iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama’s frustration with lawmakers about ways to trim crushing student loan debt was exacerbated Wednesday when the Democratic-controlled Senate failed to advance a bill for debate that would allow borrowers to refinance loans at current low rates.

The tally was 56-38, four votes shy.

Earlier this week, Obama signed an executive order so that those who qualify could have payments on student debt capped at ten percent of their monthly salary. Furthermore, the government will forgive any outstanding balance if debtors have made 20 years of repayments.

However, the president said it was up to Congress to make real reforms to chip away at the student loan debt, which now exceeds $1.2 trillion.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill, which would have been paid for by a tax on Americans making more than $1 million annually, was derided by Republicans as a political stunt.

GOP lawmakers said Democrats refused to work on real solutions to cut student loan debt such as creating more jobs for graduates and lowering college tuition costs.
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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — As congressional probes into excessive wait times and inappropriate scheduling practices at Veteran Affairs hospitals widens, the FBI has gotten into the act as well.

FBI Director James Comey told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the bureau has opened its own criminal investigation to determine if laws were broken when VA employees allegedly fudged records to make it appear that tens of thousands of veterans were receiving timely medical attention.

According to Comey, his agents in Phoenix were heading the FBI probe. It was at the clinic in Phoenix that accusations first arose about interminably long wait times for care that reportedly led to the deaths of as many as 40 patients.

Since then, the VA’s inspector general released a scathing report on alleged wrongdoing at dozens of hospitals around the country. The fallout from the scandal resulted in the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who admitted problems with his agency were systemic.

Although the Justice Department has launched its own investigation, Comey’s testimony before Congress was the first indication that VA officials could face criminal charges if agents turn up concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

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Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) — CIA Director John Brennan gave the keynote speech on Wednesday at a National Security Conference co-hosted by the intelligence agency and Georgetown University.

The conference was set up to serve as a platform to discuss “a variety of topics important to 21st-century national security,” the CIA said. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller gave the conference’s opening remarks.

Brennan called the CIA a “learning organization” that is working hard to adapt to the times. Pointing to the most recent of challenges, including territorial disputes in parts of Ukraine, attacks and kidnappings by extremist groups like Boko Haram, and cyber-attacks, Brennan called the CIA indispensable.

While technology plays a key role in the agency, Brennan called it a “double-edged sword,” saying that it will likely never replace the core strategies and methods agents have used successfully for years.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama on Wednesday rejected the idea that Rep. Eric Cantor’s primary loss on Tuesday meant the death of immigration reform in 2014.

“It is interesting to listen to the pundits and the analysts and some of the conventional wisdom talks about how the politics of immigration reform seem impossible now,” the president said. Obama did not mention Cantor by name, but at a fundraiser for Democratic donors in Boston, he insisted that he “fundamentally rejects” the idea that immigration reform can’t be achieved this year.

“If you think because of politics, you want to maintain a status quo that is broken,” Obama told donors, “you don’t belong in Washington.” He also asked the donors to help rouse greater Democratic participation in the midterms.

“Democrats have one congenital disease,” the president said, “and that is that we don’t vote in midterms.”

Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that Cantor’s loss provided “some evidence to indicate that the strategy of opposing nearly everything and supporting hardly anything is not just a bad governing strategy, it is not a very good political strategy either.”

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Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — The Senate approved legislation on Wednesday that would provide military veterans with increased access to medical facilities and care.

The House of Representatives passed the legislation on Tuesday, and by a vote of 93 to 3 the Senate approved the bill one day later. The bipartisan bill was crafted by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The bill is expected to allow those veterans experiencing long delays in the Veterans Affairs system, or who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, to access medical care outside the VA system for the next two years. Additionally, funding will be directed to hire new medical personnel at hospitals and clinics that are currently understaffed. Finally, the VA will be able to lease 26 new medical facilities across the United States.

Under the new bill, the Veterans Affairs Secretary will be authorized to fire underperforming officials. An appeals process will be created to prevent that power from being used politically.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama Wednesday celebrated a fresh crop of high school graduates who can cook, construct, code a computer and cut hair.

At the Worcester Technical High School commencement ceremony in Massachusetts, Obama called the class of 2014 a success story of U.S. education, and of his vision for schools that train young people for 21st-century careers.

“You have set yourselves apart. This high school has set itself apart,” Obama said. “Over the past four years, some of you have learned how to take apart an engine and put it back together again. Some of you have learned how to run a restaurant or build a house or fix a computer. And all of you are graduating today not just with a great education but with the skills that will let you start your careers, and skills that will make America stronger.

“Together, you’re an example of what’s possible when we stop just talking about giving young people opportunity, when we don’t just give lip service to helping you compete in the global economy and we actually start doing it,” he added. “That’s what’s happening right here in Worcester.”

Ninety-two percent of Worcester Tech students score as advanced or proficient in English; 84 percent are advanced or proficient in math, according to the White House. The school has a 95 percent graduation rate. The school’s principal, Sheila Harrity, was recently named National High School Principal of the Year. She helped to turn the school from one of the lowest performing in the state to one of the top performers in just 8 years.

“I want you to remember that each of us is only here because somebody somewhere invested in our success. Somebody invested in us,” Obama said. “You’ve got to make sure that you use those gifts.”

The president joked at the start of his address that he was attending the ceremony in part “because I’ve got to practice because Malia is graduating in two years.”

“I’m trying to get used to not choking up and crying and embarrassing her,” he said. “So this is sort of my trial runs here.”

Obama also candidly noted that he doesn’t recall his high school graduation speaker, but believed that his remarks won’t be forgotten.

“I have no idea who it was,” Obama said of the speaker at his commencement in 1979 at Punahou School in Honolulu. “I’m sure I was thinking about the party after graduation. I don’t remember the party either. I’m just — I’m just telling the truth here. You will remember the speaker at this graduation because there’s a lot of Secret Service around, not because of anything that I say that’s so inspiring.”

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(CHICAGO) — Even Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel seemed a bit skeptical of Hillary Clinton’s comments about her and her husband’s post-White House financial situation.

During an interview in Chicago Wednesday morning for her book Hard Choices, Emanuel asked Clinton directly about her recent remarks to ABC News.

“Dead broke,” Emanuel said. “Really?”

To some audience laughter, Clinton admitted her word choice was not ideal.

“That may have not been the most artful way of saying that Bill and I have gone through a lot of different phases in our lives,” she said. “That was then, this is now. Obviously, we are very fortunate. We’ve been given great opportunities.”

Clinton then went on to describe how she and her husband both had good educations with great teachers.

“We’ve been blessed,” she said. “We have gone through ups and downs like a lot of people. But, clearly, we’re very grateful for the opportunities we’ve had.”

In addition, Clinton addressed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss in the Virginia primary Tuesday night, and described challenger Dave Brat as “a candidate who basically ran against immigration.”

“One of our greatest strengths is that we are a nation of immigrants and we would give that up at our peril,” Clinton said. “I believe so strongly that the negative attitudes about immigration and immigrants, which we are seeing played out in certain places in our country politically, are based on a gross misunderstanding.”

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Erich Schlegel/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is replacing her well-known campaign manager, Karin Johanson, with Texas state Rep. Chris Turner.

“After building one of the most competitive campaign organizations Texas has seen in decades, Karin Johanson has let me know that she believes it’s time to hand off the reins of the campaign management for our final push toward Election Day,” Davis said in a statement Wednesday.

Johanson, who managed Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s 2012 campaign in Wisconsin, joined the Davis campaign in October and was heralded as a star Democratic operative who could help boost Davis’ operation. Johanson formerly served as the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and worked as a political strategist for EMILY’s List.

Her replacement, Turner, is relatively unknown outside Texas circles. He’s served in the Texas legislature since 2008 and previously ran successful campaigns for Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas.

In an email to staff Wednesday morning, Johanson said she suggested to Davis that she hire Turner to replace her a few weeks ago. Johanson touted the campaign’s accomplishments during her time as campaign manager, including fundraising efforts and grassroots recruiting.

“I’m not sure Texas Republicans knew what to expect when Wendy Davis announced for governor last October. They know now. They’ve got a real race on their hands,” Johanson wrote. “If you are a betting person, put your money on Wendy.”

“Even from the sidelines I will still #StandWithWendy,” she wrote.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will not mount a write-in campaign and will step down as majority leader, sources tell ABC News.

Even if he was able to pull it off — a long shot — he would never be elected Majority Leader. He hopes to serve through July. However, a leadership election could happen before that.

Being a back-bencher isn’t appealing to him. And losing another campaign isn’t either, these Republicans close to Cantor say.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will not mount a write-in campaign and will step down as majority leader, sources tell ABC News.

Even if he was able to pull it off — a long shot — he would never be elected Majority Leader. He hopes to serve through July. However, a leadership election could happen before that.

Being a back-bencher isn’t appealing to him. And losing another campaign isn’t either, these Republicans close to Cantor say.

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