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Conn Carroll - A Conservative Immigration Agenda
Posted: 3/27/2015 8:34:00 PM EST

When it comes to immigration reform, we all know what conservatives are against. We are against the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. We are against the 2013 Gang of Eight bill. And we are against the 2014 Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program.

But what are we for? The system is clearly broken. It takes way too long for law-abiding immigrants to become citizens, the wealthy and powerful game the system for their friends, and, now that the economy is revering, the number of illegal immigrants is rising again.

Sure every conservative wants to "secure the border." But when it comes to how that should be done (a wall, mandatory e-verify, doubling the border patrol, etc.), consensus quickly falls apart. And don't even ask about what to do with those illegal immigrants already in the country.

Establishment Republicans are locked into the amnesty-for-enforcement model. Details may vary but the plans are still fundamentally the same: Devote more resources to some border security efforts now ("secure the border") and then grant legal status to the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.

There are two main problems with this position. 

First, border security is not a one-and-done proposition. It is not like going to the moon. "Securing the border" will always be an ongoing process. You could build a wall. But then that wall has to be maintained, improved, and monitored. Even then, roughly 45 percent of illegal immigrants currently in the United States entered legally with a visa, and then overstayed that visa. A wall to keep illegal immigrants out is worthless if you let half of them in legally. 

Second, it is not fair or credible to pick some arbitrary date and say every illegal immigrant in the United States before said date will be put on a path to citizenship, but every immigrant who comes after said date will be deported. Such a policy is not fair to those immigrants who are patiently going through the existing legal immigration process and potential immigrants have no reason to believe that if we don't have the political will to deport people today, we will somehow magically find the will to do it tomorrow.

So if amnesty-now-for-enforcement-later is not a workable immigration solution, what is?

Before we get to what the specifics of such a policy could look like, here are some principles which should guide us.

Security - The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens. That is why security must be the first principle of immigration reform. The federal government must prioritize preventing national security threats from entering the country and deporting them when they are found already in the country. Threats to public safety (like violent criminals and felons) must also be deported whenever they are found as well.

Equality - We must treat all immigrants equally no matter what country the come from or when they arrived. Treating all nationalities equally is part of our founding creed, and it is simply not credible public policy to treat some immigrants differently based solely on when they arrived in the country.

Family - Nobody likes to break up families. Everyone has empathy for those who are in this country already and are struggling to keep their families together. Deporting otherwise law-abiding family members of legal U.S. residents, who present no threat to national security or public safety, is simply not politically sustainable. The American people just do not have the political will to do it. It is time everyone admitted this, especially proponents of legalization who claim they want to deport illegal immigrants who fail to pay a fine, fail an English test, or lose a job

Prosperity - Our immigration policies should help all Americans prosper, not just employers looking for cheap labor. That is why it is important that we raise the costs for employers to hire illegal immigrants. But we must also seek to minimize the regulatory costs for employers who do want to hire U.S. citizens.

Simplicity - Lawyers, lobbyists, and community activists are the only ones who gain from a complicated immigration system. The simpler the rules are, the better everyone understands them and the more likely it is that everyone follows them.

The challenge of immigration policy is finding the most politically sustainable way for raising the cost of entering or staying in the United States illegally without unduly burdening our economy 

For centuries the Atlantic and Pacific oceans mostly did this job for us. It was expensive to get here and information about where to go once you got here was hard to come by. But, as technology has improved, it is now far easier and cheaper to travel great distances. Thanks to technology it is also far easier to find jobs in the United States from thousands of miles away and it is also far easier to send the money earned in the United States back home. Since technological growth shows no signs of slowing, especially on the transportation and communications fronts, the trend of more people trying to enter, live, and work in the United States will only grow.

This is yet another reason why the amnesty-now-for-enforcement-later policy framework is destined to fail again as it already failed after it was tried in 1986. The main mechanism that we have for controlling illegal immigration, deportation, simply isn't working. Except for demonstrable national security or public safety threats, the political will just isn't there to deport anyone.

There is no comprehensive package of policies that can solve this problem. But there are some incremental steps we can take to better align everyone's incentives.

Turn Unauthorized Immigrants Away At The Border - One of the driving forces behind the 2014 border crisis was the Bush administration policy of turning away illegal immigrants from Mexico at the southern border, but taking in immigrants from all other countries. Smugglers figured out that if they could overwhelm a section of the border with illegal immigrants from a country other than Mexico, then Customs and Border Protection would be forced to release those illegal immigrants in the United States. That is why you had illegal immigrants flagging down border patrol agents. They wanted to be caught! You can have the biggest wall in the world but it is worthless unless we treat everyone equally and turn all illegal immigrants away.

Require Visa Holders To Post Bond When They Enter The Country - Not only did more than 40 percent of all illegal immigrants currently in the United States first enter on a legal visa, but visa-overstayers are also the driving force behind the recent rise in illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security should absolutely develop a comprehensive system for tracking visa holder entry and exit, but that is not enough. Who will track all the visa overstayers down? Who will deport them? How do we know if future presidents will be diligent about updating the system and tracking overstayers down? Conservatives can improve the chance that immigrants will honor their visa terms by making them or their sponsoring employer or educational institution post a bond, say $50,000 when they enter. When said visa holder then leaves, they, or their sponsoring institution, can get their money back. But if they don't then taxpayers get to keep the money.

Tax Remittances - How did Jeb Bush put it? Illegal immigration is "an act of love." "They come to our country because their families, the dad who loved their children," Bush said, "was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table." And he's right. Most illegal immigrants do come to this country to earn money that they can then send back home to their families. But when illegal immigrants take those jobs, they drive down the wages for U.S. citizens with similar skills. And when they send their earnings home, that is money that is escaping the U.S. economy and helping another country's economy. U.S. immigration policy should serve U.S. workers and the U.S. economy. Immigrants sent more than $120 billion a year back to their home countries. We should raise taxes on remittances out of the United States and use that revenue to cut the payroll tax for all working Americans.

Allow Injured Parties To Get Compensation From Employers Who Hire Illegal Immigrants - E-Verify is a highly successful program that empowers employers to check the legal status of their potential employees. Any conservative immigration policy should make E-Verify mandatory. But even in states that already have mandatory E-Verify laws, compliance is often spotty. And enforcement would depend entirely on whoever was in the White House. A president controlled by the Chamber of Commerce and/or amnesty activists wold not enforce an E-Verify law. That is why U.S. Citizens must be empowered to hold employers who hire illegal immigrants accountable. A federal cause of action could be created allowing anyone who could show they were harmed by the hiring of an illegal immigrant, through a loss of job or decreased wages, to collect damages from an employer who is proved to have hired an illegal immigrant.

Create a Z Visa For Non-Security Threats - No border security system will be perfect. No visa tracking system will be perfect. No E-Verify system will be perfect. As long as the United States is the best country on Earth immigrants will always come here in greater numbers than the system can handle. So what should we do with those that are here illegally? The easy answer is "deport them all" but history has shown that that is just politically and practically impossible. The current establishment answer, both on the right and left, is for serial amnesty. We give those in the country here now a path to citizenship, promise to deport all illegal immigrants in the future, and then when we don't deport those future illegal immigrants, we give them amnesty too. Wash, rinse, repeat. This approach is dishonest and undermines the rule of law.

Instead, we should create an alternative to deportation. Every illegal immigrant would still have to go through a deportation process, and those who were found to be threats to public safety or national security would still be deported. But for those who were not threats to public safety, they could be issued a Z Visa granting them protection from deportation. This new Z Visa would not entitle anyone to a work permit, a Social Security number, or a driver's license, but it would allow them to remain with their families.

None of the above policy ideas are dependent on one another. All could be implemented one-by-one in a piecemeal process. Even if they all became law our immigration system would still not be perfect. But it would function far better than it does today.

Matt Vespa - What Is It With Federal Officers Soliciting Prostitutes and Having Sex Parties?
Posted: 3/27/2015 7:35:00 PM EST

Federal law enforcement seems to have an accountability problem within their ranks regarding allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. The fact that internal affairs within these departments have a history of refusing to investigate these allegations is bad enough, but it reached a whole new level when it was discovered that agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reportedly participated in soliciting prostitutes; a throwback to the Secret Service’s scandal in Cartagena, Colombia. A report from the Department of Justice’s Inspector General released a damning report citing sex parties, and agents accepting money, gifts, and weapons from the drug cartels (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:

Drug Enforcement Administration agents allegedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by local drug cartels overseas over a period of several years, according to a report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s watchdog.

The report did not specify the country where the parties occurred, but a law enforcement official familiar with the matter identified it as Colombia.

Seven of the 10 DEA agents alleged to have participated in the gatherings — most of which took place at an agent’s “quarters” leased by the U.S. government — admitted to having attended the parties, the report found. The agents, some of whom had top-secret security clearances, received suspensions of two to 10 days.

Former police officers in Colombia also alleged that three DEA supervisory special agents were provided with money, expensive gifts and weapons from drug cartel members, according to the report.

“Although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds,” according to the 131-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.

The findings were part of a much broader investigation into the handling of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct from fiscal 2009 to 2012 at federal law enforcement agencies — the DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Horowitz said the investigation was “significantly impacted and unnecessarily delayed” by repeated difficulties his office had in obtaining relevant information from the FBI and the DEA. When he did receive the information, he said, it “was still incomplete.”

At the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, the internal-affairs offices “chose not to investigate” some allegations of sexual misconduct, the report said. At the FBI, in 32 of 258 accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, supervisors failed to report the allegations.

The DEA’s internal-affairs office did not always fully investigate allegations of solicitation of prostitution. There were 26 allegations involving DEA agents soliciting prostitutes abroad between 2009 and 2012, the report said.

“We found that the DEA lacks clear policy on whether to report alleged misconduct to headquarters and the DEA provides supervisors discretion when deciding whether to do so,” the report concluded.

In one case that also appeared to be based in Colombia, a DEA regional director, an acting assistant regional director and a group supervisor failed to report to their superiors repeated allegations of special agents paying prostitutes for sex and “frequenting a brothel while in an overseas posting,” treating the accusations as “local management issues.”

Over at the Washington Examiner, they report that DEA agents were also cited for arranging prostitutes for two Secret Service agents.

In 2012, the Secret Service’s PR nightmare began when agents from the advanced security detail were caught with prostitutes at the five-star Hotel Caribe, where members of the White House Staff and Press Corps would eventually stay as well. Business Insider  had a great breakdown of the incident that took place amongst this group of agents that arrived a week in advance of the planned Sixth Summit of the Americas. Drinking heavily throughout the week, the hotel staff noticed the agents’ solicitation prostitutes when one of them wasn’t paid. When confronted by the hotel manager, the agent refused to cooperate prompting a call to the police.

In all, 22 members of the Secret Service, including five members of U.S. Special Forces were reportedly involved in this night of fun gone awry, according to Insider. As you could imagine, there were some personnel changes, and the secret Service affirmed that the president’s security had not been compromised.

In an ironic twist on the whole incident, the investigator from the Department of Homeland Security, David Nieland, resigned his position last year over allegation that he visited … a prostitute (via NYT):

Sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Fla., saw David Nieland, the investigator, entering and leaving a building they had under surveillance as part of a prostitution investigation, according to officials briefed on the investigation. They later interviewed a prostitute who identified Mr. Nieland in a photograph and said he had paid her for sex.

Mr. Nieland resigned after he refused to answer a series of questions from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general about the incident, the officials said.

A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said in a statement that he could confirm only that Mr. Nieland resigned in August. But the spokesman added that department officials “became aware in early May of this year of an incident in Florida that involved one of our employees.”

While prostitution is quasi-legalized in Colombia, I honestly have no words. The DEA is accepting gifts and sex parties with the help of local drug cartels. The Secret Service solicited prostitutes in Cartagena, and their failure to stop Omar Gonzalez when he jumped the White House fence, which led to the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson; only added another embarrassment to their history. They dodged a bullet with the White House gate incident, where it appears that they didn’t crash into the gate–the agents more or less tapped it–and they weren’t drunk. Still, it's probably not the best time to be asking for $8 million to build a fake White House in Maryland in order to properly secure the real one.

It's really not a good time for federal law enforcement. 

Matt Vespa - Hillary Just Avoided The 'Pepsi Throwback' Of Presidential Primaries
Posted: 3/27/2015 5:30:00 PM EST

Hillary’s email trainwreck has some of Hillary’s staunchest supporters “really freaked out,” according to National Journal’s Ron Fournier. He said on CNN earlier this month that he got calls from Democrats in awe of the email development and unimpressed with how the former first lady conducted herself at the UN presser explaining her actions. Even die-hard Clinton supporters, people who want her to run unchallenged for the Democratic nomination, are worried, or at least very uneasy about the whole situation. As Cortney aptly noted, some Democrats are saying this is what happens when you “put all your eggs in one basket.”

So, does Clinton’s email flap mean Democrats are lining up to challenge her? Well, sort of -- there’s some folks trying to motivate California Gov. Jerry Brown, Al Gore (I’m not kidding), Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Vice President Joe Biden to consider 2016 runs. Yes, it’s quite the motley crew of people who’ve never been successful in mounting national campaigns for president and one senator who won because her state is insanely Democratic.

First, let’s go to every progressives favorite, Sen. Warren. In February, Warren sent a rather enigmatic letter to Democrats through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) saying, The question is whether enough Democrats will stand up -- stand up to corporate money and powerful interests and stand up for regular people, working families, and progressive values…I’m in — what about you? Will you donate by midnight to take back the Senate?" Many on the left, like Moveon.org and Democracy for America are taking this as a sign that she could be swayed to run in 2016. Hillary’s ties to the financial industry has drawn the ire of the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and this email fiasco has given them fuel to fan the flames of a potential Clinton challenge–with Warren leading the way:

Democracy for America, MoveOn.org and Ready for Warren all issued statements within minutes of each other, touting Warren’s record as a middle-class advocate and urging her to run.

Timing notwithstanding, the three groups disavowed any interest in the ongoing email flap, but instead said their efforts to draft Warren were driven by the issues. And they all agreed that Warren’s harsh criticism for Wall Street and middle-class advocacy is the right prescription for the party.

“Primaries are decided on the issues, not where candidates store their emails,” said Neil Sroka, communications director for Democracy for America.

“The draft Warren movement is less concerned with the frenzy surrounding Secretary Clinton's emails than we are with standing up, on behalf of millions of working families, to those who are rigging the system in favor of the rich and powerful,” added Erica Sagrans, campaign manager for Ready for Warren.

“A contested nomination will strengthen the Democratic Party by holding candidates accountable,” said Ready for Warren’s Sagrans. “Senator Warren is already shaping the national conversation on key issues, but not having her in the race would weaken our chances of having a real warrior for working families in the White House.”

Well, for starters, Warren has said she isn’t running for president. Though she has friends, many will simply not give the money necessary to mount a successful challenge. Why? They won't leave Hillary. Then again, it's reported that Warren could split the moneyed interests in Hollywood; a lot of folks in the business have soured on Hillary, thinking she's too centrist. David Frum noted that the Senate isn’t an institution designed for a raging progressive like Warren. So, she could toss her hat into the ring.  As Dan wrote earlier today, The Boston Globe wants her to mount a challenge to Clinton. Clinton knows her growing influence in the party given that she and Warren had a sit down in February to discuss, amongst other things, policy ideas. Is this the beginning of Clinton/Warren 2016?  

In a throwback to the 1990s, California Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s pushing 80, was giving off 2016 vibes of his own until this Sunday’s Meet The Press. Citing his age, Brown said if he were 10 years younger, he would mount a campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Bad blood reportedly still exists between the two camps; Brown accused then-Gov. Bill Clinton of funneling money to Hillary's law firm for state business in the 1992 presidential election, which drove Bill into a rage.

Al Gore was creating buzz. Noah wrote about it. Ezra Klein of Vox  had a post saying the former vice president should run, citing his ability to fundraise his possible 2016 bid thanks to his resume as a credible candidate:

Hillary Clinton is crushing her rivals in the invisible primary. The result will be a lopsided race once the campaign turns visible: her likely challengers don't have the name recognition, party support, campaign organization, or funding necessary to force a real contest.

Gore does. He begins with a powerful asset in presidential politics: credibility. As a long-serving senator and a two-term vice president, Gore has more direct political experience and at least as much claim to the triumphs of the 1990s as Clinton. He's also won more elections than Clinton — including the popular vote in a presidential campaign. There are few Americans who don't at least know his name. There is no one in the Democratic Party who won't at least take his call.

But Gore's experience and contacts now reach beyond politics — and into venues that would be enormously helpful to him if he wanted to fund an expensive race. He serves on the board of Apple, as a senior adviser to Google, and at the mega-venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. He's also carved a path through finance and telecommunications, becoming fabulously wealthy — richer, even, than Mitt Romney — as an investor and mogul.

The problem, Klein notes, is Gore. Oh, and the fact that he’s probably not running for president.

Lastly, there’s Vice President Joe Biden. Though he hasn’t made any of his 2016 intentions known, Draft Biden is up and running. It’s also “appropriately unpolished,” according to National Journal:

The new Draft Biden 2016 effort is a PAC and a fledgling website, RunBidenRun.com, with a full-time staff of two. When the site went live, an unfortunately cropped photo of the vice president's chest—cutting off his head—greeted viewers, and the "Donate" page trumpeted a goal of just $5,000, while showing that $5 had been raised by Tuesday afternoon.

What the effort does have, though, is a network of former Obama for America volunteers who are resolved to boost someone with a last name other than Clinton or Bush to the White House. That includes Draft Biden PAC's organizing director, William Pierce, a 26-year-old who has worked as a field organizer for Democrats, most recently Chicago mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti.

Despite the vice president's lack of a campaign operation, Draft Biden hopes to persuade him to run. For starters, there's a petition—which currently has roughly 2,000 signatures—urging him to get in the race. The group plans to build on what Pierce said is Biden's grassroots support throughout the country, eventually hiring field staff in key primary states "who can mobilize the grassroots army that we're going to have in those states."

Draft Biden isn't deterred by the millions raised by other candidates. With a stated fundraising goal of just $5,000, the group isn't planning to produce "glitzy TV commercials" or an expensive bus tour, because, Pierce said, "money is the root of all evil, we feel."

Allahpundit wrote, “It’s not capital-C Crazy” if Biden runs, though he aptly noted that we should probably drink some special Kool-Aid if he–in some bizarre alternate reality–becomes an unstoppable juggernaut in the general. At the same time, despite being saddled with Obama’s baggage, there really isn’t a reason for Biden not to mount a 2016 bid. Yes, he’s old, so this would be his swan song–win or lose. Vice presidents are usually lost to history after their service, and seldom does the vice president achieve a higher office than having the honor of being a pulse away from occupying the Oval Office.

Last December, I wrote that if he does run, Hillary has to debate him, whereas she could sit idly by and let her would-be opponents asphyxiate from a lack of oxygen from the media and donors. You can’t say the same for the Vice President of the United States, even if he’s trailing you. Also, can you imagine that debate? “Dead broke” lady vs. “butt buddy” Biden; where’s the popcorn?

Lastly, Biden has often told this to his colleagues about his secret to winning.

“You have to figure out what’s worth losing over,” he says. In 2016, he really has nothing to lose by running other than one last stab before probably retiring from public life.

So, in the end, the fledgling 2016 Democratic field (Biden/Brown/Gore) that was mostly a throwback to the 1990s has died a quick death.

With Biden, it’s a wait and see, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he just decides to bow out. With Warren, despite her firm statements to the contrary, we shouldn’t be surprised if she does toss her hat in the ring. This is her only window of opportunity. She will probably be considered too old after the ’16 cycle.

 At the same time, she pales in comparison to Barack Obama when gauging the two as insurgent candidates:

Think back to this time in 2007. Mr. Obama already had emerged as a strong candidate. He had announced his candidacy in February 2007, and surged to about 25 percent in the polls. His early rallies drew large crowds. By April, he was already tied with Mrs. Clinton in Iowa (although John Edwards led them both), and he matched her first-quarter fund-raising tallies.

The numbers, if anything, underestimated his position. His political identity, intentionally or not, was forged from anti-Clinton kryptonite. Early opposition to the war in Iraq positioned him to challenge Mrs. Clinton on her biggest liability. His youth, unifying message and relentless criticism of special interests contrasted perfectly with Mrs. Clinton, who was seen as a polarizing, transactional candidate tied to the past.

The enthusiasm for Ms. Warren’s candidacy on the left is real, but it probably doesn’t compare with the support for Mr. Obama. She isn’t as sharp a contrast with Mrs. Clinton, particularly when it comes to youth. Ms. Warren may be a new face, but, at 65, she doesn’t represent generational change against Mrs. Clinton, who is 67.

And Mr. Obama had an advantage that Ms. Warren can’t replicate: the possibility of becoming the country’s first black president. Ms. Warren’s similar appeal as a possible pathbreaking president, as the first woman to win, would be matched by Mrs. Clinton.

Again, Clinton/Warren 2016 could help Hillary shore up the progressive elements skeptical of her on policy. Myra Adams wrote in National Review that it also has the added bonus of removing Warren from the Senate should this highly hypothetical ticket win in 2016. As a result, progressive obstructionism by Warren to Clinton's pragmatic, sometimes secretive, approach to policy can be avoided. What say you?

**Crossposted over at Hot Air**

Christine Rousselle - Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) To Seek Senate Seat
Posted: 3/27/2015 4:35:00 PM EST

Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) is expected to announce Monday that she intends on running for Senate. Duckworth, a veteran of the Iraq War, was the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress from Illinois and was first elected to Congress in 2012.

The Chicago Sun Times had the exclusive:

On Monday evening, Duckworth will gather some of her top donors at a home in the Hancock Center to discuss securing the Democratic nomination to run against Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who is seeking a second term.

In the letter to her best fundraisers about the Hancock meeting, they were told “contributions are encouraged but not required. We realize it is early in the election cycle, but we are asking our top supporters to consider a donation. The maximum an individual can give before March is $5,400. If Tammy decides to not to run for Senate, we will offer you a refund. If she does run, this support will be key in keeping up with Senator Kirk’s $2 million and counting campaign war-chest.”

Duckworth is a new mother to a daughter, Abigail, and recently returned to Congress following maternity leave. Prior to Abigail's birth, a minor controversy erupted over Rep. Nancy Pelosi's refusal to let Duckworth (who was on bed rest) vote by proxy.

Daniel Doherty - Reid: I'd Like to Pass The Leadership Torch to Chuck Schumer
Posted: 3/27/2015 3:30:00 PM EST

Now that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has done a complete about-face and opted not to run for re-election, questions abound about who will succeed him in his leadership role. Reid, however, has a candidate in mind: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The Washington Post interviewed the Nevada Democrat this morning:

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has endorsed Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to succeed him after he retires at the end of 2016.

"I think Schumer should be able to succeed me," Reid said in a Friday morning interview at his home in Washington's West End.

Reid predicted that Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat in leadership and a close friend, would win the Democratic leader post without opposition. He said that the other likely contender, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would stand down for Schumer.

We'll see.

Conn Carroll - Why Iran Has All The Leverage Over Obama
Posted: 3/27/2015 3:30:00 PM EST

Sometime next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, President Obama will most likely announce that his administration has reached a political agreement with Ayatollah Khamenei's regime on nuclear weapons.

The deal may not be signed, it may not have any real specifics, but Obama will hail it as the only way to stop a war with Iran and delay them from getting a bomb. 

Whatever the contours of the "agreement" Obama announces next week, it will look far weaker than it was supposed to look just months ago. Over the past week alone, U.S. negotiators reportedly have conceded to Iran: 1) the need for a written agreement; 2) the ability of Iran to use nuclear centrifuges underground; and 3) the need for Iran to disclose the full range of its current nuclear capabilities.

Why, as Lando Calrissian might ask, is this deal getting worse all the time?

The simple answer is that Obama's broader Middle East strategy leaves him with zero leverage over Iran. The New York Times Thomas Friedman explains:

The Obama team’s best argument for doing this deal with Iran is that, in time, it could be “transformational.” That is, the ending of sanctions could open Iran to the world and bring in enough fresh air — Iran has been deliberately isolated since 1979 by its ayatollahs and Revolutionary Guard Corps — to gradually move Iran from being a revolutionary state to a normal one, and one less inclined to threaten Israel.

If one assumes that Iran already has the know-how and tools to build a nuclear weapon, changing the character of its regime is the only way it becomes less threatening.

The only reason Khamenei's regime is negotiating with Obama at all is because they want the world's economic sanctions on Iran lifted. In return for lifting those sanctions, Iran is supposed to give up its ambitions for a nuclear weapon. That's the basic outline of the deal: Iran gets the sanctions lifter and Obama gets an end to their nuclear weapons program.

But read the above Friedman paragraphs again. Obama's Middle East strategy is premised on "transforming" the current Iranian government by ending sanctions on Iran. This means that Obama wants the sanctions on Iran lifted just as badly as Ayatollah Khamenei.

Now, granted, Obama and Khamenei have very different ideas about what the outcome of the end of sanctions will be. Obama believes an Iran without economic sanctions will lead to if not Kamanei's demise, than it least the marginalization of him and his followers. Khamenei, on the other hand, believes an Iran without sanctions will allow his regime to strengthen their control over not just Iran, but also the entire Middle East.

Who has a better understanding of Iran, its politics, its people, and the impact of ending economic sanctions? Is it Khamenei, who has ruled his country for over two decades? Or is it Obama, who honestly thought the power of his own celebrity could save Democrats from crushing defeat in 2010? We'll see.

The answer to that question is ultimately irrelevant though when judging who currently has more leverage in the nuclear weapons talks. Since both Obama and Iran want sanctions on Iran to be lifted, Obama has no way to force any real concessions from Iran on nuclear issues. His threat to continue the current sanctions, or enact new ones, are hollow. Everyone knows he wants the sanctions lifted anyway. Why should Iran concede anything?

That's why they are not.

Conn Carroll - White House Clears Obama's Schedule For Iranian Nuclear Deal Next Week
Posted: 3/27/2015 2:45:00 PM EST

President Obama has nothing scheduled after Monday next week, a blank space that just happens to coincide with the deadline Obama set for his nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

"The president's schedule for the rest of the week actually remains pretty fluid," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at the daily press briefing Friday. Asked why he wasn't able to provide any information on Obama's activities next week, Earenst replied, "We've got some more details on the schedule that need to be hammered out."

Earnest did say that Obama will be traveling to Florida on Saturday, but he assured reporters that no news was planned to be made on that trip. On Sunday, Obama will return to Washington before going to Boston on Monday to deliver remarks at the opening of a building in honor of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).

But after that, the White House had no information to offer about what Obama would be doing Tuesday or for the rest of the week. That timing just happens to overlap with the March 31st deadline Obama set for a deal with Iran on their nuclear weapons program.

The March 31st deadline is a complete invention of the Obama administration and Iran has made it abundantly clear they feel no pressure to sign any written agreement with Obama until later this June.

Obama, however, would like to have something he can take to the Americans people before then, regardless of firm or verifiable any real agreement with the Iranians actually is.

Leah Barkoukis - The Friday Filibuster: Cruzin' for the White House
Posted: 3/27/2015 2:45:00 PM EST

The Friday Filibuster: The one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about this week in politics.

Closing Numbers


150- The number of people who died in the Germanwings Airliner crash this week, 3 of whom were Americans.

7-The number of pro-lifers arrested while praying outside of Speaker Boehner’s office.

0 inspector general was at the State Department when Hillary Clinton was there.

3- The number of Shiite militias in Iraq that have decided to stop fighting.

37 percent of Americans view Hillary Clinton unfavorably.

Abortion & Human Trafficking

In New York, a pro-abortion provision in a human trafficking bill, which held up its passage for years, has finally been severed, clearing the way for this important legislation to advance. Meanwhile in Washington, Senate Democrats continued to block a vote on legislation meant to stop human trafficking and help victims because of a provision that prevents public funds from paying for abortions. Guy debunks their false talking points here. Reid’s also preparing to block another bipartisan bill over abortion funding.

Obamacare

As we marked the five year anniversary of Obamacare this week, the president said the law is a stunning success: “Every prediction they made about it turned out to be wrong,” he said in Cleveland on Wednesday. “It’s working better than even I expected.” National Journal’s Ron Fournier took conservatives to task over their continued efforts to repeal and replace the law—and things escalated quickly

Campaigns & Elections


Election season has officially gotten underway with Sen. Ted Cruz announcing on Monday that he is running for president, thus becoming the first entrant into the GOP race. Though, like President Obama, Cruz is only a one-term senator and lacks the executive experience, he defended his candidacy on “The Kelly File” this week and stressed the importance of a conservative win in 2016. While there are naysayers, Cruz is constitutionally eligible to be president; even Al Sharpton had to concede he’s “allegable.” Next up to announce their candidacy? Sen. Rand Paul, who will formally declare in early April. He’s also already taking some soft shots at Cruz. And DNC "factivists" are already getting to work. 

And in other election news: Sens. Harry Reid and Dan Coats announced they plan to step down in 2016; the Democratic representative who unseated Allen West will be running for Rubio’s Senate seat; and Boston Globe’s editorial board is practically begging Elizabeth Warren to run. 

Foreign Policy

Nuclear negotiations with Iran went from bad to worse this week. Just one day after President Obama urged Iran to seize a ‘historic opportunity’ to reach a deal, the country’s supreme leader chanted ‘Death to America’ after telling a crowd in Tehran that it would ‘not capitulate to Western demands.’ And they certainly aren’t. The U.S. not only brushed this off rhetoric, but also agreed to allow Iran to maintain centrifuges in a fortified underground bunker…oh, and any “deal” we come to likely won’t even be in writing. Both Rubio and Walker said that if they became president they’d immediately scrap Obama’s Iran deal. In related news, the White House found out this week that Israeli intelligence had been eavesdropping on our negotiations and then used that information to try to lobby Congress against a deal. Meanwhile, the White House continues to believe we’ve “succeeded” in Yemen even as its president fled rebels and al Qaeda took control of a key city.

Bergdahl

The U.S. Army announced official charges against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl this week, including one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy. If convicted, Bergdahl could face life in prison. After Bergdahl was released this summer in a swap for five Taliban prisoners, members of his platoon came forward with details about Bergdahl’s disappearance. They claimed he violated his oath and left on his own accord. Now, even though their statements have been vindicated, State Department Deputy Press Secretary Marie Harf refuses to apologize to the platoon members for previously dismissing them as non-credible. 

Graphics by Townhall Graphic Designer Feven Amenu. 

Daniel Doherty - Senate Passes Budget on Straight Party-line Vote, Cruz and Paul Vote 'No'
Posted: 3/27/2015 1:30:00 PM EST

Working late into the early morning on Friday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate narrowly passed a budget that balances, cuts the size and scope of the federal government, and doesn’t raise taxes. Before the measure passed, however, Congressional Democrats predictably described it as “an absolute farce” and “insensitive.” Nevertheless, since Senate Democrats failed to even introduce a budget for years when they controlled the upper chamber (although they did pass a budget in 2013) perhaps a few plaudits are in order:

The 52-46 vote came at 3:28 a.m., after the Senate considered hundreds of amendments and voted on dozens — many of them politically freighted, some of them contradictory, but none of them binding. No Democrats voted for the budget. Among Republicans, only Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is likely to seek the White House, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has announced his intention to do so, voted no.

Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, chairman of the Budget Committee, hailed a plan that he said would “protect the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, strengthen national defense and bring robust economic growth.”

Democrats said it would be a disaster — if it ever happened.

But will it happen? Unlikely, my friends, as it will never reach the president’s desk:

The budgets themselves are nonbinding and do not require a presidential signature. Once each chamber passes its version, the House and Senate will try to agree on a common plan, something that last happened in 2009. Then lawmakers will draft separate legislation to implement the programs.

While the Senate budget is imperfect and therefore did not earn universal GOP support, it is a much better alternative than what the president served up, which was deemed “dead on arrival” by Republicans because of its massive spending increases and failure to balance. Surprise. And unlike Senate Democrats, at least Senate Republicans are following the letter of the law and governing.

“The real fights on the budget will come this summer, as those appropriations bills work their way through a similar process,” Ed Morrissey explains to readers over at Hot Air. “Still, it’s the first time in six years that Congress has done its job at all, let alone on time.”

And that, of course, is commendable. Embarrassingly, the normal budget process was all but jettisoned under the heavy-handedness of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) when Democrats controlled the upper chamber.

Perhaps this is why so few Republican lawmakers will be sorry to see him go.

Matt Vespa - Amnesty International: Hamas Rocket Attacks Amounted To War Crimes
Posted: 3/27/2015 12:35:00 PM EST

Yes, you read that right; Amnesty International has declared Hamas’ rocket attacks against Israel amounted to war crimes.

Last summer, the bloodshed began when Hamas claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Soon afterwards, Israel began operations in the West Bank to bring the perpetrators to justice. The “crackdown” prompted Hamas to increase rocket attacks from Gaza, which led Israel to invade the Gaza Strip to prevent further attacks on its citizens last summer. Close to 5,000 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza.

Last November, Amnesty International reported that Israel had committed war crimes, which they rejected. According to the Associated Press, Israel's Foreign Ministry said Amnesty's report"ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas."

"The report does not mention the word terror in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks," the ministry said.

Well, in this new report, Amnesty says Hamas’ attacks were "unlawful" and "displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law" (via BBC)

Militants displayed a "flagrant disregard" for the lives of civilians during the 50-day war, a report found.

According to UN data, more than 4,800 rockets and 1,700 mortars were fired from Gaza towards Israel between 8 July and 26 August. Around 224 projectiles are believed to have struck Israeli residential areas.

Amnesty said that all the rockets used by Hamas and other militant groups, some of which have ranges of up to 160km (100 miles), were unguided projectiles which could not be accurately directed at specific targets and were "inherently indiscriminate".

The majority of Israel's 8.3 million people live within reach of the long-range rockets, and the report pointed out that as a result the "circle of fear has widened" in Israel.

"Palestinian armed groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, repeatedly launched unlawful attacks during the conflict," said Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther.

"In launching these attacks, they displayed a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law and for the consequences of their violations on civilians in both Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Amnesty's report also detailed other violations of international humanitarian law by Palestinian groups during the conflict, such as storing rockets and other munitions in civilian buildings, including UN schools, and cases where armed groups launched attacks or stored munitions very near locations where hundreds of civilians were sheltering.

Of course, Hamas’ spokesperson Tahir al-Nounou said the report was inaccurate, made “false allegations,” and was “based on the Israeli narrative.”

Hamas broke the ceasefire during the war, and was caught by the French Press firing rockets from densely populated areas in Gaza. Gallagher Fenwick, a reporter with FRANCE 24, took advantage of the seven-hour humanitarian ceasefire, which occurred in early August, to “snoop around.” It’s was during this time that he stumbled upon a rocket launching pad 50 meters from the hotel where most of the international press was staying and 100 meters from a UN building, clearly marked with its blue flag.

During the conflict, a network of tunnels used by Hamas were discovered and destroyed by Israeli Defense Forces. Yet, it wasn’t a cheap undertaking. Each tunnel cost between $2-3 million to build; they’re at least 30 of them. It was money that could’ve been spent on medical clinics, infrastructure, schools, and supplies, but Hamas decided to spend it on operations to fund their terrorist activities.

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