First Lady Michelle Obama hosts the “Kids State Dinner” in the East Room of the White House. The White House treated more than 50 kid chefs to a “state dinner.” The children earned a seat at the table by whipping up mouth-watering yet healthy meals as part of a nationwide contest sponsored by the food magazine Epicurious and the Education and Agriculture departments
On This Day: President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama talk backstage before an event for the “United We Serve” service project with at Fort McNair in Washington DC, June 25, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Today (All Times Eastern)
10:45: The President meets with HHS Secretary Burwell
11:45: Meets with Israeli President Shimon Peres, drops by a meeting with American Jewish leaders, Roosevelt Room
12:20: Lunch with Israeli President Peres
12:35: Josh Earnest briefs the press
1:25: The President meets with Israeli President Peres
2:55: Honors NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, East Room
5:0: Meets with Senate Democrats, The State Floor
7:10: Delivers remarks to the League of Conservation Voters, Ronald Reagan Building
Spandan Chakrabati: Putin Completes Surrender To Obama: Syria Disarms, Russia Backing Off Ukraine
Yesterday, weapons inspectors confirmed that Syria handed over all declared chemical and biological weapons to an international inspection team for destruction, completing a major foreign policy coup for the Obama administration (or in the media version, a triumph for Vladimir Putin in a negotiation over Syria where Obama got everything and Putin got nothing) – disarming a middle eastern power of its weapons of mass destruction in the midst of a civil war without firing a single shot. ISIS – the Islamic militant group that is gaining ground in Iraq – many Americans will be surprised to learn stands for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Incidentally, these were the same rebels McCain was urging US arms in Syria. The same media couldn’t get enough the “weak black guy” narrative then. But now that his strategy of strength, fairness and diplomacy has born major fruit? Nary a peep.
Russian lawmakers rescind resolution allowing the use of military in Ukraine on Vladimir Putin’s request: yhoo.it/1yMTQVt
Vladimir Putin has formally asked the upper house of the Russian parliament to rescind their March 1 authorization for Putin to attack Ukraine. President Obama spoke with Putin on this matter just yesterday. Putin is backing off, with his tail between his legs. This yet another crowning foreign policy achievement for this president. Ending two wars. Securing the world’s loose nukes. Killing Osama bin Laden. Bringing the last American POW home. Disarming a middle-eastern madman without firing so much as a water balloon. Dashing Putin’s hope of a new Soviet empire. If this were any other president – let me clarify, if this were any white president – the work of carving their face on Mount Rushmore would have already begun.
With an unusual assist from African-American voters and other Democrats who feared his opponent, Senator Thad Cochran on Tuesday beat back a spirited challenge from State Senator Chris McDaniel, triumphing in a Republican runoff and defeating the Tea Party in the state where the movement’s hopes were bright. “We all have a right to be proud of our state tonight,” Mr. Cochran said at his victory party in Jackson, Miss. “This is your victory.”
Mr. McDaniel, speaking in Hattiesburg, was angry, and he did not hesitate to say so. “There is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats,” he said. He accused Mr. Cochran of abandoning the conservative movement. “So much for principles,” he said. The 76-year-old senator ran a largely sleepy campaign until the primary on June 3, when he was edged out by Mr. McDaniel but won enough votes to keep his opponent from outright victory. Mr. Cochran, who is seeking his seventh term, used the past three weeks to turn out Democratic voters — especially African-Americans — to make up that deficit.
BBC: Iraq PM Nouri Maliki Rejects Calls For Unity Government
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has rejected calls for a national salvation government to help counter the offensive by jihadist-led Sunni rebels. Such calls represented a “coup against the constitution and an attempt to end the democratic experience”, he warned. The US has led appeals to the country’s political leaders to rise above sectarian and ethnic divisions. Government forces have been unable to recapture the territory seized by the rebels this month. Almost half of the 300 US military advisers assigned to help the Iraqi security forces have arrived and are to start work on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the crisis in Iraq is being discussed by Nato leaders meeting in Brussels. They have been joined by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has just returned from a two-day visit to Baghdad and Irbil.
In his weekly televised address, Mr Maliki called on “all political forces to reconcile” in the face of a “fierce terrorist onslaught”. But the Shia prime minister gave no promise of greater representation in government for the minority Sunni Arab community, whose anger at what they say are his sectarian and authoritarian policies has been exploited by jihadist militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis). Mr Maliki said forming an emergency administration that included all religious and ethnic groups would go against the results of April’s parliamentary elections, which were won by his State of Law alliance. “The dangerous goals of forming a national salvation government are not hidden,” he said. “It is an attempt by those who are against the constitution to eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters.”
Ari Berman: Fifty Years After Freedom Summer, The Voting Rights Act Is Needed More Than Ever
Fifty years ago, Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old anthropology major at Queens College, went down to Mississippi for Freedom Summer. His first stop was Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he and Mickey Schwerner, a 24-year-old graduate student in social work at Columbia University, and James Chaney, a 21-year-old volunteer with the Congress for Racial Equality from Meridian, Mississippi, were sent to investigate a church burning. Schwerner and Chaney had spoken at Mount Zion Methodist Church over Memorial Day, urging local blacks to register to vote. On June 21, 1964, the young civil rights activists were arrested by the Neshoba County police and then abducted by the Klan. Their bodies were found forty-four days later in an earthen dam. Goodman and Schwerner, both white, had been shot once. Chaney, who was African-American, had been mutilated beyond recognition. The fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer happens to coincide with the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, where the Supreme Court’s conservative majority invalidated Section 4 of the VRA on June 25, 2013. As a result, states like Mississippi, with the worst history of voting discrimination, no longer have to clear their voting changes with the federal government.
Since the 2010 election, twenty-two states have passed new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center. This includes requiring strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cutting early voting, making it harder to register to vote and rescinding voting rights for non-violent ex-felons. New restrictions will be in place for the first time in fifteen states in the 2014 election. All across the country, we’re seeing the most significant push to restrict voting rights since Reconstruction. Partisanship is a strong motivating factor for the voting changes—GOP legislatures or governors enacted eighteen of the twenty-two new restrictions. So is race. According to the Brennan Center: “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote.”
The wreckage of a Ukrainian helicopter downed near Sloviansk on Tuesday
BBC: West Warns Russia Of Sanctions Amid Ukraine Fighting
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin that new sanctions could be applied if efforts to stabilise the situation were not speeded up. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said inaction by Russia would mean a stronger case for sanctions. President Petro Poroshenko warned he might end the truce due to violations. However, his foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, told reporters at a Nato meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Ukraine would “stick to our unilateral ceasefire”. The ceasefire began on Friday. On Tuesday, a Ukrainian military helicopter was shot down with the loss of nine lives. There was also fighting overnight near the Russian border in Luhansk region. The Ukrainian military accused the rebels on Wednesday of breaking the ceasefire 44 times since it began. A separatist leader said there had “been no ceasefire”.
Putin demands upper house of Russian parliament to cancel resolution allowing use of military in Ukraine yhoo.it/1v5huYp
The truce is part of Ukraine’s plan to end two months of fighting between government troops and pro-Russian insurgents who control key buildings in towns and cities across the east. More than 420 people have been killed in the region since mid-April, the UN estimates. Mrs Merkel welcomed the surprise decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cancel a parliamentary resolution authorising him to use Russian forces in Ukraine. The cancellation was ratified by Russia’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday. While Mrs Merkel said the decision was “psychologically important”, she told German parliament that Ukrainian soldiers continued to die. “Progress is slow… Diplomatic solutions are always preferable but if nothing else works, sanctions can be put back on the agenda,” she said.
The U.S. economy shrank in the first quarter of the year, and new revisions by the Bureau of Economic Analysis show the decline was even deeper than reported. Gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic growth — contracted at a 2.9% annual rate in January through March. That’s the weakest quarter for the U.S. economy since the first quarter of 2009, amid the Great Recession. But economists aren’t too worried, for three key reasons. 1) They blame the weather: Much of the downturn was due to a brutal winter. Blizzards slowed shipments both domestically and abroad and kept consumers away from shopping malls, car lots and open houses more than usual this winter.
2) It’s not a final number: Some economists take this GDP number with a grain of salt because it will be revised again next month when the Bureau of Economic Analysis makes historical revisions. 3) Last, but certainly not least, other data show the economy is improving. Hiring slowed in December, but it has since picked up again. In the last five months, the economy added 1.1 million jobs. Hiring at that level is consistent with an economy that is growing modestly around 2% to 3% a year — not an economy that is contracting.
NYT: Iran Secretly Sending Drones And Supplies Into Iraq, U.S. Officials Say
Iran is flying unarmed surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed a unit there to intercept communications, the officials said. The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has paid at least two visits to Iraq to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Iraqi Shiite militia members from the country’s south, American officials said. Iranian transport planes have also been making two daily flights of military equipment and supplies to Baghdad — 70 tons per flight — for Iraqi security forces.
Nigel Duara: Judge: People On No-Fly List Must Have Due Process
When it comes to its no-fly list, the U.S. government has a choice to make. More than a dozen Muslims sued after learning they were likely on the list — something the government still won’t confirm — and they found their only recourse was to fill out an online appeal form. Then on Tuesday, a federal judge in Oregon ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must give people a better avenue to pursue a claim that they were wrongly put on the list. Now, the government can seek some way around U.S. District Judge Anna Brown’s order. Or, they can do what she asked. But Brown didn’t want to dictate the rules. In fact, federal prosecutors specifically told her in court, “We urge you not to take over the policymaking.”
Instead, Brown set out a handful of guidelines that were issued by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an unrelated case. She said the government must tell people what unclassified information was used to put them on the list. And if the information’s classified, at least tell them the nature and extent of it. She said it shouldn’t leave people without an option to challenge their status or make blanket rulings that ignore the specifics of people’s lives. “The (challenge) process falls far short of satisfying the requirements of due process,” Brown wrote in her ruling Tuesday. U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said government attorneys were reviewing the decision.
Philip Klein: Health Care Spending Actually Shrunk 1.4 Percent In First Quarter Of Obamacare, BEA Says
Health care spending actually shrunk 1.4 percent during the first quarter of the year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis now says, after previously saying it soared 9.1 percent — a massive revision that will shake up the debate over how President Obama’s health care law is affecting medical spending. To give an idea of the magnitude of the swing, the 9.1 percent growth rate would have been the fastest growth in health spending since 1980,
and now the BEA says it actually shrunk more than any quarter since the first quarter of 1982 — or 32 years. The revised data suggest medical spending slowed despite the expansion of coverage. So what explains the revision? The short and easy answer is that BEA gained access to more data.
Pretty much everyone was stunned to see Q1 GDP growth slashed to -2.9% from an earlier estimate of -1.0%.
The revision largely boils down to one thing: healthcare spending. “Two thirds of the revision is in consumption, cut to +1.0% from +3.1%,” said Pantheon Macroeconomics Ian Shepherdson. “Almost all of this huge hit is in the healthcare services component, cut to -1.4% from +9.1%.” According to the BEA, healthcare spending went from adding 1.01 percentage points to subtracting 0.16 from the headline GDP growth number. “So much for the BEA’s initial view that the start of Obamacare triggered a surge in spending on healthcare,” said Shepherdon.
Most economists and strategists are brushing this off. First of all, it reflects activity from Q1, which ended in March. Second, the bulk of the more recent data has been positive. “If GDP were truly so weak, we would not expect aggregate hours worked to climb 3.7% annualized through May, jobless claims to remain near cycle lows, consumer confidence to hit a cycle high, industrial production to climb 5.0% at an annual rate over the first five months of the year, core capital goods orders to be up 5.8%, ISM to be above 55, and vehicle sales to hit their strongest annualized selling pace for the year,” said Renaissance Macro’s Neil Dutta. “GDP is the outlier in these data points. I will roll my eyes and move on. Most of the data we just mentioned is consistent with underlying growth over 3.0%.”
Steve LeVine: How A US Decision To Allow Oil Exports Could Change The World’s Energy Balance
The Obama Administration has taken a bold step toward loosening the grip of tense geopolitics on oil prices, reports the Wall Street Journal (paywall), giving the first permission in four decades for the export of unrefined American oil. The decision—not made public but announced in the form of private letters from the US Commerce Department to two oil companies, according to the paper–seems certain to cause a stir in global oil markets and perhaps send prices lower. Global oil prices have surged because of the political turmoil in the Middle East and Africa–the march of Islamic militants in Iraq, the stoppage of oil exports from Libya, and the broad turbulence in Nigeria.
The US decision allows two Texas companies—Pioneer Natural Resources and Enterprise Products Partners—to export a form of extremely light oil called condensate. The Journal’s report does not provide the volume. US condensate production in 2012, the last year provided by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), was about 250,000 barrels a day. That is not much, relatively speaking, but the exports could have a dramatic impact if the Commerce Department provides a broader definition of what counts as condensate for export purposes.
President Obama meets with members of Congress for a roundtable discussion about immigration reform, June 25, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama with actress Reese Witherspoon in the Oval Office on June 25, 2009. The president was also joined by actors Paul Rudd and Jake Gyllenhaal; they are filming a movie in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama cheers on a child attempting to dunk Press Secretarty Robert Gibbs at the Congressional Luau on the South Lawn of the White House, June 25, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama shakes hands with attendees of the Congressional Luau on the South Lawn of the White House, June 25, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama laughs as First Lady Michelle Obama does a little dance while making remarks during a United We Serve event at Fort McNair June 25, 2009
President Obama talks with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, before a meeting with African Outreach Leaders at the G8 Summit in Muskoka, Canada, June 25, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama greets guests before an event at Oyster River High School in Durham, N.H., June 25, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama eats a hot fudge sundae as he talks with patrons at the UNH Dairy Bar on the University of New Hampshire campus in Durham, N.H., June 25, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama waves to the audience after delivering remarks at Symphony Hall in Boston, Mass., June 25, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)