Entries in Obama Administration (46)


Keystone XL Pipeline Does Little Environmental Harm, US Finds

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration Friday moved one step closer to approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, concluding in a draft environmental impact statement that the project would not accelerate global greenhouse gas emissions or significantly harm the natural habitats along its route.

The report, done by the State Department, suggests that the proposed 875-mile pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, has cleared a significant hurdle on its way to President Obama’s desk for final consideration.

“The approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including this proposed project, really remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of development of the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil in the U.S.,” said Kerri-Ann Jones, the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

The State Department, which conducted the study because the pipeline would cross an international boundary, also suggested in a voluminous report that impacts on air, water and landscape would be minimal.

The agency found it “very unlikely” that the pipeline would affect water quality in any of the four aquifers through which it crossed.  It also concluded that along one part of the proposed route, in the case of a large-scale oil spill, “these impacts would typically be limited to within several hundred feet of the release source, and would not affect groundwater.”

Government analysts found that Keystone XL would each year produce the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions of 620,000 passenger cars operating for a year. But they concluded that whether or not the pipeline is approved, those emissions would still  likely occur because of fuels produced and obtained from other sources.

The release of the draft report reignited debate over climate change and President Obama’s pledge to do something about it.

Environmental activists have been lobbying Obama hard to block the plan — some recently chaining themselves to the White House fence in protest. Many environmental groups see rejection of the pipeline as a litmus test for whether Obama intends to fulfill his pledge from the second inaugural.

“It seems like Secretary Kerry and the State Department missed President Obama’s State of the Union and inaugural address,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth.  “The draft SEIS reads like an on-ramp to justify the Keystone XL pipeline project. We cannot solve the climate crisis when the State Department fails to understand the basic climate, environmental and economic impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Pica and other environmental advocates have called the pipeline a “carbon bomb,” increasing the use of tar sands oil, which is one of the dirtiest to produce and transport.

The oil industry, some members of Congress, and the nation’s major labor unions, which stand to gain construction jobs with the pipeline’s approval, all welcomed the news.

“No matter how many times KXL is reviewed, the result is the same: no significant environmental impact,” said Marty Durbin of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry lobby.

“The latest impact statement from the State Department puts this important, job-creating project one step closer to reality,” he said. “The last approval needed is by President Obama, and we urge him to do so as soon as possible.”

Canada, which has long lobbied the U.S. for approval of the deal, also hailed the State Department’s report as a step forward.

“The Keystone XL pipeline will create tens of thousands of jobs on both sides of the border,” said Canadian natural resources minister Joe Oliver.

In 2011, the Obama administration came close to approving an earlier version of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have stretched from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. The deal was tabled after a dispute over the portion of the route through Nebraska, though officials later green-lighted construction of the southern portion of the pipeline.

Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota have now all signed-off on the pipeline plan and their governors and congressional delegations have been calling on Obama to follow suit.

One potential wild card:  new Secretary of State John Kerry, a longtime advocate of action to combat climate change.  He will play an influential role in finalizing the department’s review and recommendation before presenting it to Obama, who has said he’ll make the final call.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration Joins Legal Fight Against Calif. Gay Marriage Ban

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice filed a brief Thursday in the case of a controversial California ballot initiative that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, asking the Supreme Court to affirm a lower court decision that struck down the measure, known as Proposition 8.

The brief marks the first time that the Obama administration has come out in court against Prop 8.

"The exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from marriage does not substantially further any important governmental interest. Proposition 8 thus violates equal protection," wrote Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in a "friend of the court" brief filed in favor of gay and lesbian couples challenging Prop 8.

Referring to proponents of the voter-approved measure who are defending it in court, Verrilli wrote, "Petitioners contend that Proposition 8 serves an interest in returning the issue of marriage to the democratic process, but use of a voter initiative to promote democratic self-governance cannot save a law like Proposition 8 that would otherwise violate equal protection."

But Thomas Peters, communications director for the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, invoked California's voters in saying it expected the court to uphold the law.

"NOM expects the Supreme Court to exonerate the votes of over 7 million Californians to protect marriage," said Peters, whose group is not the one arguing for Prop 8 in court. "The president is clearly fulfilling a campaign promise to wealthy gay marriage donors. There is no right to redefine marriage in our Constitution."

The Obama administration brief noted that California extends all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to gay and lesbians, but forbids them the designation of "marriage."

That circumstance, "particularly undermines the justifications for Proposition 8," Verrilli wrote.

"The brief pays closest attention to California and the other seven states that grant same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage but insist on denying them the favored name," said Jane S. Schacter, a professor at Stanford Law School. "But it advocates that the court adopt a much tougher, more skeptical approach to any state law that denies same-sex couples the right to marry."

"That approach is what lawyers call 'heightened scrutiny,'" she added, "and if it were faithfully applied to all state laws banning same-sex marriage, it would result in the invalidation of those laws. The administration's brief provides a blueprint for a national right-to-marriage equality, even though it does not advocate that in express terms."

Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor of law at American University of Law, called it the, "tip of a much larger anti-discrimination iceberg."

According to the brief, Vladeck said, "states can't discriminate against gays without a really strong reason -- not just with respect to marriage, but adoption, employment, benefits and so on."

Today, 39 states have laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples. This number includes voter-approved constitutional amendments in 30 states barring same sex marriage. Nine states allow gay marriage.

"The brief filed by the solicitor general is a powerful statement that Proposition 8 cannot be squared with the principles of equality upon which this nation was founded," said Adam Umhoefer executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group behind the challenge of Prop 8.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


White House Denies Call for Trillion-Dollar Coin to Avoid Debt Ceiling

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration has killed any notion of minting trillion-dollar platinum coins to solve the nation’s debt ceiling woes.

In a written statement released Saturday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says there are only “two options” to deal with the looming need for the U.S. government to pay creditors for federal funding it has already spent. Minting the proposed currency to pay it off and avoid an impending battle with Capitol Hill is not one of them.

“Congress can pay its bills or it can fail to act and put the nation into default,” he writes.

Carney blames Congressional Republicans for having “played politics” during the last negotiations over the country’s borrowing limit in summer 2011. The stalled talks resulted in a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard and Poor’s.

“The President and the American people won’t tolerate Congressional Republicans holding the American economy hostage again simply so they can force disastrous cuts to Medicare and other programs the middle class depend on while protecting the wealthy,” the statement reads. “Congress needs to do its job.”

The Treasury Department has been staving off the ceiling using accounting tricks for months — most recently on Dec. 31. But with no comprehensive solution reached during the recent “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations, a brewing fight on how to deal with the $16.4 trillion borrowing limit is set for the late winter.

The coin proposal has floated around academia and economic policy circles for some time, but gained traction after the cliff ordeal, when it was taken up by cheeky monetary wonks and some members of the progressive left.

The idea follows that should Congress fail to extend the debt limit, Treasury could begin minting trillion dollar coins (in a process explained mostly seriously by Jim Pethokoukis on his American Enterprise Institute blog), a number of which could then be put toward fulfilling debt obligations in the event new legislation stalls in Congress. The Federal Reserve would hold the hefty currency until it was time to pay the bills.

While there are laws in place to regulate how much paper, gold, silver or copper currency can be circulated by the government, there is nothing so clearly stated when it comes to platinum.

The White House statement comes a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrats urged the president to “take any lawful steps” to avoid default — “without Congressional approval, if necessary.” In response, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell railed against the notion in a written statement.

“Democrats are looking at everything from the ridiculous (printing a trillion-dollar coin) to outright abdication of Congressional responsibility,” it reads. “But avoiding this problem will only make it worse.”

The idea to mint the coins as a way around the federal debt ceiling won a high profile advocate Friday when Pulitzer Prize winning economist Paul Krugman used his New York Times column to say “Mint the coin!”

But a senior administration official told ABC News there was one key factor in making that course of action impossible: The Federal Reserve said it would not view the coin as viable.

“Since they wouldn’t view the coin as viable, the issue isn’t not wanting to do the coin. We just can’t,” the White House official said.

In other words, the scheme favored by folks like Krugman just would not work.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


White House Mum on Covert Aid to Syria Rebels

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The White House announced today it has pledged an additional $12 million in humanitarian aid to civilians affected by the ongoing violence in Syria.

Food, water, medical kits and other supplies bring the total U.S. assistance to that country to $76 million, partly distributed through the World Food Program, International Red Cross, and other organizations.

In a written statement, the administration praised Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey for providing additional relief or hosting refugees from the conflict, which the United Nations reports has displaced over a million. Over 130,000 have fled to neighboring states.

The U.N. has asked for $180 million in international assistance for the country.

The announcement does not address yesterday's report that President Obama had signed a secret order broadly authorizing the CIA and other agencies to provide support to rebels against the Bashar Assad regime. While the precise date of the order is undetermined, it comes on the heels of observations of marked improvement in effectiveness from the armed opposition in recent weeks.

The exact nature of the covert assistance is unknown, but it appears to stop short of providing actual armaments. On Wednesday the State Department acknowledged $25 million had been set aside for "non lethal" assistance to the fighters, such as communications equipment.

The Obama administration has declined to comment on the report, but today Press Secretary Jay Carney continued its prior stance against further arming Assad's opposition.

"We don't believe that adding to the number of weapons in Syria will do anything to help bring about a peaceful transition," he said.

It has not stopped the import of weapons from Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Qatar.

Kofi Annan formally announced Thursday that he would step down as special envoy to Syria at the end of the month. Carney praised Annan's for his service in the country, but said his efforts were disrupted by the break of international unity against Assad.    

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


White House, Obama Campaign on Defense After Biden Backs Gay Marriage

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The White House and the Obama campaign are playing defense on gay marriage, after comments by Vice President Joe Biden reignited debate over the president’s position on the issue and whether he would seek to legalize same-sex marriages in a second term.

On Sunday, Biden candidly expressed support for gay marriage but stopped short of saying whether the president, who has long said his position on the issue is “evolving,” would back same-sex marriage.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties,” Biden said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

The White House Monday was quick to deny that the vice president’s remarks signaled a shift in the administration’s policy.

“What he said about the protection of rights of citizens is completely consistent with the president’s position on this issue, and his description of the way the country has moved on this issue, I think, is wholly accurate,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday. “I think there is a little bit of an overreaction here.”

While the president has supported civil unions, he continues to say his position on gay marriage is evolving. “Attitudes evolve, including mine, and I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships,” the president first told a group of progressive bloggers in October 2010.

“My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this,” the president said again in December of 2011. “At this point, what I’ve said is, is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think -- and I think that’s the right thing to do. But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough, and I think is something that we’re going to continue to debate and I personally am going to continue to wrestle with going forward.”

Do Biden’s comments indicate the president’s evolution is complete? “I have no update on the president’s personal views,” Carney said.

Despite his hesitation on same-sex marriage, the president is adamant that he has met his commitments to the LGBT community. “I have delivered on what I promised and that doesn’t mean our work is done. There are gonna be times when you’re still frustrated with me. I know there are gonna be times where you’re still frustrated with the pace of change. I understand that,” the president said at an event marking LGBT Pride Month last June.

The administration points to the president’s efforts to end “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and quit any legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, as evidence of his support for gay and lesbian rights.

The president’s campaign has also walked back on Biden’s comments, trying to draw attention instead to Mitt Romney’s position on same-sex unions. “By the way, there couldn’t be a starker contrast on this issue than with Governor Romney, who has funded efforts to roll back marriage laws in California and other places, who believes that we need a constitutional amendment banning the right of gay couples to marry and would take us backward, not forward. So there’s a very clear distinction,” senior strategist David Axelrod told reporters on a conference call Monday.

The issue has also become a hot topic in the key battleground state of North Carolina, which later this week will vote on a measure to ban same-sex marriages.

Former President Bill Clinton, one of the president’s most powerful supporters, is voicing his opposition to the measure that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. “Hello, this is President Bill Clinton. I’m calling to urge you to vote against Amendment One on Tuesday May 8,” Clinton says in a robo-call to voters.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Joe Biden Blasts Mitt Romney for ‘Cold War Mindset’

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Vice President Joe Biden today delivered the sharpest attack to date on Mitt Romney over foreign policy, accusing the former governor of harboring a “cold war mindset,” ignoring the facts of President Obama’s record, and waffling on the importance of hunting down Osama bin Laden.

“On this fundamental issue, the contrast between President Obama, his record, and Gov. Romney and his rhetoric cannot be greater,” Biden told a crowd of 500 students at New York University.

“If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”

He said later, “You have to ask yourself… if Gov. Romney were president, would he have used the same slogan in reverse?”

Biden, delivering his fifth in a series of campaign issue speeches, painted the presumptive GOP nominee as advocating a return to the “out of touch” policies of President George W. Bush, under whose leadership the U.S. preemptively began a war in Iraq and relied less on multilateral alliances.

“Gov. Romney, I think, is counting on collective amnesia of the American people,” Biden said. “Americans know that we cannot afford to go back to the future.”

Biden hailed the administration’s approach to foreign policy, which he said involved nurturing ties to international groups, ending the war in Iraq, targeting al Qaeda leadership, imposing new sanctions on Iran and signing a new START treaty with Russia, helping Libyan rebels oust Gaddhafi, among other achievements.

He also raised questions about Romney’s fitness to be commander in chief, citing the presumptive nominee’s 2008 comment that “a president is not a foreign policy expert.”

Romney wrongly believes that he can “subcontract” the expertise to other agencies or departments, he said.  “I’ve been around for eight presidents…That’s not how it works.”

Biden said Obama, who took office with little foreign policy experience, has made tough decisions on his own, “with strength and steadiness.”

Turning to Republicans’ criticism of Obama’s record, Biden called it unspecific and out of the mainstream – often ignorant of the facts on the ground.

“We know that even when he agrees with the President of the United States, as he has done, he then goes on to mischaracterize our record to create what is a non-existent contrast,” he said. “And most importantly we know that to the extent he’s shown any foreign policy vision it’s through the glass of a rear view mirror.”

On Iraq, Biden charged Romney with flip-flopping, shifting his position on the troop withdrawal — first applauding it, then calling it an enormous error and later saying he would have left tens of thousands of troops behind.

He also attacked Romney’s statement in a recent CNN interview that Russia is the United States’  “number one geopolitical foe.”

“As my brother would say, go figure,” Biden joked. “Sometimes, I don’t know if it’s a slip of the tongue or a mindset he calls the Russians, Soviets.”

On Iran, the vice president called Romney’s tweaks of administration policy “apparently ignorant” of the fact that many of his suggestions – such as the need for crippling sanctions and placement of Navy carrier groups in the region – are “exactly what our policy is.”

If he wants to launch a war with Iran, Biden said, “he should tell the American people… otherwise it’s just talk.”

But it is the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the vice president said, that provides the most illuminating contrast between President Obama and Gov. Romney.

“In 2008, while campaigning, Gov. Romney was asked what he would do about bin Laden. Let me tell you exactly what he said, he said, ‘there would be a very insignificant increase in safety’ if bin Laden was brought to justice. Then he went on to say, ‘it’s not worth moving heaven and earth, spending millions of dollars, just to catch one person,’” said Biden.

“Here’s how candidate Obama answered that question: he said, ‘If I have bin Laden in my sights, I will take him out. I will kill bin Laden. I will crush al Qaeda. This has to be our biggest national security priority.’”

“President Obama always means what he says: he said it as a candidate and he kept that promise,” he said.

Ahead of the speech, a team of Romney foreign policy advisers accused Biden of presenting a “fantasy narrative” on the administration’s record and how Romney would act differently.

“If anything, it is President Obama’s track record that has sent a message to our friends and allies, be they in governments or dissident movements, who want to stand with us, lock arms with us, who are looking to American leadership, really left exposed and isolated in a way that I have not seen in American foreign policy history for years,” said Romney adviser and former Bush administration official Dan Senor.

“The foreign policy doctrine of all modern presidencies has been peace through strength,” said Romney foreign policy adviser Alex Wong. “The only two exceptions to that tradition have been Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. So if Joe Biden and Barack Obama want to compare a weak Carter-Obama doctrine to peace through strength we’re happy to make that comparison.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Romney Calls Panetta’s Afghanistan Withdrawal Announcement ‘Misguided’

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- Mitt Romney has offered harsh criticism of a plan outlined by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to possibly withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in 2013, calling the administration’s decision to announce its military plans to the world “misguided” and “naive.”

“The president’s mistakes, some of them are calculated on a philosophy that’s hard to understand and, sometimes, you scratch your head and say: How can he be so misguided and so naive?” said Romney during a visit to a Brady Industries warehouse, where janitorial supplies lined the shelves.

“Today, his secretary of defense unleashed such a policy,” said Romney. “The secretary of defense said that on a day certain, the middle of 2013, we’re going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan.”

Panetta told reporters en route to a NATO meeting in Brussels that the administration hopes to remove combat troops by 2013 and continue a training and advisory role with Afghan forces through 2014.

“He announced that. He announced that. So the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it,” said Romney. “Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the date you’re pulling out your troops? It makes absolutely no sense.”

“His naivete is putting in jeopardy the mission of the United States of America and our commitments to freedom,” he said. “He is wrong. We need new leadership in Washington.”

Romney has said repeatedly on the campaign stump that his own decision regarding withdrawing troops from Afghanistan would be based on advice from generals on the ground.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Catholic Churches Distribute Letters Opposing Obama Healthcare Rule

George Doyle/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Catholic parishioners around the country were read letters Sunday morning written by church leaders railing against an Obama administration ruling that requires employers to provide health insurance plans that include free contraceptives.

Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the guidelines but Catholic hospitals, colleges and social services fall under the umbrella of institutions covered by the decision.

Originally introduced last summer, the decision was lauded by abortion rights supporters.  But Catholicism considers some forms of contraception as the termination of life and religious leaders say adherence would fly in the face of the tenets of their faith. Critics also charge it would be a violation of the Constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The letters were penned by individual clergy, so variations exist in what was read at each Sunday Mass, but the overall theme is unified.

One letter from the Archdiocese of Washington says, “Catholic moral teachings will be placed in the untenable position of having to choose between violating the law and violating their conscience.”

In another from the Diocese of Phoenix, a bishop calls on Catholics to stand united against the rule.

“We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law,” it reads. “People of faith cannot be made second class citizens.”

Nearly all the letters found by ABC News called on parishioners to pray for a reversal.

Earlier this month, religious institutions were given a year extension to comply with the administration's decision.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Geithner ‘Pretty Confident’ He’ll Leave Obama Administration

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- the sole remaining member of President Obama’s original economic team -- said Wednesday he expected to leave the administration if Obama wins a second term.

“He’s not going to ask me to stay on, I’m pretty confident,” Geithner, 50, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Charlotte, N.C.

“I’m confident he’ll be president. But I’m also confident he’s going to have the privilege of having another secretary of the Treasury.”

Geithner had been thinking about leaving his Treasury post ever since the bruising debt ceiling debate last summer, sources told ABC News, but ultimately chose to remain by Obama’s side through the end of the year.

Geithner’s departure would mark the final step in the changing of the administration’s economic guard, following the exits of National Economic Council Director Larry Summers, Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orsazg.

When asked what he might do next, Geithner simply told Bloomberg “something else.”

The secretary will attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this weekend, where the focus will be on keeping the euro zone afloat and staving off a global recession.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Administration Prepares for Government Shutdown

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Cabinet secretaries are preparing for a government shutdown and will notify employees Wednesday afternoon on what the next steps would be should one happen.

“We do need to be prepared for any contingency,” said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, “and in case Congress does not act, we are taking the steps necessary to be prepared if a lapse in funding should occur. That is why agencies are sending emails to their employees this afternoon to alert them to this possibility and how it would affect them.”

A government shutdown is a very real threat, ever since President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agreed to tie the Omnibus appropriations bill to an agreement on extending the payroll tax holiday.

As the clock strikes midnight Friday night, funding for the government will run out unless there is some sort of deal.

On Sunday, it seemed as if there would be a way to avoid this. Though there were some outstanding issues, there had been a general agreement on a compromise for the Omnibus spending bill, which needs to pass for the government to continue operating.

That process is held up because Obama and Senate Majority Harry Reid don’t believe that a payroll tax cut holiday will be extended unless they force Congress to do so.

“There is not a deal on the Omnibus,” a senior administration official said when asked about the general agreement between Democratic and Republican appropriations committee staffers. “There is only a deal when the president is ready to sign a bill.”

Baer said, “there is no reason for the government to shut down. Congress can avoid a shutdown by passing an acceptable omnibus spending bill as well as an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits -- or by passing another short-term CR as Congress has done seven times already this year.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio