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Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said Friday he would continue to oppose ratification of the U.N. Disabilities Treaty.

Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing hard to get the Senate to ratify a treaty codifying the rights of persons with disabilities, but the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, will announce Friday that he is still opposed to ratification.  Corker, a second-term senator from Tennessee, voted against the treaty when the Senate last voted on it in 2012.

The George H.W. Bush administration that initially negotiated the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is essentially a worldwide expansion of the Americans for Disabilities Act, which became U.S. law in 1990. The treaty has been ratified by 125 countries and the European Union, but not the United States, although the Obama administration signed it in 2009.

Last December, then-Senator Kerry made a major push for Senate ratification that included the personal intervention of former Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who appeared on the Senate floor in his wheelchair to make an impassioned plea to his fellow Republicans to support the treaty.

But the treaty was defeated on a 61-38 vote that largely fell along party lines, short of the 67 vote two thirds threshold needed in the Senate for treaty ratification. Kerry had pushed for the floor vote against the advice of Republican supporters of the bill, including Sen. John McCain, who had warned Kerry that there wasn’t enough GOP support at the time for ratification.

Stand By Your Man

Congressman Backs Phil Robertson

A Louisiana congressman elected with the support of the Duck Dynasty family stood by Phil Robertson in the wake of his controversial comments about gays and lesbians on Thursday.

In November, Republican Vance McAllister won an upset win in a Louisiana special election for Congress with the backing of the Robertson family from Duck Dynasty. Many political observers credited their support with McAllister's win over a state legislator with significant institutional backing. On Thursday, McAllister issued a statement offering some support for Phil Robertson, whose controversial statements about homosexuality led to the reality star getting an indefinite suspension from A&E, the cable network which airs the show.

After repeated requests for comment from The Daily Beast, McAllister's office issued a statement Thursday evening on the matter:

"The Robertson's [sic] are great people and great friends of mine. Everyone is criticizing a reality star that became so popular by being himself.

"A real journalist asked Phil a real question and he gave him a real answer based on his opinion, and because it's not politically correct, people are turning on him. This is America where you have the right to say what you believe and what's in your heart. Everyone, including A&E, should respect other people's opinions. It's not [sic] place to judge anyone. People have to live by their own values. I, as I know Phil does, love the God we worship and all our neighbors, the two most important commandements and our core values."


Feds Delay McDonnell Indictment

According to the Washington Post, the Department of Justice overruled a decision by prosecutors to indict Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that the Department of Justice agreed to delay making a final decision on whether to indict Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen in connection with a corruption scandal around taking illegal gifts from the CEO of nutritional supplements company called Star Scientific. 

The investigation, which has gone on for almost a year, revolves around $165,000 in gifts and benefits that the Virginia governor took from Star Scientific, whose products he promoted. McDonnell has insisted that he would have done the same for any Virginia company and the gifts were simply the result of his friendship with Star Scientific's CEO. 

According to the Post, federal prosecutors had told McDonnell last Monday that they would bring criminal charges against him and his wife as a result of this investigation but the Virginia governor then went over their heads to the Justice Department and successfully convinced the DOJ to delay bringing charges. Reportedly, McDonnell, in addition to casting doubt on a key witness, asked that an indictment be delayed until after he leaves office on January 11 when Terry McAuliffe succeeds him in Richmond.

This saga marks a dramatic fall from grace for McDonnell, who was considered to be a contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination not that long ago. Instead, he has become a political pariah who was praised more often by McAuliffe than by Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for governor, on the campaign trail during the Virginia governor's race this year. But as low as McDonnell's political fortunes have fallen, at least he won't have to join the company of disgraced politicians like Rod Blagojevich who have been indicted while serving as governor. 

Baucus To China

Baucus To Be Ambassador To China

President Obama will nominate Montana Senator Max Baucus to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China.

According to a report from Politico, six-term Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) will be the next Ambassador to China. Baucus, who was first elected to the Senate in 1978 was not running for re-election in 2014. But, despite his retirement, the news comes as somewhat of a shock because he chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which any tax reform bill would have to pass.

Once Baucus's nomination is confirmed by the Senate, it's near-certain that Montana's Democratic Governor Steve Bullock will appoint Lt. Gov. John Walsh to replace Baucus in the Senate. Walsh is currently a candidate for Baucus's seat and is considered the likely Democratic nominee. Presumably, by running as an incumbent, This will give Walsh an advantage running against Rep. Steve Daines in what is considered to be one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. 

Earlier this year, the seat was presumed to be safely Democratic, when Bullock's predcessor in the Montana Statehouse, Brian Schweitzer, was believed to be a likely candidate. However, in July, Schweitzer surprised the political world by announcing that he would not run. This decision opened up the race and turned into a crucial 2014 battleground.

Baucus will be the Obama adminstration's third Ambassasdor to China. He replaces former Washington governor and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke who stepped down earlier this year. Obama's first Ambassador in Beijing was former Utah governor Jon Huntsman who stepped down after two years for a failed presidential run. 

Is He Out?

Boehner Rumors Intensify

Could the retirement of Rep. Tom Latham, a close friend, portend the exit of Speaker John Boehner as well?

Late Tuesday afternoon, word hit Capitol Hill that 10-term Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) was retiring at the end of his term. The news will certainly affect the balance of power in the House—Latham, despite representing a district that Barack Obama won twice, was considered a relatively safe incumbent, and his retirement puts his seat in play in 2014. But it will have another, far more important impact: Latham is a close friend of Speaker John Boehner, and his departure from Congress will further fan the ever constant rumors about Boehner’s retirement.

Although the speaker has filed his reelection papers for his southwestern Ohio congressional seat and has insisted that he won’t step down, the speculation hasn’t died down. Indeed, one Republican congressman, Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), went out of his way during the vote on the Murray-Ryan budget deal last week to tell reporters in the Speaker’s Lobby that he thought Boehner would likely retire. While Huelskamp has long been a thorn in the side of the GOP leadership and no friend to Boehner—the Kansan helped to spearhead an attempted coup against the speaker in January—Huelskamp’s open speculation was still somewhat remarkable.

Only Boehner can predict whether he’ll run again, and so far he’s doing everything one would expect a congressman seeking reelection to do. But Latham’s exit just adds further grist to the Washington rumor mill.


Texas Congressman's Obama Barfbag

Texas Senate candidate Steve Stockman is raising money by giving out "Obama barfbags" to donors.

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) is raising money for his Senate campaign by giving out "Obama barfbags."

For only a $10 donation to Stockman's primary campaign against incumbent Senator John Cornyn, you can get a chartreuse barfbag with a picture of President Obama and the tagline "socialism makes me sick." For those concerned about its authenticity, it is labeled "The Official Obama Barf Bag!". Stockman is running as a right wing, tea party challenge to Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, who he had derided as a liberal and "Harry Reid's Republican."

In an accompanying fundraising letter, Stockman says he and others could use the barfbag because "Obama’s job-killing, freedom-stealing socialism makes me sick to my stomach. And it makes me sick with anger when I see him shredding the Constitution, exploding our debt, bowing down to foreign dictators and plunging this country into European socialism!"

Stockman didn't just attack Obama in the email. He also attacked what he called "quisling Republicans" currently in the Senate. In contrast to those quislings, Stockman pledged to be one of the "take-no-prisoners, right wing leaders who will rip apart, tear out and blow up everything Obama has touched."

State representative Tyler Olson dropping out of race for Iowa Governor after divorce.

The Daily Beast has confirmed that State Representative Tyler Olson is dropping out of the Democratic primary for Iowa Governor today. The news, first reported by WHO's Dave Price, comes soon after Olson surprisingly announced that he was getting a divorce earlier this month and taking time off from campaigning.

In a statement released Tuesday, Olson said "while focused on supporting my children through the transition in my personal life it is clear they need my full attention. It is time to end my campaign for Governor."

Olson, a 37-year-old from Cedar Rapids who was first elected in 2006, was competing against State Senator Jack Hatch for the right to face off against incumbent Governor Terry Branstad in the 2014 general election. His departure from the race leaves Hatch the only declared candidate in the Democratic primary.

The Cook Political Report currently has the general election as "likely Republican." Although Iowa is a perenial swing state, Branstad is the longest serving incumbent governor in American history.


McCain Warns Ukraine on Sanctions

After a trip to Ukraine, the Arizona senator tells The Daily Beast that Congress would consider sanctions if the government uses violence against protesters.

If the Ukrainian government attempts further violence against peaceful protesters, the U.S. Congress could begin a process to impose sanctions on the country, said Sen. John McCain, who just returned from a visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

“Sanctions are something we said the Congress would consider,” McCain said in a Monday interview with The Daily Beast following his two day trip to Ukraine, where he was joined by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “We didn’t threaten the sanctions, but we both said that sanctions would be a consideration if there was any brutality against the protesters.”

The specifics of such sanctions are unclear, but the Ukrainian government “should not have any doubt that there would be consequences for any further violence,” said McCain.

The Arizona senator addressed a crowd of 100,000 and 200,000 protesters in Kiev’s main square, which he described the largest crowd he had ever spoken to in his political career. McCain also sat down for two and a half hours with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, had dinner with opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Oleh Tyahnybok,, and met with Ukrainian religious and civil society leaders as well.


Biden Backs Ukrainian Protesters

In a speech on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden expressed his sympathy for the pro-European street protests in the Ukraine.

Vice President Joe Biden challenged Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to cease violence against protesters, begin a dialogue with the opposition, and restore his country's ties to the European Union Thursday evening. He also said America can play a role in Ukraine’s future.

“In Ukraine, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to demand a modern, democratic, prosperous future, which they see in Europe. And they look to us for help,” Biden said, becoming the most senior Obama adminstration to condemn the government’s weeks long crackdown on street protesters. “Nothing would have greater impact for securing our interests and the world’s interests in Europe than to see a democratic, prosperous, and independent Ukraine in the region. And in our view, it would be the best thing that could ever happen to Russia in the long term.”

Biden was the featured honoree at Thursday evening at the annual gala of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a non-governmental organization that advocates on behalf of diplomacy and development as tools of national power. He said he knew Yanukovych well and had “several hours worth” of conversations with him in recent months.

“My conversation with Yanukovych just in the past few weeks, I’ve made it clear that he has a choice. He can choose a path that leads to division and isolation or can take immediate tangible steps to diffuse his country’s crisis and start a genuine dialogue with the opposition to agree to a path that returns Ukraine to economic and political health,” Biden said. “We hope he leads his country back to its European path, but he needs help. Because it’s in the most fundamental interest of the United States that Ukraine succeed, the door is open. And what the Ukrainian people have to know is that the America stands with them on the side of universal rights, democratic principles, and economic assistance and intervention.”


Murray-Ryan Budget Deal Advances

The Murray-Ryan deal cleared a major procedural hurdle in the House of Representatives on Thursday. Ben Jacobs reports.

Has the fever finally broken?

With the party line vote of 227-195 (one maverick Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina joined with the Democrats in opposition) to move forward in the House of Representatives on the Murray-Ryan debt deal,  the conservative groups that pushed the government shutdown and have driven the House GOP to the right have suffered a major setback. As opposed to the deal ending the government shutdown, which came under duress, this came without a ticking clock and in the context of Speaker John Boehner repeatedly attacking outside conservative groups in the past two days.

So does this mean that the Tea Party and outside conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth have lost their sway on Capitol Hill? Not really.

Although Boehner railed again the groups opposing the Murray-Ryan deal before reading it, saying, "Frankly, I just think they've lost all credibility," the Speaker also went out of his way to assert his conservative bona fides. “I’m as conservative as anybody around this place. And all the things that we’ve done in the three years that I’ve been Speaker have not violated any conservative principle. Not once,” Boehner said in a press conference today. 


Capitol Hill Child Porn Arrest

The chief of staff for Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander was arrested Wednesday for allegedly possessing and distributing child pornography.

Ryan Loskarn, the chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was arrested Wednesday afternoon on charges relating to possessing and distributing child pornography. Loskarn joined Alexander’s office in 2011 after serving as a staff director for the Senate Republican Conference. In an article at the time, Roll Call described him as “one of the Senate GOP’s top strategists and aides.” However, it seems likely that Loskarn’s career as a D.C. mover and shaker is at an end.

On Wednesday morning, agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service raided Loskarn’s home after “allegations involving child pornography.” A few hours later, they arrested Loskarn, who was led from his Washington, D.C., home by agents into a waiting black SUV. Almost immediately after the arrest, Alexander fired Loskarn—or “removed him from the payroll,” in his office’s almost quaint terminology—and replaced him with longtime aide David Cleary. Prior to Loskarn’s arrest, Alexander, in a previous press release, said he was putting his chief of staff on unpaid adminstrative leave due to the investigation, which the Tennessee Republican said left him “stunned, surprised and disappointed.”

Loskarn, 35, is a native of Sykesville, Maryland, who graduated from Tulane University and has since made a career as a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill. Prior to joining Alexander’s office, his influence as a staffer had led him to be named one of Roll Call’s “Fabulous 50.”

It is unlikely that the arrest will have any political impact on Alexander, who is running for reelection in 2014. The two-term Tennessee senator, who previously served as the Volunteer State’s governor as well as U.S. Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, is facing a primary challenge from state Rep. Joe Carr, a Tea Party supporter who considers Alexander to be too moderate. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Carr said, “We will not be putting out a statement on this issue.”

Child Porn

Senate Aide In Child Porn Bust

The chief of staff for Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander is under investigation for allegations involving child pornography.

On Wednesday morning, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that he was suspending his chief of staff, Ryan Loskarn, who was being investigated by law enforcement for "allegations involving child pornography." In a release, Alexander, a two-term senator who previously served as the Volunteer State's governor, said "I am stunned, surprised and disappointed." The Tennessee Republican said his office was cooperating fully and that Loskarn would be placed on unpaid adminstrative leave.

Loskarn joined Alexander's office in 2011 after serving as a staff director for the Senate Republican Conference. In an article at the time, Roll Call described him as "one of the Senate GOP’s top strategists and aides." Prior to joining Alexander's office, his influence as a staffer had led him to be named one of Roll Call's "Fabulous 50." Loskarn was prominent enough on the Hill that in 2010, he chronicled celebrations of his 32nd birthday for Politico. Celebrations included "lots of food and ample booze."

The allegations surrounding Loskarn are still unclear but it's possible that the scandal could hurt Alexander's re-election prospects. The Tennessee Republican, who has long been derided as "a RINO" for his comparatively moderate brand of conservatism is facing a Tea Party primary challenge in 2014. Despite Alexander's quick actions suspending Loskarn, this still could provide fodder for negative ads regardless.

Bad Deal?

The Conservative Budget Backlash

Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and other Republicans are already expressing their skepticism about the bipartisan Murray-Ryan budget compromise announced on Tuesday.

The ink wasn’t dry on the on the bipartisan budget deal reached Tuesday between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) before the conservative backlash began.

The two-year deal would eliminate $65 billion in cuts from sequestration while saving $25 billion by cutting Medicare spending in 2022 and 2023. The deal would raise revenue by instituting additional fees on airline tickets and slowing the rate of growth via cost-of-living increases for military pensions. However, many conservatives were outraged that the deal would increase the federal budget to more than $1 trillion, well above $967 billion at which the budget is currently capped under sequestration. 

Conservative darling Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was quick to announce his opposition to the deal, saying, “This budget continues Washington’s irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans.” Rubio was echoed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who tweeted: “There is a recurring theme in Washington budget negotiations. It’s I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The two senators, often mentioned as potential 2016 presidential hopefuls, were joined in their early opposition to the deal by a number of Tea Party conservatives in the House, including Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). A number of conservative activist groups also have voiced skepticism about the deal. On Monday, Freedom Works, Heritage Action, and Americans for Prosperity preemptively criticized any Ryan-Murray bipartisan deal. 

Texas GOP

Is GOP Sen. John Cornyn a Liberal?

His Republican primary opponent is trying to label the Texas senator ‘Harry Reid’s Republican.’ But left-leaning activists disagree.

In a scathing campaign annoucement, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) kicked off his primary challenge against Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, by calling Cornyn a “liberal” roughly once a paragraph. Stockman, an outspoken conservative, described his opponent as “Harry Reid’s Republican” and claimed that “Liberal John Cornyn wakes up every morning and works to make the Senate a more liberal place.” But left-leaning groups aren’t rallying behind Cornyn, who was ranked the second most conservative member of the U.S. Senate by National Journal.

Josh Orton of Progressives United, a liberal group founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said he was flabbergasted by Stockman’s claim. “I guess if by ‘liberal’ Stockman means Cornyn is not an alien flesh-eating lizard from outer space, then sure, Cornyn’s a liberal,” said Orton. “If Stockman means anything else, then no, Cornyn is not a liberal.”

Orton’s comments were echoed by Jeff Hauser of the AFL-CIO, who told The Daily Beast: “Fortunately, working people have a large and growing cast of Senate crusaders for social justice, and so we don’t have to pay much attention to the made-up world in which John Cornyn is anything other than a stooge for the 1 percent. In fact, the extreme conservatism of both John Cornyn and Ted Cruz is hastening the day in which Texas is a purple and then blue state.”

Still, Stockman did receive at least some help from a liberal group. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is trying to draft Elizabeth Warren to run for president in 2016, seems as contemptous of Cornyn as Stockman, but for different reasons. “John Cornyn consistently doles out corporate welfare, supports the government snooping in our emails and phone calls, and supports cutting Social Security benefits for Republican grandparents and veterans across Texas,” said Green. “If that outrages Republican voters, they should by all means vote against him. And Steve Stockman should feel free to liberally use this quote in campaign materials.”


Sudan Group Criticizes Obama

One human rights group criticized President Obama Tuesday for not doing enough to combat human rights abuses in Sudan.

President Obama is in South Africa honoring human rights champion Nelson Mandela today, but back in Washington, a leading Sudan advocacy group is criticizing Obama’s record on protecting Africans in danger.

“In 2007, Mr. Obama said that genocide is ‘a stain on our souls’ and promised, ‘As president of the United States I don’t intend to abandon people or turn a blind eye to slaughter.’ Yet, according to Act for Sudan in the fifth year of his Presidency, he continues to oversee a disastrous approach to the ongoing genocide in Sudan,” the group will say in a Tuesday press release, timed to coincide with the annual celebration of Human Rights Day. “This approach has failed to prevent the tragic loss of countless civilian lives and the mass displacement and starvation of countless more innocent people. According to the national alliance, President Obama should develop a new pro-democracy and civilian protection-oriented policy on Sudan.”

Two years after South Sudan declared its independence on July 9, 2011, the region is still turbulent. Violence in both Sudan and South Sudan is raging, particularly in the regions of Jonglei, Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Over 100,000 people have been driven from their homes so far this year in Jonglei alone.

Josh Rogin: Hope Is Not a Policy

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.

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