Review Category : Poltics

Adviser: President Obama “Not Interested” In Watching ISIS Beheading Videos

U.S. Department of State/Flickr(CARDIFF, Wales) — President Obama is “aware” of the gruesome videotaped executions of two American journalists in Syria at the hands of Islamic State militants but does not want to “put a spotlight” on them with his attention, a senior Obama foreign policy adviser told ABC News.

Asked whether the president has seen the messages directly addressed to him in the videos showing the beheading of Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama is “not interested.”

“The president is not interested in lifting up, essentially, the propaganda efforts of a completely barbaric terrorist organization like this,” Rhodes told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who pushed for a definitive answer. “He is certainly aware of the horrific, horrific way in which these two Americans were taken from us. … What he wants to do is make sure justice is done.”

Both Foley and Sotloff are seen on tape in orange jumpsuits, with a black-cloaked executioner standing by the side, addressing Obama directly in words delivered under duress and seeming aimed at appeasing their captors before they are murdered off-camera. Their severed heads are later shown sitting on their bodies.

“To deny the Muslims their right to live in safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,” Foley said moments before being murdered.

Sotloff said, “Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life?”

The videos, verified as authentic by the White House and intelligence community, have been removed from many social media outlets. The families of the victims have appealed for them not to be viewed or shown.

“What we don’t want to do is put a spotlight on these videos, which are essentially horrific accounts of acts of terror and, frankly, horrific propaganda for an organization that has nothing to offer the world except death and destruction,” Rhodes told Karl.

Rhodes declined to say definitively whether Obama has or has not seen the videos firsthand.

The administration continues to weather criticism over the president’s comments about the well-funded and brutal Islamic terror organization. Just last week, President Obama caught flak for saying he had “no strategy yet” for dealing with ISIS.

Earlier in the year, he dismissed the threat from ISIS as the “JV” squad — a short time before the group began claiming a series of dramatic victories in Iraq and elsewhere — and in remarks about the terror group sometimes referred to as ISIL on Wednesday, Obama was accused of contradicting himself.

In a prepared speech, the president first stated strongly, “Our objective is clear and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so it is no longer a threat,” but later in answers to follow-up questions, he backtracked, by saying the goal was, “to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its military capability to the point where it is a manageable problem.”

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Meet the White House Staffer Cleaning Up Government IT

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The sloppy look is officially in – even for officials at the White House.

Mikey Dickerson, the newly appointed administrator of the new U.S. Digital Service, a technology corps focused on improving government IT, roams the halls of the West Wing in what might delicately be termed Zuckerbergian attire.

“People are putting up with me walking around the EEOB and the West Wing just wearing whatever,” a rumple-shirted Dickerson said in a video released recently by the White House. “I mean, not quite whatever … I made some slight concessions.”

And in an interview with ABC News, Dickerson, who spent eight years in Silicon Valley before moving to Washington, said: “It’s not that there’s a problem with anybody wearing suits. It’s just that I don’t care.”

According to Dickerson, a more relaxed dress code could create a more collaborative culture.

“People should wear whatever is going to get their job done,” he said.

And Dickerson almost always gets the job done.

Before being named USDS administrator, the Pomona grad made a name for himself at Google’s cyber liability engineering department, and did a quick stint on the data team of Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.

Last year he was drafted to the elite “trauma team” called in to overhaul the beleaguered Healthcare.gov. His colleagues at HHS credit him with fixing the site, and Obama even called him a “hotshot.”

Dickerson’s success with the now-infamous website – which he lovingly calls his “government adventure” – led to a push for an IT overhaul, and the U.S. Digital Service was born.

Launched just last month, the USDS aims to do for the rest of government what the trauma team did for Healthcare.gov: improve citizens’ online interactions with government agencies.

This time around, however, there’s far less media scrutiny.

“It’s much easier to work without that kind of pressure,” Dickerson told ABC. “It’s always easier to make corrections … before there’s millions of people watching.”

Dickerson and his team haven’t yet identified which agencies they’ll target first. But they have devised an official playbook – a list of 13 best practices that reads like a litany of Healthcare.gov’s failures.

Number nine suggests addressing traffic surges. Number 10 recommends frequent testing. And number six recommends “assign one leader and hold that person accountable.”

“A lot of what you see in the playbook came directly from conversations we had as we worked on Healthcare.gov,” Dickerson acknowledges. “Towards the end of that project, those of us that worked on it made a lot of observations about things that, you know, things that needed to change.”

The USDS team is also soliciting feedback on the playbook through a web collaboration platform called GitHub. And they’ve already implemented several suggestions, from aesthetic tweaks to more substantive content changes.

“I’m glad you noticed!” Dickerson says when asked about the GitHub initiative. “I hope [people] are excited about the opportunity to participate.”

Navigating government websites like IRS.gov is generally about as fun as visit to the dentist, Dickerson concedes. But he says the gap between the government and the private sector isn’t as wide as people think.

“I genuinely don’t think of it as [the government] lagging behind,” says Dickerson. “The tech industry tends to do things a different way.”

“The private companies have a few years’ head start on building really large services that are expected to be really highly available. They set the bar extremely high,” he continues. “Google, Facebook, and others, they’ve created the expectation that the site will never be down.”

“The difference I would say, is that companies can try projects like that all the time, and if they fail, you just never hear about them. The government doesn’t get to get away with that,” he adds. If the government tries a big project and it fails, then everybody knows about it.”

Like many Silicon Valley tech gurus, Dickerson is a quirky guy.

Until last week, his Linkedin profile (which still features a photo of him in a yellow t-shirt and a safari hat) listed “No Fancy Title, Thanks” as his position.

“I would have been perfectly happy to do this entire job without a title, but … I have to pick my battles. So, if I can wear what I want and have to have a fancy title, then so be it,” he says.

Unlike the president, who is focused on his legacy as his White House years wind down, Dickerson hopes he won’t be mentioned in the annals of history.

“If we are a smash success,” he said, “you won’t even remember that we existed.”

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Immigration Overhaul Revving Up on Capitol Hill Despite Fewer Crossings

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Immigration overhaul is expected to move to the front-and-center of the domestic debate when Congress returns to Capitol Hill next week.

Rumors also abound about exactly when President Obama might take executive action on the issue, while White House press secretary Josh Earnest this week offered no update on the timing.

“There’s a chance it could be before the end of the summer. There’s a chance it could be after the summer,” Earnest said at a press briefing. “The president’s determination to act and his commitment to acting have not changed in any way.”

Earnest added that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder are in the midst of reviewing the options Obama has at his disposal to take action unilaterally.

Meanwhile, here’s where things stand on the issue:

Fewer Unaccompanied Minors Are Crossing the Border

Unaccompanied minors are crossing the border in far fewer numbers than they were just months ago. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) released its latest numbers Wednesday: between Oct. 1 and the end of August (fiscal year 2014) 66,127 unaccompanied minors (UAC) have crossed and been apprehended at the Southwest border (SWB). That is an 88 percent increase over the same time period last year, when 35,209 were apprehended.

• May – 341 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide (10,579 for May)

• June – 354 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide. (10,628 for June)

• July – 177 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide. (5,508 for July)

• August – 104 daily UAC apprehensions SWB-wide. (3,129 for August)

The decrease could be the result of any number of factors, including the campaign launched in Central America by the administration to dissuade people from taking the journey. But it could also be because of the weather. July and August are the hottest months.

More People Prioritize Border Security in Immigration Debate

A new survey out Wednesday by the Pew Research Center finds more people believe prioritizing border security is important.

The study, conducted Aug. 20-24, finds that 33 percent say the priority in the immigration debate should be on better border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws. That is a change since the last time this survey was done in 2013, where only 25 percent thought border security was the priority.

The majority of those surveyed, 41 percent, believe both border security and creating a way for those already in the United States to become citizens should be equally prioritized, which is down from February 2013’s 47 percent. While those believing enhanced that border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws should be given the priority have risen 8 points, from 25 percent to 33 percent since February 2013.

There are major differences in those priorities, however, when broken it down by age.

According to the report, “36 percent of those under 30 say the priority should be on creating a way for people here illegally to become citizens, the highest share of any age group. Those 50 and older are more likely than those under 50 to emphasize better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.”

When it comes to the unaccompanied children, 69 percent think the children should be able to join their families living in the United States while their cases are pending; 56 percent say they should be allowed to attend public schools.

Those Already Here Have Been for Quite a While

Another Pew report out Wednesday found that those living in the U.S. undocumented have been doing so for quite a while.

According to the report, more than 60 percent of the 11.3 million undocumented living in the United States as of March 2013 have been here for a decade or more, compared with only 35 percent in 2000; with 21 percent being here for two or more decades.

“Not very many new people are coming and the people who’ve been here awhile are not leaving,” Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at Pew Research Center, told ABC News. “The structure of this unauthorized population is quite different from what it was five to six years ago and, certainly, 10 to 13 years ago.”

Passel says the population peaked in 2007 at around 12.2 million, but dropped significantly in the next two years because of a lack of jobs and an increase in enforcement at the southern border, and has remained steady ever since.

“There’s always some coming, and there’s some leaving, and some becoming legal, but the big factor is the much smaller number of new unauthorized immigrants coming into the country and big factor behind the drop in 2007 was the number leaving,” he said.

“The medium length of residence in the United States for those currently residing is 13 years,” Passel said. “When the numbers were growing so rapidly, the median duration was more like 7.5 years.”

According to the report, the numbers show “no sign of rising” and mean that “those who remain are more likely to be long-term residents.”

Of those living here, the report found about 4 million, or 38 percent of adults live with their U.S. born children.

“One of the consequences of this dynamic is that a lot of them have put down roots, there are, as we said almost 4 million adults with U.S. born children. About 3 million U.S. born children are under 18 and then another almost 700,000 are over 18,” Passel said. “The stereotype of the unauthorized immigrant population is the ‘single man,’ in reality almost half of the unauthorized immigrant adults are couples with children.”

With a topic sure to be the basis of a lot of political theater in the coming months, Passel adds that the data comes out at a time when facts matter and public opinion doesn’t always correspond to the numbers.

“A lot of politics, and especially in the area of immigration, is not heavily influenced by data,” he said. “Basically, what we’ve seen is the population peaked in 2007, it dropped by a million and it hasn’t changed since then. The people who have studied this know that a big part of the reason is border security has been increased substantially, but a lot of that doesn’t get translated into public opinion.

“It’s useful to look at the trends here and see that this population is much less transient than it used to be, over 60 percent of the unauthorized adults have been here 10 years or more,” he added. “They are not brand new here.”

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Ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Wife Guilty of Corruption

Alex Wong/Getty Images(RICHMOND, Va.) — Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has been found guilty on 11 of 14 corruption counts. His wife Maureen McDonnell has been found guilty on eight corruption counts and obstruction of justice, a Richmond jury ruled Thursday. The pair was not convicted on bank fraud charges.

Reporters in the courtroom described the family as sobbing and hysterical as the guilty charges were read. This was the third day of deliberations for the jury after a five-week trial.

This is a stunning fall from grace for the man who was on the short list to be a possible running mate for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. He was charged with exchanging favors with a wealthy Virginia businessman in exchange for about $177,000 worth of lavish gifts, vacations, and loans.

Sentencing will not be Thursday, but the maximum sentence for each corruption charge is 20 years. During the next phase of sentencing, family members and friends will likely contact the judge directly, traditionally by mail, to plead for leniency for the former first couple of Virginia. It’s likely at that point that the McDonnells will appeal their conviction in an appeals court.

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Group Claims More Americans Want Major Change to Pledge of Allegiance

Fuse/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Pledge of Allegiance is a 31-word recitation that every American knows by heart or at least they should.

However, there’s a two-word phrase included in the Pledge that remains as controversial now as when Congress added it 60 years ago.

Because of “under God,” some people refuse to say it, particularly atheists.

The American Humanist Association decided to poll 1,000 adults to get their feelings about “under God,” and just over a third said they’d support removing it from the Pledge, including 90 percent of those who consider themselves atheist.

The findings differ from a 2013 poll by the evangelical LifeWay Research, which revealed that only eight percent would remove “under God” from the Pledge.

Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, contends that most people are comfortable with the Pledge the way it is while AHA executive director Roy Speckhardt believes that the more Americans who know the Pledge was changed to include “under God” the more they’d support restoring it back to the original 29 words.

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FLOTUS Makes Funny Or Die Debut in “Snackpocalypse”

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — For those addicted to all things Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, there’s a new brand of zombie flick in town. And it’s one that’s close to First Lady Michelle Obama’s heart: the junk food zombie horror film.

On the heels of her husband’s “Between Two Ferns” March interview with Zach Galifianakis, the first lady has just appeared in her own “Funny or Die” digital short, Snackpocalyse.

The short, lasting just over three minutes, opens with a faux movie trailer — which stars actors Chloe Grace Moretz and Tyler Posey — for a film about a girl who eats fruits and vegetables regularly, but is implored by Posey to hide her dangerous secret from the outbreak of junk-food zombie jocks and cheerleaders at her high school.

People start collapsing on the quad from apparent sugar overdoses and other unhealthy eating habits, food fights run rampant, and healthy Moretz is tasked with saving her fellow classmates from themselves by raiding the “last healthy vending machine” left. But the fully stocked machine won’t so much as dispense a lone banana due to technical difficulties.

Moretz, however, takes a page from the Hunger Games and breaks into the machine with a bow and arrow, and eats an apple she pieced directly from the arrow rod.

It’s then that the video cuts away from the fake film preview to a cozy, dimly lit living room, where Michelle Obama huddles under a pink blanket on the couch between two of her girlfriends, a bowl of popcorn on her lap.

She turns down the preview’s volume and says with frustration, “Don’t you hate when trailers give away the whole movie?” looking at her pals for affirmation and taking a big a bite from a long-stemmed carrot. The shot pulls out to reveal that her popcorn bowl has been swapped out for one full of carrots.

“Can we just watch Frozen again?” she pleads with her friends, and then takes another angry bite from her carrot.

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Louisiana Senator Subpoenaed over Residency Status

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(BATON ROUGE, La.) — Sen. Mary Landrieu has been subpoenaed by Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District to appear in court on Friday in a case brought by a former Senate challenger, Paul Hollis.

Hollis is challenging Landrieu’s residency status in Louisiana, making the case that Landrieu is a resident of D.C. and not Louisiana. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s listed qualifications, a candidate for U.S. Senate must “be an inhabitant of Louisiana when elected.”

While Landrieu claims her parents’ New Orleans home, located at 4301 S. Prieur St. is her primary residence and the basis for her residency in Louisiana, the three-term incumbent also maintains a multi-million dollar home on Capitol Hill.

A source with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s office confirmed to ABC News that a subpoena was served to Landrieu’s New Orleans’ home on Wednesday.

Landrieu’s campaign has yet to respond to an ABC News request for comment regarding the subpoena, but the senator defended her Louisiana residency in a statement to ABC News last week.

“I have lived at my home on Prieur Street (New Orleans) most of my life and I live there now when not fulfilling my duties in Washington or serving constituents across the state,” Landrieu said.

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GOP Senate Candidates Call for OTC Birth Control to Challenge ‘War on Women’ Stamp

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis and U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner of Colorado are the latest Republican Senate candidates to support over-the-counter birth control.

Speaking in the first North Carolina Senate debate Wednesday night, Tillis said over-the-counter contraceptives available without prescriptions would “reduce the barriers for having more options for women.”

The tactic could complicate Democratic attempts to depict a Republican “war on women” in key battleground states, if Tillis’ parry of Sen. Kay Hagan’s attack on his record with women last night is any indication.

“When women’s issues are on the line, I will never back down,” Hagan said, before calling Tillis’ record “abysmal” for supporting the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

“Look, we need to separate the two issues,” Tillis responded. “When we’re talking about taxpayer funding for contraception, that’s different than access. Senator Hagan is trying to distort the two.”

In an ad released in Colorado earlier this week titled “For You,” Gardner tells a town-hall audience his belief in “over-the-counter, round-the-clock” birth control sets him apart from his Democratic opponent, Sen. Mark Udall, and makes accessing birth control “cheaper, and easier” for women.

“[Udall] wants to keep government bureaucrats between you and your health care plan,” Gardner says in the ad, one of two this week staking out moderate positions in the tight Colorado race.

Four Republican Senate candidates have now voiced support for over-the-counter birth control. Minnesota Senate candidate Mike McFadden and Virginia Senate candidate Ed Gillespie were the first to embrace the position.

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Tight NC Senate Race Keeps to Playbook in First Debate

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The first debate in North Carolina’s tight U.S. Senate race Wednesday night picked up where the million-dollar ad campaigns have left off: asking voters to vote against leadership in Washington or Raleigh.

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan criticized Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis for supporting hardline conservative positions in the state legislature, while Tillis repeatedly called his incumbent opponent a “rubber-stamp” for President Obama’s agenda.

Hagan, 61, accused Tillis of cutting $500 million in education funding from the state budget while ushering tax breaks through the GOP-controlled state legislature for wealthy North Carolina residents. Tillis pointed to the 7 percent teacher pay increase passed through the state legislature this summer.

Tillis, 54, accused Hagan of lying about Obamacare when she told voters they could keep their health insurance plans, and said she voted with Obama 95% of the time.

Running a close race in a purple state, Hagan said she “stood up to the president and my party when it is right for the people of North Carolina,” and mentioned her support of the Keystone XL pipeline and opposition free trade agreements.

When the debate turned to foreign policy, Tillis slammed Washington Democrats for lacking a response to the advance of the terrorist group ISIS and the beheading of two U.S. journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

“How on earth can you not have a strategy for an organization that is almost ten years old?” Tillis said. “Today it is less safe than when Kay entered office in 2008.”

Hagan replied that she supported arming moderate Syrian rebels and supported congressional authorization for a campaign against ISIS.

Tillis countered that Hagan “should be slamming the table for this president, not rubber-stamping a failed policy.”

Tillis had difficulty with questions about minimum wage. When asked whether he would change North Carolina’s $7.25 minimum wage, he only said the question is “best left to the states.”

In her response, Hagan mentioned Tillis opposition to equal pay in North Carolina, raising an issue Democrats hope will resonate with women in November.

“I didn’t raise my two daughters to think they were worth 82 cents on the dollar,” Hagan said. “When I look at Speaker Tillis’ record on women, it is abysmal.”

The GOP challenger also struggled when asked whether the federal government should continue offering military equipment to state and local law enforcement. “We owe police officers a debt of gratitude,” Tillis said, adding the government should “leave it to municipalities and police departments.”

“There weren’t any knockouts or gaffes,” University of North Carolina-Charlotte professor Eric Heberlig said. “If the election were tonight, we’d be staying up pretty late.”

The next debate, which will be hosted by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, will be Oct. 7. The candidates have agreed to a third debate, which has yet to be announced.

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What Five Former Secretaries of State Say About Worldwide Threats

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — As President Obama was overseas asserting his view of America’s role in the world, five former secretaries of state gathered at their old workplace in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, giving glimpses into how they would handle this tumultuous period in American foreign policy.

The gathering, commemorating the groundbreaking for a new State Department museum for American diplomacy around the world, seemed especially symbolic as Obama comes under scrutiny for his handling of numerous challenges overseas, including the rising threat of Islamist terrorists in the Middle East, Russia’s continued defiance in Ukraine and countless other urgent issues.

That backdrop did not seem lost on any of the speakers, including former Secretary James Baker, who noted the importance of strong US diplomacy while so much of the world is in upheaval.

“During tough times like today, as crisis brews in the Ukraine, the entire Middle East burns, tension rises in the Middle East and terrorism grows stronger, not weaker, diplomacy is going to play an important role in peacefully resolving the challenges that we face,” Baker, who served under the President George H.W. Bush, said.

Henry Kissinger, the first of the former secretaries to speak in chronological order, stressed the importance of having a clear overall strategy in place — days after Obama was criticized for saying he had “no strategy yet” for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS, the terror group he dismissed the group as “JV” back in January.

“It is imperative to outline the concept of what our country is trying to do as to prevent foreign policy from becoming a series of tactical issues,” Kissinger, who served under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, said.

Kissinger was not explicitly referring to any leaders’ policy in particular, but his remarks were particularly salient given that Obama had just spoken earlier about his goal for combating ISIS, in which he laid out several seemingly contradictory objectives, first saying the goal is to “destroy” the group and then later saying it was making ISIS a “manageable problem.”

The president’s remarks also came up during remarks by Madeline Albright, who served in the Clinton administration and was explicit in her praise of Obama, who spoke in Tallinn, Estonia, where he visited before the NATO summit in Wales.

“I was very proud to listen to President Obama today in Estonia really say how we had to defend our allies and our values,” she said.

Gen. Colin Powell spoke about the need to maintain relationships with countries even if they are not perfect allies, remarks that could be applicable to the United States’ current ties with Russia.

“We talk to friends and adversaries. We work with adversaries to make sure they do not become enemies. This is vital work. This is work that is in the best interest of the nation,” Powell, who served under President George W. Bush, said.

Hillary Clinton, the most recent predecessor to current Secretary John Kerry, spoke about diplomacy being, “at the heart of America’s leadership,” but touched on her own accomplishments at the State Department, including boosting Foggy Bottom’s social media IQ.

“By 2013 more than 2.6 million Twitter users followed 301 official feeds in 11 languages. And our diplomats, particularly our ambassadors but up and down the ranks, were developing their own Facebook pages and their own Twitter accounts,” she said.

Despite her clear but understated effort to highlight a personal success at State, Clinton’s presidential ambitions went almost completely unremarked-upon, except for a sly reference by Kissinger.

Speaking about the exclusive club of former secretaries that he belongs to, Kissinger said, “we will never do anything more challenging in our lives” than serve in that role.

“I would say all of us…except one,” he added.

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