Ebola ‘Czar’ Urges Congress To Authorize Emergency Funding

Ebola ‘Czar’ Urges Congress To Authorize Emergency Funding

By Matt Hansen, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Ebola outbreak can only be successfully contained if the U.S. takes the lead and provides funding to fight the deadly virus at home and in West Africa, the man tapped to coordinate the federal government’s response to the disease said Friday.

“In this case, America has to lead, and it has led,” said Ron Klain, the nation’s Ebola “czar,” reiterating the administration’s appeal for more money from Congress to fight the disease.

Klain called on lawmakers to pass an emergency spending request put forth by President Barack Obama that would authorize $6.18 billion for domestic readiness as well as efforts on the ground in West Africa. Of that amount, $1.54 billion would be used as reserve funding in case of a resurgence of the disease or a worsening outbreak in the United States.

Klain said that though U.S. efforts have had an effect in fighting the outbreak, dedicated funds need to be set aside for recurrences, even as public attention in this country has drifted from the threat.

“No one, a year ago, had Ebola response in their budgets,” he said during a talk at Georgetown University alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health. “Those resources are running out. The only way we can keep up the response — let alone expand it — is to get this emergency funding request.”

Both men said that in addition to stopping the current outbreak, increased funding could have a significant effect on devastated health care systems in West Africa and other parts of the world where insufficient or nonexistent health care can exacerbate the spread of disease.

“If something good comes out of this, it is a realization that if you do not have a minimum modicum of health care infrastructure, how vulnerable you are to so many things,” Fauci said.

More than 17,000 people are now infected with Ebola in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization, and more than 6,000 people have died. Though cases have slowed in Liberia, they have jumped in neighboring Sierra Leone and moderately increased in Guinea, the WHO said.

Klain noted the deaths of other patients from medical complications, including malaria, because doctors have been overwhelmed by the Ebola outbreak.

The federal government’s response to the epidemic accelerated after a Liberian man visiting the United States became the first person to die of the disease in this country. Later, two nurses who treated the man were hospitalized with the virus, but they recovered. Since then, an American doctor returning from Guinea has also recovered from the virus, but a surgeon from Sierra Leone who was transferred to an American hospital has died.

Klain, who has been criticized by Republicans for his lack of medical experience, said he was tapped for the job because of his experience handling complicated projects involving multiple government agencies. He said the Ebola response was particularly challenging because it involved multiple layers of government, including state departments of health and local hospitals.

“I never feel as un-czar-y as when I’m trying to deal with this complicated patchwork of federal, state and local systems,” he told the audience.

Five U.S. airports that handle much of the incoming traffic from Ebola-stricken countries now screen for the virus, and state health departments have established 21-day monitoring programs for travelers returning from West Africa. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced that 35 hospitals across the country have established Ebola treatment wings, saying that 80 percent of returned travelers at risk for Ebola infection now live within 200 miles of a designated hospital.

More than 3,000 U.S. personnel are also active in West Africa, focused on building treatment centers and conducting training and testing.

Fauci said the public’s response to the disease has calmed as more information about the nature of the outbreak was made available. He said it reminded him of the panic over HIV/AIDS in earlier decades, when he was a lead researcher into the disease.

“Fear is a raw emotion,” he said. “I saw it in spades in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We go through risks every day of our lives … but you don’t like a new risk even if you are living with many, many risks.”

AFP Photo/Chip Somedevilla

Secret Service Arrests Man Outside White House, Finds Rifle In Car

Secret Service Arrests Man Outside White House, Finds Rifle In Car

By Matt Hansen, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Secret Service agents arrested an Iowa man outside the White House on Wednesday after a search of his vehicle uncovered a rifle.

R.J. Kapheim, 41, of Davenport approached and spoke with a uniformed Secret Service officer stationed near the White House. He told the officer that someone in Iowa had told him to go to the White House and that he had driven from there to Washington, according to Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor.

Officers searched the man’s vehicle, which was parked nearby on Constitution Avenue. They found a .30-30 rifle and ammunition in the trunk. Kapheim was arrested and is charged with possessing an unregistered firearm. He may face additional charges, according to the agency.

Earlier Wednesday, acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the agency had renewed its emphasis on training and hiring in the wake of high-profile security failures at the White House, including the September fence-jumping by a man who ran around inside the building until he was subdued by agents.

Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP

Virginia To Issue Gay Marriage Licenses After Supreme Court Action

Virginia To Issue Gay Marriage Licenses After Supreme Court Action

By Matt Hansen, Tribune Washington Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. — Addressing a small but vocal crowd of supporters in front of the Arlington County courthouse, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring praised the Supreme Court’s move Monday to clear the way for same-sex marriage for the first time in a Southern state.

“This is the outcome we have hoped for, the outcome we have fought for, and the outcome the Constitution requires,” Herring said.

Married same-sex couples in the state can now adopt children and take advantage of employer and tax benefits, he said. His office was working with the state to allow same-sex spouses of state workers to enroll in shared health plans.

“This ruling allows all Virginians to be full members of our society,” Herring added.

Even though the high court’s action Monday was not a constitutional ruling, Herring predicted the Supreme Court would eventually support nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage given Monday’s ruling.

“Letting these rulings stand should be a strong message of the court’s leanings,” he said.

As the state prepared to issue marriage licenses later Monday afternoon, activists and residents gathered outside the Arlington circuit court.

“This is something we never thought we would see,” said Elizabeth Wildhack, who married her partner, Susie Doyle, in February only miles away in Washington, D.C. “We can stand in front of the Arlington County courthouse and be legally recognized. It’s extraordinary.”

Doyle said she was hopeful that younger generations would see same-sex marriage as unremarkable.

“We have eight nieces and nephews,” she said. “That’s the generation we’re changing.”

“We don’t need everybody to agree with us, but we do need everybody to respect us,” Wildhack added.

Others were grateful that their state was no longer a holdout in allowing marriages.

“I don’t have to be embarrassed for Virginia anymore,” said beaming area resident Gerda Keiswetter.

For religious leaders who supported the decision, the ruling would allow them to do one thing they could never do in the past: sign an official state marriage license for same-sex couples.

“I hope to perform marriages and sign the licenses, something I haven’t been able to do for two decades,” said the Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, who ministers to a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Arlington.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

New Director Seen As Capable Of Restoring Secret Service Prestige

New Director Seen As Capable Of Restoring Secret Service Prestige

By Matt Hansen, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — As he took command this week, new Secret Service chief Joseph Clancy was praised by former colleagues who said he would steady the president’s protective service in its moment of turmoil over security lapses that led to the resignation of its previous director.

From his time as a high school football coach to his service on the presidential protection detail, Clancy is described by people who know him well as composed, decisive and intense. Though they acknowledge that the institutional problems at the Secret Service will probably take time to solve, they say he is up to the task.

Clancy, 58, was appointed Wednesday as acting director after the resignation of Julia Pierson, who left the agency after several security lapses came to light, especially embarrassing for an agency long considered elite and mostly above public scrutiny. The cascade of revelations was triggered after a man scaled the fence surrounding the White House last month and ran well into the building, breaching several layers of security before being captured. Now the Secret Service is the subject of an independent investigation.

Clancy retired in 2011 after serving on the protection detail for several presidents, including Barack Obama. He then worked as director of security for Comcast Corp. before being asked this week to return to Washington.

While the White House has given no indications of how long Clancy might serve, lawmakers are calling for major changes that may be more than an interim director could accomplish.

Former colleagues were quick to support Clancy as a strong pick to reform the agency. “He’s an excellent choice,” said Larry Amaker, who protected the vice president while Clancy served on the presidential detail. “I hope that he is able to overcome some of the issues that are there.”

Others praised his unflappability under the stress of the job. “Joe’s calm is a huge attribute of his,” said Danny Spriggs, the former deputy director of the Secret Service. “Some of that comes from his previous life as a high school teacher and a football coach. He has a tendency to assess things very thoroughly before he takes action.”

Clancy grew up outside Philadelphia in a working-class family and graduated from Archbishop John Carroll High School in 1973, according to Francis Fox, the president of the school.

After studying briefly at West Point, Clancy graduated from Villanova University and became a history teacher at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia. There, he was a driven and precise teacher who helped coach the football team with his brother, remembered George Hanlon, who was Clancy’s supervisor.

“When he walked into the room, he was quiet,” Hanlon said. “You knew he had a command of the situation.”

When Clancy told him he was leaving after one year to join the Secret Service, Hanlon was not surprised.

“I knew they were going to take him,” he said.

Fox invited him later to return to his alma mater to address students. Rather than talking about his accomplishments at the Secret Service, Clancy focused instead on how he had struggled academically at West Point but never lost sight of his career goals.

“He said it was his lifelong dream to be in the Secret Service,” Fox said. “He said it took him five tries before being accepted, and that he was passed over many times for promotions. Perseverance was part of his DNA.”

Colleagues from his time as an agent were similarly supportive. Robert Byers, who supervised Clancy on the president’s detail, remembered him as “one of the most competent” agents he worked with in 23 years at the agency.

Yet Clancy’s time on the detail was not without controversies. He oversaw presidential protection when an uninvited couple attended Obama’s 2009 state dinner for the Indian prime minister. Three agents were placed on administrative leave.

There were lighter moments, too, on Clancy’s watch.

Former Secret Service special agent Dan Emmett wrote of Clancy’s “calmer than calm” demeanor in his memoir and said Clancy would often accompany President Bill Clinton on his jogs through Washington, a special logistical challenge.

“We didn’t mind the running,” he wrote. “To run with the president of the United States through downtown D.C. and then have him stop and shake hands with the man on the street was unwise on Clinton’s part — dangerous as hell, in fact — and we loved it.”

But his fellow agency veterans did not minimize the challenges facing Clancy as he assumes his new role. “He’ll steady the ship,” Spriggs said. “But it depends on the issues to see whether his particular attributes are well-suited.”

The need for change would take time to be realized, others predicted. “These issues have been around for a while,” Amaker said. “They won’t be fixed overnight.”

AFP Photo/Peter Dejong

Accused White House Intruder Pleads Not Guilty

Accused White House Intruder Pleads Not Guilty

By Matt Hansen, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Iraq war veteran accused of running into the White House with a knife on Sept. 19 pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three criminal charges in a case that exposed security lapses in the Secret Service.

Omar Gonzalez, 42, stared straight ahead and said nothing during his court appearance in Washington. He waived his right to a detention hearing, meaning he will remain in custody.

According to court papers, Gonzalez climbed over the north fence of the White House, sprinted unimpeded across the north lawn, opened the unlocked front door of the executive mansion and then tussled with guards who chased him on the first floor before he was finally subdued in the East Room.

President Barack Obama and his family were not home at the time.

AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

Pope Francis To Visit U.S. Next Year; Philadelphia On Itinerary

Pope Francis To Visit U.S. Next Year; Philadelphia On Itinerary

By Matt Hansen, Los Angeles Times

Pope Francis will make his first visit to the United States as pontiff next year, attending a conference in Philadelphia, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The pope is to visit Philadelphia in September 2015 for the World Meeting of Families, an event aimed at strengthening families, according to Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Catholic News Service first reported that Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said on Thursday that the pope had accepted an invitation to the meeting.

However, as of Friday morning, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia refused to confirm the visit. A papal visit to Philadelphia has been widely anticipated for some time.

It’s not clear yet whether the pope will visit additional cities in the United States, Walsh said.

Francis’ visit would mark the first papal trip to the United States since Pope Benedict’s 2008 meeting President George W. Bush in Washington. Benedict also visited New York during that trip.

AFP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

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