Matt Vespa - Claire McCaskill Is Not Running For Governor
Posted: 1/13/2015 2:30:00 PM EST

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had a rough end to 2014. He pretty much botched maintaining law and order in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision, which decided not to charge then-Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Stores were vandalized and looted, and people’s livelihoods were destroyed. All of this with a National Guard presence, though they were mere phantoms when the rioting began.

Nixon is term-limited. Sen. Claire McCaskill was considering tossing her hat into the gubernatorial ring. Well, she’s come to a decision; she’ll probably run for another term as a U.S. senator (via Politico):

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said Monday that she won’t run for governor in 2016, with the two-term Democrat instead positioning herself for a “very likely” reelection bid in 2018.

McCaskill had been considering a gubernatorial campaign, and aides maintained she was deciding what office would give her the greatest impact on Missourians, as well as how her choice might affect her family. She said she made her decision over the holidays.

“I love the work, so at the end of the day, you’ve got to decide if the job you’re thinking about going for — is it a better job than the one you have and can you do more? And frankly, I am convinced I can’t,” McCaskill told KCUR-FM, a public radio station in Kansas City.

Pressed about whether her decision was final, she said, “I will not be running for governor in 2016. That’s a firm no.” She added that she’ll begin fundraising for her 2018 reelection in earnest this year.

She did endorse current Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who’s considering a run of his own.

The article added that McCaskill wishes to continue her work on combating sexual assault in the military.

McCaskill cruised to re-election in 2012 after Republican Todd Akin made some very unfortunate comments about rape and pregnancy. Yet, for a time in 2011, and parts of 2012, McCaskill was under fire for using her private plane in her travels, charging $76,000 to the taxpayers. To complicate matters, she didn’t pay personal property taxes on it, which amounted to $320,000 in penalties. The left-leaning Public Policy Polling survey from late May of 2012 had the race as a pure toss up until Akin opened his mouth.

For now, it seems as if the Democrats have their affairs in order for the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Katie Pavlich - White House Won't "Unpack" Decision Process Leading Up To Obama's Absence in Paris
Posted: 1/13/2015 2:10:00 PM EST

Speaking from the White House Tuesday afternoon, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said he wasn't going to "unpack" the decision process leading up to President Obama's absence from the world stage in Paris over the weekend. On Sunday, 40 top-world leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, gathered at the front of a crowd of 1.5 million people and marched in unity after the Islamic terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo last week. 

"One of the distinguishing features of this particular incident that I think we would all acknowledge is that it's not routine," Earnest said when pressed by  NBC White House correspondent Chris Jansing. "This is a march that was planned in 36 hours notice. It took place in a foreign country. It's not common that the president would attend an event with 1.5 million other people, again let alone in another country...this is not just a routine matter." 

"I'm not going to unpack the decision so I don't have a lot more to say on this," Earnest said. "When the President does receive invitations to attend an event we do of course have a formal process for evaluating those invitations and getting back in a timely fashion to those who have extended the invitation, but obviously this situation was a little bit different than that."

Earnest also said there would not be a review about how the decision not send President Obama or another high-ranking government official to France was made. 

Yesterday Earnest admitted that the White House made a mistake and should have sent a high-profile U.S. government official to participate in the march. He also admitted that he didn't know what President Obama was doing during the time of the march.

Cortney O'Brien - Rep. Luke Messer Outlines the Conservative Plan for School Choice
Posted: 1/13/2015 1:00:00 PM EST

Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, gets why conservatives want to abolish the Department of Education. This distant, bureaucratic department bypasses parents and students by more or less determining which schools they should attend. It is indeed an unpopular agency among freedom-loving Americans. Yet, Messer warns that abolishing it would only make conservatives seem insensitive to parents who want the best for their children. So, he has a better idea:

"When we support school choice, we support every American family."

School choice, as Messer described it at the Heritage Foundation's Conservative Policy Summit in Washington, DC on Tuesday morning, is an "open school system where parents are put back in charge." It's no wonder Heritage had Messer promote the education plan, for it fit perfectly into the summit's theme this year: "Opportunity for All, Favoritism for None." The program would push federal funds to states to follow students directly through school. In addition to establishing and chairing the first ever Congressional School Choice Caucus, Messer has introduced a piece of legislation called Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Students Act. He outlined the law's four provisions:

1. It's an opt in program, giviving every state the option to convert nearly $14.5 bilion in education funds into scholarships to follow students to their public or private school of choice. 

2. Makes 529 savings accounts more flexible for parents, to use for Pre-K to high school and college expenses. 

3. Gives parents the opportunity to use Coverdell savings account for homeschool expenses, etc. 

4. Eliminates contribution limits on these accounts.

Messer's passion for school choice stems from a few personal experiences. Growing up in Indiana, he did not have the opportunity to enroll in private schools. But, instead of hurting his education, it actually aided it:

"I was blessed with great teachers and an active parent. Too many kids don't have that. They're locked in failing schools and losing faith in America."

Messer continues to witness the benefits of school choice today, even here in Washington, DC. The congressman shared how he recently visited BASIS charter school, an institution that teaches a liberal arts curriculum and accepts students from every zip code in the DC area. Messer was wholly impressed with the students' hard work and noted that their results were 'off the charts.' What's more, the opportunity wasn't lost on them.

"The freedom to choose their learning environment has changed the trajectory of their life."

Messer isn't the only lawmaker promoting school choice in Congress. His fellow congressmen are putting forward their own legislation. Sen. Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) Scholarship for Kids Act, for instance, offers states the freedom to use $24 billion in education funds into scholarships that directly follow the student. As for Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), he has introduced Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education (CHOICE) Act, which would expand educational opportunities for children with disabilities, children living on military bases, and lower income families.

Parents can be rest assured they have these school choice champions now controlling Congress. If it wasn't clear to the audience why Messer was pursuing school choice so ardently, he certainly drove it home in his final remarks:

"This is the civil rights issue of our time. Let's be the movement that fights for the American family and make sure that every American has a real chance to succeed."

Daniel Doherty - Paul Ryan to Decline White House Run in 2016
Posted: 1/13/2015 12:00:00 PM EST

"Going into Boston that day, we felt like we had a pretty darn good chance of winning,” Paul Ryan said in an interview shortly after losing the 2012 presidential election. “So as you can imagine, it was a bit of a shock when we didn't win, but that's just the way these things go."

Indeed. But is he open to seeking the nomination in 2016? Nope, according to NBC News, who recently spoke to him by phone:

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee in 2012, told NBC News in an interview Monday that he will not seek the presidency in 2016.

"I have decided that I am not going to run for president in 2016," Ryan said in a phone interview, noting that he is "at peace" with the decision he made "weeks ago" to forgo a bid for the White House.

"It is amazing the amount of encouragement I have gotten from people - from friends and supporters - but I feel like I am in a position to make a big difference where I am and I want to do that," he said.

And what “position” might that be? Ah yes:

Ryan is chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. He said the committee's work over the next few years will be crucial "and my job as chairman deserves undivided attention.

"It's clear our country needs a change in direction. And our party has a responsibility to offer a real alternative. So I'm going to do what I can to lay out conservative solutions and to help our nominee lead us to victory," he said.

Perhaps this is a wise decision. Currently, the 2016 field is ballooning in size with reports that Mitt Romney, of all people, is in all likelihood running for president again.

This of course would make things rather awkward for Ryan if he jumped into the race; he’d essentially be challenging his old boss (and mentor) for the most important job in America.

And yet, looking ahead to 2016, the presidential sweepstakes seems wholly different from the last election cycle. Frankly, the field in 2012 was not nearly as strong -- a candidate with no political experience, for example, was at one time the frontrunner -- so we should be grateful better candidates are hungry for the nomination. If the last 6-plus years have taught us anything, it’s that voters (hopefully) not only want to nominate a candidate who can win, but a candidate with executive experience.

Ryan, of course, doesn't have that kind of experience yet. But at least, as he himself has said, he's now "in a position to make a big difference."

Let's hope that he does.

Guy Benson - Sources: Yep, Mitt Romney is Probably Going to Run Again
Posted: 1/13/2015 11:30:00 AM EST

Details have been bleeding into the press for days now, and the emerging picture strongly suggests that the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee is angling to take a third crack at a White House run after all. Mitt Watch: 2016

struck me as a silly exercise as recently as a few months ago, when the former Massachusetts governor was still adamantly denying that he harbored any intention of entering the fray.  Then, with Jeb Bush making tell-tale moves toward launching a presidential campaign, I further reasoned that the likelihood of Romney jumping in was growing even more remote.  With a well-known, well-funded, well-connected Republican establishment-leaning standard bearer planting his flag in a major way, any remaining raison d'être for a Romney candidacy would basically vanish, right?  Wrong, according to a "senior GOP source:"

Apparently Ann is more or less on board, too, which is relevant; remember, her exhaustion and recalcitrance was said to be one of the big reasons Mitt's response to 2016 chatter was consistently some variant of, "no, no, no, no, no." By the way, this report via an unnamed source based on an alleged private conversation isn't an isolated piece of evidence.  The Romney drumbeat has grown a lot louder lately:

Mitt Romney told an audience of Republican donors in New York on Friday that he is seriously considering a third presidential bid. "Mitt told the group of 30 or so guys that were there that he is considering a run for the White House and that they could go tell their friends," a source in the room told CNN. The Wall Street Journal first reported the comments. Though his loyalists and supportive donors have floated his name as a potential candidate for the better part of a year, Romney himself has been more reticent about mounting another White House bid after his 2008 and 2012 losses. But Romney's outlook has changed in recent weeks, according to people who have spoken with him recently, and he seems to be more serious than ever before.

Political Twitter has been abuzz with theories about what Romney's really up to.  Allahpundit lays out a few of them here, including a scenario in which Romney really just has his eye on doing what he can to prevent Jeb from sucking up too much oxygen and establishing a stranglehold on some critical mass of the party's money men.  Under this theory, Romney would step aside when the time was right bestow his endorsement (and all that would entail) upon a Marco Rubio-type candidate (Paul Ryan is officially out).  That's…possible, I guess.  Those machinations would either mean that Romney harbors some sort of ill will toward Jeb, or that he's convinced that no Bush can win another national election.  But let's apply Occam's razor here.  Isn't it more likely that Mitt Romney is just an ambitious man who's tasted the presidency, still believes he's be a good president, has enjoyed the flurry of 'buyers remorse' polls since Obama's re-election, feels vindicated by a slew of correct predictions, has lots of chits to cash in, knows he can raise serious cash quickly, and has a turn-key operation at his fingertips?  The gist: "Hey, I won 61 million votes not too long ago.  The Democrats' Bain/greed attacks will feel stale, and Hillary is an easier target for counter-attacks on that front.  Maybe third time's the charm."  And before conservatives line up to decry the potential entry of another "RINO" into the race, consider this: If Jeb, Mitt and Christie all run representing the more moderate wing of the party, won't that dilute the potency of that primary constituency?  Let's say Jeb and his fundraising juggernaut runs up against Rubio and Cruz and Rand and Walker and Jindal, etc., wouldn't that supply Bush with an unobstructed track to the nomination?  Parting thought:  I genuinely like and respect Mitt Romney, but please explain how this ad would fail hit its mark two years from now, even if some of its details remain sketchy, and even if Hillary is more vulnerable on wealth and Wall Street ties?

Christine Rousselle - Montreal Paper Includes "Draw Mohammed" Connect-The-Dots Picture
Posted: 1/13/2015 11:00:00 AM EST

In response to the massacre of the staff of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, the French-language Canadian newspaper Le Journal Montréal included a connect-the-dot picture of "Mohammed" in today's issue so that its readers can "draw" their very own Mohammed cartoon.

"Mohammad cartoons in the next Charlie Hebdo." "Print out the sheet and connect the dots. Will join your pencil with theirs."

Last week, a hashtag praising the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack was actually a trending topic for a bit in Montreal. The city is home to the second-largest Jewish population in Canada. This past weekend, the Montreal Canadiens played La Marseillaise and projected the French flag onto the ice prior to their game in honor of the victims of the atrocities throughout Paris.

This was a ballsy move by the paper, and I kinda like it. The paper can't be accused of publishing an actual cartoon of Mohammed (as it's not a finished—it's just a face with eyebrows), and those who want to finish the cartoon are able to choose to do so.

Nobody should be murdered over a cartoon, and it makes me sad that we live in a world where publishing this connect-the-dot picture is considered an act of bravery or an incredibly risky move.

Katie Pavlich - Keystone Pipeline Marches Forward in The Senate
Posted: 1/13/2015 8:30:00 AM EST

Late last week the House of Representatives passed yet another bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Yesterday the Senate took a test vote, where the legislation passed 63-32. Debate on the bill will begin today and could be passed with key Democrat support by the end of the week, setting up a showdown with the White House as President Obama stands by his veto threat. At this time, Republicans do not have enough Democrat votes to override a presidential veto. 

Last week the Nebraska Supreme Court green-lighted the project, yet the administration's policy toward the pipeline doesn't seem to have changed. 

The court overturned a Lancaster County District Court ruling, even though a majority of the justices felt the law that allowed the governor to determine the route of the pipeline was unconstitutional.

Four members of the seven-member court concluded the Lancaster County District Court ruling was correct when it sided with landowners who challenged LB 1161 -- the law which allowed the governor to sign off on a path for a pipeline.

President Obama and officials in his administration have said in the past they would weigh the Nebraska Supreme Court ruling in their final decision.

Katie Pavlich - Obama to Meet With Cuban Dictator Raul Castro in Panama
Posted: 1/13/2015 8:15:00 AM EST

It's been just one short month since the announcement of "normalization" between the United States and Cuba. Although a trip directly to Cuba isn't first on the list, President Obama will reportedly meet directly with Dictator Raul Castro during an April trip to Panama. 

This announcement comes shortly after the State Department confirmed 53 Cuba dissidents were finally released by the communist regime after weeks of being unable to confirm where they were located. As Fox News Latino reports, the status of those dissidents is still very unclear and serious questions remain about whether the Castro brothers have really changed.

The release of 53 political prisoners continues to be shrouded in secrecy even after the Obama administration confirmed they had all been set free.

Neither the U.S. or Cuban governments have released names of the political prisoners nor have they disclosed their whereabouts after their release. The Cuban government said it released the prisoners as part of last month's historic deal between the United States and Cuba.

"We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban Government followed through on this commitment. Our Interests Section in Havana was able to verify these releases,” said a senior Obama official. “These political prisoners were individuals who had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.

Most of the released dissidents belong to the Patriotic Union of Cuba, an anti-government group based in far eastern Cuba. The group’s spokesman told Fox News Latino that even though the political prisoners were sprung, the move is purely “cosmetic.”

Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio have vowed to stop Obama's normalization until further concessions from the Cuban regime are made. President Obama has been criticized on both sides of the aisle for normalizing relations with Cuba without preconditions.

Matt Vespa - AWFUL: One Dead, Over 60 People Hospitalized After Smoke Fills L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station
Posted: 1/12/2015 8:23:00 PM EST

The commute home turned into a nightmare for some travelling on Washington D.C’s Metrorail system this afternoon. One person is dead and at least 60 others were sent to local hospitals after smoke filled the L’Enfant Plaza metro station around 3:30pm. The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation (via FOXDC):

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles says one person has died after the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station was evacuated due to heavy smoke in the station.

The station was temporarily closed for over four hours and Metro says the source of the smoke has not been determined.

Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel says the smoke was first reported on the upper level of L'Enfant Plaza at around 3:20 p.m. Monday. Tunnel fans were used to ventilate the area.

Metro Transit Police, fire department personnel and a Mass Casualty Unit were at the scene treating people for smoke inhalation and oxygen tanks were used to treat patients at a triage center set up outside nearby the station.

The woman who was killed as a result of Monday's incident was on a disabled six-car Yellow line train headed to Virginia.

Two other people were taken to the hospital in critical condition.

D.C. Fire and EMS says over 200 people were evaluated and 84 patients were transported to area hospitals with various injuries. One firefighter was also taken to the hospital with serious, but non-life threatening injuries.

The cause of the smoke is not known, though an "electrical malfunction" is being listed as the unofficial reason. The smoke has since cleared the station thanks to Metro workers activating the tunnel fans.

Nevertheless, for those stuck on metro cars outside the station, the event was absolutely terrifying, as they remained trapped in the cars that were rapidly filling with smoke (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:

Jonathan Rogers was aboard the Yellow Line train when it came to an abrupt halt as it headed to the Pentagon Station.

“You could see smoke coming through the doors,” he said. “It started to get scary pretty quick.”

He said the train operator got on the loudspeaker and urged people to remain calm. He said the plan was to back up the train to the platform of the L’Enfant station.

“We’re going to move the train backwards,” Rogers recalled the driver saying.

But after more time, it became apparent that strategy wasn’t going to work.

He said passengers remained relatively calm, but as the smoke grew thicker, some began to panic.

“People started praying,” he said. “Smoke was coming in pretty steadily. Some people were fine and some people were just hurting pretty quickly.”

He said a man standing next to him, started having breathing problems and sank to the floor.

Saleh Damiger and Sirwan Kajjo said they thought they were “going to die” when they Yellow Line train they were on Monday afternoon filled with smoke.

Damiger, 43, and Kajjo, 28, both Voice of America employees, got on a Yellow Line train headed toward the Pentagon about 3 p.m. They said the six-car train had gone about 200 feet when it stopped. The train operator said “there’s a problem, nobody move”. The men said the car quickly began to fill will smoke.

“The train stopped and all of a sudden it filled with smoke. … There was no fire. Lots of smoke only. … People were choking. People were yelling, Damiger said. “It was a lot of smoke. We couldn’t see each other. … One woman, she started to pray. .. We felt like we were almost going to die.”

Metro employees quickly got onto the train and told passengers to get low to the ground to avoid the smoke.

“They told us to get down, get down in the floor, stay low … Of course it was dark too,” Kajjo said. “The lights were gone. We couldn’t see.”

The men said they saw at least two people who appeared to be unconscious. They said they waited about an hour before firefighters arrived and began escorting them off the train and led them out of the tunnel.

They described the experienced as “harrowing”.

Daniel Doherty - Wounded French Supermarket Owner: I'm Moving My Family to Israel
Posted: 1/12/2015 7:00:00 PM EST

After the deadly and traumatizing terrorist attack that left four French Jews dead in Paris last week, Patrice Walid, the owner of the grocery store where the atrocity took place, has ultimately decided he is leaving France for good:

The announcement comes on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's open urgings to get French Jews to leave their native land for the Jewish State. Incidentally, in case there is any lingering doubt that the attack on the kosher grocery store was motivated by anti-Semitism, the store owner’s version of the attack (as communicated to and recounted by his brother) proves conclusively that it was. The Times of Israel reports:

Yoel Walid recalled the initial moments of the Friday-afternoon attack and claimed that Coulibaly [the gunman] had a distinctly anti-Semitic agenda in targeting the store.

“[My brother] was supervising his staff when, at around 1:30 p.m., the terrorist abruptly burst into the shop. One of his employees was standing at the entrance and he was immediately shot and killed,” said Yoel.

“[Patrice] confronted him and the man responded: ‘You are a Jew, you will die! Everyone here will die.’ My brother then said, ‘There are children here.’ But the terrorist didn’t care, he began shooting,” continued Yoel.

“[Patrice] was shot, but he managed to escape and alert the police,” he added.

Of course, extremists who perpetrate acts of terrorism do not care if children are killed as they carry out their bloodlust. In this instance, the gunman's only concern was killing Jews, irrespective of their age. Fortunately, however, more innocents were not gunned down in cold blood -- thanks in large part to the professionalism of French first-responders, the courage and quick-thinking of victims like Patrice Walid who went for help, and the efforts of Good Samaritans like this man who led hostages out of harm's way.