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Republicans Say North Korea Bomb Test Claims Are Hillary Clinton’s Fault

By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — North Korea’s claim to have tested its first hydrogen bomb is the latest foreign policy litmus test in the presidential race: Republican candidates are blaming President Barack Obama’s policies for the rogue regime’s boldness and seeking to tie the U.S. approach to Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who served as Obama’s secretary of state.

“If this test is confirmed, it will be just the latest example of the failed Obama-Clinton foreign policy,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. “Our enemies around the world are taking advantage of Obama’s weakness. We need new leadership that will stand up to people like Kim Jong-un and ensure our country has the capabilities necessary to keep America safe.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said on Twitter that North Korea’s move shows the danger of continuing the “feckless Obama/Clinton foreign policy.”

Carly Fiorina called the development “yet another Hillary Clinton foreign policy failure” in a posting on Facebook and suggested North Korea was emboldened by the U.S. decision to put off sanctions on Iran for new violations in recent weeks of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The candidates did not elaborate on why they believe Clinton, who left the State Department in 2013, is responsible for Pyongyang’s latest provocation, or say in detail how they would respond to the regime.

Clinton condemned what she said was North Korea’s attempt to “blackmail the world into easing the pressure on its rogue regime.” She also urged China to be more assertive in using its influence on the regime and to cut illicit trade across its border with the country.

“We can’t give in to or in any way encourage this kind of bullying,” she said in a statement. “Instead, we should increase pressure and send Pyongyang an unmistakable message that its nuclear brinksmanship won’t succeed.”

(Sam Kim, Elizabeth Titus and Sangwon Yoon contributed to this report.)

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding the test of a hydrogen bomb, in this still image taken from KRT video and released by Yonhap on January 6, 2016.   REUTERS/Yonhap   

 

Obama To His Successor: Don’t Just Shoot But Aim At Terror

By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says his best advice to his eventual successor on dealing with terrorist threats is “not just to shoot, but to aim.”

Obama criticized Republican calls for carpet bombing against Islamic State in the Middle East, and continued to reject calls for a no-fly zone in Syria that have been supported by a number of those aspiring to the Oval Office, including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

“Who is it you are going to bomb? Where is it that you are going to bomb?” Obama said in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep taped Dec. 17 at the White House before Obama departed for a family vacation in Hawaii, and broadcast on Monday. “When you talk about something like carpet bombing, what do you mean?”

Obama said his administration is carrying out “precision strikes” on Islamic State based on intelligence, and that “if the suggestion is that we kill tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians and Iraqis, that is not who we are and that would be a strategy that would have enormous backlash against the United States. It would be terrible for our national security.”

Obama said that while some variation of a no-fly zone in Syria has been under consideration for more than three years, “the challenge there is that ISIL doesn’t have an air force, so the damage done there is not against ISIL, it’s against the Syrian regime.”

Without a large number of troops on the ground “it’s hard to create a safe zone” and “that doesn’t solve the ISIL problem,” Obama said, using one of the alternative names for Islamic State.

Obama compared some Americans’ concerns about Muslims living in the U.S. to past discrimination against Irish and Japanese immigrants, blacks and gays. He singled out Donald Trump, the front-runner in national Republican presidential polls, for “exploiting” voters’ fears.

“I do think that the country is inexorably changing” in positive ways that overall lead to more tolerance, Obama said. At the same time, he said that demographic changes combined with economic stresses have meant that “particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble” adjusting.

“There is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear — some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that,” Obama said.

Obama continued to defend his approach to threats from Islamic State jihadists, who control large parts of Iraq and Syria and have been associated with terrorist attacks in Europe. “I make no apologies for us wanting to do this appropriately and in a way that is consistent with American values,” he said.

“What I would say to my successor is that it is important not just to shoot but to aim,” Obama said. “And it is important in this seat to make sure that you are making your best judgments based on data, intelligence, the information that’s coming from your commanders and folks on the ground, and you’re not being swayed by politics.”

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he leaves his end of the year news conference at the White House in Washington December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

 

Joe Biden: I Made ‘The Right Decision’

By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — More than six months after his eldest son, Beau, died of brain cancer and six weeks after effectively ending his political career, Vice President Joe Biden is mostly at peace.

Atop his desk aboard Air Force Two as he returns from a trip to the Ukraine is a red folder with the word “cancer” scribbled across the tab, filled with notes and names. On his left wrist, a bracelet made of dark beads and a cross. It’s the rosary Beau fingered until he died in May.

He misses his “exceptional son” terribly and, while he admits to a certain wistfulness for the campaign trail, he has come to terms with his decision not to follow through on Beau’s wish that he make a third run for the presidency.

“My decision, I know, was the right decision,” Biden says of his October announcement that he would not be challenging Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and her rivals, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, for the nomination.

“I believed I could win, but that’s not enough. I know myself. And I know it takes time,” says Biden of the process of finding his way back to life. “You’ve got to get through the first Thanksgiving — the first empty chair; the first Christmas, the first smell of spring.”

In the course of a 40-minute interview, the vice president comes across as much more emotionally settled than over the summer and fall when he was mulling a presidential run. Yet he is still clearly vulnerable, a man trying to make the transition from grieving what’s gone to treasuring what’s left — his wife, Jill; his surviving adult children Hunter and Ashley, five grandchildren and the next chapter in his professional life.

“Beau was my soul. Beau was an exceptional son,” Biden says. “When I lost Beau, I lost the most honest, insightful, knowledgeable political adviser I had. He managed me well, for real.”

Biden says he wants to honor Beau by spending much of his last year in office and his post-political life making cancer research and treatment a bigger national priority. Right now, he’s trying to learn the science, the finance, the politics and complexities of a disease that is dreaded and yet ubiquitous. He hopes it will soon be treatable with an arsenal of new discoveries. He meets with cancer experts. He attends conferences. He carries his red folder with him to Ukraine and back.

“What I’m doing now, I’m meeting with every center of power within the cancer world. I’m meeting with billionaires who have set up foundations. I’m meeting with everyone from the Mayo Clinic to one of the largest outfits that took care of Beau,” he said, as well as “all the researchers.”

He is not yet quite sure the direction it will take him, but he’s following a lesson he learned early in his Washington career, when he swaggered onto the Senate floor for an energy debate, armed with a series of talking points. He encountered Sen. Russell Long, son of the legendary Louisiana “kingfish,” Gov. Huey Long. Russell Long had been in the Senate a quarter-century when Biden was elected. He didn’t need talking points to debate energy.

As he describes his humiliation at the hands of the wily Louisianian over the technicalities of oil drilling, Biden jumps from his chair and imitates the late senator’s pigeon-like posture and his thick accent, saying “earl” for oil. For Biden, whose career was bookended by personal tragedies, the Senate has been his energy source, the bipartisan family that sustained him after his first wife and infant daughter were killed in an automobile crash shortly after his election in 1972. As he reminisces about those days, his joie de vivre returns.

Biden doesn’t share the widespread cynicism about politics. Calling Donald Trump’s politics a “dangerous brew,” he expresses confidence that Americans will reject it. “Even though it appeals to some people who are really frightened and scared, even though it appeals to some prejudice and fears, I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

He admits he hasn’t let the 2016 election go, sometimes measuring the candidates’ actions and statements against what he would have done. “I’ve always thought in those terms, from the time I was a 29-year-old senator,” he says. “How would I have done it differently?”

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden  in Washington October 21, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

 

Joe Biden Draws Distinctions Between Himself And Hillary Clinton

By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — If Vice President Joe Biden decides to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democrat presidential nomination the contours of his stump speech are in place.

For the second time this week Biden portrayed himself as a pragmatist who’s capable of working with Republicans, drawing a subtle contrast with party front-runner Clinton.

“I don’t think my chief enemy is the Republican Party,” Biden said during a panel discussion at an event honoring former Vice President Walter Mondale in Washington. By contrast, Clinton named “the Republicans” as one of her greatest enemies when asked at the Oct. 13 Democratic candidate debate.

Like Mondale, Biden spent years before becoming vice president as a member of the Senate, where the rules make it nearly impossible to move legislation without compromise. He has served as President Barack Obama’s chief emissary to Congress, particularly in negotiations with the Republican leadership there.

During the panel discussion at George Washington University, Biden also portrayed himself as a loyal and vital part of Obama’s administration who was involved in key issues during the past seven years. Clinton also has embraced her time as Obama’s first secretary of state.

“We’ve had two great secretaries of state,” Biden said, but he pointed out that when the vice president speaks with a foreign leader, they know that “I am speaking for the president.”

Biden is expected to announce whether he intends to make a third try for the Democratic nomination by the end of the week, according to people close to him. He has stepped-up contacts with union officials and other prospective backers in recent days.

Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the other Democratic candidates are scheduled to speak at Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner for the Iowa Democratic Party, which attracts thousands of Democratic activists in the first-caucus state. Biden’s staff has neither signaled nor ruled out an appearance at the dinner in Des Moines.

Photo: Joe Biden still hasn’t announced whether he’s going to run for president, but this might be a step in one direction. Center for American Progress/Flickr

Poll: Rubio, Bush And Paul Are Clinton’s Top Opponents In Swing States

By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul are leading the Republican pack as most electable against Democrat Hillary Clinton in three swing states, according to a new poll with provocative implications for the crowded Republican primary.

Still, Clinton tops eight Republican contenders or the matchups are too close to call in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, with just one exception — a theoretical Ohio contest against that state’s Gov. John Kasich — according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released Wednesday.

At the same time, the survey found that majorities of voters in the three states say Clinton isn’t honest and trustworthy, and has lower numbers than desirable for Democrats when people are asked whether a candidate cares about the needs and problems of people like them.

If the general election were held now and Clinton were the Democratic nominee, Rubio would be Clinton’s top threat by a “tiny” edge, said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the survey. Rubio leads Clinton 44 percent to 43 percent in one state, Pennsylvania, and trails her 44 percent to 47 percent in Florida and 42 percent to 45 percent in Ohio.

Bush trails Clinton in all three states, the poll found, though by small margins: 41 percent to 42 percent in Ohio, 42 percent to 46 percent in his home state and 41 percent to 45 percent in Pennsylvania.

Paul, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, edges Clinton 45 percent to 44 percent in Pennsylvania and ties her at 43 percent in Ohio while falling well behind her in Florida, 39 percent to 46 percent.

Scott Walker, a top challenger in early Republican primary contests, isn’t doing as well as the leading rivals against Clinton in swing-state matchups, the survey found. And while Kasich outpolls Clinton 47 percent to 40 percent in his home state, he trails her 35 percent to 48 percent in Florida and 39 percent to 45 percent in Pennsylvania.

No candidate since 1960 has won the presidency without two of the three states.

Clinton faces potential trouble in three areas, however: voter perceptions of her favorability, trustworthiness and empathy. Her favorability rating was 47 percent to 45 percent in Florida, while skewing negative in Ohio, 44 percent to 48 percent, and in Pennsylvania, 46 percent to 48 percent. Asked whether she’s honest or trustworthy, the answer was no for 51 percent of voters in Florida, 53 percent in Ohio and 54 percent in Pennsylvania.

Less than half of voters in each of the states said she cares about the needs and problems of people like them: 48 percent in Florida and Ohio and 45 percent in Florida.

“Democrats usually win that question,” Brown said. “The Democratic Party’s focus, they say, is on helping average folks. And the answer is not all that positive for her.”

Meanwhile, Brown said, “The Republican race is a muddle, and this data shows that there’s no clear leader on the Republican side in terms of who’s best against Secretary Clinton.”

The poll, conducted June 4-15, surveyed 1,147 Florida voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; 1,191 Ohio voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points; and 970 Pennsylvania voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Michelle Obama Looks Overseas In Final Years As First Lady

By Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News (TNS)

From the “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity campaign to initiatives to boost resources for military families and get more students through college, first lady Michelle Obama has focused her agenda on Americans.

As her husband’s presidency begins to wind down, though, she’s adapting a lesson from the adage that U.S. presidents do well to turn toward foreign policy in their last years in office.

This week, she will travel to Asia, with stops in Japan and Cambodia, to promote the administration’s Let Girls Learn initiative, which aims to support efforts in countries around the world to keep teenage girls in school.

After six years of being first lady of the United States, “at this stage she’s had a greater understanding of how first ladies around the world — or first spouses — can work together,” said Anita McBride of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs at American University, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff.

Arriving in Japan on Wednesday, Obama will visit Tokyo and Kyoto, teaming up with Akie Abe, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, who is a leading advocate in her country and the region for women advancing in the workplace and men sharing tasks at home. From there, Obama will visit Cambodia with Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet to visit with volunteers and students at a school in Siem Reap.

For decades, first ladies have made overseas trips, pressing countries to educate their daughters and move toward gender equality. Hillary Clinton, during her time as first lady, turned her attention to women overseas after controversies at home. And in aftermath of 9/11, Bush promoted the education of girls and women in Afghanistan. Obama has already visited some foreign countries independently of her husband, including China, South Africa, and Haiti.

Still, in picking up the mantle on girls’ education worldwide, Obama is expanding her own legacy, while staying within the boundaries she set at start of her husband’s presidency to stick to politically safe issues involving children and families rather than take a hands-on role in contentious debates such as health care or foreign policy.

“As I’ve traveled the world over the past six years, I’ve seen time and again how our young people, particularly our girls, are so often pushed to the very bottom of their societies,” she said at a March 3 event at the White House announcing the initiative. “And that’s where this issue becomes personal for me, and for Barack, because I see myself in these girls. I see our daughters in these girls. And like all of you, I just can’t walk away from them. Like you, I can’t just sit back and accept the barriers that keep them from realizing their promise.

“So I know that I want to use my time and my platform as first lady and beyond to make a real impact on this issue. I want to lift up the extraordinary work all of you have been doing long before I came to this issue, and I want to bring new resources and new partners to this effort.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said that President Barack Obama also is committed to the initiative, that he presses for advancement of girls’ education in his meetings with foreign leaders, and that the White House’s national security team is involved in coordinating the approach. “This is an issue that’s important to the president,” Schultz said. “The president believes there’s no better voice for this than the first lady.”

Because Obama is the first black first lady, her message to women of color in developing nations may have a special impact. “It sends a really strong message to people around the world that we can move past some of our own issues related to race” in the U.S., McBride said.

According to the Obama administration, there are 62 million girls worldwide not in school, half adolescents. The initiative starts with the premise that less educated women will earn less and be more susceptible to forced marriage, domestic violence, and HIV/AIDS.Obama’s engagement is expected to continue through the end of her husband’s administration.

The Peace Corps will focus on 11 countries, including Cambodia, in the first year of the initiative. The other countries are Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda. “The Peace Corps is so proud to be working closely with the first lady,” Hessler-Radelet said in an e-mail.

USAID already supports programs to boost girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Malawi, and Jordan. The Millennium Challenge Corporation has initiatives underway in El Salvador and Georgia to boost girls’ education. The U.S. government also funds empowerment and leadership programs for women and teen girls in Afghanistan and Rwanda. And the U.S. funds programs around the world to combat female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Myra Gutin, a Rider University professor who studies first ladies, said that while Obama has largely steered clear of policy activism, advocacy for girls’ education is controversial in many of the world’s top conflict hotspots. “It’s important at this point in time when human rights are certainly not guaranteed around the world,” Gutin said.

Photo: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks during an event to mark Nowruz on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, at the White House in Washington, D.C. Nowruz is a holiday that is celebrated by more than 300 million people in diverse ethnic and religious communities across the Middle East, Central and Southwest Asia, and Eastern Europe. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)