French companies could risk Pentagon contracts if they take further steps towards doing business with Iran.
International firms racing to do business with post-sanctions Iran could jeopardize their contracts with the the United States military. Three Republican lawmakers who serve on the House Armed Services Committee warned French firms last week that dealings with Iran could make it impossible to do business with the Pentagon in the future.
“We write to you with grave concern about what we see as the unraveling of our sanctions regime involving the nuclear weapons, ballistic missile, and terrorism activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” wrote Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Joe Heck (R-NV), in a Feb. 18 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, obtained by The Daily Beast.
The lawmakers noted that over 100 French business executives traveled to Iran in early February , including representatives from Safran, Airbus, Total, GDF-Suez, Renault, Alcatel, Alstom, Amundi and L'Oréal. Iranian President Rouhani’s chief of staff said during the visit, “A new chapter has begun in relations between Iran and Europe." The goal of the trip was to start relationships in order to do business if sanctions were lifted against the Iranian regime as as part of a potential deal to halt the country's nuclear program.
But one of the firms represented at the meeting also has earned over $2.4 billion from contracts with the U.S. military since 2007 – Michelin. The lawmakers singled out Michelin and called their participation in the Iran trip “greatly troubling.”
Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who announced his retirement on Monday, set a number of records in his 58 years in Congress.
The announcement Monday that Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) was retiring sparked valedictories all over Washington. Dingell had spent more than 58 years in Congress since he was first elected in 1955, succeeding his father in a special election.
In fact, when Dingell entered Congress on December 13, 1955 at the age of 29, Dwight Eisenhower was finishing his first term, Elvis Presley was a regional celebrity yet to release Heartbreak Hotel, Disney was about to air the last episode of Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier on ABC and the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns had just beat the Chicago Cardinals on their way to yet another title.
To give a sense of how long Dingell had served, he has been "the Dean of the House," the title given to the most senior member of the House Representatives for over 19 years, the longest tenure in history. The only privilege that comes with that title is swearing in the Speaker of the House. As a result, Dingell has sworn in four different Speakers, starting with Newt Gingrich when he first took office in 1995 after the "Republican Revolution."
Dingell has also set marks for longest time ever in office on Capitol Hill. The Michigan congressman has spent more time in Congress than any other person in American history. Dingell had compiled about a nine month lead over former Sen. Robert Byrd when he announced his retirement. Among those who have served only in the House, Dingell has a five year lead over former Mississippi Democrat Jamie Whitten who retired in 1994 after serving a mere 53 years in Congress.
Milton Wolf, the Tea Party candidate for U.S. Senate in Kansas against incumbent Republican Pat Roberts, came under fire for posting X-rays of dead people on his Facebook page this weekend.
One of the last questions that a credible candidate for U.S. Senate wants to be asked is "Do you still post pictures of dead people on the Internet?" But that was a question Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital Journal asked Kansas Republican Milton Wolf on Saturday. Wolf didn't have a good answer.
Wolf, the Tea Party challenger to longtime incumbent Senator Pat Roberts, is a doctor in suburban Kansas City who posted images of gruesome patient X-rays on the Internet, specifically on his Facebook page. He claimed that the pictures served to demonstrate the evil in the world. However, Wolf was hardpressed to answer questions about jocular comments that he made on the posts, including one where a patient's head was blown off by a gun which the Senate candidate compared to the movie Terminator 2, writing “It reminds (me) of the scene from 'Terminator 2' when they shoot the liquid metal terminator guy in the face at close range and it kind of splits him open temporarily almost like a flower blooming. We all find beauty in different things."
In response to the story, Wolf, previously best known for being a cousin of Barack Obama, went on the offensive against Roberts, a three-term Senator who previously served sixteen years in the House of Representatives. In a statement, the Tea Party affiliated radiologist said "Senator Pat Roberts wants to attack me as a doctor rather than giving Kansans a reason to vote for him. It's sad. Pat Roberts has not been able to identify a single issue on which he thinks I am wrong and so he's doing things the Washington way: character assassination." Previously, after the New York Times published a story pointing out that Roberts did not have a home of his own in Kansas, Wolf sent out a series of press releases labelling Roberts a Virginia Republican.
While Wolf has been considered to have an uphill battle against a well-funded incumbent like Roberts, the gap between the two seemed to be narrowing before Saturday's revelations. However, with Kansas's August 5 primary more than five months away, Wolf still has plenty of time to try to recover. In the meantime, it would be wise for the Kansas Republican to avoid posting anything on social media, especially pictures of dead people.
A controversial bill in Arizona, which would allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers based on religious beliefs, passed the state house on a near party-line vote Thursday.
The Arizona legislature passed a bill Thursday that would allow business owners to discriminate against gays and lesbians, provided that it was the result of a sincerely held religious belief. House Bill 2153/Senate Bill 1062 would protect businesses from lawsuits if they refuse to serve customers based on religious beliefs. The bill passed the state house by a vote of 33-27, with all but three Republicans voting for and all Democrats voting against. It had previously passed the Arizona State Senate on a party line vote. The bill's fate is now up to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who can either sign or veto it.
Business interests in the Grand Canyon State have asked Brewer to veto the bill. They fear the bill's passage would discourage corporations from relocating to Arizona as well as risk a boycott of major events scheduled to occur in the state, including the Super Bowl. Brewer vetoed a previous iteration of the bill in 2013.
Other states have consided similar legislation. Most notably, Kansas has received national attention in recent days for a comparable bill that passed its house before failing in the state senate. But Arizona would be the first state to enact such legislation.
Sarah Palin released the promo for her new reality television show Thursday. It features electric guitars and a lot of flags.
Sarah Palin, the former star of the TLC show Sarah Palin's America, released a promo for newest television show Amazing America on Thursday. Palin, who also appears regularly on Fox News, appears in silhouette in front of an American flag while electric guitars play in the background. Quotes about her appear on the screen as the camera focuses on her darkened figure. Then, the lights come on and Palin appears fully lit and declares "America prepare to be amazed."
The show will appear on the Sportsman Channel, a ten-year-old cable network that focuses on outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing and is available in about 32 million households. It premieres on April 3. Prior to her reality television career, Palin served as Governor of Alaska for two and a half years and was the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.
Barack Obama wrote a handwritten apology this week after making a joke about majoring in art history.
Barack Obama may not have gone on an apology tour to France and Egypt, but could the President be taking one to Vassar and Oberlin?
After making a jest about the relative value of an art history degree in a January 30 speech in Wisconsin, Obama sent a handwritten apology to an art history professor in Austin, Texas this week. The President pointed out that "folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree." Although Obama quickly backtracked, saying "now, nothing wrong with an art history degree -- I love art history," he still got plenty of grief for his remarks. However, even the apology didn't please everyone as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took to Twitter to call it "pathetic."
The apology letter, first reported by the website Hyperallergic, reads:
Experts and former officials from both parties sent a letter to the White House Thursday, asking the administration to speak out on Turkey's poor record democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
More than 80 top foreign policy figures from across the political spectrum wrote President Obama Thursday and asked him to end the U.S. government’s tacit approval of what they describe as the anti-democratic actions of Turkish Prime Minister Racep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.
“Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is increasingly undermining a central pillar of the decades-long, strategic U.S.-Turkish partnership: Turkey’s growing democracy,” reads the letter, organized by the right-leaning Foreign Policy Initiative, the left-leaning Center for American Progress, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Freedom House. “We are writing because of our deep dismay at this development and to urge you to make clear to the Turkish public America’s concern about Turkey’s current path. Silence will only encourage Prime Minister Erdoğan to diminish the rule of law in the country even further.”
The letter was signed by several former Obama administration officials including White House senior director Dennis Ross, State Department policy planning director Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Julianne Smith, an advisor to the Vice President. Republican signatories include Ambassador John Bolton, Sen. Norm Coleman, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.
According to the experts and former officials, Obama has been turning a blind eye to Erdogan’s descent into autocracy. In their opinion, this alarming trend in Turkey has accelerated since last summer, when Turkish authorities used a heavy hand to disperse street protests and Erdogan denounced the protestors as “looters” while blaming foreign conspirators for the unrest.
U.S. Senate candidate Dwayne Stovall has gotten attention in his longshot bid to defeat incumbent Sen. John Cornyn with an ad comparing Mitch McConnell to a turtle.
Stovall is a Tea Party conservative running for Senate in Texas’s Republican primary against incumbent John Cornyn as well as Rep. Steve Stockman. Stovall brags about his grassroots campaign with 1100 volunteers and his track record in straw polls but he wasn’t registering nationally until last week when a quirky campaign ad went viral.
The ad features Stovall sitting on the back of a white pickup truck with his dog in the bed of the truck and a shotgun leaning against it, slamming John Cornyn for taking votes on cloture for Obamacare and to increase the debt in order “to please a guy who looks and fights like a turtle.” The commercial then shifts to a split screen of a cartoon turtle and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Stovall then proclaims, “I’m a Texan. We Texans don’t need Beltway turtles telling us how to fight.” Then, Stovall’s dog turns and proclaims “I like turtle soup” as the Senate candidate says “really?” and laughs.
Stovall told The Daily Beast that he never planned to release that ad,” I was not going to do that, not my style.” He was filming other television spots in January and his campaign manager and the producer wanted to do the turtle soup spot. Eventually, Stovall acquiesced to filming it but insisted it would “never see the light of day.”
Without Chris Christie running, there aren't many good establishment options left in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
Chris Christie's presidential ambitions are almost certainly over and done with but where does that leave the rest of the GOP field in 2016?
The New Jersey governor's entire political career is now coming under the microscope in the aftermath of Bridgegate, it's increasingly difficult to foresee a scenario where Christie can mount a plausible bid for the Republican nomination in 2016. Without Christie as a contender, it leaves a major hole for Establishment Republicans in the 2016 race. While Rand Paul has long been a libertarian darling, and Ted Cruz has become a political superstar among Tea Partiers, the list of credible Republican contenders who could appeal to Wall Street and the country club set is short.
Christie had long monopolized this niche as a candidate who, in many ways, would be a throwback to the George W. Bush era of the GOP. In fact, Bridgegate came about, at least in part, because Christie strenuously imitated Bush's 1998 reelection bid for Texas governor, trying to win over as many Democrats as possible in order to appear as a bipartisan figure who was "a uniter not a divider." Who will be 2016's George W. Bush then?
Jeb Bush, of course! The former governor of Florida may not want to run for president and also bears a political handicap because of the ongoing unpopularity of his brother. The rest of the establishment field is not particularly that exciting or even that center-right. Both Marco Rubio and Scott Walker are relatively conservative, but both face obstacles to any presidential bid: Rubio would have to give up his Senate seat and is still hamstrung by his support for immigration reform; while business leaders may admire Walker for his fervent anti-union efforts in Wisconsin, the governor is a college dropout who is not a terribly good retail politician and is tainted by scandal in his homestate.
The Senate overcame procedural obstacles thrown up by Ted Cruz to pass a clean increase in the debt ceiling on Wednesday.
The debt ceiling won’t be breached but the stress levels of Republican senators? Those went through the roof on Wednesday.
After the House of Representatives passed a clean debt ceiling increase on Tuesday, it was almost inevitable that the Senate would do the same. The only suspense was whether Ted Cruz was going to make it easy for his fellow Republicans. He didn’t.
Cruz pushed for the cloture process to require 60 votes to end debate and then proceed to a final vote on the bill, rather than simply allowing debt ceiling to be raised by a majority vote. The result was a period of chaos in the Senate. Initially, Senate Republicans were short one vote to prevent default. After the vote was held for an hour, 12 Republicans ended up voting to end debate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn, and thus allow a final vote on the bill, which then passed 55-43 along party lines.
Many of Cruz’s fellow Republicans were befuddled why he called for cloture in the first place. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker criticized the Cruz strategy because “there was no endgame there.” While Corker joined the rest of his caucus in voting against final passage, he saw no point in voting against cloture. “We know what the outcome is,” said Corker. The cloture vote about debating it further, didn’t see any proposals out there that had another outcome, it seemed to me the responsible thing to do” to vote for cloture.
Only 27 other Republicans joined Speaker John Boehner Tuesday in supporting an increase in the debt ceiling.
Hastert Rule? Never heard of it.
On Tuesday, in a rushed vote in advance of a snowstorm due to hit the Eastern Seaboard, Congress voted 221-201 to avoid the possibility of default and allow the Treasury to continue borrowing in 2015. Only 28 Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner who cast a rare floor vote, supported the clean debt increase while only two Democrats joined the bulk of House Republicans in opposing it.
With the federal government due to hit its borrowing limit at the end of the month and Congress due to be on recess for the next two weeks, the clock was ticking for legislative action to avoid potential default. President Obama had long signalled his opposition to signing a debt limit increase with any conditions attached while House Republicans have long sought to use the once relatively routine procedural vote as political leverage.
Early Tuesday morning though, Boehner realized only a clean bill would pass as there was no way that the Speaker could get 218 votes out of the GOP caucus to support any increase and he had no carrots to dangle that could lure over conservative Democrats to support a debt limit with a rider attached.
On Monday, the White House announced that it would delay the implementation of the employer mandate in the ACA for another year for businesses between 50-100 employees.
The Obama administration Monday announced that it would further delay the implementation of part of the Affordable Care Act.
The delay will postpone the mandate for employers with between 50-100 workers (the mandate does not cover businesses with fewer than 50 employees) to provide health insurance as well as limit its applicability to larger businesses. Instead of having to provide coverage to 95% of workers, they will only have to deal with health care for 70% of workers. Under Obamacare, if employers don’t comply with the mandate they will have to pay fines of up to $3000 per uncovered employee. Initially, under the ACA, the employer mandate was supposed to take effect at the beginning of 2014 but has since been delayed once in July 2013. Now, for many businesses, there will be yet another year’s respite from the ACA’s mandate.
The rule may not have huge real-life implications for workers without health care---91% of businesses with over 50 employees already offer health care according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But it will have major political implications for the 2014 elections. Republicans are still ardently opposed to Obamacare and aim on using the 2014 midterms as yet another referendum on the President’s signature health care program, which has been riddled with problems, most notoriously the failure of healthcare.gov, as it has come into effect over the past few months.
The irony, of course is that after a government shutdown provoked by Republican demands for a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration is now, at least in part, doing what Ted Cruz and House Republicans urged in the fall of 2013. There are obviously huge differences in terms of the policy implementations of delaying the entire law, including the individual mandate, as opposed to the relatively limited impact of the changes announced today. But, it still comes as an embarrassment for the administration and gives opponents of the program yet another opportunity to say “I told you so.”
Vikram Singh, a top Pentagon official dealing with Asia, is leaving government serice to head up national security at a progressive think tank linked to the Obama administration.
The Pentagon’s top official dealing with South and Southeast Asia will soon leave the Obama administration to take the helm of the national security section of the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank founded by White House senior advisor John Podesta.
On Monday, CAP will announce that Vikram Singh, currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, will join the think tank in March to become their new Vice President for National Security and International Policy. Singh leaves government after spending over five years working on policy in a region spanning from Afghanistan to New Zealand in both the Defense and State Departments. He was one of the original team members working under Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We’re thrilled to have Vikram Singh lead our national security and international policy team,” CAP President Neera Tanden told The Daily Beast. “Vikram is a leading foreign policy thinker of his generation and has tackled the country’s greatest foreign policy challenges during his time at the State Department and the Pentagon. As we continue to shape a pragmatic foreign policy strategy over the next decade, Vikram’s insights, sharp strategic mind, and experience will guide our work.”
He will succeed Rudy DeLeon, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. DeLeon will stay on as a senior fellow at CAP.
In announcing that the Department of Justice will take steps to recognize same-sex marriages on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder took another step in the implementation of the Obama administration's "pen and phone" strategy.
Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce Saturday that the Department of Justice will grant “lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law.” This statement, which will come at a speech at a gala held by the Human Rights Campaign, represents the next step of Obama’s “pen and phone” strategy, which consists of trying to accomplish with executive action what the President cannot through the legislative process.
The DOJ will grant same-sex couples in all 50 states the same benefits currently enjoyed by those in traditional marriages in the criminal justice system and other programs administered by Attorney General. This means, for example, that one same-sex spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other, prisoners in federal prison with a same-sex spouse will have spousal visitation privileges, treat same-sex marriages like heterosexual ones in federal bankruptcy proceedings as well as grant federal death benefits to same-sex couples where one member is a public safety officer killed or badly wounded in the line of duty.
These benefits are relatively limited. After all, not many people are in same-sex marriages with a murdered law enforcement agent or to a federal prisoner. With Washington DC increasingly marked by partisan gridlock and Congress having difficulty passing even the most basic budget, this seems to exemplify the “pen and phone” approach announced by Obama in advance of his January State of the Union address. Bills pending in Congress, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or ENDA, which is currently stalled in the House after passing the Senate in November would have a more significant impact in everyday life. But those bills are not likely to pass. Instead, Holder's announcement simply makes a difference around the edges, slowly advancing an important policy goal for the White House.
Holder’s announcement Saturday marks the first major use of executive power by the administration since the immediate aftermath of January’s State of the Union. While this “pen and phone” strategy as been attacked by conservatives as leading the United States down the road to rule by executive fiat, this order hints that the administration’s approach to using executive action will be far more restrained. After all, the policies announced by Holder only applies to the DOJ and does not expand to include cherished goals of the LGBT community, like an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation by all federal contractors.
In his weekly press conference on Thursday, Speaker John Boehner seemed to concede that immigration reform wasn't happening in 2014.
In his weekly news conference on Thursday, Speaker of the House John Boehner threw cold water on the idea that any immigration reform legislation might pass Congress this year, citing the GOP's lack of trust in the Obama adminstration and all but acknowledged that there would be another "do-nothing" Congress in 2014.
Boehner's comments come just a week after the House GOP leadership unveiled its "principles" on immigration reform to great fanfare at their annual retreat in Cambridge, Maryland. While the House Speaker insisted that he "never underestimated the difficulty in moving forward this year," his statement comes just days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that he didn't see how the House and Senate could resolve their differences on immigration reform in 2014.
The Democratic controlled Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last summer by a significant bipartisan margin but immigration legislation has stalled in the House, where many Republicans reamin steadfastly opposed to any bill that would allow for "amnesty" for the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.
Immigration reform has long been one of Boehner's priorities and a concern of many business-oriented Republicans who see it as necessary for the GOP to win Hispanic voters in the future. In contrast, many conservatives see immigration reform as rewarding lawbreakers who have illegally entered the country and are skeptical of any political benefits.
After President Obama announced a shift in approach to the conflict in Syria, Josh Rogin joins ‘The Daily Rundown’ on MSNBC to offer his take on whether the move was too little, too late.