Rand Paul’s latest fantasy: A lawsuit over NSA spying

Rand Paul:  Yeah, he said that
Rand Paul: Yeah, he said that

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, the rabid right-winger who thinks he could be the next President of the United States, is filing suit against the Obama administration over the data-collection policies of the National Security Agency.

And his lead lawyer on the case is another right-wing reactionary — tea party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia Attorney General who lost last November’s governor’s race when voters in the Old Dominion decided he was roo rabid even for them.

Paul, son of thee-time failed Presidential candidate Ron Paul, is using his web site to urge Americans “to stop Barack Obama’s NSA from snooping on the American people.”

Paul neglects to mention that the massive NSA spying probems that has angered and concerned Americans started under the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush.

On Fox News’ “Hannity,” the Kentucky Republican told host Eric Bolling that  every American with a cellphone would be eligible to join the suit as a class action.

Paul says that people who want to join the suit are telling the government that it can’t have access to emails and phone records without permission or without a specific warrant.
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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

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After a rough 2013, Obama hopes for a better 2014

President Barack Obama. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor.

His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term.

“I want to take a look, one more time,” Obama said quietly. “I’m not going to see this again.”

There was so much Obama could not — or did not — see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda.

He’d never heard of Edward Snowden, who would lay bare the government’s massive surveillance program. Large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria was only a threat. A government shutdown and second debt crisis seemed improbable. His health care law, the signature achievement of his presidency, seemed poised to make the leap from theory to reality.

Obama had campaigned for re-election on the hope that a second term would bring with it a new spirit of compromise after years of partisan rancor on Capitol Hill.

“My expectation is that there will be some popping of the blister after this election, because it will have been such a stark choice,” he’d said.

Instead, great expectations disappeared in fumbles and failures.

Obama’s critics doubled down. Fractured Republicans, tugged to the right by the tea party, swore off compromise. The president’s outreach to Congress was somewhere between lacking and non-existent. Obama’s team dropped the ball — calamitously — on his health care law. Snowden’s revelations had Democrats and Republicans alike calling for tighter surveillance rules. Foreign leaders were in a huff — Brazil’s president snubbing the offer of a White House state dinner, Germany’s Angela Merkel incensed that her cell phone calls had been intercepted. The president’s misplaced pledge that people who liked their health plans would be able to keep them ran into a harsh reality as millions saw their coverage canceled.

The year ended with a small-bore budget deal that was welcomed as breath of fresh air, a telling sign of how wildly things had veered off course in 2013.

White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri called it a year of “fits and starts” for the president — and predicted better days ahead.

“We’ll probably come out of 2013 in better shape in terms of Congress and the White House being able to function together,” she said.

Yet Obama’s agenda of gun control, immigration reform, a grand budget bargain and more sits unfulfilled. Obama’s job approval and personal favorability ratings are near the lowest point of his presidency, with increasing numbers of Americans saying they no longer consider him to be honest or trustworthy. Abroad, too, positive views of Obama have slipped, with confidence in him doing the right thing in world affairs dropping.

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The mantra for the Obama White House has always been to take the long view. Officials scoff at the “who’s up, who’s down” churn of Washington’s chattering class and recall with glee Obama’s ability to rebound from moments in his first term when his presidency was declared in peril.

But as Obama embarked on his second term, some of his closest outside advisers warned him that the next four years would have to be different: He was operating on a shorter leash, and might have just 18 months, perhaps as little as a year, to accomplish big domestic priorities.

All Obama needed to do was look to his predecessors to see how quickly trouble can consume a second term. Richard Nixon resigned. Ronald Reagan got ensnarled in the Iran-Contra affair. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky. And George W. Bush lost the public’s trust through his botched handling of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and the unpopular Iraq War.

Obama’s team thought it had a strategy for overcoming the second-term curse. They would make a quick play for stricter gun control measures, then capitalize on the GOP’s post-election anxiety by pressing for an immigration overhaul and floating the possibility of a big budget deal.

Each of those efforts failed and Obama quickly found himself consumed by an unending series of distractions.

Some were fleeting, like the revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups. But others threatened long-term damage to his presidency: the National Security Agency disclosures and the disastrous rollout of the “Obamacare” health law.

Some events were beyond Obama’s control and his frustration with them was evident when he fumed in September, during the crisis over Syria: “I would much rather spend my time talking about how to make sure every 3- and 4-year-old gets a good education than I would spending time thinking about how I can prevent 3- and 4-year-olds from being subjected to chemical weapons and nerve gas.”

But presidents don’t get to pick their crises. And plenty of Obama’s woes were of his own making, raising questions about his competence and management of the White House.

How could he not have known that his government was spying on the private communications of friendly world leaders? Why didn’t he know his health care website wouldn’t work? How could he have promised over and over again that Americans could keep their health insurance if they liked it when his own advisers knew it wasn’t that simple?

As a result, the president is ending his fifth year in office in a “defensive crouch,” says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, and may have to be content with simply protecting his health care law and other Democratic-backed programs that Republicans are eager to repeal.

At this point, says Brinkley, “it’s really a firewall presidency.”

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The 2014 midterm elections give Obama his best opportunity to rebound. But Democrats, who just weeks ago saw an opportunity to retake the House after Republicans got blamed for the government shutdown, now fret about the health care law’s ongoing problems and may be content to just keep control of the Senate.

There’s a certain irony in Obama’s success depending on Congress, a body with whom he has had a lukewarm partnership.

Lawmakers from both parties say Obama doesn’t talk to them much, nor do his aides. Letters go unanswered. Policies come out of the blue. Social interactions are few.

Both sides wistfully recall the voluble Clinton, who figured out how to craft deals with Republicans on welfare reform and other agenda items after the GOP took control of the House and made big gains in the Senate two years into his presidency.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who worked with Obama when he was a senator and still considers the president a friend, says flatly: “He’s flunked in terms of relations with Congress.”

“If you know him personally, he’s a very likable person,” says Coburn. “But it’s different than with most other presidents in terms of having relationships with Congress. … There’s a lack of a personal touch.”

Of course, the president’s tepid relationship with Congress is hardly his fault alone. The tea party forces that pulled House Republicans to the right in recent years made it difficult for the GOP to reach agreement with Democrats on much of anything, and produced the showdown over the president’s health care law that spawned the government shutdown.

Obama did attempt to improve relations with Republicans earlier this year, holding a few dinners with GOP lawmakers. His chief of staff, Denis McDonough, has been widely praised by Republicans for being a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill.

But some lawmakers say that’s as far as the outreach goes. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who ran against Obama in 2008 but has since tried to work with him on immigration and the budget, said no one from the White House legislative affairs staff has ever called him or come to his office just to chat.

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What does it matter if Obama doesn’t buddy up to his former colleagues?

He needs those relationships to advance his agenda in Congress. And the strained ties with legislators are emblematic of a broader problem for Obama rooted in his tendency to keep a tight inner circle.

“Instead of going out and talking to his enemies, making friends and schmoozing, or banging heads together with them or whatever, you can see that the man is diffident — deeply, deeply diffident about the kinds of politicking that are necessary to build consensus,” says Nigel Nicholson, a professor at the London Business School who has written a book about leadership in which Obama is a frequent topic.

The president has been getting plenty of that kind of advice in recent weeks. Critics called for a sweeping shakeup of his White House inner circle. Even his allies called for someone — anyone — to be fired for the health care failures.

Obama has responded in his typically restrained fashion. No one has lost a job over the massive health care screw-up, though the White House hasn’t ruled that out. And while the president is doing some minor shuffling in the West Wing, he’s largely bringing in people he already knows.

To critics, the limited staff changes smack of a White House that doesn’t fully understand the depths of its problems. But presidential friend Ron Kirk said they are indicative of Obama’s “fairly dispassionate temperament,” which allows him to hold steady in the face of adversity.

“He understands that overreacting to any one development in the moment is not the best way to achieve a long-term and stable objective,” said Kirk, who served as U.S. trade representative in Obama’s first term.

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The president’s agenda for his sixth year in office is a stark reminder of how little he accomplished in 2013.

Obama plans to make another run at immigration reform. He’ll seek to increase the minimum wage and expand access to early childhood education, proposals he first outlined in his 2013 State of the Union address. And he’ll look to implement key elements of the climate change speech he delivered earlier this year, many of which are stagnant.

Foreign policy could be an oasis for the struggling second-term president. With Russia’s help, he turned his public indecision over attacking Syria into an unexpected agreement to strip President Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons, though the success of the effort won’t be known for some time and the civil war in Syria rages on. Obama also authorized daring secret negotiations with Iran, resulting in an interim nuclear agreement. But even the president says the prospects of getting a final deal are only 50-50.

In a year-end news conference, the president optimistically predicted that 2014 would be “a breakthrough year for America.”

But Obama’s dismal standings in the polls suggest he can’t count on a public groundswell to propel his agenda. The heady days of 2009 when aides boasted of Obama as “the best brand on earth” are long gone.

“We all wear thin with the American people after a while,” says McCain, though he warns against counting out any president with three years left to govern — particularly this one.

“To count a man of that talent out at this point in time in his administration would be a huge mistake,” he says.

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Follow Nancy Benac at http://twitter.com/nbenac and Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

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Can water projects unify a divided Congress?

Port of Savannah
Port of Savannah

Big multimillion-dollar water projects, once a favorite target of good-government reformers who made them a poster child of political pork, are back in vogue as a rare force of concord in a dysfunctional Congress.

Republicans and Democrats who found little common ground in 2013 are rallying around a bill they hope to pass early next year authorizing up to $12.5 billion over the next decade for flood diversion in North Dakota, widening a Texas-Louisiana waterway, deepening Georgia’s rapidly growing Port of Savannah and other projects.

That’s the Senate bill’s total. The House version would cost about $8.2 billion. Negotiators are confident they can merge the two and pass the package for President Barack Obama’s signature early in 2014.

Unlike a farm policy-food stamp bill also the subject of ongoing House-Senate negotiations, the differences in the two houses’ water project bills are modest and the acrimony is less.

Negotiators say the roughly $4 billion gap between the two bills is more about how they are written than substantive policy or political differences.

“The important thing is that we all care about reform,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Shuster’s Senate counterpart, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has said much the same thing.

The last time Congress enacted a water projects bill was 2007, and it took two-thirds majorities in both houses to override President George W. Bush’s veto of it.

Negotiators held their first formal meeting just before Thanksgiving on blending the two versions. Staff talks continued until Congress left for its year-end break and will resume in January.

Lawmakers have been drawn to the big investment in infrastructure sketched out in both bills — and the promise of jobs that entails. Business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have lobbied members to support the bills, saying they’ll help keep American businesses competitive.

The bills try to address perceptions of years past that water project legislation was loaded with favors inserted by key lawmakers for their home districts and states. This time, both bills eliminate billions of dollars in dormant and duplicative projects. Shuster stressed that this bill contains no such “earmarks.”

Those reforms still aren’t enough for some conservative groups that pressed lawmakers to oppose the bills, saying they are reform in name only and don’t do enough to cut spending.

“Even before the predictable increase in authorizations as this bill goes through the process, this legislation would only shave a few billion dollars off the backlog,” Heritage Action and other groups wrote House members.

Tea party sympathizers in the House largely brushed off conservative critics, buying into the idea that this water projects bill represents both reform and needed investment. To wavering Republicans, Schuster cited Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which directs Congress to establish roads and regulate interstate commerce.

For their part, Democrats breezed past environmental groups concerned about language that speeds up the environmental review process for projects.

The House bill passed 417-3 in late October, winning support of everyone from Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to tea party stalwarts like Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. The Senate easily passed its version of the bill in May by a vote of 83-14.

Both bills accelerate environmental reviews and allow more money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to be spent on harbor improvements, but the House version of the bill ramps up spending from the fund more slowly.

The legislation would affect virtually every facet of America’s waterways and authorizes or reauthorizes dozens of projects, though Congress still has to pass separate bills appropriating money for them.

Among them:

—Dredging and widening the Sabine-Neches Waterway, billed as “America’s Energy Gateway” because the nearly 80-mile waterway services many oil and natural gas refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

—$954 million for environmental restoration along the Louisiana coast.

—Expanding the Port of Savannah. Georgia officials have long lobbied for federal backing to improve one of the country’s fastest growing ports; the bills designate up to $461 million for that purpose.

—Flood diversion for the flood-prone Red River Valley region of North Dakota and parts of Minnesota. The bills authorize spending of about $800 million to relieve flooding in a region that includes the cities of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn. The region has suffered major floods in four of the past five years.

—Up to $43 million to reduce hurricane and storm damage risks along the San Clemente, Calif., shoreline.

The bills would shelve about $12 billion in old, inactive projects that had been approved in water resources bills prior to 2007.

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Follow Henry C. Jackson on Twitter at www.twitter.com/hjacksonap

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Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

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More documents released on NSA spying

Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper called the disclosure of an Internet surveillance program "reprehensible" Thursday June 6, 2013 and said it risks Americans' security. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper. Clapper called the disclosure of an Internet surveillance program “reprehensible” Thursday June 6, 2013 and said it risks Americans’ security. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The director of national intelligence on Saturday declassified more documents that outline how the National Security Agency was first authorized to start collecting bulk phone and Internet records in the hunt for al-Qaida terrorists and how a court eventually gained oversight of the program.

The declassification came after the Justice Department complied with a federal court order to release its previous legal arguments for keeping the programs secret.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained in a statement Saturday that President George W. Bush first authorized the spying in October 2001, as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, just after the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush disclosed the program in 2005. The Terrorist Surveillance Program — which had to be extended every 30-60 days by presidential order — eventually was replaced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that requires a secret court to approve the bulk collection.

Clapper also released federal court documents from successive intelligence directors arguing to keep the programs secret, after a California judge this fall ordered the administration to declassify whatever details already had been revealed as part of the White House’s campaign to justify the NSA surveillance. Former agency contractor Edward Snowden first made the surveillance programs public in leaks to the media.

A senior intelligence official Saturday confirmed that the documents were released as part of two long-running class-actions cases against the NSA in California. The official said that at the judge’s direction the administration reviewed prior declarations in order to relate information that is no longer classified and determined what could be released. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to describe the court case by name.

President Barack Obama hinted Friday that he would consider some changes to NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records to address the public’s concern about privacy. His comments came in a week in which a federal judge declared the NSA’s collection program is probably unconstitutional, and a presidential advisory panel suggested 46 changes to NSA operations.

The judge said there was little evidence any terror plot had been thwarted by the program, known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. The advisory panel recommended continuing the program but requiring a court order for each NSA search of the phone records database, and keeping that database in the hands of a third party — not the government. Obama said he would announce his decisions in January.

“There has never been a comprehensive government release … that wove the whole story together — the timeline of authorizing the programs and the gradual transition to (court) oversight,” said Mark Rumold, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group suing the NSA to reveal more about the bulk records programs. “Everybody knew that happened, but this is the first time I’ve seen the government confirm those twin aspects.”

That unexpected windfall of disclosures early Saturday came along with the release of documents outlining why releasing the information would hurt national security. The U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California in the fall had ordered the Obama administration to make public the documents, known as state secrets declarations.

The Justice Department issued the declarations late Friday in the two class-action cases: Shubert v. Bush, now known as Shubert v. Obama, on behalf of Verizon customers; and Jewel v. NSA, on behalf of AT&T customers.

Calls to the Justice Department were not answered.

“In September, the federal court in the Northern District of California … ordered the government to go back through all the secret ex-parte declarations and declassify and release as much as they could, in light of the Snowden revelations and government confirmations,” Rumold said. “So what was released late last night was in response to that court order.”

In one such legal argument, former National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair in 2009 told the court that revealing information — including how information was collected, whether specific individuals were being spied upon and what the programs had revealed about al-Qaida — could damage the hunt for terrorists.

“To do so would obviously disclose to our adversaries that we know of their plans and how we may be obtaining information,” Blair said. Much of his 27-page response is redacted.

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Follow Dozier on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/KimberlyDozier

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Another Bush out there — a tea party one

George P. Bush, the grandson of one former president and nephew of another. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
George P. Bush, the grandson of one former president and nephew of another. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The latest scion of one of America’s most powerful political dynasties is trying to convince voters he’s something other than what his famous surname suggests.

George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s 37-year-old son who is a grandson of one former president and nephew of another, is launching his political career by running for Texas’ little-known but powerful land commissioner post.

But rather than campaigning on the mainstream Republicanism embodied by the family name, Bush says he’s “a movement conservative” more in line with the tea party.

As if to underscore the point, he says he draws the most inspiration not from the administrations of his grandfather, George H. W. Bush, or his uncle, George W. Bush, but from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who engineered the 1994 Republican takeover of that chamber.

“On social questions, national defense, economic issues, I’m a strong conservative,” Bush told The Associated Press.

That kind of statement helps make him the latest — and perhaps one of the more unlikely — faces in the parade of Republicans marching even farther to the right in already fiercely conservative Texas.

As he takes baby steps away from the Bush legacy, George P. could struggle to convince the party’s far right that he’s really more conservative than either of his elders who have occupied the Oval Office.

“A Bush can’t be a true conservative,” said Morgan McComb, a North Texas tea party activist and organizer.

Bush insists that he’s up to the challenge, noting that he was an early supporter of tea party hero Sen. Ted Cruz, who after less than a year in the Senate has rocketed from relative political unknown to ruler of the Texas GOP.

“That’s something that we bring to the table that’s different,” Bush said. “We’re a mainstream conservative that appeals to all Republicans.”

James Bernsen, Cruz’s former campaign spokesman, said the Bushes “walk in certain circles, and some of those people might put their nose up at Ted sometimes, but George P. tries to cross that divide.”

“George recognizes that it’s a blessing and a curse to have that last name,” Bernsen said. “There’s a reason he’s not really being challenged on the ballot. But he also realizes there’s a lot of people who will be very skeptical of him.”

The Texas land commissioner administers state-owned lands and mineral resources that help pay for public education statewide. The position can be a springboard to higher office. The incumbent commissioner, Jerry Patterson, is running for lieutenant governor. And the incumbent lieutenant governor he’s challenging, David Dewhurst, served as land commissioner before winning his current job.

Squaring off against Bush are former El Paso Democratic Mayor John Cook and Republican East Texas businessman David Watts. But Bush has raked in more than $3.3 million and is expected to cruise to victory both in the Republican primary in March and the November general election.

Republicans have not lost a statewide race in Texas since 1994.

But Bush’s rightward drift comes with risks. It might hurt his image as a next-generation Republican who could reach out to Texas’ booming Hispanic population. Bush is a fluent Spanish speaker whose mother, Columba, was born in Mexico.

Hispanics vote overwhelmingly Democratic, but Bush said many also agree with the GOP on social issues, opposing abortion and large government.

“I’m willing to stand behind this concept, that as conservatives we can win the Hispanic vote without selling out the values,” Bush said. “I don’t think we need to compromise.”

Bush says he wants to embody conservative activism while still leaving room to govern. He refused to endorse the Cruz-led effort to defund the White House’s health care overhaul, which sparked a partial government shutdown. Bush called the measure “a monstrosity” but also said the only option left was to look for market-based solutions to reform it.

“We need to get back to being the party of solutions,” Bush said. Gingrich’s leadership in 1994 “was the last great case study where you saw a conservative party that came forward with solutions on the big issues of the day.”

Born in Houston, Bush grew up in Florida, where his father, Jeb, was governor from 1998 until 2007. After college, he taught school in inner-city Miami, worked on his uncle’s presidential campaign and earned a law degree from the University of Texas. He also clerked for a federal judge and founded a capital company in Fort Worth, where he now lives. In 2010, he served an eight-month tour in Afghanistan with naval intelligence under an assumed name for security reasons.

Those close to the Bushes shrugged off any suggestion that some family members might be irked to see George P. distancing himself from the clan.

“The only thing the Bush family cares about is that George P. follow his convictions, whatever they are,” said Mark McKinnon, a GOP strategist and former advisor to George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.

Karen Hughes, a former spokeswoman and diplomat for the George W. Bush White House, said any candidate runs “based on his or her fundamental values and priorities, and that is true regardless of your last name.”

Others who know the family said Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” which was on the cutting edge of activist conservatism in 1994, is now far more mainstream for the GOP as a whole — including the Bushes.

Still, Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, a socially conservative activist group, said Bush’s claiming of the movement conservative mantle isn’t credible given the shadow his family has cast over state and national politics for so long.

However, while many tea party backers remain enraged that Bush’s uncle ran up enormous federal deficits and oversaw the bank bailout, they are unwilling to turn their back on the family, Adams acknowledged.

“I think Texans are very respectful of the gentlemen in politics, the kindness and compassion that the family has earned over a long period of time,” she said.

Those sentiments will probably extend to George P. too, she added, “even though it should not be that way.”
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Obama, amid record disapproval, claims economic surge

President Barack Obama (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
President Barack Obama (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Barack Obama, amid the lowest poll numbers of his presidency and a barrage of bad headlines, accentuated the positive on Saturday, telling Americans that the US economy is headed “in the right direction.”

“Over the past couple months, most of the political headlines you’ve read have probably been about the government shutdown and the launch of the Affordable Care Act,” the president said in his weekly media address referring to the new health care law informally known as Obamacare.

“But if you look beyond those headlines, there are some good things happening in our economy,” he said.

Obama said 7.8 million new jobs have been created in the private sector in the past 44 months.

He said that the US auto industry is resurgent and America is on the path to reversing its “addiction to foreign oil.”

And although he felt compelled to apologize last week for mistakes in the rollout of his signature health reform legislation, he said the program would do good for the nation.

Some 500,000 Americans “are poised to gain health coverage starting January 1,” Obama said.

“Imagine how much farther along we could be if both parties were working together.”

The president’s approval ratings, battered by slow economic growth, the October partial government shutdown, and the clumsy health care law rollout, have sunk to around 40 percent, according to several recent polls.

A November 13 Quinnipiac University had him at 39 percent, a new low.

Obama’s polling track at this point of his presidency are similar to that of George W. Bush, who left Washington with a paltry 34 percent approval.
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Several ambitious governors in Republican ranks

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (AP/Ralph Freso)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (AP/Ralph Freso)

For an ambitious group of Republican governors, next year’s elections could be a springboard to bigger things in 2016.

Just don’t talk about the White House — yet.

The annual Republican Governors Association meeting this week included a bullish outlook for a party that will defend 22 seats in 2014.

Bashing Washington dysfunction at every turn, the governors offered up their can-do records — and themselves — as a model for a party looking to return to power.

As if to emphasize the point, George W. Bush swooped in for a surprise lunch, sharing stories from his time as Texas governor and as president. It was lost on no one that a member of their club was the last Republican to win the White House.

“He encouraged all of us and agrees, I believe, with us that the best breeding ground for presidents is the governors,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, following a two-hour steakhouse lunch.

High-profile governors such as Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana cautioned the party against looking past the 2014 elections to the 2016 presidential race. But the jockeying for a White House bid was the quiet subtext.

A look at some of the Republican governors who could play significant roles next year and beyond:

NEW JERSEY GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE

No one generated more interest than Christie, who arrived in Arizona only two weeks after a sweeping re-election victory in Democratic-leaning New Jersey.

The new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Christie will raise money for fellow governors, encourage party activists and court financial donors in 2014.

The political map could be advantageous for Christie. The most competitive governors’ races are expected to be in states such as Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, places where any future Republican nominee would need to connect. And any vulnerable governor Christie helps could become a future ally.

Christie isn’t exactly plotting pathways to 270 electoral votes — at least not publicly. GOP leaders, he said, “start thinking about 2016 at our own peril.”

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LOUISIANA GOV. BOBBY JINDAL

Jindal preaches a message of substance over personality. Republicans need to define what they’re for, Jindal says, not what they’re against.

Jindal ended his role as chairman of the organization and, speaking to reporters, stressed the party’s need to focus on policy in a tone that suggested he might play the role of policy maven in future GOP presidential primaries.

A former congressman and Bush administration health policy expert, Jindal said the health care law was actually “a design problem” instead of a matter of poor execution. He said Republicans need to put out alternatives, tossing out ideas like allowing people to buy insurance policies across state lines, pooling costs and offering tax credits.

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OHIO GOV. JOHN KASICH

Kasich, a former congressman who served as chairman of the House Budget Committee, had choice words for his former colleagues’ handling of spending and health care.

Citing frustration after the government shutdown, he voiced support for an amendment to the Constitution that would require Congress to balance the federal budget.

And in a 2016-tinged twist on health care, Kasich said Obama’s overhaul was “really HillaryCare,” noting the former first lady’s role in reform efforts during the 1990s.

Kasich also signaled a kinship with Christie, marveling at his celebrity and ability to connect with voters. Christie repaid the favor, telling reporters, “I love John Kasich.”

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TEXAS GOV. RICK PERRY

Dressed in a dark suit and wearing glasses, Perry cut a different figure from the gaffe-prone — remember “Oops!” — presidential candidate who flamed out during the 2012 Republican primaries.

Perry now deflects memories of the past with a sense of humor. When Kasich suggested that Republicans need to revamp the way it conducts presidential debates during a panel, Perry drew laughs when he clapped and yelled, “Hell yeah!”

Fellow governors said Perry’s economic record is no joke. Several governors pointed to Perry’s job creation in Texas as a model, and the governor cited the need to talk to “people’s hearts” on issues like immigration.

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WISCONSIN GOV. SCOTT WALKER

He wasn’t in Arizona. He was promoting his new book, “Unintimidated,” about his fight with public-sector unions and victory in a union-backed recall election.

But Walker remains a favorite of Republican donors and is viewed as someone who could win support throughout the party’s rival factions.

While Walker couldn’t make it to Arizona, he got some face time anyway. Last weekend, Walker took in a Green Bay Packers road game against the New York Giants.

His seat-mate? Christie.

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Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas
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Can Obama ever keep his promise to close Gitmo?

Twelve years ago this month, President George W. Bush issued an order authorizing the U.S. military to detain non-U.S. citizen “international terrorists” indefinitely, and try some of them in military commissions. Within two months, those seized in the “war on terror” following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan were being sent to Guantanamo Bay.

A dozen years later, the United States is preparing to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan, ending “the longest war in American history,” as President Barack Obama observed on Veterans Day. Yet the Guantanamo prison — now notorious as the site of torture and other abuses — remains open.

Obama pledged to close Guantanamo as one of his first official acts in office. Yet nearly six years into his presidency, the prison continues to hold 164 foreign captives. Only three have been convicted of a crime.

The plan to end major combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014 means the government cannot put off closing down the Guantanamo prison any longer. Government officials and independent legal experts — including General Mark Martins, chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantanamo — have acknowledged that ending the war in Afghanistan raises serious questions about whether the United States retains the legal authority to continue to hold captives indefinitely.

Obama surely knows this, and to his credit, recently re-committed himself to following through on his 2009 pledge. He reiterated in May that Guantanamo should be closed, and subsequently appointed two new high-level envoys at the State and Defense Departments to help get the job done. He met with them earlier this month to pledge his support.

Now, it’s Congress’s turn. Congress is currently in the process of hashing out its annual defense authorization bill, which authorizes military spending on everything from weapons systems to health benefits. Those authorizations also determine key policies — including those governing the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay.

The Senate’s current version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would dial back some of the most onerous restrictions Congress imposed to hamper the president’s ability to shutter the prison. These regulations have created significant obstacles to transferring prisoners back to their home countries — including those repeatedly cleared for transfer by government officials under both Bush and Obama.

Indeed, more than half the men remaining at GTMO have been cleared to leave. Though Obama could transfer many of them, he’d have to meet the stringent requirements Congress has imposed and that his administration has claimed hinder most transfers. As a result, the Defense Department now spends about $2.7 million per year to keep each of the 164 detainees at Guantanamo. By contrast, the government spends about $35,000 per year to keep an inmate in a high-security federal prison facility on U.S. soil.

The proposed Guantanamo provisions in the Senate NDAA would clarify the government’s authority to transfer detainees to foreign countries and replace a cumbersome certification and waiver regime with a more sensible standard designed to mitigate any risks of transfer. They would also finally allow some detainees to be transferred to the United States — temporarily, for emergency medical treatment, or for criminal prosecution in experienced federal courts.

But the House version of the NDAA carries forward the onerous transfer restrictions, and even expands them in some cases, including proposing a complete ban on transferring any detainees to Yemen. Now that the Senate has approved the Guantanamo provisions in its version of the bill, the competing versions will have to be reconciled in conference.

More than 500 people since September 11 have been convicted in U.S. federal courts on terrorism-related charges and imprisoned on U.S. soil. Not one has escaped.

There’s little question among national security experts that the Guantanamo prison is not only unnecessary but has become a liability. Former President George W. Bush; former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell; former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta; former National Security Adviser James Jones; General Charles C. Krulak (ret.), former Marine Corps commandant; General Joseph P. Hoar (ret.), former CENTCOM commander; former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Brigadier General Michael Lehnert (ret.), who set up the Guantanamo prison, have all supported closing it.

A guard walks through a cellblock inside Camp V, a prison used to house detainees at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. (REUTERS/Bob Strong)
A guard walks through a cellblock inside Camp V, a prison used to house detainees at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. (REUTERS/Bob Strong)

As Obama put it when he spoke at the National Defense University last spring, “GTMO has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law. Our allies won’t cooperate with us if they think a terrorist will end up at GTMO.”

He added: “There is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should have never have been opened.”

It’s time for Congress to stop playing politics with U.S. national security and support closing Guantanamo. Passing the Senate version of the NDAA — and rejecting the House version — is an important first step.

Daphne Eviatar is a senior counsel in the law and security program of Human Rights First. She reported on legal issues, focusing on terrorism, for The Washington Independent. Human Rights First does not support or oppose candidates for public office.
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