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June 30, 2013

House Judiciary Chairman offers "step-by-step approach to immigration reform"

A comprehensive approach to overhauling the nation's immigration system isn't dead in the House of Representatives, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on CNN Sunday--but it will be different from the one passed by the Senate.

"We're taking a step-by-step approach to immigration reform, but we want to solve all three problems with immigration reform," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"We want to see legal immigration reform improved to grow a healthy economy, create more jobs for Americans.  We want to see enforcement improved and actually enforced, and we want to find the appropriate legal status for people who are not here lawfully."

Fourteen Senate Republicans voted for the Senate measure, while 32 voted no.

"We would love to have a bipartisan group produce a bill, because it would help to inform the House, just like the Senate bill helped to inform the Senate.  But 70 percent of the Republicans in the Senate voted against the immigration bill," Goodlatte said.

Here's more of his comments:

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Obama "humbled" by visit to Robben Island prison

America’s first family toured Robben Island, where Mandela was held in a small cell for 18 of his 27 years in prison as a political prisoner under the white leaders who ruled the nation. Obama has been before but it’s his family’s first visit.

They were taken to a bleak lime quarry, where 34 ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela were prisoners, enduring hours of backbreaking and futile work.

In the bushes, a small, wooden bench next to a wooden lattice could be seen. That's where Mandela hid the manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom as he he wrote it. 

A cement watchtower with rusting shutters stood above the quarry. A cave cut into the wall was where the prisoners had lunch and used a toilet bucket.

Along one wall are 17 cells, each with one window that is covered by vertical, white bars. The cells are tiny, barely wide enough for someone to lay down. In Mandela's cell, there was a stall with a toilet bucket on top, and a mattress low to the floor with pillows and a brown blanket. 

Former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada, who served his 18 years alongside Mandela, was the Obama's guide.

The President and First Lady walked into the courtyard where a visitors book was waiting on a simple desk. He wrote for about three minutes.

"On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit."

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

30 June 2013

First Family tours Robben Island prison

America's First Family walked together into a bleak lime quarry in Cape Town, South Africa, where 34 ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela were prisoners, enduring hours of backbreaking and futile work.

In the bushes, a small, wooden bench next to a wooden lattice could be seen. That's where Mandela hid the manuscript for A Long Walk to Freedom as he he wrote it. 

A cement watchtower with rusting shutters stood above the quarry. A cave cut into the wall was where the prisoners had lunch and used a toilet bucket.

Along one wall are 17 cells, each with one window that is covered by vertical, white bars. The cells are tiny, barely wide enough for someone to lay down. In Mandela's cell, there was a stall with a toilet bucket on top, and a mattress low to the floor with pillows and a brown blanket. 

Former prisoner Ahmed Kathrada, who served his 18 years alongside Mandela, was the Obama's guide.

The President and First Lady walked into the courtyard where a visitors book was waiting on a simple desk. He wrote for about three minutes.

"On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit."

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

 

30 June 2013

Obama to unveil new program to double electricity in sub-Saharan Africa

President Barack Obama  will unevil a new $7 billion program to double electricity in sub-Africa.

Six nations -- Tanzania, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia -- will kick off the program with the goals of providing power to 20 million homes.

Roughly two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa doesn’t have access to electricity. It’s 85 percent in some rural areas.

The $7 billion in money and resources will come from USAID, which will provide technical assistance and grants, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Export-Import Bank.

“I think the way to think about this is that we’re not looking to provide assistance so that we can pay for everybody to turn the lights on,” said Gayle Smith, senior director for development and democracy at the National Security Council. “We’re looking to provide support and partnership so the lights can turn on and stay on.”

Already, several companies, including GE and Symbium, have made commitments worth $9 billion.

Obama and Bush both pay Africa a visit at the same time

President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, will be in Tanzania Monday.

It's unclear whether the two of them will see each other. But their wives will.

First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush will appear at a first ladies forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institue to empower women. "It’s an important forum that lifts up the role of women in Africa," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser. 

Rhodes said their schedules are still being developed and it's possible the presidents will see each other.

"And I think the presence of the Bushes is something that marks I think the bipartisan support for Africa that exists in the United States, and it’s a very welcome symbol that they can be there at the same time," he said. "We think it sends a very positive message that both political parties in the United States share a commitment to this continent."

June 29, 2013

Biden called Ecuadorean president about Snowden

Vice President Joe Biden called Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa about the case of fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, according to the White House.

Correa told reporters in Ecuador that Biden asked that a request for asylum by Snowden be rejected, but the White House did not confirm that report.

"The Vice President spoke with President Correa on June 28," said Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokesperson. "They engaged in a broad conversation regarding the bilateral relationship. They did discuss Mr. Snowden, but we are not going to provide details on their discussion."

President Barack Obama said Thursday while in South Africa that he has not spoken to his Russian and Chinese counterparts about Snowden because he does not want to damage larger relationships with the nations.

Obama said his administration is trying to return Snowden to the United States through the regular and appropriate legal mechanisms. But he said he is more concerned about trying to prevent more classified information from being leaked.

Snowden, 30, is the former CIA employee and National Security Administration contractor who revealed himself to be the leaker of classified documents about surveillance programs. The U.S. government has charged him with various crimes under the espionage act. He remains in Russia, according to the White House.

White House launches mentoring program for young Africans

President Barack Obama on Friday at a townhall meeting in South Africa will launch a program next year that will bring more than 500 young African leaders to the United States each year for leadership training and mentoring. 

Washington Fellows will primarily be between 25 and 35 years old and have a leadership role in a public, private, or civic organization.

They will spend six weeks at American colleges. Formal training will be augmented by workshops, mentoring and networking opportunities with leaders in each field, as well as internships across the United States.

The fellows will have the chance to interact with Obama during an annual summit in Washington, D.C., along with other senior U.S. government, business and civic leaders.

More than $5 million in small grants will be awarded in the first three years by the U.S. African Development Foundation to the program to start their own businesses or social enterprises. The U.S. Department of State will invest an additional $5 million over the course of the program to help alumni establish or grow non-governmental organizations, undertake a project to improve their community, or work collaboratively to build the network of young African leaders. USAID will establish regional hubs and coordinators to connect Washington Fellows to these opportunities and leverage over $200 million in ongoing youth programs and initiatives on the continent. 

Within the next five years, the program will  grow to 1,000 young leaders each year.

In Africa, Obama urges House to pass immigration overhaul

President Barack Obama on Saturday urged the House to pass a rewrite of the nation's immigration laws before its August recess.

"There’s more than enough time," Obama said at a news conference in South Africa. "This thing has been debated amply, and they’ve got a bunch of weeks to get it done. And now is the time."

The Senate this week passed a bill. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a

"I think they worked very hard. It’s not the perfect bill, but it’s consistent with the principles I laid out of strong border security, of reformed legal immigration system, and a pathway to citizenship for those who are currently in undocumented status inside the United States," Obama said. "The framework that the Senate has set up is a sound framework. It doesn’t reflect everything that I would like. Nobody is going to get 100 percent of what they want -- not labor, not business, not the advocates, not me."

Obama meets with Mandela family

President Barack Obama met privately with members of Nelson Mandela’s family -- two daughters and eight grandchildren -- at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg and spoke by telephone with Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, who remained by her husband’s side.

"I expressed my hope that Madiba draws peace and comfort from the time that he is spending with loved ones, and also expressed my heartfelt support for the entire family as they work through this difficult time," Obama said in a speech. "I also reaffirmed the profound impact that his legacy has had in building a free South Africa, and in inspiring people around the world - including me. That's a legacy that we must all honor in our own lives, including this July on Mandela Day. Madiba and his family remain in our thoughts and prayers."

Obamas will meet with Mandela family Saturday

President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, will meet privately with members of the Mandela family to :offer their thoughts and prayers at this difficult time," according to the White House.

But, according to the White House, they will not visit Nelson Mandela in the hospital.

"Out of deference to Nelson Mandela’s peace and comfort and the family’s wishes, they will not be visiting the hospital," according to the White House.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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