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Thursday
Apr242014

Clinton's Accomplishments at State Department Under Scrutiny

State Department(WASHINGTON) -- Faced Tuesday with a question she couldn't answer about Hillary Clinton's accomplishments as secretary of state, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki returned Wednesday, armed with some facts about the high points of the former top U.S. envoy's tenure.

However, it might have been too little, too late.

Psaki was initially put on the spot by Associated Press correspondent Matt Lee's question, "Can you, off the top of your head, identify one tangible achievement that resulted from the last [audit of the department]?"

The press secretary replied, "I am certain that those who were here at the time, who worked hard on that effort, could point out one." Clinton retired in February 2013 just before Psaki joined the State Department.

Psaki, who probably caught some heat for her non-answer, was prepared Wednesday, rattling off the following Clinton achievements: a "stronger emphasis was placed on trade promotion investments and leveling the economic playing field;" "a fuller integration of women and girls into our policy framework planning and budgeting, program monitoring and evaluation and management and training;" and "a reorganization of the undersecretary for economic growth, energy and the environment."

Just the same, Republicans, who believe Clinton will be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, will probably ignore all that and continue to focus on the deadly 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which happened under her watch.

On Wednesday, Clinton reiterated that the Benghazi siege, in which four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed, is the "biggest regret" of her time as secretary of state.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Jeb Bush Drops Strongest Hint Yet About 2016 Plans

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The "Jeb Bush for president" speculation went into overdrive Wednesday after the former Florida governor admitted during a New York fundraiser that he was "thinking about running for president," according to a report by Politico.

Bush, the son and brother of two former commanders in chief, has dropped tantalizing hints before about possibly seeking the 2016 GOP nomination.

However, his statement Wednesday that came in response to a question at a Catholic Charities fundraiser was perhaps the surest sign yet that Bush will take the plunge into what is looking like a crowded pool of potential Republican candidates for president.

Politico reported that the audience erupted in cheers and applause after Bush expressed his interest in following in the steps of President George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

But supporters shouldn't expect a full-throated declaration from Bush until after the midterm elections, which are still more than six months away.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Vetoes Two Pro-Gun Bills 

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images(PHOENIX) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed two pro-gun bills this week for concealed-carry permit holders.

One bill would have allowed people in the state to carry guns into both public events and public buildings where metal detectors and security are not present. The law excluded schools, community universities and colleges, and major sporting arenas.

The bill would have required public agencies to needlessly spend money on guards and equipment, Brewer said. In addition, she vetoed legislation that sought fines for local governments that passed gun laws stricter than those already in place at state level.

"I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, and I have signed into law numerous pieces of legislation to advance and protect gun rights. However, I cannot support this measure in its proposed form," Brewer wrote.

Some supporters of the proposed legislation, including Arizona Citizens Defense League, are upset with the vetoes. Arizona Citizens Defense League media representative Charles Heller told ABC affiliate KNXV‑TV he disagreed with Brewer's claims of expenses.

"She was more concerned with cost than protecting people's rights." Heller told KNXV. "Disarmed victim zones are nothing but fatal funels."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Former Blue Angels Commander Reassigned After Sex Harassment Complaints

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Navy says a former commander of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team was reassigned from his current post because of an ongoing investigation into claims that he allowed “lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor” under his command.

The “inappropriate work environment within the squadron…may have violated the Navy’s sexual harassment, hazing and equal opportunity policies,” the Navy said in a statement.

On April 18 the Navy announced that Capt. Gregory McWherter had been relieved of his duties as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado in San Diego because of the initial findings of a probe into allegations of misconduct and an inappropriate command climate when he was in command of the Blue Angels.   McWherter commanded the Blue Angels from November 2008 to November 2010, and again from May 2011 to November 2012.

The Blue Angels flight demonstration team is a much broader operation than the team of 16 F/A-18 pilots and weapons system officers who performs complex maneuvers at air shows.  The Navy’s best pilots compete for three-year tours with the squadron who are seen as ambassadors for the service.   But the team also includes additional transport pilots, officers and 100 enlisted sailors and Marines who provide maintenance and administrative support for the demonstration team.

On Wednesday night the Washington Post website reported that a former member of the Blue Angels squadron alleged to the Navy’s inspector general that McWherter had fostered a hostile work environment that tolerated sexual harassment.  The Post acknowledged it had come upon the information after a Navy official had inadvertently emailed a Post editor the public affairs talking points to be used if the allegations against McWherter became public.

In a statement the Navy acknowledged the circumstances behind the investigation into McWherter’s alleged misconduct.

“According to the investigation, Capt. Gregory McWherter, while serving as the commanding officer of the Blue Angels, tolerated an inappropriate work environment within the squadron which may have violated the Navy’s sexual harassment, hazing and equal opportunity policies,” the statement reads.

It said that a complaint had been filed with the Navy inspector general that alleged that “lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor were allowed in the workplace and in some case encouraged by the commanding officer” when McWherter was in command of the Blue Angels.  It added that there were further allegations “that pornographic images were displayed in the workplace and shared in electronic communications.”

In addition to the ongoing investigation, Admiral Harry Harris, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, has ordered a separate investigation to be led by an admiral that will “inquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding these allegations.” A Navy official says the investigation will look at the team’s behavior when McWherter was in command.

“All Navy leaders, whether assigned to a highly visible unit like the ‘Blues,’ or to our installations, squadrons, ships and submarines, are held to the highest standards,” said Vice Admiral David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces.  ”The Navy expects everyone, from those officers in command positions to Sailors on the waterfront, to provide principled and highly ethical leadership, stressing discipline, accountability, and the importance of treating shipmates with dignity and respect.”

“We remain fully committed to accountability, transparency and protecting the integrity of ongoing investigations,” Buss said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

First Lady Michelle Obama Announces Job Website for Veterans

Jason Davis/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have announced a new web tool to connect veterans and service members with employers.

Obama publicized the Veterans Employment Center, the new online resource, during Wednesday's anniversary celebration of Joining Forces, the national initiative serving America's military families.

The job tool will link veterans as well as their spouses to public and private-sector employers and provide a database of resumes.

"Our service members haven't always had the time or information they needed to prepare their resumes, to plot their career goals, to meet with employers and get the jobs they deserve. And that's simply not acceptable," Obama said. "As my husband has said, when you've fought for this country around the world, you shouldn't have to fight for a job when you return home."

Career and training resources will be available at ebenefits.va.gov, along with a military skills translator.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Attorney General Eric Holder Calls Sotomayor's Affirmative Action Dissent 'Courageous'

United States Department of Justice(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder praised Tuesday's dissent by Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor in the Michigan college admissions case, calling it "courageous and very personal."

Speaking at a Department of Justice diversity and inclusion summit on Wednesday, Holder explained that despite great strides toward equality, there is still more work to be done.

"It may be tempting for some when they look at the accomplished professionals in this room, or the lawyer who works in the Oval Office, or consider the fact that I have the privilege of serving as the attorney general of the United States, to feel that this country's long struggle to overcome disparity and discrimination has ended," Holder said.

Government agencies need to lead by example for equal opportunity, he added, saying progress requires "not just open and honest dialogue, but a willingness to confront these difficult issues through principled action."

Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling upheld Michigan's voter-approved ban on affirmative action programs in its public colleges. In her dissent, Sotomayor spoke from personal experience, saying affirmative action "opened doors" in her life.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Erin Brockovich Rallies Outside Supreme Court for Camp Lejeune Victims

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich and dozens of military veterans rallied outside the Supreme Court Wednesday as the justices heard arguments that an electronics company was responsible for polluting drinking water at Camp Lejeune
that sickened thousands of Marines.

The case, CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, claims that CTS Corporation, a global manufacturer of electronics, contaminated the camp’s drinking water with trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen, between 1953 and 1987.

The rally began at the Upper Senate Park, ending outside the Supreme Court. Other speakers included Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Camp Lejeune Marine; Mark Partain, breast cancer survivor and the son of a Camp Lejeune Marine; and Kris Thomas, also a breast cancer survivor and son of a Camp Lejeune Marine.

“It’s probably one of the largest pollution problems we have in the country. We have servicemen and women coming home to their families who had no idea the land they were living on was polluted, that their families have been poisoned, that their children are dying,” Brockovich said at the rally.

According to North Carolina state law, the victims may no longer have the legal recourse to sue. CTS Corporation sold the land and shut down the plant in 1987. The state statute relieves the company from any liability 10 years after its last contaminating act -- making 1997 the deadline to sue, despite the fact that the chemicals weren’t discovered until 1997.

The court heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday.

“We just want the opportunity to present our cases in court and allow the merits of our cases to be the determining factor,” said Ensminger, who lost his 9-year old daughter to leukemia and is convinced her leukemia was caused by the water contamination.

Tim Templeton from Kansas City, Mo., helps run a Facebook group called “Contaminated Marines of Camp Lejeune.” Templeton was stationed at Camp Lejeune and maintains that he is a poisoned patriot suffering from an immune deficiency. 

“Government can have its cake and eat it too, which they do. I would say it’s awful strange and doesn’t really square with reality for them to be supporting the polluters' side of the argument just merely because of the convenience,” Templeton said.

The Department of Justice has sided with CTS Corporation.

“We are referring to [the DOJ] as the Department of Injustice. How could you possibly side with the contaminator? This is an example of the Department of Justice coming off the tracks. They have lost their way,” said Tate McQueen, one of the litigants.

The court will consider whether a federal environmental law can override state law. The federal law allows victims to move forward with their claims when they first learned they had been sickened by chemicals at Camp Lejeune.

“At the surface to see a brief come out of this current administrations office AG that stands with CTS -- that isn’t going to stand with a soldier at Camp Lejeune. It looks like they are trying to get out of cleaning up their own mess. That’s not fair, that’s hypocritical and I find it really disappointing and very concerning, and it would concern any vet,” said Brockovich.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

New Poll Buoys Southern Dems’ Hope with Tight Senate Races

Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Democrats in the South received some welcome news Wednesday from a New York Times-Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing tight U.S. Senate races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina. But the poll also highlighted some potential warning signs for Democrats when it comes to health care and President Obama’s sagging approval ratings.

Sen. Mark Pryor, largely considered the most vulnerable Democrat in this year’s election, holds a 10 percentage point lead over his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Forty-six percent of registered voters in Arkansas said they’d vote for Pryor while 36 percent said they’d vote for Cotton. Pryor, who has served two terms in the Senate, has an approval rating of 47 percent.

The poll found that the two closest races in the Southern states are in Kentucky and North Carolina. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has a 1 point lead over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, with 44 percent of registered voters saying they’d vote for McConnell and 43 percent saying they’d choose Grimes. Forty percent of Kentucky voters said they approved of McConnell’s job performance.

In North Carolina, 42 percent of registered voters said they’d vote for Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., while 40 percent said they’d pick one of her Republican opponents: Thom Thillis, North Carolina’s House speaker.  In another match-up, 41 percent said they’d vote for Hagan while 39 percent said they’d vote for Republican candidate Greg Bannon. Hagan’s approval and disapproval ratings both came in at 44 percent.

In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., holds a wide lead over Republicans trying to unseat her with 42 percent of registered voters saying they’d vote for Landrieu. Her closest competition was Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who came in at 18 percent. Louisiana does not hold primaries, so if a candidate does not receive a majority of the vote on Nov. 4, the election will head into a run-off.

But the poll does contain some red flags signs for Democrats. In Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, a majority of registered voters said they would not vote for a candidate who did not share their views on the Affordable Care Act, which could prove problematic for Democrats if the president’s health care law is unpopular with voters.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in March found that 49 percent of Americans supported the health care law while 48 percent opposed it.

Another issue that could prove to be a liability is Obama’s approval ratings in these southern states where a majority of voters disapprove of how the president is handling his job. Sixty percent of registered voters in Arkansas and Kentucky said they disapprove of the president’s job performance. In Louisiana, 54 percent disapprove of how the president is handling his job while 51 percent of registered in voters in North Carolina disapprove.

The New York Times also said its poll found that support for Republican candidates is higher among likely voters in the four states.

There has already been some conservative push-back to the findings on voting patterns. Kirsten Kukowski, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, blasted a memo to reporters highlighting the poll’s sampling, which found that voters in Arkansas voted for Mitt Romney over Obama by 1 percentage point in 2012, when Romney actually won Arkansas by 24 points. She noted similar issues with the polls in the three other states.

The four polls were conducted from April 8-15 by land-line and cellphone. As for other poll data, 857 registered voters in Arkansas, 891 registered voters in Kentucky, 946 registered voters in Louisiana and 900 registered voters in North Carolina took part. The margin of sampling error was +/- 4 percentage points for registered voters.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Obama Dines on Sushi at Tokyo "Jiro Dreams" Shop

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(TOKYO) -- President Obama stepped off Air Force One in Japan apparently with an appetite for sushi.

After a quick refresh at the Hotel Okura near the U.S. Embassy, Obama joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for dinner at a tiny sushi shop in the city’s Ginza neighborhood. They were joined by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the White House said.

The restaurant -- Sukiyabashi Jiro -- has earned a rare three-star Michelin rating. Its owner and master chef, 89-year-old Jiro Ono, was featured in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Many regard him as the world’s best sushi chef.

Details of the president’s dinner were scarce, as it was closed to the press. A special meal of selections by the chef costs close to $300 per person, according to the restaurant’s website.  Reservations are booked through June at its main location.

White House officials say building personal ties between Obama and Abe is a priority on his third trip to Japan as president.

They “have good discussions all the time, whenever they see each other,” a senior Japanese government official said. “But the more frequently they see each other, the better.”




Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

White House Mulls Leaving Less than 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Although the Obama administration is still considering how many U.S. troops to leave in Afghanistan after 2014, there are reports that the residual force could fall well under 10,000.

Some of the factors going into the decision include the failure of the Afghan government to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement and the relatively peaceful election process earlier this month in which the Taliban didn't exercise much muscle.

However, everything is a moot point if the new Afghan president fails to sign a post-war pact.

White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson said in a statement, "The longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any US mission. Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 US mission will be smaller in scale and ambition."

Keeping a residual force in Afghanistan in a training and advisory role would help national forces repel attempts by the Taliban to destabilize the government.

Furthermore, American soldiers are needed to protect CIA bases in Afghanistan where drone strikes are launched against militant targets in neighboring Pakistan.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio