorees announced Tuesday include Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins and Army Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat, who fought in the Vietnam War.

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Charlie Crist Wins Democratic Primary for Governor of Florida

Charlie Crist Wins Democratic Primary for Governor of Florida

Photo by Larry Marano/WireImage(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — The Florida Democratic Party announced on Tuesday that Charlie Crist won the state’s Democratic primary in his campaign for governor.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant said Tuesday night that Crist “has always put the people first.” Citing Crist’s record on jobs and taxes, Tant said Democrats around the state “are ready to work harder than we’ve ever worked to elect Charlie Crist governor of Florida.”

Crist, who served as governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican, has since become a Democrat.

Tant also commended Crist’s opponent, state Sen. Nan Rich, calling his campaign one of “principle, courage and tireless effort.”

“This campaign will come down to who Floridians trust to fight for them,” Tant said, “and they know that Charlie Crist has always been on the side of the people.”

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President Obama Talks About VA Reform, Need for Improved Mental Health Care

President Obama Talks About VA Reform, Need for Improved Mental Health Care

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(CHARLESTON, N.C) — During his trip to Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, President Obama discussed the newly released report on the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the need for better mental health care to battle the growing problem of veteran suicide.

“Despite all the good work that the VA does every day, despite all the progress that we’ve made over the last several years, we are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there,” Obama told the 96th national convention of the American Legion in Charlotte. “Those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans, and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens.”

“We are going to get to the bottom of these problems,” Obama added. “We’re going to fix what is wrong. We’re going to do right by you, and we are going to do right by your families.  And that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here.”

Obama emphasized his aim to “end this tragedy of suicide among our troops and veterans” — pointing to 19 executive actions he announced Tuesday to improve veteran access to mental health care.

“As a country, we can’t stand idly by on such tragedy,” Obama said. “So long as any servicemember or veteran is suffering, or feels like they have nowhere to turn, or doesn’t get the support that they need, that means we haven’t done enough.”
 
Obama highlighted his push to expand suicide prevention training across the military and the VA, “so colleagues and clinicians can spot the warning signs and encourage our troops and veterans to seek help.”

“We’re calling on Congress to help us ensure that our troops get coverage for mental health care that’s on par with the coverage for other medical conditions,” he said.  “We’re going to keep saying loud and clear to anyone out there who’s hurting, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it is a sign of strength. Talk to a friend. Pick up the phone. You are not alone. We are here for you. And every American needs to know if you see someone in uniform or a veteran who is struggling, reach out and help them to get help. They were there for America. We now need to be there for them.”

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Obama Approves ISIS Surveillance Flights over Syria

Obama Approves ISIS Surveillance Flights over Syria

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) –  President Obama has approved U.S military surveillance flights over Syria to track the Islamic militant group ISIS, a group that American warplanes have been attacking in neighboring Iraq, ABC News has confirmed.

The U.S. has not made any decision on expanding its air offensive against ISIS, also known by the acronym ISIL, into Syria, a U.S. official said.

The decision on the surveillance flights emerged as the president told veterans at the American Legion’s National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., that airstrikes against ISIS must be part of a broader strategy.

“Our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL,” the president said.

He cautioned that “we have to use our power wisely.”

American jets and drones have helped halt the advance of ISIS in Iraq and roll back some of the territorial gains by the Islamic militants. The number of flights and air strikes has increased in recent weeks and top Pentagon officials have said they have considered whether to extend those attacks to ISIS forces in Syria. The U.S. has also been providing weaponry to Kurdish forces in northern Iraq who had been battling with ISIS fighters.

“Rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being,” he said.

The president made clear that the U.S. can’t take on ISIS without the backing of allies.

“History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences,” he said.

The president repeated his vow that the U.S. would not send ground troops back into Iraq for combat duty.

Obama warned ISIS that the killers of American journalist James Foley will be hunted down. Foley was beheaded allegedly in retaliation for the U.S. air campaign, and after a $100 million ransom demand was rebuffed.

“Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple. America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done,” he said. “We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans — to go after those who harm Americans. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.”

There are indications that British investigators may be closing in on the identity of the masked ISIS member who spoke with a British accent and was videotaped carrying out the gruesome execution.

Since the video of Foley’s execution shocked the West, Obama has endured a new round of criticism of his foreign policy and calls for a more aggressive response to the emerging threat posed by ISIS.

“Even countries that criticize us, when the chips are down, they know who to call,” he said.

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