Kara Jones - August Recess Fast Approaching, Congress Down to the Wire on Immigration
Posted: 7/27/2014 4:45:00 PM EST

Incoming House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) dodged questions Sunday when asked if House Republicans would delay Congress’ five-week vacation in order to address the continual crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Indecision over how to approach the steady influx of migrant children has lawmakers playing the finger-pointing game in Washington. The House, Senate, and White House will need to act quickly and work together if they hope reach a deal by the end of the week.

Scalise stressed the urgency of the situation while speaking with FNC’s Chris Wallace this morning. He declared that Congress is ready to tackle the issue but President Obama is more interested in securing funds for the Democratic party than securing the border:

Well, it’s ironic. We’re here in Congress right now and the president doesn’t want to work with us while we’re in town, he wants to wait until people are gone. The president has a lot of time on his schedule to secure fundraisers, but he has no time to secure the border. He has not taken his job seriously in this regard. The House is willing to lead. The House has laid out what we’ll do to solve this problem. The president just wants to sit back and play politics. He’s flying around the country doing fundraisers, he doesn’t have time to sit down and work with Congress.

He could solve this problem today. He has been AWOL, he doesn’t want to solve this problem, but we do.

We’re going to stay, we’re going to work, and we’re going to get our job done. I’d like to see the Senate take something up and do their job. I’d like to see the president do his job. But we’re not going to wait for that.

Here’s a little secret about members of Congress: they are people just like us and they like to go on vacation just like us. There is no easy solution to the complex problem at the border. We will see what happens in September.

Kevin Glass - Bipartisanship: Democrats and Republicans Agree Obama Doesn't "Get It"
Posted: 7/27/2014 4:02:00 PM EST
One of the biggest structural problems of the Obama Administration is that the White House has been an ineffective participant in negotiations with Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans have complained about the White House's ineffectual manner in Capitol Hill dealings, and a new round of complaints highlight that the Obama Administration still hasn't learned from its mistakes.

As the Associated Press reports:

President Barack Obama's request for billions of dollars to deal with migrant children streaming across the border set off Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers in both parties complained that the White House — six years in — still doesn't get it when it comes to working with Congress.

Obama is the "only person in America who can sign something into law and help bring members of his party on board for an outcome on a given piece of legislation that requires bipartisan support," McConnell said in an interview. "So it's a mystery, but that's the way they operate."

Several Democratic lawmakers echoed McConnell but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the president of their party. They said they were baffled by the White House's tactics in handling the border request. Several Democrats expressed frustration that the president and administration officials weren't more involved in legislative fights.

The Obama Administration at this point is either stubbornly ineffectual or completely incompetent. The complaints in this area have been the same throughout the entire Obama era, and they haven't gotten any better. President Obama's tactics seem to come down to making a wide-sweeping declaration and expecting it to just "get done," without actually working with Congress. This frustrates both Democrats and Republicans, and Obama refuses to actually try to remedy themselves in this area.

Matt Vespa - Senator Walsh's Plagiarism Scandal, PTSD References Angers Veterans
Posted: 7/27/2014 3:30:00 PM EST

Well, “papergate” continues to plague Democratic Montana Sen. John Walsh, who didn’t attribute roughly a quarter of his paper for his Master of Strategic Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

After allegations of plagiarism broke, the Montana Senator said he had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder while writing the paper, but didn’t want to blame his lapse in judgment on PTSD, according to the Associated Press:

Walsh told The Associated Press when he wrote the thesis, he had PTSD from his service in Iraq, was on medication and was dealing with the stress of a fellow veteran's recent suicide.

"I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor," the senator said. "My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment."

Nevertheless, the fact that PTSD was even brought up, coupled with the plagiarism allegations, has angered veterans (Bozeman Daily Chronicle):

Retired Montana National Guard Sgt. Maj. Timothy Pentecost fought in Vietnam and Iraq, and according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, is 100 percent disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder. He also worked with Walsh.

“It's totally bogus,” an outraged Pentecost told the Chronicle. “I can't believe he's using the PTSD as a reason for what he has done in plagiarizing the paper, and that weak response he had was terrible.”

Brian Rudolph, 31, an Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran from Great Falls, said he still has not heard Walsh apologize.

“I don't know if it's going to do a whole lot; I don't know how much people overall take that into consideration,” said Rudolph. “It's not that hard to cite something. It's quite a bit of his paper really. But I think there's a lot of people out there who have never had to write a paper so they might not understand the whole deal about it.”

The Chronicle added that Rudolph, who is undecided on the Montana Senate Race, said that the PTSD reference was “an irrelevant play for the public's sympathy.”

At the same time, members of the press, specifically the Washington Post, are aghast over the fact that a fourteen-page paper is sufficient for a Master’s Degree.

Regardless, plagiarism torpedoed then-Senator Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential bid; it very well could do the same for Mr. Walsh, who’s already facing less than hopeful prospects of surviving come Election Day.

Matt Vespa - Gov. Perry Could Give National Guard Arrest Powers
Posted: 7/27/2014 2:00:00 PM EST

As the border crisis drags on, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican, has decided to take matters into his own hands; he’s ordered 1,000 National Guard soldiers to head towards the border. It will cost $12 million a month.

Additionally, these units could be given arrest powers if they come across any immigrants trying to illegally enter the United States (via NYT):

In 2006, President George W. Bush sent 6,000 troops to the four border states where they repaired and built fences and roads, conducted surveillance and took over administrative and logistical duties. In 2010, Mr. Obama deployed 1,200 troops to bolster border security. Troops in those deployments did not have arrest and apprehension powers.

The ones due at the border next month will work side by side not with federal Border Patrol agents but with state police officers of the Department of Public Safety. They will not be able to enforce federal immigration laws but may be able to enforce state law. A 19th-century federal law [Posse Comitatus] that makes it a crime for military personnel to perform civilian law enforcement activities does not apply to state-duty troops.

It remains unclear if Mr. Perry will grant the troops the authority to make apprehensions. General Nichols suggested this week that Guard troops could do so if the governor requested it but that they had no plans to.

Mr. Perry has previously favored such powers. In a letter to President Obama last month, he asked him to deploy 1,000 troops under presidential authority and to give those troops “arrest powers to support Border Patrol operations.”

I’m sure Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration will have a problem with this…after their next fundraiser.

Daniel Doherty - Poll: Just 18% Claim to be "Better Off" Under Obamacare
Posted: 7/27/2014 9:00:00 AM EST

We wrote this poll up several days ago. But perhaps it merits some additional attention on a slowish news weekend.

For starters, there can be no doubt that some Americans have benefitted enormously from the Affordable Care Act. As Guy previously noted, the uninsured who’ve finally obtained coverage (or qualified for subsidies or suffered from preexisting conditions), are only some of the law’s intended beneficiaries. On the other hand, when determining the overall success of any government overhaul, one must always consider its functionality, its costs, and, indeed, whether or not it even helps people.

And on that last score, most Americans aren't especially impressed. Take, for example, a new CNN poll, which also undermines claims advanced by some that "people love" Obamacare.

Check out the left-hand column below:

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Christine Rousselle - Congress Passes Bill Allowing Unlocking Cell Phones
Posted: 7/26/2014 6:00:00 PM EST

A bill to permit the practice of "unlocking" a cell phone--meaning a consumer could use the same phone on different carriers--was passed by the House of Representatives yesterday and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama. The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act passed with wide bipartisan support and was sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) in the House and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate.

Unlocking a phone without the wireless carrier's permission was legal in the U.S. until a 2012 decision by the U.S. Copyright Office. That decision resulted in a grassroots campaign to fight for the legality of unlocking a phone. A petition on the website We The People garnered over 114,000 signatures in support.

The White House released a statement praising Congress for passing the bill, saying that it will help to restore "basic consumer freedom."

I applaud Members of Congress for passing the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act. Last year, in response to a “We the People” petition from consumers across our country, my Administration called for allowing Americans to use their phones or mobile devices on any network they choose. We laid out steps the FCC, industry, and Congress should take to ensure copyright law does not undermine wireless competition, and worked with wireless carriers to reach a voluntary agreement that helps restore this basic consumer freedom. The bill Congress passed today is another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget. I commend Chairmen Leahy and Goodlatte, and Ranking Members Grassley and Conyers for their leadership on this important consumer issue and look forward to signing this bill into law.

Kudos to Congress for finally getting this one right. More consumer choices is always a good thing, and carriers have no right to refuse to unlock phones even after a contract has ended.

Kara Jones - Paul Ryan Advocates for Criminal Justice Reform in Anti-Poverty Proposal
Posted: 7/26/2014 3:00:00 PM EST

Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released his 73-page “discussion draft” outlining specific approaches to reshape how the federal government combats poverty. As Sarah reported, the proposal aims to reform the way government provides aid by consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs into one pilot program. States that choose to opt-in would receive streamlined funding for housing assistance, food stamps, child care, etc. to distribute according to need. This budget-neutral “Opportunity Grant” would theoretically give states more control while exchanging “more flexibility for more accountability”.

Though most discussion has circled around the Opportunity Grant, Ryan’s plan also includes ideas such revising prison sentencing guidelines for non-violent offenders. During his speech at the American Enterprise Institute Thursday, Ryan threw his support behind Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Utah) Public Safety Enhancement Act, saying:

“Did you know half of our ex-cons are reincarcerated within three years of release? But we know that there are programs that work, that get people out of a life of crime. That’s why Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Bobby Scott have introduced the Public Safety Enhancement Act. We’d let low risk, non-violent offenders exchange time in prison for time in pre-release custody as long as they complete a program with a proven track record. Here’s the point: non-violent, low risk offenders – don’t lock them up and throw away the key. Get them in counseling, get them in training, help them rejoin and contribute to our society.”

Ryan's proposal observes the tremendous strain that housing inmates puts on the economy:

About 2.2 million people are currently behind bars—a more than 340 percent increase since 1980. As a result, we spend about $80 billion on corrections at all levels of government—an inflation-adjusted increase of over 350 percent in that same period. This growing cost burden on society is a cause for concern.

In order to expand opportunity in America, Ryan emphasizes that once non-violent offenders have "paid their debt" to society, they should be able to move on. He explains that all too often, the consequence of incarceration extends even after release from prison. The proposal highlights three possible reforms to remedy this problem:

— Grant judges more flexibility within mandatory-minimum guidelines when sentencing non-violent drug offenders.

— Implement a risk- and needs-assessment system in federal prisons while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programming to reduce recidivism. Allow non-violent and low-risk inmates to use enrollment to earn time off their prison stay towards prerelease custody.

— Partner with reforms at the state and local level.

For a nation that holds a higher percentage of its population in prison than any other country in the world, it is high time that Congress seriously addresses this issue. To fight poverty, we cannot ignore the impact our current prison system has on the chance of violators’ success upon release. Ryan’s discussion draft will hopefully prompt conversation amongst the American people and bring the incarceration rate to the forefront of Congress’ attention.

Cortney O'Brien - Obama Parties With 'Scandal' Cast as Middle East Burns
Posted: 7/26/2014 12:00:00 PM EST

In his two presidential terms combined, President George W. Bush hosted a total of 318 fundraisers. Our current president, however, has already surpassed that number just two years into his second term. Most frustratingly, they often seem to come when we most need leadership from the commander-in-chief.

The turmoil between Israel and Hamas rages on and the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight which took almost 300 lives has left nations in mourning. Yet, in the midst of these tragedies, Obama decided to attend another fundraiser. Five, actually:

Obama on Tuesday was starting a three-day West Coast trip, scheduled to attend at least five fundraising events in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles less than four months ahead of midterm elections that could change Washington's balance of power.

A few highlights of his most recent money-raising trip include an overpriced dinner:

The event is at the Hunts Point home of former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and his wife, Jan, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Seattle Times.

The price tag for the event is $25,000 per person, with proceeds going to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group that accepts unlimited donations.

And, of course, a bit of schmoozing with Hollywood, such as Obama’s fundraising trip at the Beverly Hills home of Shonda Rhimes, the producer of the ABC series "Scandal." After he “briefly” touched on the unfolding crisis in the Middle East, the party went on:

The international concerns didn’t dampen donor enthusiasm, with about 450 people attending at ticket levels ranging from $1,000 per person up to $32,400 per person, the latter including dinner with the president, according to a DNC official. Millions were expected to be raised from Obama’s series of fundraising events over the last few days, as donors increasingly focus on the possibility that the Democrats may lose control of the Senate in November.

Hey, he at least took one stop off his trip:

Obama did abandon one idea for the trip, however. The White House had been in touch with late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel about a presidential appearance on his show during the stop in Los Angeles.

"We elected not to do it this time, but hope we can arrange to do it in the near future," Earnest said.

Probably when he wants to escape the next crisis.

It's a known fact that the president's fundraising trips are not as well timed as his jokes. Another case in point: The day after the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, Obama went to a fundraiser in Las Vegas.

Obama may not quite hit Clinton’s number, (the 42nd president held a whopping 638 fundraisers), but at this rate he’ll sure come close.

Can someone tell him we don’t hire the president to be an incessant fundraiser?

Sarah Jean Seman - GOP Enthusiasm Foreshadows Midterm Advantage
Posted: 7/26/2014 11:30:00 AM EST

If enthusiasm is any indicator of success, the Republican Party is in for a riveting season of midterm elections. GOP voters are more confident and exuberant about heading to the polls this year than their Democrat counterparts, a recent Pew Research Center report found.

Today, the Republicans lead on a number of key engagement indicators, though in some cases by smaller margins than four years ago. Currently, 45% of registered voters who plan to support the Republican in their district say they are more enthusiastic about voting than in prior congressional elections; that compares with 37% of those who plan to vote for the Democratic candidate. The GOP had a 13-point enthusiasm advantage at this point in the midterm campaign four years ago (55% to 42%) and the Democrats held a 17-point advantage eight years ago (47% to 30%).

However, as many voters who support the Republican in their district say they are “absolutely certain” to vote this fall as said this in June 2010. Three-quarters of Republican voters (76%) say they are absolutely certain to vote, compared with 67% of Democratic voters. Four years ago, 77% of Republican voters and 64% of Democratic voters said they were absolutely certain to vote in the fall.

This report came out several months after a Gallup poll showed Democrats are the least eager to vote out of all the political parties. Gallup also demonstrated the correlation between party energy and overall advantage.

General elections are not until November. So, while it may be too early to tell, this analysis of the voter landscape is looking positive for the Republican party.

Leah Barkoukis - Must-See Video: Joan Rivers Defends Israel in Epic Rant
Posted: 7/26/2014 9:00:00 AM EST

It’s been infuriating to watch Hollywood elites ignorantly blast out their support for Gaza across social media platforms since the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians escalated this month. Thus, it’s refreshing to see one particularly outspoken celeb passionately stand up for Israel’s right to self-defense.

“If New Jersey were firing rockets into New York, we would wipe ’em out,” she tells the cameraman.

Rivers continues, “I don’t want to hear anymore, ‘Oh, we’ll do a partial truce.’ The Palestinians… you cannot throw rockets, and not expect people to defend themselves.”

Asked about civilian casualties among Palestinians, Rivers fires back, “Then don’t put your goddamn things in private homes! I’m sorry, don’t you dare put weapons stashes in private homes!”

When the cameraman asks Rivers where civilians should go, she replies, “I don’t care! They started it. You’re all insane! They started it!”

Rivers slams media coverage of the conflict, declaring, “The BBC should be ashamed of themselves. And CNN should be ashamed of themselves. And everybody… stop it already.”

When the paparazzo mentions Selena Gomez’s support for Gaza, Rivers sarcastically says, “Oh, Selena Gomez! Oh, yeah, that college grad. Oh, well, if Selena said that… let’s see if she can spell ‘Palestinians.’”

Thank you, Joan Rivers for not being afraid to tell it like it is. If you’re interested in seeing a list of other celebs that have tweeted in support of Israel, check out Twitchy’s list here, although none are quite as colorful as Rivers’ epic rant.