Alan Gross was imprisoned in Cuba for half a decade. He’s a free man now and spoke to the public today from the nation's capital about his deliverance.
“Today is the first day of Hanukkah,” he said. “And I guess so far it’s the best Hanukkah I’ll be celebrating for a long time. What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country and thank you President Obama for everything you have done today and leading up to today.”
He also especially thanked his wife and lawyer who worked tirelessly to bring him home.
“They have my endless gratitude, love, and respect,” he emphasized.
“I want to thank all of the members of Congress from all sides of the aisle…who spoke up or visited me, subjected themselves to my ranting, and helped me regain some of my weight,” he continued. “Even in Cuba, M&Ms melts in your mouth and not in your hand.”
He also thanked Muslim, Christian and especially Jewish organizations and individuals who never gave up on him.
“It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten,” he said. “Your prayers and your actions have been comforting, reassuring, and sustaining.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, he also effusively praised President Obama.
“Ultimately, the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office,” he said. “To President Obama and [his] staff, thank you.”
“I’m incredibly blessed finally to have the freedom to resume a positive and constructive life,” he continued. “But for now I’ll close with a quote from one of Nelson Demille’s characters: ‘It’s good to be home.’”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio responded to President Obama's announcement earlier today to "normalize relations" with Cuba and now it's Texas Senator Ted Cruz' turn.
"This announcement today will be remembered as a tragic mistake," Cruz, whose father Rafael Cruz escaped Castro's Cuba in 1957 after beatings and torture, said during an interview with Fox News Wednesday afternoon. "There is no doubt this is a unilateral president."
During the interview, conducted by Neil Cavuto, Cruz reminded viewers that the Castro brothers are allies of North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
"Cuba is an avowed enemy of this country," Cruz said. "They are a leading state sponsor of terrorism."
Cruz slammed President Obama for negotiating from a position of weakness with enemies of the United States while turning on allies like Israel and Poland.
"He [Obama] does not understand the difference between our friends and our enemies," Cruz said.
Cruz also released the following statement in response to President Obama's annoucement:
“We rejoice that Alan Gross’ wrongful imprisonment by the brutal Castro regime has finally come to an end, and that he will be able to spend the holidays with his loved ones. But make no mistake, although we are glad Alan is now free, the agreement the Obama Administration has entered into with the Castro regime has done nothing to resolve the underlying problem. Indeed, it has made it worse.Cruz and Rubio are not alone in their criticism of President Obama's decision on Cuba. Democrat Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey strongly condemned the move earlier today and warned about the direct impact on Americans.
“Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama. But they remain in control of a totalitarian police state modeled on their old state sponsor, the Soviet Union. Their government can continue to detain individuals like Alan Gross indefinitely without process—as the many political prisoners still languishing in the Castros’ prisons can attest. They retain their close, long-standing ties with hostile nations, notably Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. They will continue their support for terrorist organizations from FARC to Hezbollah and Hamas.
“The President spoke today about a new era for relations between American and the Cuban people, but these circumstances do not bode well for either. We have seen how previous Obama administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened. Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros, blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power. And if history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to undermine America and oppress the Cuban people. First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba – this is one more very, very bad deal brokered by the Obama Administration.”
"It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms," Menendez said in a statement. “President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed Republican threats to defund President Obama's unilateral Cuban normalization policy today, claiming that the government already has all the money it needs to implement Obama's plan.
"It's not clear to me that additional appropriations will be necessary to establish an embassy in Cuba, principally because there is already a significant diplomatic presence in Cuba," Earnest said. "There is an Interest Section there that represents the United States. So I don't know of any specific appropriations request that has been made. There may be one in the future, we'll see."
Earlier in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave an impassioned speech promising to do all he could stop Obama's "New Course on Cuba." “We are going to have interesting discussions about how they are going to get an ambassador nominated and an embassy funded,” Rubio said.
Rubio's parents fled Cuba in the 1950s and he has been a consistent voice for maintaining a hard line against the rule of the Castro brothers over the island.
“Time and again, the Cuban government has manipulated every single concession this country has made to its advantage,” Rubio claimed. “The Cuban government will never allow changes on the island that threaten their grip on power.”
The United States does, in fact, operate a United States Interests Section in Havana. It is in the same building that housed the U.S. Embassy in Cuba before the communist revolution and the U.S. has been operating in the building since the 1970s. You can see a picture of the building here.
If Rubio and other Republicans want to stop Obama from turning the US Interest Section, Havana into the US Embassy, Havana, they will have to attach defunding language to separate must pass legislation, just like they will have to do if they want to stop Obama's amnesty.
Asked by Fox News's Ed Henry if Obama was considering normalizing relations with North Korea on the same theory that "opening it up" would put more pressure on the regime to change their behavior, Earnest curtly said, "no."
After days of brow-furrowed, self-righteousness analysis from much of the national media over Senate Democrats' tendentious and dishonest "torture report," poll after poll has shown that the American people aren't eager to join the anti-CIA mob. The latest, from NBC/WSJ:
(1) President Obama's approval rating has rebounded over to (45/50), much better than other recent polls have shown. His approval on the economy is slightly underwater, while he remains in deep trouble on foreign policy and immigration.
(2) "[T]he nation shows weariness of President Barack Obama , with more than 70% saying the next president should take a different approach from the current one," the WSJ writes, noting that Republicans now hold a very slight (40/38) edge on 'next president' preferences.(3) Seventy-one percent of respondents agreed that voters sent Obama a message in November, but a 55 percent majority believes he hasn't received, or has actively ignored, that message. Only 16 percent say he's changing his policies and behavior in response to Democrats' electoral beating.
Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The spike in the party’s standing comes after Republicans picked up nine seats to take control of the Senate, raised their numbers in the House to the highest level in more than half a century and added new governorships to its already clear majority. In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively. The improved standing reverses a lengthy period in which the public had given Republicans declining and, ultimately, historically low ratings.
As Christine wrote today, Republican Martha McSally has won former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ congressional seat. Republicans now have 247 House seats; their largest majority since 1929. With the 2014 midterms now officially over, the GOP has another thing to be happy about–and their approval rating has gone up (via WaPo):
Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.
The improved standing reverses a lengthy period in which the public had given Republicans declining and, ultimately, historically low ratings. Successful elections often give political parties or candidates a boost, though sometimes those improved ratings prove to be a bounce rather than a sustained change.
Public impressions of the Democrats are now a bit worse than those of the Republicans and overall more negative than positive. More people gave the Democrats favorable ratings than they did just before the midterm elections — 44 percent compared with 39 percent. But the percentage rating the Democrats negatively was essentially unchanged at 50 percent, compared with 51 percent earlier.
As for trust in handling the major issues facing the nation, the economy, and immigration, Republicans are more trusted 43/39 on the “main problems;” 47/38 over Obama on the economy, and 48/39 on immigration.
If you break those questions down along gender lines, women trust Republicans more on immigration by a 49/40 margin. On the economy, women trust Republicans by a 48/39 margin–and handling the “main problems” facing our nation; women trust Republicans 45/38.
Women trust Republicans more on the key issues facing the nation. I think I hear the heads of the feminist left exploding.
Men also trust the GOP more on these issues, though only by a slim 40/39 margin on the vague “main problems” crosstab.
So, in the end, the GOP favorability ratings are up, the Democrats are down, and the "War on Women" appears to be dead as female voters are trusting Republicans more on these issues.
Oh, and Obama’s approval rating is at a dismal 41 percent.
Shortly after the news broke, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had some tough words for the president about his unilateral action to relax diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“No commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to democracy,” he said about the announcement. “In exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners – who could wind up in jail tomorrow morning if they once again take up the cause of freedom – and to allow the United Nations and the Red Cross to monitor conditions on the island.”
“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie,” he continued. “The lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. All this is going to do is give the Castro regime – which controls every aspect of Cuban life – the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate its sovereign power.”
He also argued this unilateral approach is a kind of capitulation to human rights abusers, a lopsided bargain that will ultimately make it harder to topple the regime.
“These changes will lead to legitimacy for a government that shamelessly, continuously abuses human rights,” he said. “But it will not lead to assistance for those whose rights are being abused. It is just another concession to a tyranny – by the Obama administration – rather than a defense of every universal and inalienable right that our country was founded on and stands for. In short, what these changes are going to do is they will tighten this regime’s grip on power for decades to come.”
Sen. Rubio, however, acknowledged he was “overjoyed” Alan Gross was a free man and back in United States safely after five years in captivity. Nonetheless, he called the new policy “willfully ignorant.”
“This president is the single worst negotiator we’ve had in the White House in my lifetime,” he said. “[H]e has basically given the Cuban government everything it asked for and received no assurances of any advances in democracy and freedom in return."
"Today by conceding to the oppressors, this president and this administration have let the people of Cuba down,” he added.
Martha McSally (R) has been officially declared the winner in Arizona's second congressional district by a razor-thin 167-vote margin over incumbent Rep. Ron Barber (D). This was the final race of the 2014 election that was yet to be decided, as Arizona law mandates a recount if an election is decided by fewer than 200 votes.
Member-elect McSally released the following statement thanking everyone who worked on her campaign and the people of southern Arizona:
"We're grateful to everyone who devoted their time and resources, especially during the extended vote and recount processes, to get us over the finish line," said McSally. "With the results of the recount now official, we can move forward as one community to bring Southern Arizonans the strong representation they deserve."
"There's no getting around that this was an incredibly close and hard-fought race. After what's been a long campaign season, it's time to come together and heal our community. That's why my focus will be on what unites us, not what divides us, such as providing better economic opportunity for our families and ensuring our country and community are kept safe."
"I sincerely thank Congressman Barber for his service over many years to Southern Arizona. I'll be seeking his input to continue strong constituent services and help ensure a smooth transition. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I know that we're a community dedicated and united in our love for Southern Arizona - And, together, we can make a positive difference."
McSally is a retired colonel who served in the Air Force. She was the first female fighter pilot to fly a combat mission and was the first female in U.S. history to command a fighter squadron in combat. Her victory puts the Republican majority in the House of Representatives at 247 to 188, a gain of 13 seats.
Editor's note: this post has been updated with the correct number of seats the Democrats have in the House of Representatives. They have 188, not 118.
Joe Biden does not have the best track record when it comes to mounting presidential campaigns. He ran in the 1988 campaign, but dropped out after it was discovered that portions of his speech were similar to those given by UK Labour Leader Neil Kinnock. In 2007, he managed to clinch a whopping 1 percent in the Iowa Caucuses, but he’s now the Vice President of the United States; a role he reportedly revels in at the Obama White House.
Regardless, Politico reported back in October that there are some on his staff who are convinced he would run after 2012–and there are some who think otherwise. As for presidential ambitions regarding his various trips across the country, it’s very hard to read the tea leaves there as well:
He’s made appearances in Florida, South Carolina and New Hampshire, but they’ve been brief. Three days after Clinton headlined Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry last month, Biden jumped on a plane to Des Moines to join a dozen sisters kicking off their “Nuns on the Bus” cross-country voter registration and social-justice tour. His office said the trip was an official event, nothing to do with politics or Clinton’s visit. In Washington and in Iowa both, he came across as not wanting to leave Clinton unanswered in Iowa.
He’s worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee to coordinate some of his travel. Sometimes, people don’t know what he’s up to at all. When Biden arrived two weeks ago in Columbia, South Carolina, for a get-out-the-vote rally and state Democratic Party fundraiser — catching up with an old commitment to the DNC to do some voting rights events in the South — a number of key Washington operatives learned about the stop from news reports once he was already there.
Or Biden stops come together like this: Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley is friends with his son Beau from their work together as AGs, so her campaign calls Biden’s office directly to work out the campaign schedule that generated a fundraiser at the Banshee Pub in Cambridge. Or he’s in Los Angeles with one candidate for a House seat and another for California secretary of state, and jumps up to Portland for a walk through town with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that was most memorable for the unplanned but instantly viral photo of him with an ice cream cone, those aviator glasses and a fistful of $10 bills.
Biden’s not the kind of person to think much about things like a field director when making his decisions, and he appears to be working under the assumption that he’d be able to put together another late-breaking staff, like he did in 1987 and 2007. He toyed with the idea of a leadership PAC, but that never came together in large part due to concerns it would play too much into the prospective presidential narrative.
Biden tells a story he’s told before, a lesson he says he learned in his earliest days in the Senate, when candidates kept asking him his secret to winning.
Simple, Biden remembers saying.
“You have to figure out what’s worth losing over.”
Biden will be close to his mid-70s if he mounts another bid for the White House in 2016. He’s the vice president, a former U.S. Senator, and oodles of experience in public life. After his VP stint, Biden will probably slip into political and historical obscurity–along with the vast majority of U.S. Vice Presidents–after he leaves office. So, what does he have to lose? Nothing.
If he wins, he wins. If not, it’s one last hurrah in public life before retiring after decades of service. Whether you agree with his political positions in that regard is a different story. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of you haven’t taken too kindly to his liberalism; you’re not alone.
If he does run and challenges Hillary’s potential campaign to a debate, she would have to oblige him. While former Sen. Jim Webb thinks he can beat her, she could ignore him and starve him of oxygen, forcing Webb to drop out. With a former Vice President of the United States, that’s not an option.
Then, you get two candidates whose gaffes have been widely reported in the media on the same stage together. That’s quite the popcorn moment.
Biden, who’s seen as a good surrogate, could tap into the neo-populist mood with this pro-middle class messages, but the GOP actually won or was competitive with those voters. Another thing going against him is that Clinton is trouncing him in the polls. Yet, that didn’t stop Barack Obama, but Obama was also young; Biden is not.
At Politico’s recent Women Rule event, the vice president said he really has not made up his mind on the issue of running for the presidency (via the Hill):
"I honest to God haven't made up my mind,” Biden said…
The one thing that moves me — I think that I have the ability to bring the sides together,” he added.
Biden’s daughter Ashley appeared on stage with him at the event, and called his potential presidential aspirations a “family decision.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is far and away the Democratic presidential frontrunner, leading her rivals by more than 50 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.
President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba today, including opening an embassy in Cuba.
"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests," Obama claimed, "And instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries."
Specifically, the White House took three major steps today as part of their "New Course on Cuba":
In conjunction with the "new direction for U.S. policy," the White House also announced the release of United States Agency for International Development subcontractor Alan Gross who had been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. The White House insisted that Gross's release was not related to the release of three Cuban spies held by the United States. Senior Administration Officials insisted that those three Cuban spies were traded for a "U.S. intelligence asset" that had been imprisoned in Cuba for 20 years.
Asked if the White House was planning on working with Congress to remove the embargo on Cuba, Senior Administration Officials stressed that was not the focus of today's announcement.
"Again, we're not focussed today on legislative action. We are focussed on what the president can do so he's not sought to initiate any process with respect to the lifting of the embargo," a Senior Administration Official said. "We're not focused today on calling on Congress to take any particular action, we're focussed on communicating this new direction for U.S. policy."
Obama's unilateral actions on Cuba today are just the latest in a series of unilateral actions he has taken without consent of Congress. Just last month Obama announced he would grant temporary amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and he announced a deal to cut U.S. carbon emissions with China. His administration has also signaled he will not seek any input from Congress as Obama tries to broker a nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
Unless Republicans in Congress show they are willing to stop Obama's actions through the appropriations process, Americans can expect many many more unilateral executive actions over the nest two years.
"Senators should also make clear that they will not allow the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba to proceed until there have been changes on the island," The Heritage Foundation's Michael Gonzales advises. "And look into the possibility of using policy riders in the upcoming Department of Homeland Security appropriations debate in February and the fiscal year 2016 appropriations process to deny the president funds for setting up relations."
The law. It's working, you guys. It's working so well that one entire year into its full implementation, insurers feel compelled to extend yet another alleged deadline because the so-called 'back end' of the program's website is still a hot mess. That big "re-branding" campaign can't come soon enough, in order to allow supporters to keep on highlighting Obamacare's unparalleled success:
Trying to head off a new round of consumer headaches with President Barack Obama's health care law, the insurance industry said Tuesday it will give customers more time to pay their premiums for January. America's Health Insurance Plans, the main industry trade group, says the voluntary steps include a commitment to promptly refund any overpayments by consumers who switched plans and may have gotten double-billed by mistake. Though the HealthCare.gov website is working far better this year, the industry announcement highlights behind-the-scenes technical issues between the government and insurers that have proven difficult to resolve. Last year's enrollment files were riddled with errors, and fixing those has been a painstaking process. As a result, renewing millions of current customers is not as easy as it might seem.
Renewing coverage each year is standard operating procedure for the industry, but 2015 is the first renewal year for the health law. The process involves a massive electronic data transfer from the government to insurers, happening right around the holidays. Insurers then have to use that data to generate new cards for their customers. Normally, premiums for January would be due by Dec. 31. The industry's grace period for 2015 could vary among different carriers, so consumers should check with their plan...Making matters more confusing, open enrollment actually runs for another two months, until Feb. 15. People enrolling by that date will get coverage starting March 1. Current customers can still make plan changes through Feb. 15. Based on early numbers, it's looking like the majority of the roughly 6.7 million current customers have opted to stay with the plans they have now and be automatically renewed Jan. 1.
The good news about automatic renewals from the administration's perspective is that the process puts a lot of coverage on autopilot. At least in theory. The problem for them is that with Healthcare.gov's back end still under construction, the 'autopilot' reconciliation machinery still isn't working properly. Those bugs and flaws have resulted in improper subsidy payments for an untold number of consumers, which could lead to a nightmarish tax season for those victims of federal incompetence. Another problem that will impact even more Americans results from "benchmark" plans changing in 2015, meaning that auto-re-enrollment will, in many cases, result in unexpected rate increases for unsuspecting customers. Most new consumers selected these "baseline" plans last year, based on cost considerations -- but many of the most popular 2014 plans will experience double-digit premium increases in the new year, and are being supplanted by fresh, less-expensive 2015 baseline plans. People who simply stick with their existing plan to avoid hassle will get slapped with higher bills; avoiding that unpleasantness requires switching plans again, which comes will all of the access/network headaches that have dogged many Obamacare customers. Meanwhile, even as many Americans are experiencing higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs, some average rate increases aren't as steep as critics predicted. That will change next year, argues economist Stephen Parente:
Americans visiting Healthcare.gov to purchase 2015 health-insurance plans are finding a nice surprise: Average premiums for the cheap “bronze” plans have increased only by 3.4% and premiums for the middle-of-the-road “silver” plans are rising by 5.8%, according to the American Action Forum. Where are the double-digit premium increases that so many predicted? Check back around this time in 2016. That’s when you’ll see the real spikes. The Affordable Care Act includes two temporary programs that make compliant health-care plans temporarily appear far cheaper than they are: Risk corridors and reinsurance. Both programs will expire on Jan. 1, 2017. By November 2016, consumers will know how that sunset will affect their plan’s premium. Risk corridors and reinsurance are simple concepts: They subsidize insurance companies with taxpayer money. With the former, the taxpayer is covering the difference when patients spend more on health care than insurance companies predicted...The taxpayer’s generosity allows insurance companies to hide the true costs of the plans. But this will likely end when both programs expire in two years. At the same time, the exemptions issued by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services—including the exemptions that allowed millions of consumers to keep noncompliant plans that would have been canceled—will also expire on New Year’s Day, 2017.