Review Category : Poltics

House Side of Capitol Building Reopens After Asbestos Incident

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — The House side of the U.S. Capitol Building was briefly closed down on Thursday morning after officials said there was a “potential release” of asbestos during overnight repair work.

U.S. Capitol Police officers stood guard at every entry point to the House side of the building, while only the basement level was open. Laura Condeluci, public affairs specialist for the Architect of the Capitol, said on Thursday that the potential release occurred during “ongoing asbestos abatement work,” and that samples were collected to determine the extent of asbestos release.

By 9:15 a.m. the House wing of the Capitol Building was re-opened, with the exception of the grand staircase and the Tip O’Neill Room. The House had been scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. Thursday, but that was pushed back.

The Architect of the Capitol and the U.S. Capitol Police are investigating the incident.

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Lawmaker Accuses Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito of Misleading Senate

United States Senate(WASHINGTON) — A recent controversial ruling by the Supreme Court reveals that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. were less than transparent during their Supreme Court confirmation hearings, a Democratic lawmaker charged Thursday.

And the lawmaker, Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., is none too happy about it.

The Supreme Court ruling last week in the Hobby Lobby contraception case, Durbin said, goes against the landmark 1965 privacy case, Griswold v. Connecticut, which both justices vowed to uphold during their confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee nearly a decade ago.

Durbin said he always makes sure to ask conservative judicial nominees whether they support the Griswold ruling, which is at the heart of women’s rights issues.

“I asked that question repeatedly of Justice Roberts and Justice Alito to make sure that they would honor that same tradition of privacy. The Hobby Lobby decision violates that fundamental premise,” said Durbin, who serves on the Judiciary Committee.

While he noted the justices were careful in their answers, “they both said they stood by the Griswold decision.”

Durbin’s comments came Thursday as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders announced new women’s healthcare legislation and sharply criticized the Hobby Lobby ruling.

Reid agreed the Senate was misled.

“Alito told us who he was. We let it go,” Reid said. “Roberts didn’t. He misdirected us. He’s certainly been a disappointment to us.”

Griswold was a landmark case that overturned a Connecticut statute that prohibited the use of contraceptive devices. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the law violated marital privacy, which is protected under the Bill of Rights.

“It was a breakthrough,” Durbin said, that placed the rights of individuals and families over a state’s right to ban contraceptives.

But nearly 50 years later, contraception is once again at the center of a divisive ruling.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit companies could deny contraceptive coverage under their company health plans if it violated a religious belief. Alito, writing for the majority, made no mention of Griswold and steered the opinion towards religious rights instead of privacy.

Democratic members of Congress responded to the decision with new proposed legislation intended to restore the contraceptive coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act. The bill, which could be introduced as early as next week, would prevent employers from interfering with coverage for conception or other health services guaranteed under federal law.

At Thursday’s news conference, Reid called the Hobby Lobby decision the worst Supreme Court ruling in the last 25 years.

“It’s wrong for five men to decide what happens to women in America,” he said.

As Democrats fight to keep a majority in the Senate in the fall elections, they are trying to draw attention to the court’s decision in hopes of rallying women voters to their side. Even if the Senate approves the legislation, Republican leaders in the House have no intention of following suit. Yet Reid defended the decision to press the issue, saying it was about far more than an election-year tactic.

“It would be political malpractice,” Reid said, “if we did not react the way we have dealing with this horrible decision made by the Supreme Court.”

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

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Lobbying usually doesn’t come with a side of ice cream.

But Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield brought some with him to Capitol Hill Thursday, where he joined Rep. Peter DeFazio to advocate for mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.

“One spoonful at a time will change the law,” DeFazio, D-Oregon, proclaimed.

DeFazio and Greenfield appeared with pro-labeling advocates to protest a bill proposed by House Republicans that would make labeling genetically modified food voluntary.

“Companies should be proud to talk about the ingredients they put in their food,” said Greenfield, whose ice cream company is known for their inventive flavors and ingredients. “This is as mainstream of an idea as you can get.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, would nullify efforts in several states to require GMO labeling; initiatives he called “misleading” in a Kansas newspaper op-ed.

“Not a single credible scientific study has shown [genetically modified food] to be anything but 100 percent safe. We should follow the science and make policy accordingly, rather than follow political agendas,” Pompeo wrote.

Citing the early medical consensus on the health benefits of cigarettes, DeFazio said that the lack of evidence doesn’t disprove any undiscovered health risks genetic modification might have.

“When’s the last time a tomato plant mated with an arctic char? This hasn’t happened in nature before,” he said.

Greenfield, who put Ben & Jerry’s on the map with iconic flavors and creative ingredients, has supported state-level efforts to mandate labeling. The company renamed its chocolate brownie flavor to “Food Fight Fudge Brownie” in support of a legal fund to defend Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law that is being challenged in court. (Event organizers passed out ice cream cups of the flavor after the news conference.)

Ben & Jerry’s, which Greenfield and his partner Ben Cohen sold to Unilever in 2000, supports a number of progressive political causes, including action on climate change and same-sex marriage. In 2012, Cohen founded Stamp Stampede, an organization geared toward limiting the influence of money in politics.

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Obama Uses “The Departed” Reference to Explain DC Dysfunction

The White House(AUSTIN, Texas) — For months President Obama has been slamming Republicans for obstructing his efforts to boost the economy. But on Thursday, he found a new, creative way to explain the problem.

Speaking in Austin, Texas, Obama invoked the violent Martin Scorsese thriller The Departed to explain Washington dysfunction. The president compared himself to the no-nonsense character played by Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark) as he ripped Republicans planning to sue him for his use of executive authority.

“There’s a scene in the movie where Mark Wahlberg — you know, they’re on a stakeout. And somehow the guy loses the guy that they’re tracking. And Wahlberg’s all upset and, you know, yelling at the guy. And the guy looks up and he says, well, who are you? And Wahlberg says: I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy,” Obama explained.

“Sometimes I feel like saying to these guys: I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy,” he said, to laughter and applause from the crowd at the Paramount Theatre.

Instead of waging “another political stunt that wastes time, wastes taxpayers’ money,” Obama urged Republicans to work with him to grow the economy.

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Obama Uses “The Departed” Reference to Explain DC Dysfunction

The White House(AUSTIN, Texas) — For months President Obama has been slamming Republicans for obstructing his efforts to boost the economy. But on Thursday, he found a new, creative way to explain the problem.

Speaking in Austin, Texas, Obama invoked the violent Martin Scorsese thriller The Departed to explain Washington dysfunction. The president compared himself to the no-nonsense character played by Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark) as he ripped Republicans planning to sue him for his use of executive authority.

“There’s a scene in the movie where Mark Wahlberg — you know, they’re on a stakeout. And somehow the guy loses the guy that they’re tracking. And Wahlberg’s all upset and, you know, yelling at the guy. And the guy looks up and he says, well, who are you? And Wahlberg says: I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy,” Obama explained.

“Sometimes I feel like saying to these guys: I’m the guy doing my job. You must be the other guy,” he said, to laughter and applause from the crowd at the Paramount Theatre.

Instead of waging “another political stunt that wastes time, wastes taxpayers’ money,” Obama urged Republicans to work with him to grow the economy.

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Senate Confirms Shaun Donovan as OMB Director

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Senate voted 75-22 on Thursday to confirm Shaun Donovan as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The confirmation of Donovan, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, completes the latest round of the Obama Cabinet shuffle.

On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as the new HUD secretary by a vote of 71-26.

Donovan and Castro were both nominated for their respective positions in May by President Obama.

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

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker John Boehner pinned ownership of the escalating humanitarian crisis at the southern border squarely on President Obama, complaining on Thursday that the president’s immigration policies have encouraged migrants to stream across our border.

Boehner contended that throughout his presidency, Obama has given migrants “false hope” that if they enter the country illegally, they would be allowed to stay.

“This is a problem of the president’s own making!” Boehner, R-Ohio, exclaimed to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. “He has been president for five and half years. When is he going to take responsibility for something?”

While Congress considers the White House’s $4.3 billion supplemental request, of which $3.7 billion is earmarked for the southern border, lawmakers are also debating whether to revise a 2008 law that says the unaccompanied children cannot be sent back to their native countries. Unaccompanied children must instead be held humanely by the Department of Health and Human Services until the courts release them to a “suitable family member” in the United States.

Boehner said Republicans “would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico,” which would quickly return children migrating from other Central American countries to their native countries.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, said she would prefer to see the language regarding Mexico’s migrants altered to the language pertaining to migrants from non-contiguous countries.

“If they wanted to make it uniform, I would have rather they treated the Mexican kids the way they treated the…non-contiguous country kids,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Really, what’s important is to get the supplemental. What price we have to pay to do that, we’ll see in the course of the debate.”

“When it comes to children, from my standpoint, I’m like a lioness,” Pelosi proclaimed. “Don’t mess with the children, OK? You want to talk about contiguous or non-contiguous, talk about it all day, but give us the money to deal with it.”

As for the supplemental request, Boehner said he believes the House should act before the August recess, but said lawmakers are still working to determine what action the lower chamber could take.

“I can tell you this, though. We’re not giving the president a blank check,” Boehner said. “Beyond that, we’ll await further discussions with our members before we make any final decisions.”

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

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker John Boehner pinned ownership of the escalating humanitarian crisis at the southern border squarely on President Obama, complaining on Thursday that the president’s immigration policies have encouraged migrants to stream across our border.

Boehner contended that throughout his presidency, Obama has given migrants “false hope” that if they enter the country illegally, they would be allowed to stay.

“This is a problem of the president’s own making!” Boehner, R-Ohio, exclaimed to reporters at a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. “He has been president for five and half years. When is he going to take responsibility for something?”

While Congress considers the White House’s $4.3 billion supplemental request, of which $3.7 billion is earmarked for the southern border, lawmakers are also debating whether to revise a 2008 law that says the unaccompanied children cannot be sent back to their native countries. Unaccompanied children must instead be held humanely by the Department of Health and Human Services until the courts release them to a “suitable family member” in the United States.

Boehner said Republicans “would probably want the language similar to what we have with Mexico,” which would quickly return children migrating from other Central American countries to their native countries.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, said she would prefer to see the language regarding Mexico’s migrants altered to the language pertaining to migrants from non-contiguous countries.

“If they wanted to make it uniform, I would have rather they treated the Mexican kids the way they treated the…non-contiguous country kids,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Really, what’s important is to get the supplemental. What price we have to pay to do that, we’ll see in the course of the debate.”

“When it comes to children, from my standpoint, I’m like a lioness,” Pelosi proclaimed. “Don’t mess with the children, OK? You want to talk about contiguous or non-contiguous, talk about it all day, but give us the money to deal with it.”

As for the supplemental request, Boehner said he believes the House should act before the August recess, but said lawmakers are still working to determine what action the lower chamber could take.

“I can tell you this, though. We’re not giving the president a blank check,” Boehner said. “Beyond that, we’ll await further discussions with our members before we make any final decisions.”

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Reid Skeptical of Changing Law at Center of Border Crisis

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Thursday he wouldn’t block attempts to change a 2008 law at the heart of the humanitarian crisis at the border, but raised deep skepticism about doing so.

The law says the unaccompanied children cannot be sent back to their native countries. Instead, they must be held humanely by the Department of Health and Human Services until the courts release them to a “suitable family member” in the United States.

“These children should be treated as humanely as humanly possible, and America set the standard for being able to take care of children in the right way,” Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Thursday.

He said Congress should start by passing the president’s $3.7 billion emergency spending request.

“My preference would be to pass a bill — a standalone bill. It’s emergency spending,” Reid said. “With this money we can do all kinds of things. We can go after the coyotes, we can go after the drug cartels, and we can take care of these children.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on Thursday that she would grudgingly accept reversing the 2008 law, as long as it meant passing the emergency spending.

Reid did not go that far.

“Let’s see what comes to the floor. I told you what my preference is. I think that there are people making a lot of excuses, as they’ve done for a year, to do something productive,” Reid said. “It would be very productive as it relates to the border problems to just give us — give the administration this money so they can start going after these bad guys.”

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Families of Vets Call for Action on Suicide Prevention at Hearing

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In an emotional House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing Thursday, a panel of parents decried failures in the VA and the Department of Defense as contributing to the mental pressures that led their sons to take their own lives.

“Perhaps none of these hearings have presented the all-too-human face of VA’s failures so much as today’s hearing will,” said committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

Jean and Dr. Howard Somers, the parents of Army veteran Daniel Somers, spoke on their son’s experience navigating the VA system in Phoenix.

“He presented there in crisis, he said he needed to be admitted to the hospital,” Dr. Somers said, having to finish for his wife who had started the story but broke into tears. “He was told by their mental health department that they had no beds, and he was told there were no beds in the emergency department. The fact is that he went in to the corner. He lay down on the floor. He was crying. But he was told you can stay here and when you feel better you can drive yourself home.”

Daniel Somers had largely condemned his experience with the system in his suicide letter published by Gawker just 12 days after his death.

“Thus, I am left with basically nothing,” Somers wrote. “Abandoned by those who would take the easy route, and a liability to those who stick it out — and thus deserve better.”

The panel cited a 2012 Suicide Data report that estimates 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the U.S.

The Somers were also joined by Peg Portwine, the mother of deceased Army veteran Brian Portwine. She blamed the VA and DOD for clearing her son for redeployment following multiple traumatic combat experiences.

“Upon returning from the second deployment in 2010, Brian was diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, depression and anxiety,” Peg Portwine said. “I never knew of his conditions. He deteriorated quickly from December 2010 to May 2010 when he took his life. If the DOD and VA assessed Brian for high suicide risk it was their duty to treat him, but he received nothing.”

The parents held back tears along with retired Army Sgt. Josh Renschler as they took questions for nearly three hours and made several broad recommendations for comprehensive changes in mental health treatment in the VA.

At the end of the testimony, the members of the committee, several of whom also choked back tears during their inquiries, gave a long standing ovation.

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