Jon Huntsman Takes Indirect Aim at Mitt Romney

LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images(GREER, S.C.) -- Jon Huntsman ditched his signature diplomatic tone at a GOP barbeque in Greer, South Carolina Monday night, taking aim at Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney’s home state.

“When you look at absolute increases in job creation, Utah led the way in the United States in terms of job creation,” Huntsman said.  “That compared and contrasted with certain other states like, say, Massachusetts that I’ll just pull out randomly; not first, but 47th.”

“I’m here to tell you as you evaluate and look at the candidates, simply analyze where it is they have been and what they have done and what kind of achievements they have to show from their time as a chief executive, and whether or not it has applicability nationwide,” Huntsman continued.  “And I’m here to tell you when you look at what we have done whether it’s healthcare reform, whether it’s economic development, whether it’s record tax cuts, you’re going to find a lot to like. “

When asked how Huntsman’s comments compare to his usual no-names-mentioned approach to campaigning, spokesperson Tim Miller told ABC News, “Gov. Huntsman is going to continue to contrast his record with his opponents in the Republican primary and President Obama.  With millions of Americans out of work, voters are looking for a candidate who knows how to turn the economy around and has the track record to back it up."

While record-comparing is still the theme of Huntsman’s stump speech, his delivery has taken a clear turn.

Last month, he told a group of reporters in New Hampshire, “I’m sick and tired of the divisiveness and if I go down in defeat talking about it, so be it…We lack a sense of respect and humanity in our debates in this country.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michelle Obama Indulges in 1,556-Calorie Lunch

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Just hours after President Obama told lawmakers it was time to “eat our peas” and reach a deal on the deficit, the first lady was spotted doing just the opposite.

Mrs. Obama was seen indulging Monday afternoon in a colossal 1,556-calorie meal at the Shake Shack, according to the Washington Post, which spotted the first lady at the newly-opened D.C. diner.

The first lady, a well-known advocate for healthy living and child nutrition, reportedly ordered a ShackBurger, fries, chocolate shake and a Diet Coke.

While Mrs. Obama has made it her personal mission to eliminate the problem of childhood obesity, she has also admitted that it’s ok to treat oneself so long as it’s in moderation.

"I love burgers and fries, you know?” the first lady told ABC News' Robin Roberts last year.  “And I love ice cream and cake.  So do most kids.  We're not talking about a lifestyle that excludes all that.  That's the fun of being a kid.  That's the fun of being a human.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michele Bachmann Clinic: Where You Can Pray Away the Gay?

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and her husband Marcus Bachmann wave as they march in a Fourth of July parade in Clear Lake, Iowa. Steve Pope/Getty Images(MINNEAPOLIS) -- A former patient who sought help from the Christian counseling clinic owned by GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, told ABC News he was advised that prayer could rid him of his homosexual urges and he could eventually be "re-oriented."

"[One counselor's] path for my therapy would be to read the Bible, pray to God that I would no longer be gay," said Andrew Ramirez, who was 17 years old at the time he sought help from Bachmann & Associates in suburban Minneapolis in 2004. "And God would forgive me if I were straight."

In the past, Marcus Bachmann has disputed the clinic has treated gay patients this way. But Ramirez's account, which was first reported by The Nation, is similar to the counseling session that appears on new undercover video shot by a gay rights advocacy group last month. That footage shows another counselor at the Bachmann clinic telling a gay man posing as a patient that, with prayer and effort, he could eventually learn to be attracted to women and rid himself of his gay urges.

The disclosures have provided fresh insight into what Michele Bachmann has called her family business -- the primary source of income for her family as she left her law practice to move into politics. The counseling center has factored into Bachmann's campaign narrative as well -- evidence, she said, of her ability to understand what it takes to create jobs and run a small business.

"We're very proud of our business and all job creators in the U.S.," Michele Bachmann told a reporter when asked about the clinic Monday.

The Bachmann & Associates counseling centers appear to offer a wide range of services to people in emotional distress and are clearly billed on the clinic's website as a religious-based approach to mental health treatment. ABC News sought to interview Marcus Bachmann and his wife about the clinic and its practices, but a campaign spokeswoman declined to make them available. The campaign did not respond to written questions, instead sending a statement that says they cannot answer questions about specific treatments provided to patients.

"Those matters are protected by patient-client confidentiality," the statement says. "The Bachmann's are in no position ethically, legally, or morally to discuss specific courses of treatment concerning the clinic's patients."

Questions about how the counselors at Bachmann's clinic respond to patients who arrive seeking help with the tension between their sexual urges and their religious believes have long swirled in Minnesota. Marcus Bachmann was asked if his clinic tried to convert patients from gay to straight in an interview with a local newspaper in 2006, and said, "That's a false statement."

"If someone is interested in talking to us about their homosexuality, we are open to talking about that," he is reported to have said. "But if someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay homosexual, I don't have a problem with that."

The controversial practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation was roundly discredited by the American Psychological Association in 2009 as ineffective and potentially harmful. The first-hand accounts and video evidence surfacing Monday have rekindled questions about the Bachmann family business.

Clinton Anderson, who heads the association's Office on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, told ABC News that his organization did an exhaustive review and found no evidence that efforts to convert someone from gay to straight could succeed.

"The harm is that when people are already in distress, and feeling conflict about their religion and their sexuality, to tell them they can change if they work hard enough, when in fact they can't do that … just makes their distress and their shame -- their depression -- even worse," Anderson said.

Marcus Bachmann describes a gentle approach to counseling on his website, saying he believes "my call is to minister to the needs of people in a practical, caring and sensitive way." In a talk radio interview, however, he does not deny a tougher approach when it comes to dealing with behavior considered to be sinful.

"We have to understand, barbarians need to be educated," he said during a 2010 appearance on the program Point of View.

Questions about the clinic's approach to counseling gay patients prompted the Vermont-based advocacy group Truth Wins Out to send a gay man undercover, with a camera, to seek guidance from a Bachmann associate.

"I told my therapist that I was struggling with attraction to the same sex, and that my attractions were overwhelmingly, predominately, exclusively homosexual," said John Becker, the man who visited the clinic five times in late June.

Treatment notes and bills that Becker provided to ABC said the counselor's goal was to "increase ability to manage and decrease feelings and actions."

Becker said he was told more explicitly that the goal of his treatment was to end his homosexual urges entirely, and he was provided scriptural mantras to repeat to himself in order to stay on track.

"He seemed to believe genuinely in his heart of hearts that, somehow, my homosexuality could be cured and could be eliminated," Becker said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


With Social Security on the Table, Obama Draws Progressives' Ire

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has done what some members of his liberal base have considered the unthinkable, and now he’ll have to face their outrage.

Obama signaled at his press conference Monday that changes to Social Security could be a bargaining chip in a deficit reduction deal with Republicans -- something many Democrats have staunchly opposed.

“The reason to do Social Security is to strengthen Social Security to make sure that those benefits are there for seniors in the out-years,” Obama said. “And the reason to include that potentially in this package is if you’re going to take a bunch of tough votes, you might as well do it now, as opposed to trying to muster up the political will to get something done further down in the future.”

While Social Security is not a major contributor to the nation’s deficit, Obama suggested changes to the program could also reap some budgetary savings, possibly through changes to the eligibility age or the formula by which payments are calculated.  Any reconfiguration of the program would likely alter benefits for some future or current retirees.

The comments drew a sharp rebuke from some progressive activists, many of whom supported Obama in 2008.

“Seriously??? Why is a Democratic president going out of his way to help Republicans cut Social Security??? That's just wrong,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal PAC with more than 700,000 members, said in a message to supporters.

The group is amassing signatures on a pledge that it plans to present to the Obama campaign, threatening to withhold support during the 2012 campaign. So far, more than 160,000 have signed, according to the PCCC.

The pledge reads: “President Obama: If you cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits for me, my family, or families like mine, don't ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I'm going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates who will fight to protect our Democratic legacy."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Newt Gingrich Estimates Budget Could Be Balanced in Five Years

NBC News(PELLA, Iowa) -- Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who helped balance the federal budget in the 1990s,  told a crowd in Iowa Monday the current budget could be balanced in five years.

“I helped balance the federal budget. It took us three years, originally I thought it would take seven. It took three, but we couldn’t have done it in four months,” Gingrich said during the Family Leader's Presidential Lecture Series in Pella, Iowa. “They ought to produce a track that’s real and that’s not baloney and it’s not phony numbers that gets them to a balanced budget, and I think you can get there in five to seven years.”

Gingrich said the U.S. would default if the debt ceiling is not raised, resulting in a constitutional violation.

"It would be a direct violation of the constitution, which very specifically says you can’t repudiate the debt," Gingrich said.

On Friday, Gingrich wrote an op-ed admonishing the inclusion of any tax increases in the debt ceiling negotiations.  On Monday, Gingrich pressed Republicans to require the president to to include major spending cuts in the deal.

"I would not give the president a penny of debt ceiling that wasn't matched by spending cuts, and I was glad to see Speaker Boehner say that taxes were off the table. Notice I didn’t say revenues were off the table,” Gingrich said.  “You can get more revenue the smart way.  You don’t want to get more revenue by raising taxes in a depression, so it’s a fundamental difference.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pawlenty Fires Back After Conan O'Brien Disses His Campaign

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- On Sunday, it was Michele Bachmann who tangled with Tim Pawlenty. On Monday, it was Conan O’Brien.

In a tweet earlier Monday, O’Brien quipped, “Is it too early to predict that Tim Pawlenty will not be a popular Halloween costume?”

Hours later Pawlenty fired back with a tweet of his own. “@ConanOBrien Wait until I unveil my Team Coco wig then everyone will want the costume. It might even deliver IA for me #ginger #iacaucus.”

In recent days -- following a dismal debate performance in New Hampshire and disappointing second-quarter fundraising numbers -- Pawlenty has had to combat a slew of pre-obituaries about his struggling campaign and his "Minnesota nice” reputation. On Friday the New York Times published a story entitled, “Will Republican Race’s First In Be The First Out?” And on Sunday NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory asked him, “Are you too dull to be president?”

“Well, look, if people want the entertainer-in-chief, they should vote for somebody else," Pawlenty replied.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Boehner on Debt Talks: 'Takes Two to Tango' and Dems Aren't Dancing

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Despite President Obama urging both sides to make sacrifices and reach a “balanced approach” in the ongoing deficit negotiations, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Monday afternoon that raising taxes is off the table and suggested that the president should be satisfied getting his requested debt limit increase.

“This is going to take sacrifice, and this is going to take political capital on both sides, and I’m certainly willing to take my fair share of it, but if we’re going to take political capital then let’s step up and do the big thing and the right thing for the country,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “Most Americans would say that a balanced approach is a simple one: the administration gets its debt limit increase and the American people get their spending cuts and their reforms, and adding tax increases to the equation doesn’t balance anything.”

Before heading to the White House for a second-straight day of talks, Boehner claimed that tax revenue increases were “never on the table” in the bipartisan negotiations to increase the debt limit.

“We’ve been involved in I think very sincere and honest negotiations and honest discussions,” Boehner said. “This boils down to two things, and I said it on Saturday night: the president continues to insist on raising taxes and they are just not serious enough about fundamental entitlement reform to solve the problem for the near to intermediate future. I want to get there. I want to do what I think in the right – the best interest of the country, but it takes two to tango and they’re not there yet.”

Boehner stood by his long-stated principles heading into the talks that the House can only pass a bill that includes spending cuts that exceed the increase to the debt limit, and does not increase tax revenue.

“I agree with the president that the national debt limit must be raised and I’m glad that he made the case for it today, but the American people will not accept -- and the House cannot pass -- a bill that raises taxes on job creators,” Boehner said. “The House can only pass a debt limit bill that includes spending cuts larger than the hike in the debt limit as well as real restraints on future spending.”

But with 218 votes needed to pass a bill through the House, and scores of Republicans opposing an increase to the debt limit regardless of the total cuts in the package, Boehner admitted he, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the president will have to find a deal that at least some Democrats will support.

Boehner said that he and President Obama “agree that the current levels of spending, including entitlement spending are unsustainable” but that they “do not agree on his view that government needs more revenues through higher taxes on job creators” or the extent of the entitlement problem.

“There was a big conversation underway about revenues. Revenues in the contest of tax reform, lowering rates, broadening the base, which would encourage more economic activity and real growth in our economy that would result in additional revenues to the federal government,” Boehner said. “There is in fact a way to do this, but...that conversation can’t continue if they’re not serious about fundamental reform of the entitlement programs.”

Boehner also said that Republicans want to enact a balanced budget amendment, legislation that will be on the House floor next week, “to keep the federal government from spending us into the same situation again.”

“The fundamental questions are this: can you control government spending without fundamentally reforming entitlements? I think the answer is no. Do you need to raise taxes in order to get control of spending? I think the answer is no. If you want to see an increase in government revenues then let’s grow the economy and create jobs, broaden the tax base and lower rates,” he said. “Our disagreement with the president is not about closing loopholes. None of us are fond of loopholes. Our disagreement is over the idea of raising taxes on the very people that we’re asking to create jobs in our country.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Conservative Group Under Fire over Slavery Comment

Brendan Smialowski/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- After two presidential candidates signed onto a pledge supporting traditional marriage values, the pledge’s sponsor retracted a part of the vow that suggested African-American children were better off under slavery.

The Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative activist group, removed a sentence Saturday from the introduction of their “Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family” that said: "Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was the first to sign the pledge Friday followed closely by fellow candidate Rick Santorum.

Whoopi Goldberg was outraged by the pledge on Monday’s The View saying the slavery reference was “a stupid allegation.”

“You don’t know anything about how slaves raised their kids or why people work together,” Goldberg said. “Just don’t add stuff like that if you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

A Bachmann spokesperson told Politico Saturday that the congresswoman only signed onto the “candidate vow” portion of the pledge, which has no mention of slavery.

"In no uncertain terms, Congresswoman Bachmann believes that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible,” Bachmann’s campaign spokesperson Alice Stewart told Politico.

Bachmann “stands behind the candidate vow -- which makes absolutely no reference to slavery." Stewart added.

The candidate vow portion asks signers to reject same-sex marriage, uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, outlaw pornography and reject anti-women Islamic Sharia law.

Santorum said politicians should vow to be faithful to their wives, as the first provision of the candidate vow states. Those who are not faithful cause people to “disrespect and disregard members of Congress,” Santorum said in a Sunday interview on CNN.

“When I first read it I was taken aback. I can’t argue that I wasn’t, but I understand why they’re saying it,” he said. “If we can’t count on you to be faithful to those closest to you how can we count on you to be faithful to those of us you represent?”

Neither Santorum’s nor Bachmann’s campaign was immediately available for comment.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Injects Urgency Into Deficit Talks: Time to 'Pull Off the Band-Aid'

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama injected a sense of urgency into the high-stakes deficit reduction negotiations Monday, calling on lawmakers in both parties to "pull off the Band-Aid" and compromise on spending cuts and tax increases.

"I've been hearing from Republicans for some time that it's a moral imperative to deal with our debt and deficit in some way. So what I've said to them is, 'let's go,'" he said at a White House press conference just hours before congressional leaders were slated to return to the negotiating table.

Obama has endorsed a "balanced approach" to deficit reduction that would trim close to $4 trillion over the next decade through a mix of spending cuts -- including changes to some entitlement programs -- and tax increases for wealthier Americans and corporations.

But Republicans oppose any deal that results in higher taxes, saying they would burden Americans in a weak economy. And many Democrats say they oppose cuts to entitlements without any new tax revenue. The president acknowledged the seemingly insurmountable standoff Monday, but said leaders on both sides need to sacrifice some of their "sacred cows" to get a deal done. He also rejected the possibility of a short-term extension of the debt ceiling to buy more time.

"We might as well do it now," Obama said of the aversion to compromise in both parties. "Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas. Let's step up. Let's do it. I'm prepared to take significant heat from my party to get it done. I expect the other side should do the same."

So far that has proven easier said than done.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has categorically ruled out any cuts or changes to entitlement program benefits, while some Republican leaders have drawn a line in the sand over taxes.

Both sides may now consider a smaller deficit reduction package -- perhaps around $2 trillion -- based on some of the spending cuts identified in talks led by Vice President Joe Biden over the past few weeks.

The debate over a deficit reduction deal is a prelude to dealing with a bigger issue: raising the nation's debt limit, which must happen by Aug. 2 or the U.S. will run out of money and could default on some of its loans, administration officials say.

Republican leaders have insisted that, at a minimum, any increase to the legal amount the nation can borrow to pay its bills must be matched with corresponding cuts in spending.

Talks will continue Monday afternoon at the White House -- the third meeting since Obama became directly involved in the talks. Negotiators for both sides will meet every day until a deal is made, Obama said Monday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sen. Durbin to ABC News: 'Disappointed' in Status of Debt Talks

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Sources on both sides of the debt negotiations tell ABC News that Sunday night’s meeting did nothing to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats. The only thing negotiators could agree on was to keep meeting; that, plus a shared belief in the room that those who downplay the consequences of default are just plain wrong.

After President Obama ratchets up the pressure with another press conference Monday, negotiators will go back in and lay out their differing perspectives on the amount of savings agreed to during the talks led by Vice President Biden last month. (Democrats and Republicans could be as much as $1 trillion apart.)

Reaching the fallback $2-2.5 trillion deal may not be all that much easier than the $4 trillion deal that collapsed this weekend. But Monday morning on ABC’s Good Morning America Democratic negotiator Sen. Dick Durbin was cautiously optimistic.

“I can tell you the president is determined to keep us there and make certain that we’re focused on the fact that the decision we make in that room will affect families across the American and decide whether this economy is going to recover. If we falter, if we don’t have sufficient political courage and will to get this done and this economy is going to be hurt then it’s going to fall on our shoulders,” he said.

Durbin called on GOP counterparts to “stay at the table” and said both sides need to be willing to put up big items. And he didn’t hesitate to point a finger at House Speaker John Boehner’s balk at the bigger $4 trillion deal.

“I’m disappointed. Last Thursday there was resolve through most of the leadership, Democrat, Republican, to do something serious and something large enough that would address our deficit in a...serious way but in a coordinated way, bringing everything to the table and being balanced,” Durbin said. “Unfortunately over the weekend Speaker Boehner said ‘I can’t deliver. I can’t produce on my side.’”

So how do they reach a deal in the next few days?

“I think that’s why the president has told us ‘Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to stay and get the job done.’ There have been a lot of folks on the other side of the table who have said ‘Well, maybe we need half a deal, maybe we need it for just a few months,’ and the president said ‘No.’ He’s told us over and over again, ‘We’ve heard your speeches, but this deficit is a moral crisis, it’s holding back our economic recovery and we’ve got to give some certainty to the business community across America about our future,” Durbin said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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