On This Day: President Obama greets graduating Joplin High School seniors before their commencement ceremony at Missouri Southern State University’s Leggett & Platt Athletic Center in Joplin, Mo., May 21, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Today (All Times Eastern)
10:45: President Obama makes a statement in the briefing room after a meeting with Sec. Eric Shinseki
11:35: The President participates in an ambassador credentialing ceremony
12:45: Jay Carney briefs the press
2:10: The President honors the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, East Room
4:10: The President delivers remarks on the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument Designation, Department of Interior
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more Americans don't have to worry about lifetime caps. http://t.co/EfXDgTKfMB
Washington Post: Obama: ‘In Five Years It Will No Longer Be Called Obamacare.’
Just about everyone calls the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare” — even the White House. But is President Obama returning to his old stance that the health-care law should not have his name attached to it?
At a fundraiser in Potomac, Md., Monday night, Obama backed off the term that his administration shunned, and then embraced.
“First of all, in five years it will no longer be called Obamacare, because when something is working, they’re definitely not going to — there will be a whole renaming process similar to National. (Laughter.) I don’t know if it will be “Reagancare,” but it will definitely be — it will be something different,” Obama told the crowd.
(For those of you outside the Washington area, Obama was referring to Washington National Airport, which was renamed Reagan National Airport in 1998).
NYT: Memo Approving Targeted Killing Of U.S. Citizen To Be Released
Facing the potential defeat of an appeals court nominee, the Obama administration decided Tuesday to publicly release much of a classified memo written by the nominee that signed off on the targeted killing an American accused of being a terrorist. The solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., made the call to release the secret memo — and not appeal a court order requiring its disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act — and informed Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. of his decision this week, according to two administration officials. The White House was informed Tuesday. But the memo will not be released right away because officials said they needed time to redact it and to prepare an appeal asking the court not to reveal classified sections of a federal appeals court ruling last month requiring that most of the memo be made public. The memo was written by David J. Barron, a Harvard Law professor and former acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who is Mr. Obama’s choice to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.
As a Justice Department lawyer, Mr. Barron wrote two memos concluding that it would be lawful to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a United States citizen living in Yemen, based on intelligence agencies’ conclusion that he was a senior operational terrorist plotting attacks against the United States and that his capture was not feasible. The lawsuit focused on the second and longer of those memos. Mr. Awlaki was killed by an American drone strike in September 2011. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, had promised to slow down Mr. Barron’s confirmation if the administration did not allow senators to view all of Mr. Barron’s memos or release redacted versions to the public. Libertarian-leaning senators in both parties had expressed reservations about the nomination, and some conservatives also argued that he was too liberal on other issues. A spokesman for Mr. Paul said the senator would still take the Senate floor on Wednesday for a filibuster-style protest of Mr. Barron’s nomination. Last year, Mr. Paul used the nomination of John O. Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency to stage a nearly 13-hour filibuster.
Philly.com: U.S. Judge Strikes Down Same-Sex Marriage Ban In Pa.
A federal judge on Tuesday struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriages, a landmark ruling that appeared to clear the way for the Commonwealth to become the latest state to legalize gay marriage. The decision by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III marked the first and most significant to date in a series of court challenges to the state’s 1996 ban. “We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them onto the ash heap of history,” Jones wrote in the 39-page opinion. “By virtue of this, ruling, same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”
“What a great day!” said Mark Aronchick, one of the plantiffs lawyers in the case. “The court, in a bell-ringing opinion, has explained in crystal clear language why the promises of our Constitution extend to all Pennsylvanians. We urge the commonwealth to take whatever steps are necessary to allow marriages to proceed and the celebrations to begin immediately.” In Philadelphia, Register of Wills Ron Donatucci’s office immediately began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Guy Sabelli, the city’s marriage license supervisor, said 12 female couples and 6 male couples had obtained licenses by the time the office closed at 5:30 p.m. The office reopens at 8 a.m. Wednesday with extended hours until 7 p.m.
I’m not sure why this isn’t a bigger deal. I hadn’t heard about it other than in this brief passage tucked away in a Politico article about the House GOP agriculture bill. But it takes a small program intended provide meals to children in the school lunch program during the summer months and says it can now only be used to benefit kids in “rural areas”.
In other words, “urban” kids are now out of luck.
Here’s the passage in question ..
And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households — both urban and rural — during those months when school meals are not available.
ThinkProgress: President Obama Is Set To Create His Largest National Monument So Far
On Wednesday, President Obama will create his second national monument of the year, designating the Organ Mountains in New Mexico a protected area. The Organ Mountains, located at the southern end of New Mexico, will be the 11th and largest national monument of Obama’s presidency. The White House says that the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument will create $7.4 million in new annual economic activity in the region, a finding that first appeared in a 2013 report.
That report also found the monument would double the number of outdoor recreation and tourism jobs in the region and contribute $560,000 in state and local tax revenue. The monument encompasses a total of 496,000 acres, land which contains Native American petroglyphs in its canyons and is one of the most botanically diverse mountain ranges in New Mexico, home to about 870 vascular (i.e. plants with roots, stems, and leaves) plant species and a recorded 210 species of birds.
Brentin Mock: EPA Takes On Three Villains At Once: Pollution, Climate Change, And Racism
You may have read something recently about the air being racist, which is of course ridiculous. It is true that if you are white in America you will tend to breathe air of a more premium quality. A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that black and brown Americans are more often trapped in neighborhoods laden with nitrogen dioxide than their white fellow Americans. This is not news to us. Our abnormally high asthma and cancer rates testify to this. President Obama’s first Environmental Protection Agency chief, Lisa Jackson, promoted environmental justice to top priority status in the agency’s overall mission in 2009. The resulting strategy, which the EPA began rolling out in March, is called Plan EJ 2014, and its primary goal is to end the culture of entitlement among polluters that dump toxic byproducts into the air, soil, and water of marginalized communities. Why is this a big deal?
We can't get to the reckoning about America's racialized political economy when one of the parties suppresses vote/denies health insurance.
Because if you believe that the health and lives of people of color are no less precious than white people’s, this plan helps bring environmental laws in harmony with those values. If you think that clean air is Don Sterling (I like black people. I feed them with oxygen and give them wind. I just don’t want them breathing me.), then you want to know who the Adam Silver is who can commission a smack down. Because civil rights protections in America have been taking a beating lately. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, we now have weakened voting rights protections, weakened affirmative action policies, and we were this close to losing valuable housing discrimination protections (which would have had negative implications for environmentalists).
While civil rights have been getting pushed backwards, environmental justice is been slowly rolling along progressively. That’s no small feat, especially for an agenda that was attacked almost immediately upon Obama claiming the White House in 2009.
ABC News: Biden: Punish Russia If It Meddles In Ukraine
Russia must be punished if it seeks to derail Ukraine’s presidential election this weekend, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday. Speaking during a tour of Eastern European nations, Biden urged European allies to use their influence and “promote a stable and positive environment” so Ukrainians can vote unhindered on Sunday. “If Russia undermines these elections … we must remain resolute and impose greater costs to Russia and (be) equally resolute to invest in the NATO alliance,” Biden said after talks with Romanian President Traian Basescu. The U.S. and the EU have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and have threatened to target entire sectors of the Russian economy if Russia tries to grab more land from Ukraine.
"Where the rule of law is strong...this is where companies around the world invest." -VP in #Romania on anti-corruption efforts
Biden urged Romania to develop its natural gas resources, which analysts say could be exported it to other countries in the region, including neighboring Moldova, which is 100 percent dependent on Russian gas. Romania imports about one-fifth of its natural gas from Russia and has its own supplies in the northwest Transylvania region. “We need to ensure that Russia can no longer use its energy resources as a weapon against anyone in the region,” Biden said. “The development of a secure, diverse and inter-connected energy market is the next great step for our European colleagues.”
ThinkProgress: Chipotle Asks Customers To Keep Guns Away From Its Stores
On Monday, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. formally requested that customers refrain from bringing guns into its restaurants. The announcement came after gun rights advocates entered a Texas restaurant with “military-style assault rifles.”
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America distributed a petition calling for firearms bans in stores like Chipotle after “open-carry gun activists” entered a Chipotle in Dallas.
According to Chipotle, “the display of firearms in our restaurants has now created an environment that is potentially intimidating or uncomfortable for many of our customers.” It remains unclear whether or not the chain is implementing a complete ban on all firearms, but the official statement also claims that the company has previously adhered to local gun rights laws.
A new analysis from Avalere Health finds that exchange enrollment meets or exceeds expectations in 22 states (44%), even after accounting for any attrition due to nonpayment of premiums. Assuming 15 percent of enrollees do not take the final enrollment step and pay their premiums, over 6.8 million people who enrolled through April 19 will have coverage effective as of May 1.
“The large uptick in enrollment in March and early April brought many states over the finish line in terms of projected enrollment for 2014,” said Caroline Pearson, Vice President at Avalere. “Even after accounting for potential non-payment, enrollment exceeds 100 percent of projections in nearly half of states.”
President Obama has gotten much attention from a single extended response he gave to a question about his foreign policy from Ed Henry of Fox News in a press conference in Manila. The apparently strongly felt need, on the part of some of the president’s hardline critics, to strike back at his remarks and to try to discredit them indicates that he spoke some embarrassing truths. Garden-variety disagreement with the substance of the president’s policies and what he has said to support them would never have stimulated this kind of response. The president made several perceptive observations about the less productive aspects of current discourse in Washington about Ukraine, Syria, and other difficult issues, but if there was a single “ouch” line that made the critics most uncomfortable it may have been Mr. Obama’s comment that “for some reason many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again.”
213,881 GOP turnout in contested race McConnell-Bevin. 309,207 Dem turnout in virtual uncontested race Alison Grimes. What's the narrative?
It must be painful for Mr. Obama’s opponents to be reminded how right he was about this issue while so many others—Democrats as well as Republicans—were wrong. If subsequent commentary by the critics were to be believed, the main takeaway from the president’s remarks was that he was accusing his political opponents of being warmongers. But the president explicitly acknowledged, in referring to debates over Syria and Ukraine, that the opponents he has in mind have disavowed wanting to send U.S. troops into such conflicts. Mr. Obama’s main point was instead that after making such disavowals, the critics either (1) fail to spell out what other action they have in mind, beyond what the administration already is doing; or (2) to the extent they do mention an alternative, fail to assess carefully the likely consequences both good and bad, and instead just make unsupported assertions that acting more boldly or aggressively will somehow help to solve the problem at hand.
WPRI: 91% In RI Pay First Premiums For Obamacare Plans
The vast majority of individuals who signed up for private insurance plans through Rhode Island’s new Obamacare marketplace finished the process by paying their first premiums, the agency’s leader confirmed Friday. Christine Ferguson, executive director of HealthSource RI, said 91% of the 27,968 individuals who signed up for private plans during the open enrollment period from Oct. 1 to March 31 paid their first premiums by the April 23 deadline. Analysts have pointed to that percentage as a key test of whether the enrollment figures were as strong as they looked. A total of 25,879 individuals had signed up for a private plan through HealthSource RI and paid their first premiums as of April 30, the agency said. In addition, more than 70,000 people have now used the marketplace to sign up for Medicaid, the government insurance plan for low-income Americans, far more than were expected to do so.
Ferguson also confirmed that HealthSource RI is “in very serious discussions” with executives at UnitedHealth Group Inc. to have United start selling plans for individuals on the Rhode Island marketplace this fall. “I will say that there’s a very good chance that United will,” she said. Executives at United, the nation’s largest health insurer, have signaled in recent weeks that they plan to start selling Obamacare plans in more states during the next open enrollment period this fall. While United is already selling plans to small businesses through HealthSource RI, the marketplace currently has only Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Neighborhood Health Plan offering individual plans.
Amy Lynn Smith: Obamacare Success Stories Keep Coming, With A Rosy Forecast For 2015
So much good news, it’s hard to know where to begin. In Michigan, 272,539 people signed up for coverage through Healthcare.gov, in addition to thousands more who have enrolled in the Healthy Michigan Plan, the state’s Medicaid expansion program that launched April 1. Numbers don’t lie, but even more compelling are the stories of people like Karen Marshall of Oak Park, Mich. Until about four years ago, she’d always had health insurance through work. But when she lost her job, she couldn’t get even the most expensive private insurance because the insurance company claimed she had a pre-existing condition.
Marshall has always considered herself fortunate to be healthy, but she never felt luckier than she did after getting health insurance that kicked in on January 1, 2014. On a trip the week before, she slipped on the ice and fell, breaking her wrist in three places. She saw an orthopedic surgeon on January 3 and had surgery the following week. Everything was covered by her insurance, leaving her only having to pay her deductible and her $6,000 out-of-pocket maximum for the year. She’s now had two surgeries, one hospitalization, and has physical therapy and follow-up visits ahead.
Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters during a campaign rally at the St. Pete Times Forum, May 21, 2008 in Tampa, Florida
President Obama and the Pittsburgh Steelers pack care packages for distribution by the USO during an event on the South Lawn of the White House May 21, 2009 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama meets with Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the Oval Office on May 21, 2009. The President nominated Judge Sotomayer to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 26, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs (left) and Senior Advisor David Axelrod review President Obama’s address on national security outside the Oval Office on May 21, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama delivers an address on national security at the National Archives May 21, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama prepares to take a group photo with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the East Room of the White House, May 21, 2009 (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
President Obama meets with Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete in the Oval Office Thursday, May 21, 2009. This was the President’s first meeting with an African Head of State. A bust of Martin Luther King is at far left (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama chats with journalists in a dining room located in the in the White House Navy Mess, May 21, 2009. (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama’s personal secretary, Katie Johnson, tries on a Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet outside the Oval Office, May 21, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama is reflected in a mirror during a impromptu drop-by visit with speechwriters in David Axelrod’s office in the West Wing of the White House on May 21, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama surprises members of the Office of the Staff Secretary in the West Wing of the White House during an impromptu drop-by visit on May 21, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama shares a laugh with Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., left, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., right, and others during a meeting in the Oval Office, May 21, 2010 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama disembarks Air Force One upon his arrival at Joplin Regional Airport in Joplin, Mo., May 21, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
@PeteSouza: ‘POTUS receives update this am on Oklahoma tornado aftermath from Sec Napolitano et al’ May 21, 2013
On This Day – Pete Souza: “‘How cool is this,’ the President said after he threw a football at Soldier Field following the NATO working dinner in Chicago. I think he was especially excited to be on the home turf of his beloved Chicago Bears.” May 20, 2012
Today (All Times Eastern)
10:45: President Obama meets with business leaders on jobs, Roosevelt Room
12:25: Jay Carney briefs the press
2:50: First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the White House Turnaround Arts Talent Show
2:50 The White House Turnaround Arts Talent Show
5:0: The President meets with Secretary of Defense Hagel
Insurance companies returned over $1.5 billion in rebates to consumers between 2011 and 2012, according to a report issued on Tuesday. The reason is an ObamaCare requirement meant to force companies to spend a higher proportion of premiums on medical costs or quality improvements. The new law states that 80-85 percent of premiums must be used by companies to pay for treatment and medical costs. Companies that fail to meet that ratio must pay rebates.
The report also said consumer rebates fell from $1 billion in 2011 to $513 million in 2012, which indicates more insurers now are in compliance with the provision. Consumer rebates fell most dramatically, 71 percent, for large insurers, from $388 million in 2011 to $111 million in 2012. The rule also led insurance companies to reduce their own profit margins, spending on brokers fees, marketing and others administrative costs to the tune of $1.4 billion. These costs are overhead fees that insurance companies have typically pushed on to their customers.
Zachary Roth: Republicans Drag Their Feet On Fixing The Voting Rights Act
The Republican lawmaker in a key position to help bolster the Voting Rights Act (VRA) isn’t convinced new legislation is needed, and wants more evidence that current laws aren’t strong enough to stop racial discrimination in voting, according to people involved in the discussions. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s go-slow approach—which comes as efforts to pass the bipartisan measure before this fall’s midterm elections enter a critical phase—is causing frustration among voting-rights advocates. Goodlatte chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Before agreeing to hold a hearing on the bill, Goodlatte has asked for examples of voting discrimination that have occurred since the Supreme Court weakened the VRA last year in Shelby County v. Holder, as well as information on how such incidents would have been stopped by the proposed legislation. Lobbyists with the NAACP responded to Goodlatte’s request last week with a 16,000-word document outlining a slew of discriminatory voting changes stopped by the VRA before the Shelby decision, as well as several new ones that went into effect after the landmark civil rights law was eroded.
The Shelby ruling invalidated the VRA’s most important provision, Section 5, which made certain states and localities with a history of voting discrimination got federal signoff—known as “pre-clearance”—before changing their voting laws. The ruling left in place Section 2, which lets victims of racial discrimination in voting file suit. In January, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled legislation, known as the Voting Rights Act Amendment (VRAA), that aims to reactivate Section 5, by updating the formula that determines which areas are subject to pre-clearance. Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader who played a key early role in discussions over the VRAA bill before it was unveiled, also remains non-committal. In part, Goodlatte and Cantor are channeling the views of the GOP caucus. Republicans are aware that measures like voter ID and cuts to early voting—which might be more easily blocked under a revamped VRA—tend to help their party by making it harder for Democratic-leaning groups to vote.
President Obama will hold a round-table discussion with business executives Tuesday whose companies have recently chosen to invest in the United States or have redoubled their commitment to do business in the country. Obama will host high-level executives from companies including Lufthansa, Ericsson and Ford, which plans to add 5,000 additional jobs in the United States this year. “Taken together these companies are investing billions of dollars that will help build our economy and support thousands of new U.S. jobs,” said National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients. The administration also announced that it will hold a second SelectUSA summit in Washington next year. SelectUSA is based in various U.S. embassies around the world and encourages businesses in those countries to invest in the United States. According to the White House SelectUSA has facilitated $18 million in U.S. investment in two years.
The report, “Winning Business Investment in The United States,” was released by the White House and Department of Commerce. Fixed investments accounted for 20 percent of the rebound in real GDP since 2009, the report said, and the U.S. manufacturing sector jobs are growing at their fastest pace since the 1990s. The report also cited surveys, including one by AT Kearney which said that in a 2013 survey of 300 global executives the United States ranked as the top destination for business investment, and a Boston Consulting Group survey showing that the number of U.S. executives considering bringing manufacturing back to the United States from China rose to 54 percent, compared to 37 percent surveyed 18 months earlier.
Yahoo: Biden Arrives In Romania To Show U.S. Backing Over Ukraine
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Bucharest on Tuesday, beginning a three-day trip to reassure Washington’s European allies they have American backing in the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. A former communist state on the Black Sea, Romania joined NATO a decade ago and the European Union in 2007. It has been among the most vehement advocates of Western sanctions against Moscow after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. “The Vice President will underscore the United States’ ironclad commitment to the collective defense of NATO under Article 5, and express appreciation for Romania’s contributions to regional and global security,” Biden’s White House office said.
Romania, which neighbors Ukraine, has said NATO must reposition its resources in the wake of Moscow’s maneuvers. It is especially wary that Moldova – a tiny state bordering Romania with a Russian-speaking minority – could be next in Moscow’s sights. Biden is due to meet American and Romanian troops conducting a joint “capacity-building” exercise. He will hold talks with President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Wednesday and address the need to deepen economic ties, recommit to strengthening democratic institutions and undertake sustained efforts to bolster Europe’s energy security.
TPM: Credit Suisse Case Called Warning To Foreign Banks
Credit Suisse AG’s guilty plea and $2.6 billion payment in a high-profile case brought by the Justice Department are being held out as a warning to foreign banks believed to be helping U.S. taxpayers conceal assets. Culminating a yearslong criminal investigation, Switzerland’s second-largest bank pleaded guilty Monday to helping wealthy Americans avoid paying taxes through secret offshore accounts. Credit Suisse was the largest bank to plead guilty in more than 20 years. The settlement resolves the investigation into allegations that Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-largest bank, recruited U.S. clients to open Swiss accounts, helped them conceal the accounts from the Internal Revenue Service and enabled misconduct by bank employees.
The case is part of an Obama administration crackdown on foreign banks believed to be helping U.S. taxpayers hide assets. Justice Department officials said their investigations into secret bank accounts held by Americans in Switzerland and other countries likely will bring forth additional resolutions. Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, in 2009 entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in which it agreed to pay $780 million in fines and turn over the names of thousands of customers suspected of evading U.S. taxes. The country’s oldest bank, Wegelin & Co., pleaded guilty in January 2013 to U.S. tax charges, admitting that it helped American clients hide more than $1.2 billion from the IRS. The $2.6 billion in penalties — which happens to be roughly equivalent to Credit Suisse’s net income for 2013 — will be paid to the Justice Department, the Federal Reserve and the New York State Department of Financial Services.
Washington Post: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Is Taking Obamacare Money And Running With It
For the first time since Obamacare split the country in two, the conditions for a cease-fire have begun to appear. An architect of this detente — although he denies any such intent — is Mike Pence, who as a conservative Republican congressman in 2010 fought bitterly against the law and who as governor of Indiana refused to implement it. But Pence, after intensive negotiations with the Obama administration, just announced his intent to take the money Obamacare provides for Medicaid expansion and to use it on his own terms to broaden health-care coverage for the working poor. Pence, a former head of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House, was a tea party Republican before there was a tea party. But running a state has given him an elevated perspective.
“Debates that happen in Washington, D.C., pretty easily get far afield of the real-world impacts on real people,” he told me in an interview Monday afternoon. “It will not be enough for new Republican majorities in the Congress and a Republican president to cut government spending,” he added, calling instead for money to be sent to the states so they can “solve the intractable problems.” Pence isn’t about to admit it, but Obamacare does that. He thinks he has a conservative alternative to the new law’s expansion of Medicaid: He wants to broaden the “Healthy Indiana” plan started by his predecessor Mitch Daniels (R) by using financial incentives to get the working poor to contribute to their health coverage under a private alternative to Medicaid. The Obama administration appears likely to grant Indiana a waiver for the experiment — and if it works, other states will be free to follow the example.
If you want to see the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at work, stand behind a pharmacy counter. That’s what Desirae Clayborn does, and she’s seen nothing but positive experiences. One customer’s story was especially meaningful for Clayborn. A woman in her 40s came into the pharmacy with tears in her eyes, because she was so excited to be filling a prescription for the first time in her adult life. After proudly handing me her insurance information, she made it a point to tell me that she had just returned from a physical — something that she hadn’t had the opportunity to do since she was a child. The grateful look in this woman’s eyes is something I will never forget.
She was in tears because she could finally be treated for chronic conditions she didn’t even know she had. If she hadn’t been to the doctor’s office, she never would have known. The conditions weren’t life-threatening yet, but the Affordable Care Act could have potentially added years to her life. The customer’s co-pay was less than $10, which Clayborn says the woman was “ecstatic” about. Some people are only thinking about how the ACA impacts them individually. But this isn’t just about one person. It’s something that’s good for the whole country. People get so caught up in the politics that they lose sight of what’s really important. The Affordable Care Act isn’t a political thing. It’s a people thing.
Bloomberg: Obama Said To Put Personal Push Behind EPA Emission Rules
President Barack Obama plans to personally unveil proposed carbon-emissions rules for power plants, elevating climate change policy as a top tier issue for his final two years in office, according to two people familiar with White House strategy. Obama is preparing to make the announcement with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who said this week the rules are on track to be proposed by June 2, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the schedule is still being planned. McCarthy said on May 13 that her agency is on course to put forward new regulations
for existing power plants to limit carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act by June 2. That would meet the deadline Obama set a year ago in an executive memorandum directing the EPA to propose the standards. “We are going to show you that you can get significant reductions from the energy sector in a way that’s going to continue to provide reliable and cost-effective electricity, that is going to be continuing our quest to address the issue of climate change and that recognizes that we’re all in this together,” McCarthy said May 13 during a speech to the Association of Climate Change Officers Climate Strategies Forum in Washington.
ABC News: Oregon Ruling Marks 13th Gay Marriage Win In A Row
A federal judge threw out Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban Monday, marking the 13th legal victory for gay marriage advocates since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned part of a federal ban. State officials earlier refused to defend Oregon’s voter-approved ban and said they wouldn’t appeal. The National Organization for Marriage sought to intervene, but both U.S. District Judge Michael McShane in Eugene and a federal appeals court rejected its attempts to argue in favor of the ban. Many county clerks in the state began carrying out same-sex marriages almost immediately after Monday’s ruling, as jubilant couples rushed to tie the knot. “It’s the final step to be truly a family,” said Patty Reagan, who waited in line in Portland to get a marriage license with partner Kelly. “Everyone else takes for granted that they have this right.”
HOW MANY STATES ALLOW SAME-SEX MARRIAGE? Gay and lesbian couples can legally marry in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The two most recent states to make the unions legal were New Mexico and Hawaii, both of which did so in late 2013. Oregon’s ruling is not expected to be challenged, which would make it the 18th state where gay marriage is legal. IS GAY MARRIAGE GETTING CLOSE TO BECOMING LEGAL IN OTHER STATES?. In 11 states, federal or state judges recently have overturned same-sex marriage bans or ordered states to recognize out-of-state marriages. Appeals courts are reviewing those decisions. Ten are in the hands of federal appeals courts, and one is with a state appeals court. WHERE HAVE OTHER PRO-GAY MARRIAGE RULINGS COME DOWN? They’ve been all over the country. Federal or state judges in Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah and Arkansas recently have found state same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional. Judges also have ordered Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The New Mexico Supreme Court declared the state ban unconstitutional in a ruling that is not being challenged.
President Obama reads a letter outside the Oval Office on the steps leading into the Rose Garden, May 20, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
First Lady Michelle Obama prepares to speak at a meeting of the Corporation for National and Community Service at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2009 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)
President Obama waits to greet arriving foreign ambassadors in the Oval Office, May 20, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama shakes hands with a foreign ambassador as he entered the Oval Office to present his credentials on May 20, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and his senior advisors sit in the Rose Garden after moving their meeting outdoors on a warm spring day, May 20, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama stands in a shaft of light while playing football outside the Oval Office May 20, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza.)
Pete Souza: “The President talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as they walk from the Oval Office to the South Lawn drive of the White House following their meetings.” May 20, 2011
On This Day: President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the 32nd Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on May 15, 2013
Today (All times Eastern)
9:40 AM: The President and First Lady tour the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York City
A new analysis finds American consumers saved billions in 2011 and 2012 thanks to a key provision of the Affordable Care Act. The report from The Commonwealth Fund released Tuesday finds the medical loss ratio provision, which caps profits for health insurance companies, benefited consumers by about $3 billion over the past two years through a combination of rebates from insurance companies and reduced overhead spending. The law’s provision limits insurance companies to spending a minimum of 80-85% of premiums specifically on treatment and medical costs, rather than overhead and profits.
The rebate receipts sent to consumers hit $1 billion in 2011 and about $500 million in 2012, an indication that insurance providers successfully shifted business models to fit the new spending requirements. In addition to the rebates provided to consumers, insurers reduced profits and spending on general overhead by about $1.4 billion, the report finds. “The medical loss ratio requirement of the Affordable Care Act creates a higher-value insurance product for consumers,” said The Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said in the report. “It ensures that a substantial portion of their premium dollar pays for medical care, as opposed to administrative costs and profits. It also encourages insurers to improve the care their customers receive, by investing in initiatives that will help achieve better outcomes for patients.”
President Barack Obama is dispatching one of his closest White House advisers to oversee a review of the beleaguered Veterans Affairs Department as the agency grapples with allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at a Phoenix veterans hospital. White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors will be temporarily assigned to the VA to work on a review focused on policies for patient safety rules and the scheduling of patient appointments, officials said Wednesday. The move signals Obama’s growing concern over problems at the department, particularly recent reports that hospital administrators in Phoenix kept an off-the-books list to conceal long wait times as 40 veterans died waiting to get an appointment. Similar problems have since been reported in other states.
“While we get to the bottom of what happened in Phoenix, it’s clear the VA needs to do more to ensure quality care for our veterans,” Obama said in a statement. “I’m grateful that Rob, one of my most trusted advisers, has agreed to work with Secretary Shinseki to help the team at this important moment.” Despite calls for Shinseki to step down, the White House insists that Obama continues to have confidence in the secretary, a retired four-star Army general. Shinseki said he welcomed Nabors’ help in ensuring veterans have access to timely, quality health care. Though Nabors has kept a low public profile, he is one of Obama’s closest advisers and has played key roles in the president’s fiscal battles with congressional Republicans. Nabors, the son of an Army veteran, was appointed deputy chief of staff following Obama’s re-election and previously served as the president’s chief congressional liaison and deputy budget director.
Rick Ungar: Who Says Obamacare Is Turning Out To Be Good For The Economy? Goldman Sachs Does, That’s Who!
The news just keeps getting better and better for Obamacare. Marketwatch is reporting that an advisory issued by economic researcher Alec Phillips over at Goldman Sachs reports that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) boosted GDP in the first quarter of 2014 and projects that the same will occur in the second quarter. While Phillips—and other Goldman analysts—had initially been quite skeptical about the impact of the government subsidies provided to the many Americans who will now be able to purchase health insurance, the group has turned a corner and now views the subsidies as a major, beneficial contributor to first quarter numbers and what they project to be second quarter growth of 3.9 percent. Of even greater interest is the explanation provided by the Goldman analyst as to why healthcare spending rose 9.9 percent in the first quarter. Phillips pins the rise not on some undesired side-effect of Obamacare but on the fact that people had money in their pocket to spend on the health of their families as a result of $37 billion boost in personal income—something also projected to continue into the second quarter.
While the U.S. Bureau of Economics had predicted a higher spending figure on healthcare for the first quarter than what turned out to be the case, it is worth noting that the Congressional Budget Office—back when first reviewing the Senate bill to reform healthcare—predicted that we would see such a boost following the first enrollment period of Obamacare. Just because healthcare spending increased substantially in the first quarter does not mean that healthcare prices increased—a detail the GOP hopes you will miss. It simply means that more people were able to get the healthcare they were previously unable to afford; not that those of us who already had access to care had to pay more for that care. Phillips sees the trend continuing, suggesting that the positive effects of Obamacare will boost the economy in 2015 and 2016.
Raising the minimum wage could lift hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers out of poverty, but it’s also a job killer. Right?
Not so fast. In Washington state, small businesses are adding jobs faster than any other state in the country, according to a report from Paychex and IHS. It’s also the state where minimum wage, at $9.32 per hour, is the highest. The federal minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour, and a battle is raging about whether it should be raised to $10.10. Small businesses, often called the engine of the U.S. economy, find themselves at the heart of the debate. Critics of a wage hike say that raising the minimum wage too high and too fast could put them out of business.
But the report from Paychex and IHS, which measured job additions and layoffs at 350,000 small businesses, could dispute that claim. Not only was Washington the strongest state, San Francisco — with a minimum wage of $10.74, the country’s highest — had the greatest job gains in the past year among cities measured. Washington state has been progressive on the issue for years. The state’s minimum wage rate has been tied to inflation since 1998, and the mayor of Seattle is currently pushing to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15.
Russ Britt: Obamacare Is Good For The Economy, Goldman Sachs Researcher Says
Obamacare is good for the economy? That’s what one venerable Wall Street brokerage is saying. Alec Phillips, economic researcher at Goldman Sachs, said in a note issued late last week to clients that subsidies from the Affordable Care Act boosted gross domestic product during the first quarter and are likely to do the same during the second quarter. Phillips says that he now has a more optimistic view of the second quarter’s GDP growth, with a gain of 3.9% now estimated, and 4.5% annualized growth in real personal consumption.
“While we were initially skeptical of the large estimated effect of the new subsidies on personal income, these now look more reasonable to us in light of revisions, greater enrollment than expected several months ago, and the fact that states are likely contributing to the subsidies on top of the well-known estimates of federal costs,” Phillips said. But the health-care industry won’t be the only one to benefit, Phillips says, as subsidies will free up income for those who had no coverage before, as well as those who had insurance but were paying for it themselves. “Overall, around 40% of the subsidies should find their way to non-health consumption this year,” he wrote.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., wants to see more than hashtag messages voicing displeasure over the abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. He wants to see U.S. troops go into Nigera and rescue the girls, even if it means doing so without permission from the Nigerian government. ‘If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without the permission of the host country,’ McCain said Tuesday. Referring to Nigeria’s president, McCain added: ‘I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan.’
Thus far, the Obama administration has sent a team to Nigeria that includes FBI officials with hostage negotiation skills, five State Department officials, including a team leader, two strategic communications experts, a civiliam security expert and a regional medical support officer. There are also 10 Defense Department planners and advisers who were already in Nigeria and have been instructed to provide support to the kidnapping response, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
TPM: Federal Judge Denies Governor’s Motion To Put Idaho Gay Marriages On Hold
A federal magistrate judge has refused to put gay marriages on hold in Idaho pending an appeal from the state’s governor. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale wrote Wednesday morning that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s appeal isn’t likely to succeed, and so there’s no reason to keep same-sex couples from seeking marriage licenses or marrying on Friday. On Tuesday, Dale struck down Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban in response to a lawsuit from four Idaho couples.
Dale said Idaho’s law unconstitutionally denies gay and lesbian couples their fundamental right to marry and wrongly stigmatizes their families. She said the state must start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday morning. Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
Greg Sargent: Time To Revisit Conventional Wisdom About Politics Of Obamacare
The initial conventional wisdom about the Arkansas Senate race — that incumbent Mark Pryor is the nation’s preeminent Dead Dem Walking — is rapidly getting revised in the wake of new polls showing him ahead of GOP Rep. Tom Cotton. So perhaps, in the context of the Arkansas race, it’s also worth revisiting the conventional wisdom that Obamacare is nothing but a hideous liability for Democrats, and can only shower Republicans with political gold from now until election day. One of Senator Pryor’s senior campaign strategists tells me Pryor will not shy away from making the case that the state’s “private option” —
its version of the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare — represents Pryor’s brand of good governance, and that Cotton’s repeal stance is extreme and bad for the state. This is particularly relevant right now, as a fascinating new report from David Ramsey of the Arkansas Times demonstrates. Ramsey reports that the bipartisan private option — which uses Medicaid funds to expand private coverage to 150,000 Arkansans — has become a major issue in several state legislative Republican primaries.
An insurer in Washington state selling plans under the Affordable Care Act is proposing to lower customers’ health premiums next year in what appears to be one of the first such decreases proposed for 2015. The proposal by Molina Healthcare Inc. MOH +0.60% was part of a batch of state rate filings released Monday that included Washington and Indiana. While most carriers are seeking increases, Molina’s filing signals that insurers that priced cautiously for 2014 could face pressure to be more competitive in the second full year of the law’s insurance marketplaces. Molina proposed a decrease averaging 6.8% for Washington customers for 2015. It told state regulators in its rate filing that it was betting that people signing up through the insurance exchange were in better health than the carrier previously thought,
and that it anticipated new entrants when the law’s penalties for not carrying coverage grow next year. Molina, a company that historically has focused on managed Medicaid plans, offered some of the most expensive premiums among insurers selling on the Washington exchange in this year. It said it had only about 1,200 members in 2014. Ben Lynam, vice president for Molina’s actuarial pricing, said in an interview that the company had made conservative assumptions for 2014 about the medical claims likely to be incurred by its enrollees, in part because it hadn’t had much previous commercial experience. “With hindsight and looking at what’s going on across the country…we’ve improved those assumptions and lowered our rates in 2015,” he said.
Reuters: Jobless Claims Hit Seven-Year Low, Inflation Ticks Up
New applications for U.S. unemployment benefits hit a seven-year low last week while consumer prices recorded their largest increase in 10 months in April, pointing to a firming economy. The economy’s outlook was further brightened by other data on Thursday showing factory activity in New York state expanding at its quickest pace in nearly four years in May. “It conveys the message of solid economic activity. Labor conditions continue to improve and I expect this will be validated by payroll reports over the next few months,” said Anthony Karydakis, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak in New York.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits declined 24,000 to a seasonally adjusted 297,000, the Labor Department said, offering fresh evidence the jobs market was strengthening. That was the lowest reading since May 2007 and brought claims back to their pre-recession level. Economists had forecast first-time applications ticking up to 320,000 last week. In a second report, the department said its Consumer Price Index increased 0.3 percent last month as food prices rose for a fourth consecutive month and the cost of gasoline surged. The rise in the CPI was the biggest rise since June last year and added to March’s 0.2 percent rise. The combination of a strengthening jobs market and an uptick in inflation pressures should give the Federal Reserve ammunition to continue scaling back its monetary stimulus. However, the U.S. central bank is not expected to start raising overnight interest rates, currently near zero, before the second half of 2015.
President Obama takes a stroll through the White House Rose Garden, May 15, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama walks in the White House Rose Garden, May 15, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama meets with former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, in the Oval Office, May 15, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins gives President Obama a Phillies jersey and autographed baseball while Obama welcomes the 2008 Major League Baseball World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies at the White House, May 15, 2009
First Lady Michelle Obama addresses Spelman graduates at their May 15, 2011 commencement.
President Obama greets people in the audience at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service, an annual ceremony honoring law enforcement who were killed in the line of duty, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 15, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama presents a birthday cake to Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, during a dinner for Combatant Commanders and senior military leadership in the Blue Room of the White House, May 15, 2012 (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and Attorney General Holder attend the 32nd Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on May 15, 2013
President Obama poses with a souvenir jersey as he is flanked by players David Beckham and Landon Donovan, members of the LA Galaxy, Major League Soccer’s Championship team, at the White House, May 15, 2012
President Obama holds up four-month-old Alia Jawando as her father, William Jawando, Deputy Associate Director of Public Engagement, and her mother Michele look on in the Oval Office, March 9, 2011 (Photo by Pete Souza)
The First Family return to Washington DC from Florida
The Week Ahead:
Monday: The President will host a reception for the 2012 and 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Champions.
Tuesday: Travels to New York to attend DNC and DSCC events.
Wednesday – Friday: Attends meetings at the White House.
According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), the health reform law is having a positive effect on personal incomes and spending. According to the BEA, Obamacare accounted for about three quarters of the overall rise in Americans’ incomes in January. Personal incomes rose by 0.3 percent during the first month of the year — and the BEA explains that’s partly because of the impact of the health law’s consumer benefits. Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion increased public health insurance benefits by about $19.2 billion.
And the new refundable tax credits under health reform, like the subsidies available to help American purchase new plans in Obamacare’s marketplaces, totaled about $14.7 billion. “Personal income in January was boosted by several provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which affected government social benefit payments to persons,” the BEA concluded. The financial impacts of health reform are most evident among the sectors of the population that are struggling to stay out of poverty. A recent study by the Brookings Institute found that Obamacare has the potential to boost the incomes of the poorest Americans by anywhere from five to seven percent.
Reuters: Kerry Urges Russia To Exercise Utmost Restraint In Ukraine’s Crimea
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia on Saturday that any steps to annex Ukraine’s Crimea region would close the door to diplomacy, a U.S. State Department official said. Kerry’s latest telephone call with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, came as the standoff between occupying Russian forces and besieged Ukrainian troops intensified in Crimea. “He made clear that continued military escalation and provocation in Crimea or elsewhere in Ukraine, along with steps to annex Crimea to Russia would close any available space for diplomacy, and he urged utmost restraint,” the official said. President Barack Obama sought to reassure nervous Baltic leaders on Saturday about U.S. support for their security and consulted other European allies about the Ukraine crisis.
He convened a conference call with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Latvian President Andris Berzins, and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. It was the first time he has spoken with the leaders of the three Baltic states about the crisis. The countries are NATO members with strong economic ties to Russia, and have expressed nervousness about President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine. “The president reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to our collective defense commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty and our enduring support for the security and democracy of our Baltic allies,” the White House said in a statement. The United States has moved to reassure its NATO allies, sending six more F-15 fighter jets this week to NATO’s policing mission over the Baltic states. The jets are on call to respond to any violations of Baltic airspace.
The Honorable Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Chokwe Lumumba, an unapologetic revolutionary “New Afrikan” (Black) nationalist, fighting for the human rights and dignity of Black folks in a place that has the reputation of being antithetical to that notion, is dead at age 66. Born, Edwin Findley Taliaferro on August 4, 1947, in Detroit, Michigan. His initial exposure to the issues of human rights and dignity came from his mother, Priscilla. A native of Alabama, Priscilla showed her children the infamous Jet Magazine cover of a deceased 14-year-old’s bashed in face. It was young Emmett Till, murdered for sassing a White woman. She followed this up with a conversation about racism—Lumumba, an impressible eight years old. He saw his mother organize in their community and raise funds for various causes. Her strength, discipline and determination gave Lumumba a foundation for organizing and a sense of Black community pride and commitment.
Remembering "America’s most revolutionary mayor" Chokwe Lumumba: bit.ly/1nnDw6U
Lumumba’s political watershed moment came as a reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, someone he followed closely throughout high school and college. Already a student leader, Lumumba and other students took over a building demanding more scholarships for Black students and an increase in Black faculty. Lumumba returned to law school and graduated top of his class. He stayed in Detroit for over a decade, practicing criminal defense and human rights law. His law practice grew, representing political activists such as Bilal Sunni Ali, Mutulu Shakur (Tupac Shakur’s stepfather) and former Black Panther Assata Shakur. In 2009, he was elected Jackson City Councilmanand was sitting in the Mayor’s chair by June 2013. As Mayor, Chokwe was just getting started. Within four months he passed a one percent sales tax increase that is estimated to raise $700 million dollars over the next ten years for infrastructure improvements. He had plans to make Jackson the greenest city in the South, by retrofitting and using renewable energy on all of the municipal buildings.
President Barack Obama will expand the California Coastal National Monument to include the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, a White House official said Saturday. Expected Tuesday, the action will permanently protect some 1,665 acres of federal lands on the Mendocino County coast in Northern California, just north of Point Arena. It will expand a national monument created in 2000 by President Bill Clinton to include coastal bluffs and shelves, tide pools, onshore sand dunes, coastal prairies, riverbanks and the mouth and estuary of the Garcia River.
Obama’s designation would follow recent action by the Environmental Protection Agency to block development of Pebble Mine, a massive copper and gold deposit in Alaska’s treasured Bristol Bay region. Obama pledged in this year’s State of the Union address to use his presidential authority to preserve more federal lands for future generations. The action he is taking next week will bypass Congress, which has been slow to act on proposed legislation to preserve public lands.
Reuters: Ukraine PM Says He Will Go To U.S. To Discuss Crimea Crisis
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Sunday he would go to the United States this week to discuss the standoff with Russia over Ukraine’s southern region of Crimea. “I am going to the United states to hold top-level meetings on resolving the situation unfolding in our bilateral and multilateral relations,” Yatseniuk said at the start of a government meeting in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.
The Dalai Lama has come out in support of gay marriage, saying it was “OK” and a personal affair for people of the same sex to commit to each other. “If two people… really feel that way … and both sides fully agree, then okay,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said on Ora.tv’s Larry King Now show. The Nobel laureate was interviewed after he offered the customary prayer that opens each Senate session in Washington D.C.
Ultimately, the Dalai Lama, who like all Tibetan Monks is celibate himself, said gay marriage was up to each government and was ultimately “individual business.” “People who have belief or who have special traditions, then you should follow according to your own tradition. Like Buddhism, there are different kinds of sexual misconduct, so you should follow properly.” “I think (it’s) OK,” he added. “I think that’s an individual’s business.”
Igor Volsky: Bush’s Defense Secretary Destroys GOP Talking Points Against Obama’s Handling Of Crimea
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back on Sunday against conservatives who’ve blamed President Obama’s “weak” foreign policy for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Crimea. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gates dismissed arguments that Obama’s handling of the conflict in Syria or his efforts to trim the defense budget emboldened Putin, arguing that the Russian president also invaded Georgia during the George W. Bush administration.
“My own view is, after all, Putin invaded Georgia when George W. Bush was president. Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or unwilling to use military force,” Gates, who served as Defense Secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama said. “So I think Putin is very opportunistic in these arenas. I think that even if — even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget — I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.” Earlier this week, Gates told the Washington Post that the GOP lawmakers should “tone down” their criticism and “try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.”
California Democrats meeting in Los Angeles on Sunday were set to adopt a platform likely to call for an inflation-adjusted minimum wage, dramatic cuts in military spending, and tighter campaign finance and disclosure laws. Confident going into the 2014 election season with wide majorities in both legislative houses and control of all statewide elected offices, Democratic leaders at the party’s annual convention aimed to push their statewide success eastward in an effort to retake a majority in Congress.
Some 3,000 delegates and guests thronging the downtown Westin Bonaventure hotel were also scheduled to hear from legislative leaders, including top Democrats in the state senate and assembly. The convention had on Saturday showcased Democratic stars in the most populous U.S. state, including California Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris as well as former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom party leaders are hoping may be able to return to her old job. The draft version of the platform sounds a number of key Democratic themes, including support for anti-poverty programs and increased funding for education.
Tom Curry: Obama Aide Sees Russian Threat On Arms Inspection As ‘Serious’
Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, said Sunday that a Russian threat to cease inspections of nuclear weapons as required by U.S.-Russian arms control treaties would be “a serious development.” Blinken said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he’d seen news reports of those Russian threats — made in response to U.S. sanctions and other penalties for Russia’s seizure of the Crimea region of Ukraine — but that the Russian government had not communicated directly to the Obama administration on that matter. Asked what Obama had accomplished so far in his efforts to deter or penalize Putin for Russia’s seizure of Crimea,
Blinken said the president has been “mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine and to reassure our allies and partners.” Blinken said Obama has invited Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk to the White House on Wednesday to consult with him and to demonstrate American support for the Ukrainian government. Blinked argued that the decline in value of the Russian ruble and the increased uncertainty about foreign investment in Russia are “exacting a real cost and a real consequence” for Putin’s decision to intervene in Crimea.
Ian Millhiser: Retired Supreme Court Justice Calls For Constitutional Amendment To Prevent Partisan Gerrymandering
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has a new book out, in which he proposes six potential amendments to the Constitution — including one to prevent lawmakers from drawing legislative maps intended to entrench their own party in power: Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historical boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.
So long as justices with similar views to Scalia control the Court, however, Congress could probably also use this power to gerrymander congressional maps even more than they are currently. Under Scalia’s view, there is little preventing a Congress controlled by one party from redrawing every state’s map (or, at least, every state with more than one representative’s map) in order to maximize the likelihood that the incumbent party would be elected. This problem cannot be warded off by an act of Congress. And, as discussed above, it won’t be solved by a constitutional amendment either. The only sure way to prevent such widespread gerrymanders is to replace justices like Scalia with justices who understand that partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional and that egregious gerrymanders must be struck down by the courts.
From behind their riot shield barricade, Venezuela’s National Guard cooly surveyed a scene of frustration. Dressed in white t-shirts representing their pacifism, protesters waved their national flags, pledged their commitment to peaceful protest and banged cooking pots in time to songs of government downfall. Saturday’s “empty pots march” had commenced. Beneath the scorching Caracas sun, one man held up a banner to those who blocked their passage west to the centre of the Venezuelan capital: “If we all have the same problems, then why are we so divided?” The man’s message was not aimed at the authorities, rather the pro-government chavistaswho suffer under the same rampant inflation, chronic shortages of basic goods and massive murder rates that form daily struggles on both sides of Venezuela’s political divide.
After plotting a route to the Ministry of Food in the city center, Saturday’s “empty pots march” stopped short as protestors entered the pro-government Libertador municipality. In an “adapt or perish” bid to spur momentum into a fourth week of protests, Saturday’s demonstration was the first of its kind to emerge from the opposition districts. “We’re testing the water,” said one masked protester, who held his country’s flag upside-down over the lower tier of a freeway that ferries two million vehicles daily along the Caracas valley. “We want to reach out to those who don’t hear our message so that they can see we aren’t the fascists the government says we are.”
A top White House official who has been with President Barack Obama since he first became a senator nine years ago is resigning. Alyssa Mastromonaco is Obama’s deputy chief of staff for operations and often described as the most influential person inside the White House who isn’t well known outside of it. She is responsible for planning presidential events, hiring staff and overseeing the White House complex.
A White House official said Mastromonaco is leaving in May to look for a job in the private sector. The official said Obama insisted as a condition of her departure that she continue to act as an outside adviser. Mastromonaco joined Obama’s Senate office in February 2005 as scheduling director, and oversaw scheduling and advance for his 2008 presidential campaign and during Obama’s first term at the White House. She was promoted to deputy chief of staff in 2011.
President Obama signs an Executive Order on stem cell research at the White House March 9, 2009. By signing the order, Obama reverses a Bush administration policy restricting U.S funding for embryonic stem cell research.
First Lady Michelle Obama presents her inaugural gown to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History March 9, 2010
First Lady Michelle Obama greets Mrs. Ada Papandreou, the First Lady of Greece, in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House, March 9, 2010 (Photo by Samantha Appleton)
President Obama talks on the phone with President-elect Vladimir Putin of Russia while aboard Air Force One en route to Richmond, Va., March 9, 2012. Alice Wells, Senior Director for Russian Affairs, listens in on the call. (Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at Minute Maid Park, March 9, in Houston
First Lady Michelle Obama participates in the “Bunny Pokey” song and dance with kids in the Kinderbees Activty Room at Penacook Community Center in Penacook, N.H., March 9, 2012 (Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
TPM: Justice Department To Launch Push For Full Recognition Of Same-Sex Marriage
In an assertion of same-sex marriage rights, Attorney General Eric Holder is applying a landmark Supreme Court ruling to the Justice Department, announcing Saturday that same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly and are entitled to the same rights and privileges as federal prison inmates in opposite-sex marriages. The Justice Department runs a number of benefits programs, and Holder says same-sex couples will qualify for them. They include the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and benefits to surviving spouses of public safety officers who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries in the line of duty.
AG Eric Holder about to expand fed recognition of same-sex marriages "to the greatest extent possible under the law."
“In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States, they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Holder said in prepared remarks to the Human Rights Campaign in New York. The advocacy group works on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equal rights.
On Monday, the Justice Department will issue a policy memo to its employees instructing them to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition, to the greatest extent possible under the law. After the Supreme Court decision last June, the Treasury Department and the IRS said that all legally married gay couples may file joint federal tax returns, even if they reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages. The Defense Department said it would grant military spousal benefits to same-sex couples. The Health and Human Services Department said the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer a bar to states recognizing same-sex marriages under state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management said it is now able to extend benefits to legally married same-sex spouses of federal employees and annuitants.