Romney, Other GOP Stars Talking Tug-Of-War in Wisconsin

Photo Courtesy - TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(BELMONT, Mass.) -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney became the latest potential 2012 presidential candidate to wade into the standoff between Republicans, Democrats, and organized labor in Wisconsin on Thursday -- and he's putting his money where his mouth is.

"Liberal big government interests are fighting efforts to rein in out-of-control public employee pay and benefits in Wisconsin," Romney said in a statement issued by his political action committee. "It is critical that we stand with the Wisconsin GOP as it stands up for the rights of the taxpayer."

Romney's Free and Strong America PAC promptly cut a $5,000 contribution check -- the maximum allowable -- to the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Romney's message did not mention by name Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has been pushing a bill that would limit collective bargaining rights from most public employees in the state.

Walker dispatched state troopers to Illinois on Thursday in an attempt to retrieve Democratic state senators who have been hiding out there in an attempt to block consideration of Walker's proposal in the legislature.

Romney is not the first possible presidential candidate to weigh in on the Wisconsin situation. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s political action committee released a one-minute video in support of Gov. Walker earlier Thursday.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin posted a note on her Facebook page last week offering her support for Republican leaders who support changes to union rules.

"You don’t have to kowtow to the union bosses who are not looking out for you, but instead are using you," Palin wrote. "Wisconsin union bosses want union members out in the streets demanding that taxpayers foot the bill for unsustainable benefits packages."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich posted a message online this week urging support for Gov. Walker.

"In Madison, Wisconsin, we are witnessing a profound struggle between the right of the people to govern themselves and the power of entrenched, selfish interests to stop reforms and defy the will of the people," he wrote.

And, speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee advised Walker to "Hang tough, stand tall, hold your ground," and called Democratic members of the state legislature "outrageously hypocritical" and "duplicitous."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Indiana Dems Boycott State House

Photo Courtesy - in [dot] gov/r88(INDIANAPOLIS) -- There won't be any new business in the Indiana House Thursday or Friday, according to Indiana Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma. 

Thursday morning in Indianapolis, Bosma said boycotting House Democrats told him they won't return to the Statehouse Thursday or Friday.  Bosma says House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer told him that Democrats have no intention of providing the quorum needed for House business this week.

Democrats are boycotting in an effort to derail bills they consider an assault on the working class. Most House Democrats are staying at a hotel in Illinois.  Bauer says Democrats won't return to Indiana until House Republicans are willing to negotiate their agenda, but Republicans are refusing to negotiate with lawmakers who have fled the state to shut down the House. 

Bosma says that when Democrats return, lawmakers can extend legislative deadlines for bills that would otherwise die Thursday. Those bills include a contentious private school voucher bill and the new state budget.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Top Military Officer Accused of Deploying Psy-Ops Against Lawmakers

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan is under scrutiny for allegedly ordering the illegal use of "psychological operations" against American dignitaries during official visits to the country last year.

Among the visiting officials who may have been targeted by "psy-ops" was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen.

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who heads the effort to train Afghan forces, instructed subordinates to use tactics reserved exclusively to target the enemy, sources familiar with the situation told Rolling Stone magazine.

Caldwell reportedly sought to pressure U.S. senators and congressmen and other VIPs to provide more troops and funding for the war. Gen. David Petraeus, commader of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said he was preparing to open an investigation "to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue."

Caldwell "categorically denies" the allegations, a spokesman told Rolling Stone.

The magazine report is based largely on the account of a reservist with the Texas National Guard, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, who lead the information operations unit in Kabul.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people's heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," Holmes is quoted as saying. "I'm prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressmen, you're crossing a line."

Holmes said he was told to focus exclusively on a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds."

The so-called "IO" unit compiled detailed research on the backgrounds of visiting dignitaries and honed Caldwell's presentations to be as compelling as possible, according to Holmes, who says he tried to resist Caldwell's orders and later reported them to superiors.

Federal law prohibits government use of propaganda techniques, including psychological tactics, on U.S. citizens.

The lawmakers allegedly targeted by the campaign include Arizona Sen. John McCain, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

The psy-ops team also may have targeted the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan and the German interior minister, according to documents obtained by the magazine.

"Charges of this nature are very serious and disturbing and have to be fully investigated," Reed said in an interview on MSNBC.

But he and other senators mentioned in the article insisted they were not swayed by any single briefing or encounter during a visit to Afghanistan.

"I try to get a broad view and not to put too much stake in any one position while I travel," said Reed, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam and who's been to Afghanistan 11 times.

"For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation's future. I have never needed any convincing on this point," said Levin. "I am confident that the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have been improperly used in Afghanistan."

The latest Rolling Stone article, entitled "Another Runaway General," follows a June expose by the magazine that resulted in the resignation of the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Same-Sex Civil Unions Now Legal in Hawaii

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HONOLULU) -- Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions in Hawaii.

The Aloha State is the seventh to authorize civil unions. The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Democrat Abercrombie's Republican predecessor, Linda Lingle, vetoed a similar bill during her stint in office.

Other states that allow civil unions include Vermont, Illinois, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wisconsin Protesters Undeterred by Gov. Walker, Seek Bigger Rallies

Photo Courtesy - Mark Hirsch/Getty Images(MADISON, Wis.) -- Wisconsin protesters are attempting to reinvigorate demonstrations Thursday against Gov. Scott Walker's austere budget cuts and sweeping collective bargaining reforms.

In a speech Wednesday, Walker upheld his position against bargaining rights, saying his policy is essential in order to address the $137 million state deficit.

Out-of-state opponents, meanwhile, have joined thousands of Wisconsin state workers to rally in Madison. Wisconsin Demcratic state senators made headlines by fleeing to Illinois last week to prevent the legislature from passing the bill.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dems and GOP Continue to Debate Possible Federal Gov't Shutdown 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Congress is in recess (or, as they call it, “District Work Period”), but there are ongoing negotiations between senior staff for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on a spending bill to keep the government running after March 4, when current funding for the government runs out.

The bottom line: talks are not going well.

Republicans have passed a bill that includes $61 billion in cuts over the next seven months. Senate Democrats have proposed a bill that includes no cuts, but instead maintains current spending levels for one month to give the two sides time to work out a deal. Neither side wants to budge.

Now Republicans are crafting a temporary bill to keep the government running for two weeks (again to allow for negotiations on the larger bill). The two-week bill, however, would include $4 billion in cuts (which on a pro-rated basis, would amount to $60 billion over seven months). Democrats are already calling this unacceptable.

The two sides have had several hours of talks since Tuesday, but for now, the negotiations are off.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama's Approval Rating Falls 11 Percent in 2010

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PRINCETON, N.J.) -- In a year marked by slow economic recovery and a highly contentious debate over the new health care law, 47 percent of Americans, on average, approved of the job President Obama was doing, according to data released Wednesday by the Gallup Organization. That’s down 11 percent from 2009.

Residents of the District of Columbia and Hawaii, where Obama was born, were most approving of the president, with average ratings of 84 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

Regionally, President Obama received  the highest approval ratings in the Northeast. Five of the top 10 most approving states were New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, all of which gave him an approval rating of 54 percent or higher. 

Half of the least approving states were in the West. Obama’s ratings in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, and Montana were all below 40 percent, with a meager 28 percent of people in Wyoming saying they approved of the job the president is doing.

Residents in 20 states gave Obama approval ratings within three percentage points of the national average, providing an interesting picture of where the most vivacious campaigning could take place during the 2012 election. These battleground states are likely to include Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and Nevada -- in all of those states, the president’s approval rating fell within one percentage point of the national average.

Two states that were pivotal in the 2008 election, Wisconsin and Ohio, could present challenges this go-around as both have approval ratings below 50 percent. Wisconsin’s dropped 10 percent since 2009 to 48 percent. On average, 47 percent of people in the Buckeye State approved of the president in 2010, down 8 percent from the previous year. 

Obama’s ratings went down in every state compared to last year. Vermont saw the largest change, dropping 15 percentage points since 2009 to 52 percent. Mississippi changed the least with five percent fewer people approving of the Commander-in-Chief.

Since taking office, President Obama’s highest approval rating was 76 percent, according to a CNN poll in February 2009. His lowest was 41 percent in August 2010 according to Gallup. Comparatively, George W. Bush’s average approval rating while in office was 49 percent. An average of 70 percent of residents approved the job John F. Kennedy was doing while he was in the Oval Office.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


A Tale Of Two Huckabees: Does He Really Think He Can Beat Obama?

Photo Courtesy - Rick Gershon/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It appears that once -- and possibly future -- presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is not only undecided about whether he should enter the 2012 Republican nominating contest, but also if he would be able to beat President Obama in the general election.

“I think he is going to be tough to beat," Huckabee acknowledged in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Monday. “This race is going to be like climbing a ladder pointing toward you because Barack Obama is going to start this race with a billion dollars. He’s going to have no primary opponent.”

But, in the space of just 24 hours, Huckabee sounded significantly more confident about his chances were he to face off against Obama two years from now.

“Here's the reality: I think he can be beat” Huckabee told Sean Hannity. “I, frankly, think that I would be in a very good position to do it, because I believe that standing head-to-head with him, articulating the very clear, decisive difference between our positions would be a great contrast.”

He added, “It's the process of getting to that nomination that's tough.”

Huckabee is making the rounds this week as he starts a publicity tour for his new book, A Simple Government. The former Arkansas governor, who now hosts his own Fox News show, said he won’t be announcing a decision about his presidential ambitions until this summer and some of his comments reflect a striking ambivalence about embarking on another campaign.

“I love to campaign -- it’s one of the things that I’d enjoy the most,” Huckabee said on a conference call with reporters Monday, but when it comes to fundraising, he acknowledged, “that’s not what I do best.”

Huckabee said he will use his 41-city cross-country tour not only to sell books, but to meet with donors who could play a role in bankrolling a potential presidential campaign.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'I Don't Hide': Wisconsin Gov. Defends Comments on Prank Phone Call

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ON Wednesday defended comments he made to an alt-news reporter posing as billionaire conservative activist David Koch on a prank phone call, arguing that he never said anything inappropriate and wasn't trying to trick Democrats.

"The bottom line is that the things I've said are things I've said publicly all along," Walker said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "I'm not going to allow one prank phone call to be a disruption from the reality."

In the 20-minute phone conversation, first posted online at, Walker revealed his strategy for breaking Democratic and union opposition to his budget.

Even as he called on outside groups -- specifically Washington lawmakers -- to keep out of the Wisconsin debate, Walker argued that it wasn't inappropriate for him to take a phone call from a third party not involved in the debate.

"It's not [a] campaign. What we're talking about right now, we're free to discuss with people all across the state who are interested in this issue," he said.

"I don't hide in my office, I don't hide in another state. I'm here doing my job pointing out the facts," he added, referring to Democrats who went to Illinois to prevent the vote from taking place.

The governor's critics say the immediate access granted to the Koch pretender and the length of their conversation illustrates a damning tie between outside influences and what they see as an orchestrated effort to bust unions.

Meanwhile, a conservative group founded by the real David Koch, Americans for Prosperity, announced it would buy more than $300,000 in television advertising to support the governor in his standoff with state government workers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Chicago Mayor-Elect, Faces Tough Budget Challenges 

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(CHICAGO) -- The morning after his convincing victory, Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was shaking hands and thanking voters at an "El" (elevated train) stop in a predominately African-American neighborhood on the city's south side Wednesday.

Emanuel's winning coalition was impressive in its diversity; he carried 40 of the city's 50 wards and won 48 percent of the black vote. In Chicago's often divisive racial politics, an overt attempt by Rev. Jesse Jackson to unify African American voters behind former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun failed miserably.

Braun's campaign, beset with a series of embarrassing gaffes, stumbled to a weak fourth place. She won only 20 percent of Chicago's African-American voters, who make up about a third of the city's residents.

Asked about the racial tensions in Chicago politics, Emanuel, 51, told ABC News Wednesday, "Do we have differences? Yes."

"But we cannot and will not let them to become points of division. People know these challenges are common challenges," Emanuel continued.

Emanuel, who replaces the dynastic powerhouse Richard M. Daley, who served for 22 years, faces daunting challenges, including a $655 million budget gap in the current fiscal year and unfunded pension liabilities estimated at more than $20 billion. On Wednesday, Emanuel promised to freeze $75 million in new city spending on his first day in office, and told reporters that he would refuse a pension.

Emanuel, known for his toughness and profanity during his time in Washington -- as a leading Democratic congressman and Obama chief of staff -- has remained remarkably calm in public throughout the campaign. Now, he faces the political equivalent of herding cats in Chicago's city council -- made up of 50 aldermen.

In the Daley era, the city council was little more than a rubber stamp. But key leaders, including Alderman Ed Burke -- who backed Emanuel opponent Gery Chico for mayor -- have made it clear those days are over and they intend to exert far more independence when Emanuel begins his term in May.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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