Entries in Washington (21)


David Plouffe: IRS Targeting Was Not a Political Pursuit

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Former White House senior adviser and Democratic strategist David Plouffe fought back against assertions from GOP strategist and George W. Bush's former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove that the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups was a political pursuit driven by Democrats.

“There’s been no suggestion — the Inspector General said there was no politics involved in this,” Plouffe said this morning on This Week. “This was not an effort driven by the White House. It would be the dumbest political effort of all time.”

Rove, who co-founded the GOP-affiliated outside spending group American Crossroads, argued that IRS workers in offices across the country may have taken direction, inadvertently, from top Democrats.

"I think people sitting in Cincinnati, Laguna Niguel, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. listen to people like Senator Max Baucus, Senator Chuck Schumer, President Obama,” Rove said. “When President Obama goes out in 2010 and calls these groups ‘a threat to democracy’ he’s blowing a dog whistle.”

Rove said that he believes further investigations into the situation will reveal a focus on conservative political groups, as well as a targeting of individuals.

“We’re going to find that the IRS targeted conservative political groups, not liberal groups, and that they targeted specific individuals,” he said. “This is just ridiculous.”

The two top strategists agreed however that the various controversies facing the administration right now should not eclipse Washington’s work on fixing the economy.

“All these things deserve thorough investigation,” Plouffe said. “The question is, is that all Congress is going to do? Are we just going to be obsessed with scandal and trying to score political points, or the American people could not be screaming any more loudly, ‘worry about us.’ ‘Work on the economy.’”

“This has to be a concern for the administration too,” Rove responded. “People don’t think the economy is good, and they don’t approve of the president’s handling of the economy, so I think it is important.”

Plouffe and Rove were joined on the This Week by editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post media group Arianna Huffington, Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Director Paul Gigot and PBS’ Washington Week Moderator and managing editor Gwen Ifill. The powerhouse round table debated all of the week’s politics, in addition to the IRS controversy, including the path ahead for immigration reform, and Tea Party star Michele Bachmann’s surprise announcement earlier this week that she would not be seeking re-election in 2014.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Rep. Issa Says Washington Directed IRS Targetting Out of Cincinnati

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The IRS agents in Cincinnati who were involved in the targeting of conservative groups were “being directly ordered from Washington,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said on Sunday, as he accused the White House of lying about the involvement of IRS headquarters officials in the scandal, calling White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a “paid liar.”

“The administration is still — their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind — he’s still making up things about what happens and calling this local rogue,” Issa said on CNN’s State of the Union. “The reason that Lois Lerner tried to take the Fifth [Amendment when called to testify before Congress] is not because there’s a rogue in Cincinnati, it’s because this is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters and we’re getting to proving it."

“The administration is still trying to say there’s a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, when in fact the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington,” he said.

Investigators from two House committees — Oversight and Government Reform and Ways and Means — are questioning IRS workers from the Cincinnati office, and Issa said these interviews provide evidence that the orders stemmed from Washington.

“My gut tells me that too many people knew that this wrongdoing was going on before the election, and at least by some sort of convenient benign neglect allowed it to go on through the election, allowed these groups, these conservative groups, these, if you will, not friends of the president to be disenfranchised through an election,” he said. “Now, I’m not making any allegations as to motive, that they set out to do it. But certainly, people knew it was happening.”

Congress is scheduled to hold a series of hearings this week on the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups. On Monday, J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General, and IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel are expected to testify before a House Appropriations subcommittee on the progress the IRS is making in addressing the controversial practices that came to light last month. Representatives of conservative organizations that were targeted by the IRS are scheduled to appear Tuesday before the House Ways and Means committee.

On Thursday, the House Oversight Committee, which Issa chairs, has a hearing scheduled for questioning about excessive spending at IRS conferences. The hearing comes nearly a week after the release of a video showing IRS officials line dancing to the “Cupid Shuffle” at a 2010 agency conference in California.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Was RGIII 'Tyranny' Tweet Aimed at Efforts to Change Team Name?

Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- It is not exactly clear what Washington Redskins Quarterback Robert Griffin III was referring to when he sent a frustrated tweet about political correctness on Tuesday afternoon.

But one possible explanation has to do with the decades-long effort to make his team’s name and its distinctive logo featuring a Native American with feathers in his hair more politically correct.

One new recommendation is to change the team's name from the Redskins to the Red Tails.

Griffin tweeted a pair of messages on Tuesday decrying the "tyranny of political correctness."

The Red Tails idea, proposed by D.C. City Councilmember David Grosso, would urge the team to alter the team name that has long been considered as derogatory to Native Americans and make it an homage to the Tuskeegee Airman, the barrier-breaking World War II African American aviation unit.

Over the decades-long debate over the Redskins name, the team has argued it honors Native American heritage.

The Redskins don’t even play in Washington any more -- they train in nearby Virginia and play in nearby Maryland -- but they’re still the team from Washington. Still, the city council doesn’t have the ability to force the team to change its name.

A more painful enticement for the Redskins could come from Congress or the Federal court that oversees U.S. trademarks.

A three-judge panel for the court in Alexandria, Virginia heard arguments last month in a case brought by five 18-year-old Native Americans that the name is offensive and therefore not eligible for a trademark. The court might not rule for a year, but if they voided the Redskins trademark, it could cost the team a lot of money.

A bill to strip the team of its trademark has also been introduced with the support of D.C.’s delegate in Congress, although it is not clear when or if it will get a vote.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Marijuana Users Not High Priority for President Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama says recreational users of marijuana in states that have legalized the substance should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement officials prosecuting the war on drugs.

"We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said of pot users in Colorado and Washington state during an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters.

"It would not make sense for us to see a top priority as going after recreational users in states that have determined that it's legal," he said, invoking the same approach taken toward users of medicinal marijuana in 18 states where it's legal.

Obama's comments on marijuana are his first following Colorado and Washington voters' approval of Nov. 7 ballot measures that legalize the recreational use and sale of pot in defiance of federal law.

Marijuana, or cannabis, remains classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I narcotic whose cultivation, distribution, possession and use are criminal acts.  It's in the same category as heroin, LSD and "Ecstasy," all deemed to have high potential for abuse.

Obama told Walters he does not -- "at this point" -- support widespread legalization of marijuana.  But he cited shifting public opinion and limited government resources as reasons to find a middle ground on punishing use of the drug.

"This is a tough problem, because Congress has not yet changed the law," Obama said. "I head up the executive branch; we're supposed to be carrying out laws.  And so what we're going to need to have is a conversation about, how do you reconcile a federal law that still says marijuana is a federal offense and state laws that say that it's legal?"

The president said he has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department to examine the legal questions surrounding conflicting state and federal laws on drugs.

"There are a number of issues that have to be considered, among them, the impact that drug usage has on young people, [and] we have treaty obligations with nations outside the United States," Holder said Wednesday of the review underway.

As a politician, Obama has always opposed legalizing marijuana and downplayed his personal history with the substance.

Obama wrote in his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, that he would smoke pot regularly with his high school buddies who formed a "club of disaffection."  The group was known as the "Choom Gang," says Obama biographer David Maraniss.

"There are a bunch of things I did that I regret when I was a kid," Obama told Walters.  "My attitude is, substance abuse generally is not good for our kids, not good for our society.

"I want to discourage drug use," he added.

While the administration has not prioritized prosecutions of marijuana users and small-scale distributors in states where it's legal, it has not ceased prosecutions altogether.  The Justice Department has continued raids on pot providers -- including in states where they are legal -- in an approach that experts say is more aggressive than Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.

"I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana -- and the reason is, because it's against federal law," Obama told Rolling Stone in an interview earlier this year.

It "is a murky area," Obama told the magazine, "where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users.  In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, 'This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.'  That's not something we're going to do."

Obama and the Office of National Drug Control Policy say the negative impacts of widespread marijuana legalization loom large.

Legalization would lower the price of "weed," thereby fueling its use and triggering more widespread negative health effects and subsequent costs of care, the administration says in its official policy position.  Officials also say legalization would do little to curb drug violence or eliminate cartels.

"When you're talking about drug kingpins, folks involved in violence, people who are peddling hard drugs to our kids and our neighborhoods that are devastated, there is no doubt we need to go after those folks hard," said Obama.

"It makes sense for us to look at how we can make sure that our kids are discouraged from using drugs and engaging in substance abuse generally," he said.  "There's more work we can do on the public health side and the treatment side."

More of Walters' exclusive first joint, post-election interview with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama airs Friday on 20/20 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC stations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


McCain Skips Classified Briefing While Blasting White House over Benghazi

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Senator John McCain is demanding answers on the Benghazi attack, but his office tells ABC News he missed a classified briefing on the subject because of a “scheduling error.”

The briefing was held on Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security Committee -- of which Senator McCain is a member -- and lasted three hours, featuring testimony by officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center.

McCain was holding a press conference demanding answers about the administration’s handling of the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. At precisely the same time, the briefing for the Homeland Security Committee was happening in another part of the Capitol building.

Why did he missing the briefing on a subject he has been so adamant in demanding answers on?  McCain’s office says his absence was unintentional -- an oversight.

“Senator McCain was absent from the hearing due to a scheduling error," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers told ABC News.

Even if he had attended, McCain was unlikely to be satisfied with what he heard.

After the briefing was over, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Susan Collins, was asked if she was satisfied with the hearing.

“I really wasn’t,” Collins answered. “There are many, many unanswered questions.  I feel that we’ve only scratched the surface through the briefings that we had today.”

There are currently at least four Senate Committees looking into the Benghazi attack.  For her part, Senator Collins does not agree with McCain’s call to combine those into one special -- or “select” -- committee like the one that investigated Watergate.

“ I do not see the benefit of, nor the need for a select committee,” Collins said.  “Our committee, our Homeland Security Committee has government-wide jurisdiction and a history of producing comprehensive bipartisan reports on everything from the Ft. Hood terrorist attack to Hurricane Katrina, so I don’t see the need for creating a brand new select committee to take a look at this.”

The White House had no immediate comment on McCain’s absence from the hearing, but one former White House official was quick to jump on it.

“It is nothing short of appalling that Senator McCain would use his time and influence to play politics instead of getting answers to the questions he claims to have,” said Bill Burton of the pro-Obama group Priorities USA.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


The Wacky Pot Law That Failed in Oregon

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize pot -- but why not Oregon?

All three voted on marijuana-legalization ballot initiatives, and Washington and Colorado passed them by 10-percentage-point margins. But Oregon, which is bluer than Colorado, was the only state to vote against legalized pot on Tuesday, turning down Measure 80 54 percent to 46 percent. Some Election-Night observers are scratching their heads.

Part of the difference was that Oregon’s initiative failed to gather support from big-time donors. Or perhaps it’s also that Oregon’s law was kind of wacky: It would have turned the state, effectively, into a pot dealer.

The new laws in Washington and Colorado direct state boards to license and regulate commercial pot growers, processors, and sellers, with the states reaping tax revenues from the new commerce. (If those laws are implemented, that is; there are still doubts over whether the federal government will seek to block them). The laws loosely followed models suggested elsewhere, and both were supported financially by the Drug Policy Alliance, a national drug-policy-reform group.

In Oregon, had Measure 80 passed, the state would have licensed sellers and processors — but instead of regulating its sale, the state would have bought the weed, packaged it, stamped it with a state seal and a potency grade, and sold it to customers at a profit.

This all would have been done by something like ABC stores in liquor-controlled states: An Oregon Cannabis Commission (OCC) would have run all ends of the process, finally selling it at OCC stores. Profits would have gone to purchases, testing, grading, shipping, promotion of Oregon hemp and hemp-made biodiesel, and back to the state’s general fund. Like an actual drug dealer, the state could have stopped selling it to any legal, 21-and-over buyers who became pot-addled derelicts (failing to live up to “statutory or common-law dut[ies]“).

But the oddest thing about Oregon’s failed law was its preamble, which jumped quickly to a history lesson about George Washington’s cannabis growth and the preference of “Governeur Morris of Pennsylvania, who spoke at the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 more than any other delegate” for marijuana over tobacco. It also called marijuana’s legal ban “liberticidal.”

Paul Stanford, the initiative's main backer, for his part, has vowed to push the law again in 2014, unless the state legislature passes it first.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Wades into Washington State Marriage Debate

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(SEATTLE) -- One day after publicly coming out in favor of same-sex marriages, President Obama on Thursday waded into Washington state’s debate over the unions, telling supporters at a Seattle fundraiser to vote against an expected November referendum that would overturn a new same-sex marriage law.

“Here in Washington you’ll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly. You will have a chance to weigh in on this,” Obama said inside Seattle’s Paramount Theater. “We are a nation that treats people fairly. We’re not going backwards, we’re not going backwards, we’re going forwards.”

The comments were Obama’s first on marriage since his interview with ABC News on Wednesday, when he announced a reversal of his longstanding opposition to same-sex nuptials. He said “winds of change” sweeping the country, as well as conversations with his staff, openly gay and lesbian service members, and his wife and daughters, helped change his view.

They also followed the approval Tuesday of a constitutional ban on same-sex unions in North Carolina -- a move Obama opposed but never publicly addressed.

As he took the stage, Obama received sustained applause from the friendly Democratic crowd of 2,000 donors, who each paid at least $1,000 to attend. The crowd seized on each reference he made to gay rights, breaking into whoops and cheers.

“If you are willing to work hard you should be able to find a good job. If you’re meeting your responsibilities, you should be able to own a home, maybe start a business. You should be able to give your kids the chance to do even better than you, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter your last name, no matter who you love,” he said, drawing enthusiastic applause.

Later, Obama referred to his efforts to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned openly gay service members, saying, “We’re not turning back the clock. We’re not returning to the days when you could be kicked out of the United States military just because of who you are and who you love. We’re moving this country forward. We are moving forward, to a country where every American is treated with dignity and with respect.”

Obama did not directly refer to his opponent, Mitt Romney, when discussing gay rights, but suggested that he is the only candidate for president who would be an advocate for Americans of all backgrounds, including sexual orientation.

“This country is at its best when we harness the God-given talents of every individual. When we hear every voice. When we come together as one American family -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian, native American, gay, straight, disabled. Everybody striving for the same dream. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s why I ran for president. That’s why I’m running again for president,” Obama said.

Washington state legalized same-sex marriages in February, becoming the seventh state in the nation to do so. But opponents are expected to collect more than 120,000 signatures to put a veto measure directly to voters in November.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Washington Caucus: Last Call Before Super Tuesday

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Washington state holds its caucus on Saturday, and it will mark the last chance for a candidate to claim a victory before Super Tuesday on March 6.

Washington is proceeding with its voting contests differently this year. In 2008, Washington split presidential voting contests and awarded half its delegates through a caucus and half through a primary. This year, Washington canceled its primary altogether as part of its budget cuts, opting to hold only a caucus, which will be run by the state Republican party rather than the state government.

In Washington, voters do not register by state party, so the caucus is open to all registered voters. In 2008, turnout was relatively strong for the primary—529,932 votes were cast, 11 percent of the eligible voting population.

Mitt Romney received the same percentage of votes in the Washington primary and caucus in 2008—16 percent. He placed third in both caucuses, behind John McCain and Mike Huckabee, who placed first and second. This year, Romney and Santorum have both polled well in the state.

There are 43 delegates at stake in Washington’s primary, and they will be doled out proportionally. While that is a higher number of delegates than in Michigan and Arizona (both of those states were penalized by the Republican National committee over moving their primary dates, and thus lost half their delegates), but the caucus has not received the same amount of attention from the media and the GOP candidates.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that Washington is considered to be a solidly blue state. The Republican candidate who claims victory here will not be able to use that as a trump card the way he could a swing state like Michigan or Ohio, or even a red state like Georgia or Oklahoma (both of which will vote on Super Tuesday.)

The other, more dominant reason lies in the scheduling. With Super Tuesday taking place just three days after the Washington caucus, candidates are focused on the more competitive Super Tuesday states: Ohio, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

There is, however, a plus side to the scheduling of the Washington caucus. As the final contest before Super Tuesday, it is the last chance for a candidate to build steam to carry him into the 10-state voting contest on March 6. And while it is unlikely that a victory in Washington would give the winner enough momentum to shake things up across the board, with races being so close in key states like Ohio, any small boost is something.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Santorum Squares Off with Occupy Protesters in Washington State

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(TACOMA, Wash.) -- Rick Santorum's rally in Tacoma, Wash., Monday evening was interrupted by Occupy protesters, but the candidate didn't back down.

Santorum had to shout over about a dozen protesters, who have their camp set up in a park adjacent to the amphitheater. The GOP hopeful said they represent a “radical element.”

“I think it’s really important for you to understand what this radical element represents,” he said to the cheering crowd of about 350 people. “Because what they represent is true intolerance.”

The former Pennsylvania senator compared the protesters to the recent decision by a U.S. Appeals court in California that ruled the state’s ban on same sex marriage unconstitutional.

“That’s what the 9th circuit said when they handed down the decision striking down Proposition 8.  What they said was that anybody who disagreed with them were irrational and the only reason they could possibly agree is they were a hater or a bigot,” Santorum said.  “Now I gotta tell you.  I don’t agree with these people but I respect their opportunity to be able to have a different point of view and I don’t think they’re a hater or a bigot because they disagree with me.”

The protesters shouted, “We are the 99 percent,” and some of the Santorum supporters chanted back, “USA!” all creating a chaotic atmosphere, but the candidate stayed on message even when the two sides got into a scuffle.  Tacoma Police dragged out and cuffed two of the occupiers, but left the rest of the group there, who continued to try to stifle Santorum's speech.

After the event, another protester directly "glitter-bombed" Santorum, and she was arrested as well.  This is at least the sixth time Santorum has been doused with glitter at an event, but Monday evening was probably the most direct hit.  The GOP chairman thanked Santorum for coming and apologized for the glitter incident.

Sgt. Paul Jagodinski of the Tacoma Police Department confirmed that three people were arrested at the rally.

At one point during the 45-minute event, the crowd started chanting, “Get a job!” to the group of protesters and it was then that the candidate took the opportunity to try and empathize with the movement, although he also called them “intolerant and disrespectful.”

“You realize that there is a group in society that is being left behind.  There’s a group, about one in three Americans don’t graduate from high school, and almost all of them, over three quarters of them, will end up in poverty at some point in time in this country.  We’ve got to provide an opportunity for them, instead of standing here unemployed yelling at somebody, to go out and get a job and work for a living!” Santorum said before pausing while both sides screamed at each other.  “I understand their frustration, for three years they haven’t been able to find work, they have a president who doesn’t care about them.”

Santorum criticized President Obama and accused him of encouraging the movement, saying Obama is “trying to divide America into one percentage versus another percentage. That’s not what a leader of this country should do but Barack Obama has sided with the 99 versus one.”

“He supported this movement, this movement that is intolerant and disrespectful. He supported them and embraced them,” Santorum said to loud cheers from his supporters. “Why?  Because it’s consistent with exactly what Barack Obama’s trying to do with this country.”

He also criticized the president’s budget, which he released Monday morning, calling it “another tax the rich scheme.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Senate Passes Omnibus Spending Bill

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate has passed the omnibus spending bill Saturday morning –  averting a threat of a government shutdown.

The deal on nine appropriations bills grouped together in a so-called Megabus, passed by a vote of 67-32, called by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. at 11 a.m.

Late Thursday, the House and Senate negotiated the $ 1 trillion omnibus to package the nine remaining appropriations bills through the end of the fiscal year 2012.

The House passed the measure Friday night, assuring that a government shutdown would not happen with the promise that the Senate would vote for the measure today.

With the Senate vote today, the bill will now head to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

The vote drew animated and at times fierce rhetoric over the way the bill was pushed through Congress quickly.

“Here we are again, a bill 1,221 pages long. Not one member of this committee has read of — of this body has read…1,221 pages representing $915 billion of the taxpayers’ money,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor this morning sarcastically. “It’s outrageous. I have amendments to save the taxpayers billions of dollars as associated with this bill. But never mind because we’re going to go home for Christmas.”

Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla. said the passage of this spending bill is a “failure” for the American people.

“We’re going to go home, we’re going to pass this bill, far less than what the country needs in terms of its integrity and its actions,” Coburn said. “Hopefully, we will think and return with a renewed spirit to fix the ship of state, and do what is in the best interest of the nation, not is what in the best interest of our parochial political careers.”

With this vote, it brings what should be the last vote in the Senate this year.

Senators are now free to return to their home districts for the holiday.

While the House of Representatives still has to vote on the payroll tax cut plan, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seemed confident enough that they too will pass the bill to declare that today’s vote is the last of the year for the Senate.

“This is the last roll call vote of this year. Have a happy holiday everyone,” Reid said on the Senate floor.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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