In case you missed it earlier this week, the White House is now trying to argue that the Taliban is a not a terrorist organization but rather an "armed insurgency."
Just one day after White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz made that claim, three Americans were killed in Afghanistan by members of the Taliban.
The Afghan-based organization on Friday to credit for an attack that killed three American contractors and said it was carried out by a fighter who had infiltrated Afghanistan's security forces.
The attack came Thursday evening at a military base at Kabul's international airport, and also left one Afghan dead. The Taliban's claim of responsibility came in a message on Friday from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who identified the attacker as a man named "Hessanullha," from Laghman province, just east of Kabul. Hessanullha "penetrated into the security forces and was waiting for such a target for a long time," Mujahid said.
"Yesterday in the evening he managed to get to a crowd of invading and infidel American military forces where he turned his gun towards them and opened fire," he added. "During the gun battle, Ehsanullah was also killed by the enemy."
As Conn reported yesterday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest attempted to clarify Schultz' remarks, saying the Taliban carries out acts "akin to terrorism," but would not concede they are in fact a terrorist group.
As a reminder, the Taliban has been classified as a terrorist organization since 2002.
Tuesday White House National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden noted that the Taliban was added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) by executive order in July 2002, even if it is not listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the State Department. Either designation triggers asset freezes, according to the State Department, though they can differ on other restrictions imposed on the target organization. The Treasury Department told ABC News the Taliban is still on their SDGT list.
After hours of testimony this week from witnesses and questions from lawmakers sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch has passed her first test on the way to becoming America's top law enforcement officer (despite justifying President Obama's executive action on illegal immigration and saying everyone in America has a right to work, regardless of how they got here).
One thing is clear after six years under Attorney General Eric Holder's leadership: there's a lot of damage to clean up. The question is whether Lynch is willing and able to take on that task.
“I appreciate Ms. Lynch coming before the committee. She has impressive qualifications, but a number of members want to know whether those qualifications can transfer to correcting the serious problems at the Justice Department. Today’s witnesses provided valuable insight into those problems and I thank them for the time each of them took to share their unique perspectives," Grassley released in a statement late Thursday night. “As Chairman, I was very pleased with the two days of testimony. There was a lot of juggling with the votes on the floor, something we’re not used to around here, but overall it was a productive session. I do regret, however, the treatment the outside witnesses received today. It was unfortunate that one member felt the need to tarnish the integrity of Americans who came before the committee to help us evaluate a nominee for a very important position. Every single one of these witnesses speaks directly to Ms. Lynch’s nomination. The question in my mind is if Ms. Lynch will take the issues seriously and work to fix them. In addition, it wasn’t too long ago that Democrats agreed it was perfectly appropriate to call witnesses to address what they viewed as problems at the Justice Department."
The mistreatment Grassley is referring to came from Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who used his time during the second confirmation hearing yesterday to lecture witnesses and scold them for pointing out current problems inside the Department of Justice. Whitehouse also derided witnesses for criticizing Holder and said it was unjust the sitting attorney general wasn't in the room to defend himself against charges. He even went so far as to say witness criticisms of DOJ policies and personnel simply represented "Fox News soundbites" and "conspiracy theorists."
Now that Lynch's nomination hearings are over, lawmakers will submit additional questions in writing and are expected to vote on her confirmation next month.
“I look forward to reviewing the hearing record and reading her answers to our additional questions,” Grassley said.
President Obama's unilateral executive amnesty will cost taxpayers $10.2 billion in Earned Income and Additional Child tax credits over the next ten years the Congressional Budget Office estimated Thursday.
In a letter to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf wrote that the House of Representatives Department of Homeland Security funding bill, which would undo both of Obama's executive amnesty programs (the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program and the 2014 Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program), would decrease on-budget deficits by $8.8 billion over ten years thanks largely to billions in tax credit spending cuts.
"The earned income tax credit and the child tax credit are refundable tax credits," the letter reads. "Refundable tax credits reduce a taxpayer’s overall income tax liability; if the credits exceed the other liability, the excess may be refunded to the taxpayer. Those refunds are classified as outlays in the federal budget."
"JCT estimates that the bulk of the decrease in outlays for refundable credits projected for the 2015–2025 period would be attributable to decreases in earned income tax credits," the letter continues. "H.R. 240 would decrease the amount of earned income tax credits by decreasing the number of people with Social Security numbers, which are required for taxpayers and dependents to qualify for earned income tax credits."
In other words, since Obama's amnesty gives millions of illegal immigrants Social Security numbers, it will cost American taxpayers billions in new spending on those same illegal immigrants.
This CBO letter contradicts Obama's promise to the American people that illegal immigrants given amnesty under his program would not be offered "the same benefits that citizens receive."
The CBO letter also estimates that amnestied immigrants will pay $22 billion in Social Security payroll taxes over the next ten years. But like all Social Security recipients, unless they are deported, amnestied immigrants will eventually be a net drain on the Social Security system, taking out far more in benefits then they paid in.
It’s important to identify your enemy. That’s like rule number one concerning engaging in an armed conflict with another nation, or in this case; a network of non-state actors called al-Qaeda and other Islamic terror groups. After the horrific Paris shootings, MRCTV’s Dan Joseph ventured into the Washington D.C. to ask folks if they felt we were at war with radical Islam. A vast majority said, “yes.” Just one woman gave a rather incoherent answer, which we won't go into because I really can't.
Another man interviewed by Joseph said he was embarrassed that the U.S. didn't send any high-ranking official to represent us at the Paris Unity Rally.
South Carolina traditionally votes third in the presidential primary process. But according to the tentative and already-released 2016 Republican primary schedule, the Palmetto State is apparently holding its elections much latter than expected next year.
Nevertheless, given the historic importance of the state's quadrennial primary, Townhall (in coordination with our partner Gravis Marketing), sponsored an in-state, South Carolina survey in order to begin polling perceptions of the burgeoning 2016 field.
"The former governor of Massachusetts leads a large pack of potential Republican presidential nominees in the Jan. 21-22 Townhall/Gravis poll of 831 likely Republican and Independent voters," Neil W. McCabe reports. See the full graphic below:
A second survey was also conducted by Townhall/Gravis:
For obvious reasons, virtually every presumed GOP hopeful does better without Mitt Romney in the running. But perhaps the most striking difference between the former and latter sample is that when the former GOP nominee is taken off the list, nearly one-fifth of primary goers become undecided. This five percentage uptick suggests that if Romney ultimately bucks the spotlight in 2016 -- a decision that will presumably dissatisfy most Republicans -- candidates at the tail-end of the popularity spectrum could find some much-needed wiggle-room to rise.
All in all, however, the race is exceedingly close with or without Mitt Romney in it. But make no mistake: Most GOP hopefuls are praying he stays out.
So, is this a sign that Romney really isn’t running for president in 2016? A top strategist for Romney in 2012– Dave Kochel–has decided to jump onboard the Jeb Express; he’s been selected to be senior strategist to Bush’s political action committee–and could be Jeb’s national campaign manager if the former Florida governor wants to get more serious about 2016 (via NYT):
David is one of the most talented state-based operatives in the nation and brings a different focus and different set of priorities to our effort to communicate Governor Bush’s focus on economic and social mobility,” said Sally Bradshaw, Mr. Bush’s longtime strategist.
The move to tap Mr. Kochel, who advised Mr. Romney for over six years, represents a shot across the bow of the 2012 Republican nominee, who is now considering a third bid for the White House.
Mr. Kochel offered only praise for Mr. Romney, while also promoting Mr. Bush’s strengths.
“I really believe Governor Bush is the right person for the right time,” he said. “He has a successful conservative record in Florida, and I’d put that record up against anybody else.”
Mr. Kochel is moving this spring to Miami to join Mr. Bush’s national effort, but his hiring also indicates that Mr. Bush is likely to compete aggressively in Iowa, where hard-line conservatives are a force in Republican contests.
“There are a number of people here who will be interested in signing up,” Mr. Kochel said. “You compete everywhere because that’s how you win delegates.”
Mr. Kochel got his start in Iowa state politics; his most recent job being a senior adviser on Joni Ernst’s successful 2014 senate campaign. So, does this mean Romney isn’t running? Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tweeted that this is a “sure sign.” Yet, Romney continues to give signals that he’s trying for a third run in 2016 (via Boston Globe):
Mitt Romney staged a campaign-style swing Wednesday through a Deep South state that spurned him in the 2012 Republican primary, calling for a national war on poverty, testing a few attack lines directed at Hillary Rodham Clinton, and declaring his fondness for pulled pork.
It was the first opportunity for Romney to show off a new, somewhat looser stump style as he weighs whether to seek the White House for a third time. He appeared more at ease than he typically did when he was the 2012 Republican nominee, joking about his personal wealth and discussing his Mormon faith.
He told offbeat tales of his failed presidential bid and quipped about advice he got during the last campaign from a man who urged him to grow a little stubble to appear “more sexy.”
“As if I needed that,” Romney deadpanned.
In a trip to the poorest state in the union, Romney also renewed his call for a national fight against what he calls “chronic generational poverty,’’ and began elaborating on the kinds of policies he would push if he mounts a third presidential campaign.
Top Republican activists and donors have been eager to hear Romney provide a clearer rationale for why he thinks he deserves another shot — and how this campaign would be different.
Now, no matter how well intentioned Mr. Romney might be about addressing the issues of poverty, his comments about the “47 percent” will probably undercut him here, along with the stories about his car elevator in his garage. He also continues to struggle with evangelical voters, which is something that Mr. Bush could’ve capitalized on if his views on immigration and Common Core didn’t split that demographic down the middle. Yet, right now, Bush commands a significant lead in Iowa. There’s also the issue of health care, where Romney is certainly not the guy to be our standard-bearer in that conversation.
Don’t get me wrong; Hillary has similar issues with portraying herself as a woman of the people. She really hasn’t been since Bill Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas.
Nevertheless, one would think that Romney would keep his top guys on his side, or at least be more aggressive in doing so, if he was considering a third run for the presidency.
Or, is this the prelude to a Bush/Romney ticket? Okay, Okay, I’m just trolling with that one. Yet, these two titans of the GOP establishment had a meeting in Utah last week, but no agreement could be reached regarding issues relating to their possible presidential ambitions.
“Governor Bush enjoyed visiting with Governor Romney today in Salt Lake,” said Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell. She did not go any further than that.
Translation: a bloodbath is possible.
In the meantime, let’s just wait and see what Gov. Scott Walker plans to do.
According to an exclusive obtained by CNN, one of the five Taliban commanders President Obama swapped for alleged Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl last year has attempted to reengage in "militant activity":
The U.S. military and intelligence community now suspect that one of the five Taliban detainees released from Guantanamo Bay in return for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May of last year has attempted to return to militant activity from his current location in Qatar, CNN has learned exclusively.
The development has led to an ongoing debate inside the administration about whether there is a new threat from this man, and potentially the other four.
The officials would not say which of the five men is suspected. But an ongoing U.S. intelligence program to secretly intercept and monitor all of their communications in Qatar turned up evidence in recent months that one of them has "reached out" to try to encourage militant activity, one official said. The official would offer no further details.
Under current law, this act placed the man in the category of being "suspected" of re-engaging in terrorist or insurgent activities. However, several officials say there is now a debate inside the administration that the intelligence may be stronger than the "suspected" classification. Some elements of the intelligence community believe the information is strong enough to classify the man as "confirmed" for returning to illegal activities. All five men are having their communications even more closely monitored right now, but the belief is there is no current threat, one official told CNN.
As a reminder, the Taliban 5 were supposedly going to be monitored and kept from returning to the battle field, either traditionally or through radicalizing future fighters over the internet.
Over to you, Hillary Clinton.
"As long as they're in Qatar, they’re not a threat to the United States...in Qatar with an agreement that has been entered into, they are supposed to be constrained from what they can do, and certainly they are not supposed to be permitted to travel, that is as my understanding, tells me what the deal is and in that situation, they are not a threat.”
Meanwhile, the White House is still trying to clarify how exactly the Taliban isn't a terrorist organization.
After years of lobbying for its passage -- and significant setbacks along the way -- the Keystone XL Pipeline has finally passed the upper chamber:
The bill needed 60 votes to pass. It is now heading to the White House. Stay tuned for updates.
UPDATE: This victory will be short-lived:
The White House promptly declared that Mr. Obama would veto the measure — which would force the approval of a proposed 1,179-mile oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico — in a stroke of the pen that is expected to be the opening shot in a series of vetoes of Republican measures.
UPDATE: The legislation earned bipartisan support:
Nine Democrats joined with Republicans to support the bill despite President Barack Obama's promise to veto it because he thinks the decision should remain up to the executive branch.
UPDATE: Senate Republicans are already putting pressure on the White House to sign the bill:
The President should reconsider his veto threat of #KeystoneXL after today’s bipartisan vote. Bill includes provisions he already supports.— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) January 29, 2015
UPDATE: More details.
Senate votes 62-36 to pass Keystone bill. Must be reconciled with House-passed version. WH reaffirms Pres Obama's intention to veto it.— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) January 29, 2015
UPDATE: National Journal reports:
Here are nine the Senate Democrats who voted for Keystone:
1. Michael Bennet, Colo.
2. Thomas Carper, Del.
3. Robert Casey, Pa.
4. Joe Donnelly, Ind.
5. Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.
6. Joe Manchin, W. Va.
7. Claire McCaskill, Mo.
8. Jon Tester, Mont.
9. Mark Warner, Va.
For the second day in a row the White House struggled to explain when they considered the Taliban terrorists and when they didn't.
Yesterday, ABC's Jon Karl pressed White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz to explain why it was wrong for Jordan to negotiate with the Islamic State for hostages, but perfectly acceptable for President Obama to negotiate with the Taliban for United States Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl.
Schultz said that the Taliban was not a terrorist group but an "armed insurgency" and that since they were not a terrorist organization, Obama could negotiate with them over prisoner swaps as is common at the end of any war.
Today, Karl was back again, asking, "Yesterday it was said that the United States government, that the White House, does not consider the Taliban to be a terrorist organization. I'm just wondering how that is consistent with what I believe is the designation that the Treasury Department has on its list of Specially Designated Terrorist Groups which clearly lists the Taliban. So, does the administration consider the Taliban a terrorist organization or not?"
Earnest responded, "Jon, the reason that the Taliban is listed on this description that you have put forward here, is for two reasons. One is they do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism. They do pursue terror attacks in an effort to advance their agenda and by designating them in the way that you have described, does allow the United States to put in place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization in a way that has been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban."
"Now what is also true though," Earnest continued, "is that it is important to draw a distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban has resorted to terror tactics, but those terror tactics have been principally focused on Afghanistan. ... Al Qaeda is an organization that has aspirations beyond just the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al Qaeda and its affiliates around the globe, have sought to carry out terror attacks against Americans and American interests all around the globe. And that explains the difference between the classification."
First of all note that Earnest declined to use Karl's "Specially Designated Terrorist Groups" description of the Treasury's terror list. Instead, Earnest refers to it as "listed on this description that you have put forward here" and "by designating them in the way that you have described."
The list is in question is referred to by the Treasury Department as the Specially Designated Nationals List which Treasury says "lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers" whose assets have been frozen by Treasury.
Is the Taliban on this because of their narcotics trafficking? No.
As Earnest admits the Taliban does "pursue terror attacks in an effort to advance their agenda" and the Obama administration uses this Treasury list to "place some financial sanctions against the leaders of that organization in a way that has been beneficial to our ongoing efforts against the Taliban."
So if the Taliban carries out terror attacks, and the Obama administration uses those terror attacks as justification to freeze their assets, why aren't the Taliban terrorists?
Earnest says the Taliban are not terrorists because their "terror tactics have been principally focussed on Afghanistan" while al Qaeda attacks American interests around the globe.
But the official State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is chock-full lot groups that only focus on local grievances. The Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Irish Republican Army are just some of the terrorist groups listed by the State Department that are "principally focussed" on local disputes.
The reality is that Obama does consider the Taliban a terrorist group, but he just can't admit it because then his trade for Bergdahl would violate America's longstanding principle against negotiating with terrorists for hostages.
There’s a section in the ObamaCare statute that says federal subsidies to pay premiums are available to anyone who buys their insurance through “an Exchange established by the State.” But that phrase is vaguely worded. Is the federalObamaCare exchange, Healthcare.gov, an exchange established by the state? Or was the idea that subsidies should apply only to exchanges created by the individual states, as an economic incentive to encourage state governments to create their own insurance marketplaces? You know what Jonathan Gruber thinks, or thought, about that. By this summer, we’ll know what John Roberts and the gang think too. If subsidies for federal consumers are suddenly illegal, people who can’t afford the unsubsidized premiums will begin dropping their plans and bailing out of the program. The whole scheme could collapse. Which puts Mitch McConnell and John Boehner in a spot. If SCOTUS sides with conservatives and ends up nuking subsidies for millions of federal exchange consumers, this hot potato will land squarely in their laps.
Not responding isn't a viable option. My suggestion -- and this is just early stage spitballing -- is for the GOP to consider offering a package of "fixes" that includes the rudimentary change for which Democrats will be howling (remember, this all assumes that repeal/replace was already attempted and blocked by Obama). Included in the package deal would be a series of alterations to the law that Republicans have been seeking for some time, that are very popular with the public, and that would ultimately serve to undermine the law. For instance, eliminating the individual mandate tax, restoring the 40-hour work week, and repealing the medical device tax. The GOP would have real leverage and popular opinion at their backs on these points. Message: "Because we care about the people who are once again getting screwed by Obamacare, we're willing to make the fix President Obama is demanding. But while we're at it, we must make some other necessary changes that enjoy broad popular support. This is what compromise looks like in divided government, which is what the American people decisively voted for. And in case you've forgotten, American, we've been against this trainwreck from the start, and we've since passed a much better alternative, which the president has stubbornly vetoed."
Executing this play, or something like it, would reverse some of the political pressure dynamics. Obama and the Democrats would have to decide whether they're willing to reject the fix they're vociferously demanding in order to kill popular additional "fixes" to the law. Conservatives could benefit from whatever decision is made. If Obama vetoes the package, Republicans can hammer away at him, credibly casting him as the recalcitrant, uncaring ideologue. At the very least, they'd have a strong, easily-explained counterpunch argument at their disposal that would complicate Democrats' turnkey spin. If Obama begrudgingly signs it (which I suspect is unlikely), the GOP walks away with a string of policy victories that weaken the overall law.
Thanks to ObamaCare, the CBO now expects that 10 million workers will lose their employer-based coverage by 2021. This finding stands in sharp contrast to earlier CBO projections, which at one point suggested ObamaCare would increase the number of people getting coverage through work, at least in its early years. The budget office has, in fact, increased the number it says will lose workplace coverage every year since 2011.