President Obama: Shooting ‘Reopens Pain’ at Fort Hood

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(CHICAGO) — Breaking from an evening of Democratic fundraising in Chicago, President Obama Wednesday night offered prayers for the victims of the latest Fort Hood shooting and vowed to “get to the bottom of what happened.”

“Obviously, this reopens the pain of what happened at Fort Hood five years ago,” Obama said during an impromptu appearance before reporters inside the Chicago Cut Steakhouse.

“We know these families. We know their incredible service to our country and the sacrifices that they make,” he said. “Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with the entire community, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure the community of Fort Hood has what it needs to deal with a tough situation, but also any potential aftermath.”

Obama described the situation as “fluid,” saying the administration was still ascertaining the facts from the Pentagon and FBI.

“We’re heartbroken that something like this might have happened again,” he said. “The folks there have sacrificed so much on behalf of our freedom. Many of the people there have been on multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. They served with valor. They served with distinction. And when they’re at their home base, they need to feel safe.

“We don’t yet know what happened tonight, but obviously that sense of safety has been broken once again,” he said.

After making the statement, the president proceeded to a dinner reception at a private residence in Chicago to raise money for the Democratic National Committee. A DNC official said roughly 55 guests paid up to $10,000 each to attend.

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Senate Confirms Top Human Rights Official

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Senate Wednesday approved by voice vote the confirmation of Tom Malinowski as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.
 
Human rights advocacy groups consider the move overdue — last week, a group of them wrote a letter urging Senate leadership to confirm Malinowski, criticizing its failure to take action earlier.  
 
Human Rights First, who drafted the letter last week, issued this statement upon Malinowski’s confirmation:
 
Human Rights First today welcomes the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Tom Malinowski as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  The Senate’s vote to fill this key human rights posts will strengthen the United States’ ability to advance human rights around the world.

“Tom understands the importance of American leadership and the damage done when we fail to live up to our ideals,” said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino.  “It matters tremendously that Tom was confirmed with bi-partisan support and without opposition to this appointment; U.S. leadership on human rights is not—and should not be—the priority of one party or another, but rather is a shared American ideal. We look forward to working with Tom to advance American policies that uphold human rights and the rule of law.”

In a letter issued last week, Human Rights First along with more than 25 leading organizations working to promote human rights, democracy, and labor rights urged the Senate to take action to fill this key human rights position, arguing that “at a moment when the United States is facing significant challenges to its global leadership on democracy and human rights, the Secretary of State needs his leadership team in place to advance the important diplomatic work of promoting these universal values that strengthen our national security.”

As one of Washington’s most seasoned human rights experts, Malinowski will provide crucial leadership to the State Department as it navigates the many challenges to American leadership on human rights, including: the atrocities in Syria and the attendant refugee crisis; Russia’s intensifying aggression against its neighbors; Bahrain’s efforts to negotiate a political settlement to resolve the long-simmering violence; developing a legal response to thwart enablers of mass atrocities; combatting efforts to criminalize the human rights of LGBT people; developing a post-war counter-terrorism framework that respects human rights; and being a beacon for the defenders and activists around the world bearing the brunt of a global crackdown on civil society.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obamacare Supporters Troll Ted Cruz on Facebook

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Image(WASHINGTON) — It appeared Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, expected something entirely different from Facebook when he asked whether his Facebook followers were better off with Obamacare than they were four years ago, suggesting they “Comment with YES or NO!”

Post by Senator Ted Cruz.

Comment they did.

By late Wednesday afternoon, the status update had more than 55,000 replies.  

“I and a few million other people are a lot better off,” said one user. “I hope you are enjoying your Cadillac plan given to you by your wife’s employer, Goldman Sachs.”

“YES, best law ever! And way overdue!” read another one.

And the comment generating the most “likes”?

“Impeach Ted Cruz! He caused the shutdown that hurt this country badly!”

It took a good deal of scrolling to reach the first comment with a negative review of the health care law, which Cruz has become notorious for combating since joining the Senate in 2013.

“No. I couldn’t afford healthcare before and I still can’t and now will also have to pay a fine,” the commenter said. “Wish I could fine the government for making my life hell everyday.”

Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told Politico that the comments were “clearly a manufactured, concerted effort from people on the left making comments days after the original post was put up.”

Still, it didn’t appear the vast majority of commenters would be getting friend requests from Cruz anytime soon.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obama Stumps for Minimum Wage Hike at University of Michigan

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

File photo. Pete Souza / The White House(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) — Following his Affordable Care Act victory lap on Tuesday, President Obama stopped at the University of Michigan Wednesday to push for a hike in the federal minimum wage to $10.10/hour before heading to Chicago for two fundraisers.

“Next week members of Congress have a fresh chance to show which side they’re on,” Obama said, referencing an upcoming Senate vote on a minimum wage hike. “You’ve got a choice: You can give America the shaft, or you can give it a raise.”

Obama congratulated the Michigan Wolverines on their Elite Eight NCAA run — and cracked a joke about sophomore guard Nik Stauskas, who Obama said was in attendance.

“I know Stauskas has got the contract coming up, so he’ll — he doesn’t have to worry about these things,” Obama said. The crowd cheered the reference, but some jeered and booed at the implicit suggestion that Stauskas should leave Michigan for the NBA draft.

“I’m saying later. I’m not telling him to leave,” Obama added. “I wasn’t editorializing on that.”

It was the latest installment in Obama’s post-State of the Union press for a higher federal minimum wage.

Republicans in Congress have said raising the minimum wage will hurt job creation, not help it. House Speaker John Boehner said last month that raising the minimum wage would take away the lower rungs of the economic ladder, making it harder for anyone to get on.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Campaign Contributions

Posted on: April 2nd, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

trekandshoot/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down aggregate contribution limits imposed on individuals wishing to donate to federal candidates and party committees.

“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion.

He added, “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects.”

Roberts reiterated that Wednesday’s decision deals with aggregate limits and not base limits on contributions from individuals to candidates

“This case does not involve any challenge to the base limits, which we have previously upheld as serving the permissible objective of combating corruption,” he wrote.

Currently, individuals may contribute $2,600 per election to a particular candidate committee and $32,400 to a national party committee. Those limits in a two-year cycle are $48,600 to a candidate committee and $74,600 to a non-candidate committee.

Roberts was joined in his opinion by Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Clarence Thomas signed on to the holding but would have gone further by overruling court precedent.

Justice Stephen Breyer read a stinging dissent from the bench. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Breyer called legal analysis of the majority “faulty,” saying, “It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign.”

Breyer also said the decision “eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws,leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

The case was brought by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee who challenged the aggregate contribution limits. McCutcheon argued the limits violated his First Amendment rights and served no anti-corruption role.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. defended the limits in court, saying they served as a “bulwark against a campaign finance system dominated by massive individual contributions in which the dangers of quid pro quo corruption would be obvious and inherent and the corrosive appearance of corruption would be overwhelming.”

In the 2012 election cycle, McCutcheon contributed a total of $33,088 in congressional races across the nation. McCutcheon wanted to give money to more candidates and was blocked from doing so by aggregate campaign contribution limits set by federal law.

McCutcheon praised the decision in a statement.

“Today the United States Supreme Court took a stand in favor of our Constitutional Freedom of Speech as codified in our First Amendment,” he said. “First Amendment Free Speech enables us to support candidates for public office who share our views. While I understand some base limits on the dollar amount of single contributions, limits to the overall number of candidates, parties and committees are nothing more than unnecessary limits to 1st amendment freedom.”

But proponents of campaign finance reform condemned Wednesday’s decision.

“The Supreme Court in the McCutcheon decision today overturned 40 years of national policy and 38 years of judicial precedent to strike down the overall limits on the total contributions from an individual to federal candidates and to party committees in an election cycle,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “With its decision today in McCutcheon, the Supreme Court majority continued on its march to destroy the nation’s campaign finance laws, which were enacted to prevent corruption and protect the integrity of our democracy.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obama Takes Victory Lap After Healthcare Sign-ups Top 7 Million

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

The White House(WASHINGTON) –  President Obama on Tuesday heralded more than 7 million sign-ups for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, bringing to a close a politically bruising six-month enrollment period and a first major test for his signature legislative achievement.

7.1 million signed up, the president said in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, “despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website.”

“Even more folks want to sign up,” he added. “7.1 million – that’s on top of the more than 3 million young adults who gained insurance under this law by staying on their family plan.”

Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, declared: “We’ve taken a big step forward.”

The latest tally — 7,041,000 — represents the total number of Americans who selected health plans through state and federal marketplaces created by the law since Oct. 1. The number is expected to grow as last-minute applications filed through 23 state-run insurance exchanges are counted and people continue to complete applications in the federal exchange into April.

The 7 million figure has become a symbolic and political milestone since the administration embraced it as a “goal” in mid-2013 based on a projection by the Congressional Budget Office. Reaching that mark is a noteworthy feat after the significant, high-profile technical glitches and website outages that plagued the enrollment process on HealthCare.gov from beginning to end.

Still, the number says little about the extent to which the health law has expanded coverage to the uninsured or will stabilize premiums. The administration does not yet know how many previously uninsured Americans gained coverage under the law. They also do not know the ratio of young and healthy enrollees to old and sick — a key data point insurers watch to set their premiums.

“We have none of that breakdown data at this point,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. However, “we already know that that breakdown is sufficient to ensure that the marketplaces will effectively function, that issuers will feel comfortable with the demographics,” he said.

Officials also cannot say how many of the 7 million applicants have paid their premiums to finalize enrollment.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to blast the law.

“All across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Whether they can sign up for a policy or not, they are discovering, of course, higher premiums, a higher deductible.”

Public support for the Affordable Care Act narrowly notched a new high in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, while criticism of Barack Obama’s handling of the law’s rollout — although still substantial — has eased from its peak last fall.

Americans remain split on Obamacare: 49 percent support it while 48 percent oppose it. But last November just 40 percent supported it while 57 percent opposed it.

“I think I’m like a lot of people who end up waiting till the last minute,” Caroline Mays, 30, of Washington, D.C., told ABC News as she signed up for an Obamacare insurance policy late Monday. “But now I’m all squared away. I have health insurance. I’ve been working independently so I haven’t had coverage. So this is a big relief to me, for sure.”

Senior administration officials credit grassroots organizing and a social media blitz, drawing on lessons from the 2012 election campaign, with fueling a last-minute surge in sign-ups.

They say groups have held more than 5,000 events over the past 6 weeks, including appearances of Obama cabinet officials at 45 of those. They say their social media reach touched 350 million Twitter followers and 33 million online video views.

Privately, the White House points to what they call two pivotal moments in their campaign: A promotional video by NBA star LeBron James, who they say spurred other celebrities to help spread the word; and the president’s “Two Ferns” interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis, which generated significant buzz.

“I have a lot of friends who’ve been uninsured and have kind of been winging it,” said Sarah Leonard, who enrolled for a new health policy on Monday. “But I know that that’s not very responsible, especially at 26, you have to get responsible. I was going to try to wing it but then there’s also the tax penalty and I really didn’t want that either.”

Most Americans were required to obtain health insurance by March 31 or face a fine of the greater of $95 or 1 percent of household income above $10,150 for an individual. Those subject to the fine will pay it on their 2014 federal income taxes.

As for the politics of the Affordable Care Act, administration officials say the focus now shifts to making the case against repeal. They note that no Democrat that originally voted for the ACA has flipped his or her vote – a sign, they say, that if implemention of the law is continued effectively, then the intensity of debate will wane.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are vowing to intensify the drumbeat for repealing the law ahead of the November midterm elections.

“House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “We will also continue our work to replace this fundamentally-flawed law with patient-centered solutions focused on lowering health care costs and protecting jobs.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Harry Reid Criticizes Possible Senate Candidate Scott Brown

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

United States Congress(WASHINGTON) — While former Sen. Scott Brown dined with a group of Republican senators on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had some words for the potential Senate hopeful that may be hard to stomach.

“The Constitution guarantees every state two senators. The Constitution doesn’t guarantee every senator two states,” Reid said, alluding to Brown’s switch from representing Massachusetts in the Senate to exploring a run in New Hampshire.

Political jockeying for position is hardly new in national politics, but Reid seemed to hint that Brown’s move crossed a line.

Unfortunately for Reid, Brown’s candidacy would put yet another state in play for the Republicans, making the Democrats’ chances of holding onto the Senate in the 2014 midterms even more of a challenge.

“We’d love to have Scott back,” said Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “We’re happy that he’s running for the Senate. He’s an old friend of ours. And no one’s election victory was more a symbol of public objection to Obamacare like Scott Brown’s special election in January of 2010.”

Senate Republicans welcomed Brown back to the policy lunch he used to attend weekly when he was a sitting senator, but Brown isn’t the first hopeful who has graced the weekly event. Rep. Cory Gardner, who is running in Colorado, as well as Shane Osborn, who is running in Nebraska, both attended lunches earlier this year.

Brown’s trip to the Capitol came just one day after his exploratory committee released a scathing memo, blasting incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., of trying to “throw up one smokescreen after another in an attempt to avoid discussing the issues.”

It went on to call Shaheen “a reliable rubber stamp” for the Obama administration’s agenda and Shasheen’s work “disappointing and a disservice to New Hampshire.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Veteran Mideast Negotiators Advise Against Releasing Pollard

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by John Angelillo-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration’s decision to put the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard back on the Middle East negotiating table is not without precedent. President Bill Clinton – the third of five presidents under whom Pollard has been imprisoned – floated the commutation of his sentence as a bargaining chip during a round of negotiations in 1998.

But that offer was scuttled when his CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign if Pollard’s life sentence, handed down after he admitted to spying on the United States for the Israeli government, was reduced.

Freeing Pollard remains controversial in many quarters. Those involved in the Pollard case, including his former prosecutor Joseph diGenova, expressed their dismay at the idea this week.

And Vice President Biden was quoted in 2011 as telling the New York Times that he informed Obama at the time, when the president was considering clemency for Pollard, “Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life.”

Now that the Obama administration is dangling Pollard as an enticement for more negotiations, observers are drawing parallels to Clinton’s efforts to hammer out a Mideast peace deal at the Wye River, Md., summit in 1998, and some advisers who were at those negotiations are recommending that Obama not offer Pollard in any bargain.

Aaron David Miller, an expert who advised Democratic and Republican administrations for decades, noted that the Obama administration is floating Pollard as an effort to just keep Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the negotiating table – not to seal a deal on a long-term agreement.

“Pollard will not buy the president or (Secretary of State John) Kerry the space and time necessary to see this process to fruition unless something fundamentally changes the minds of Abbas and Netanyahu, and Pollard’s release is not going to do that,” Miller said.

Dennis Ross, Clinton’s chief negotiator who advised him to hold off on Pollard’s release – and who saw Tenet almost resign over it – told the New York Times on Tuesday that opposition within the U.S. intelligence community would still be negative, if perhaps “less vehement.”

Miller noted that even as Clinton floated Pollard’s freedom, the United States was able to reach an agreement on territory exchanges — which was the administration’s goal in that round of talks — without taking action on the U.S.-born spy.

“We got the deal at Wye without Pollard. That only validates this is a tactic without a strategy,” Miller said.

The president’s spokesperson Jay Carney said on Tuesday that Obama had not made up his mind on whether to release Pollard.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

DC Politicians Get into April Fools’ Day Spirit

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — As the rest of the country tries to avoid merciless pranks at the hands of their friends and family, politicians are using April Fools’ Day to take some political jabs at opponents — or even themselves.

White House Forms Council On…Beards?!

A special announcement from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

“Today, President Obama announced the creation of the President’s Council on Beards, a committee of volunteer citizens and officials dedicated to honoring our nation’s history, and promoting men’s health and wellness. Finding inspiration from today’s visit by the renowned beard enthusiasts from the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, the president pulled together an experienced, enthusiastic, and hairy team of council members to advise him on issues related to beard growth, health and styles.”

 

.@PressSec announces a new Presidential Council → http://t.co/k1C03jnpjR http://t.co/3X5UuPRkEz #GetBeard pic.twitter.com/jy45tsy01c

— Kori Schulman (@ks44) April 1, 2014

 

Ted Cruz Inked Up

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, rolled up his sleeves to reveal a highly-detailed tattoo of Winston Churchill smoking a cigar on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning.

“My wife was fairly astonished,” said Cruz, who pointed to the infamous “Cruz…blacklisted & loving it” posters as his inspiration.

As the anchors clamored over his fresh ink, Cruz began to chuckle.

“I will note if you look at the calendar it might suggest something about what you’re seeing,” he admitted.

 

Judging by the reaction, perhaps the Winston Churchill tattoo should become more permanent… http://t.co/iZEI7UfYPn pic.twitter.com/gpnDNUSd6G

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) April 1, 2014

 

Republicans Take Back Blue  

In an April Fools’ press release, the Republican National Committee announced it would be “adopting the color blue,” and released what it said would be a new logo ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.

It’s not the most subtle joke of the day, with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus quoted saying it’s only the fault of “mainstream media outlets like the New York Times” that the party ever identified with the color red.

“Now Democrats will be the party of red, which is much more in line with their record and values. After all, they are the party of red tape, red lines, and red ink. They’ve driven our country deeper in the red, and the DNC itself is swimming in red ink: they’re still $15 million in debt. In other words, this color swap is both beneficial and logical.”

Good one, Reince.

Christie Presser — Sans Bridge Scandal

Democratic strategist Joshua Henne is having a little Fool’s Day fun at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s expense.

Tuesday morning, Henne circulated an email naming himself as the Republican Governor’s new spokesperson and announcing a Fort Lee press conference — where questions about the now-infamous George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal will be strictly taboo.

“Please arrive very, very, very, very early — as traffic has been known to build up at the nearby George Washington Bridge during rush hour,” the release read.

“Based on recent disruptions of attendees attempting to ask difficult questions, a few more regulations have been added.  For example, there will be no questions allowed about anything that starts with the letter ‘S’. This includes –  but is not limited to — the following terms: ‘Subpoenas,’ ‘Samson,’ ‘Stepien,’ ‘Scandal,’ ‘Sokolich’ and ‘Serbian.’”

(Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, was accused of orchestrating the politically-motivated lane closures in retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. David Samson, though not directly implicated in the bridge scandal, recently resigned as the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.)

“For commentary following today’s town hall, you can catch both Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Senator Loretta Weinberg on MSNBC this evening at 5 pm, 5:20 pm, 5:45 pm, 6 pm, 6:25 pm, 6:50 pm, 7:15 pm, 7:30 pm, 8 pm, 8:20 pm, 8:45 pm, 9 pm, 9:15 pm, 9:30 pm, 9:45 pm, 10:10 pm, 10:30 pm and 10:50 pm,” the press release quips.

Florida GOP Claims Charlie Crist Has Switched Parties Again

The Florida GOP took to Twitter to share a faux front page of a newspaper claiming former Gov. Charlie Crist “has switched parties again.”

Crist served Florida as a Republican governor from 2006-2010 before deciding to run for the U.S. Senate as an Independent. He lost that race to now-Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and in late 2012 announced he had joined the Democratic party.

“Although this sounds very believable, sadly Crist has not made a fool of himself and this is just a silly April Fools’ joke,” the Florida GOP clip reads. “But with Crist’s history of party-hopping, we wouldn’t put it past him in the future.”

 

BREAKING NEWS: @CharlieCrist has switched parties again. #sayfie pic.twitter.com/3AJtvGTUWP

— Florida GOP (@FloridaGOP) April 1, 2014

 

Jared Polis: GQ’s New Fashion Stud?

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. — who’s unique polo shirt-bowtie combo went viral earlier this year — is GQ’s new fashion stud…at least according to his communications director.

According to a faux press release distributed by Polis office, GQ “praised Polis for his innovative and groundbreaking fashion sense” and heralded his polo shirt and bowtie ensemble — dubbed “potie” — as the next big thing in fashion.

“‘The ‘potie’ revolution brings the classic, formal look of a bow tie with the comfort and flexibility of a polo shirt, and I knew it was only a matter of time before my new look was appreciated,’” the Congressman said, according to the release.

 

Polis Named @GQMagazine New Spokesman GQ: ‘A Polo with a Bow Tie is the New Black’ http://t.co/WSJ9izvYLI #Potie pic.twitter.com/pI6ku3xP7t

— Rep. Jared Polis (@RepJaredPolis) April 1, 2014

 

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Sen. Rand Paul Delivers Opening Remarks at Launch of MRC Latino

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The American Principles Project, along with the Media Research Center, co-sponsored an event Tuesday at the Newseum, launching the first-ever Spanish-language media watchdog, MRC Latino.

Worried that a left-leaning political bias may already be present in the U.S. Spanish-language media, MRC Latino’s aim is to be a champion among journalistic integrity.

MRC Latino is not only calling on the editorial boards of news departments to be more objective, but also emphasizes that conservatives must do more with regards to the Hispanic media.  

Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., delivered the opening remarks: “What’s happened is that there is not the perception of empathy coming from the Republican Party that we care about Hispanics and where they are coming from and what their problems are.”

Senator Paul noted that Republicans got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election (compared to the Democrats, who got 71 percent). Paul is confident Republicans can double their Hispanic vote in 2016, but first conservatives have to “get the door ajar.”

Quoting Ronald Reagan’s “Hispanics are conservative, they just don’t know it yet,” Sen. Paul says that if conservatives engage with Hispanics directly and address their concerns, Hispanics will come to realize their values are in fact conservative values. But, conservatives need to show up, and one of the entry doors is through Spanish-language media.

The event concluded with closing remarks from MRC President Brent Bozell and a video message delivered in Spanish from Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Alfonso Aguilar of the American Principles Project’s Latino Partnership moderated the panel discussion. The panelists included Daniel Garza of the LIBRE Initiative, Israel Ortega of the Heritage Foundation, and Izzy Santa of the Republican National Committee.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Bill Clinton Gets Hilarious Twitter Avatar for April Fools’ Day

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

John Moore/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Bill and Hillary Clinton now have his and her Twitter photos.

Just after midnight Tuesday morning on April Fools’ Day, former President Bill Clinton tweeted a picture of himself parodying the famous “Texts from Hillary” photo-turned Internet meme of Hillary Clinton’s texting when she was secretary of state.

“I’m following my leader!” Clinton tweeted along with a black and white photo of himself wearing sunglasses and checking his iPad, which — like his wife –  he also made his Twitter avatar.

Adding to the fun, the former president jokingly added “meme appropriator” to the tail-end of his 160-character Twitter bio.

 

I’m following my leader! pic.twitter.com/aubau3Eeng

— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) April 1, 2014

 

The original photo of Hillary Clinton, in which she is wearing dark sunglasses while checking her BlackBerry, was taken nearly two years ago aboard a C-17 transport plane the day before the capture and killing of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, according to the photographer, Kevin Lamarque.

It instantly became an Internet sensation, spawning thousands of memes and the now-infamous “Texts from Hillary” tumblr.

By 10 a.m. ET Tuesday, Bill Clinton’s photo had already been retweeted more than 3,000 times.

Both of the Clintons have come to embrace social media in the past year.

In Hillary Clinton’s very first tweet last year, she joked about the “Texts from Hillary” meme. “Thanks for the inspiration @ASmith83 & @Sllambe — I’ll take it from here… #tweetsfromHillary,” she tweeted, referencing the founders of the tumblr blog.

Bill Clinton tweeted out a February Presidents Day greeting, and in the process even ribbed President George W. Bush for his absence on the social media site using the hashtag “#HowAreYouNotOnTwitter?”

 

Happy #PresidentsDay – to #44 (@BarackObama), #43 (#HowAreYouNotOnTwitter?), #41 (@GeorgeHWBush), & #39. #PresidentialTweeters

— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) February 17, 2014

 

And just last week, the Clinton family took a “selfie” with Jimmy Kimmel at their annual Clinton Global Initiative University summit, which quickly went viral on social media.

 

.@TheEllenShow- No Brad Cooper but 3 Clintons & a Kimmel @BillClinton @HillaryClinton @ChelseaClinton #selfie pic.twitter.com/GyGFxnUjfP

— Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) March 23, 2014

 

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obamacare Ads Win Millennial Support, But Did They Enroll?

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Obamacare team has used Hollywood celebrities, star athletes, animals, online games and memes to entice young people to the state and federal healthcare exchanges before Monday’s midnight deadline. They even put the president on Zach Galifianakis’ snarky web series “Between Two Ferns.”

The marketing strategy may be paying off.

In a poll released by Pew Research Center for People & the Press earlier this month, 50 percent of young adults, age 18 to 29, now say they ”approve” of Obamacare. Back in December, just 41 percent of those in the 18-29 demographic said they approved of the president’s signature healthcare law.

The number of 18- to 29-year-olds who disapprove of the Affordable Care Act has fallen by 7 percentage points, from 54 percent in December to 47 percent last week.

By contrast, older adults’ Affordable Care Act approval ratings have stayed relatively stable, even falling slightly. Among adults age 50 to 64, for instance, approval of the law has dipped by 5 percentage points, from 43 percent in early December to 38 percent this month.

But was it the looming March 31 deadline, the de-bugged web portal, and a spate of political ads that caused the shift among younger Americans?

Carroll Doherty, Pew Research Center’s Director of Political Research, said, “There was a falloff in support among young people last fall during and after the flawed rollout of the health exchanges … As those problems have receded at least somewhat, support for the ACA has rebounded a bit among young people.”

A higher approval rating doesn’t necessarily mean millennials will actually purchase health insurance, and young adults are the lynch pin in the Obama administration’s effort to keep health care affordable for all Americans. As of the last tally, as of March 1, millennial enrollment remained lower than anticipated, representing just a quarter of enrollees.

The White House, citing youthful procrastination, was reportedly expecting a last minute surge of applicants. The federal site reported a record surge of people trying to enroll on Monday, but it was not clear the age breakdown of those enrolling in the final hours before the deadline.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obamacare Open Enrollment Deadline Passes

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Monday’s deadline for Americans to sign up for healthcare on the Health Insurance Marketplace passed at midnight, and indications are that the total number of signups surpassed six million. However, it’s not known how many people who have signed up have paid their premiums.

At midnight EST, the HealthCare.gov website will go offline for maintenance, according to an official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The beleaguered site, which suffered from crashes as the deadline approached, is expected to relaunch Tuesday morning.

The last-minute signups on Monday are for health care effective May 1, allowing the government time to clear the expected backlog. Those who signed up must also pay their premium.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Chairman of Ways and Means Committee Won’t Seek Re-Election

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

US House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) — Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., announced on Monday that he will not seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives, giving up his position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Camp has served in the House since 1991 and has headed the Ways and Means Committee since 2011. Camp said he reached his decision, “after much consideration and discussion” with his family.

Camp plans to serve out his current term, and will not seek re-election in November.

The Republican said he would use the rest of his term to, “redouble my efforts to grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American by fixing our broken tax code, permanently solving physician payments for seniors, strengthening the social safety net and finding new markets for U.S. goods and services.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Rosie the Riveters Take White House by Storm, Get Hugs from Joe Biden

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

The White House(WASHINGTON) — The original six “Rosie the Riveters” who worked in a shipyard during World War II traveled to Washington on Monday in hopes of fulfilling one of their dreams: getting a hug from Joe Biden.

“Oh my gosh, it was wonderful. I had written a letter to the vice president and in it I said my dream would be to have my picture taken with the two of them in the Oval Office, and I got it,” gushed 91-year-old Phyllis Gould, of California, whose letter prompted the women’s meeting at the White House.

In her letter, Gould expressed her desire to get a hug from the vice president, a dream that came true Monday. “He came bursting out of a room and grabbed me and … then he hugged everyone,” Gould said.

One Riveter said President Obama “kissed all of us” during his meeting with the women. “And Biden did too!” another chimed in.

The Riveters worked as welders, electricians and draftsman at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, Calif., during World War II.

Gould said she wrote the letter because she felt her fellow Riveters weren’t being given their due credit. “All the military had monuments and recognition and we didn’t get any, and we’re not going to be around that much longer and in the schools they’re not even teaching about World War II, so if anybody’s going to remember us, I wanted to be a big bang here — and we’re having it,” Gould said.

On their legacy, the women said they hope to be remembered as trailblazers for women in America. Each Riveter added their own hope for how they would be remembered: “That women can do anything they put their mind to,” said one. Then another said: “I just want us to be remembered that we did what we could to help win the war, World War II, and bring our boys home.”

“I was 20 years old and I was having fun,” Gould added. “I can claim I was patriotic, but that isn’t quite the way I remember it.”

“I was, but other things were taking priority such as fancy underwear and Frank Sinatra records,” she joked.

When asked if there would be a monument erected in their honor, one Riveter exclaimed, “We hope so!”

“I said that’s the next thing we’ll work on” Gould added.

This isn’t the last scheduled encounter for the Riveters and their new pal.

“We’re having breakfast tomorrow morning with Vice President Biden at his home,” said one Riveter.

“And he says he’s got more stuff planned for us but it’s a secret, it will be a surprise!” Gould added.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obamacare Ads Win Millenial Support, But Did They Enroll?

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Obamacare team has used Hollywood celebrities, star athletes, animals, online games and memes to entice young people to the state and federal healthcare exchanges before Monday’s midnight deadline. They even put the president on Zach Galifianakis’ snarky web series “Between Two Ferns.”

The marketing strategy may be paying off.

In a poll released by Pew Research Center for People & the Press earlier this month, 50 percent of young adults, age 18 to 29, now say they ”approve” of Obamacare. Back in December, just 41 percent of those in the 18-29 demographic said they approved of the president’s signature healthcare law.

The number of 18- to 29-year-olds who disapprove of the Affordable Care Act has fallen by 7 percentage points, from 54 percent in December to 47 percent last week.

By contrast, older adults’ Affordable Care Act approval ratings have stayed relatively stable, even falling slightly. Among adults age 50 to 64, for instance, approval of the law has dipped by 5 percentage points, from 43 percent in early December to 38 percent this month.

But was it the looming March 31 deadline, the de-bugged web portal, and a spate of political ads that caused the shift among younger Americans?

Carroll Doherty, Pew Research Center’s Director of Political Research, said, “There was a falloff in support among young people last fall during and after the flawed rollout of the health exchanges … As those problems have receded at least somewhat, support for the ACA has rebounded a bit among young people.”

A higher approval rating doesn’t necessarily mean millennials will actually purchase health insurance, and young adults are the lynch pin in the Obama administration’s effort to keep health care affordable for all Americans. As of the last tally, as of March 1, millennial enrollment remained lower than anticipated, representing just a quarter of enrollees.

The White House, citing youthful procrastination, was reportedly expecting a last minute surge of applicants. The federal site reported a record surge of people trying to enroll on Monday, but it was not clear the age breakdown of those enrolling in the final hours before the deadline.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

White House: Making Opening Day a Holiday ‘Not in Our Strike Zone’

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Many Americans celebrate their favorite holiday at the beginning of spring — and it isn’t Easter.

Opening Day, the kick-off of Major League Baseball’s new season, took place on Monday and fans turned out at ballparks around the country.

But some of the truly die-hard are arguing that the umpire’s inaugural shout to “Play ball!” should be a bona fide U.S. holiday — and they have the signatures to prove it.

The White House, however, isn’t playing ball.

A  petition on the White House’s “We the People” website seeking to declare Opening Day a national holiday got shot down by White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest.  He said that the Commander-in-Chief has historically held Opening Day in high regard, but the decision to make it a national holiday is out of his hands.

“While we are sympathetic to your pitch to make Opening Day a national holiday, it’s a little outside our strike zone: creating permanent federal holidays is traditionally the purview of Congress,” Earnest wrote in a response. “So, it’s up to the men and women on Capitol Hill to decide whether to swing at this pitch.”

The petition argued that the season opener is more than just a game, it’s an American tradition and deserves to be recognized as such.

“MLB Opening Day is more than just the beginning of the season. It’s a symbol of rebirth,” the petition, created on Feb. 24, reads. “The coming of spring. The return of America’s national pastime. It’s a state of mind where anything is possible.”

As of Monday, it had attracted more than 102,000 signatures — surpassing the 100,000 signature threshold required for the Obama administration to issue a formal response.

Earnest said the White House will be celebrating the big day by welcoming 2013 World Series champions the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday.

“Meanwhile, I’ll spend that day visualizing what it would be like to welcome my 2014 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals to the White House,” Earnest joked. “That is, after all, the best part of Opening Day: every team is tied for first place and poised to make a run at the Fall Classic.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

At 49 Percent Support, Obamacare Hits a High

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Pete Souza / The White House(NEW YORK) — Public support for the Affordable Care Act narrowly notched a new high in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, while criticism of Barack Obama’s handling of the law’s rollout — although still substantial — has eased from its peak last fall.

Views hardly are enthusiastic: With the year’s sign-up deadline upon us, Americans split on Obamacare, 49 percent in support, 48 percent opposed. But that compares with a 40-57 percent negative rating after the initial failure of the federal enrollment website last November.

While still shy of a majority, 49 percent support is numerically the highest on record — albeit by a single point — in more than 20 ABC/Post polls since August 2009. The previous high was 48 percent in November 2009. The low was 39 percent in April 2012; the average, 45 percent.

Taking it another way, while not statistically significant, this survey’s +1 positive score for the law is a first. Other than an even 47-47 percent in July 2012, it’s been numerically negative in every other measurement, ranging from -1 to last November’s -17, averaging -5 points.

Most of the advance in support for the law came in December, marking November’s sharply negative turn as a blip inspired by HealthCare.gov’s crash landing. Most of the gains in approval of Obama’s handling of the law, by contrast, occurred just in the past month.

Among groups, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that support for Obamacare compared with last November has gained among young adults, nonwhites, lower-income adults, those who lack a college degree — and, in a surprising result, political conservatives. While just 36 percent of conservatives back the law, that’s up from a mere 17 percent in the fall.

OBAMA/GOP – Obama, for his part, receives continued criticism for the law’s implementation. But disapproval has backed off from 63 percent in November to 54 percent now, while approval for his work on the rollout is up by 11 points, including six points this month, to 44 percent.

Further, reflecting the public’s overall division on Obamacare, there’s also a split on efforts by the Republicans in Congress to replace it with a new health care law: Forty-seven percent of Americans support that move, with 49 percent opposed.

Partisanship drives that boat. Seventy-six percent of Democrats support the ACA, compared with 20 percent of Republicans. By contrast, 85 percent of Republicans support efforts to create a GOP alternative, vs. 19 percent of Democrats.

CHANGE – Views on the law, as noted, have shifted disproportionately in an unexpected area — among conservatives. While most remain opposed, that’s declined from 81 percent in November to 61 percent now. Similarly, while conservatives are particularly critical of Obama’s handling of the law, this has eased from 84 percent disapproval last fall to 69 percent today.

Independents, potential swing voters in the midterm elections, continue to tilt against the law, with 44 percent in support, 54 percent opposed, but that compares with 36-62 percent last fall. And while just 37 percent of independents approve of Obama’s handling of the rollout, that is 14 points more than its low four and a half months ago.

Among other groups mentioned above, support for the ACA is up by 16 points vs. November among adults under age 40 — a coveted group for the law’s insurance pools — from 38 percent then to 54 percent now. It’s gained a similar 15 points among those with incomes less than $50,000, from 38 percent then to 53 percent; 14 points among nonwhites, to 68 percent (compared with just 40 percent support among whites); and 12 points among those who lack a college degree, to 46 percent support.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obamacare Surge Staggers Computers, Delights White House

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Obamacare insurance website HealthCare.gov staggered under the crush of last minute applications Monday, but administration officials said enrollments have “surpassed” projections.

The first open enrollment season for the new health care program comes to an end at midnight, prompting a surge in interest in the website and triggering a recurrence of computer glitches that have bedeviled some users from the start.

Uninsured Americans have until midnight to sign up for an insurance plan or face a fine with next year’s taxes, but the day began with the federal online insurance marketplace inaccessible for scheduled maintenance that extended through 8 a.m.

Then for about an hour midday, Healthcare.gov was unavailable again, thanks to an unspecified software glitch that prevented users from creating new accounts. The Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the site, said a flood of users compounded the problem.

“There is a technical problem,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “There are currently 100,000 people in the system enrolling. …As has been the case all along, when there’s been a problem like this it gets addressed and it gets addressed quickly.”

“This is way higher volume than we’ve had before — we’re at three times more users than at the same time on Dec. 23, our previous highest day,” said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters.

Peters said the technical issue was resolved around 1:30 p.m. ET.

Despite Monday’s glitches, Carney said the Obamacare enrollment process is a “remarkable story since the dark days of November” when Obamacare roll-out had a nightmarish start.

“Last weekend alone we saw more calls to the call centers than in all of February,” he said. “We have surpassed the revised CBO projection” of 6 million enrollments by March 31, he said referring to the Congressional Budget Office.

Officials said that the site successfully handled record daily traffic of 2.9 million visitors over the weekend and is closing in on an initial goal of 7 million sign-ups.

White House officials expect Monday to be their biggest day for sign-ups.  As of Friday, the administration reported 6 million people had signed up for insurance plans through state and federal exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

There is still time to enroll (though not 16 days, as the White House website incorrectly suggested Monday morning). Most Americans are required to possess health insurance policies by midnight or they will be subject to a fine of $95 or 1 percent of household income above $10,150 for individuals or $20,300 for married couples, whichever is greater.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obama Backs Incumbent Schatz in Hawaii’s Senate Primary

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

US Congress(WASHINGTON) — President Obama endorsed Sen. Brian Schatz over his challenger Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in Hawaii’s competitive Democratic Senate primary Monday.
 
“I have worked with Senator Schatz on the issues that matter to Hawaii.  Brian’s deep commitment to the people of Hawaii and his effective leadership are why I believe it is important to return him to the Senate,” President Obama said in a statement provided by Schatz’s campaign. “Senator Schatz is protecting Hawaii’s values and fighting every day on behalf of middle-class families. There is no question that Senator Schatz is the right choice to continue delivering for Hawaii.”
 
Schatz is running for his first full term after being appointed to the seat in December 2012 following the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye — a move that generated some controversy in the Aloha State.  Before his passing, Inouye indicated he wanted Hanabusa to fill his seat, but Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie went against the late senator’s wishes and picked Schatz for the Senate seat.
 
“I’m honored to receive President Obama’s endorsement in this critical election and I am proud to be one of the President’s most steadfast allies in the U.S. Senate,” Schatz said.  “President Obama personally understands Hawaii’s values and is committed to making sure that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules is given a fair shot.  I will work together with President Obama to continue moving Hawaii and America forward.”
 
President Obama is widely popular in his home state of Hawaii, winning the state with 71 percent in the 2012 presidential election.  Schatz worked on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in Hawaii while Hanabusa backed Hillary Clinton.  Hanabusa has the endorsement of EMILY’s List, an outside group devoted to electing Democratic women to office.
 
Hawaii’s Democratic primary will take place on Aug. 9.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Biden talks Obamacare, April Fools’ and Wooing Jill on "Rachel Ray Show"

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Pete Souza / The White House(NEW YORK) — Joining the Rachel Ray Show live from the White House Monday morning, Vice President Joe Biden admitted to Chef Rachael Ray off the bat, “I’m a terrible cook.”
 
The two spent almost no time talking about cooking and instead focused on the Biden’s relationship with wife Dr. Jill Biden, with the Veep telling Ray, “In Washington, I’m known as Jill’s husband.”
 
When asked how he was able to woo Jill, Biden revealed that it wasn’t easy. “I asked Jill to marry me five times,” Biden said, “and the fifth time I finally said to her, I said ‘Jill, my Irish pride has gotten a hold of [me] this is the last time I’m gonna ask you,’ I said, ‘you don’t have to tell me when you’ll marry me, just if you’ll marry me,’ and she said yes.”
 
As for romantic getaways, Biden said it’s difficult for the pair to find time alone. “What we like to do most is try to get away,” he said, “even when we were at the Senate we used to once a month go to bed and breakfast that was only a mile from our house just to be alone.”

But being the Vice President hasn’t made it any easier.“We still try to do similar things, not a bed and breakfast but we try to get alone,” Biden said, “but ya know alone for us means 70 secret service agents.”
 
And on the eve of April Fools’ Day, Biden divulged that the biggest prankster around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is his wife.
 
“There are pranks at the White House, but that’s not what I worry about, I really mean this — Jill’s dad was a great April Fools’ guy…and [in] her family, it’s like a tradition,” Biden said. “What I worry about when I wake up on April Fools’ Day is what in the hell is Jill going to do this time.”
 
“For example, one April Fools’ Day we’re in…this office, we get on Air Force 2, we’re flying and I say, ‘Where the hell is Jill?’” he said, “and I open up the baggage compartment on top, above ya know, and she jumps out.”
 
Tuesday is also when the clock runs out for those signing up for the administration’s healthcare program this year, and Biden said he thinks people will be surprised by how well it turned out.
 
“Today’s the deadline and I think everyone is gonna be really surprised and pleased at how well this has turned out,” Biden told Ray, “but I want to say one thing Rachel: anybody who is in line now, anybody who’s on the web, in person being interviewed and or on the telephone — they are able to even if the deadline closes to stay in line they can get into the system.”
 
Biden hit other familiar talking points on selling Obamacare, including preexisting conditions coverage and the importance of young people getting insured.
 
“126 million people in America with a preexisting condition, many of them have health insurance and they’re covered, but if they lose their job they’re out of luck,” Biden said. “If they lose their job they’re in trouble. Now under this administration no longer can they be denied coverage because they have a preexisting condition, and the peace of mind that that brings to your brother, your family the peace of mind that it brings to the millions of people who could not get coverage before, this is amazing. It’s amazing.”
 
The Vice President added his plea to young people, “Any young person listening, if you don’t need this for your peace of mind, do it for mom, do it for your dad. Get health coverage, do it for mom.”
 
Biden ended his time with Ray with a discussion of Washington-based television shows, revealing that he’s not an avid House of Cards fan like the President.
 
“It’s amazing, both Veep and House of Cards, they’re great — I only get to see them every once in a while because, it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t get see much television,” he explained, “so the thing that I end up spending the most time watching, which is kind of self-indicting is sports, but that’s usually on the weekends, so I get to do that, but I don’t follow any of the series on ya know.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obamacare Enrollment Ends How It Began

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

The White House(WASHINGTON) — The first Obamacare enrollment season is coming to an end much like it began — heavy traffic to HealthCare.gov and many technical glitches.

Ahead of a midnight deadline, the federal online insurance marketplace was down for unexpected maintenance Monday morning.

Users hoping to sign-up for a plan were greeted with that now infamous warning screen, “The system isn’t available.”

The site started coming back online around 8 a.m. ET.

“The tech team extended the regular maintenance window this morning,” Health and Human Services spokesman Joanne Peters told ABC News.  Consumers were able to enter an email address and get invited back once the repairs were complete.

Despite the hiccup, the site successfully handled record daily traffic of 2.9 million visitors over the weekend, officials said.

White House officials expect Monday to be their biggest day for sign-ups. As of Friday, the administration reported 6 million people had signed up for insurance plans through state and federal exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

There is still time to enroll (though not 16 days, as the White House website incorrectly suggested Monday morning). Most Americans are required to possess health insurance policies by midnight or they will be subject to a fine of $95 or 1 percent of household income above $10,150 for individuals or $20,300 for married couples, whichever is greater.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Obamacare Enrollment Deadline Will Test High-Profile Sales Pitch

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

HealthCare.gov(WASHINGTON) — Monday is (sort of) the deadline for Americans without employer-provided health coverage to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act — the White House extended it so that anyone who’s begun to sign up by Monday can still complete the process by April 7.

The final enrollment numbers will be an important test for a law intended to expand access for the uninsured. It’ll also be a test for the White House’s sales pitch, one that’s involved celebrities, YouTube videos, and paid media.

Most famously, President Obama himself sat down with Zach Galifianakis for an episode of his “Funny or Die” video series “Between Two Ferns.” Obama promoted health-care sign up and proclaimed that HealthCare.gov’s glitches are a thing of the past, in a video that’s been viewed on more than 3.8 million computers according to YouTube’s counter.

In February, Michelle Obama appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to tell viewers that “now young people can get insurance for as little as $50 a month, less than the cost of gym shoes, and for the moms and dads who are out there worried about their kids, we want you to encourage your kids to sign up, for that peace of mind we all look for” — and declaring, of the infamously buggy HealthCare.gov, “It’s working!”

The first lady continued her message to young people and parents in a March 14 YouTube video with some moms of famous people — Jonah Hill, Adam Levine and Jennifer Lopez.

“We nag you because we love you,” Mrs. Obama said at the end. “So go to HealthCare.gov and enroll today.”

LeBron James also promoted signing up in a TV ad to air during NCAA-tournament basketball games — as did Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, who was diagnosed with a kidney disease during a team physical during his NBA career.

The ad blitz hasn’t come cheaply. Administration officials confirmed to The New York Times that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) will have spent $52 million on paid media to promote Obamacare enrollment from January until the end of March.

The promotional campaign has included some web ads, too, making use of the relatively new mode of “native advertising” –  sponsored editorial-style content on websites.

In a “user” post on BuzzFeed, for instance, HealthCare.gov lists “7 Reasons Why Vice President Biden Thinks You Should Get Covered By March 31,” in .gif form.

Illinois’ health-insurance marketplace ran a sponsored post at TheOnion.com, headlined, “Onlookers Gape As Daredevil Crosses Street Without Basic Health Insurance.”

The president himself, naturally, has personally promoted Obamacare enrollment over the past weeks, and not just in the “Between Two Ferns” video. In an interview with Spanish-language sports-talk radio network Univision Deportes, Obama said legal residents who provide information to state exchanges or HealthCare.gov won’t have to worry about immigration officials finding out about family members who are here illegally.

Obama also recorded a video message urging Americans to sign up and hosted perhaps his foremost impersonator, Iman Crosson, along with other YouTube personalities at the White House this month to talk about health care.

On Saturday, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) blasted out an email from Obama, reading, in part:

After open enrollment ends on March 31, you won’t be able to get covered through the marketplace until 2015.

Now is the time for people to get covered.

I know life is busy — and after all the troubles with the website early on, some folks have been hesitant to give it a second chance. But the website is working great now: We’ve signed up more than 6 million Americans already, and more are signing up every day.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing in the White House’s promotional efforts.

The administration reportedly approached the National Football League about promoting Obamacare and was rebuffed, but The Washington Free Beacon reported that a White House official sent language for suggested tweets to the players’ union.

Saturday Night Live mocked some of the gratuitous attempted social-media virality of the White House’s enrollment push.

The White House has said more than six million people have already signed up for coverage — one million less than the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s projection of seven million, which it lowered to six million after problems with HealthCare.gov.

For the president and the law, low enrollment could be a bad sign politically and for the future of the policy. For uninsured Americans, not signing up not only means not having health insurance; thanks to Obamacare’s “individual mandate” and the penalty for not having insurance, it’ll cost Americans either $95 or one percent of their household income (whichever is higher) to not have health insurance in 2014.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Kerry and Lavrov Meet for Four Hours, But Deadlock Remains

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

State Department photo/Public Domain(PARIS) — After four hours of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday the two sides agree on “the importance of finding a diplomatic solution” in Ukraine, but apparently not much else.

Kerry said the U.S. is working with Russia to de-escalate the crisis and called on Russia to pull back the military forces it has amassed on its border with Ukraine, but admitted that since the troops are on Russian soil, they have the right to be there.

The comments were made at a press conference following Kerry’s four-hour emergency meeting with Lavrov at the Russian ambassador’s residence in Paris.

Kerry said the substance of “frank” conversations with his Russian counterpart aimed at settling the issue of the “very large Russian force that is currently amassing along Ukraine’s borders,” and reiteratated that he still considers Russia’s recent moves to be “illegal and illegitimate.”

“Both sides made suggestions today on how we can de-escalate the security as well as political situation in and around Ukraine,” Kerry said. “The U.S. and Russia have differences of opinion about the events that led to this crisis, but both of us recognize the importance of finding a diplomatic solution.”

The talks came after Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this month and its subsequent gathering of some 40,000 troops along the eastern border of Ukraine, an act which Kerry said created “a climate of fear and intimidation.”

The secretary said “any real progress in Ukraine must include pullback by Russian forces,” but after speaking “at length” with Lavrov about the situation, conceded that no resolute decision had been made to withdraw troops.

“We have ideas, we have some proposals that both sides made,” Kerry said. “In the end obviously the troops are in Russia, they’re on Russian soil. The question is not of right or legality, the question is of strategic appropriateness and whether it’s right at the time.”

Both sides were adamant that Ukraine’s participation in the process ahead was mandatory.

“It is Ukrainians who ultimately have to agree to or make any decisions with respect to the road ahead,” Kerry said, adding that federalization of Ukraine as proposed by Russia is up to Ukrainians and that Russia had agreed to respect the rights of Ukrainians to make that choice.

Kerry also pledged U.S. support to Ukraine as it continues to travel its “difficult path to prosperity and peace.”

Kerry had been on his way home from Saudi Arabia, where he traveled with President Obama on Friday, but diverted his flight to attend the talks with Lavrov instead.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Randy Mastro to Christie Report Skeptics: You Can’t Handle the Truth

Posted on: March 30th, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Randy Mastro, the man hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office to investigate the George Washington Bridge scandal, pushed back Sunday against skeptics who say the report was an ethically compromised whitewash.

“We had no incentive to do anything other than to get to the truth and I have to say this, for the skeptics out there, there are some who have a visceral reaction to this bridge controversy. Reminds me of the movie line, ‘They can’t handle the truth.’ We believe we got to the truth,” Mastro said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday.

Also appearing on This Week, Democratic New Jersey state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the state investigation of the lane closures, said it is too early to draw conclusions about any possible involvement by Christie in the lane closings.

“It’s far too early to start concluding that the governor knew nothing, had nothing to do with this,” the lawmaker said, after conceding that no evidence has been found thus far implicating the governor.

In an exclusive interview Friday with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Christie said his former aides were “inexplicably stupid” for taking part in the politically-motivated traffic snarl.

The report released Thursday cleared Christie, who has been considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate, of any wrongdoing, but he still has to weather the release of two further reports into his conduct — by the Democratic state legislature and the Department of Justice — which may be less disposed to draw conclusions in his favor.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Russian Ambassador to US: No Plans to Invade Eastern Ukraine

Posted on: March 30th, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images(MOSCOW) — Russia still does not plan to invade Eastern Ukraine, the Russian ambassador to the United States reiterated to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an appearance on This Week Sunday.

But despite Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s insistence, U.S. officials remain concerned about the tens of thousands of Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border, who Kislyak said are simply there for training exercises.

“We have said so many times that we have no intent, no interest in crossing the border,” Kislyak said on This Week. “We have our forces conducting the exercises in the territory of the Russian Federation. That is normal exercises that we are conducting.”

As for whether Russia would consider pulling back from the breakaway region of Crimea, Kislyak said that the area’s annexation back into the former Soviet orbit was already a done deal.

“What kind of pullback from Crimea are you talking about? We are now in the area of the Russian Federation. One has to be very realistic about it,” he said.

Kislyak also responded to efforts by President Obama to dress Russia down, with Obama saying at a press conference last week that “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength, but out of weakness.”

“If you consider Russia a regional power, look at the region we are in,” Kislyak responded. “It’s from Europe to Asia. It’s quite a significant region in the first place.”

As Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris to discuss a diplomatic solution, Kislyak said he was hopeful both sides could reach an agreement that gives Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine greater autonomy.

“It’s a country that certainly needs a revision of the constitution that would include a mechanism where the regions would be heard and the views will be taken on board,” Kislyak said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

US and Russia ‘Closer’ to Resolving Ukraine Crisis

Posted on: March 29th, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Evert-Jan Daniels – Pool/Getty Images(MOSCOW) — A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised President Obama with a phone call to discuss a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Ukraine, there are signs that a deal might be on the horizon. Both sides publicly laid out positions, though they remain far apart on some issues.

“We are bringing our approaches closer together,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a Russian television interview. He added that “a possible joint initiative that could be offered to our Ukrainian partners is taking shape.”

He also reiterated Moscow’s claim that it has “absolutely no intention of and interest in crossing Ukraine’s borders.”

In a dramatic sign that at least a week of quiet talks between the United States and Russia might finally be coming to a head, Secretary of State John Kerry turned his plane around Saturday on his way home from Saudi Arabia and will meet Lavrov in Europe on Sunday. The two spoke on the phone Saturday.

A senior Obama administration official said the talks are focusing on the role of international monitors in Ukraine, Russia pulling back its forces from the border, and direct talks between Russia and Ukraine “supported by the international community.” The official stressed that “we have been coordinating closely with the Ukrainians, including on this diplomatic proposal.”

Foreign Minister Lavrov, however, said Russia had rejected a Western proposal to set up an international “contact group” that would, in his words, supervise the talks between Russia and Ukraine.

“This would be an absolutely unacceptable format, and we are not talking about this,” he said in the interview.

Lavrov said Russia wants Ukraine’s regions to have more autonomy, presumably because that would allow pro-Russian regions in the east to distance themselves from the new pro-Western government in Kiev. He suggested that the U.S. and its allies were now open to the idea as well.

“I can say that ‘federation’ is no longer a taboo word in our negotiations,” he said.

Russia also wants guarantees written into Ukraine’s new constitution, which will be drafted in the coming months, that it will never join NATO or any other alliance.

“We are convinced that a new [Ukrainian] constitution should unambiguously stipulate Ukraine’s non-aligned status,” Lavrov said in his television interview, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Taken together, Lavrov’s remarks made clear that the Kremlin wants to ensure it will be able to influence events in Ukraine in the future, as well as prevent Kiev from drifting further into the West’s arms.

The U.S., meanwhile, appears to have given up on Crimea and is more concerned about halting the immediate threat of Russian troops, tens of thousands of which have are said to have amassed along the border with Ukraine in recent weeks.

A White House statement on Friday’s call between Obama and Putin spoke only about the need to protect Ukraine’s “territorial integrity,” but made no mention of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine earlier in the month.

If a deal is struck, both sides will have to overcome deep-seated mistrust.

In recent weeks, American officials have complained that Putin’s words have not matched his actions, like an earlier promise not to send troops into Crimea. That unpredictability has caused anxiety about what Putin might do next. U.S. officials have indicated they’ll want mechanisms to prevent Russian meddling in Ukraine in the future.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, is clearly unconvinced by Western promises that NATO will not expand into Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, areas that Russia still considers within its sphere of influence. After all, as the Soviet Union fell, NATO promised not to expand into eastern Europe, then did exactly that a few years later.

Earlier this week, Obama tried to reassure the Kremlin, telling reporters that “neither Ukraine or Georgia are currently on a path to NATO membership and there has not been any immediate plans for expansion of NATO’s membership.”

Yet those assurances have not swayed Russia’s leaders.

“There should be no ambiguity here. There are too many ‘so fars’ and ‘no intentions.’ Intentions change, while facts are created on the ground,” Lavrov said Saturday.

Putin seems intent on maintaining the threat of military action as negotiations progress. In its statement on his call to Obama, the Kremlin noted the situation in the region of Transnistria, which, like Crimea, is home to many ethnic Russians and has long sought to break away from Moldova.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Steven Rattner ‘Hated’ Being Called ‘Czar’

Posted on: March 29th, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — On This Week, Steven Rattner– current Chairman of Willett Advisors LLC and former Obama lead auto adviser and counselor to the Treasury Secretary— talked about the state of the American economy, Obamacare, and his thoughts on being called a “czar.”

1) People consistently refer to you as the former Obama car “czar. Are you a fan [of it]?

Rattner: I hated it, in large part because I wasn’t the czar of anything. I was just another foot soldier trying to help during a very dark period. But my paternal grandfather, whose family fled the czar, would have been amused.

2) President Obama was open about the fact that the rollout of healthcare.gov was fumbled, but now more than 6 million people have signed up for Obamacare. What’s your assessment as to the health of the program, as things currently stand?

Rattner: Because of the start-up problems, Obamacare will fall short of the 7 million enrollees that were projected for the end of March. That’s not fatal, but what will be important will be the composition of those who enroll (enough young and healthy people to balance older Americans) and the level of enrollments in the future. There will be continued ups and downs but, in my view, Obamacare will, in due course, be considered as important a social program as Medicare or Social Security.

3) What’s your economic outlook for the country over the next year? Where does unemployment likely go? What about growth?

Rattner: We seem to be pretty well settled into a steady but regrettably slow recovery, with employment rising by about 175,000 a month and the economy expanding at around a 2 1/2 percent rate. Unemployment has been coming down, but largely because of people dropping out of the labor force, which is not a great recipe for prosperity.

4) You are “Chairman of Willett Advisors LLC, the investment arm for … Michael R. Bloomberg’s personal and philanthropic assets.” What does [former] Mayor Bloomberg hope to do now that he isn’t running New York City? Where is his focus?

Rattner: I want to keep my job, so I’m not going to speak for him! But I read in the press that he is spending more time at his extraordinary company, Bloomberg LP, more time working on his philanthropy and social causes, and has taken his first vacation in 12 years.

5) Your best guess as to the Republican and Democratic nominees for president in 2016?

Rattner: Clinton and Bush, of course! (That is to say, Hillary and Jeb.)

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

WATCH: VP Biden Delivers This Week’s White House Address

Posted on: March 29th, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

The White House(WASHINGTON) — As President Obama makes his return trip to the U.S. following his travels in Europe and the Middle East, Vice President Biden delivers this week’s White House address, discussing the importance of raising the U.S. federal minimum wage.

President Obama has used his weekly address to emphasize pay protections for American workers and raising wages for the last two months, and this week’s address from the vice president is no different. Raising the federal minimum wage, Biden says, is good for workers, businesses and for closing the gender pay gap in the U.S.

Watch the vice president full address:

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

GOP Weekly Address: ‘Calling on President Obama to Support VA Accountability’

Posted on: March 29th, 2014 by ABC News No Comments

US Congress(WASHINGTON) — In this week’s Republican address, Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski hopes President Obama will support a bill she says will empower the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire senior officials who “aren’t up to the job.”

Walorski, a co-sponsor to the bill, says the VA Management Accountability Act was developed in response to the claims backlog leaving many veterans waiting for months or years to receive their benefits.

Read the full transcript of the Republican Address:

“Good morning.  I’m Congresswoman Jackie Walorski.

“Today, I’m calling on President Obama – the Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces – to support H.R. 4031, the VA Management Accountability Act.

“I do so as a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, as the representative of more than 50,000 veterans in Indiana’s Second District, and as the daughter of an Air Force veteran.

“We need this commonsense bill because it will empower the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire senior officials who aren’t up to the job.

“Without this real-world accountability, the VA has become the epitome of bureaucracy run amok.

“I hear daily from Hoosier veterans who are forced to wait months on end for their disability claims to be processed.  Unfortunately, this is typical.  Around the country right now, average wait times are nearly 330 days.

“Even worse, this backlog has been associated with the deaths of thousands of patients waiting for their paperwork to clear.  

“On top of that, their grieving loved ones have to deal with miles of red tape, waiting on the compensation they are owed.

“These men and women fought for our country – they shouldn’t have to fight for their own benefits.

“We’ve traced much of this problem back to a sheer lack of accountability.  

“For example, an audit of Atlanta’s VA hospital – where at least three preventable deaths occurred – found that two top officials were able to retire early and three were reprimanded, while the rest faced ‘unspecified actions.’

“That’s bad enough, but in many cases, we’ve found that not only have managers received no discipline – they’ve gotten bonuses too.  

“These pats on the back and slaps on the wrist only protect bureaucrats, enabling their improper behavior and putting our veterans at risk.

“That’s where the VA Management Accountability Act comes in.

“This bill will give the VA Secretary the authority he needs to fix things.  

“He’ll be able to clear out those who helped make this mess, and bring in people who will clean it up.

“Otherwise, all the reform in the world isn’t going to help.   

“No, this bill won’t solve the backlog, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

“As we speak, this bill is under consideration by our committee, where it continues to pick up bipartisan support.

“Already, we’ve received the backing of House Speaker John Boehner and key organizations like the American Legion, Concerned Veterans for America, AMVETS, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“Today we’re reaching out to the president – and to all Americans.

“Because each of us has a stake in solving this problem.

“All the things we say about owing our veterans a debt of gratitude.

“All the promises we make to take care of them.  To support them.

“The VA exists to turn those words into action.

“America is a grateful nation.  We cannot allow anything or anyone to get in the way of that.

“The words ‘veteran’ and ‘backlog’ should never appear in the same sentence.

“Together, let’s make that our mission, and let’s get to work.

“Thank you, God bless those who serve, and God bless the United States of America.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio