White House Chief of Staff: U.S. 'Sparing No Effort' to Free American ISIS Hostage

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Following the apparent execution of a Japanese hostage this weekend by ISIS, President Barack Obama's chief of staff said Sunday the U.S. is working aggressively to free the remaining Japanese hostage as well as a female American hostage held by the radical Islamic group.

"Well, the president had a good talk overnight, our time here, with [Japanese] Prime Minister Abe, underscoring our continued support for and partnership with the Japanese, they [are] making this huge investment of, you know, halfway around the world, like we are, in Iraq and Syria against ISIS," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on This Week.

"And as it relates to our hostages, we are obviously continuing to work those matters very, very aggressively. We are sparing no expense and sparing no effort, both in trying to make sure that we know where they are and make sure that we're prepared to do anything we must to try to get them home," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

The president's chief of staff also addressed the chaos that engulfed the country of Yemen in recent days, after the country's president and cabinet resigned under pressure from Houthis rebels who had seized the country's capital.

The power struggle has thrown U.S. counter-terrorism strategy against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula into doubt, with McDonough saying it "remains to be seen" if the Houthi forces will have the same commitment to working with the U.S. to fight al Qaeda forces in Yemen.

"That remains to be seen. And what the president also said today is that we want to see this resolved through a political process that's transparent, that includes all the actors in the country, mindful of the fact that AQAP lives in these chaotic situations," McDonough said.

"So I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. I am going to say to the parties on the ground that they have to resolve this transparently, peacefully, politically. And we will, while they're doing that, continue to make sure that we're focused on the threats to us and to our people," McDonough added.

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Obama: US Will 'Ratchet Up the Pressure on Russia,' Can't Play 'Whack-a-Mole' By Sending Troops to Yemen

Photo by Gurinder Osan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- President Obama on Sunday weighed in on the situations in Yemen and Ukraine, vowing to keep Americans in Yemen safe while issuing stern words to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin for their actions in Ukraine.

"We have a profound interest...in promoting a core principle," Obama said at a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, that "large countries don't bully smaller countries." He reiterated that the U.S. will continue to take the same approach that it has in the past, to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia."

In addition, Obama spoke of the importance of "making sure that we're continuing to provide the support that Ukraine needs to sustain its economy during this transition period, and to help its military with basic supplies and equipment."

The president also touched on the situation in Yemen, where attacks on the capital city and the resignation of much of the government have led to questions about whether the U.S. would evacuate its embassy. For now, the embassy is operating with a reduced staff. Obama said Sunday that the "top priority has and always will be to make sure that our people on the ground in Yemen are safe." Calling the nation "a dangerous country in a dangerous part of the world," Obama reaffirmed that counterterrorism activity there would continue. "We continue to go after high-value targets inside of Yemen...and we will continue to maintain the pressure that's required to keep the American people safe."

Obama also said that he hoped to go after terrorist networks in Yemen without an "occupying U.S. army," because "the alternative would be for us to play whack-a-mole every time there is a terrorist actor inside of any given country, to deploy U.S. troops." Such a strategy, he said, would not be sustainable.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal: US Needs a Spiritual Revival

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Like a lot of Republicans with national name recognition, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is "seriously looking" at a 2016 White House bid, but he says the country needs more that just for the right candidate to win.

"We can't just elect a candidate and fix what ails our country," he said at a prayer rally that he attended Saturday instead of the Iowa Freedom Summit. "We can't just pass a law and fix what ails our country. We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country."

The Louisiana Republican, who told ABC's George Stephanopoulos he's "seriously looking at" a 2016 White House bid, said the relationship between leadership and prayer "is as old as our country."

"You know, it is a time-honored tradition, going back to our nation's founding, for our presidents, for our leaders to turn to God for guidance, for wisdom," he said on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

When asked about the crowded GOP presidential field, Jindal said voters want leaders "who have the courage to speak the truth," citing his controversial comments last week in London as evidence.

In that speech, Jindal said there were Muslim "no-go zones" in Britain and Western Europe carrying out Sharia law -- a claim disputed by many, including British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"I know it made a lot of people upset, but we need leaders to tell us the truth," he said. "I think people are looking for leaders who are willing to take on the big challenges."

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Thinks He Could 'Certainly' Win Iowa

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie thinks he could “certainly” win Iowa in 2016.

Christie spoke exclusively with ABC News following his speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, the first major event of the year to bring together a dozen potential presidential candidates in Iowa. Christie has made six trips to the Hawkeye State since 2014.

“I don’t know why they keep inviting me back if I can’t win here,” Christie told ABC News. "I certainly think I could.”

As he prepares for a possible 2016 run, Christie has already tapped political operatives in the state, including Phil Valenziano, who served as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Iowa field director ahead of the 2012 caucuses.

Christie also traveled to Iowa last week for the inauguration of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

“I’m being deliberative about it and I’m not going to let anybody else rush me,” he said. “We’ll make it sometime soon, but everybody defines soon differently right?”

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Obama Visits Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi on First Day of India Trip

Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- President Obama arrived in India for a three-day trip on Sunday, visiting the Raj Gat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

The U.S. president laid a wreath of white flowers at the site where Gandhi, the father of modern India, was cremated after his 1948 assassination on Sunday. He also inscribed the guest book, referencing Martin Luther King, Jr.

"What Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said then remains true today," Obama wrote. "'The spirit of Gandhi is very much alive in India, and it remains a great gift to the world. May we always live in his spirit of love and peace -- among all people and nations.'"

While at the Raj Gat, Obama bowed next to the eternal flame and threw two handfuls of flower petals atop the marble platform. He also planted a tree to honor Ghandi's legacy.

Later on Sunday, Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked through the gardens of the Hyderabad House, the state guesthouse for the Indian prime minister, drinking tea and discussing a long-stalled civil nuclear deal that would allow American companies to build reactors in India.

At a joint press conference, Obama discussed the agreed upon friendship agreement. "Not only is it grounded in the values we share," he said, "but it commits us to regular meetings at the leaders level and sets up frequent consultations across our government."

On the Indian prime minister, Obama said that Modi "described...his ambitious efforts to empower rural Indians with bank accounts, and to ensure clean water and clean air for the Indian people; and we want to be partners in this effort."

The two nations also agreed to work together, on a leadership level, to tackle climate change and renewed a defense agreement that was set to expire in June.

City officials have gone to great lengths to keep monkeys out of the president's way -- groups of them can be seen wandering the streets, on sidewalks, fences and in trees. Locals say the monkeys are considered friends, and that in Hindu culture, they represent to god Hanuman.

Later Sunday, President Obama, the first lady and the U.S. delegation feasted on Indian cuisine at the presidential residence. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee hosted the dinner, while prime minister Narendra Modi was there as well.

Obama thanked the Indian officials for their hospitality, telling Modi that his "life story could only happen in India." He also noted that Modi had told him earlier that he only sleeps for three hours per night. "[That] made me feel bad," Obama said. "I thought I was doing okay with five."

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Obama Shares Unlikely Friendship with Indian Prime Minister Modi

Photo by Vinod Singh/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- If there’s an Indian equivalent of President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Narenda Modi just might be it.

The rapidly budding friendship between the two leaders, catching many observers by surprise, stems from shared experiences with democratic organizing, a technological savvy, and deep personal ambition, U.S. officials say.

And it comes in spite of the fact that Modi is a right-wing Hindu extremist.

“He is in a party which has a lot of fringe views. They have views about India being a country only for Hindus,” said Milan Vaishnav, a leading India analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He ideologically is of one with this movement.”

Many in Modi’s party are deeply fearful of Muslims, want to ban cow slaughter, and revise the nation’s textbooks to present a slanted history.

The views contrast sharply with Obama’s global advocacy for diverse multicultural societies where minority views and rights are protected and even openly celebrated.

But experts say a little bit of Obama may be rubbing off on his new “bro,” a friendly nickname he’s used to describe British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders he considers friends.

“We don't know what is in his heart but he is clever enough to recognize that destiny has given him this opportunity,” Ashley Tellis, a former senior adviser to the ambassador at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, said of Modi. “Whatever his ‘real views’ are, he's going to be ruthlessly pragmatic because that's the ticket to political longevity and power.”

Obama doesn’t seem to mind. His hearty embrace and back slap of Modi on the tarmac after landing on Air Force One was replayed on loop on Indian TV.

The two men will spend more than 10 hours together Sunday in Delhi, including a joint visit to the memorial for the father of India, Mahatma Gandhi, a private lunch and meeting, a state dinner, and cultural celebration.

On Monday, they will be partners on stage for the elaborate Republic Day parade.

“Are they buddy-buddy? That’s for them to tell you about,” said Richard Rossow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But more importantly for the president of the United States, he sees a counterpart that will actually try to deliver on things that are promised in those meetings."

On the surface, they would seem to be unlikely friends. Modi had been banned for 10 years from visiting the U.S. by the State Department for his alleged complicity in ethnic riots in 2002 that left thousands of Muslims dead in his home state.

After Modi was elected last year, the U.S. government was forced to take a different course by default, forging ties with a man with whom they had none and rescinding the visa ban allowing him to enter the U.S. They held their first bilateral summit in Washington in September.

“Personal relationships play a big role in who [leaders] choose to engage with, and I think there’s no better indication of the fact that they seem to have gotten along fine than the fact that the president agreed to go back so soon [to India]," said Rossow.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration sees a lot of Obama in Modi.

“In their first conversation after Prime Minister Modi’s election, I think they noted some similarities in terms of how their campaigns kind of changed the way in which politics was practiced in their respective countries,” he said.

They also came into office with super-sized expectations for bringing about political change. While Obama is in the twilight of his term, Modi is just beginning.

“Our hope is that the chemistry between the leaders and the personal relationship can lead to positive outcomes for our country," said Rhodes. "It’s worth the investment in the relationship with the country, the leader, and the people of India.”

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At GOP Summit, Republicans Turn Fire on Obama, Clinton, and Each Other

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- The first conservative showcase of the 2016 cycle is taking place in Iowa Sunday, marking the unofficial start of the presidential cycle. Most of the jabs have been focused directly at President Obama and a Democrat they may be running against -- Hillary Clinton.

But there have been some intra-party jabs, mostly directed at two possible candidates not at the forum: Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.

Here are six examples from the Iowa Freedom Summit:

1. Trump vs. Romney/Bush:

Donald Trump was clear with his fire:

"It can't be Mitt, because Mitt ran and failed. He failed," Trump said to cheers from the audience. "He choked. He had that election won."

He was just as clear when it came to Bush:

"You can't have Bush," Trump said, criticizing the former Florida governor's support for Common Core education standards and immigration views, as well as his brother former President George W. Bush. "The last thing we need is another Bush."

2. Walker vs. Possible Rivals

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got quite a rousing reception from the audience and he didn't name any of his potential political rivals by name, but he made contrasts with the senators he's likely to run against when he described his "leadership" as "new and fresh and bold and aggressive that has been proven," adding that "commonsense conservative reforms from outside Washington, D.C., can help."

He also described in detail how thrifty he and his wife are telling the crowd that next month he will celebrate his 23rd wedding anniversary with his wife Tonette, but when they were first married he "made a critical mistake."

"I went to a Kohl's department store and I bought something for the price it was marked at," Walker said. "My wife said to me, 'You can never go back there ever again until you learn how to shop at Kohl's.'"

He then detailed his frugal shopping skills, saying he could get so much money off the price of a shirt, "the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt."

The crowd cheered his budget-cutting ways, and although he didn't mention any of his possible Republican rivals by name he set up quite contrast with at least two of his wealthy possible opponents, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Expect to hear this all again if they do get on the campaign trail.

3. Gilmore vs. Christie/Bush/Romney

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore went after both Bush and Romney without mentioning them by name, attacking Bush for his support of Common Core education standards and then asking the crowd, "Do we want a nominee who enacted state control of health care and then flipped and said he was against Obamacare?" The audience yelled, "No" in response. Gilmore was referring to Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, sometimes referred to as Romneycare.

Gilmore then aimed his fire directly at a possible presidential candidate who was actually slated to take the stage later in the day. Also without mentioning New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by name, he asked the crowd, "Do you want a nominee who wrapped his arms around President Obama while all of us were fighting on behalf of our candidate for President of the United States?" The crowd again bellowed "No!" in response.

Gilmore is referring to Christie's infamous embrace of the president after Hurricane Sandy when the two were touring devastation together. It took place just a few weeks before the 2012 presidential election.

4. Santorum vs. Paul

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also didn't mention rivals by name, but it was clear he had a vague dig at one potential opponent, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and others he may face who have spent less time in office than he did, warning the crowd not to support a candidate similar to President Obama.

"We have seen the impact of isolationism, we have seen the impact of weakness and indecision on the part of an American president, an inexperienced, raw American president who had ideologies that didn't face reality," Santorum said. "Ladies and gentleman, in this election cycle, we need to be looking for somebody who has that experience, who's been tested and understands. I spent 16 years in the House and Senate, eight of those in the Senate Armed Services committee."

Santorum has previously criticized Paul on his foreign policy, calling him an isolationist, something Paul regularly denies.

5. Palin vs. The Establishment

Sarah Palin regularly speaks up against the GOP establishment and Saturday at the summit was no different, although she made sure to praise GOP governors. The former Alaska governor paraphrased former President Ronald Reagan, saying, "Now is the time for bold, conservative colors, not establishment pale pastels."

She told the crowd the "GOP primary" should be a "competition, not a coronation."

6. O'Brien vs. Romney/Bush

Bill O' Brien, the former speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, didn't mention Romney and Bush by name, but he also could not have been clearer when he told the audience, "We lose when we nominate RINOS," or Republicans in Name Only.

"What is worse, nominating someone merely because he's been nominated twice before or nominating a liberal supporter of Common Core because he has a familiar name," O'Brien said.

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Michelle Obama Has India Buzzing About Her Outfit

Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- Michelle Obama is taking something of a backseat on her husband's second trip to India, with no official schedule of her own and no Indian first lady on hand to keep her company. But she is creating buzz with her wardrobe, turning heads with her choice of outfit the second she stepped off Air Force One.

Her knee-length floral dress by Bibhu Mohapatra, a famous Indian designer who lives in New York but was born in Rourkela in Odisha, was paired with a matching coat and black pumps.

Mohapatra celebrated Mrs. Obama’s choice as soon as she got off the plane.

"The President and the First Lady arrive in #India. @flotus wearing @bibhumohapatra #spring15 poppy,” he wrote.

The first lady has been seen in public wearing Mohapatra before, most recently in 2012 during her appearance on The Tonight Show.

The fact that Mrs. Obama will be a third wheel is described in India as a “bit of drama” because Modi is married but estranged from his wife. They wed when she was very young and as one local described it, they “parted ways” but “as part of Indian tradition, she still considers him as her husband. It’s a bit of a drama here."

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: What Shopping at Kohl’s Has to Do With His White House Hopes

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the first big 2016 name to take the stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit, got a rousing reception on Saturday from the conservative activists gathered and promised to "be back many more times in the future."

"I'm hopeful to work together with you to help us provide that type of leadership that is new and fresh and bold and aggressive that has been proven, that commonsense conservative reforms from outside Washington, D.C., can help and with your help I have no doubt we can move this country forward, we can have our own American revival," he said in what sounded like a debut of a presidential campaign speech.

It was one of his first big national addresses and Walker stressed his governing credentials and how -- due to a recall -- he's been successfully re-elected "three times in the last four years," something he will undoubtedly repeat on the campaign trail, if he runs.

"Three times mind you in a state that hasn't gone Republican for president since I was in high school more than 30 years ago, how about that," Walker said to applause. "I think that sends a powerful message to Republicans in Washington and around the country, if you are not afraid to go big and bold you can actually get results."

While walking back and forth across the stage, Walker also portrayed himself as a fighter, describing in detail how protesters during the 2012 re-call sent him and his family "assassination" threats.

"Someone literally sent me a threat that said they were going to gut my wife like a deer," Walker said, noting he didn't back down, but the threats reminded him "how important it was to stand up for the people of my state."

He ticked off his conservative successes in his state, saying he's "taken on aggressive agenda" including cutting taxes and reducing spending, merit education hiring, anti-abortion rights measures, voter ID laws, and other victories for the approving crowd.

He stressed that in Wisconsin -- as opposed to Washington -- he is focused on how to "give more money back to the people who earned it."

Describing in detail how thrifty he and his wife are, he told the crowd that next month he will celebrate his 23rd wedding anniversary with his wife Tonette, but when they were first married he "made a critical mistake."

"I went to a Kohl's department store and I bought something for the price it was marked at," Walker said. "My wife said to me, 'You can never go back there ever again until you learn how to shop at Kohl's.'"

He then detailed his frugal shopping skills in order to get so much money off the price of a shirt "the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!"

The crowd cheered his budget-cutting ways, and although he didn't mention any of his possible Republican rivals by name, he set up quite a contrast with at least two of his wealthy possible opponents, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.

He said "hard work" is not just a "buzzword" for him, describing his background and noting his humble beginnings, which included part of his childhood spent in the first caucus state of Iowa.

"In America, the opportunity is equal for each and every one of us, but in America the ultimate outcome is up to each and every one of us individually," he said, towards the end of his speech, which he finished to a rousing standing ovation from the crowd.

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Trump Blasts Romney, Jeb Bush; 'Seriously Thinking' About Presidential Run

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Donald Trump arrived at a high-profile GOP gathering in Iowa to train his fire on his fellow Republicans, telling the audience that neither Mitt Romney nor Jeb Bush can win the presidential nomination.

He drew applause for those lines at the Freedom Summit on Saturday, a gathering that neither of those men attended.

"It can't be Mitt, because Mitt ran and failed. He failed," Trump said, bringing cheers from the audience. "He choked. He had that election won."

Turning to Bush, Trump cited the former Florida governor's support of Common Core education standards and a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants as straying too far from conservative ideology.

He also condemned Bush's brother President George W. Bush's appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court, since Roberts authored the opinion that saved Obamacare.

"The last thing we need is another Bush," Trump said, drawing more applause.

Trump also told the Iowa Freedom Summit what he's been telling interviewers and audiences for weeks, even though his history would leave many doubting his sincerity.

"I am seriously thinking of running for president," he said. "We have a presidential election coming up. We have some good people -- nobody like Trump, of course."

In a brief interview with ABC News, Trump insisted that he's serious about running for president this time -- even though he flirted with and rejected White House runs in 1988, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Seeking to demonstrate that, he brought handouts to the Freedom Summit, the conservative confab that drew as many as 10 potential Republican candidates for president, although Bush, Romney, and Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were among the prominent no-shows.

Attendees got postcard-sized two-sided pictures featuring Trump. Included were a younger Trump shaking hands with the late President Ronald Reagan -- and a much, much younger Trump in his Presbyterian confirmation class, in 1959.

One of the cards also includes a glossy family photo, with bold type at the top: "THE KEY TO SUCCESS IS HAPPINESS THROUGH FAMILY."

"I was friendly with Reagan," Trump told ABC. "I got along with him great. I'm a big fan of his. I had a great relationship with him."

Asked why voters should take him seriously this time around, when he's made similar noises about a presidential run so many previous times, Trump insisted that he's in a better place in his own life, and therefore really, really serious this time.

"Because I'm in a great position from every standpoint. My children are in executive positions. And from every standpoint I'm in a great position," Trump said.

Trump indicated to the crowd that if he runs, he'll offer an aggressive alternative to his fellow Republicans. With customary braggadocio -- he said his company is "incredible," that he owns "many, many" websites, and that the American people will be "very proud of me" if and when he files financial disclosure forms.

He expressed anger not just with President Obama but Republicans in Congress.

"I'm very disappointed by our Republican politicians, because they let the president get away with absolute murder," he said.

He said he'd build a "beauty" of a border fence if elected president, and tweaked Republican doctrine that favors curbing entitlement reform.

"I'll probably be the only Republican who doesn't want to cut Social Security," he said. "I'm not a cutter of Social Security. I want to make the country rich so we can afford Social Security, and Medicare, and Medicaid."

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