Review Category : Poltics

Ben Affleck Comes to Capitol Hill to Talk Congo

Jason Merritt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Actor Ben Affleck came to the Senate Thursday to talk about a philanthropic topic — his Eastern Congo Initiative — but he couldn’t escape the fame of his other job: Being “Batman.”

Affleck himself kicked off the Batman talk when he gave a shout out to one of his senatorial co-stars in the upcoming film, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

“To Senator Leahy, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge my co-star in Batman. The role is marginally smaller than mine but I understand you’re quite good,” Affleck said to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on diplomacy and development Thursday morning.

Affleck’s comment essentially confirmed Leahy will make a cameo in the upcoming Batman film. The Vermont senator has appeared in four Batman movies, most famously standing up to Heath Ledger’s The Joker character in The Dark Knight.

Affleck testified alongside Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who Affleck described as the “greatest and most important philanthropist in the history of the world.” Another panelist, Scott Ford, CEO of the Westrock Group LLC, lauded the efforts of “Batman” in Congo.

“We had the United States ask us would you go to Congo and I said not without Batman,” Ford joked. “And when Batman showed up, we went to Eastern Congo.”

At least one senator — Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. — was star struck by being in the presence of Batman and snapped a photo of Affleck in the middle of the hearing.

Batman testifying before Appropriations hearing on importance of foreign aid (oh, and @BillGates is here too). pic.twitter.com/LYW1Im7nIJ

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) March 26, 2015

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Bipartisan Vote Sends Permanent ‘Doc Fix’ Bill to Senate

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — By an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives pulled together on Thursday to send the Senate what supporters are calling the most-significant entitlement reform of the past 20 years.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi came together to strike a deal, repealing the Sustainable Growth Rate and replacing it with a long-term solution to Medicare repayment, as well as extending funding for community health centers for two years.

By a vote of 392-37, the bill, formally known as Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, now heads to the Senate where Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid comes under pressure to back the bipartisan deal.

Just four Democrats opposed the House vote, while 180 supported it. Thirty-three Republicans also voted against the measure.

To date, Reid has been somewhat reluctant to endorse the deal, pouring cold water on the idea of bringing the measure up for a vote quickly in the Senate.

“The SGR is still a work in progress, and I personally am going to wait until we see it having pass the House before we start speculating on what we need to do with it, if anything,” Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday.

Since 2003, Congress has spent nearly $170 billion in short-term patches to avoid cuts imposed by the SGR.

“This is a bill that will provide better health care for seniors and real savings for taxpayers,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said during a news conference shortly before the vote. “This’ll be the first real entitlement reform that we’ve seen in nearly two decades, and that’s a big win for the American people. It was a true bipartisan agreement.”

Boehner urged the Senate to pass the bill prior to the March 31 deadline.

“I was pleased to hear the president would sign the bill, and I would urge the Senate to pass it expeditiously,” Boehner said.

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Lawmakers Told Top DHS Official Played Politics, Appeared to Violate Ethics

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Homeland Security Inspector General told Congress Thursday that the federal agency’s second in command violated his own ethics policy at least three times by giving special access — or the appearance of favorable treatment — to powerful political insiders seeking help with immigration matters.

Asked directly by lawmakers if Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas had violated the ethics policy he had put in place, Inspector General John Roth said yes.

“We believe that policy was not followed,” Roth said.

The questions before the House Committee on Homeland Security came two days after the agency’s internal watchdog issued a lengthy report about Mayorkas’ management at the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of an obscure immigration program that grants visas to foreigners who agree to invest $500,000 in a qualified, U.S. job-creating venture.

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 IG report focused on alleged political favoritism by Mayorkas and specifically highlighted three cases where Mayorkas intervened after being contacted by powerful Democrats, including a past and current governor and the brother of Hillary Clinton.

“We believe there was an appearance of favoritism,” Roth told the committee.

House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said he was “extremely troubled” by the findings.

“The alleged exertion of undue influence … that resulted in benefits for politically connected and powerful individuals is extremely concerning,” he said.

Mayorkas had denied favoring anyone based on political considerations, saying he was seeking to reform a program rife with problems.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson said he believed the Inspector General had misunderstood the actions Mayorkas took in cases where powerful Democrats had reached out to him.

Thompson called him “an activist manager” who was shaking up a department with low morale.

“I’m a little concerned you went along way to say he didn’t do anything wrong,” Thompson said.

Roth said, “He violated an ethical cannon, Congressman.”

The three cases studied were developments that sought funding from foreign investors who would receive visas in exchange.

One was an electric car venture headed by Terry McAuliffe, now the Virginia governor, and supported by a business run by Anthony Rodham, Clinton’s brother. Both McAuliffe and Rodham made contact with Mayorkas while the car venture was being reviewed, the investigation found. The probe found Mayorkas intervened and reversed staff decisions to assist the project.

Similar findings related to a Las Vegas hotel backed by Sen. Harry Reid and film projects pushed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

“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 IG report said.

Earlier this week Mayorkas wrote a robust response to the IG 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,” 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.”

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Pope Francis to Visit White House in September

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Pope Francis will visit the White House on Sept. 23, White House press secretary Josh Earnest announced on Thursday.

A day later, as previously reported, Francis will address a joint meeting of Congress, becoming the first pope in history to do so.

During his visit to the White House, President Obama and the pope will pick up the conversation they started last March when the president visited the Vatican.

Their discussion will cover “a wide range of issues, including caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities,” Earnest said in a statement.

Francis’ trip to Washington, D.C. in September will mark his first visit to the U.S. as pope.

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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton Botches Parking Job Outside Capitol Building

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton may need to work on her parking skills.

In video obtained by ABC News, Norton, 77, is seen exiting her vehicle Wednesday morning, which was parked awkwardly in an angled parking spot on Capitol Hill. Norton, a 12-term Democrat representing Washington, D.C., in Congress, pulled straight into the spot, coming very close to each vehicle.

Some congressional staffers who witnessed the parking fail Wednesday morning laughed at the display.

In the video, Norton appears to rub up against each vehicle. A visual inspection hours later showed that neither vehicle parked on either side of Norton appeared to sustain any body damage.

Sources say Norton left her car in the spot for about 30 minutes before returning to move it, leaving a business card on the windshield of the Nissan Extera.

A spokesman for Norton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This story was first reported by Roll Call.

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DOJ Inspector General Finds Waste and Mismanagement in Government’s Use of Drones

DOJ(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Justice’s Inspector General on Wednesday released a report detailing “waste and mismanagement” in the federal government’s use of drones.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent approximately $600,000 on drones, the report says, but never flew them operationally. The ATF’s drone program was suspended in 2014, but a week after the suspension, a separate unit within the bureau purchased five small drones for about $15,000.

The ATF, though, is just one example of the problems the DOJ Inspector General found with the federal government’s drone programs. The FBI, for instance, has 17 drones, but only one pilot team adequately trained on all of the drone models.

The Inspector General also made a series of recommendations, urging the FBI to “implement a systematic process to reassess regularly [drone] capabilities, technological developments, and resource and training needs” to ensure that the bureau is able to use drones “efficiently and effectively.” The report also urges the ATF to “perform a thorough needs analysis” concerning its drone usage and capabilities.

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DOJ Inspector General Finds Waste and Mismanagement in Government’s Use of Drones

DOJ(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Justice’s Inspector General on Wednesday released a report detailing “waste and mismanagement” in the federal government’s use of drones.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent approximately $600,000 on drones, the report says, but never flew them operationally. The ATF’s drone program was suspended in 2014, but a week after the suspension, a separate unit within the bureau purchased five small drones for about $15,000.

The ATF, though, is just one example of the problems the DOJ Inspector General found with the federal government’s drone programs. The FBI, for instance, has 17 drones, but only one pilot team adequately trained on all of the drone models.

The Inspector General also made a series of recommendations, urging the FBI to “implement a systematic process to reassess regularly [drone] capabilities, technological developments, and resource and training needs” to ensure that the bureau is able to use drones “efficiently and effectively.” The report also urges the ATF to “perform a thorough needs analysis” concerning its drone usage and capabilities.

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FBI Director James Comey on 9/11 Report, ISIS Propaganda

FBI(WASHINGTON) — FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday spoke with a trio of 9/11 Commissioners on the release of a report that looked at potential new evidence on the 2001 attacks, offering some insight into ISIS propaganda and the American effort to counter it as well.

The report, released on Wednesday, says that the FBI needs to improve its analysis and intelligence collecting, as well as do a better job of integrating information from local law enforcement agencies, in an effort to fight homegrown terrorism. Comey said Wednesday that the FBI had declassified as much of the report as possible. The message, Comey said, is that the agency has “done great…it’s not good enough.”

9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer said at the release of the report that Middle Eastern countries need to aid in fighting ISIS propaganda online.

Comey was asked about ISIS propaganda, including a list of names and addresses of military-tied targets posted online over the weekend. “[ISIS]’s M.O. is simply to ask those who aspire to be part of their sick world, to act,” the FBI director said. “So there isn’t a clear line between aspiration and operation.” He added that the FBI takes the “so-called ‘target lists'” seriously, “because there could be a sick person out there who wants to [secure] their bona fides by acting.”

Still, when asked who in the U.S. government should be tasked with countering ISIS’ propaganda messages online, Comey said definitively that the responsibility should not fall to his bureau. “The FBI should not, does not and will not engage in counter-narrative. We don’t communicate the messages about what people should believe, think, act, especially with respect to a faith.”

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Would Biden Run Against Lindsey Graham in 2016? VP Says ‘Hell Yeah!’

Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) — When Vice President Joe Biden returns to his old stomping grounds in the Senate, you can always count on a moment of Biden being Biden.

Biden, who was on the Hill Wednesday for an address by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, bro-ed out with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, an old friend and potential 2016 rival.

“President Graham. Do y’all know President Graham?” Biden hollered over at the reporters speaking to Graham.

“He just guaranteed me I’ll be secretary of state,” Biden joked.

“You can be U.N. ambassador,” Graham said. “You’ve got the skills, you really do.”

When asked by ABC News whether he will run for president against Graham, Biden said, “Hell yeah!”

“He’ll kick my butt,” Graham said.

“We’re going to travel together, debate all over the country,” Biden said before walking off.

“We’ll wear out every reporter,” Graham said with a laugh.

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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 Declare

For 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 Money

Candidates 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 Action

Once 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 Earlier

Here’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 Real

For 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 Now

Once 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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