ABC News(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley introduced legislation this week to stiffen rules for schools seeking to attract foreign applicants with the promise of assistance to obtain a student visa — an effort he says will prevent want-to-be terrorists from exploiting vulnerabilities in the American student entry program.

“It’s time to close the loopholes and clamp down on schools that have a poor track record with regard to foreign students,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said.

Grassley pointed to findings of a recent ABC News investigation that found U.S. Homeland Security officials had lost track of some 6,000 foreign nationals who had overstayed the terms of their student visas in the past year and a half — exploiting a security gap that was supposed to be fixed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Despite repeated concerns raised by Congress, federal immigration officials have also continued to grant schools certification to accept overseas applicants even if the schools lack accreditation, state licensure, or any obvious measure of academic rigor.

There are now more than 9,000 schools on the government-approved list. The list includes such top flight American colleges as Harvard and Yale, but it also includes 86 beauty schools, 36 massage schools and nine schools that teach horseshoeing. Foreign students can enter the U.S. on a visa to study acupuncture, hair braiding, or join academies that focus on tennis and golf.

In one case, a tiny, state licensed career college in New York City continued to have four campuses on the Department of Homeland Security-certified schools list, even though five of the school’s top officials — including its president — were indicted on charges of visa fraud in May.

According to the indictment, 80 percent of the foreign students enrolled at MicroPower Career Institute had delinquent attendance, putting them out of compliance with their visas. But the school did not report them, the indictment says.

The school declined comment and all five school officials have pleaded not guilty in the case. DHS officials said they had no ability to de-list the school, even after the fraud indictments, because the school was entitled to administrative due process.

Grassley said his legislation would require schools to be accredited by an appropriate accrediting body in order to accept foreign students. He said it would also give Homeland Security officials the ability to immediately suspend school participation if they were failing to comply reporting requirements or fell under suspicion of fraud.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said the agency does not comment on pending legislation. But she added that the department would “fully support improving and enhancing programs that protect our country’s national security.”

She noted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is already hard at work trying to improve what officials there have acknowledged are shortcomings of the student visa monitoring program. ICE officials told ABC News, for instance, that it has undertaken a new program to deploy field representatives around the country to personally inspect schools that had been approved to accept foreign students. So far, 15 field representatives have been hired, with a plan to ultimately employ 60 around the country, according to spokesperson Carissa Cutrell.

The agency has also launched a program — so far installed at one airport, but planned for others — that will immediately alert a customs inspector if a student is attempting to re-enter the country after their status has been flagged by a school official.

“The Student and Exchange Visitor Program has made significant improvements to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, increased school and student oversight, and unveiled new policy guidance to close vulnerabilities and better protect our nation from individuals who try to exploit the U.S. visa system,” Cutrell said.

An advocacy group for international students and educators, called NAFSA, has expressed concern that security questions surrounding student visas have created unwarranted fears about the risks those students pose. Rebecca Morgan, a NAFSA spokeswoman, noted that only 3 percent of the 61 million people who entered the United States on nonimmigrant visas in 2013 held student visas.

“It is important to understand that the other 97 percent are entirely unmonitored,” she said. “Students are the only ones that are monitored.

Morgan also said that efforts to attract foreign students should be encouraged, not impeded.

“Generations of American foreign-policy leaders have pointed to educational exchanges as one of our most successful foreign policy tools, the most proven and effective way for the United States to build a foundation for dialogue and partnership with the rest of the world,” she said.

Jill Welch, who oversees NAFSA public policy, said in a statement that the group would oppose the measure, calling it “unfortunate that Senator Grassley’s recent statements imply a false connection between foreign students and terrorism.”

She said the legislation is “redundant because DHS already has the authority to shut down fraudulent programs after an investigation and due process.”

The Grassley legislation is similar to a proposal introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in 2012 that failed to pass. Grassley said that as the number of foreign students being issued visas has grown, the amount of risk posed by the program is expanding. He cited a recently released Brookings Institution report showing the number of visas in U.S. colleges and universities grew from 110,000 in 2001 to 524,000 in 2012.

“Despite this overwhelming increase, the technology and oversight of the student visa program has insufficiently improved,” he said. “Now, 13 years after 9/11, we have sham schools setting up in strip malls without real classrooms. We have foreign nationals entering the U.S. with the intent to study, but then disappear and never attend a real class.”

Thomas Kean 9/11 Commission Co-Chair told ABC News that he is stunned the federal government continues to lose track of so many foreign nationals who had entered the country with student visas. He noted that both the hijacker who flew the airplane into the Pentagon and the man who drove the van containing explosives into the World Trade Center garage in 1993 were student visa holders who were no-shows at school.

“It’s been pointed out over and over and over again and the fact that nothing has been done about it yet…it’s a very dangerous thing for all of us,” Kean said. “The fact that there’s been no action on this is very bothersome.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In a montage that includes militant jihadists wielding automatic weapons, exploding buildings, and even an apparent firing squad, the most arresting image lasts only a moment, but it is unmistakable: a masked terrorist brandishing a knife.

New Mexico Senate candidate Allen Weh made headlines last month when his campaign included the image — a still from the ISIS video of James Foley’s beheading — in a 60-second campaign spot.

Including an image from one of the year’s most high-profile murders in a campaign ad is a risky move politically — especially when that image comes from a particularly gory piece of extremist propaganda. But addressing the threat of ISIS is becoming almost unavoidable as national security issues continue to dominate the news cycle.

“That video is rough, but that’s the unvarnished truth,” Weh told ABC News. “The whole message was very simple: failed leadership in Washington.”

ISIS is “absolutely going to be on the front of people’s minds” this election cycle, he added.

And slowly but surely, other candidates have been following Weh’s lead.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s fighting to hold on to his seat against Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes, also invoked the ISIS threat. In an ad released last week, the McConnell campaign ties Grimes to Obama’s no-strategy-yet gaffe.

“These are serious times,” a narrator intones, as footage of an ISIS militant wielding an automatic weapon flashes on the screen. Later, a three-second clip shows Obama saying, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

“When so many in Washington can’t do the job, shouldn’t Kentucky have a senator who can? Obama needs Alison Grimes. Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell,” the ad says.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also unveiled an ISIS-themed ad portraying incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., as soft on terror.

“America is under a new threat of terrorism, yet Nolan voted to cut funds from the fight against al Qaeda,” the narrator says, as the screen shows men in Middle Eastern garb.

“Rick Nolan. Dangerously Liberal. Wrong for Minnesota,” the ad concludes.

In Michigan, an ad released by the U.S. Senate campaign of Democratic Rep. Gary Peters doesn’t specifically reference terrorism but it does mention an upcoming “vote” — presumably a vote to authorize military action against extremists in the Middle East.

“When it comes time to cast a vote, the decision to put men and women in harm’s way is one of the toughest ones you can make, and I will always think of the people I served with, their sacrifices,” Peters, a former Navy Reservist lieutenant colonel, says in the ad.

And in perhaps the most hard-hitting spot of all, one candidate seeks to tie his opponent not to ineffective policy — but to the terrorists themselves.

David Perdue, a Republican battling Democrat Michelle Nunn for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat, recently dusted off an old ad linking Nunn to militants.

“In her campaign plan, Michelle Nunn admits she’s too liberal, and her foundation gave money to organizations linked to terrorists,” the ad says.

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DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Obama administration officials repeatedly threatened the family of murdered journalist James Foley that they might face criminal charges for supporting terrorism if they paid ransom to the ISIS killers who ultimately beheaded their son, his mother and brother said this week.

“We were told that several times and we took it as a threat and it was appalling,” Foley’s mother Diane told ABC News in an interview.

She said the warnings over the summer came primarily from a highly decorated military officer serving on the White House’s National Security Council staff, which five outraged current and former officials with direct knowledge of the Foley case also recounted to ABC News in recent weeks.

“Three times he intimidated us with that message. We were horrified he would say that. He just told us we would be prosecuted. We knew we had to save our son, we had to try,” Diane Foley said.

“It was an utterly idiotic thing to do that came across as if he had the compassion of an anvil,” said a former official who has advised the family.

“He had no business speaking about legal issues he was unqualified to discuss,” a current official said of the military officer at the NSC, who has no background in the law.

Foley’s brother Michael said in an interview that he was directly threatened with possible prosecution for violating anti-terrorism laws by a State Department official, but insisted that he remained defiant in calling the government’s bluff. No relatives of American hostages have ever been indicted for trying to free a loved one from captivity, Foley said he informed the official.

The Foley family adviser said the threats were made up until a few days prior to the veteran war correspondent’s murder by ISIS shown in the shocking Aug. 19 video. Two weeks later, another captured U.S. journalist, Steven Sotloff, was shown being similarly beheaded by ISIS in a video, which the killers said was because President Obama has bombed the group inside Iraq.

An NSC spokeswoman admitted that the Foley family was informed of U.S. laws banning terrorism financing but denied the family was told they could face charges if they made a ransom payment.

“Without getting into the details of our private discussions with families, the law is clear that ransom payments to designated individuals or entities, such as ISIL [ISIS], are prohibited. It is also a matter of longstanding policy that the U.S. does not grant concessions to hostage takers. Doing so would only put more Americans at risk of being taken captive. That is what we convey publicly and what we convey privately,” NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement on Thursday.

The spokeswoman also asked ABC News to withhold the military officer’s name for fear his personal security could be compromised by those who might wrongly blame U.S. officials for Foley’s slaughter at the hands of ISIS militants who may never have considered sparing him for any price.

Diane Foley said she was furious at the official’s perceived threats and that she and her husband John were concerned that any donors to their ransom collection drive might be thrown in prison for funding terrorism.

“I fear for the remaining American hostages’ families, who have been intimated in a similar way,” she told ABC News. “It definitely interfered with our efforts to bring Jim home.”

“We did not want any of our donors to be prosecuted; we weren’t concerned about ourselves,” she added.

Foley did not disclose how much her family had raised before his high-profile public execution but she and a surviving son, Michael said that the administration’s intimidation tactics succeeded.

“It slowed my parents down quite a bit. They didn’t want to do anything that could get them in trouble. It slowed them down for months in raising money. Who knows what might have happened?” Michael Foley wonders.

The family launched the James W. Foley Legacy Fund this week, which in large part is intended to help other hostages’ loved ones navigate the frustrating currents they encountered both with the terrorists and with their own government.

Two American and several British hostages remain in ISIS captivity.

Asked whether she had believed ISIS would accept a ransom payment and free their son, as they had many European hostages liberated for between $2-3 million each, Diane Foley replied, “I do, maybe — I mean, who knows?”

“ISIS is a very brutal group. They may have already decided, that Jim and the others were Americans and they were going to kill him,” Foley said.

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Ethan Miller/Getty Images(ANCHORAGE, Alaska) — Sarah Palin and her family were at the center of a lively party last weekend that erupted into a fight, with daughter Bristol Palin allegedly throwing a right hook, a man who says he was a guest at the party told ABC News.

“She was punching him [another man] in the face like six times; it was an assault if I’ve ever seen one,” Eric Thompson said, adding that he was among 70 guests at the birthday party in Anchorage Saturday.

“It wasn’t a light punch either. She was really hitting him. I’m surprised he just sat there and took it,” he added.

Political blogger Amanda Coyne reported that Sarah Palin, along with husband Todd and kids Bristol, Willow and Track, arrived in a stretch Hummer and that the fighting started as the beer started flowing.

The Palin family was asked to leave the party after Track Palin, 21, allegedly attacked another party guest who had previously dated his younger sister, Willow Palin, Thompson said.

“I heard Sarah Palin yell do you know who I am? All of us could not believe it. We thought we were watching an episode of Jerry Springer,” he added.

Anchorage police said members of the Palin family were attending a party at the home Saturday night when a fight erupted outside. They declined to provide further details.

“I gave a statement to police; my wife did and like 10 other people did,” Thompson said.

Sarah Palin made no mention of the alleged altercation in an appearance on Fox News Thursday night.

The Palin family could not be reached for comment.

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United States Senate(WASHINGTON) — Add a new name to the mix of potential candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination: Ohio Senator Rob Portman.

The 58-year-old lawmaker’s name actually came up prominently when 2012 nominee Mitt Romney was trying to decide on a running mate.

However, Romney went with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan.

Now with just two years to go before the national election, Portman told reporters at an event Thursday that he’s “going to take a look at” a possible White House run following the midterm elections.

Not as far right as others in the party, Portman is viewed as a deal-maker in the Senate. Unlike most GOP lawmakers, he also supports same-sex marriage, a position he made after his son, Will, came out as gay.

Other Republicans believed to have their eyes on the big prize include Portman’s fellow Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Governors Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama met with Christian religious leaders from the Middle East on Thursday afternoon at the White House.

According to a readout of the meeting between the delegation of religious leaders and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Obama stopped in to join the meeting and discuss, “the plight of Christians in the Middle East and the challenges they face across the region from the rise of extremism.” The delegation was led by Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Rai.

Obama reaffirmed his commitment and that of the United States to counter the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has been preying on Christians and those of other faiths in the regions they control.

Obama said that the United States will work with its partners in the region, naming the Lebanese Armed Forces in particular, in fighting ISIS and “[promoting] regional stability.”

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US Congress(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — The FBI is investigating after two apparent Molotov cocktails were found at an office of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., early Thursday.

Police responded to Cleaver’s Kansas City district office after alarms went off at around 3 a.m. Thursday, FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said.

It appeared someone broke an office window with a hammer, then attempted to throw the apparent Molotov cocktails inside, Patton told ABC News. The FBI was investigating the matter as an attempted assault on a federal officer, she added.

The Kansas City Police, the Kansas City Bomb and Arson Squad and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded, Cleaver’s office said.

“As has been reported, early this morning, a window was broken at Congressman Cleaver’s Kansas City, Missouri, office when an individual attempted to throw an item or items at the building,” Cleaver’s chief of staff, John Jones, wrote in a statement.

Police found two broken liquor bottles, one for rum and one for Jagermeister, with paper towels sticking out of their necks, the Kansas City Star reported. No staffers were at the office at the time, and no fire damage was reported.

Cleaver was in Washington, and has recently shared national headlines with other Missouri politicians in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. His office noted this was the second incident of vandalism at one of Cleaver’s district offices in the last six years.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, condemned the act in a statement, calling it an “attempted arson attack.”

“This type of abhorrent behavior is the most ineffective means of voicing discontent or disagreement,” Fudge said. “I expect a speedy, full and thorough investigation into this incident by law enforcement, so that those responsible are swiftly apprehended and prosecuted.”

All of Cleaver’s offices, including the one vandalized, remained open for regular business, according to a news release.

United States Capitol Police spokesman Shennell Antrobus said the agency was “aware” of the incident, and is working with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies “on this ongoing, active investigation.”

Later in the day, Cleaver released a statement himself, saying, “Today, our thoughts should not dwell on a small incident that hurt no one and caused very minor property damage. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed on September 11, 2001, and all those who suffered in its aftermath.”

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The House of Representatives could vote as soon as Sept. 16 to authorize President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels, the office of the House Majority Leader announced Thursday.

House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday Obama “made a compelling case for action” during his primetime address to the nation Wednesday night, but questioned whether the mission the president laid out is aggressive enough to reverse the Islamic State’s momentum.

“A lot of our members think a lot more needs to be done than what was laid out last night,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I’m not sure that we’re doing all that we can do to defeat this terrorist threat, and if our goal is to eliminate ISIL, there’s a lot of doubt whether the plan that was outlined by the president last night is enough to accomplish that mission.”

Boehner said that although members are being briefed on a range of options that the president is contemplating, he supports Obama’s request to train and equip Syrian rebels. The speaker added that the Free Syrian Army has “been very well vetted” by U.S. intelligence officials, but warned they could be wiped out without timely U.S. assistance.

“Today they’re in a fight against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], they’re in a fight against ISIL, and they’re in a fight against another al Qaeda affiliate in eastern Syria,” Boehner said. “And they’re about to get run over.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered support for Obama’s plan and predicted easy approval of authority to train Syrian rebels.

“I expect this proposal to pass Congress with broad, bipartisan support,” Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Thursday at a news conference flanked by Sens. Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, and Chuck Schumer, each of whom offered their full support for the president.

On whether the Obama-requested measure will be broken off as a standalone measure or included in a broader spending or authorization bill, Reid said “that’s a decision the House is going to have to make.”

He also called on lawmakers of both parties to “close ranks” and support Obama’s plan with a unified voice.

Asked if he and his colleagues have given extensive thought to what happens after the U.S. either does or does not destroy ISIS, Reid didn’t have a specific answer.

“Let’s not be negating everything that’s been accomplished over the last few days,” he said. “Let’s just not rush into things.”

And Boehner made clear that there is a tough road ahead.

“An F-16 is not a strategy and airstrikes alone will not accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish,” Boehner said. “The president’s made clear that he doesn’t want U.S. boots on the ground. Well, somebody’s boots have to be on the ground.”

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The House of Representatives could vote as soon as Sept. 16 to authorize President Obama’s request to arm and train Syrian rebels, the office of the House Majority Leader announced Thursday.

House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday Obama “made a compelling case for action” during his primetime address to the nation Wednesday night, but questioned whether the mission the president laid out is aggressive enough to reverse the Islamic State’s momentum.

“A lot of our members think a lot more needs to be done than what was laid out last night,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “I’m not sure that we’re doing all that we can do to defeat this terrorist threat, and if our goal is to eliminate ISIL, there’s a lot of doubt whether the plan that was outlined by the president last night is enough to accomplish that mission.”

Boehner said that although members are being briefed on a range of options that the president is contemplating, he supports Obama’s request to train and equip Syrian rebels. The speaker added that the Free Syrian Army has “been very well vetted” by U.S. intelligence officials, but warned they could be wiped out without timely U.S. assistance.

“Today they’re in a fight against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], they’re in a fight against ISIL, and they’re in a fight against another al Qaeda affiliate in eastern Syria,” Boehner said. “And they’re about to get run over.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered support for Obama’s plan and predicted easy approval of authority to train Syrian rebels.

“I expect this proposal to pass Congress with broad, bipartisan support,” Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Thursday at a news conference flanked by Sens. Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, and Chuck Schumer, each of whom offered their full support for the president.

On whether the Obama-requested measure will be broken off as a standalone measure or included in a broader spending or authorization bill, Reid said “that’s a decision the House is going to have to make.”

He also called on lawmakers of both parties to “close ranks” and support Obama’s plan with a unified voice.

Asked if he and his colleagues have given extensive thought to what happens after the U.S. either does or does not destroy ISIS, Reid didn’t have a specific answer.

“Let’s not be negating everything that’s been accomplished over the last few days,” he said. “Let’s just not rush into things.”

And Boehner made clear that there is a tough road ahead.

“An F-16 is not a strategy and airstrikes alone will not accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish,” Boehner said. “The president’s made clear that he doesn’t want U.S. boots on the ground. Well, somebody’s boots have to be on the ground.”

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Discovery Channel(WASHINGTON) — Congressmen from opposing parties have a hard time getting along sometimes. Here’s one way to solve that: abandon them on a deserted island.

From the people who brought you Naked and Afraid comes Discovery Channel’s Rival Survival, where two politicians are forced to set aside their political differences and work together for six days on an uninhabited island in order to survive.

Rival Survival will feature Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., on the remote island of Eru, which is known for its shark-infested waters.

A Discovery Channel official told ABC News that the show was the senators’ idea. The two released a joint statement.

“Both of us know just how frustrated people are with Washington right now. We can both attest that no one is more frustrated than those of us trying to get things done in this environment,” Flake and Heinrich said. “We recognize how difficult it can be to cut through the partisanship. So we decided to do something completely out of the ordinary and frankly a little extreme to show the world and our colleagues that even if you have serious differences, if you want to survive you have to work together. ”

Flake is a conservative Republican who, in 2001, was elected into the House of Representatives, where he served six consecutive terms before being elected into the Senate in 2013. According to his website, he has “long fought the expansion of the national government and the growing national debt,” and favors tax reform. In 2013, Flake joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the “Gang of Eight” and introduced a bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill.

Heinrich is a Democrat from New Mexico who served on the House from 2009-2013 before joining the Senate in 2013. He serves on the U.S Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and describes himself as an “avid sportsman” who wishes to preserve New Mexico’s public lands and wildlife.

A Discovery Channel official told ABC News the show was filmed in August during congressional recess.

“The senators were not given help,” the Discovery spokesperson said. “It’s the same producers that do Naked and Afraid and they were treated the same way, but got to keep their clothes.”

Rival Survival premieres on Discovery Channel Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 10 p.m., one week before Election Day.

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