Obama to Meet with Israeli, Palestinian Leaders; Address United Nations

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations looming, President Obama will hold separate meetings Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

While the U.S. and its allies had been scrambling to convince Abbas to abandon his bid for recognition in the United Nations Security Council on Friday, they have now pivoted instead to mitigating its effect and establishing a path back toward negotiations with Israel.

The issue is just one of the many that President Obama will tackle during his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday morning.

“Right now, we could not be clearer that we have for some time now opposed Palestinian efforts to pursue statehood on a unilateral basis through the United Nations.  And it’s the United States that is working very aggressively to make that case and to make that clear to all the parties involved,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, peace is going to have to be made between the parties; that it can’t be imposed from the outside, that it can’t be accomplished through actions at the United Nations,” he said.

Obama is also expected to address the ongoing democratic transitions around the world, including the revolutions in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, the nonproliferation agenda and the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama’s UNGA address is just his first speech of the day.  The president will also deliver remarks Wednesday afternoon at the Clinton Global Initiative.

In addition to Abbas and Netanyahu, the president will also meet Wednesday with Prime Minister Noda of Japan, UNGA President Al-Nasser, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Sarkozy.

Finally, the president and first lady will attend a UNGA reception in the evening before returning to the White House late Wednesday night.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sarah Palin Says There’s ‘Still Time’ to Get in ‘Unconventional’ Race

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- According to Sarah Palin, there’s still time to jump into what’s bound to be an “unconventional” presidential race.

“There is still time, Sean, and I think on both sides of the aisle I think you’re going to see people coming and going from this race,” she said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Tuesday night. “And I’m still one of those still considering the time factor.”

When Hannity said the former Alaska governor would have to decide by November, at the latest, for legal reasons, she agreed -- to an extent.

“You do, I mean legally you do,” she said. “But I do think Sean, this is going to be such an unconventional election cycle...Mark my word, it is going to be an unconventional type of election process.”

She also weighed in on the Solyndra controversy, calling it one of “more and more” examples of the president’s “crony capitalism” “that will surface."

She talked about her hopes for Thursday’s Republican presidential debate on Fox News, the network for which she’s a paid contributor.

“We have to make sure that our candidates are really articulating what their governing philosophy is. I want to know what these candidates’ records are. What have they been able to show on a local and a state level that they have done to create jobs?” she said. “I don’t want to just hear rhetoric about them putting up their dukes and fighting for the right things.”

One candidate that appears to be in her good graces: Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

“Perry is right when he talked about Obama’s foreign policies as it relates to Israel,” she said. “It’s been misguided, it’s been weak.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gary Johnson Invited to Participate in His First National GOP Debate

Comstock/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign got a big break Tuesday.

Over the objections of the Florida Republican Party, the former New Mexico governor is invited to participate in Fox’s GOP presidential debate this Thursday, a source at Fox News confirmed.

Candidates needed one percent of the vote in at least five national polls in order to qualify.

The Johnson campaign had not been officially informed of the decision by 6 p.m. on Tuesday, but they hoped to get Johnson on stage with the rest of his contenders this week.

Up to now, the lesser-known candidate has gained little national recognition, though not for lack of appearances. In addition to stops in New Orleans and Iowa, Johnson is one of the most ardent pursuers of early-primary state New Hampshire.

His stumping often deviates from the traditional hand-shaking and baby-kissing.

On Oct. 5, the former New Mexico governor plans to start a six-day, 458-mile bike ride across the Granite State.

Johnson is arguably the fittest candidate in the race. Sure, Sarah Palin popped up in a half-marathon in Iowa this summer, but from taking a jog with employees at a running store in Manchester to cycling in a 51.6-mile road race in Lincoln, and now this race that will take him from the Lakes Region in the middle of the state to Nashua in the south, Johnson makes getting his name out there a sport.

It’s all part of what Johnson calls "The New Hampshire Path." In an open letter to Johnson supporters posted on the campaign’s website, senior adviser Ron Nielson acknowledges his candidate’s lack of recognition and finances. He writes that New Hampshire gives Johnson the opportunity to “create momentum.”

“Being the site of the first primary of 2012, New Hampshire is the center of attention for much of the nation’s media coverage of the campaign, and as Gary gains measurable support there, it will translate into broader support throughout the country.”

Campaigning in New Hampshire is not a new strategy, but focusing almost exclusively on the state sets Johnson apart in the 2012 Republican field.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bill Clinton Praises Two GOP Candidates

William J. Clinton Foundation(NEW YORK) -- GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman received some unsolicited praise from a former president Tuesday, though it might not be from the one they were hoping for. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, former President Bill Clinton lauded the two former governors for addressing climate change on the stump.

When Blitzer asked Clinton to list the candidates he liked and the ones he was concerned about, the former president said, "Well, it appears that Gov. Huntsman and Gov. Romney, at least, have not come out in just flat-out denial of climate change. It appears that Gov. Huntsman said he supported the compromise to raise the debt ceiling because America couldn’t afford the economic consequences."

“So what I hear you saying is you’d be happier if Romney or Huntsman got the nomination than Rick Perry?” Blitzer asked.

Clinton said, “Well, it’s not up to me to pick. They’ll both lose if anybody thinks I’ve endorsed them. I’m just saying that I appreciate the fact that, that they’re trying to navigate a landscape that bears almost no relationship to what’s produced successful economies in the world. And there are lots of countries that are now doing better than we are in some areas because of the very ideas that apparently you have to support to get the nomination.”

Last month on ABC’s This Week, Huntsman told Jake Tapper, “When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.”

Romney has been less decisive on his global warming stance. In June, Romney said, “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And No. 2, I believe that humans contribute to that....So I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”

At a New Hampshire town hall the following month, he told the audience, “Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans. What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Shutdown Showdown Redux? Congress Squabbles over Disaster Relief Money

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., are squaring off on a collision course threatening once again to shut the federal government down.
At issue is the amount of disaster relief funding Congress should enact.
The Senate last week passed a $7-billion FEMA relief bill. The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for passage but House Republicans have a different strategy for FEMA funding, attaching FEMA funding to a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through Nov. 18.

The House legislation provides a little more than half the Senate bill, with $3.65 billion for disaster recovery, including approximately $1 billion divided between FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make up shortages in FY 2011, and an additional $2.65 billion for the full FY 2012.

Senate Democrats say this is not enough money for FEMA, and they chastised House Republicans for calling for relief aid to be off-set when they don’t require the same standard for funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So on Tuesday, Reid announced that when the House of Representatives sends over its CR, which the House will vote on Wednesday, he will amend it to include the $7-billion relief aid which passed in the Senate.
“I was disappointed to see that the House shortchanged the Federal Emergency Management Agency, by failing to provide the funding to adequately help Americans whose lives have been devastated by floods, hurricanes and tornados,” Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. “Tomorrow, when the Senate receives the House bill to fund the government for six more weeks, we will amend it with the language of the Senate FEMA legislation.”
That means that in order for the government to avoid shutting down next Friday, Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends, the House would need to pass the amended measure, including Reid’s extra relief money. Members of Congress want to get this done by this Friday, as next week they have a scheduled recess for Rosh Hashanah.
But now, as both sides stand firm, the path forward is unclear.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was asked how he thought the disaster relief funding battle would play out with Reid as the House moves to consider its continuing resolution Wednesday.
“The House bill has in it the disaster relief that the president requested and then some. As you know, we provide for $1 billion in emergency relief and starting the new fiscal year, Oct. 1, we also provide an additional $2.6 billion that will be available for delivering on the needs that the people are asking for us to address,” Cantor, R-Va., said. “You’ve got $3.6 billion combined there in the bill. The CR is going to be written at the level that we agreed at in terms of the debt ceiling agreement.”
“We are delivering on the disaster relief that has been requested. No one will go without their needs being addressed, and I think the House bill, at $1.043 [trillion] is what we agreed to,” he added.
Reid on Tuesday noted that the original $7 billion Senate funding bill had 10 Republican votes -- and that he expects the same out of those senators when faced with the funding now being tied to the CR.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Audit Finds $16 Muffins at Justice Department Conferences

Jupiterimages/George Doyle/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In these tough economic times when austerity and budget cuts are daily discussions in Washington, D.C., and on Main Street, the Justice Department didn’t seem to get the memo on spending  for agency-sponsored conferences, including buying $16 muffins and $10 cookies, according to a new Justice Department Inspector General audit released Tuesday.

The cost may be tough to swallow considering an Inspector General audit from 2007 found that a DOJ-sponsored conference spent almost $5 per Swedish meatball.

The review found that DOJ employees attended or participated in 1,832 conferences with a total cost of $121 million in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The Inspector General analyzed 10 specific conferences, which cost $4.4 million.

The report revealed, “One conference served $16 muffins while another served Beef Wellington hors d’oeuvres that cost $7.32 per serving. Coffee and tea at the events cost between $0.62 and $1.03 an ounce. At the $1.03 per-ounce price, an 8-ounce cup of coffee would have cost $8.24.

“For event planning services, DOJ spent $600,000 (14 percent of costs) to hire training and technical assistance providers as external event planners for 5 of the 10 conferences reviewed.  This was done without demonstrating that these firms offered the most cost effective logistical event planning services. Further, these event planners did not accurately track and report conference expenditures,” the audit noted.

The report highlights two examples where the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) spent over $32,000 in planning meetings in Palm Springs, Calif., for two conferences.

In another instance at an Office of Violence Against Women conference, “OVW conference attendees received Cracker Jacks, popcorn, and candy bars at a single break that cost $32 per person.”

The $16 muffins were served at a conference hosted by the Executive Office for Immigration and Review (EOIR). “The EOIR spent $4,200 on 250 muffins and $2,880 on 300 cookies and brownies. By itemizing these costs, we determined that, with service and gratuity, muffins cost over $16 each and cookies and brownies cost almost $10 each,” the audit noted.

Although the nearly $5 meatball was revealed in the 2007 audit, and new guidelines were implemented in 2008, the Inspector General concluded, “DOJ components hosting conferences in FY 2008 and FY 2009 did not adequately attempt to minimize conference costs as required by federal and DOJ guidelines.”

The Inspector General’s report made 10 recommendations to cut conference expenditures. These include reviewing hotel service charges, logistical and salaries for conference workers, and conducting cost comparisons.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mayors Lobby for Obama's Jobs Plan

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A group of bipartisan mayors braved the rain outside the White House Tuesday to urge lawmakers to stop playing politics and pass the president’s $447-billion jobs plan. “That’s why they call it the American Jobs Act,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters. “They need to take action. They need to do something. It's not the American Jobs Talk.  It's not the American Jobs Debate.  It's not the American Jobs Jerk Around.  It's the American Jobs Act.”
“Eighty-nine percent of the GDP of the nation is in our cities; 94 percent of the new jobs that'll be created will be created in our cities. And so we think it's important, at a time here in Washington when those in the Beltway bubble don't seem to be listening -- we think it's important that we hear from America's cities about the American Jobs Act, about job number one being the job of creating jobs and careers for people going into the future,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
The seven mayors were particularly supportive of the president’s proposal to fund infrastructure repairs around the country. “The unattended maintenance on our interstate highways and our bridges and our railroads and our water systems and our airports is unimaginable,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, the lone Republican in the group.
While the president threw down the political gauntlet on Monday and vowed to veto any deficit-reduction plan that does not include tax increases on the wealthy, the mayors insisted that the debate has been political from the start.
“I don't think it got any more political than it has [been]…The fact is, the idea that people are putting partisanship and party before country resonates with most of the people in California and, I think, most of the people around the country. People want us to work together,” Villaraigosa said.
The mayors met at the White House Tuesday with Senior Adviser David Plouffe and Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bid for U.N. Recognition Weighs Heavily on Obama

Jim Ballard/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As President Obama gets ready to address the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, the Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition weighs heavily over this week’s proceedings. The White House and its allies are scrambling to prevent a showdown, and critics, including the two leading Republican presidential candidates, say the Palestinian quest for statehood highlights Obama’s failed Middle East peace strategy.  

Last year, Obama said in his address to the U.N. General Assembly that, working together, a peace agreement might be possible by the time of the next meeting. “We can waste more time by carrying forward an argument that will not help a single Israeli or Palestinian child achieve a better life. We can do that…or, we can say that this time will be different,” Obama said in September 2010. “This time we should reach for what’s best within ourselves. If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is readying to bring his bid for statehood to the U.N. Friday, a move the U.S. strongly rejects and has vowed to veto.

“The only way to resolve the issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis and to ultimately create a Palestinian state is through direct negotiations. The Palestinians will not and cannot achieve statehood through a declaration at the United Nations,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week.

In the meantime, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her allies are engaged in an intensive diplomatic negotiations to present an alternative plan that would allow for the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to resume.

“We are engaged in extremely intensive ongoing diplomacy, reaching out to not only the parties but to all of the people who are here for the U.N. General Assembly.  And we continue to believe and are pressing the point that the only way to a two-state solution, which is what we support and want to see happen, is through negotiations.  And no matter what does or doesn’t happen this week, it will not produce the kind of outcome that everyone is hoping for.  So we’re going to stay very much engaged and focused,” Clinton said Monday.

While President Obama is scheduled to meet one-on-one with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this week, there are no plans for him to meet with Abbas.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Perry Assails Obama Policy in Middle East

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As President Obama attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, a few blocks away Gov. Rick Perry laid into the administration’s  “naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous” policy in the Middle East, which he claims has resulted in Palestine’s push for statehood.

“Simply put, we would not be here today at this very precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn’t naive, and arrogant, misguided and dangerous,” Perry said. “The Obama policy of moral equivalency, which gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism, is a very dangerous insult.”

Perry’s remarks in New York City were his first heavily detailed foreign policy speech as he stood before a contingent of pro-Israel leaders and applied pressure on Obama, accusing him of isolating and undermining Israel.

“It is time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel, and in the process establish a robust American position in the Middle East characterized by a new firmness and a new resolve,” Perry said.

Perry said he supports a two-state solution only if it arises through direct negotiations between Palestinian leaders and Israel. Palestinian leaders are in New York this week pushing the United Nations to acknowledge its existence as an independent state, which would circumvent negotiations with Israel.

Perry expanded the speech beyond Palestine and Israel, touching on the need to stifle Iran’s ability to develop nuclear capabilities and to identify potential risks posed by the new administration in Egypt.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lamar Alexander Stepping Down from GOP Leadership Post

United States Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced Tuesday that he is leaving his leadership post among Republicans in the senate.

Alexander will step down in January as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference – the third ranking Republican in the Senate. He said he does plan to run for reelection to the Senate in 2014, but will not seek another leadership post.

A former presidential candidate and governor from Tennessee, Alexander has at times broken with the rest of the Republican leadership. He endorsed a proposal from the bipartisan “gang of six” for instance, which would have raised taxes as well as cut spending.

But Tuesday Alexander argued that while he is leaving his leadership post, he is not leaving his party, referring to himself as a very “Republican Republican.”

Alexander argued against those that say the Senate is now more fractious and divisive than it has been in the past. He said that those who say that have no sense of American political history.

Alexander’s exit from the Republican leadership opens up a few slots for new blood in the leadership.
Sen. John Thune, R-SD., announced, almost immediately, that he will run for Alexander’s post.

Thune currently has the 4th post as Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Shortly after, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., announced that he will run to replace Thune’s position as Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, should Thune move up as expected into the #3 spot.

It is also possible that a Tea Party Republican allied with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint could seek a leadership position, potentially the fourth-ranking Republican Policy Committee chairmanship.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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