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Friday
Mar112011

Trump Adviser: Current GOP Presidential Field Lacks ‘Business Sense’

Mike Stobe/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As multi-millionaire businessman Donald Trump considers jumping into the 2012 Republican presidential fray, one of his top aides said that what the potential GOP field is "lacking right now is really some business sense."

Michael Cohen, an executive vice president at the Trump Organization and Trump's special counsel, says that Trump could be the candidate to fill that niche.

Several of potential candidates might take issue with Cohen's contention. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for example, made millions as the co-founder of what is now Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and Ambassador Jon Huntsman served as an executive at his family's company, the Huntsman Corporation, a global chemical business.

Cohen recently traveled to Iowa where he spoke with a total of 18 political operatives, activists and fundraisers about the possibility of a Trump presidential run.

"Every one of them expressed, not just an interest, but a fervent desire to see somebody like Donald Trump join the race in hopes that we can turn this country around because right now we're really not in good shape," Cohen told ABC News on Friday.

While in the Hawkeye State, Cohen met with Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn who he described as "very, very interested in seeing someone like Donald Trump enter the race."

Cohen said he learned a lot about the Iowa Caucus process while he was there and predicted that Trump would spend time courting voters there if he decides pursue the Republican nomination.

Trump has made it clear that he will wait until June before making an announcement about his presidential ambitions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Mar112011

President Dismisses Republican Criticism in Wake of High Oil Prices

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama on Friday defended his record on energy policy and strategy amid rising oil prices and Republican criticism that the president has done little to encourage domestic production and energy independence.

"The bottom line is this: We've been having this conversation for nearly four decades now," the president said in his news conference. "Every few years, oil prices go up, politicians pull out the same old playbook and then nothing changes....We slip back into a trance. I think the American people are tired of that. I think they're tired of talk. We got to work together...to finally secure America's energy future. I don't want to leave this for the next president."

Oil prices have surged in recent wakes because of the uncertainty turmoil in the Middle East. The price hikes come ahead of the peak summer driving season and has created much friction between Democrats and Republicans.

Obama said he is prepared to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "should the situation demand." He said his administration is also looking into the possible manipulation of markets by oil traders.

He urged Republicans and Democrats to come together on a comprehensive energy plan "that will focus on production and conservation."

"We have got to make our economy more efficient and energy independent in the long term," he said.

House Republicans, deriding what they say is the president's lack of leadership on this front, Thursday unveiled a plan to expand U.S. energy production and end Obama administration policies that, they contend, are harmful to prices and job growth.

Obama today dismissed the rhetoric from Republicans as political maneuvering, saying that while it makes for a good sound bite, it doesn't reflect reality.

Some Democrats want Obama to release oil from the reserve to alleviate the pressure on oil prices, which have soared because of the turmoil in the Middle East and uncertainty in the economic markets. Critics argue that such a move should only be a last resort.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Mar112011

Wisconsin Governor Ready to Sign Union-Busting Bill

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- It's all over in Wisconsin, but the shouting is expected to go on for quite a while after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that strips the state's 175,000 workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.

The measure is a huge victory for Gov. Scott Walker, who said it was necessary so that Wisconsin could put the state's fiscal house in order.  The state faces a $137 million budget shortfall that Walker says will grow to $3.6 billion in a few years without major concessions from the unions.

Critics say Walker was only playing politics and that his real motivation was weakening unions in order to weaken the Democratic Party.  Several states, including Ohio, are moving ahead with similar proposals that target the labor rights of public employees.

Walker is poised to sign the bill after the state's Assembly Thursday passed the measure 53 to 42, with no support from Democrats.  Pro-union supporters in the gallery screamed "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as GOP lawmakers exited the chamber.  Earlier, about 20 protesters were removed by police so that the Assembly members could debate the bill and cast a vote.

The Assembly's vote came a day after Senate Republicans stripped the financial provisions from the controversial bill, which enabled them to pass it without the necessary quorum.

Fourteen Democrats fled to Illinois three weeks ago to prevent a vote from taking place.  However, Senate Republicans got around their absence Wednesday with the procedural move.

The bill passed by Republicans ends collective bargaining on health benefits, pensions, hours, overtime, vacation, work schedules and sick leave or family leave, rights state and local workers have had for 50 years.  Workers can now only bargain for wage increases so long as they don't exceed the rate of inflation.

The unions had already agreed to a key concession by offering to pay more into their pensions and health plans.

Police and firefighters, who supported Walker's run for governor last fall, are exempt from the new rules.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar102011

Sr. Administration Official: Obama Does NOT Think Gadhafi Will Prevail

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- “The President does not think that Gadhafi will prevail,” a senior administration official says, distancing the president from comments made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Thursday afternoon.

President Obama “believes that Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead and should leave, and that history is on the side of the Libyan people and their call for change,” the official says.

Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke tells ABC News that there are “actually a lot of analysts who agree with General Clapper that there is a chance, perhaps even a probability, that Gadhafi will prevail.”

As for Clapper’s assertion that China and Russia pose a threat to the U.S., Clarke says, “General Clapper, who is a military man after all, and has 30 years-plus in the military, probably heard the question in terms of what countries in the world can really threaten the United States in a substantial way. And the answer to that is there are really only two countries in the world who have nuclear missiles that can hit the United States, and can do severe damage to the United States.”

That said, Clarke said “General Clapper has not spent a lot of time testifying before congressional committees. He doesn’t think politically. He doesn’t think in terms of media. He’s an intelligence officer who thinks in terms of running an intelligence organization. And turns out you need both skills because Congress will kill you if you’re not a good witness. Congress will kill you if you make a mistake. They look for weaknesses and when you make one mistake they’re going to be looking for another one.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar102011

House Passes FHA Refinance Program Termination Act

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The House approved final passage of H.R. 830 - FHA Refinance Program Termination Act by a vote of 256-171.

The bill will begin shutting down the TARP bailout program, saving taxpayers $8 billion in mandatory government spending by eliminating the Federal Housing Administration’s recently implemented short refinancing program. The FHA Refinance Program was designed to refinance homes purchased under FHA loans, but has resulted in the refinancing of only 22 homes as of the end of December 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, reacted after the vote:

“I’m pleased the House has voted to save taxpayers billions of dollars by beginning to shut down the TARP bailout program.  The American people understand we can’t continue spending money we don’t have, especially on things that don’t work.  That’s why we’re focusing not just on discretionary spending, but mandatory spending as well.  Unfortunately, the Democrats who run Washington believe in this time of fiscal challenges we should continue propping up government programs that overspend and under-deliver.  The new majority in the House will continue to listen to the American people, who want us to cut spending to end uncertainty for small businesses and help them begin hiring again.  I hope the Senate will give these spending cuts the consideration they deserve.”

On Tuesday, the White House threatened to veto the measure. The bill now heads to the Senate, where it’s unlikely to pass.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Thursday
Mar102011

Muslim Congressman, Religious Leaders Rebuke King's Hearings

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. André Carson, D-Ind., one of two Muslims serving in the House of Representatives, joined senior religious leaders from various religious communities, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism, in rebuking Thursday’s hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, saying it proved to be a setback for the country.

“At a time when we should be actively working together to strengthen relationships across the Muslim world to help fight extremism, Representative King's hearings risk tearing down some of the bridges that we have built,” Carson said in a press conference.  “These hearings weaken the very foundation upon which this country was built.”

Carson joined Congress in 2008 after winning a special election to fill the seat of his late grandmother, Congresswoman Julia Carson.  Carson’s opponent in the 2010 election, Marvin Scott, was accused of attacking Carson for his Muslim faith during the campaign, but Carson won the election and held onto his seat.

The faith leaders gathered on Capitol Hill to condemn the hearing for grouping the entire Muslim community as extremists.

“We also stand shoulder to shoulder in opposing the singling out of any one religious community in a way that would cast unwarranted suspicion on that part of the American population,” Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said.

They also acknowledged that any religious community could be singled out in the same manner as the American Muslim community.

One Muslim leader admitted that extremism may exist in some Muslim communities but argued it is not indicative of the entire Muslim population as a whole.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

Thursday
Mar102011

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

Thursday
Mar102011

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

Thursday
Mar102011

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

Thursday
Mar102011

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







ABC News Radio