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Politics

Obama Won't Issue Ultimatums on Immigration

January 29, 2013

TOP FIVE

OBAMA WON’T ISSUE ULTIMATUMS ON IMMIGRATION. President Obama will make no ultimatums when he heads to Las Vegas to unveil his immigration proposal today, other than to insist that any legislation be comprehensive, administration officials said. Obama also wants to establish a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, though he won’t define how that should occur. The speech will mark the beginning of Obama’s public campaign to revamp the country’s immigration system, and administration officials say they have the best chance in a decade or longer to make real changes. Yet despite optimism on all sides, any small disagreement over provisions could stunt the legislative momentum. Read more 

HOW OBAMA MANAGES IMMIGRATION WILL MATTER. One of the things to look for in the immigration debate is whether Obama has the good sense to lead from behind and not claim this plan as his own crusade, writes National Journal's Matthew Cooper. That is the surest way to antagonize Congress, especially congressional Republicans, just as it is children and bosses. If it’s seen as Obama's plan, they’ll reflexively oppose it. If Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is behind the plan, even if it bears little difference from Obama’s, Republicans—who want Hispanics' love even more than a tax cut—will embrace it. Read more

 

SPECIAL ELECTION FOR KERRY’S SEAT SET FOR JUNE. The Massachusetts secretary of state scheduled the special election to replace Democratic Sen. John Kerry for June 25, with a primary on April 30, The Boston Globe reported. So far, Democratic Rep. Ed Markey is the only candidate officially in the running for Kerry’s seat, which the senator is expected to resign today following confirmation to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch is expected to announce this week whether he intends to throw his hat in the ring. Fresh off his November defeat, Republican Sen. Scott Brown has not yet announced whether he will run. Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday said he will announce Kerry’s interim replacement on Wednesday. Read more

DON'T EXPECT BIDEN OR HILLARY IN 2016. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden won’t be running for president in 2016—and National Journal's Jill Lawrence is willing to bet on it. "I’m going to owe a lot of people dinner if I’m wrong," she writes. "Not to spoil anybody’s fun, but all of this speculation will probably lead nowhere." The most obvious factor arguing against runs by these Democratic power players is their age. Biden would turn 74 right after Election Day 2016, and Clinton would turn 69 just before it. Both of them may have other things they want to do with their lives before it’s too late. Clinton and her husband are reportedly hunting for a vacation home in the Hamptons, suggesting she has a slower pace in mind. Read more

EGYPTIANS CONTINUE PROTESTS DESPITE STATE OF EMERGENCY. Despite Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi declaring a state of emergency in three cities experiencing widespread unrest, large-scale protests continued Monday for a fifth straight day, The New York Times reports. In Port Said, one of the three cities, protesters said they no longer recognized Morsi as their leader, and ignored the 9 p.m. curfew the president imposed on Sunday. Morsi made the move after roughly 50 protesters died during clashes with police over the weekend. New protests also sprung up in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, on Monday in response to Morsi’s decrees. Read more 

CONGRESS

SENATE APPROVES HURRICANE SANDY AID. The Senate voted 62-36 to approve $50.5 billion in aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy on Monday, sending the legislation to the president’s desk for a signature, Politico reported. Democrats from New York and New Jersey embraced a bill passed by the House, rather than prolong an already protracted process that began shortly after the superstorm pounded Northeast states three months ago. Read more

NEW BIPARTISAN H-1B VISA PLAN COMING TODAY. A bipartisan group of senators plans to unveil a bill on Tuesday morning that would open the door to more highly skilled immigrants, according to a Senate GOP aide. The new bill, the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, comes just one day after another bipartisan group of senators announced a framework for comprehensive immigration reform and just hours before President Obama makes a major speech on the issue. The bill — to be introduced by Sens. Christopher Coons, D-Del., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. — would nearly double the number of visas available to highly skilled foreign workers, known as H-1B visas, and adjust the number of such visas available based on economic demand. It would also implement changes to student visas and green cards. Read more

WHAT’S IN THE NEW IMMIGRATION REFORM PLAN? In addition to creating a path to citizenship, the immigration proposal announced by eight bipartisan senators on Monday would increase unmanned surveillance drones on the border, require immigrants to register with the government, and move undocumented immigrants to the back of the green-card line, as National Journal’s Niraj Chokshi reports. Three other pillars of the reform were described more broadly, including making citizenship easier for immigrants who receive advanced degrees in the United States in science, technology, engineering, or math. The plan would also create a “tough” system to verify the immigration status of potential employees and make it easier for employers to hire immigrants for low-skilled jobs that they can’t fill with Americans. Read more

HOUSE GOP MUTED IN RESPONSE TO IMMIGRATION PROPOSAL. Some leading House Republicans are taking a wait-and-see approach on the Senate’s bipartisan immigration proposal, The Hill reports, neither endorsing nor condemning the plan. For instance, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a carefully worded statement that offering a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants would raise “a lot of questions about how this would work,” but said his committee will “explore ways” to fix the immigration system. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the chairman of the subcommittee in charge of immigration was similarly balanced. “Proposals which balance the humanity which defines us as a people with respect for the rule of law which defines us as a republic are welcome,” he said in a statement. Read more

HOUSE PANEL TO QUESTION NFL PLAYERS ON HORMONE USE. The House Oversight Committee will be calling NFL players to a hearing on the use of human growth hormone in football, The Hill reported. Chair Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., “told the executive director of the NFL’s union on Monday that their panel would be reaching out to the league’s players to see if they think human growth hormone (HGH) use is a problem,” the paper reported. The NFL and its union had pledged to institute an HGH testing program a year-and-a-half ago, but negotiations have stalled and Congress is aiming to seize control of the process. Read more

ENERGY DRINK MAKERS LOOK TO K STREET. The FDA is looking into the safety of energy drinks and the drink makers are looking to lobbyists, The Washington Post reports. According to recently released documents, Monster Energy has paid more than $100,000 to law firm Covington & Burling, while Red Bull North America has paid Podesta + Partners about $20,000 since late November. The company also retained lobbyists at law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz to “advise, consult and advocate regarding beverage regulation,” but have yet to make any payments. Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked the FDA to look into tighter regulation of caffeine in energy drinks. Read more 

WHITE HOUSE

OBAMA MEETS WITH GUN-CONTROL LEADERS. Obama met on Monday with law enforcement leaders from Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis., and Newtown, Conn., all sites of major shootings in 2012. Joining them were representatives of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Major County Sheriffs Association. Obama is seeking their help in pressuring Congress to pass stricter gun controls, The Washington Post reports. “Many of them also recognize that it’s not only the high profile mass shootings that are of concern here,” the president said. “It’s also what happens on a day in, day out basis in places like Chicago or Philadelphia, where young people are victims of gun violence every single day.” Read more

ADMINISTRATION TO ARGUE FOR RECESS APPOINTMENTS. Obama will appeal last Friday's ruling that three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were invalid, Reuters reports. The three-judge ruling overturned 190 years of precedent that a president can fill vacant jobs when the Senate is not meeting. "Federal appeals courts in both Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia, are likely to hear the issue of recess appointments in March, possibly during the same week," according to Reuters. Read more

NFL PLAYERS RESPOND TO OBAMA'S COMMENTS ON FOOTBALL. A number of National Football League athletes agree with President Obama's sentiments concerning the game. The president said in a Sunday interview in The New Republic, "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football." Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed agreed, the Associated Press reports. "I am not forcing football on my son. If he wants to play it ... I can't make decisions for him. All I can do is say, 'Son, I played it so you don't have to.'" The NFL is currently facing lawsuits from thousands of former players who say the league withheld information about the effects of concussions. Read more 

NATIONAL SECURITY

ADMINISTRATION CLOSES OFFICE ASSIGNED TO SHUTTER GUANTANAMO. Daniel Fried, the State Department’s special envoy assigned to closing the prison in Guantánamo Bay, has been reassigned, according to an internal personnel announcement obtained by The New York Times. Fried will not be replaced by anyone and his office will be shuttered; his remaining responsibilities will be reassigned to the department’s legal adviser. This appears to signal that the administration does not see closing Guantánamo as a realistic priority for its second term, despite repeated vows to do just that since Obama assumed office in 2009, The Times reports. Read more

U.S. TO SET UP DRONE BASE IN NORTHWEST AFRICA. The U.S. military is planning to set up a drone base in northwest Africa to address the increased presence of al-Qaida-affiliated groups in the region. Incidents like the U.S.-backed conflict between France and Islamist rebels in Mali and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s testimony before Congress last week have raised awareness in the U.S. of the growing number of al-Qaida-affiliated outposts throughout northwest Africa. The New York Times reports that for now, the plan is to only fly unmanned surveillance drones from the base. But officials did not rule out the possibility of drone missile strikes in the future. Read more

IN MALI, FRENCH FORCES PUSH INTO REBEL-CONTROLLED CITIES. French forces continued to push to the heart of rebel Islamist fighters in Mali late Thursday. The New York Times reports that French soldiers have secured the northern city of Gao, which had been under rebel control for months. On Monday, the French also took the city of Timbuktu from rebel control, securing the city’s access roads and airport. The city’s exiled mayor told the Times in a phone interview that he will return to his city on Tuesday. But while France seems close to victory and a scale-down, U.S. officials are warning that this is the merely the first step in a years-long process of France’s involvement in Mali. Read more

RUSSIA’S ADOPTION BAN: THIS TIME, IT’S PERSONAL. When Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill late last year banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S citizens, he drew the ire of many Americans, including lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have adopted children or grandchildren of their own and have taken it upon themselves to fight for families who may never get the same opportunity. “To close the door on them, to slam it shut again on them, is the cruelest thing a government can do,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a mother of two adopted children. Landrieu and others have passed resolutions and written letters to resolve adoption cases in limbo, but their efforts have hit a wall— including a sternly worded response from the Russian government. Read more

BLIND SHEIKH’S CAUSE REGAINS POPULARITY. Calls are increasing to release the man known as “the blind sheikh”—Omar Abdel Rahman—who has been imprisoned in the U.S. since receiving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, The Washington Post reports. Perhaps most prominently, Egypt’s Morsi came to office vowing to push for his release. More recently, the terrorists who took hundreds of employees hostage on Jan. 16 at a natural-gas plant in Algeria listed the sheikh’s release as one of their demands. Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has also released videos calling on Egyptians to kidnap Americans to hold in exchange for a release. Read more

POLITICS

NRSC ANNOUNCES SENIOR STAFF TODAY. The National Republican Senatorial Committee will announce Tuesday it has assembled its senior staff for the 2014 elections, tapping operatives who served in the inner circles of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Ward Baker, a senior Romney advisor who served as the campaign’s liaison with the Republican National Committee last year, will be the new NRSC political director. Brad Dayspring, an aggressive strategist and former top Cantor advisor, will be the group’s new communications director. Read more

POLL: CORBETT VULNERABLE IN PA. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett enters his reelection campaign in a precarious position, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday. A majority of Pennsylvania voters don't think the Republican has earned another term, the poll shows. Fifty-one percent of respondents said Corbett doesn't deserve reelection, while 31 percent said he does and 18 percent are undecided. Just 49 percent of Republicans said Corbett deserves another four years. Read more

HISPANIC GROUP ISSUES GUIDELINES TO GOP. The Hispanic Leadership Network, an advocacy group connected to the GOP, circulated a set of guidelines for lawmakers talking about immigration reform. The memo is intended to prevent Republicans from using insensitive phrases that have alienated Hispanic voters in the past. "Do use 'undocumented immigrant' when referring to those here without documentation," but "Don't use the word 'illegals' or 'aliens,'" the memo says. Read more

SURVIVAL INSTINCT MOVES GOP ON IMMIGRATION. The GOP wants to survive. That, writes National Journal’s Ron Fournier, is one interpretation of the move toward amnesty and broad immigration reform spearheaded by a bipartisan group of senators on Monday. The other is that elections have consequences. Four Republican and four Democratic senators are pushing a path to American citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants who would need to pay fines and taxes, and await government certification of tough border security. These provisions are political cover for what was unthinkable just a few months ago: amnesty. What has changed? President Obama won about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, according to exit polls, while Republican Mitt Romney carried barely more than a quarter. Read more

ENERGY

AUTHORITIES CLEAN UP OIL SPILL ON MISSISSIPPI. Cleanup crews on Monday raced to contain a spill caused when a barge carrying 80,000 gallons of oil crashed into a bridge on the Mississippi River on Sunday, CBS News reports. The spill has been holding up river traffic, with at least 21 vessels delayed, as crews contain the spill with booms before removing it from the river. The oil is unlikely to reach the Gulf of Mexico 340 miles downstream, according to CBS News. Read more

SHALE GAS BURN-OFF VISIBLE FROM SPACE. The burning of excess gas associated with the extraction of shale oil has skyrocketed in the United States and is now visible from space (see the remarkable map here), the Financial Times reports. In the United States, enough energy is burned off to power both Chicago and Washington, and the practice contributes significantly to global-warming-related pollution, according to the FT. In North Dakota, the leader in shale oil production, the practice increased by 50 percent last year. Investors have been pressuring oil companies to curb the practice, and the North Dakota legislature is considering tax incentives for its reduction. Read more

DOE ADMINISTRATOR TOUTS PROMISING ENERGY TECH. Cheryl Martin, deputy director of the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, discussed a handful of promising early-stage energy technologies in an interview with NPR on Monday. ARPA-E, which is modeled on the Defense Department’s DARPA and disburses funding in $2-3 million increments, is pursuing the possibility of extracting fuel from loblolly pine trees and splicing the genes of oil-producing algae and tobacco plants, Martin said. ARPA-E has also invested in efforts to power passenger vehicles with natural gas. Read more

ECONOMY & BUDGET

PAY AT BAILED-OUT FIRMS DRAWS CRITICISM. A government watchdog found that the U.S. Treasury did not do enough to rein in pay at bailed-out companies, The Wall Street Journal reports. The report, from the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, found Treasury failed taxpayers by relying "to a great extent on the companies' proposals and justifications without conducting its own independent analysis," and was not doing enough to curb excessive risk-taking by bailed out companies. Treasury rejected the findings. As The Journal notes, the report showed that “Treasury approved pay packages of $3 million or more for just over half of the 69 top executives at the three firms receiving TARP funds. Sixteen executives received Treasury-approved pay packages of $5 million or more.” Read more

HOW MARY JO WHITE’S HISTORY COULD HINDER HER AT SEC. President Obama’s nominee for chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission seemed to signal a get-tough approach to financial matters, but as The New York Times reports, there are growing questions that White’s 10 years spent as a white-collar defense attorney could curb her effectiveness and create conflicts of interest. White represented a number of Wall Street banks and major companies at Debevoise & Plimpton, including JPMorgan Chase and News Corporation. She defended former Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis in a civil suit over the acquisition of Merrill Lynch. White’s husband, John, is a partner at another leading corporate law firm, and deals with public companies and is involved in accounting issues. Read more

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE, HOME PRICES EXPECTED TO FALL. The Conference Board will release its numbers on consumer confidence later this morning, and January’s numbers are expected to decline further after a December drop, falling to the lowest level in five months, according to MarketWatch. The January figures are expected to come in at 64.3, down from 65.1 in December, “due to higher payroll taxes and fiscal uncertainties,” as the website puts it. At the same time, a closely watched measure of home prices, the S&P/Case-Shiller index, is expected to decline as well, with prices in 20 cities down 0.1 percent from October to November. Still, the index is expected to show gains for the year, supported by declining home inventories. Read more

HEALTH CARE

SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE TACKLES PRIMARY HEALTH CARE 'CRISIS.' Fifty-seven million people in the United States live in areas with a shortage of primary-care providers, according to a report from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. And as more people gain insurance and seek care—and baby-boomer physicians begin to retire—the situation will only grow worse, Sanders said in a release. A quarter of primary-care physicians are nearing retirement, yet only 7 percent of the nation's medical school graduates go into the field. Sanders' Primary Health and Aging Subcommittee will address the topic in a hearing today. Read more

HOW DO WE BUILD A HIGHER-PERFORMING MEDICARE SYSTEM? That's the topic of National Journal's event this morning, in which experts in the field will discuss poor alignment in Medicare’s current incentive programs designed to enhance quality. Recent hearings on Capitol Hill have focused on how Congress might go about reforming Medicare’s quality-improvement programs, including identifying new pay models, providing more timely performance data to physicians, and involving physicians in efforts to measure quality and efficiency. Physicians, health care executives, congressional staff experts, and other key voices will analyze and weigh the policy options available in overhauling the Medicare payment system. Read more

OIL BOOM’S TOLL ON HEALTH CARE. The North Dakota economy may be thriving, but an influx of uninsured workers to the region combined with higher business costs in the inflated markets has hospitals drowning in massive debt, The New York Times reports. For instance, mostly due to unpaid bills, McKenzie County Hospital’s debt has jumped more than 2,000 percent from four years ago, up to $1.2 million, according to the hospital’s chief executive. Three years ago, the hospital averaged roughly 100 emergency-room visits a month, but in 2012 that figure rose to 400, The Times reports. Read more

LAWMAKERS WANT STRICTER RULES ON HYDROCODONE. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., are reaching across the aisle to urge tighter control of the painkiller hydrocodone, The Hill reports. The lawmakers wrote to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to ask that the drug be moved from Schedule III to Schedule II in terms of regulated substances. Their proposal would limit the amount of the drug patients could receive in a hospital, and require written prescriptions rather than those faxed or called in. Read more


(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Obama’s insistence that he skeet shoots “all of the time” at Camp David in an interview in The New Republic wasn’t exactly trash talk, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., wants him to back it up. "If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this?" Blackburn said Monday on CNN. "I think he should invite me to Camp David, and I'll go skeet shooting with him and I bet I'll beat him." Want to reduce the deficit? Make that a pay-per-view event. Read more)


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