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04

Mar

Obama reveals 2015 budget proposal

President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget would raise taxes on the wealthy and cut military spending while funding a minimum wage hike, expanding preschool and improving beleaguered roads.

Obama announced his $3.9 trillion budget proposal Tuesday morning. The plan has already been met with criticism from Republican opponents. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tweeted that the budget would be “spending too much, borrowing too much [and] taxing too much.”The proposal is not expected to be adopted by Congress.

The proposal also includes a separate set of programs called the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative which totals $56 billion. Half the money would come from spending cuts elsewhere and the other half would come from reducing tax benefits from the retirement accounts of the wealthy. It would go to investing in early childhood education and clean energy research and boosting economic growth in disadvantaged neighborhoods, among others programs.

- Jeanne Kuang
@jeannekuang

28

Jan

Top: Most-used words in President Barack Obama’s previous State of the Union addresses (excluding “Americans,” “United States,” “year,” etc) 

Bottom: Mentions of buzzwords like “education” or “energy” in past four SOTU addresses 

More State of the Union preview content is up at www.medillonthehill.net now! Keep checking back when the speech starts for live-blogging and other updates. 

Infographic from reporters Preetisha Sen (@preetishasen) and Christophe Haubursin (@haubursin) on what President Barack Obama wants to say about jobs at the State of the Union tonight. 
Check out www.medillonthehill.net for more coverage of Obama’s speech! 

Infographic from reporters Preetisha Sen (@preetishasen) and Christophe Haubursin (@haubursin) on what President Barack Obama wants to say about jobs at the State of the Union tonight. 

Check out www.medillonthehill.net for more coverage of Obama’s speech! 

16

May

GOP efforts to repeal ‘Obamacare’ all politics

The Republican Party is stuck on a merry-go-round — instead of ponies to go round on, the GOP uses “Obamacare” repeal votes.

Today marks the 37th vote to repeal all or part of President Barack Obama’s health care law. (The Washington Post has an excellent round-up of the first 36 votes.) The vote is now a political exercise in vanity even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said health care reform is the “law of the land” after Obama won re-election in November.

The Republicans had two real hopes to undo the landmark law: the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional or a Mitt Romney presidency with a Republican Congress. Obviously, neither happened.

So the repeal vote now holds one purpose: an explanation of how Washington works — politics often trumps policy.

The politics of this vote, the second of this congressional session, is to give GOP lawmakers running for re-election in 2014 more ammunition to show opponents of the law – generally conservatives – that they are on the right side. 

This isn’t the first time Republicans have used this tactic to bolster their standing as staunch Obamacare opponents. Each legislative chamber’s budget proposal this year also serve as examples.

The fiscal plan the GOP-controlled House passed contained significant changes to Medicare that Democrats in the Senate would never accept. Seniors would get their insurance from the private market rather than the current government-sponsored plan a decade from now.

While the White House may not be in a public relations nightmare over the Affordable Care Act, its task is gargantuan, rather than impossible like the GOP’s efforts.

It has another four years to sell the law, which may be easier this time around because tens of millions of people may see its benefits by having insurance.

Several of the law’s selling points though have landed with a loud thud.

First, the small business health insurance tax credit garnered almost a couple hundred thousand users, far short of the estimated 4 million beneficiaries. An insurance exchange aimed at small businesses has been delayed until 2015 in most states.

A measure that said insurance companies must provide rebates if individuals or employers were charged too much mostly went mostly unnoticed by consumers.

While the politics of the health care law can still play out a number of different ways, the White House is guaranteed another chance to sell the public on its benefits. The Republican efforts to repeal the law are now all for naught.

By Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

13

May

Obama: Republican outrage on Benghazi a “sideshow”

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday called Republican outrage over last year’s attack in Benghazi a political “sideshow.”

"We’ve got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, ‘You know what, I’m willing to step up, I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.’ And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus," Obama said.

Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of covering up the aftermath of the attack last year that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

During a House committee hearing last week, internal e-mails showed that top officials scrubbed any mention of al-Qa’ida from talking points given to members of Congress, including United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. 

These talking points are the crux of the ongoing battle between the administration and Republicans, who say that officials knew the attacks were terrorism-related, and not related to a documentary on Islam, as Rice initially reported.

Obama made the remarks in a White House news conference alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is visiting the U.S.

-Mariam Khan, Medill News Service

08

May

South Korean president: Nuclear-armed North Korea will not be tolerated

WASHINGTON — South Korea President Park Geun-hye brought her tough talk to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, declaring her nation would not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Any violent intent from her northern neighbor would be “met decisively,” Park said.

She took efforts, though, to note that her nation wants peaceful resolution to the current tensions.  “I will remain steadfast in pushing forward a process of trust-building on the Korean Peninsula,” Park told House and Senate lawmakers.

It’s the second day of Park’s visit to the United States. On Tuesday, she met with President Barack Obama and the two stood strongly together in the face of new threats from North Korea.

“Following on our meeting yesterday, President Obama and I adopted a joint declaration,” said Park. “We are determined to embark on another shared journey toward peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Park said she believes trust will win out.

“And with the trust that gradually builds up, through exchange, through cooperation, we will cement the grounds for durable peace and eventually peaceful reunification,” said Park.

Park went on to say that Korea’s economy is stable and Asia suffers from disconnect between growing economic interdependence and national security cooperation.

The alliance between South Korea and the U.S. will help face these challenges, she said. 

“We are expanding cooperation on global issues like counter-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and the global financial crisis,” Park said. 

The U.S. trade deficit to South Korea in March was $1.3 billion, compared to $551 million a year earlier, according to Bloomberg analysis. Also, the value of U.S. exports to South Korea declined to $3.85 billion from $4.2 billion last year.

The U.S. and South Korea have a free trade agreement that went into effect just 14 months ago.

“Our economic partnership must also aim higher and reach further into the future,” said Park. “Our chorus of freedom and peace, of future and hope, has not ceased to resonate over the last 60 years and will not cease to go on.” 

— John Burfisher, Medill News Service

02

May

Forcing the GOP House majority’s hand on immigration reform

In this morning’s The Washington Post’s Morning Fix, Chris Cillizza penned an insightful analysis of immigration reform vs. a grand bargain on the nation’s debt. To sum up his argument, immigration reform is much easier to find common ground on because it isn’t the Republican Party’s signature issue and changing demographics make inaction on something this significant politically perilous for the GOP. More than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote went for President Barack Obama in last November’s election, a potential harbinger for Republicans. 

As recently as 2004, then-President George W. Bush garnering 44 percent of the Hispanic vote. Despite conservative tendencies in many areas, Bush actually had a moderate immigration reform plan he pushed. But amid Hurricane Katrina, a slowing economy, and a war of which the public grew weary, it got lost in the shuffle. And that brings us to where we are today. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talked about “self-deportation ” last year or, more bluntly put, making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they voluntarily leave.

A large obstacle stands in immigration reform’s way: the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership in the lower chamber often face a conservative revolt, something that Politico’s Jake Sherman outlined yesterday. Many blame Republican redistricting as the culprit of this. The argument says that redistricting essentially put the GOP House majority on lock for the next decade, meaning many districts are substantially more conservative than they would otherwise be.

There are competing views of this. Two prominent analyses were published in February examining this. Sam Wang, who runs the Princeton Election Consortium, argued in The New York Times, agreed with the redistricting argument while political scientists Danny Hayes and John Sides rebut this idea in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog. The idea bears a second look because the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled to begin hearings on immigration reform legislation next week. 

The unwritten Hastert Rule is essential for maintaining support among the House Republican caucus for Boehner. This idea says that any legislation a speaker brings to the floor should have a majority of the majority backing it. The conservative tendency of many House GOP lawmakers though might make this very difficult. Thus, the Ohio Republican may rely on Democratic votes to put a moderate immigration plan over the top — or at least an immigration plan that stands a chance of passing the Democratic Senate. 

Perhaps the easiest way to force House action on immigration legislation is to amass 70 votes or more in the Senate in favor of the Gang of Eight’s immigration plan. This would mean at least a majority of the minority caucus supported any overhaul that might hit the Senate floor. Such a bipartisan majority would alienate conservatives in the House, forcing them to either accept the blame for the plan’s failure or move to the center. Similar scenarios happened at the end of 2011 when Congress renewed the temporary payroll tax cut and on the fiscal cliff deal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is normally in lockstep with Boehner, abandoned the speaker, leaving him between a rock and a hard place. 

Failure to pass an immigration reform plan leaves the House majority vulnerable on an important issue in next year’s midterm election. Last year, the Democrat’s new governing coalition, of which Hispanics make a substantial portion, proved 2008 was not a fluke. If the president can get these same voters fired up and convince them to turn out for a midterm election, which is more difficult than ratcheting up turnout in a presidential year, the Republicans might lose seats, particularly if approval ratings stay where they are. 

Andrew Hedlund, Medill News Service

30

Apr

Obama talks Syria, Boston bombings, Guantanamo Bay and upcoming trip to Mexico and Costa Rica

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President Barack Obama, marking the first 100 days of his second term,  answered questions Tuesday in his first press conference since March 1.

The highlights:

SYRIA AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS - Obama said if the U.S. establishes that Syria used chemical weapons, it would be a “game changer” and the U.S. would consider options that they might not otherwise have used.         

“Clearly that would be an escalation, in our view, and a threat to the security of the international community, our allies and the United States and that means that some options that we might otherwise not exercise but we would consider. “ - Obama on whether Syria is found to have used chemical weapons

BENGHAZI - Obama said he is unfamiliar with Benghazi survivors being blocked from telling their stories.

BOSTON MARATHON BOMBINGS - He said the FBI “performed its duties” and Homeland Security did what it was supposed to.  The investigation is still underway and Obama will look at the findings and then see if there are protocols that could be in place to avoid this happening again. 

On the suspects: “All of this has to be done in our context of our laws, due process.”

Obama spoke with Russian President Vladmir Putin who is committed to working with the administration to deal with counterterrorism issues.

Obama said one of the things he is most proud of is the American people’s “sense of resilience and toughness.” He added, ” we are not going to be intimidated, we are going to live our lives.”

SEQUESTER - Obama wants Congress to work with him on a “broader deal” than short-term fixes like the recent FAA bill that put air traffic controllers back to work after furloughs delayed travelers.

GUANTANAMO BAY - He will continue to push for the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison, saying it is “not in the best interest of the American people” to “keep 100 individuals in no man’s land.” He said the individuals must be allowed to be tried in court. His team is currently reviewing what is being done in Guantanamo Bay.

OBAMACARE - A huge chunk of Obamacare has already been implemented and 85 to 90 percent of Americans who have insurance are already experiencing the Affordable Care Act.

IMMIGRATION REFORM –Obama said he is “impressed” by the work done by the Senate Gang of Eight. It’s not the bill he would’ve written, but it does meet his basic criteria: border control, cracking down on employers who are trying to game the system, making legal immigration more effective and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people. If the House bill does not meet those criteria, then he will not support it.

MEXICO & COSTA RICA TRIP - Obama said the trip will focus on economics and not just security.

"We spend so much time on security issues…that sometimes I think we forget that [Mexico] is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge amount of jobs on both sides of the border. "

Obama said he will speak to the Mexican president  on ways of continuing to crack down on transnational drug cartel and how Mexican authorities can effectively work with each other to control this issue. He also plans to meet with the president of Costa Rica and other Central American presidents.

JASON COLLINS ADMITTING HE IS GAY –Obama said Collins, the first NBA player to reveal he’s gay while still active, seems like a “terrific man” and he told him that he “couldn’t have been prouder of him” for coming out. He added that the LGBT community deserves “full equality not just partial equality.”

-Story and photo by Colette Luke, Medill News Service 

16

Apr

President Barack Obama meets with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to discuss immigration reform, in the Oval Office on Tuesday in Washington. Also attending, from left, are: Rob Nabors, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy; Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council; and Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Legislative Affairs. “I stand willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality,” Obama said.
— Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to discuss immigration reform, in the Oval Office on Tuesday in Washington. Also attending, from left, are: Rob Nabors, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy; Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council; and Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Legislative Affairs. “I stand willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality,” Obama said.

— Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

15

Apr

A civil gun control discussion takes place outside of the White House

A small group of gun control supporters gathered Monday outside the White House advocating for stronger gun control legislation.

"We’ve made a culture of guns," said protester Helen Ramsey. "It’s too easy to get a gun here."

Also assembled were two National Rifle Association members from Colorado, Steve and Dan Bell, who said they owned guns for personal protection. Steve Bell said that his gun had once protected him from an assault, while Dan said he had yet to use his in self-defense.

The Bells engaged in a cordial discussion with another gun control protester, Barbara Elsas, an elementary school teacher, and seemed to agree that Elsas’ calls for enhanced background checks were reasonable.

However, their discussion also revealed how complicated the gun debate can be. Ramsey and Elsas promoted the commonly heard statistic that 40 percent of guns purchased in the United States are not subject to a background check, a number based on a single 1997 study that is now seen as being merely an estimate.

At the same time, Dan Bell claimed that lawful gun owners use their weapons to stop 2.5 million crimes each year. But that statistic, also repeated widely, is based on extrapolations from a 1993 survey conducted by Florida State criminology professor Gary Keck. A December, 2012 analysis performed by the Congressional Research Service noted that “Law enforcement agencies do not collect information on the number of times civilians use firearms to defend themselves or their property against attack.” CRS researchers added that it is “difficult to state with certainty the accuracy of statistics such as the number of times firearms are used in self-defense.” (See page 13 of the linked-to CRS report for more information.)

AUDIO: Helen Ramsey expresses support for stronger gun control laws:

AUDIO: Dan and Steve Bell discuss gun control with Barbara Elsas:

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A protester calls for stricter gun control laws.

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Protesters stand by a list of victims killed in mass shootings.

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Dan Bell and Barbara Elsas discuss gun control.

- Reporting and photos by John V. Santore, Medill News Service

27

Feb

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers unveiled Tuesday a statue of civil rights legend Rosa Parks that will stand in National Statuary Hall.
Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama public bus in 1955. She died in 2005 and became the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.
"We celebrate a seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage," President Barack Obama said. "She defied the odds. She defied injustice. In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world."
Obama was joined by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the Parks family and other top officials.
“May this statue long be at tribute to her strength and spirit, her legacy and her leadership,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. 
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a civil rights leader, said the rights Parks fought for could be rolled back, referring to the Supreme Court case being heard today that could invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act.
Parks was a symbol of the civil rights movement that reached its climax in the 1960s, when she collaborated with the NAACP and other famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr.
—Marshall Cohen

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers unveiled Tuesday a statue of civil rights legend Rosa Parks that will stand in National Statuary Hall.

Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama public bus in 1955. She died in 2005 and became the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

"We celebrate a seamstress slight in stature but mighty in courage," President Barack Obama said. "She defied the odds. She defied injustice. In a single moment, with the simplest of gestures, she helped change America and change the world."

Obama was joined by House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the Parks family and other top officials.

“May this statue long be at tribute to her strength and spirit, her legacy and her leadership,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. 

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a civil rights leader, said the rights Parks fought for could be rolled back, referring to the Supreme Court case being heard today that could invalidate parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Parks was a symbol of the civil rights movement that reached its climax in the 1960s, when she collaborated with the NAACP and other famous figures like Martin Luther King Jr.

—Marshall Cohen

19

Feb

Gen. John Allen (right), commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday and tendered his resignation from the military. Allen was nominated to lead NATO troops in Europe, but his connection to a scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus (left) doomed his chances of confirmation. Allen reportedly sent flirtatious emails to a Florida socialite who knew the woman that engaged in an extramarital affair with Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The White House released a statement after Obama met with Allen.

General Allen presided over the significant growth in the size and capability of Afghan National Security Forces, the further degradation of al Qaeda and their extremist allies, and the ongoing transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country. He worked tirelessly to strengthen our coalition through his leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and to improve our relations with the Afghan government. 

Obama also paid tribute to Allen’s position in modern American military history.

John Allen is one of America’s finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly. I wish him and his family the very best as they begin this new chapter, and we will carry forward the extraordinary work that General Allen led in Afghanistan.

Gen. John Allen (right), commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday and tendered his resignation from the military. Allen was nominated to lead NATO troops in Europe, but his connection to a scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus (left) doomed his chances of confirmation. Allen reportedly sent flirtatious emails to a Florida socialite who knew the woman that engaged in an extramarital affair with Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The White House released a statement after Obama met with Allen.

General Allen presided over the significant growth in the size and capability of Afghan National Security Forces, the further degradation of al Qaeda and their extremist allies, and the ongoing transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country. He worked tirelessly to strengthen our coalition through his leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and to improve our relations with the Afghan government. 

Obama also paid tribute to Allen’s position in modern American military history.

John Allen is one of America’s finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly. I wish him and his family the very best as they begin this new chapter, and we will carry forward the extraordinary work that General Allen led in Afghanistan.