Congress Back to Business with New Sense of Civility?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Congress returns to Washington this week, faced almost immediately with the hot button issue of repealing the president’s health care law. But will lawmakers be able to keep their cool?

In Sunday's Washington Post, Republican Sen. John McCain called for members of Congress to behave more respectfully toward one another. That echoes the sentiments of President Obama and Democratic leaders.

The battle over health care is expected to be nasty. The bill is even called "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act."

On Saturday, a week after the Tucson shootings that left six dead and 13 injured, House Speaker John Boehner dropped “killing” when discussing the Republicans' agenda, saying that his colleagues will try to overturn what he called the Democrats’ "job...destroying" spending spree.

Congressional sources tell ABC News that Republicans do not plan to change the name of the bill.

“I think there's a sense that there's going to be a change in tone,” said ABC News political director Amy Walter. “But there's not going to be a change in policy and in the polarizing nature of this body.

President Obama is expected to again push civility in his upcoming State of the Union address.

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McCain, Palin Appear Split on Obama

Photo Courtesy - ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- There appears to be a serious difference of opinion at the top of the 2008 Republican ticket, with John McCain and Sarah Palin split on the issue of President Obama.

Much has been written about turmoil and infighting during that campaign. But the conflict now has nothing to do with politics in 2008, and everything to do with the direction of the Republican Party in 2011. One says the president actively wants to help America, the other, actively hurt it.

In Sunday's Washington Post, Sen. McCain wrote an Op-Ed lavishing praise on President Obama for his speech Wednesday night in Tucson, Ariz., following the shootings there that left six dead and 13 injured. "President Obama gave a terrific speech Wednesday night," the senator wrote, "[he] "comforted and inspired the country." And, McCain added, "I disagree with many of the president's policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause."

Now contrast those words to language used by former Gov. Palin a little more than a week ago, when she said on a conservative talk radio show that the President was, "Hell-bent on weakening America."

Palin used that notably strong language the day before the Arizona shootings in a discussion on raising the national debt ceiling, which she opposes, and the White House currently supports.

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Obama Reflects on Ariz. Shootings; Washington Must Carry On

Photo Courtesy - The White House(WASHINGTON) -- In his weekly address, President Obama reflects once again on the tragic events that happened in Tucson last week. 

"We properly spent much of the week mourning the victims and remembering their lives," he said.  "We also discovered stories that serve to lift us up -- stories of heroism and bravery, of courage and community -- stories that remind us that we are one American family, 300 million strong."

Obama expressed his satisfaction with the "sense of community on display" within Congress during the last week's events.  He noted that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who continues to make a remarkable recovery from the intracranial gun shot wound she received last Saturday, is "deeply missed by her colleagues," even despite partisan differences.

"One by one, Representatives from all parts of the country and all points of view rose in common cause to honor Gabby and the other victims, and to reflect on our shared hopes for this country."

But while the president reflected on the tragedy of last week's losses, he reminded Washington that there was still a job to do -- and challenges to be solved.

"We carry on because we have to.  After all, this is still a time of great challenges for us to solve.  We've got to grow jobs faster, and forge a stronger, more competitive economy.  We've got to shore up our budget, and bring down our deficits.  We've got to keep out people safe, and see to it that the American Dream remains vibrant and alive for our children and grandchildren."

Obama finished by saying that he believed the challenges facing America were ones that can be met and that he looked forward to doing so in the same spirit members of Congress have shown since last week's mass shooting in Arizona.

"So as business resumes, I look forward to working together in that same spirit of common cause with members of Congress from both parties -- because before we are Democrats and Republicans, we are Americans.

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GOP Address: Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake Condemns Tucson Shootings

Photo Courtesy - Office of Congressman Jeff Flake(WASHINGTON) -- In the Republicans’ weekly address, Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake denounced last week’s shootings in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and another 13 wounded – including Flake’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“While we may not agree on everything, members of Congress are bound together by a sacred oath to support and defend the constitution,” Flake said, before reiterating House Speaker John Boehner’s point that “an attack on one of us is an attack on all who serve.”

Flake called the shootings a “stark reminder of the senseless brutality of which some are capable.”

“These violent acts have no place in our society,” Flake said, “and we should honor those who stood up in defiance.”

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McCain Backs Obama's Tucson Message, Takes Some Blame for Political Debate

Arizona Sen. John McCain and his wife Cindy while attending the Jan. 13 funeral service of Christina-Taylor Green, the youngest of the victims from the mass shooting in Tucson. Photo Courtesy - Greg Bryan | Arizona Daily Star | POOL PHOTO(WASHINGTON) -- In an op-ed set to run in Sunday's Washington Post, Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, embraces President Obama's message in Tucson, criticizes his own political rhetoric and makes a powerful statement for civility in the wake of the Arizona tragedy.  He also offers a defense of sorts for Sarah Palin's controversial statement on the Arizona shooting.

"I disagree with many of the president's policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause," McCain says. "I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals. And I reject accusations that Americans who vigorously oppose his policies are less intelligent, compassionate or just than those who support them."

At the same time, McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 election, accepts some personal blame for the incivility of the political debate in recent years.

"Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so," he says.

‪While not mentioning Sarah Palin by name, McCain tries to explain why she reacted the way she did in a video message this week after she was blamed by some for playing a role in the tragedy.  ‬

"Political leaders are not and cannot reasonably be expected to be indifferent to the cruelest calumnies aimed at their character," McCain says. "Imagine how it must feel to have watched one week ago the incomprehensible massacre of innocents committed by someone who had lost some essential part of his humanity, to have shared in the heartache for its victims and in the admiration for those who acted heroically to save the lives of others -- and to have heard in the coverage of that tragedy voices accusing you of complicity in it."

"It does not ask too much of human nature to have the empathy to understand how wrong an injury that is or appreciate how strong a need someone would feel to defend him or herself against such a slur," he says.

In conclusion the Arizona senator emphasizes, "It is not beyond us to do better; to behave more modestly and courteously and respectfully toward one another; to make progress toward the ideal that beckons all humanity: to treat one another as we would wish to be treated."

As one step in the push for Washington politicians to come together in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, McCain has endorsed Sen. Mark Udall's call for both parties to sit together at the Jan. 25 State of the Union address, an idea that is now gaining more support with each passing day.

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Michael Steele Bows Out, Reince Priebus Wins RNC Chairmanship

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a roller coaster of an election, Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus seized the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee on Friday, defeating the incumbent party chairman and four other high-profile contenders.

Priebus steadily grew his support over seven rounds of balloting, finally clinching the chairmanship with 97 votes – 54 more than second-place finisher Saul Anuzis. Long-time Republican operative Maria Cino finished in third place with 28 votes.

“We have to get on track,” Priebus said. “Together we can defeat Barack Obama in 2012 -- together unified as a committee.”

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele ended a tumultuous two-year chairmanship of the committee on Friday when he withdrew from the race and threw his support behind long-time Republican operative Maria Cino.

"I will step aside because I think the party is ready for something different," Steele said.

Steele received two standing ovations during his brief remarks. "And now I exit stage right," he said.

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Obama Commemorates Richard Holbrooke: 'He Belonged in the Arena'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill, joined a crowd of family and friends Friday commemorated the life of Richard Holbrooke, a titan of American diplomacy who died last month.

The president hailed Holbrooke as one who led an "extraordinary life" and "served his country until his final moments."

"It was clear that Richard was not comfortable on the sidelines. He belonged in the arena."

The president announced the creation of an award named after Holbrooke that will award excellence in American diplomacy.

At the time of his death, Holbrooke was Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The memorial Friday was held at the Kennedy Center because it was President John F. Kennedy who created the Peace Corps, in which Holbrooke served, and inspired him to a career of public service, said David Rubenstein, co-founder and managing director of The Carlyle Group, an investment firm where Holbrooke spent some of his later years.

The memorial service was attended by Vice President Joe Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and a number of U.S. officials and country heads.

Holbrooke, a forceful presence in American diplomacy for more than 45 years, died in Washington, D.C., at the age of 69 last month.

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Ron Reagan Jr. Concerned Over Dad’s Mental State in First Term

Photo Courtesy - Joe Kohen/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Ronald Reagan -- who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years after leaving the presidency – elicited “shivers of concern” about his mental state as early as 1984, during his first term in office, according to a new book by his son, Ron Jr.

In his forthcoming memoir, My Father at 100, Ronald Reagan Jr. writes that he grew concerned that something was wrong with his father “beyond mellowing” in the early 1980s.

He goes on to say that -- given what science has learned about when symptoms of Alzheimer’s arise -- the question of whether he was suffering from the disease while in office “more or less answers itself.”

“Three years into his first term as president, I felt the first shivers of concern that something beyond mellowing was affecting my father,” Reagan Jr. writes, according to an excerpt in the new issue of Parade magazine.

“I don’t want to give the impression that my father was mumbling incoherently during this or any period. But by the time he turned 76, he had survived a near-fatal shooting and surgery for colon cancer. As old men will, he’d learned to conserve his energy for crucial moments,” he continues.

Reagan also writes that he believes his father would have resigned the presidency had he been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while in office:

“Had the diagnosis been made in, say, 1987, would he have stepped down? I believe he would have,” he writes. “Today we are aware that the changes associated with Alzheimer’s can be in evidence years, even decades, before identifiable symptoms arise. The question, then, of whether my father suffered from the beginning stages of the disease while in office more or less answers itself.”

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Homeland Security Axes Bush-Era 'Virtual Fence' Project

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Friday officially scrapped a Bush-era program designed to use radar technology to detect illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a DHS official and a congressional source.

The project, called "Virtual Fence," was rolled out under the Bush administration in 2006 with much fanfare about how technology could help secure the border. Illegal immigrants crossing the border would be detected by radar and picked up by remote cameras, which were monitored by border patrol agents.

But numerous internal and congressional reviews found consistent performance problems with the project's systems, which only spanned 53 miles of the vast U.S.-Mexico border. The cameras often provided blurry images, the radar system performed poorly in bad weather, and it often displayed false detections that were unable to distinguish between humans, cars and animals.

There were also cost overruns and the primary contractor, Boeing, repeatedly missed deadlines, officials said.

The system is estimated to cost about $1 billion. If the entire project had been accepted and rolled out, its cost would have exceeded $6 billion.

"We know that we cannot continue to put out millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer's money if we're not confident that it's really not going to work,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who ordered a review of the program upon taking office, said in October.

DHS officials say the program will not be a total loss and that Customs and Border Protection officers and border patrol agents will continue to use some of the systems that have been paid for.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


VP Biden Names Bruce Reed as New Chief of Staff

Photo Courtesy - Democratic Leadership Council(WASHINGTON) -- Bruce Reed, CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, executive director of the Bowles-Simpson “debt commission,” and former chief domestic policy advisor to President Bill Clinton, has been named chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden.

Reed was introduced to Biden’s senior staff this morning in outgoing chief of staff Ron Klain’s office.

Biden has known Reed for 24 years. Then-Sen. Biden hired Reed to work on his 1988 campaign, and between the time that Reed accepted and started work, Reed’s boss at the time -- then-Sen. Al Gore, D-Tenn. -- got in the race. So Reed never made the move to the Biden campaign.

Reed worked closely with the vice president on the Crime Bill in 1994 when Reed had a lead policy role at the Clinton White House, and Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Biden’s office announced last week that Klain would be stepping down from his position later this month to become the president of Case Holdings, the investment company of AOL co-founder Steve Case.

Klain was considered by many to be a key, powerful player in the Obama White House. He has had a long career in Washington, from his days on Capitol Hill to his tenure as Al Gore's chief of staff when he was vice president. He later served as a top Gore aide during the 2000 presidential campaign.

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