Clinton Seeks to Reorganize the State Department and USAID

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will soon recommend changing the way the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are structured, an effort her aides say is aimed at improving how it responds to crises around the world and streamline the way the department operates.
Among the many proposed changes, sanctions enforcement, international energy affairs, and human rights bureaus will get more prominent positions at the State Department, and USAID will get its own policy planning staff.
The changes are among many recommended by a team that has been drafting the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), a long-term budget strategy similar to one conducted by the Pentagon. There’s no estimate yet on how much this will cost. The QDDR is 14 months in the making, and several months delayed. The final report is due out sometime in December.
Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Rep. Charles Rangel: House Panel Chooses Censure, Restitution

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- The House Ethics Committee on Thursday voted to recommend the censure of New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel, who was found guilty earlier this week of multiple violations of House rules.

By a vote of nine to one, the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats agreed with chief committee counsel R. Blake Chisam, who had recommended the penalty. It also recommended that Rangel be required to pay restitution on unpaid taxes.

The full House must now vote on whether to approve the penalty or impose a different one.

"We have worked hard together in this matter in a way that has been actually quite wrenching," said committee chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "We are satisfied to be concluded."

If the House votes to approve the sanction -- a simple majority is needed -- Rangel would then be forced to appear in the well of the House, where members stand when they address the chamber, and hear the charges against him read by the Speaker of the House.

The penalty of censure is reserved for "more serious" offenses, according to House rules, and is the most stringent punishment Congress can impose short of expulsion.

Rangel, 80, once the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, stood silently before the committee as chairwoman Lofgren read their decision.

He then said again he hoped the committee would make "abundantly clear" in its report to the full House that he hadn't benefitted personally from his wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, the committee found Rangel guilty of 11 of 13 ethics charges, ranging from improper fundraising, inappropriate possession of multiple rent-controlled apartments and failure to pay taxes on a vacation home.

Rangel's censure by the ethics committee is only the fourth time such a penalty has been imposed in committee history. It has rendered four expulsions, three censures and nine reprimands.

The House most recently censured Rep. Gerry Studds in 1983 for inappropriate sexual behavior with a congressional page.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Proposed Legislation Would Make Bush-Era Tax Cuts Permanent

Photo Courtesy -- ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., has suggested that if soon-to-expire income tax cuts are not made permanent by the end of the year, Republicans should redouble their efforts to do so in the new Congress.

Pence said on Thursday he was backing up that pledge with legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to permanently extend the cuts for both the middle class and wealthy Americans.

“I really believe that the last thing we should do in the worst economy in 25 years is allow a tax increase on any American,” Pence told ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein on Top Line. “And we shouldn't do it in six weeks, we should do it in 24 months or 36 months, we ought to start the road to recovery by saying to the American people all the current tax rates are the tax rates going forward, permanently.”

There are already several pieces of legislation pending to extend the tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year, and other members of Congress, like the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., have said they will proceed with similar measures.

Congress is expected to consider the tax cut issue when they return from the Thanksgiving recess.

During Thursday's Top Line apperance, Pence called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule a debate on his bill before the end of the year.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Faith-Based Debate: Obama Signs Order on Funds for Churches

Photo Courtesy - SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When President George W. Bush authorized federally-funded partnerships between the government and faith-based groups nearly a decade ago, he opened a new chapter in the debate over separation of church and state.

Bush's so-called faith-based initiative green-lighted taxpayer dollars to local churches and other religious organizations to help them expand their social services in local communities. It's an arrangement President Obama supports, as well.

But amid persistent criticism that the initiative walks a fine constitutional line, the administration moved to "strengthen the constitutional and legal footing" of the policy Wednesday with an executive order to add safeguards against inappropriate entanglement between church and state.

Religious organizations that receive federal grants are already prohibited from using the money directly for religious activities and cannot discriminate on the basis of religion when providing their services.

Now, however, individuals seeking aid through federal programs who might be put off by the religious nature of an organization will receive greater deference. Agencies must identify alternative service providers to those who object.

The executive order also enhances transparency of the program, requiring government agencies to post online a list of faith-based groups receiving taxpayer funds and "to monitor and enforce standards regarding the relationship between religion and government in ways that avoid excessive entanglement."

Groups are reminded they must keep their religious activities entirely separate in time and location, from the services provided with federal funds. But they are not required to remove religious signs and symbols from their facilities or religious references from their names.

"These are important, substantive changes that are directly responsive to the recommendations of church-state experts across the ideological spectrum," said Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

But critics of the policy say Obama's executive order did not go far enough to ease concerns about preferential treatment for religious groups, or fulfill his campaign promise of ending federal funding for groups who discriminate in their hiring.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Ten New Senators Want START Treaty Delayed Until New Congress

Photo Courtesy - The U.S. House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) -- A group of ten newly-elected Republican senators urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday to wait until the new Congress convenes in January before considering the START nuclear weapons pact with Russia.

“Out of respect for our states’ voters, we believe it would be improper for the Senate to consider the New START Treaty or any other treaty in a lame duck session prior to January 3, 2011,” the 10 future GOP senators said in a letter to Reid.

Reid and a slew of other Senate Democrats, as well as President Obama, want to ratify the pact before the new Congress kicks off next year.  Once January rolls around, the Democrats’ majority in the Senate will shrink by six seats, a big blow to the treaty’s possible ratification since 67 votes are needed in the Senate to pass it.

Thus far, Republicans have resisted Democrats’ efforts to round up support for the pact, with the chamber’s number-two Republican Jon Kyl voicing doubts earlier this week that the Senate can pass it during the lame-duck.  Now the newly-elected Republicans -- a group that includes Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida -- want Reid to wait.

“Proponents of this treaty, aware that today’s Senate is likely to support the agreement in higher numbers without our participation, are urging the Senate to give its advice and consent in the coming weeks,” the newly-elected senators said to Reid.  “We call on you to defer action on this arms control treaty until the Senate reconvenes in the 112th Congress and we are able to participate fully and in an informed manner in its deliberations on New START.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


New GOP Governors Introduced to RGA; Focused on Budgets

Photo Courtesy - Governor [dot] State [dot] MN [dot] US(SAN DIEGO) --  Like a proud parent, Republican Governors Association Vice Chairman and outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was happy to show off a crop of newly-elected governors to a crowded room of RGA donors, members and the media.  As he introduced each of the five “new faces of the GOP” Wednesday afternoon, Pawlenty mentioned the amount of money the RGA contributed to the efforts of many of those campaigns.

Of course, it helps Pawlenty, a likely 2012 nominee, to get close with many of these newbies.  Governor-elect Nikki Haley hails from South Carolina which hosts one of the first primaries in 2012.

The four other panelists on the “New Faces” panel, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Corbett, Nevada Governor-elect Brian Sandoval and New Mexico Governor.-elect Susana Martinez, represent swing states that will be key to the chances of any Republican nominee in 2012.

Aware of the bleak fiscal situation facing them when they take office in January, the newly-elected executives said they were focused on being honest with voters about the difficult cuts and choices that await them.

Ohio’s Kasich, whose state is looking at an $8 billion budget hole, told his colleagues that “you weren’t elected to be re-elected.”  When it comes to shrinking the size of government, he said, you can’t “play favorites.  If [government programs] don’t work, get rid of them.”

Haley, who survived a rough-and-tumble primary and general election campaign, told the audience, “We have to be honest with the people of our state.  We need to say this is going to hurt.  We’re going to struggle.  But we have to make sure we don’t make political decisions the first year.  We make the right decision.”  And, she noted, “if we do that, we will come out of this challenge in year two and three stronger and more competitive than when we started.”

What was as notable was what the governors-elect didn't say. There was no talk of social issues, and even health care reform barely was addressed, though it’s clearly unpopular among this crowd.  Instead, the focus was almost 100 percent on economic and budgetary issues.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


President Obama to Continue to Press Case for START Treaty

Photo Courtesy - Pete Souza/The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will pop by the Roosevelt Room of the White House Thursday morning where he will meet with a bipartisan group of current and former administration officials who support his push for the Senate to ratify the START treaty with Russia.

They include not just natural supporters of the president’s push, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry of Massachussetts and ranking Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, but also former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, James Baker, and Henry Kissinger; former secretaries of defense William Cohen and William Perry; former national security advisor General Brent Scowcroft; the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright; and former senator Sam Nunn of Georgia.

Many Republican Senators have expressed misgivings about the treaty’s language on missile defense and a desire for more funding for missile modernization.  Senior administration officials have added more than $4 billion for the latter priority and deny that the treaty impacts missile defense in any way.

Many administration officials suspect Republican opposition is rooted in a desire to embarrass the president.

The treaty -- which was signed in April -- requires both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals from 2,200 deployed warheads for each country to 1,550 over seven years, a 30 percent reduction from the last treaty.  It also requires the U.S. and Russia reduce their long-range missiles and launchers to 700 for each country as well.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


House Ethics Committee to Vote on Charles Rangel's Punishment

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The legendary, once-powerful New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel will learn his fate Thursday when he is sanctioned by the House Ethics Committee for multiple violations of House rules.

On Tuesday, the committee found Rangel guilty of 11 of 13 ethics charges, ranging from improper fundraising to failing to disclose assets on financial disclosure forms.

The sanction, whatever it might be, will be a stain on the record of a man who has served in the House for 40 years.  The scandal forced him to relinquish his chairmanship of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in March.

Rangel has blasted the ethics proceeding because the committee was unwilling to delay the trial so that he could explore the creation of a legal defense fund to pay his bills.  He stormed out of the proceeding on the first day, saying he couldn't afford an attorney to represent him, even though the committee chairwoman, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, said he had had ample time to explore representation.

Later, Rangel released a statement calling the committee's verdict "unprecedented in view of the fact that they arrived at without rebuttal or counter evidence on my behalf."

At a noon hearing on Thursday, members of the committee will hear from R. Blake Chisam, the chief counsel for the ethics committee, who will lay out the sanction recommendations.

Based on the recommendations, the committee will then consider and vote on a sanction motion and its recommendations of disciplinary action before sending the matter to the full House of Representatives.  The possible sanctions range from expulsion from Congress -- which is highly unlikely -- to censure, reprimand or a formal letter of reproval.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Exclusive: Donald Trump to Run for Presidency? Will Decide by June

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Real estate tycoon, reality show star and now a presidential candidate?  Donald Trump told ABC News he is seriously considering a run for the White House and will make a final decision by June.

“I am thinking about things.  And I'm looking at this country and what's happened in terms of respect.  And the respect for this country is just not there,” Trump said.  “I have many people from China that I do business with, they laugh at us.  They feel we're fools.  And almost being led by fools.  And they can't believe what they're getting away with.”

The United States is a “whipping post” right now and China is “getting away with murder” because it’s manipulating its currency, he said.  But he claims all of that would stop under a Trump administration.  He would start by tackling the price of oil and taxing China -- even though they are our bankers, Trump insists we still have control.

“I don't think the bankers have the cards.  I think you have the cards.  And in this case, in the case of China, you literally are taxing China, you'll pay off your debt very quickly.  And don't forget, you're talking about trade war, right,” he said.

Trump would run as a Republican and didn’t rule out a self-funded campaign.  He said he could “very easily” spend more than $200 million on it.

If his poll numbers hold up and if “the country continues to be taken advantage of by the world” then he said he would run.

"I'm going to make a decision probably by June,” Trump said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Sarah Palin Says She Could Beat Obama in Presidential Race

Photo Courtesy - ABC News (NEW YORK) -- Sarah Palin says she is seriously considering a run for the White House, and she believes she could beat President Obama in 2012, the former Alaska governor told ABC News' Barbara Walters.

"I'm looking at the lay of the land now, and...trying to figure that out, if it's a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it's a good thing," Palin said in an interview scheduled to air in its entirety Dec. 9 on ABC as part of Walters' 10 Most Fascinating People of 2010.

Although Palin remains undecided about whether to run, the 2008 vice presidential nominee has now made clear in two interviews this week that she is seriously considering it.

In a profile to be published in the upcoming New York Times Magazine, Palin told reporter Robert Draper "I am," when asked if she was weighing a 2012 run. "I'm engaged in the internal deliberations candidly, and having that discussion with my family, because my family is the most important consideration here."

Palin said her decision would involve "evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table," admitting the biggest challenge would be proving her record.

"I know that a hurdle I would have to cross, that some other potential candidates wouldn't have to cross right out of the chute, is proving my record," the former Alaska governor told Draper. "That's the most frustrating thing for me -- the warped and perverted description of my record and what I've accomplished over the last two decades."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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