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January 30, 2013

Obama expects immigration reform by the end of the year

President Obama told a Spanish language television network that he expects immigration reform to be in place before the end of this year.

Maria Elena Salinas of Univision -- one of two Spanish language anchors to interview Obama at the White House today -- tweeted the bit this afternoon. The entire interview is embargoed until 6:30 p.m.

Univision noted in its promo of the interview that it was during the debate it sponsored last September that Obama declared that the biggest failure of his first term was his failure to achieve the immigration overhaul he had promised in his first campaign.

Salinas said Obama also told her that he believes Congress can tackle immigration and gun control at the same time.

WH says death of girl in Chicago speaks to need for gun control

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the shooting death of a 15-year-old girl in Chicago a "terrible tragedy" and that the first family's "thoughts and prayers are with the family."

The girl, Hadiya Pendleton, who was in a band that performed at Obama's inaugural last week, was a bystander in a shooting in a park near Obama's Chicago home.

Carney said the case also points to the need for greater gun restrictions: "As the president has said, we will never be able to eradicate every act of evil in this country, but if we can save even one child's life, we have an obligation to try when it comes to the scourge of gun violence."

To that end, Obama plans to meet later today at the White House with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. Giffords earlier today testified before a Senate panel looking at ways to curb gun violence, saying that "Americans are counting" on Congress to be "courageous."

Carney defended the administration's call for universal background checks, singling out the NRA's Wayne LaPierre for his opposition to them: "That's an issue on which the NRA and Wayne LaPierre is in a very distinct minority, if that's their position."

And he suggested that it's unlikely that Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. will be getting an invite to Camp David anytime soon. A reporter asked Carney for his reaction to Blackburn's call for an invite to a skeet shooting match at the presidential retreat, saying she's skeptical of Obama's claims and believes she's a better shot.

"I have none," Carney replied.

Cowan named to succeed Kerry in Senate

William "Mo" Cowan was tapped Wednesday to become interim U.S. senator from Massachusetts, replacing John Kerry, who was confirmed as Secretary of State Tuesday.

Cowan, 43, former chief of staff to Gov. Deval Patrick, becomes the Senate's second African-American member and first to represent Massachusetts since Republican Ed Brooke in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Cowan said he would not seek the seat in a special election in June.

Patrick said Cowan's appointment was "the affirmation of the American Dream," according to the Boston Globe. He had been Patrick's chief of staff from 2010 until leaving last November.

Kerry had held the seat for 29 years. The race to succeed him in June is expected to feature Republican Scott Brown, who lost his re-election bid in November to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Edward Market, D-Mass., and possibly Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.

Patrick said Wednesday, “Mo's service on the front lines in our efforts to manage through the worst economy in 80 years and build a better, stronger Commonwealth for the next generation has earned him the respect and admiration of people throughout government. The people of the Commonwealth have benefited from his wisdom and good judgment during his time in our office, and will again in the Senate."

Cowan termed himself "honored and humbled by this appointment today."

To read the full statement: http://www.mass.gov/governor/pressoffice/pressreleases/2013/0130-interim-senator.html

He pledged that "during this interim period I will work as hard as humanly possible to perform my duties with the needs and aspirations of our state's citizens foremost in mind.

According to the governor's office, from 1997 to 2009, Cowan practiced civil litigation as an associate and later a partner in the Boston office of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, PC and as a Special Assistant District Attorney in the Office of the Middlesex County District Attorney.

Cowan is a graduate of Duke University and Northeastern University School of Law, and lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts with his wife, Stacy, and their two young sons.

Obama to press for immigration overhaul on Spanish TV

A day after urging Congress to move forward on an immigration overhaul, President Obama will make his case in a pair of Spanish language TV interviews.

Obama is scheduled for interviews at the White House today with Jose Diaz Balart of Telemundo and Maria Elena Salinas of Univision.

Obama's new political arm, Organizing for Action, is already taking up the charge, asking supporters to register their support. In an email, the group's chair, Jim Messina, notes that a Senate plan is "consistent with the plan the President campaigned on" and is an "encouraging sign for working together in the months ahead."

But, he suggests, "there are sure to be disagreements and bumps in the road. It won't be easy, and our success is in no way guaranteed."

White House cites Sandy, defense spending for economic slowdown

The U.S. economy slowed down in the final months of 2012, with the gross domestic product shrinking for the first time in three and a half years.

The White House said the slide -- the GDP edged down 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 -- came "amid signs that Hurricane Sandy disrupted economic activity and federal defense spending declined precipitously, likely due to uncertainty stemming from the sequester."

Federal defense purchases declined at an annual rate of 22.2 percent in the fourth quarter -- the largest quarterly decline in 40 years, said Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

"A likely explanation for the sharp decline in federal defense spending is uncertainty concerning the automatic spending cuts that were scheduled to take effect in January, and are currently scheduled to take effect on March 1st," Krueger wrote in a White House blog posting.

Republicans seized on the numbers, noting in an email to reporters that Obama in his inaugural address last week "told Americans that 'an economic recovery has begun.' "

January 29, 2013

Capitol Hill responds to Obama's immigration proposal

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, lawmakers were cagey about the prospects of an immigration bill successfully making its way through the House and Senate this year.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, said it would be foolhardy to calculate the immigration proposals put forth by Obama Tuesday and an eight-member bipartisan Senate group on Monday without seeing the plans in legislative form.

“We don’t even have legislation yet, but I think there actually are things in the framework that appeal to me: the focus on visa overstays and focus on border security,” said Cornyn, who voted against the 2006 and 2007 immigration bills.

"I’ve got a good indication that there’s a bipartisan desire to go forward." McConnell said. However, McConnell said “I think predicting how one is going to vote on this package before it gets out of committee is something I’m not prepared to do.”

Continue reading "Capitol Hill responds to Obama's immigration proposal" »

Obama delivered immigration speech in 'comfortable' Nevada

It’s no suprise President Barack Obama chose Nevada to kick off the immigration push.

Hispanics make up 27 percent of population, according to the U.S. Cencus. Nineteen percent are foreign born and nearly 30 percent speal a language other than English at home.

For decades, western states -- like Nevada -- had a tendancy to vote Republican. But the growing Hispanic population helped change that.

Obama won Nevada by 12 points in 2008 and six points in 2012, even though Republican Mitt Romney had made inroads in the state and the economic dowturn hit the state hard.

Continue reading "Obama delivered immigration speech in 'comfortable' Nevada" »

Guantanamo commissions: Whatever the CIA wants you to see

Over the past few years, after Obama failed to close Guantanamo, there's been a push to present the military commissions process there as reformed -- nothing like the extra-legal prosecution efforts of the Bush era, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the effort unconstitutional because Congress had not set it up. So the Obama administration and Congress came up with an improved regime, one more in keeping with what Americans would recognize as a court.

Today, we learned another way in which military commissions are different from any court the United States has seen before: Turns out the CIA has the ability to cut off the public's view of the proceedings without consulting with the judge, or anyone else.

That's apparently what happened Monday, to the shock of the judge, who apparently was unaware that anyone other than the court's security officer had the authority to censor courtroom exchanges. You can read The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg's account on what took place here.

Today, we learn who that someone is: the OCA or the Original Classification Authority -- in this case, the CIA. (You can see Rosenberg's account of today's commission testimony at her Twitter account here.)

Certainly, the Obama administration and Congress never publicly explained that this was how the commissions would work when they mandated in the Military Commission Act that the proceedings must be held in public. Obviously, it had not been explained to Judge Pohl or the defense attorneys, though the prosecution seemed to know.

What to do now? Rosenberg, after consulting with counsel, challenged the refusal to explain who had the authority to cut off the public's access to the courtroom. Here's what she filed with the commissions clerk:

To the Clerk of Military Commissions:


I am writing to you pursuant to Regulation 19-3 governing public access to commission proceedings, to object to the closure yesterday, January 28, 2013, of proceedings in United States v. Mohammad, et al.


Public access was denied to a portion of the proceedings by the termination of the video and audio feed, and this closure of the courtroom was imposed without any findings by the military judge authorizing it, as required by M.C.A. 949d(c) and R.M.C. 806.  As a reporter covering these proceedings, I object to this unauthorized denial of access and request a public explanation of the basis for the closure, a statement of the legal authority for the denial of public access, and an identification of the individual or organization that
closed the proceedings to the public.

I hereby request that you forward this objection to all counsel of record in the proceeding.    

  

  Will it make a difference? That remains to be seen. The Obama administration likes to say it's made the military commissions process transparent. But hiding the fact that all proceedings are overseen by an unnamed entity that can move outside the authority of the judge to censor the public's view of what's taking place is hardly transparent. It's difficult even to imagine that any entity has that authority in what passes for a quasi-judicial  proceeding, where the judge runs the courtroom.

Report: Anti-Hagel groups spending more than $100K

The Sunlight Foundation has found that outside groups have spent at least $123,000 on TV ads blasting former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's pick for Defense Secretary. The ads come as Hagel goes before the Senate Thursday for a confirmation hearing.

The open records group say the spending was detected by its Political Ad Sleuth, which tracks political ad buys, including those that do not have to be filed with the Federal Election Commission. It says a common thread in the advertising is the Nebraska Republican's "alleged lack of support for Israel -- an allegation disputed by his supporters.

Obama's Republican Transportation Secretary is stepping down

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman who joined President Obama's Cabinet, said today he won't serve in the second term.

In an email to DOT employees across the country, LaHood called it an "honor and a privilege" to serve and said he'd stay until a successor is confirmed. He cited what he said were the department's achievements, including a Distracted Driving Initiative and a rule to combat pilot fatigue.

"I've told President Obama, and I've told many of you, that this is the best job I've ever had," LaHood said.

Obama said in a statement that he and LaHood were "drawn together by a shared belief that those of us in public service owe an allegiance not to party or faction, but to the people we were elected to represent."

And he added, "every American who travels by air, rail or highway can thank Ray for his commitment to making our entire transportation system safer and stronger."

Among the talked-about candidates to replace LaHood are Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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