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Scandals? What Scandals? This Week Is Historical for Another Reason
Months or years from now, this past week may be remembered less for developments in a spate of White House scandals than as a turning point in the “war on terror.” It is rare to see the commander in chief recalibrate one policy and reconsider another.
President Obama may have made history this week:
- He suggested that the threat of terrorism has fallen to levels unseen since before Sept. 11, 2001. Al-Qaida and its 9/11 essence is “on the path to defeat,” Obama said. The main dangers now are weakened al-Qaida affiliates, threats to U.S. interests abroad, and homegrown terrorists.
- He defended the use of drones but pledged to narrow their use. They will only be deployed against targets that present a “continuing, imminent threat,” he said. Avoiding civilian deaths will be a “near-certainty.”
- He claimed to be “troubled” that probes of national security leaks might “chill” investigative journalism. Obama ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to review Justice Department guidelines for leak investigations.
While self-inflicted controversies over the IRS, Benghazi, and newsroom snooping may hound Obama for months, this week might be remembered for more.
OBAMA ADDRESSES MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULTS. The president delivered a commencement address to 1,047 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy today, saying the nation depends on them to stem the rising tide of sexual assaults in the military, The New York Times reported. “Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong,” Obama said, adding, “We need your honor, that inner compass that guides you. Even more than physical courage, we need your moral courage — the strength to do what’s right, even when it’s unpopular.” The president urged the graduates to remember that “honor, like character, is what you do when nobody's looking.” Read more
RUSSIA: ASSAD GOVERNMENT WILL TAKE PART IN PEACE TALKS. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced today that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to participate in U.S.- and Russia-led negotiations to end the ongoing Syrian civil war. The talks, to be held next month in Geneva, aim to establish parameters for a transitional government. While Assad’s government has not issued a statement on the talks, a Syrian legislator indicated that the government will participate. The Syrian National Coalition, the leading opposition group, is currently weighing whether to participate and emphasizes the importance of Assad’s ouster in any negotiated settlement. Russia has not committed to Assad’s departure, and Assad has said he will serve out his current term, which ends next year. Read more
REPORT: HOLDER APPROVED SEARCH WARRANT ON FOX NEWS REPORTER. Attorney General Eric Holder authorized a search warrant for the private e-mail correspondence of Fox News reporter James Rosen, NBC News reports. Holder has said he recused himself from the Department of Justice’s investigation involving the Associated Press. Meanwhile, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes addressed the DOJ’s actions with respect to Rosen in a memo to employees on Thursday. “The administration’s attempt to intimidate Fox News and its employees will not succeed and their excuses will stand neither the test of law, the test of decency, nor the test of time,” he wrote. Read more
- Obama met privately with national security journalists after his address on Thursday. Read more
THE CABAL THAT QUIETLY TOOK OVER THE HOUSE. For 40 years, the Republican Study Committee has prized ideological purity over partisan loyalty. Members consider themselves conservatives first and Republicans second. They did not come to Washington to play for the Republican team; they came to fight for conservative principles. If that means voting against party interests, so be it. For decades, the committee’s membership rolls were thin. But as National Journal’s Tim Alberta reports, for the first time in history, the committee known as the chamber’s “conservative conscience” is a majority of the House majority. Read more
IRS SCANDAL MAY HAVE HELPED IMMIGRATION REFORM. The controversy over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups for additional scrutiny may have improved the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform by providing a distraction, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan write. Meanwhile, The Post’s Ezra Klein argues that, while scandals often lead to reform, they may not this time. Read more
- The IRS is closed today, the first of five scheduled furlough dates resulting from sequestration. The agency also will close on June 14, July 5, July 22, and Aug. 30. Read more
POLL: ECONOMY STILL BAD, BUT IMPROVING. A new CNN/ORC International poll shows that two-thirds of respondents rated the nation’s economic state as poor, but that this figure is down from 74 percent in December. Twenty-nine percent of respondents rated economic conditions as “very poor,” the lowest percentage in more than a year. “Any positive changes in the economy appear to have only helped college graduates, while the rest of the country is still struggling,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. The number of college graduates who say the economy is performing well increased to 42 percent from 34 percent, though there was no significant change among those without a college degree, he said. Read more
MARKEY’S CAMP RESPONDS TO ‘POND SCUM’ COMMENT. Rep. Ed Markey hit back at Gabriel Gomez today after Gomez called Markey “pond scum”, Talking Points Memo reports. Gomez was responding to a web video which includes a picture of Gomez along with one of Osama bin Laden. Markey’s spokesperson, Andrew Zucker, called Gomez’s comment “a new low.” Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino endorsed Markey, WCVB, a local Boston TV station, reported. Markey is also receiving criticism for being absent from Capitol Hill; the Boston Globe reported that the lawmaker hasn’t voted since May 9. Read more
OBAMA TO TOUR OKLAHOMA, NEW JERSEY. On Sunday, the president will tour portions of Oklahoma ravaged by a massive tornado earlier this week, meeting with families and first responders, ABC News reports. On Tuesday, Obama will tour New Jersey’s coastline, which was badly damaged by superstorm Sandy last year, with Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Christie’s praise for the Democratic president at the time of the storm made waves during the 2012 election. Read more
- During a walk down the boardwalk on the Today show, Christie addressed the coming visit, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Read more
NOMINATE YOUR PICK: 25 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN UNDER 35. A generation of change has empowered women and transformed Washington in the process. Who are the young women emerging today as leaders and decision makers in the administration, Congress, the media, nonprofits, the private sector, and on K Street? National Journal wants want to hear who you think should make the list! Tell us her story.
ROMANCE-NOVEL AUTHOR POINTS TO BACHMANN AS INSPIRATION. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is the inspiration behind Fires of Siberia, an e-book set to be released next month, Politico reports. The novel is about a presidential candidate who “must confront her deepest self and choose between civilization and a wild, primitive ecstasy.” The author, Tréy Sager, said the main character had some physical resemblance to Bachmann, whom he admires. “I do feel that one of the reasons that she drives people crazy is because she’s a woman in power and I think that it’s a phenomenon in our culture that makes people react strongly. Couple that with her attractiveness and sex appeal, and I thought, ‘OK, well maybe a romance novel is a good place to look into some of these cultural feelings.’ ” Read more
“Stop going online and texting and stuff, man! I ain’t worried about you, that’s your business, just stay off line.… Stay off Instagram, man!”—Lori Coad, a homeless woman, yelling at former Rep. Anthony Weiner at a Harlem metro station. (New York Post)
- Weiner recently revamped his mayoral campaign’s home page, adding a photo of New York. It had been showing an image of Pittsburgh. Read more
A GRIM MILESTONE FOR AMERICA. This year, the United States is expected to surpass 40,000 suicide deaths, the highest annual total ever recorded, Newsweek reports. The shootings, stabbings, poisonings, drownings, strangulations, and deaths by unspecified means (which the magazine describes as “a catch-all column for the most inventive forms of self-destruction—the swan dives into lava, the encounters with farm equipment … ”) are more than what could be expected based on population growth. They now outpace the rate of driving deaths. And researchers are groping to explain the cause, with joblessness and similar reasons failing to provide a full answer. As author Tony Dokoupil observes, “the takeaway is darkly profound: We’ve become our own greatest danger.” Read more
PLAY OF THE DAY
COMEDIANS GIDDY OVER OBAMA’S PROM PICS. When Time published a few photos of President Obama at age 17 at his prom in Hawaii, wearing a white jacket and a lei around his neck, the late-night television hosts were all over it. On NBC, The Tonight Show's Jay Leno quipped that Obama used to be able to get phone numbers without the aid of the Justice Department. ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel commented on Obama’s love life in high school, saying, “Girls in Kenya are very good-looking.” Watch it here
HOW TO SURVIVE A MARATHON MARKUP. Rule One: Empty your bladder. Rule Two: Charge your phone. Veteran National Journal reporter Fawn Johnson offers lessons in survival for anyone covering, lobbying, or staffing lawmakers who mark up an 800-plus-page bill, as members of the Judiciary Committee did this week when passing immigration reform. Read more
TODAY’S TOP VIDEO
INSIDE AN OKLAHOMA SCHOOL DURING THE TORNADO. As ABC News reports, a fifth-grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma captured the horrific moments as she huddled with her students in the dark during Monday’s massive tornado, assuring them that “it’s almost over.” The tornado killed 24 people, 10 of them children. Watch the video.