Clapper Surprises by Calling China and Russia "Mortal Dangers" to US

(WASHINGTON) -- Director of National Intelligence James Clapper again caused  controversy Thursday, when a seemingly causal comment about Russia and China dropped some jaws on Capitol Hill.

At the very end of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Clapper was asked which country posed the greatest mortal threat to the United States. His answer might sound as if he has a tin ear to comments that might sound eye-popping to the rest of us. 

It's important to note that throughout the lengthy exchange below, Clapper didn't seem to have a clue that his answers were surprising.  He was approaching this strictly from an intelligence analyst formulation and couching it completely in the context of the nuclear capabilities of nation-states. That explains how he determined China as having the intent to be our greatest  adversary, we don't have a strategic nuclear reduction agreement with China.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) asked Clapper what appeared to be a standard question as to which country posed the greatest threat to the United States.

Clapper responded that "certainly the Russians still have a very formidable nuclear arsenal, which does pose potentially a mortal threat to us. I don't think they have the intent to do that."  He continued that China is "is growing in its military  capabilities. It has a full array of, whether, conventional or strategic forces that they are building. So they too do pose potentially from a capabilities standpoint a threat to us as a mortal threat."

He added that the issue for the intelligence community is gauging intent versus capability, but "having said all that my greatest concern does not lie with a nations state posing a threat to the United States as in the area of terrorism."

After Manchin's round was over, Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told Clapper he was surprised by his answer that Russia and China posed the greatest mortal threat and gave him an opportunity to clarify it given that he thought Iran or North Korea would be more of a threat. 

Clapper replied that he was couching his answer strictly on the strategic nuclear capabilities of nation states which have the potential to be mortal dangers to the U.S. and "the two that come to mind because of their capabilities are Russia and China." He explained that  though Iran and North Korea were "of great concern" they do not pose a threat to the continental United States.

Manchin rephrased his question to ask which country had the intent to be our greatest adversary.  Clapper replied "probably China." Levin said he was as surprised by this answer as his first response.   Clapper said he came to that conclusion because there is a strategic nuclear reduction agreement between the US and Russia, while none exists with China which is why he would rank them lower than Russia. Levin said he was as surprised by that answer as he was by his initial comments. 

Clapper explained "I don't think either country today has the intent to mortally attack us," and once again said he was speaking only of the capabilities of nation states, which in turn meant the US is Russia and China's greatest threat.  To which Levin asked him if he would be surprised to see headlines in Russia or China tomorrow that say US is greatest mortal threat to Russia or China.

This isn't the first time Clapper has caused a stir. Back in December of last year, during a TV interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Clapper was caught flat-footed by a question, and had to admit he hadn't even heard about a massive terror bust in the U.K.

 Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Congressional Hearing Explores Home-Grown Terrorism

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A congressional hearing into home grown terrorism called by New York Republican Congressman Peter King Thursday displayed sharp divisions over the what some saw as the singling out the Muslim community -- but most agreed it was a good step toward opening dialogue.  

Following the more than four hour long session, Congressman King spoke about the meeting. "I think the hysteria and the madness leading up to this hearing did nobody much good and certainly didn't reflect well on those who were reporting it."

Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca told the committee most mosques in his area cooperate with law enforcement---in fact, he said, many participate with leaders of other religions in a council to fight terrorism. But the family of a young Muslim-American who disappeared in Somalia, testified that they were intimidated in their Minneapolis mosque and warned not to talk to authorities.

Chairman King says there are too many American mosques that don't cooperate with law enforcement and welcome extremists, but overall, King was pleased with the result at the end of the day and added: "I am more convinced than ever that it was the appropriate hearing to hold.  I think we broke down a wall of political correctness on an issue which has to be addressed."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Both Parties Claim Victory In Wake of Senate Votes That Changed Nothing

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Now that the Senate has shot down both parties' spending proposals for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, will lawmakers actually start to make some headway on a long-term funding deal? The question is especially pressing considering the government is set to shut down in eight days.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday argued that Wednesday's "exercise wasn't in vain" because it proved that "one party alone will not reach a resolution without the other’s consent."

"We accept the lessons of yesterday's vote," he said on the Senate floor. "We know we'll have to make a sacrifice to reach consensus and we are willing to do that.'

The Senate's number-three Democrat Chuck Schumer went a step further, claiming that the votes "strengthened our hand" because it demonstrated that the House-passed spending bill -- that would cut $57 billion over the next six months -- was "dead on arrival" in the Senate. Now the Democrats would like to see a new offer from the GOP.

"We're looking for some give on the Republican side," Schumer said. "Where are they willing to meet us? That has to be the next step in this debate."

In addition, he quipped, the 44 Senate Republicans who voted for the House GOP spending plan "had more reservations than a Motel 6."

However, those 44 votes in favor of the GOP plan were two more than the Democrats managed to get for their own plan, despite the Democrats' 53 to 47 majority in the Senate. 11 Democrats, including Missouri's Claire McCaskill, broke with their party, with many of them arguing that the Democrats' proposal to cut $4.7 billion did not make nearly as many spending cuts as it should have.

"The Senate has not gone far enough. It is frankly disappointing to me," said McCaskill, who is up for re-election next year. "I still think that there are way too many people in denial around here about the nature of the problem and how serious it is. And I don't think we're demonstrating to the American people that we understand the nature of the problem when we present an alternative proposal with such a small number of cuts."

That message for Democrats -- "get serious" -- was one repeated time and time again by House Speaker John Boehner Thursday.

"It's time for Democrats here in Washington to get serious about these budget negotiations," Boehner said at his weekly press conference.

Right now the chances of both parties agreeing on a long-term spending deal before next Saturday appear slim to none. But that doesn’t mean that a government shutdown is in the cards: lawmakers may sign off on another short-term funding extension -- in all likelihood continuing to cut $2 billion a week -- to buy themselves three more weeks to reach a long-term agreement.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lawmakers Call For Administration To Stop Picking On Oil Industry

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With Americans feeling pain at the pump due to soaring gas prices, House Republicans Thursday announced a plan to try to expand American energy production and end Obama administration policies that they contend are harmful both to prices and job growth.

The GOP's effort, dubbed the American Energy Initiative, was unveiled Thursday by House Speaker John Boehner.

“Just as with jobs, the American people recognize that Washington has been a big part of the problem when it comes to the price of energy," Boehner said at his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.

"If you watch what this administration has done for the last two years in their regulatory process, they've stopped drilling in the Gulf, they've slowed the number of leases coming out of the government, and they're imposing these EPA regulations on American businesses that are going to sharply increase the cost of energy in America," he added.

Across the Hill the Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell argued that the Obama administration is "actively working to prevent us from increasing our own oil production here at home."

"Now is the time to be asking what we can do to increase domestic energy production, not proposing ways to squeeze American families even more," he said. "And that's why all of these actions by the administration, along with a tax hike on energy production some have proposed that will only be passed on to consumers in the form of even higher gas prices, is the last thing Americans need right now."

Republicans are not alone in their arguments that the White House should do more to help boost domestic energy production. Some Democrats such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu have voiced frustration with the administration's treatment of the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Wednesday Landrieu beat back questions about why Congress continues to grant billions of dollars in tax subsidies to oil companies that are currently raking in massive profits, all at a time when Americans are spending more at the pump and the government is running up record deficits.

"Every time the companies start making money people want to tax what they get, but when they're losing money no one wants to help them because of this sort of bias against oil and gas companies which comes from some sector, you know, of our democracy," Landrieu said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, echoed that argument.

"In a bad economic climate with the thousands of jobs that are supported by the oil industry, it's not the time to raise prices on the consumer and certainly not to penalize oil companies in a different way from every other industry if we hope to promote job growth," Hutchison said.

"It's the turmoil in the Middle East that has driven up the cost. The answer to that is more supply -- it is to get these rigs drilling, get these rigs producing, have more capability for refinery capacity and then the price will come down."

Hutchison and Landrieu have introduced a bill that would extend the time lost on oil leases due to the administration's drilling moratorium in the Gulf.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hearings on Radicalization Among American Muslims Not the First

PeteKing [dot] House [dot] gov(WASHINGTON) -- Thursday's House hearing on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community's Response" has created a firestorm of criticism by civil rights groups and Democrats who say that Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is intentionally isolating Muslims.

Democrats and rights groups say he's guilty of "modern-day McCarthyism," and is using religion to divide Americans.

Critics had sought to have the scope of the hearings expanded beyond Islam to consider radical sects of other religious and belief groups too.

Despite the outcry, it should be noted that King’s hearing is not the first or the fifth or even the tenth hearing in Congress to tackle the issue of violent Islamic extremism.

Independent Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is himself a defense hawk, chaired a series of 14 hearings on "Violent Islamic Extremism" from his perch as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. So Did Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., who held six similar hearings.

Lieberman's hearings spanned from Sept. 2006 to Feb. 2011.

Sen. Lieberman, I-Conn., says his hearings were different in that they examined the ideology of Islamic terrorism rather than spotlighting the Muslim community, but he called King's hearings "important."

In a statement, Lieberman said: "The problem has gotten worse, and thus there is more awareness of it. Chairman King's focus also appears to be on the responsibility of the Muslim American community for dealing with the threat of homegrown radicalization, whereas our focus was on the ideology that spawns Islamist terrorism," Lieberman said in a statement. "But the questions Chairman King is raising are important ones. Our government needs a more comprehensive approach to combating and preventing homegrown radicalization.  I have been saying that for years," he added. "Law enforcement, intelligence, and local police departments do an increasingly good job. But it's clear that if we're really going to prevent the radicalization of Muslim Americans, people within Muslim American communities must be alert to signs that somebody is beginning to turn in a radical direction and then work with others in the community and law enforcement to stop that person from carrying out an attack."

Lieberman continued: "My own hope is that these House hearings will lead to a better understanding of three things: One is the extremely small percentage of Muslim Americans who represent any threat to this country; the rest are patriotic and law-abiding.  Two, we need the Muslim American community to help us reduce this threat.  And three, the administration must issue a comprehensive strategy that engages the public and private sectors to confront and prevent the radicalization to Islamist extremism of people within the U.S."

While hearings of this nature are nothing new, what's different this time, civil rights groups say, is King's rhetoric. They also point to the title and witness list of the hearings, saying they more specifically target the American Muslim community rather than the threat of extremism itself.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


More Protests Planned in Wisconsin After Senate Approves Bill

ABC News Radio(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Not long after Republican members of the Wisconsin State Senate used creative parliamentary tactics to push through a bill that would strip most collective bargaining rights from public employees, Democratic legislators, unions, and progressive groups were already vowing revenge.

"In thirty minutes, 18 State Senators undid fifty years of civil rights in Wisconsin," Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller said in a statement Wednesday. "Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten. Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people.  Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government."

Miller was one of 14 Democratic legislators who had been hiding out in Illinois during the weeks-long stalemate between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his opponents -- a coalition of Democrats and organized labor. Overnight thousands of protesters stormed the Wisconsin state capitol, as ABC News reported, and more demonstrations are planned across the state later Thursday.

Wednesday night, by an 18-1 vote, Senate Republicans managed to find a way around the need for a quorum of 20 senators and passed the bill Walker had sought by stripping the collective bargaining provisions from the governor's "budget-repair bill."

The bill "removes fiscal elements of the proposal" but also "increases employee payments in pension and health benefits.  The changes would amount to an approximate eight percent pay cut for public workers," according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The State Assembly will meet Thursday morning to vote on the bill.  If the assembly passes it, it moves to the governor's desk.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iowa House Opens Debate on Overhaul of State's CB Law

George Doyle/Thinkstock(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- The Iowa House has opened debate on an overhaul of the state's collective bargaining law, with majority Republicans vowing to scale back negotiating rights. The debate began Wednesday afternoon and could stretch into Thursday.

The bill limits what public unions can bargain on, including the terms and source of insurance and other factors that can be considered before employee layoffs. It also calls for arbitrators to consider a comparison of the wages and benefits of state workers with private sector workers.

Democrats have filed more than 100 amendments in an effort to slow the measure, but it's expected to pass the House. Its future is doubtful in the Democratic-controlled Senate and union members have gathered at the Capitol, chanting "kill the bill'' and "we are one.''

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is Donald Trump Running for President or Marketing His Brand?

Mike Stobe/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Donald Trump has what every presidential wannabe craves: very deep pockets, universal name recognition and a ready-made campaign slogan.  Imagine Trump telling President Obama, "You're Fired!"

In recent weeks the brash businessman has made all the moves of someone mulling a White House run, from granting interviews to the political press to giving a red-meat speech in Washington.  On Monday, Trump even dispatched an aide to huddle with the state Republican chairman in the presidential proving ground of Iowa.

So, will the leader of the Trump Empire really try to become the leader of the Free World?

"He's one of the great hucksters, and I say that admiringly.  He's using this idea of running, milking it, for all it's worth -- and it's worth a lot," said former New York City mayor Ed Koch.

"It keeps his name out there, which he is very happy to do.  There's nothing wrong with it, nothing immoral.  But he's not running.  He knows it.  Everyone else knows it," Koch said.

Trump insists he's serious, but experts in branding and politics are dubious, saying the art of this deal for The Donald is simple: gaining favorable exposure.

It's not that he needs fame.  Trump already is one of the most well-known people on the planet.  Rather, they said, flirting with an idea of a presidential campaign helps to burnish the Trump name, the foundation of his business.

The importance of that name is clear from his company's Website, which promotes an expanding galaxy of Trump-named products from condominiums, casinos, and golf courses, to chocolates, neckties, eyewear, tea and even a bottled water, Trump Ice.  "Welcome to the World of Trump, the global superbrand," the Website proclaims.

Trump's "business is his own persona, and the brand he can build around that persona," said Jacob Cohen, a senior strategist with the branding firm of Wolff Olins in New York.

"He's got the image of someone who's going to make the big move, going to make the big statement...It's being true to his brand to have that ambition, to seek that attention, that role of being president," Olins said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Utah Senator Speaks on Tea Party, Soft Leadership of Obama

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Orrin Hatch has kept his Senate career aloft through 34 years and six elections, and he's not about to let Tea Party activists crash it now.

Even though he famously worked across the aisle with his friend Ted Kennedy, and voted for the Wall Street bailout in 2008, Hatch, the Utah Republican, has a simple message he wants to send to the Tea Party.

"I tell them to just look at those people who were on Captain Sullenberger's plane and landed in the Hudson," Hatch told ABC News in an interview.  "They survived because of experience.  And that's what I have.  I have experience that by any measure is conservative and staunchly conservative."

Hatch saw his friend and former colleague, now-former Sen. Bob Bennett, lose a Utah Republican primary last year and he's in no mood to taste that tea.  He has worked hard in recent months to endear himself to conservative activists and the Tea Party.  Hatch, a Mormon who is notoriously polite and soft-spoken on Capitol Hill, has also taken a harder edge in criticizing President Obama.

Last week he told a group of Utah students that the president's health care law is a "one-size-fits-all federal government dumb-ass program," he said, according to the Utah State University Statesman.  "It really is an awful piece of crap."

Hatch apologized for using the strong language, but said there are even tougher sentiments bottled up inside.

"Well, I really shouldn't have made those statements.  You should hear what I really think about those programs," he said.

"I don't talk like that very often but I have to admit I actually feel more deeply about it than those two words.  It is so bad what they're trying to saddle the American public with and the American people with that you can't use bad enough words really.  It is really something that is going to bankrupt our country," he said.

Hatch accused President Obama of being a "soft leader" on everything from Guantanamo Bay to the budget fight.  He called Capitol Hill budget negotiations "a joke."

"Tell me the last time the president really led us," Hatch said.  "He always sits back and lets Congress do the dirty work and he doesn't get involved.  It takes presidential leadership to work on the entitlement programs and he's unwilling, totally unwilling to do anything about it."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Holder Criticizes Focus of Rep. King Hearings on Muslim Radicalization

Chris Hondros/Getty Image(WASHINGTON) -- The afternoon before House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., kicks off hearings looking at the issue of radicalization of Muslims in America, Attorney General Eric Holder rebuffed allegations by Rep. King that members of the Muslim community had not been helpful to law enforcement in counterterrorism investigations.

At a Justice Department press conference on Wednesday, Holder said, “The Muslim community…have contributed significantly to the resolution of many things that we have resolved over the course last 12 to 18 months....Tips that we have received, information that has been shared has been critical to our efforts to disrupt plots that otherwise might have occurred.”

“What we have tried to do at the Justice Department is reach out to the Muslim Community, to establish relationships that otherwise might not have existed; to establish a dialogue so that information flows to us; so that information flows from us -- so there is a better understanding in the Muslim community about what the aims are of America’s law enforcement,” Holder said. “I think we’ve been pretty successful in that regard and we have a good relationship.”

Last year in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III discussed the importance of outreach efforts and said that in 2009 the FBI had created Specialized Community Outreach Teams to work with specific communities in the U.S. Mueller testified that the case of Somali youths who left the Minneapolis area in 2007 and 2008 to fight with the al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab network in Somalia led to the creation of these teams. 

In testimony Mueller said, “The FBI understands that protecting America requires the cooperation and understanding of the public. Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has developed an extensive outreach program to Muslim, South Asian, and Sikh communities to develop trust, address concerns, and dispel myths in those communities about the FBI and the U.S. government.”

Rep. King and his committee plans to hear testimony from Abdirizak Bihi, the founder of the Somali Education and Advocacy Center, about the youths who traveled overseas.

Asked if the hearings could polarize Americans -- and asked about Rep. King’s assertion that Holder himself is very concerned about radicalization, keeping him awake at night -- Holder said, “My focus is on individuals as opposed to communities and I think that is what we need to be focused on. What is it that drives individuals to do certain things? We don’t want to stigmatize, we don’t want to alienate entire communities, we need to focus on individuals and groups of individuals who might band together, who would try to harm American interests or American citizens, that is what this Justice Department is doing.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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