Review Category : Poltics

Kerry Faces Steep Challenges in Middle East Visit

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — As the security crisis in Iraq worsens, Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to the Middle East and Europe to consult with partners and allies on the security and stability of the region, and is also likely to go to Iraq soon.

If and when he does go to Baghdad, experts said he’ll have a lot of convincing to do: first, in assuring the Iraqis that the United States isn’t favoring one religious sect over another as it calls for a political transition; and second, to underscore the threat the Islamist extremist group ISIS poses not just to the United States, but also to Iraq itself.

The first charge is a particularly tough needle to thread, as Washington has long been urging Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, to become more inclusive towards Sunnis and Kurds, even as administration officials stop just short of saying he needs to resign.

And on the other side of the sectarian spectrum, the United States has been talking to Shiite-majority Iran about cooperating in the fight against ISIS, a common foe – which has upset Iraqi Sunnis.

But even as both sides are skeptical of the United States’ loyalties, it’s Maliki who is still in charge – and he hasn’t yet demonstrated much interest in heeding the United States’ requests for inclusivity.

“This will be Kerry’s first experience in playing the Iraqi gamesmanship of government formation. He’s in for a rude awakening if he thinks putting an Iraqi government together can be done with a visit here and there,” Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Atlantic Council based in Amman, Jordan, said.

In fact, the last time Kerry tried to persuade Maliki to do something failed, as the politically unpopular Prime Minister last year refused to prohibit Iran from flying over Iraq’s airspace to make arms deliveries to Syria, because Maliki decided he had more of a stake in preventing the Shiite Assad regime from being toppled by Sunni militants than in stopping Iran, Mardini noted.

“Kerry has a tendency of overvaluing not just his influence, but U.S. influence in general,” Mardini said. “He failed because he didn’t understand that it was in Maliki’s interests for those arms to keep flowing to Syria.”

Kerry will have to explain why the U.S. supports political change without being construed as being anti-Maliki, and also why the U.S. talking to Iran is in the long run a net benefit for all Iraqis, including Sunnis.

While the US wants to encourage the building of political bonds, it simultaneously needs convince the Iraqi military that it is in their interest, as well as the United States’, to defend Iraq against ISIS, said James F. Jeffrey, a deputy National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush who has also held top diplomatic positions in Iraq.

“The problem they have is to convince these guys that ISIS isn’t only a threat to America – they don’t care – but it’s a threat to them,” Jeffrey said.

Iraq’s security forces folded when ISIS made its first incursion into the large northern city of Mosul, but Maliki insisted a week later that his troops were “on the rebound.”

But it’s clear the Iraqis need military help, and Jeffrey praised President Obama for sending hundreds of advisers to work with forces throughout the country.

Jeffrey also said it was wise for Obama to make further military support contingent on political change – even as it remains a very open question whether or not the Iraqis will listen.

At the very least, he said, the U.S. must ensure that Iraq does no harm to the United States’ goal of neutralizing ISIS.

“The main thing is to basically get them to be part of the solution.”

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Underwhelming Support for Eric Cantor to Dance with the Stars

United States House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) — Republicans may have to come to terms with never seeing Eric Cantor as speaker of the House, but the public will likely have to deal with the fact that Cantor will not be dancing the samba dressed in sequins.

According to what is described as “the most important petition of all in the history of petitions” on Change.org, a free online petition website, Cantor is failing to garner enough support to be included on next season’s cast of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, despite sound arguments in his favor by main petitioner Sara Benincasa.

“If Tom DeLay can do it, Eric Cantor can freaking rock this show,” Benincasa wrote. “Eric Cantor is a total babe who probably has sweet moves on the dance floor. He is a dreamboat and even if you don’t like his politics, you need to admit that the man’s got swag.”

Unfortunately for Benincasa and Cantor’s 89 supporters, the Internet isn’t a big fan of the congressman’s potential samba swag. Four days after being published, the petition is still 99,911 shy of the necessary 100,000 for the 51-year-old Republican “babe” to be the second House Majority Leader to shimmy into the spotlight.

If Benincasa’s petition reached the specified signature benchmark, it could then be followed by “offline action” and presented to the appropriate decision makers at Dancing with the Stars who would then determine his fate on the small screen.

In 2010, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also channeled negative energy into interpretive dance when he competed with stress fractures in both feet before finally choosing to bow out.

“If you can’t practice you’ll make a fool of yourself out here,” DeLay said at the time of his concession.

Cantor has yet to respond to whether he would entertain the prospect of toppling DeLay as the best congressional dancer and seems to be sticking to the more traditional avenues of employment.

“I believe after almost 23 years in public service, 23 plus years in public service, that I can play a role and not just in elected office obviously but in the private sector,” Cantor told ABC’s Jon Karl on Sunday.

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Rand Paul Says ‘I Don’t Blame’ Obama for Iraq Crisis

United States Senate(WASHINGTON) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky took opposite views of the crisis in Iraq on Friday, with Christie pinning it on the president’s foreign policy while Paul claimed he doesn’t put the “blame on President Obama.”

The two Republicans spoke before the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, made up of Christian conservatives, while Paul also talked about Iraq with NBC’s Meet the Press.

Both men addressed the situation in Iraq where the American trained army collapsed in the face of an offensive by ISIS, the radical offshoot of al Qaeda, and Sunni tribes angry at the government of President Nouri al-Maliki.

In his first time addressing the evangelical group, Christie said leadership abroad requires “making sure our friends know who our friends are, and that our adversaries know who they are as well.”

“Leadership is about telling who you are and what you stand for, and then speaking it directly, loudly, and understandably so that not only your supporters know who you are, but the people who are against you know who you are, too, and have respect for where you stand.”

Although the Christian conservative crowd is far from what is considered Christie’s base of support, the group greeted him warmly with many giving him a standing ovation and interrupting him at points with applause.

In his critique of Obama, the governor briefly mentioned the crisis in Iraq when he said the “pulling back of American influence…is having catastrophic affects in every corner of the world.”

“That is not anything more than the failure of the American leader to speak clearly, profoundly and inspirationally about America’s role in the world,” he said.

Paul, who spoke before Christie, criticized the president on the ongoing strife in Syria and how it may have contributed to the current crisis in Iraq, but in his interview with NBC’s Meet the Press ahead of their show on Sunday, Paul made it clear he stands in stark contrast to Christie and other more hawkish members of the GOP on whose to blame for the crisis in Iraq.

“And what’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama,” Paul said. “Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the Iraq war on the chaos that is in the Middle East. I also blame those who are for the Iraq war for emboldening Iran. These are the same people now who are petrified of what Iran may become, and I understand some of their worry.”

In speaking before the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Paul urged members of his own party to be cautious when it comes to becoming engaged in overseas conflict.

“Reagan spoke often of peace through strength, but I fear that some in our nation and some in our party have forgotten the first part of the sentence, that peace should be our goal, even as we build our strength,” Paul said at the “Road to Majority” conference. “Some in my party have distorted this [Reagan's] belief in peace through strength into a misguided belief that we should project strength through war. Even when we’ve tried, through good intentions, to make the world a better place, our actions have often backfired.”

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Members of Congress Tackle Horse ‘Torture’

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — It was an unusual sight — show horses parading around the Capitol. But these Tennessee Walking horses came to bring attention to what many see as horse abuse.

It’s a practice called “soring” — using pain-causing chemicals, chains and pads on a horse’s ankles to make it walk with a higher, unnatural step.

It’s called the “Big Lick” and it wins at horse shows.

“It’s cruelty, it’s intentional torture,” said Keith Dane, Vice President of Equine Protection for the Humane Society. “These horses are suffering pretty much their entire lives of their show ring careers in order to give blue ribbons and prizes to their owners and trainers.”

The Humane Society has also released undercover videos alleging abuse of horses undergoing soring.

Soring has been illegal for almost 45 years under the Federal Horse Protection Act. But the problem for many is the industry is allowed to police itself. It trains and certifies its own inspectors.

“The people that determine whether or not soring is taking place are inspectors that are hired by the shows where the owners are abusing the horse with the soring practice,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-KY, who is sponsoring a bill designed to make sure the practice of soring ends.

Dane said, “The self-regulation in the industry is like the fox watching the hen house and it doesn’t work.”

Many horse owners don’t see a reason to force horses to learn to step higher.

“Walking horses have a beautiful natural gate that does not need to be enhanced by chemical or mechanical means,” said horse owner Mikal Spooner, of North Carolina, who attended a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday to draw attention to the problem.

Spooner and the other horse owners who went to the Capitol didn’t see any need to make their horse walk in what they felt was an unnatural manner.

Lauren Kovacs is one of the people who inspects show horses for signs of abuse.

“Normally chains, they’re not a good sign,” she said. “You look, make sure there’s no scarring. It’s not always obvious. People do their best to hide it, in fact.”

The bill, which has bipartisan support, would increase penalties, make items used in soring illegal, and make inspectors independent. It is stalled in Congress because some members believe it would cost jobs and hurt the industry.

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Rep. Don Young Reprimanded by House Ethics Committee

US Congress(WASHINGTON) — Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving Republican currently in the House of Representatives, was reprimanded Friday by the House Ethics Committee, which ruled he violated House rules by improperly using campaign funds for personal use and accepting gifts without proper disclosure.

After a 14-month investigation, the panel issued Young a letter of reproval and ordered the Alaska Republican to repay $59,063.74 to his campaign and donors.

Young has already repaid that money, according to the committee. He must also amend several financial disclosure reports through that period.

The 21-term congressman was found to have accepted gifts and expenses related to 15 hunting trips, occurring between 2001 and 2013.

In April 2010, Young asked the committee to review certain gifts he had received after the Department of Justice launched an inquiry.

The committee’s full report can be found here.

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IRS Commissioner Unapologetic as GOP Fumes over Lerner’s Lost Emails

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Republicans unloaded on IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on Friday during a hearing examining former senior IRS official Lois Lerner’s emails. Officials assert messages may be permanently lost after the revelation that her hard drive crashed and was ultimately recycled in 2011.

“I’m advised the actual hard drive, after it was determined that it was dysfunctional and that, with experts, no emails could be retrieved, was recycled then destroyed in the normal process,” Koskinen testified, drawing groans from Republicans on the committee. “I have no idea what the recycler does with it. This was three years ago.”

A week ago, the IRS told Congress that two years of Lerner’s emails were lost when her computer’s hard drive crashed in 2011.

After Koskinen concluded his prepared testimony, Rep. Dave Camp, slammed the IRS for failing to notify congressional investigators as soon as the agency realized the emails were lost.

“What I didn’t hear in that was an apology to this committee,” Camp, R-Michigan, said.

“I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen shot back. “Not a single email has been lost since the start of this investigation. Every email has been preserved that we have.”

Rep. Paul Ryan questioned the trustworthiness of Koskinen’s testimony, which was delivered under oath.

“This is unbelievable. The apology that ought to be given is to the American taxpayer, not to a government agency that is abusing its power,” Ryan, R-Wisconsin, fumed. “I am sitting here listening to this testimony. I just, I don’t believe it. That’s your problem. Nobody believes you.”

Ryan pointed to several instances where the IRS’s evolving accounts of the targeting scandal have misled congressional investigators, with the agency claiming initially that no targeting of conservative organizations occurred, but later blaming the practice on a few rouge agents, and even contending that progressives were targeted as well.

“All of those things have been proven untrue,” Ryan said. “This is being misleading again. This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial.”

“I have a long career,” Koskinen said. “That’s the first time anybody has said they do not believe me.”

Lerner, the former senior IRS official at the center of the scandal, has refused to answer questions from lawmakers, instead invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

“Today, you’re telling us, out of thousands of IRS computers the one that lost the emails was the person of interest in an ongoing congressional investigation. And that is not the truth either,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said. “This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in history.”

“To say this is the most corrupt IRS in history ignores a lot of history and seems to me, again, is a classic overreaction to a serious problem, which we are dealing with seriously,” Koskinen retorted. “My experience has been we do better to have a rational discussion when you know all the facts.”

The anger was highly partisan, as several Democrats defended Koskinen and apologized to the commissioner for the tenor of Republicans during the hearing.

“I want to apologize to you for the way you’re being treated this morning,” Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, said. “I thought this was a hearing and not a trial.”

Friday’s hearing at the Ways and Means Committee was Part I of Koskinen’s testimony on the issue. He’ll return to the Capitol next Monday to testify at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

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Hillary Clinton Dogged by 1975 Rape Case

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Hillary Clinton’s successful 1975 legal defense of an accused rapist has surfaced again with the victim, angered over a tape of Clinton chuckling over her courtroom tactics in the case, lashing out at the potential Democratic presidential candidate.

“Hillary Clinton took me through hell,” the victim told the Daily Beast in an emotional interview published Friday.

The woman said that if she saw Clinton today she would say, “I realize the truth now, the heart of what you’ve done to me. And you are supposed to be for women? You call that [being] for women, what you done to me? And I heard you on tape laughing.”

The name of the woman, who is now 52, was withheld for privacy reasons. She decided to speak out after hearing never-before-heard audio tapes released by the Washington Free Beacon earlier this week of Clinton talking about the trial. In the recordings, dubbed the “Hillary Tapes,” Clinton is heard laughing as she describes how she succeeded at getting her court-appointed client a lighter sentence, despite suggesting she knew he was guilty.

“He took a lie-detector test! I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs,” Clinton said about her client on the tapes, which were initially recorded, but never used, in the early 1980s.

The rape case has been investigated more than once, but with Clinton considering a presidential run, it is again commanding headlines.

Clinton’s team has not said anything about the case recently. ABC News has reached out for comment.

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Sen. Carl Levin Supports Obama’s Plan on Iraq

US Senate(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Carl Levin threw his support behind President Obama’s decision to send military advisers to Iraq but said that if ISIS, the enemy of the many Iraqi factions, cannot unite the country in a common cause than U.S. intervention will make no difference.

“We can’t defend Iraqis from themselves. Only if Iraq’s leaders begin to unify their nation can we help,” Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said on Friday.

While some U.S. leaders have been critical of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s inability to unite the historically divided country, Levin agreed with Obama that it is not up to the U.S. to decide Iraq’s leaders.

“That would be wrong on principle and bad policy to boot,” said Levin, D-Mich.

In response to a growing demand for air strikes by some Congressional leaders, Levin said those should only be considered if specific conditions are met:

First, if military leaders can identify high value targets and that striking them would have a “measurable impact” on the ground with minimal civilian casualties. Second, if leaders across Iraq — Shia, Sunni, Kurds and religious minorities — unite in a formal request for military support. Lastly, if there is clear public support from U.S. allies in the region.

“The United States has national security interests in Iraq. But further military involvement there will not serve those interests” until Iraq moves to a unified and inclusive government, said Levin.

When asked about congressional approval, he said that Obama is still within his authority. If the president opted for air strikes, he would likely consult with congressional leaders, Levin said.

Levin was not clear about financial costs associated with U.S. intervention but said that while costs are a factor, “you have to weigh that against the national security interests.”

ISIS — which stands for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — is a “vicious enemy” that ultimately could provide a threat for the United States and its allies the way that al Qaeda did, Levin said.

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Obamas Want Daughters to Work Minimum Wage Jobs

Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon(NEW YORK) — In an interview with Parade magazine, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama revealed they want their daughters to work a minimum wage job at some point to build their character.

“Oh yeah. I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work,” Mrs. Obama said.

“We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair. But that’s what most folks go through every single day,” President Obama said.

The president and first lady shared their own experiences working in minimum wage jobs. The president, who said he once scooped ice cream at Baskin Robbins and worked as a painter, talked about working as a waiter in an assisted living facility.

“It was a great job, although the folks there sometimes were cranky because they were on restricted diets. Mr. Smith would want more salt, and you’d say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Smith. You’re not allowed,’” the president said.

“My last year in high school, I worked at a bindery, side by side with grown-ups who had been there their entire lives,” Mrs. Obama said. “Knowing that I, as a 16-year-old, was getting the same income and doing the same work…it gave me respect for those workers. But it also gave me an understanding that more is needed for folks to be able to cobble together a decent life on minimum wage.”

President Obama has made increasing the minimum wage a top priority in his domestic agenda this year. Earlier this year, he used an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federally contracted workers to $10.10.

The presidential couple also discussed their struggles — both personal and financial — in their early marriage and how they divvied up the household chores as two working parents.

“I was usually the bill payer, the grocery shopper, and generally the dishwasher,” the president said. “Michelle was usually the bathroom cleaner, just because she didn’t think I did a good enough job. There were certain things she just didn’t trust me to do.”

The interview comes ahead of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosting a Working Families Summit Monday in Washington, D.C.

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Obamas Want Daughters to Work Minimum Wage Jobs

Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon(NEW YORK) — In an interview with Parade magazine, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama revealed they want their daughters to work a minimum wage job at some point to build their character.

“Oh yeah. I think every kid needs to get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work,” Mrs. Obama said.

“We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair. But that’s what most folks go through every single day,” President Obama said.

The president and first lady shared their own experiences working in minimum wage jobs. The president, who said he once scooped ice cream at Baskin Robbins and worked as a painter, talked about working as a waiter in an assisted living facility.

“It was a great job, although the folks there sometimes were cranky because they were on restricted diets. Mr. Smith would want more salt, and you’d say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Smith. You’re not allowed,’” the president said.

“My last year in high school, I worked at a bindery, side by side with grown-ups who had been there their entire lives,” Mrs. Obama said. “Knowing that I, as a 16-year-old, was getting the same income and doing the same work…it gave me respect for those workers. But it also gave me an understanding that more is needed for folks to be able to cobble together a decent life on minimum wage.”

President Obama has made increasing the minimum wage a top priority in his domestic agenda this year. Earlier this year, he used an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federally contracted workers to $10.10.

The presidential couple also discussed their struggles — both personal and financial — in their early marriage and how they divvied up the household chores as two working parents.

“I was usually the bill payer, the grocery shopper, and generally the dishwasher,” the president said. “Michelle was usually the bathroom cleaner, just because she didn’t think I did a good enough job. There were certain things she just didn’t trust me to do.”

The interview comes ahead of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosting a Working Families Summit Monday in Washington, D.C.

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