Unanimous Vote Confirms Leon Panetta as Defense Secretary

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Mark this as something one doesn’t hear every day on Capitol Hill: it’s unanimous.

The Senate Tuesday voted unanimously to confirm Leon Panetta to be the Secretary of Defense.  The vote of 100 to 0 was called by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, will replace outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates who is retiring after serving in two administrations.  When Gates leaves at the end of June, Panetta’s first day as Defense Secretary will be July 1.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Despite GOP Encouragement, Thune (Still) Not Running for President

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., spent a good portion of the day denying that he is rethinking a bid for the Republican nomination for president. And he wants everyone to know...for right now, he’s not running for president.

“I am where I am and my focus is on the United States Senate,” Thune said on Fox News Channel Tuesday evening.

Conservative commentator Bill Kristol told C-SPAN Monday that Thune is rethinking a presidential run, reenergizing the questions of whether Thune is really out of the race for good.

“He (Thune) was sort of the more establishment favorite of the senators,” Kristol said, adding that he’s been told Thune is rethinking. “I think a lot of this depends if there is a huge vacuum. If Romney seems to fall through, if Pawlenty doesn’t take off, if neither Perry nor Bachmann seem like they’re getting majority support. There will be a big vacuum in September. Someone could get in. And Thune would like to do it.”

Thune admitted, though, that some in his party have recently been encouraging him to reconsider.

“I’ve had some encouragement to reconsider where I was when I announced that I won’t be running this time around,” Thune said, “And it may continue to happen. I think that’s partly based on the field as people dropped out of the race and people thought, ‘Well we need more people in there,' you know, 'Thune took a pass but maybe he’d think about reconsidering.'”

What about a vice presidential consideration if asked?

“You never say never,” Thune said. “But my view is there is plenty of work for me to do in the Senate. I like what I’m doing and I have not changed my position with regards to the issue in national office. I just think right now I just need to be focused on trying to get spending and debt under control and trying to get policies enacted that would create jobs in this country.”

Thune said that he is not sure that the Republican field is set yet and that he anticipates it will widen in the days and weeks to come.

Thune, the current chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, entered the Senate in 2004, defeating Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Rep. Seeks to Cut Off Libya Funding; Obama ‘Violating the War Powers Act’

Bill Clark/Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- As bipartisan frustration mounts over President Obama’s actions in Libya, a Republican lawmaker is moving to cut off funding for U.S. efforts unless the president gets congressional approval.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., filed a bill Tuesday that would shut down funding for the operations within 30 days, with the exception of money spent to withdraw American assets from the region.

“We went into Libya with no notification, no request for congressional authority or approval -- violating the War Powers Act. We're not sure what the actual final objective is,” Heck, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told ABC News Tuesday.

“So there is a very difficult situation where we find ourselves in a Congress. We all want to support our troops and make sure that our military has the tools they need to do the job. But the president has failed to come to Congress to ask for the authority that is required by the War Powers Act.”

Heck’s proposal would go further in constricting the Obama administration than most Republicans -- and many Democrats -- would. But House leaders are pressing for some type of action on Capitol Hill this week to register bipartisan disapproval -- and potentially threaten funds for U.S. operations.

Heck, a freshman Republican, said he would be pushing his legislation regardless of who’s in the White House.

Regarding the president’s new strategy on Afghanistan -- which will be announced in a speech to the nation Wednesday -- Heck said a troop drawdown needs to be “conditions-based.”

“It’s got to be conditions-based -- it can't be based on a strict calendar and a strict set of numbers,” Heck said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Exclusive: Huntsman Urges Swift Withdrawal from Afghanistan

ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Just hours after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., admonished Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman's war stance on ABC's Good Morning America, the former ambassador to China said he'd like to see "a significant drawdown" and get "American troops out faster" from Afghanistan.

Just a couple of hours after kicking off his official campaign with a speech in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, Huntsman sat down for an exclusive interview with Jonathan Karl's "Subway Series," during which they talked about Afghanistan, his relationship with the White House and those head-scratching videos from the campaign featuring a man riding a motorcycle.

When asked whether he could support "taking out the surge 2012," Huntsman said, " I think that we need to transition into a counter-terror effort as quickly as we can." But what about getting troops out faster? " Definitely, get American troops out faster," said Huntsman. "Transition into what would be more in line with intelligent- intelligence collecting, uh, special forces on the ground, some training needs obviously with the Afghan army, and that's not a hundred thousand soldiers."

As for suggestions from former White House advisor David Axelrod that Huntsman wasn't straight with them about his intentions, Huntsman replies, "Well, because there was nothing to the time. I was serving my country until the day we left, and I didn't engage in politics, I wouldn't engage in politics."

Is he unapologetic about the time he called the GOP leadership "inconsequential" back in 2009? "Well, we got whipped in that election cycle of 08' didn't we?" said Huntsman, " I think we learned some important lessons."

Now, says Huntsman, "the party and party leadership, I think they've gotten the message loud and clear and they're stepping up the plate."

When pressed whether he considered congressional Republicans still inconsequential, Huntsman signaled a change in heart.

"They're working on real proposals and they're putting forward real solutions to debt and spending, which I think is the most important challenge we're facing today so I give them high marks for that," he said. "I think the Ryan plan is excellent and I've said as much over and over again. We didn't have the Ryan plan before. We didn't have any of that long-term thinking that existed in '08 or '09. Now we do."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Newt Gingrich’s Campaign Finance Team Quits

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In the latest round of campaign defections, two top fundraisers for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign have quit.

Fundraising director Jody Thomas and fundraising consultant Mary Heitman quit the Gingrich campaign on Monday.  R.C. Hammond, press secretary for the Gingrich campaign, told ABC News the split was “amicable.”

Christine Hall, who has worked for Gingrich’s organization American Solutions for the past five years, is the new finance director for the campaign.

These resignations come two weeks after 16 senior staffers left the campaign en masse due to “strategic differences.”

Gingrich’s next scheduled event is a screening of his documentary A City Upon a Hill in Savannah, Ga., Wednesday morning. Gingrich will call for an audit of the Federal Reserve at a breakfast at the Atlanta Press Club.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Biden Pushes Dinner with Obama to Drive Donations

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama campaign’s latest effort to raise grassroots cash got a plug Tuesday from Vice President Joe Biden, who urged supporters to donate for a chance to dine with the president.

“The President and I have a routine -- we get lunch together almost every Friday,” Biden said in an email to supporters. “But all I get is lunch.”

Biden said donors of $5 or more will be entered into a drawing to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the White House for dinner with Obama.  

“I'm reminded every week that sitting down for a meal with the President of the United States -- without TV cameras or a big crowd -- is something only a few people will ever get to do,” he said.

Four of the president's supporters will have the chance to do just that.

In a message announcing the sweepstakes last week, Obama said he also expects the winners to share “your story and your ideas about how we can continue to make this a better country.”

The incentive comes as part of a broad fundraising effort by the Obama campaign that has sought to reinvigorate past supporters and enlist new contributors.  

Obama raised a record $745 million during the 2008 presidential campaign.  Roughly a quarter of those funds came from donors to contributed $200 or less.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tim Pawlenty Making Ad Buy In Iowa

Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- A spokesman for Tim Pawlenty confirms that the former Minnesota governor on Wednesday will launch an ad campaign in Iowa worth just under $50,000, a sign of the leadoff caucus state's importance to the Pawlenty bid.

"Governor Pawlenty is well positioned to unite conservatives and do well in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The soon-to-be-unveiled TV ads will introduce the Governor to Iowans about why he is the candidate with the strongest record and best results, not rhetoric," says spokesman Alex Conant.

The ad campaign, set to run from June 22 to July 3, will air in the following Hawkeye State markets: Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha, Ottumwa, Rochester, and Sioux City. It's all part of an effort to drum up support for Pawlenty ahead of the Ames straw poll in August.

Pawlenty has got to make a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses if he is to challenge for the Republican nomination. He launched his campaign in Des Moines late last month and has made it a point to log hours on the ground there, talking to voters.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jon Huntsman Announces 2012 White House Bid

LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images(JERSEY CITY, N.J.) -- In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, former governor and ambassador Jon Huntsman officially announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

"I'm a candidate for the office of president of the United States of America," he said to a subdued crowd of around a hundred.

Having served most recently as U.S. ambassador to China at the appointment of President Obama, Huntsman declared that while he respects his former boss, his new mission is to challenge and defeat him for the nation's highest office.

"He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love," Huntsman said of the president.  "But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who's the better American."

The 51-year-old father of seven, including two adopted children, chose the same venue, Liberty State Park, that another GOP hopeful used to kick off his general election campaign 31 years ago.

"Behind me is our most famous symbol of the promise of America," Huntsman said.  "President Reagan launched the 1980 general election here in an earlier time of trouble and worry.  He assured us we could 'make America great again,' and under his leadership we did."

Huntsman, who's been registering near zero on the scale of Republican name-recognition, joins a crowded field of GOP presidential hopefuls, which includes another former governor who shares the Mormon faith.

During his speech, Huntsman hit the president, although not by name, on his leadership, handling of the economy and "big government approach" to solving problems.

"What we need now is leadership that trusts in our strength.  Leadership that doesn't promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems, but rather looks to local solutions in our cities, towns and states," Huntsman said.

Huntsman kept the focus on jobs and the economy as he touted his experience as governor of the state of Utah.

Huntsman also used his speech to sound a warning to Americans that if drastic measures were not taken in regards to the nation's mounting debt, "the 21st century then will be known as the end of the American century."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Huntsman Campaign Misspells Candidate's Name

Sarah Kunin/ABC News(JERSEY CITY, N.J.) -- Every detail of Jon Huntsman's long-awaited campaign launch was meticulously planned, except of course for one minor detail: the misspelling of the candidate's name.

Members of the media were handed a press pass that read "John Huntsman for President" -- adding an unnecessary H in the candidate's first name.

Huntsman's staffers promptly scrambled to remove the passes from reporters before they caught the snafu. Today's campaign kickoff at Liberty State Park is a nod to Ronald Reagan, who used the State of Liberty backdrop to launch his 1980 general election campaign.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


McCain and Kerry Introduce Libya Resolution 

Scott J. Ferrell / CQ-Roll Call Group (WASHINGTON) -- Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced a resolution Tuesday morning authorizing force in Libya.

Countering efforts in the House to cut off funds for the operation in Libya, the resolution grants President Obama a one year time frame from which he can use American forces in a supporting role as part of NATO's efforts against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. The resolution does not support the use of U.S. ground troops in Libya.

Senator Kerry defended the Obama administration's claim that the U.S. has taken limited military action thus far in Libya and that the involvement is consistent with the War Powers Resolution. Critics, however, are arguing the opposite. Last week, a bipartisan group of 10 House members filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the president's authority regarding his use of force in Libya, insisting the War Powers Act had been violated. The Obama administration insisted in a report it didn't need to consult Congress on the use of force in the North African country because American lives weren't at risk. House Speaker John Boehner said that report didn't "pass the straight-face test."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio