Conn Carroll - Obama Vetoes Keystone Pipeline
Posted: 2/24/2015 3:56:00 PM EST

President Obama vetoed legislation authorizing construction of the Keystone Pipeline Tuesday without any ceremony or photographers on hand.

"Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest," Obama's official veto statement read.

The "longstanding and proven" process Obama referred to is the National Environmental Policy Act which establishes rules for how all federal agencies must approve any infrastructure project.

For the Keystone Pipeline, that process began over six years ago and has included more than 20 scoping meetings, more than a dozen field hearings, and two 1,000-page-plus Environmental Impact Statements.

Asked whether 2300 days was a reasonable length of time to conduct an evaluation, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today, "Well I think it is certainly fair to suggest that the State Department is conducting an in-depth review."

The Obama administration's faith in the NEPA process is perplexing since they claim to want to increase federal infrastructure spending to create jobs, but any project funded by the federal government must go through the exact same NEPA process that has hung up Keystone for more than six years.

After his $1 trillion-plus economic stimulus failed to produce the construction jobs Obama predicted it would, Obama even joked to his own Jobs and Competitiveness Council, "Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected," Obama said.

Obama's veto of the Keystone Pipeline today is just another reason why that joke is still true.

Daniel Doherty - Keystone Pipeline Bill Heads to POTUS' Desk; UPDATE: Vetoed
Posted: 2/24/2015 3:30:00 PM EST

Legislation approving the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline has finally reached the president’s desk. But don’t celebrate just yet.

In a joint op-ed published today in the pages of USA Today, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are urging Americans to begin tempering their hopes and expectations by accepting the inevitable:

Tuesday, as promised, the new Congress is sending the White House legislation that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. This project will support tens of thousands of American jobs. It will bolster the nation's infrastructure and energy security. And it enjoys a broad base of support from Republicans and Democrats, labor unions and small business owners, not to mention an overwhelming majority of Americans.

Keystone is a no-brainer in every way, but the White House says the president will veto this jobs bill. Americans deserve to know why, and what a veto would mean.

They argue approving the Keystone pipeline will create jobs, stabilize the U.S. economy, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and take seriously the wishes of the American public. Thus, if President Obama vetoes the legislation, it would be a huge mistake. "Keystone brings a real benefit to our economy," they write. "That's according to the president's own State Department, which says the project will support at least 42,000 American jobs." At the same time, they attribute the president’s foot-dragging to "politics." According to them, the president is beholden to “liberal extremists” who are unnecessarily stymieing and holding up a project that many Americans agree should have been constructed years ago.

So because the president is not a fan of Keystone, it seems he will veto the legislation either today or sometime later this week. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: That didn't take long.

UPDATE: Not one to mince words, Speaker Boehner has blasted out a press release describing the president's veto as a "national embarrassment."

“The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment. It’s embarrassing when Russia and China are plowing ahead on two massive pipelines and we can’t get this one no-brainer of a project off the ground. The president is just too close to environmental extremists to stand up for America’s workers. He’s too invested in left-fringe politics to do what presidents are called on to do, and that’s put the national interest first.

UPDATE: It's official.

UPDATE: Congressional Republicans aren't giving up.

UPDATE: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has also issued a brief statement.

“The least President Obama can do is look the American people in the eye when he is so blatantly defying them. The fact he vetoed the bipartisan Keystone Pipeline in private shows how out of step he is with the priorities of the American people, who overwhelmingly support this vital jobs and infrastructure project.”

Christine Rousselle - ESPN Suspends Keith Olbermann For Mocking Penn State's Cancer Charity Fundraiser
Posted: 2/24/2015 2:45:00 PM EST

Noted jerk Keith Olbermann was let go from MSNBC in 2011, bounced around unsuccessfully at a few different networks, and eventually wound up on ESPN2, where he now hosts the show "Olbermann." Yesterday, Olbermann returned to his gadfly ways, when he replied to a tweet about Penn State's $13-million dollar fundraiser for pediatric cancer and called it "pitiful," and then proceeded to mock the university and its students.

ESPN released a statement apologizing for his behavior and suspended Olbermann for the rest of the week as a result of his tweets.

We are aware of the exchange Keith Olbermann had on Twitter last night regarding Penn State. It was completely inappropriate and does not reflect the views of ESPN. We have discussed it with Keith, who recognizes he was wrong. ESPN and Keith have agreed that he will not host his show for the remainder of this week and will return on Monday. The annual tradition of THON and the efforts of the students of Penn State to fight pediatric cancer should be applauded.

Each year, Penn State University students organize THON, a 46-hour no-sleeping no-sitting dance marathon to raise funds for the Four Diamonds Fund, a charity that assists children who are fighting cancer. This year, THON raised over 13 million dollars for the fund, and has raised well over 100 million dollars since its inception in 1977. It is the largest student-organized charity in the world. Regardless of your university affiliation, thoughts about the disgusting and terrible acts committed by a former football coach, or anything else relating to college sports, raising thirteen million dollars should be praised, not disparaged.

While Olbermann claims that he was merely calling the students, alumni, and fans of Penn State "pitiful" rather than the THON event, it's still a ridiculous reaction to a completely apolitical and innocuous event. The actions of the football program (by people who are either dead or incarcerated) should not define the perception of the entire university. Furthermore, it's absurd to politicize an event that has benefited thousands of lives.

To Olbermann's defense, he apparently has realized that his rhetoric was just a tad out of line. But seriously bro...take several chill pills.

Katie Pavlich - Reality Check: No, Homeland Security Isn't Shutting Down
Posted: 2/24/2015 2:45:00 PM EST

Republicans are already retreating in their vow to defund President Obama's executive amnesty as Democrats sound the alarm about an unsafe America if Homeland Security isn't fully funded by Friday night. 

"It will impede effective things that the Department of Homeland Security needs to do to keep America secure," Democrat Steny Hoyer said earlier this month about the funding fight. "A CR would not be a way that responsibly this ought to be handled. The Republicans, if they make such a deal, it will be a very cynical deal which undermines the security of America."

Despite the hysterical rhetoric, the Department of Homeland Security is not shutting down and America won't be less safe if Republicans and Democrats don't get a deal at the end of the week. And no, there will be no "undermining of the security of America," because essential Homeland Security operations will continue to function.

1) If there isn't a deal by Friday night only nonessential Homeland Security employees, which is around 14-15 percent of DHS, will be off-the-clock. That leaves at least 85 percent of DHS employees at work. The Washington Post did a round up two years ago about services that are still available even during a full-blown government shutdown. They're still applicable to the current, smaller funding battle over President Obama's executive amnesty. 

There are a whole bunch of key government functions that carry on during a shutdown, including anything related to national security, public safety, or programs written into permanent law (like Social Security). Here's a partial list:

-- Any employee or office that "provides for the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security or the safety of life and property." That means the U.S. military will keep operating, for one. So will embassies abroad.

-- Any employee who conducts "essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property." So, for example: Air traffic control stays open. So does all emergency medical care, border patrol, federal prisons, most law enforcement, emergency and disaster assistance, overseeing the banking system, operating the power grid, and guarding federal property.

In other words, deal or no deal, Homeland Security isn't shutting down. 

2) Here are some of the programs that are suspended if a deal isn't reached by Friday night

Department of Homeland Security: 14 percent of the 231,117 employees would go home. (Border Patrol would stay. Operations of E-Verify would cease. The department will also suspend disaster-preparedness grants to states and localities.)

3) US customs agents, TSA agents, active-duty Coast Guard members and Secret Service agents will be working as normal, albeit without pay until a deal is reached. 

4) Everyone will get back pay when a deal is finally reached.

If a deal isn't reached by Friday, essential Homeland Security functions will continue to operate. This isn't the crisis the media and Obama amnesty supporters have made it out to be. In fact, it's not even close.

What's really happening here? Democrats and President Obama are willing to force our federal law enforcement agents, who work under DHS, to go without pay for the sake of saving Obama's executive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, which was put on hold by a federal judge last week. It's clear where their priorities have been placed. I'm sure Border Patrol and ICE agents in particular are thrilled about that.

Matt Vespa - Thanks, Obama: Poorest Obamacare Recipients Billed $531 By IRS
Posted: 2/24/2015 2:35:00 PM EST

The burden of Obamacare is hitting the program’s poorest recipients with a $531 tax bill by the IRS that cuts into their returns by 17 percent, according to a study conducted by H&R Block. In the study, Americans making 133 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for a tax credit to purchase health insurance. But, in the end, 52 percent will actually owe the IRS money. The study also found that the average individual mandate penalty is $172 (via ATR):

The majority (52 percent) of Obamacare enrollees receiving an advance premium tax credit to purchase Obamacare insurance is facing the prospect of paying back $530 of that tax credit to the IRS, according to a new study from H&R Block. This clawback is reducing the refunds for these taxpayers by 17 percent this filing season.

Under Obamacare, taxpayers earning between 133 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive a tax credit to help purchase insurance on Obamacare exchanges. This tax credit is calculated using old tax data of the recipients. The credit is advanced ahead of time to the taxpayer's insurance company. The taxpayer must reconcile at tax time the advance credit received with the actual credit she is eligible for.

Families of four earning less than $97,000 are eligible for a credit. So is a single mother with two children earning less than $80,000 and an unmarried/childless taxpayer earning less than about $12,000. By definition, these are the lowest income recipients of Obamacare health insurance outside the Medicaid-eligible population.

According to the study, a majority of credit recipients--52 percent--have had to pay back the IRS an average of $530, reducing their refunds by an average of 17 percent.

As Katie and Guy have reported, the government sending the wrong tax information is highly embarrassing; the  individual mandate penalty (taxes, really) is set for a huge increase this year; and the issues with subsidies and the Medicaid expansion in California are just more stories to be added in the annals of this messy rollout.

Matt Vespa - Scott Walker: ‘Should We Get In, We Will Talk About What We’re For, Not What We’re Against’
Posted: 2/24/2015 1:35:00 PM EST

On February 23, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addressed the non-partisan National Religious Broadcasters’ International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

In his speech, he said he grew up as a “PK kid,” short for preacher’s kid. Walker explained how before he was born, his father, Pastor Llew, was a broadcaster between his college and seminary years. He was saddled with the graveyard shift that lasted from 12am-6am in Beloit, Wisconsin. Pastor Llew was also responsible for the farmer’s report.

Walker then discussed how his family moved from Colorado Springs, where they lived in the shadow of Pikes Peak to Plainfield, Iowa in 1970; a town with less than 500 people, according to the governor. He’s right. The town had a population of 430 at the time; Walker was 2 ½ years old.

The family soon moved to Delevan, Wisconsin, slightly larger with a population of 7,000, where Walker described his first job at 14 years of age, washing dishes at a restaurant called Country Side. He later said he moved to the “big time,” by flipping burgers at the local McDonald’s and saving up for college.

Just like in Plainfield, Iowa, his mother, Pat, ran Sunday school and also worked as a secretary. Walker was keen to show that his rise in the politics isn’t due to family connections, fame or fortune. His mother grew up not having indoor plumbing until high school.

Instead, he told the audience that he got something better from his family; a belief that “you can do and be anything you want" if you work hard and play by the rules.

As many of you already know, Scott Walker didn’t finish college. He left the spring semester of his senior year to work for the American Red Cross. From there he had a meteoric rise in Republican politics, going from the state legislature, county executive, governor, and a potential presidential candidate for the 2016 election.

Walker didn’t leave the stage without acknowledging the importance of family, noting that when you enter public life, so does your family. He and his wife, Tonette, recently celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary–and he spoke highly of his sons Matt and Alex. He recalled why they named their first son Matthew (gift from God in Hebrew) because his wife was a widow and didn’t know if she would marry again, let alone have children. He went on to discuss his pro-life advocacy, in which he said it’s not enough to just say it, you have to get out there and show people that you care about them; Walker mentioned that he was president of the Marquette Students for Life chapter and supported people in difficult circumstances.

Before he exited the stage, he spoke about his PAC–American Revival–and how it will be the vehicle for rebuilding the American spirit and making sure there’s an avenue for social mobility for everyone. To do that, power must be diverted away from entrenched interests in Washington.

Now, the 500 lb. elephant in the room is his potential 2016 candidacy. Then again, Walker noticed that you have to be mentally ill to consider such a monumental task given what the dynamics of a national campaign does to a candidate and his family. He said one should only jump into the insanity if God is calling on you to do so.

But, Walker made it clear that he was “going to talk about what we are for:”

“Should we get in, we will talk about what we’re for, not what we’re against; I think Americans deserve a real debate and a real focus about where we’re going to take this nation; not what’s wrong with our primary opponents–or not what’s wrong with our general election opponent. You’ve seen in the media a lot of talk in the last few days about these self-manufactured ‘gotcha’ moments from the media, where they want to talk about things that I don’t think most American want to talk about. Our commitment is going forward; we’re going to talk about things that matter to every day Americans–and we’re going to leave the nonsense to the media on the side.”

The silliness from the media is derived from questions he was asked regarding evolution and President Obama’s religion; things that are extraneous to the vetting process concerning the presidency of the United States.

It’s the story of his family, his humble upbringing, and his faith, which isn’t discussed in a didactic tone; that has potential to connect with a vast audience.  He certainly could certainly tap into the fledgling neo-populist wave that's slowing gather steam across the country.  

He’s also aware of his perception to the public given his preacher’s kid childhood. As Jason Stein at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote, this awareness gave the future governor invaluable preparation for his career in politics from his days in Plainfield, Iowa. Additionally, it’s a region of the state that isn’t decidedly conservative; it’s purple just like Wisconsin:

The church and parsonage were both a geographic and a social hub in the community.

Living on the main street as the child of a pastor was like growing up in a "fishbowl," as Scott Walker himself would later put it, and it taught the boy to be aware of how others saw him. It was an apt preparation for the future politician who would later relish radio and television interviews and tweeting about meals and other ephemera of his personal life.

Like the Milwaukee metro area and Wisconsin in general, Plainfield and the surrounding region of northeastern Iowa aren't one-sided in their politics. Its state senator is a Democrat, its state representative is a Republican. Its current congressman is Republican Rod Blum, who in November won a close race to replace outgoing Democrat Bruce Braley.

Scott Walker would leave Plainfield in the third grade, but already the family's civic sense was rubbing off on him. Betty Balsley, Joan Marlette and Janice Dietz [locals of Plainfield] remembered the boy starting a "Jesus USA Club" to do good deeds and seek donations for a new flag for the Plainfield City Hall.

The Balsley and Dietz families, both particularly close to the Walkers, said they weren't surprised that Walker ended up in politics.

"He would occasionally come up with comments," Betty Balsley said, remembering a boy who took note of the big world beyond Plainfield. "You just had a feeling that he would go to school and do something."

"There was an interest there," her husband Larry added.

As he ended his speech, Walker asked that attendees pray for him and his family and all the potential candidates–Democratic and Republican–because there is nothing more powerful than prayer to help you get through those difficult moments in life.

Daniel Doherty - Report: Rubio Unlikely To Run For Re-election
Posted: 2/24/2015 12:00:00 PM EST

So … 2016 here we come?

… Mr. Rubio is racing ahead like a man gearing up for a presidential run. His mini-tour for “American Dreams” — his new book, which reads like a blueprint of policy prescriptions for a presidential bid — has taken him through the first four nominating states in the 2016 Republican primary season.

And though he is not expected to make any official announcement until April, he is quietly telling donors that he is committed to running for president, not re-election to the Senate. (During a stop in Las Vegas, Mr. Rubio met privately with Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and major Republican donor. Neither Mr. Rubio nor Mr. Adelson’s team would comment on what the two men had discussed.)

Rubio is (a) conspicuously swinging through the early primary states and (b) reportedly telling donors his mind is already made up. Following the tea leaves, what conclusions might we draw? Ahem. Meanwhile, The New York Times article goes on to point out that Rubio recognizes he’s not polling all that well, but by testing his message now and “playing a long game,” he hopes to build buzz and excitement for a possible bid. He’s also reportedly impressed a lot of people in his travels with his eloquence and command of the issues. So if he does run for the nomination and prevail, it will be because he slowly and painstakingly made the argument that he’s the best candidate to lead the Republican Party.

We’ve been writing a lot about polls lately. But the truth is they don’t matter all that much. If Rubio is set on running for president – and it seems he is – he has plenty of time to court and win over voters. Naturally, questions about the so-called “Jeb Bush factor” will continue to dog him as they share the same donor base. But as Guy wrote last month, he’s not making an uninformed decision; if he runs, it’s because he truly believes he can win.

Parting thought: This is a point I've raised in the past but wanted to throw out once again. Who among us thought Rick Santorum would stand a chance at winning the nomination in 2012? I certainly did not. And although he eventually conceded defeat, let us not forget that he was (a) the last candidate standing and (b) won almost a dozen states. Rubio, for his part, is much more charismatic and inspiring than Rick Santorum. But if the ex-Pennsylvania Senator can catch lightning in a bottle to put himself in a position to win (don’t forget there will also be at least nine nationally televised-debates between now and the close of the primary season) why can’t Rubio?

Guy Benson - Again: Senate Democrats Filibuster DHS Funding to Protect Obama's Amnesty
Posted: 2/24/2015 10:28:00 AM EST

For weeks, Harry Reid and his Senate Democratic minority -- with the explicit blessing of the White House -- have been blocking all debate on a House-passed bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. The House legislation provides full appropriations for DHS, with the small exception of stripping out funds targeted for the implementation President Obama's unpopular and illegal (according to both a federal judge and Obama himself) executive amnesty fiat. Democrats in the upper chamber had already filibustered three attempts to take up, discuss, or amend the House's bill. Last night witnessed round four. Kudos to CNN for its accurate headline -- "Senate Dems Block Homeland Security Funding Bill Again:"

The Republican-led Senate voted Monday -- for the fourth time in as many weeks -- to begin debate on a stalled funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which faces a Friday deadline. But like the three votes before it, Senate Democrats blocked taking up the bill that passed the GOP-controlled House because it contains what they consider poison pills -- provisions that would block President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration. On a measure that needed 60 vote to succeed, it failed with 47 voting in support to 46 against. With only four days before DHS funding ends -- when large parts of the agency will be shuttered or employees will be forced to work without pay -- the two sides are at a stalemate and there are no known serious negotiations involving congressional leaders or the White House to bridge differences. "It's time to allow this Homeland Security funding legislation to come to the floor," a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote." Democrats say they want to amend DHS funding legislation. But then they keep voting to block their own amendments. It just doesn't' make any sense."

Democrats say they're objecting to discussing the bill because it contains "poison pills."  Debates and amendments could alter or eliminate some of the items they object to, but they won't even allow that debate to begin.  Having lost the most recent election in historic fashion, they've adopted an our-way-or-shutdown approach.  It's very simple: Obama and Reid are forcing a (very partial) DHS shutdown in order to protect the president's unilateral action that provides millions of illegal immigrant adults legal status, legal work papers, and in many cases, increased access to generous tax benefits.  They are willing to precipitate a DHS shutdown to uphold a power grab that's been struck down in federal court.  And they have the gall to complain about the looming DHS shutdown as if it's Republicans' fault:

Here's a crazy idea -- and I'm just spitballing here: How about voting to proceed to a debate on a DHS funding bill, rather than repeatedly filibustering it?  This shouldn't be much of a problem, given that numerous Senate Democrats have raised concerns about the Constitutional and policy implication's of Obama's power grab.  Senate Republicans produced a document recapping statements from eight members of Harry Reid's caucus expressing their reservations about the very policy they're now unanimously filibustering to protect.  With all due respect to hawkish Republicans who are skittish about DHS funding, this is a fight worth having.  It's about the Constitutional principle of separation of powers, and it's about sending a message to Democrats about future spending battles.  When Republicans were the ones blocking legislation, it was easier for Democrats and the media to paint them as the "party of no."  The dynamic has changed, thanks to voters.  A united Republican front and message discipline can win the day.  This is a decent start:

I'll leave you with the latest spin from the administration, which is on a credibility-destroying roll this week:

Conn Carroll - McConnell's Gambit Solves Nothing
Posted: 2/24/2015 10:20:00 AM EST

Republican leaders in the House and Senate face a simple choice: either stick to their guns and demand Democrats offer amendments to the existing House-passed Department of Homeland Security bill, or introduce a new DHS bill that fully funds President Obama's amnesty.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) new plan to offer a separate bill that would eliminate Obama's Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program in no way solves this problem.

Let's say McConnell introduces his bill. Democrats are just as likely to block this new bill as they are to block the current DHS funding bill. Even if they do allow debate to begin on McConnell's new bill, they will definitely filibuster final passage. Nothing will be different. We'll just be closer to a DHS shutdown.

McConnell's choices will then be exactly the same as they are today: either stick to your guns and demand Democrats offer amendments to the existing House-passed Department of Homeland Security bill, or introduce a new DHS bill that fully funds Obama's amnesty.

As I pointed out before, there is no easy way out for Republican leaders.

Conn Carroll - Senate Homeland Security Chairman: "Obama, Democrats are holding our Homeland Security hostage"
Posted: 2/24/2015 9:55:00 AM EST

Tuesday on Morning Joe, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) accused President Obama and the Democrats of holding Homeland Security hostage for their favored amnesty program:

JOHNSON: Let's look at what we agree on. We agree on funding the essential and authorized and legal parts. There's disagreement. There's an area of dispute here. And let's face it, the courts have certainly lent credence to the argument that what President Obama has done in immigration -- and, by the way, it's President Obama that’s put immigration reform and law into this debate on funding Homeland Security.

BARNICLE: All right.

JOHNSON: Basically President Obama, Democrats are holding our Homeland Security hostage for their form of immigration reform.

BARNICLE: OK, Senator.

JOHNSON: We have disagreements on that. Let's concentrate on the areas of agreement. Let’s fund the essential, authorized, and legal part of Homeland Security. Isn’t that the easy way of doing it?

Authorization for funding for the Department of Homeland Security is set to expire this Friday. At that point, almost all DHS workers, like airport security screeners and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, would still have to go to work, but they would not be paid.

The House has already passed a bill that fully funds the Department of Homeland Security and prevents Obama from implementing his new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program which illegally gives work permits, Social Security numbers, and drivers licenses to millions of illegal immigrants.

The Senate could take up the House bill, vote on amendments to the bill, and come to a compromise on the matter, but Senate Democrats are filibustering the bill, thus preventing any amendments from even being offered.

Last Monday, a federal court issued an injunction blocking Obama's amnesty program from being implemented, but Obama and the Democrats are still insisting on a DHS funding bill that would allow the program to continue if a higher court reverses the trial judges ruling.

You can watch the entire segment here.

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