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With Obamacare Repeal Sputtering, GOP Pins Hopes On HHS Nominee Price

IMAGE: A small group of demonstrators stand outside of of a hotel before former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, president of the The Heritage Foundation, speaks at a “Defund Obamacare Tour” rally in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.  August 26, 2013. REUTERS/Nate Chute/File Photo

Trump Plans To ‘Spend Big’ On Advertising In Early Primary States

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, who has remained atop the Republican presidential primary polls despite little advertising, plans to ramp it up in the early primary states as voting nears.

Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that his presidential campaign is “$35,000,000 under budget,” boasting that he’s in “first place,” even though he’s “spent very little.” That’s about to change, he said, with plans to “spend big” in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Trump’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for details, but the billionaire real estate magnate on Monday night told the audience at a rally in New Hampshire that he planned to “spend a lot of money over the next four weeks.”

“We just don’t want to take any chances; we’re too close.”

The ad blitz could cost at least $2 million a week, and “possibly several times that,” Fox News reported. Citing campaign sources, Fox said Trump is prepared to spend as much as $100 million for advertising overall. His campaign has spent less than $20,000 on radio spots.

The uptick in spending comes as Trump finds himself neck-and-neck in the polls with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and as several news outlets have questioned whether Trump has established the grass-roots organizing apparatus that can get voters to the caucuses in Iowa.

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Mesa, Arizona December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Nancy Wiechec 

 

Top 10 Moments Of The Political Year

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Outsiders were in. Donald Trump wanted Muslims kept out. And Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails” were no longer a state secret.

It was a tumultuous year in politics: Trump upended the Republican establishment with a brash candidacy that has tapped a deep vein of discontent with politics as usual. Revelations that Clinton used a private email server as secretary of state punched a hole in her presumed inevitability. And Jeb Bush dropped from front-runner to all-but-forgotten.

The top 10, anything but politics as usual, moments:

  1. Carly Fiorina stands up and stands out in the Republicans’ first undercard debate in August, enabling her to move up to prime time for the Sept. 16 Republican presidential debate.
  1. Black Lives Matter activists interrupt Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley at a July forum in Phoenix, forcing the candidates to largely stop using the phrase, “All Lives Matter.”
  1. Jeb Bush stumbles for a week in May trying to answer a seemingly obvious question about the most controversial element of his brother’s legacy, the Iraq war. Bush refuses to say he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq in 2003 — even if he knew then that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction.

It wasn’t until four days later that Bush said that in hindsight, he would not have gone to war in Iraq.

  1. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who won three elections for governor –– including a recall ––in four years in the blue state of Wisconsin and had been the GOP front-runner in Iowa over the summer, drops out of the race on Sept. 21 after a stumbling campaign.
  1. Bernie Sanders criticizes the attention paid to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Democratic presidential candidates debate for the first time, on Oct. 13. His comment gives Clinton a pass on the issue from her chief primary opponent.
  1. Vice President Joe Biden on Oct. 21 ends months of speculation that he’d heed the deathbed plea of his son, Beau, and run for president. Biden’s decision greatly boosts Clinton’s prospects.
  1. Hillary Clinton withstands 11 hours of questioning by critics who accused her of failing to prevent the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. She emerges unscathed from the Oct. 22 congressional hearing.
  1. Donald Trump in December proposes suspending the entry of Muslims to the United States, touching off sharp denunciations from religious groups, the White House and Republican leaders — but gaining a boost in the polls among Republicans.
  1. The focus of the campaign shifts after terrorists kill 130 and wound hundreds in Paris, and then when a husband and wife kill 14 and wound 21 at a workplace holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. Tough-talking Trump and Ted Cruz soar while Ben Carson stumbles with foreign policy and voters flee.
  1. Donald Trump on June 16 announces he’s running for president in a rambling monologue in which he accuses Mexico of sending “rapists” to the U.S., a brash proclamation that upends the Republican race for the nomination and puts immigration policy front and center in the debate.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us,” he says. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

©2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015.    REUTERS/Mike Blake

 

Feel the Bern: Sanders’ Support Is Deep And Passionate

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Bernie Sanders doesn’t attract supporters. He draws believers.

Isabel Storey, 22, is taking a year off school to volunteer for his campaign. Rachel Joselson, a voice teacher and opera singer, plans to send him her latest CD — songs created in the concentration camps during the Holocaust — in hopes of singing at a Sanders’ inauguration.

“He’s my soul mate; I love that man,” exclaims Joselson, 60, a University of Iowa professor, leaving a house party here for Sanders. “He’s the salt of the Earth. There’s no hidden agenda. He’s just about justice and fairness for the American people.”

As the Vermont senator looks to transform a surprising summer insurgency into an enduring campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, he’s fueled by deep enthusiasm from voters weary with a long-faltering economy who cherish what they say is his unvarnished authenticity and outspoken advocacy.

“He’s for the little guy,” says Becky Davis, 65, a registered nurse from Burlington who wore her blue “Feel the Bern” T-shirt to a Sanders’ town hall in Fort Madison, along the Mississippi River. She thrilled from the second row as the 74-year-old delivered a nearly hourlong stem-winder and took audience questions, railing against a “billionaire class” he says has rigged the economy in favor of the wealthy.

Whether that grass-roots enthusiasm can gain widespread traction, let alone match the precision of a campaign conducted by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, appears unlikely, according to recent polls that show Clinton maintaining a wide lead over Sanders.

Undeterred, many supporters recall a little-known presidential candidate, Barack Obama, taking Iowa in 2008. Others backed John Edwards with his warning about two Americas.

They contend that Clinton is too political for their tastes, saying she too readily changes her position to fit popular opinion. They point to her vote authorizing the Iraq War, and most recently her opposition to Obama’s trade pact, after touting it as secretary of state.

But the ardor is not as much anti-Clinton as it is pro-Sanders, whom they love for straight talk and consistency.

“What Bernie believed then is what Bernie believes now and until the end of time,” says Jan Taylor, 75, a self-described “very liberal” retired college professor who is volunteering for Sanders’ Iowa campaign.

Sanders’ supporters point to 20-, even 30-year-old clips of his TV and radio appearances and stress that his message has not changed.

“He just had a little more hair,” says Tom Myers, 61, who has followed Sanders online “for years” and now pitches Sanders’ candidacy to friends and family. He brought his son, Jon, 21, to a Sanders house party in Iowa City over the weekend.

Myers likes that Sanders wants to bolster and expand Social Security and rejects the premise of a “trickle down” economy, in which tax breaks for the wealthy creates prosperity. “The big conglomerates, the wealthy, get 99 percent of the breaks,” Myers says. “Bernie wants to even that out a little.”

Sanders has filled sports stadiums and raised millions from small donors, keeping pace with Clinton. But his biggest challenge will be to broaden his base beyond the party activists, millennials and aging progressives drawn to his unorthodox campaign. He started that new phase over the weekend, holding smaller events across Iowa, taking questions and acknowledging that he’s got “work to do” to quell voter fears about what he means when he calls himself a “democratic socialist.”

Tom Causner, 57, a former Democratic Party chair in Iowa’s Johnson County, insists Sanders is already reaching beyond his base: He’s volunteering for Sanders and seeing names he’s never seen before on sign-up sheets for the Feb. 1 caucuses.

“He’s appealing to people who feel disenfranchised, and that’s not limited to liberals,” Causner says.

Sanders insists his campaign is picking up steam, telling audiences that when he entered the race in April he was widely viewed as an oddity, a fringe candidate.

“But a funny thing happened,” he tells an audience at Fort Madison’s Richardson Elementary School, an overflow group listening from another room. “It turns out that the American people are a lot more angry and frustrated with the status quo than all the pundits thought. Turns out the American people want to see some profound changes to our economy and it turns out that millions of Americans do want to see a political revolution.”

The revolutionary talk — at campaign events the Sanders’ set list includes Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” — inspires Sanders supporters who believe that’s what it will take to remove the corrosive influence of money from politics.

But others wish he’d stop using the s-word, fearful it makes him unpalatable to mainstream voters.

“As an American, it’s a little alarming to hear the word ‘socialist,'” admits Dave Breon, 48, a Sanders supporter from Eddyville. He has friends struggling to make ends meet with minimum-wage jobs and loves Sanders’ advocacy for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. He thinks Sanders could appeal to the average working American.

But he winces at Sanders’ plan to explain what he means by “democratic socialist,” suggesting that the campaign should rather “let the message speak for itself.” The word, he says, “doesn’t play to the moderates.”

Sanders says the U.S. already embraces some elements of socialism — he pointed to local police and fire departments. That’s a view endorsed by Nadia Juneja, 33, an Iowa City emergency medical physician. The U.S., she says, looks after the elderly with Social Security and the poor with Medicaid. As a doctor, she’s seen what can happen when patients can’t afford health care.

Juneja acknowledges worries about Sanders’ electability, noting, “They tried to paint Barack Obama as a socialist, like it was a dirty word.”

But she’s shelving those concerns for now: “The bottom line is that I believe in what he stands for and I would rather support someone in line with my beliefs than settle.”

Photo: Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hold a sign supporting him as he speaks during the 2015 Jefferson-Jackson Dinner with fellow candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley in Des Moines, Iowa, October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Scott Morgan

Sanders Plans Speech To Explain His Socialism

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Acknowledging the political liability of the word “socialist,” Bernie Sanders said Sunday that he plans a “major speech” to detail what it means when he calls himself a “democratic socialist.”

Responding to a woman at a house party who asked him how he’d counter Republican attacks about calling himself a socialist, the Vermont senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination said he plans a speech in “not too distant future” to define what he means.

“I think we have some explaining and work to do, but I think at the end of the day you’re going to find more and more people agreeing,” he said.

Sanders, whose summer surge in popularity has him leading Hillary Clinton in the early voting state, said later that “a lot of people … when they hear the word ‘socialist’ get very, very nervous.”

“They may not know that there are countries all over the world, whether its Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the U.K., who on and off have had democratic socialist governments and they may not be familiar with some of the very positive policies those governments have developed for the middle class and working families,” he said.

Sanders argued that the U.S. already has some socialist policies, including Social Security and Medicare.

“To me, democratic socialism means democracy, it means creating a government that represents all of us, not just the wealthiest,” he said.

“When you go to your public library or you call your police or fire department … these are socialist institutions,” he said.

Bill Maher, the comedian and host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, urged during a Sanders appearance on his show Friday night to “un-demonize” the word, jokingly cautioning him that when some people hear the word they think “herpes.”

Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, has aligned his brand of what he calls “democratic socialism” with center-left countries such as Denmark, Finland and Norway.

“What democratic socialism means to me is having a government which represents all people, rather than just the wealthiest people,” he said at a recent campaign event in New Hampshire.

Photo: Vermont Senator and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders greets supporters at a campaign town hall in Manchester, New Hampshire, August 1, 2015. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

How Bernie Sanders And Hillary Clinton Differ

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders shy away from direct mentions of each other, focusing instead on the Republicans.

But when the two top-polling candidates for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination face off for the first time Tuesday in the first Democratic debate, it will be hard to escape the fact that they have had very different approaches to major issues from war to paychecks.

Here’s a preview of the areas where they differ.

Super PACs

Sanders pledges not to accept support from any of the political action committees that can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals. He’s introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed the committees to proliferate, and says one of his criteria for picking Supreme Court justices will be a willingness to overturn the decision.

“That nominee will say that we are going to overturn this disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United. Because that decision is undermining American democracy. I do not believe that billionaires should be able to buy politicians,” Sanders said on “Face the Nation” in May.

Clinton has not ruled out super PAC money and is benefiting from at least two working primarily on her behalf, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century.

Clinton has said she would appoint Supreme Court justices “who value the right to vote over the right of billionaires to buy elections” and would push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Guns

Sanders opposed the 1993 Brady bill, which established federal background checks and a waiting period for potential gun owners.

He’s explained that he represents a largely rural state where guns “mean different things to people” than in urban states. As a result, he’s argued that he could play a role in bringing opposing sides together. He notes that he later voted and supports a ban on semi-automatic weapons, closing the so-called gun show loophole and tightening background checks.

Clinton, in the wake of a community college shooting in Oregon, called for steps on gun control and said she’d act unilaterally if Congress failed to tighten gun show and Internet sales loopholes. She also backs legislation to prevent domestic abusers from buying and possessing firearms and would seek to repeal a 2005 law known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prevents gun manufacturers and dealers in some cases from being sued. Sanders voted for the law in 2005; Clinton voted against it.

Health care

Sanders has championed single-payer, universal health care for all Americans.

Clinton has said she would expand coverage through the existing Affordable Care Act.

Iraq War

Clinton, then a New York senator, voted in October 2002 to authorize military force against Iraq. In her 2014 book, she said she voted “after weighing the evidence and seeking as many opinions as I could inside and outside our government, Democrats and Republicans alike.” She said she got it wrong.

Sanders, then a member of the House of Representatives, voted against the use of force in Iraq, saying in 2002 that he was worried about the “problems of so-called unintended consequences” and that “war must be the last recourse in international relations, not the first.”

Patriot Act

Sanders voted against the surveillance law passed by Congress in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and has voted against its reauthorization since.

He wrote in Time last May that he “believed then and am even more convinced today that the law gave the government far too much power to spy on Americans and that it provided too little oversight or disclosure.”

Clinton voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 as a U.S. senator. She, however, voiced support in May for legislation that President Barack Obama endorsed to end the government’s bulk collection of phone records.

Syria

Clinton called for a no-fly zone in Syria the day after Russia began a bombing campaign in the country to support President Bashar Assad.

“I personally would be advocating now for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air, to try to provide some way to take stock of what’s happening, to try to stem the flow of refugees,” Clinton told a Boston radio show.

Sanders opposes a “unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region.”

Keystone pipeline

Sanders opposes the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada into the U.S. He helped “lead the effort in the Senate against the Keystone pipeline,” he told “Face the Nation” in June, “because I think, if we’re serious about reversing climate change, you don’t excavate and transport some of the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world.” He said Clinton “has been very quiet on this issue.”

Indeed, Clinton, who as secretary of state oversaw the department’s yet-to-be-completed review, refused for months to say where she stood, saying she was waiting for the White House to make its decision. She announced her opposition on Sept. 22, saying the project is a “distraction from important work we have to do on climate change.”

Minimum wage

Sanders introduced legislation in July to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

He called the current federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — “a starvation wage,” and said employees who work 40 hours a week “have a right not to be living in poverty.”

Clinton has stopped short of endorsing a federal $15-an-hour measure.

She has supported legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 and backs local efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise the minimum wage to $15. But she noted in July that “what you can do in L.A. or in New York may not work in other places.”

Trade

Sanders has voted against U.S. trade pacts, saying they’re bad for American workers. He has been a sharp critic of what he calls Obama’s “disastrous” Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious trade pact involving the United States and 11 other nations, and vows to “do all that I can” to thwart the agreement in the Senate.

“This agreement follows failed trade deals with Mexico, China and other low-wage countries that have cost millions of jobs and shuttered tens of thousands of factories across the United States,” he said of the agreement.

Clinton supported Obama’s trade deal as his secretary of state (CNN found she pushed for the pact at least 45 times), but after months of not saying how she stood, Clinton came out in opposition on Oct. 7, saying the pact doesn’t “meet the high bar I have set.”

“The risks are too high that, despite our best efforts, (trade pacts) will end up doing more harm than good for hard-working American families whose paychecks have barely budged in years,” she said.

Sanders declined to criticize Clinton’s hesitance on the issue, saying he was “glad that she reached that conclusion, this is a conclusion that I reached from Day One.”

College

Sanders proposes a “College for All Act” that would make college a right, eliminating tuition at all four-year public colleges and universities.

Sanders says the U.S. should ensure “that every qualified American in this country who has the ability and desire to go to college is able to go to college, regardless of the income of his or her family.”

Clinton’s “New College Compact” promises that students would “never have to borrow to pay for tuition, books and fees to attend a four-year public college in their state,” but it requires that students would have to work 10 hours a week.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Illustrations: DonkeyHotey

His Late Father Looms Over Obama’s Trip To Kenya

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama is defined in many ways by something he never really had.

A father.

He quizzes golf partners and friends about their dads. He leans in when he talks with troubled teens about the absence of a father in his own life. The loss shapes his role as a father and drives him to try to help others escape what a close friend calls “the voids in your life.”

His late father, thus, looms large when Obama visits Kenya next week for the first time as president. He may not visit the village where his father lived. He may not go to see the gravesite freshly decorated just in case. But his Kenyan father will be very much on his mind, as always.

The father Obama scarcely knew was born in Kenya in 1936 and died there, mostly a stranger to his son, whom he left as an infant. But there’s little doubt that Obama has been indelibly shaped by the vacuum.

“It motivated to him to want to do better,” said Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and Obama’s senior White House adviser. “His message to young people is you don’t have to be defined by the voids in your life.”

Obama points to his father and his unrealized potential — he died at 46 — as a source of his ambition. “Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes. And I suppose that may explain my particular malady,” he wrote in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope.

Now Obama returns to his father’s homeland, his ambition elevating his family in one generation from a tiny village in Kenya to the White House.

The elder Barack Obama came to the United States in 1960, part of a scholarship program to educate young Africans eager to slip the bonds of British colonial rule. He met Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a white woman from Kansas, at the University of Hawaii in 1960. They married and welcomed a son, born in Honolulu in August 1961.

The senior Obama left when the future president was 2, heading to Harvard University and then to Kenya. His son, raised by his mother and her parents in Hawaii and Indonesia, would see his father just once more, for a month. He was 10.

Brilliant but troubled, the elder Obama became an economist in Kenya, which gained independence in 1963. After early promise, his life “ended up being filled with disappointments,” the younger Obama has said. A descent into alcoholism ended with a fatal car crash in Nairobi in 1982.

Obama made his first pilgrimage to Kenya in 1987, seeking to reconcile his own racial identity as he searched for an understanding of his father.

Though his mother spoke positively of his father, Obama found his story more complicated. His father had children with several wives, was an alcoholic and a womanizer who “did not treat his children well,” Obama told Newsweek in 2008.

This trip, built around a summit in Nairobi and meetings with Kenyan officials, will be Obama’s fourth to the country. Expectations are considerable: The government plans to spend 1 million Kenyan shillings _ about $16,000 _ to spruce up his father’s and grandfather’s graves in the family’s village of Kogelo, a seven-hour drive from Nairobi, according to The Star newspaper.

“Kenyans don’t think of (Obama) as African-American, they think of him as Kenyan-American,” EJ Hogendoorn, deputy program director for Africa at the International Crisis Group, said at a Washington briefing on Obama’s trip. “They think of him as Luo-American,” a reference to his Obama’s father’s and grandfather’s tribal roots.

It’s unclear whether Obama will visit the remote town as he did on previous trips, or meet with family members who include aunts, uncles, step-siblings and his Kenyan step-grandmother, known as Mama Sarah.

The third wife of Obama’s paternal grandfather, Mama Sarah lives in Kogelo and has asked Obama to visit “to pay respect to his father’s grave,” AFP reported.

She’s vowed to cook a traditional Kenyan meal for her grandson: “It does not matter whether Barack is a senator or a president,” she said. “He will have what I have prepared for him.”

Though not related by blood, Obama called Mama Sarah “Granny” in the memoir that resulted from his first trip, Dreams From My Father. Published in 1995, the book would serve as a source for voters wanting to understand Obama’s heritage, and as fodder for conspiracy theorists who sought to portray Obama as foreign born.

Obama said a bit wistfully this week that visiting Kenya as a private citizen was “probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president, because I can actually get outside of the hotel room or a conference center.”

Obama said he hopes the visit, beyond being “symbolically important,” demonstrates that the U.S. sees itself as a partner with Kenya and other sub-Saharan countries.

He said he expects a focus on counterterrorism efforts as the Somalia-based terrorist group, al Shabaab, continues to threaten Kenya and neighboring countries, including Ethiopia, where Obama also will visit.

Obama said he plans to address corruption in Kenya, which ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, placing 145 out of 175 on Transparency International’s corruption index. The U.S. wants to “continue to encourage democracy and the reduction of corruption inside that country that sometimes has held back this incredibly gifted and blessed country,” he said.

Obama used his heritage to launch his national political profile, depicting himself as a bridge to the future.

At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he invoked his father’s legacy as a foreign student who saw America as a “beacon of freedom and opportunity” in a soaring keynote address that put him on the national stage.

On the campaign trail in 2007, Obama cited his father when an Iowa voter asked him what experience had prepared him to make critical decisions.
What his father’s absence meant, Obama said, “was that I had to learn very early on to figure out what was important and what wasn’t, and exercise my own judgment.”

As president, Obama has spoken candidly about growing up without a father, saying he’s made an extra effort “to be a good dad for my own children.”

He’s admitted to drug use in high school and warned that children who grow up without a father are more likely to live in poverty, drop out of school, end up in prison or abuse drugs and alcohol.

“I say all this as someone who grew up without a father in my own life,” Obama said at a Father’s Day event at the White House in 2010, calling it “something that leaves a hole in a child’s life.”

Obama’s remarks on fatherhood and responsibility, often aimed at African-Americans, have not always been well received.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson charged in 2008 that Obama was “talking down” to African-Americans. Essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates accused Obama in a 2013 Atlantic magazine piece of being tougher on black audiences than white, calling him “singularly the scold of ‘black America.’ ”

Obama makes no apologies.

“I am a black man who grew up without a father and I know the cost that I paid for that,” he said in May at a poverty summit. “I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off.”

That same month he announced he would make permanent the My Brother’s Keeper initiative he launched in the wake of several racially charged deaths of young men.

“A mission for me and for (first lady Michelle Obama) not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life,” he said.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

File photo: President Obama, September 2011. (U.S. Embassy New Delhi via Flickr)

Ruling On NSA Phone Data Splits GOP Presidential Hopefuls

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A court decision Thursday that declared the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata to be illegal revealed a sharp split among several Republican presidential hopefuls over the scope of the surveillance.

Minutes after the court’s announcement, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has challenged the constitutionality of the program, called the ruling a “monumental decision for all lovers of liberty” and urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the spying program.

He also called on Congress to repeal the USA Patriot Act provision that permits the collection and said he would “continue to fight to prevent the Washington machine from illegally seizing any American’s personal communication.”

That stance puts him at sharp odds with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination next year, who took to the Senate floor, along with Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) to defend the program and accuse critics of “raising hysteria.”

Rubio charged that a perception has been created, “including by political figures that serve in this chamber, that the United States government is listening to your phone calls or going through your bills as a matter of course. That is absolutely, categorically false.”

“The next time that any politician, senator, congressman, talking head, whatever it may be, stands up and says that the U.S. government is listening to your phone calls or going through your phone records, they’re lying,” Rubio said.

On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nod, tweeted, “It’s Time To End Orwellian Surveillance of Every American.”

On his Senate website, he said: “Clearly we must do everything we can to protect our country from the serious potential of another terrorist attack, but we can and must do so in a way that also protects the constitutional rights of the American people and maintains our free society.”

Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton had not commented on the ruling by early evening, but on Twitter she pledged her support for the USA Freedom Act, a possible replacement for the Patriot Act but without the provision allowing the bulk collection of data.

“Congress should move ahead now with the USA Freedom Act — a good step forward in ongoing efforts to protect our security & civil liberties,” Clinton tweeted.

Likely Republican contender and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush last month said President Barack Obama’s support for using big metadata was the “best part” of the administration.

“The first obligation of our national government is to keep us safe,” Bush said in a radio interview on “The Michael Medved Show.” “And the technology that now can be applied to make that so, while protecting civil liberties, are there and (Obama’s) not abandoned them even though there was some indication that he might.”

The ruling from the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes as the Senate debates renewing the USA Patriot Act, which includes Section 215, which allows the government to bulk-collect metadata of phone records.

The White House said Obama has privacy concerns about the bulk collection and is working with Congress on the USA Freedom Act to curb it.

That put the administration in the same camp as another Republican 2016 hopeful, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who called for passage of the act. Cruz said the ruling “ends the NSA’s unfettered data collection program once and for all, while at the same time preserving the government’s ability to obtain information to track down terrorists when it has sufficient justification and support for doing so.”

Rubio has charged the USA Freedom Act could undercut the ability to track terrorists.

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: NSA Operations Center (via Wikimedia Commons)

Obama To Senate: Approve Loretta Lynch Nomination Now

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday called on Republicans to schedule a vote on his nominee to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, calling Loretta Lynch’s monthslong wait a case of Senate “dysfunction” gone too far.

At a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama also said he planned to make a “strong case” for his ambitious trade deal to skeptics within his own party and he left open the possibility that sanctions on Iran might be lifted at once if a deal over the country’s nuclear program is reached.

He said the details of the Iran deal would be hammered out by Secretary of State John Kerry and negotiators, but he noted that “there are a lot of different mechanism and ways” to lessen the sanctions.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that the deal would be signed in late June only if economic sanctions were lifted at once, though the U.S. has insisted they’d be lifted in phases.

But Obama said Friday that the negotiators’ job would be “to sometimes find formulas that get to our main concerns while allowing the other side to make a presentation to their body politic that is more acceptable.”

More important than the timing, the president said, would be ensuring that economic sanctions against Tehran could be snapped back into place if Iran doesn’t live up to the deal.

“Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn’t abide by its agreement, that we don’t have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to reinstate sanctions,” Obama said.

The president saved his most impassioned remarks for his attorney general nominee, Lynch, who he said had waited more than twice as long as the previous seven attorney general nominees combined to get a vote in the Senate.

“There’s no reason for it,” Obama said, noting that few have argued that Lynch is not qualified for the job. “Nobody can describe a reason for it beyond political gamesmanship in the Senate on an issue that’s completely unrelated to her.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he won’t give Lynch a confirmation vote until an anti-trafficking bill passes. But the bill to aid human trafficking victims is tied up in abortion politics, with Democrats objecting to an anti-abortion provision in the measure.

McConnell’s office noted, however, that he’d said Thursday night that senators were making progress on the trafficking bill and that he hoped it would be passed early next week. A vote on Lynch’s nomination would follow.

“I guess they don’t have C-SPAN down there at the White House,” McConnell’s deputy chief of staff, Don Stewart, suggested in an email.

Obama criticized the 160-plus-day wait, calling it a “crazy” situation: “Enough. Enough,” he said. “Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job. This is embarrassing, a process like this.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch testifies during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Lynch will succeed Eric Holder to be the next U.S. Attorney General if confirmed by the Senate. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Can Jeb Bush Make It Right With The Right?

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — When he first ran for public office, Jeb Bush dubbed himself a “head-banging conservative.”

Now he’s heading to a face-to-face meeting with conservatives, many of whom think he’s anything but one of them, and who would pose the biggest hurdle to him winning the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Bush will appear Friday before thousands of influential activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, a high-stakes appearance that could allow him to start winning their hearts — or underscore a tough road ahead.

One Florida activist predicted he’ll win them over. Others forecast a cool response.

Complaints about Bush date to his father, George H.W. Bush, who infuriated the right by breaking a pledge not to raise taxes. They had different complaints about his brother George W. Bush.

And although Jeb Bush pledges to be his “own man” and in two terms as Florida’s governor slashed taxes, staunchly opposed abortion and took on teachers unions, activists remain unconvinced. They point to his support for Common Core education standards, immigration and the Bush family record as stumbling blocks.

“I don’t know of any other potential candidate who is advocating for growing the government or for giving more power and responsibility to the federal government,” Taylor Budowich, executive director of the Tea Party Express, said of Jeb Bush. “He’s unique in that regard.”

For starters, conservative critics say, Bush has remained largely supportive of education standards that outline what students should know at each grade level, even after the benchmarks became a target for conservatives leery of the federal government.

They’ll be looking for Bush to “explain why the federal government has a better means of handling education and why it shouldn’t be left to the states,” Budowich said. “It’s going to be a tough sell.”

Bush, since announcing in December that he was considering a presidential run, has amassed a formidable array of well-heeled donors across the country and secured impressive hires in key primary states.

But conservative activists play an outsize role in many of those early states, and many months out, polls point to trouble. Just 4 percent of Iowa Republicans who described themselves as very conservative said they’d support Bush, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday. Asked to name a candidate they would definitely not support, they named Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the top of the enemies list.

Bush is not ceding the right.

Before his Friday appearance at CPAC, he’ll address the influential Club for Growth on Thursday night in Florida. Next week, he heads to Des Moines for the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit, and he’s planned a trip next month to South Carolina, which, like Iowa, is an early test of conservative sentiment that can make or break a candidacy.

Bush addressed CPAC in 2013 and considers it a “great opportunity to engage with the crowd,” said spokeswoman Kristy Campbell. She said the event provided Bush with an opportunity to “talk about his strong record of conservative leadership.”

Al Cardenas, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and of the American Conservative Union, which started the annual conference, said he was confident that the room at CPAC “will end up being on the governor’s side.”

He noted that Bush has elected to take questions from Fox News’ Sean Hannity rather than deliver prepared remarks, giving activists a better chance to take his measure.

Cardenas said an “inside the Beltway crowd” had distorted Bush’s record as governor and that once activists learned more about Bush, their concerns would be allayed.

“I worked with him as close as anyone and always believed he was one of the most conservative governors in America,” Cardenas said. “Those of us from Florida, sometimes we take it for granted what we know, and that’s not yet the case.”

But the divide between the party establishment and its right flank may be harder than ever to bridge, particularly after the past two Republican nominees who were perceived as moderates won the nomination and lost the presidency, said Craig Shirley, an author and conservative activist. He noted that talk radio — a potent force among activists — is staunchly opposed to a Bush candidacy.

Conservatives remain irate with Bush’s father over his broken tax pledge and in “open revolt” with George W. Bush over his record on the Iraq War, the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drugs and the growth of the federal government under his watch, Shirley said.

And Jeb Bush has no ready cultural connection with conservatives, Shirley said. “They see him as former governor; that’s all they know about him. They know he’s a Bush, and they don’t like that, and they know he’s for Common Core and open borders, and they really don’t like that.”

Bush will get some credit for appearing at the conservative confab, Shirley said, “but I doubt they will be standing on the tables for him.”

Is there anything Bush can do to convince conservatives he’s their candidate?

“He can go back in time to 1990 and convince his father not to break his pledge on taxes and go back in time and convince his brother not to invade Iraq,” Shirley suggests.

One conservative group, ForAmerica, has released a video declaring Bush “unelectable” thanks to his participation at a 2013 ceremony honoring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell acknowledged that Bush has name identification and “Chamber of Commerce” money but said that might not be enough as he noted the primary defeat last year of former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), and the election of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who defeated Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a Senate David vs. Goliath primary battle.

“As we’ve seen time and time again, money doesn’t necessarily buy you a thing,” Bozell said. “If that were the case, Eric Cantor would be majority leader and Ted Cruz wouldn’t be in Congress.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Big Government Doesn’t Help The Poor, Jeb Bush Says

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida went to one of America’s most troubled cities Wednesday to lay out the economic principles for a likely presidential campaign, signaling he’d compete for usually Democratic votes with a conservative pitch to help the poor and middle class.

“Some in the media think conservatives don’t care about the cities. But they are wrong,” he said at the Detroit Economic Club. “We believe that every American, and in every community, has a right to pursue happiness.”

Bush used his speech to frame an economic argument that would contrast the problems of the poor under President Barack Obama and his pro-government approach with the promise of a market-driven agenda.

“How do we recapture the prosperity and opportunity that once defined cities like Detroit?” he said. “This is an urgent issue: Far too many Americans live on the edge of economic ruin.”

“Today,” he added, “Americans across the country are frustrated. They see only a small portion of the population riding the economy’s up escalator. It’s true enough that we’ve seen some recent and welcome good news on the economy. But it’s very little, and it’s come very late.”

Although he didn’t announce a campaign, he said he felt compelled back into the public debate: “I’m getting involved in politics again, because that’s where the work has to begin.”

Bush, whose father, George H.W. Bush, and brother George W. Bush served as president, bashed a Washington fix for the economy. “The progressive and liberal mindset believes that to every problem there is a Washington, D.C., solution,” he said.

He said new rules punished people with higher taxes for moving up the economic ladder, and at the other end created a “spiderweb that traps people in perpetual dependence.”

He argued that Detroit’s woes echo those in the nation’s capital, citing “decades of big government policies, petty politics, impossible-to-meet pension promises, chronic mismanagement and broken services.”

As an example, he cited Amtrak, saying the railroad loses money on its snack cars even when it has a captive audience.

“If the government can’t collect parking fines or sell snacks on a train, why would government know how to enable every citizen to move up in life?” he said.

He pledged more speeches in coming weeks and a “plan of action that is different from what we’ve been hearing in Washington, D.C.”

Bush spoke from prepared remarks for 20 minutes, and grew increasingly engaged as he answered questions posed by the economic council, endorsing an immigration overhaul, accusing Obama of retreating from the world and acknowledging that his family name will present an “interesting challenge” if he decides to run for president.

He also strongly endorsed vaccines, while working to avoid the controversy that’s entangled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), whose statements this week questioning mandatory vaccines were criticized by public health officials.

“Parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children are protected, “said Bush, the father of three. “Over and out.”

Bush has garnered tepid reviews from some party conservatives, but he said his ideas were “rooted in conservative principles and tethered to our shared belief in opportunity and the unknown possibilities of a nation given the freedom to act, to create, to dream and to rise.”

Democrats panned the speech, calling it divorced from Bush’s record as governor of Florida.

“Time and again he lined the pockets of the wealthy and big businesses with tax cuts, at the expense of working families and their children,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Ian Sams.

Bush laid out five “core principles,” saying the most important factor isn’t government but committed two-parent families.

“Every child has a greater chance at opportunity when they are raised by loving, caring and supportive parents and a committed family,” he said. “It’s critical that governmental leaders recognize that and support it.”

He also championed “growth above all,” saying the U.S. shouldn’t settle for an economic growth rate of less than 4 percent a year — twice the current average — and that if rules or laws don’t contribute to growth, they should be scrapped.

He called for fewer laws restricting the labor market and “reducing the penalties that come with moving up from the lowest rungs of the ladder.”

Bush took no swipes at fellow Republicans, even as the moderator likened the 2012 Republican nomination contest to the canteen scene in “Star Wars.”

“Heck, I’m going to get in trouble just listening to that,” Bush said, laughing. He described modern politics as “chaotic” and said smoke-filled backrooms that picked candidates had been replaced by a “little Wild West.”

Paul archly congratulated Bush for the Detroit speech, saying it was “great to see” him take Paul’s lead in proposing solutions for revitalizing Detroit.

“We hope Governor Bush continues to emulate Senator Paul by detailing his proposals and reaching out to help the party,” Paul’s political action committee said in a statement. “Senator Paul will continue to lead the way in expanding the Republican Party by bringing real solutions to American cities like Detroit.”

While avoiding his potential rivals, Bush lavished effusive praise on his father and brother, saying George W. Bush had been “a great president” and joking that he’d “take it outside” with anyone who disputed that his dad isn’t “the greatest man alive.”

But he acknowledged that if he decides to run, his family name will present a challenge.

He added: “It doesn’t bother me a bit to be proud of them and love them, but I know for a fact that if I’m going to be successful . . . I’m going to have to do it on my own.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Obama To Propose Rolling Back Budget Cuts

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will propose a $74 billion hike in spending in his budget, an increase of about 7 percent, the White House said.

Obama, who will unveil his budget on Monday, is calling for a total roll back of spending limits that he and Congress agreed to in 2011 to avoid a fiscal crisis, as he proposes to boost military and domestic spending.

His budget proposes about $74 billion more in discretionary investments than would be allowed under sequestration in 2016, a roughly 7 percent increase over the sequestration level. This includes $530 billion in non-defense discretionary spending and $561 billion in defense spending.

Obama will propose ending the across-the-board, so-called sequester cuts that were designed by the administration and Congress to be so objectionable to both parties that they would be forced to reach an alternative deal to trim projected deficits by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Resolution proved elusive and the cuts went into effect in 2013, though some were later lifted.

But Obama, in remarks Thursday to the House Democratic Caucus meeting in Philadelphia, will propose entirely ending the cuts that the White House say “threaten our economy and our military. ”
Obama’s budget will “fully reverse those cuts for domestic priorities, and match those investments dollar-for-dollar with the resources our troops need to keep America safe,” the White House said.

Republicans panned the proposal, contending that it was Obama who proposed the original cuts to avoid a debt limit debate before his 2012 re-election.

“Republicans believe there are smarter ways to cut spending than the sequester and have passed legislation to replace it multiple times, only to see the president continue to demand tax hikes,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “Until he gets serious about solving our long-term spending problem, it’s hard to take him seriously.”

Democrats, who are seeking an aggressive 2016 campaign theme, hailed Obama’s move. “For too long, the draconian cuts of the sequester have strangled our investments to keep America No. 1 in the global economy and to ensure our national security,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “Republicans’ insistence on these unbalanced and irresponsible cuts has cost jobs and slowed our economy.”

Obama’s budget proposal has already touched off partisan wrangling with its call for $320 billion in tax increases over the next 10 years, including fees on certain Wall Street firms, eliminating a “trust fund loophole” the White House says allows the super rich to pass on estates tax-free, and raising the top tax on investment gains for the wealthy.

“Fully paid for with cuts to inefficient spending programs and closing tax loopholes to make sure everyone pays their fair share, the president’s budget will be able to make critical investments in the things we need to grow,” the White House said.

Obama has already called for advanced manufacturing institutes, paid sick leave and free community college for some students, as he looks to cast his party as the champion of the middle class.
Obama’s plans also called for raising taxes on a popular program used to save for college — but the administration was forced to backtrack this week after an outpouring of opposition from Republicans and Democrats.

Obama had proposed earlier this month to eliminate tax breaks adopted in 2001 for new contributions to 529 college savings plans. But he faced a backlash from members of both political parties, as well as operators and users of the state-based plans.

The proposal will still appear in his budget, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said: The pullback came after the budget had been sent to the printers.

Obama made his case for his budget in a Huffington Post opinion piece, writing that if Congress fails to fully reverse the sequestration cuts, “it will threaten our economy and our military.”

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

Obama, Cameron Vow To ‘Confront’ The Islamic State

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

CARDIFF, Wales — President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed Thursday to confront the Islamic State, saying they “will not be cowed” by the militants who have slain two American journalists and threatened the life of a British captive.

The joint statement appeared as an editorial in The Times of London as the two leaders prepared to open a NATO summit that will be dominated by discussions about how to respond to the terrorist threat in Iraq and in Syria, as well as how to counter Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

“If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong,” the two wrote. “Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers. We will be more forthright in the defense of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep our people safe.”

They appeared to endorse an enhanced role for NATO in the fight against the extremist group, but offered no details.

“By working together we are stronger, whether in standing up to Russia or confronting (the Islamic State),” they wrote, noting that as the NATO alliance meets in Wales, “we must summon up the shared resolve that inspired Nato’s founding fathers. With more than 60 countries represented at the summit, we can build this proud alliance of transatlantic nations into a more effective security network that fosters stability around the world.”

The terrorist group must be “squeezed out of existence,” Cameron told SkyNews in an interview.

Obama and Cameron arrived together at the summit after visiting a Mount Pleasant Primary School in Newport, Wales, where they talked with children taking part in a NATO-themed lesson.

NATO has not received any request from Iraq to fight the Islamic State, but any such request would be “considered seriously,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters outside the summit. He said help could come in the form of military training, as NATO has done before in Iraq.

For Obama and Cameron, the summit opened with a meeting on Ukraine with its president Petro Poroshenko, who was expected to brief leaders on potential peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The talks are scheduled to resume on Friday, but leaders were skeptical about the outcome.

“What counts is what is actually happening on the ground and we are still witnessing unfortunately Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine,” Rasmussen said.
Ukraine is hoping for greater assistance from NATO, but Rasmussen implied it won’t mean military assistance.

Obama and Cameron used the threat of Russia expanding its reach to argue that NATO members need to step up their commitment to NATO, writing that NATO must help Ukraine, and back up its commitment to defend NATO members “with a multinational rapid response force, composed of land, air, maritime, and special forces, that could deploy anywhere in the world at very short notice.”

That will require more money from NATO members, they said, noting that Britain and the United States are two of only 4 alliance members to meet the target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defense.

“Other states must urgently step up their efforts to meet this too,” they wrote, saying it would send “a powerful message to those that threaten us that our collective resolve is as strong as ever.”

Analysts say the task may be difficult, given the stagnant economy of many European nations.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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Sen. Warren Is Tribune Of Left And Its Fondest White House Wish

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

DETROIT — “Is this the line for the groupies?”

Amanda Knief asked the question with a laugh, but liberal fervor for Sen. Elizabeth Warren runs deep, as evidenced by the fans who’d gathered some 90 minutes before the Massachusetts Democrat took the stage in Detroit recently at the nation’s largest gathering of liberal activists.

Volunteers with a group that’s hoping to convince Warren to launch a bid for the White House handed out “Warren for President” stickers and hats. As the senator signed copies of her latest book, “A Fighting Chance,” supporters pressed her to consider a run in 2016.

Warren’s pugnacious battle against Wall Street titans and her impassioned defense of liberal touchstones have fans swooning.

“She represents the conscience of America,” said Monica Lewis Patrick, 48, a public policy analyst in Detroit.

She cited Warren’s unabashed criticism of the banking industry, which the senator charges duped homeowners and helped spark the financial crisis.

“She speaks truth to power unapologetically,” Patrick said.

Knief, 37, a public policy activist, said Warren was inspiring a new round of activism.

“She makes us think, ‘We can do this,’ ” said Knief. “She’s out there making things happen.”

A former Sunday school teacher, Warren delivers populist stemwinders with confrontational rhetoric. She speaks more like an activist than a politician, decrying “sleazy lobbyists” and their “Republican friends in Congress,” along with rapacious corporations and big banks that she says “swagger through Washington” focused on squashing any effort to regulate them.

For liberals and many who feel left behind by an economy that’s supercharged Wall Street but done little to lift salaries, the subjects of Warren’s ire are fitting targets.

“Most of our politicians are preoccupied with raising money, much of it from Wall Street,” said Egberto Willies, 52, a Houston blogger and software developer. “We finally have a politician who truly believes and advocates for the middle class.”

Warren comes by her populism honestly. She taught for two decades at Harvard Law School, but the Oklahoma native underscores her modest roots: Her father was a janitor and her mother worked at Sears, earning minimum wage, Warren tells audiences.

Her parents didn’t have enough money to send young Elizabeth to college, so she enrolled at a commuter school, paying $50 a semester.

Warren first drew widespread liberal ardor when she issued pointed critiques as the chair of a congressional oversight panel that monitored the $700 billion federal taxpayer bailout of the banking industry in 2008. At one hearing, she allowed protesters toting signs that read “Give us our $$$$$ back” and “Where’s our money?” to stay during a nearly two-hour congressional hearing.

She left the panel in 2010 to help launch the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, aimed at cracking down on deceptive and abusive loan products. Calling for a strong consumer watchdog, she memorably said her second choice would be “no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”

Many had hoped she’d become the bureau’s first director, and she was a natural choice. But President Barack Obama passed her over amid staunch opposition from congressional Republicans and financial service industry lobbyists who thought Warren was hostile to their interests.

She ran for the Senate instead, defeating Republican former Sen. Scott Brown, despite what she says were pledges by Wall Street to “send money by the double bucketful” to defeat her.

Warren boasts that the financial protection agency has returned $4 billion to consumers, and as much as some backers would like her to run for president, many want her to remain in the Senate. She’s repeatedly told reporters pressing her about presidential aspirations that she’s serving out her Senate term, which runs to 2019.

Republicans have taken note of Warren’s popularity. America Rising, a conservative group that does opposition research on Democrats, says it’s tracking Warren now, along with Clinton.

“Democrats are launching a campaign to draft liberal Democrat Elizabeth Warren for president,” America Rising said in a fundraising appeal. “America can’t afford to let that happen.”

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

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Senator Elizabeth Warren To Liberals: I’m Fighting Back

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

DETROIT — Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wowed a friendly crowd of influential liberal activists Friday in Detroit, pledging to fight against Republicans and the “sleazy lobbyists” she says have rigged the rules in Washington and harmed the middle class.

Warren took the stage in a crowded ballroom to calls of “Run, Liz, run” by activists waving “Elizabeth Warren for President” signs — and did little to disappoint.

Speaking before the nation’s largest gathering of liberal activists, she railed against giant corporations, secret trade deals and Republicans she said were too cozy with big business.

“The tilt in the playing field is everywhere,” Warren said in a 15-minute speech that had the audience at the Netroots Nation on its feet. “We can whine about it, we can whimper about it or we can fight back. I’m fighting back.”

Progressives are hoping the populist Massachusetts Democrat makes a run for the presidency in 2016, challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the left. Though Warren has said she’s serving out her Senate term, which expires in 2019, her speech at times had the feel of a campaign.

She credited the activists with seeing that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she helped develop, is up and running, declaring that it’s forced financial institutions to return more than $4 billion to consumers.

“You called out sleazy lobbyists and cowardly politicians,” she said. “You said, ‘We the people will have this agency,’ and you won the fight.”

Warren, who enjoys fervor among liberals for leading a charge to overhaul the financial system, called for more Wall Street regulations, accusing big banks of crashing the economy but continuing to “swagger through Washington blocking reform.”

Activists swooned, even if they’re not convinced she’ll run for president. She’s already proved a powerhouse this year, raising $2.6 million for other Democrats and campaigning for Senate candidates across the country.

“I love her. I would be 1,000 percent behind her,” said Mooney Gow, 52, of Sacramento, Calif., a “Warren for President” hat perched on his head as he streamed out of the ballroom. “She would move the needle to the left, and that’s her job. ”

Ready for Warren, a group that hopes to draft the senator to run for president, made a major splash at the event, handing out placards, stickers and faux straw boaters emblazoned with “Elizabeth Warren for President.”

One volunteer suggested a use for the Warren sticker: Affix it to the “Ready for Hillary” coffee tumblers that Ready for Hillary, Clinton’s campaign-in-waiting, had distributed. Clinton didn’t speak to the group.

Warren’s popularity has spurred Republicans to put her on their radar.

America Rising, a conservative group that does opposition research on Democrats, sent out a fundraising appeal this week that says it’s tracking Warren now, along with Clinton.

“Democrats are launching a campaign to draft liberal Democrat Elizabeth Warren for president,” the appeal says. “America can’t afford to let that happen.”

Activists have lauded Warren, a onetime Harvard professor, for her candor, and she didn’t mince words Friday. Though the Obama administration is pressing a major trade deal, Warren laced into the secrecy around it, saying Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies and “big polluters are smacking their lips at the possibility of rigging” the deals.

Conservatives, she charged, are “guided by an internal motto: ‘I got mine; the rest of you are on your own.’ ”

She delivered a list of liberal values, including combating climate change, raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, protecting Social Security and revamping immigration law. Some of her loudest applause came as she voiced opposition to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision on contraceptives.

“She hits a chord with us,” said Cathy Casas, 59, a retiree from Tampa, Fla., who’d arrived early to secure a seat in the ballroom so as not to miss a minute of Warren. “She’s so real, so genuine. Not a plastic politician.”

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flickr

Video of Senator Warren’s speech can be seen below:

Obama Increasingly Taking His Message Beyond Washington

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is often seen this summer outside the White House, strolling down a city street, joking with ordinary Americans, grabbing a burger or a waffle cone. Just a regular guy.

This week it’s in Denver. A few weeks ago, in St. Paul and Minneapolis. In between, it’s in Washington, escaping the White House.

Yet Obama’s forays into ice cream parlors and even a Chipotle are less spontaneous strolls than carefully orchestrated campaign-style events aimed at bolstering an unpopular president’s image, along with his spirits.

“Being out and about is in his best interest. He’s good on the stage, so take the stage with you,” said political consultant Bill Miller, who advises both Republicans and Democrats in Texas, where Obama will stop this week on a three-day swing outside Washington.

“If he’s in the White House he just looks like he’s being banged on from every direction, for any reason,” Miller said. “If he’s out, he creates opportunities for himself, which is an advantage when everything incoming is negative.”

White House aides say the trips out of town and even beyond the White House gates allow Obama to talk and to listen to everyday Americans and humanize his initiatives, most of which face Republican opposition. The encounters also provide his media operation with footage of a casual, everyday kind of guy, relating to the American people.

“The president has always enjoyed getting outside the bubble of Washington and seeks any opportunity to connect with folks in order to hear firsthand the challenges they face, and talk about the ways Washington can help them do better,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz.

Obama has likened the ventures to a “caged bear” being released, such as when he eschewed his motorcade for a stroll to an event at the Interior Department. But he didn’t really walk away from the bubble; he greeted tourists as a White House video crew filmed the scene, which was later posted on the White House website.

“This is like the best day of my life!” exclaimed one excited tourist as she hugged Obama. “Oh my gosh, someone’s going to think you’re like wax.”

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Tuesday the notion of an everyman itching to get out among the people dates to the 2008 campaign. When Obama “shook off his schedule and busted out of the bubble,” staffers joked that the “bear is loose,” Pfeiffer said in a White House blog post. He added, “lately, the bear has been loose a lot and this week will be no different.”

Republicans suggested he’d be better off staying at the White House.

Obama is “traveling around the country this week to give campaign speeches — not working with Congress (to) help middle-class families struggling under the weight of his policies,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday.

White House advisers wouldn’t say how often Obama plans to get out. But the Minnesota visit last month and this week’s trip to Colorado and Texas are part of a planned “Day in the Life” series, in which Obama will spend time with people who have written him letters or emails.

Obama reads 10 letters a night selected by his staff. Those picked for a presidential visit will showcase a presidential priority — such as raising the minimum wage or providing preschool to all 4-year-olds.

Obama was meeting Tuesday night in Denver with a woman the White House identified only as Alex. She wrote to Obama earlier this year to thank him, saying that her boss was “inspired” by Obama’s State of the Union address and gave her a raise.

In Minnesota, Obama repeatedly cited Rebekah Erler as he championed his initiatives and bashed Republicans for blocking them.

The state Republican Party noted that Erler once worked for Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Republican National Committeewoman Janet Beihoffer called his visit a “slick, choreographed stunt.”

But the White House likely got what it wanted: newspaper and television coverage of Obama walking down the street for an ice cream, enjoying a burger. Obama himself joked he had done everything but kayak over the falls at Minnehaha Park.

“The visit from a public relations standpoint was a home run for the White House, no question,” said Michael Brodkorb, a Minnesota blogger and former Republican Party official. “They took the powerful office of the president and brought it down to a neighborhood level. That’s what people are left with, ‘Hey, the president can relate.”’

Advisers say Obama would do more of the out-of-Washington ventures if he had the opportunity, and the wanderlust has prompted some speculation about whether he’s frustrated with his job.

Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told reporters that it’s not discontent but the weather that’s prompting the walkabouts.

“We kind of joke about the bear,” she told reporters at a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “We all have cabin fever, it was a long, tough winter all across this country, and when the sun comes out and birds are chirping and everything turns green, why wouldn’t he want to go for a walk?”

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

Russians Target State Dept. Spokeswoman For Media Assault

By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Among the Russian bloggers and social media activists who are loyal to the Kremlin, there’s a favorite target when it comes to pillorying the United States.

President Barack Obama and his chief diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, come in for a few licks. But for the unbridled ridicule particular to the Internet, there’s a bigger bull’s-eye: State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Since the U.S. first began protesting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Ukraine, Psaki has been relentlessly mocked for several missteps by a parade of bloggers and tweeters. She’s even the subject of a satiric song — “There is nothing more competent than Psaki” — by a group of radio deejays, and of a flurry of unflattering Photoshopped images.

The online attacks got broader exposure when RT, the state-sponsored broadcast network formerly known as Russia Today, took up the cause with an episode titled “Orwellian Jen Psaki,” as well as “State Dept. Sideshow: Jen Psaki’s most embarrassing fails, most entertaining grillings,” a Web page that features links to clips of Psaki at the State Department lectern.

“She’s become a vehicle for them to unleash everything they don’t like about us, to twist the message,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who was once the focus of a similar online assault by what he said was a “fairly orchestrated” campaign by Russian activists loyal to Putin.

“It’s part of a larger anti-American campaign that is relentless,” said McFaul, who said he was pilloried “as the poster boy sent by Barack Obama to foment revolution in Russia.”

Psaki, or “psaking,” has even become a verb on Twitter, McFaul said, to describe “saying something stupid.”

Once the recipient of a Russian hat in happier times, Psaki said the personal barrage was aimed at U.S. support for a “strong and sovereign” Ukraine. She blames what she said were “vicious personal attacks” on what she and Kerry have called the “Russian propaganda machine.”

“While being attacked for supporting the people of Ukraine is a badge of honor, it does make you wonder whether spending time attacking me is behavior worthy of a world power,” she said.

The spotlight on Psaki, who served as a spokeswoman in both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, began earlier this year as tension between the U.S. and Russia rose over Russia’s takeover of Crimea in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters at a daily news briefing in April, Psaki mistakenly said that natural gas arrived in Russia from Western Europe, rather than the other way around. She immediately recognized her mistake and corrected herself, but the Russians seized on the flub.

A month later, she became the Russian subject of ridicule when she told a reporter who asked her at a briefing that she didn’t know what “carousel voting” was, though the State Department talking points had cited “carousel voting” as one of several signs of potential fraud during a referendum in portions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine.

Russians use the term describe voters who cast ballots at different polling stations.

The Russian government is eager to poke holes in the U.S. contention that Russia is the aggressor in Ukraine and even minor mistakes make Psaki a target for its sympathizers, said William Pomeranz, the deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington.

“The Russians think these attacks, which are obviously excessive in many ways, will undermine the credibility of the State Department as it makes various statements about Russia’s intention in the region,” Pomeranz said.

He suggested that Russians may misunderstand Psaki’s position, as spokespersons in Russia have more elevated positions.

Still, he said, “from the Russian perspective it spreads some doubt about the reliability of the U.S. position if the official spokesperson for the U.S is making mistakes.”

The reporting isn’t limited to Psaki’s slips. After her deputy, Marie Harf, pitched in for a few briefings, Russian outlets reported — inaccurately — that Psaki had been fired, prompting a sarcastic Twitter campaign with the hashtag #savepsaki. “You’re the best comic actor in the world!” one tweet read.

Another Twitter user seized on the report to tweak U.S. reprisals against Russia, suggesting the “most brutal sanctions for Russian — Psaki fired!”

News reports said Russia’s permanent United Nations representative, Vitaly Churkin, had chimed in, telling reporters he hoped Psaki would return, as he “found it very interesting to listen to her.”

Psaki blasted back at her critics on Twitter, writing, “Despite the Russian propaganda machine suggesting otherwise, I am still here as is a strong, democratic Ukraine.” She added a hashtag: #dontbelieveRT.

The channel took umbrage, with RT’s editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, writing on Twitter, “Psaki is under the illusion that there is RT scheming all around her. Dear Jen! We did not write of your firing! If you in fact had been fired, we couldn’t write — we would weep!”

The official newspaper of the Russian government, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, falsely reported last week that Psaki had rejected claims that Ukrainians were fleeing to Russia’s southern Rostov region, chiding her for apparently not being familiar with the geography in the area.

Matt Lee, an Associated Press reporter who the story said had prompted the discussion, said on Twitter that the purported exchange never happened.

Kerry has come to Psaki’s defense, writing that he’s “always proud” of Psaki, who, he said, “deals in facts.” Defending her on Twitter, he added a hashtag: #attacksareabadgeofhonor.

Psaki noted at a recent news briefing that she’s “just one of many American officials, especially women,” targeted by Russian propagandists. Indeed, her predecessor, Victoria Nuland, had few fans in the Russian government, Kerry recounted last September at Nuland’s swearing-in as an assistant secretary of state.

On his first trip abroad after Nuland had left as spokeswoman, Kerry said, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sized up his staff and said to him, “‘John, I see you finally fired that Toria Nuland.’”

To laughter, Kerry noted, “I took great pleasure in looking at him and saying, ‘No, I promoted her.’”

Photo via U.S. Department of State Official Blog