Same-Sex Civil Unions Now Legal in Hawaii

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HONOLULU) -- Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions in Hawaii.

The Aloha State is the seventh to authorize civil unions. The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Democrat Abercrombie's Republican predecessor, Linda Lingle, vetoed a similar bill during her stint in office.

Other states that allow civil unions include Vermont, Illinois, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wisconsin Protesters Undeterred by Gov. Walker, Seek Bigger Rallies

Photo Courtesy - Mark Hirsch/Getty Images(MADISON, Wis.) -- Wisconsin protesters are attempting to reinvigorate demonstrations Thursday against Gov. Scott Walker's austere budget cuts and sweeping collective bargaining reforms.

In a speech Wednesday, Walker upheld his position against bargaining rights, saying his policy is essential in order to address the $137 million state deficit.

Out-of-state opponents, meanwhile, have joined thousands of Wisconsin state workers to rally in Madison. Wisconsin Demcratic state senators made headlines by fleeing to Illinois last week to prevent the legislature from passing the bill.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dems and GOP Continue to Debate Possible Federal Gov't Shutdown 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Congress is in recess (or, as they call it, “District Work Period”), but there are ongoing negotiations between senior staff for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on a spending bill to keep the government running after March 4, when current funding for the government runs out.

The bottom line: talks are not going well.

Republicans have passed a bill that includes $61 billion in cuts over the next seven months. Senate Democrats have proposed a bill that includes no cuts, but instead maintains current spending levels for one month to give the two sides time to work out a deal. Neither side wants to budge.

Now Republicans are crafting a temporary bill to keep the government running for two weeks (again to allow for negotiations on the larger bill). The two-week bill, however, would include $4 billion in cuts (which on a pro-rated basis, would amount to $60 billion over seven months). Democrats are already calling this unacceptable.

The two sides have had several hours of talks since Tuesday, but for now, the negotiations are off.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama's Approval Rating Falls 11 Percent in 2010

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PRINCETON, N.J.) -- In a year marked by slow economic recovery and a highly contentious debate over the new health care law, 47 percent of Americans, on average, approved of the job President Obama was doing, according to data released Wednesday by the Gallup Organization. That’s down 11 percent from 2009.

Residents of the District of Columbia and Hawaii, where Obama was born, were most approving of the president, with average ratings of 84 percent and 66 percent, respectively.

Regionally, President Obama received  the highest approval ratings in the Northeast. Five of the top 10 most approving states were New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, all of which gave him an approval rating of 54 percent or higher. 

Half of the least approving states were in the West. Obama’s ratings in Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, and Montana were all below 40 percent, with a meager 28 percent of people in Wyoming saying they approved of the job the president is doing.

Residents in 20 states gave Obama approval ratings within three percentage points of the national average, providing an interesting picture of where the most vivacious campaigning could take place during the 2012 election. These battleground states are likely to include Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and Nevada -- in all of those states, the president’s approval rating fell within one percentage point of the national average.

Two states that were pivotal in the 2008 election, Wisconsin and Ohio, could present challenges this go-around as both have approval ratings below 50 percent. Wisconsin’s dropped 10 percent since 2009 to 48 percent. On average, 47 percent of people in the Buckeye State approved of the president in 2010, down 8 percent from the previous year. 

Obama’s ratings went down in every state compared to last year. Vermont saw the largest change, dropping 15 percentage points since 2009 to 52 percent. Mississippi changed the least with five percent fewer people approving of the Commander-in-Chief.

Since taking office, President Obama’s highest approval rating was 76 percent, according to a CNN poll in February 2009. His lowest was 41 percent in August 2010 according to Gallup. Comparatively, George W. Bush’s average approval rating while in office was 49 percent. An average of 70 percent of residents approved the job John F. Kennedy was doing while he was in the Oval Office.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


A Tale Of Two Huckabees: Does He Really Think He Can Beat Obama?

Photo Courtesy - Rick Gershon/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It appears that once -- and possibly future -- presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is not only undecided about whether he should enter the 2012 Republican nominating contest, but also if he would be able to beat President Obama in the general election.

“I think he is going to be tough to beat," Huckabee acknowledged in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Monday. “This race is going to be like climbing a ladder pointing toward you because Barack Obama is going to start this race with a billion dollars. He’s going to have no primary opponent.”

But, in the space of just 24 hours, Huckabee sounded significantly more confident about his chances were he to face off against Obama two years from now.

“Here's the reality: I think he can be beat” Huckabee told Sean Hannity. “I, frankly, think that I would be in a very good position to do it, because I believe that standing head-to-head with him, articulating the very clear, decisive difference between our positions would be a great contrast.”

He added, “It's the process of getting to that nomination that's tough.”

Huckabee is making the rounds this week as he starts a publicity tour for his new book, A Simple Government. The former Arkansas governor, who now hosts his own Fox News show, said he won’t be announcing a decision about his presidential ambitions until this summer and some of his comments reflect a striking ambivalence about embarking on another campaign.

“I love to campaign -- it’s one of the things that I’d enjoy the most,” Huckabee said on a conference call with reporters Monday, but when it comes to fundraising, he acknowledged, “that’s not what I do best.”

Huckabee said he will use his 41-city cross-country tour not only to sell books, but to meet with donors who could play a role in bankrolling a potential presidential campaign.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'I Don't Hide': Wisconsin Gov. Defends Comments on Prank Phone Call

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MADISON, Wisc.) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ON Wednesday defended comments he made to an alt-news reporter posing as billionaire conservative activist David Koch on a prank phone call, arguing that he never said anything inappropriate and wasn't trying to trick Democrats.

"The bottom line is that the things I've said are things I've said publicly all along," Walker said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "I'm not going to allow one prank phone call to be a disruption from the reality."

In the 20-minute phone conversation, first posted online at, Walker revealed his strategy for breaking Democratic and union opposition to his budget.

Even as he called on outside groups -- specifically Washington lawmakers -- to keep out of the Wisconsin debate, Walker argued that it wasn't inappropriate for him to take a phone call from a third party not involved in the debate.

"It's not [a] campaign. What we're talking about right now, we're free to discuss with people all across the state who are interested in this issue," he said.

"I don't hide in my office, I don't hide in another state. I'm here doing my job pointing out the facts," he added, referring to Democrats who went to Illinois to prevent the vote from taking place.

The governor's critics say the immediate access granted to the Koch pretender and the length of their conversation illustrates a damning tie between outside influences and what they see as an orchestrated effort to bust unions.

Meanwhile, a conservative group founded by the real David Koch, Americans for Prosperity, announced it would buy more than $300,000 in television advertising to support the governor in his standoff with state government workers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Chicago Mayor-Elect, Faces Tough Budget Challenges 

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(CHICAGO) -- The morning after his convincing victory, Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel was shaking hands and thanking voters at an "El" (elevated train) stop in a predominately African-American neighborhood on the city's south side Wednesday.

Emanuel's winning coalition was impressive in its diversity; he carried 40 of the city's 50 wards and won 48 percent of the black vote. In Chicago's often divisive racial politics, an overt attempt by Rev. Jesse Jackson to unify African American voters behind former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun failed miserably.

Braun's campaign, beset with a series of embarrassing gaffes, stumbled to a weak fourth place. She won only 20 percent of Chicago's African-American voters, who make up about a third of the city's residents.

Asked about the racial tensions in Chicago politics, Emanuel, 51, told ABC News Wednesday, "Do we have differences? Yes."

"But we cannot and will not let them to become points of division. People know these challenges are common challenges," Emanuel continued.

Emanuel, who replaces the dynastic powerhouse Richard M. Daley, who served for 22 years, faces daunting challenges, including a $655 million budget gap in the current fiscal year and unfunded pension liabilities estimated at more than $20 billion. On Wednesday, Emanuel promised to freeze $75 million in new city spending on his first day in office, and told reporters that he would refuse a pension.

Emanuel, known for his toughness and profanity during his time in Washington -- as a leading Democratic congressman and Obama chief of staff -- has remained remarkably calm in public throughout the campaign. Now, he faces the political equivalent of herding cats in Chicago's city council -- made up of 50 aldermen.

In the Daley era, the city council was little more than a rubber stamp. But key leaders, including Alderman Ed Burke -- who backed Emanuel opponent Gery Chico for mayor -- have made it clear those days are over and they intend to exert far more independence when Emanuel begins his term in May.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Instructs Justice Department to Stop Defending DOMA

Photo Courtesy - Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which has since 1996 allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex partnerships legally recognized in other states.

The announcement was made in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to congressional leaders in relation to two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States, which challenge a section of DOMA that defines marriage for federal purposes as only between one man and one woman.

President Obama believes that section -- Section 3 -- “is unconstitutional” given the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, including its equal protection component, Holder wrote, and the president has instructed the Department of Justice to no longer defend the law in those two lawsuits.

President Obama “has made the determination,” Holder wrote, that Section 3 “as applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law, violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.”

DOMA was passed by a Republican House and Senate and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996. In application the law means same-sex couples are not afforded the same rights as straight couples when it comes to Social Security benefits, hospital visitation and other rights.

Following presidential precedent, the Obama administration has been defending the law even though President Obama has long opposed it.

But now, “under heightened scrutiny,” Holder wrote, the government’s ability to defend the law can no longer be made by “advancing hypothetical rationales, independent of the legislative record, as it has done in circuits where precedent mandates application of rational basis review.  Instead, the United States can defend Section 3 only by invoking Congress’ actual justifications for the law.”

That legislative record, Holder wrote, “contains discussion and debate that undermines any defense under heightened scrutiny.  The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships – precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.”

Last month, then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that “we can’t declare the law unconstitutional…The president believes, as you said, that this is a law that should not exist and should be repealed.  But we, at the same time, have to represent the viewpoint of the defendant.” Gibbs said that “given the current makeup of the Congress,” having DOMA repealed would be :inordinately challenging,”

President Obama told Holder that the executive branch of the government will continue to enforce Section 3 “consistent with the executive’s obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.  This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wisconsin’s Scott Walker: With Him and Against Him

Photo Courtesy - Mark Hirsch/Getty Images(MADISON, Wis.) -- As the dispute between Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker, labor unions and their allies continues to expand beyond the state’s borders, so too are the cheers of support for and against him. In fact, a trio of Walker’s GOP counterparts expressed reservations this week about pursuing a similar strategy in their states.

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels called on Republican state legislators to stand down on their push for a so-called right-to-work bill that seeks to ban agreements between unions and employers that would make union membership a condition of employment. Daniels argued Wednesday that it would interfere with other legislative priorities, including education reform.

“For reasons I've explained more than once I thought there was a better time and place to have this very important and legitimate issue raised,” Daniels told reporters in his state.

Daniels’ allies, however, portrayed his approach as simply a matter of timing, noting that immediately upon taking office he signed an executive order limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employees. And, despite his own priorities in Indianapolis, Daniels’ has also recently expressed support for Walker.

Meanwhile, in Florida newly-elected GOP Gov. Rick Scott said that while Gov. Walker was right to try to curtail public employee benefits, he differed on the question of collective bargaining.

“My belief is as long as people know what they're doing, collective bargaining is fine,” Scott said in an interview with a local Tallahassee radio station on Tuesday.

And in Pennsylvania, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, said earlier this week that while the governor would be willing to sign a so-called right-to-work bill “that's not a top priority of his right now.”

In the Wisconsin State Assembly, Democratic lawmakers held an overnight filibuster in an attempt block consideration of the bill that would to strip public sector workers of almost all of their bargaining rights as part of Gov. Walker’s budget repair proposal. The governor threatened to start sending out layoff notices to state workers next week if a bill is not passed in time.

And despite some trepidation among some governors, Walker is continuing to get high-profile backing from other quarters. House Speaker Newt Gingrich published a message on the Web site, Human Events, today titled: “Help Scott Walker.”

“In Madison, Wisconsin, we are witnessing a profound struggle between the right of the people to govern themselves and the power of entrenched, selfish interests to stop reforms and defy the will of the people,” Gingrich wrote.

And other governors are starting to band together to support Walker’s efforts in Wisconsin. The Republican Governors Association launched a Web site yesterday called “Stand With Scott” that features pledges of support from GOP Governors Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Bob McDonnell of Virginia.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sen. Rand Paul: Temporary Budget Extension Unacceptable

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Next week the operating funds for the federal government run out, but unless there are more cuts to the proposed budget extension Sen. Rand Paul said he will not vote for it, even if it risks a federal shutdown.

“You have to do much more.  We’re not even close,” the co-founder of the Senate Tea Party caucus and author of The Tea Party Goes to Washington, said.

“They are not looking at military, which they will have to look at military spending if they are serious about the budget and they will have to look at entitlements,” the Kentucky Republican told ABC News.

The freshman senator will release a proposal reforming those entitlements and it will include raising the retirement age by tying “eligibility to longevity.”

“You will have to gradually do that, it is the only way you fix the entitlement programs,” Paul said.

But Paul isn’t happy with the GOP’s plan to cut $100 billion in spending either, and has proposed cutting five times that instead.

“If we freeze things at 2010 levels, we are going to add $13 trillion to the debt over 10 years.  If we do what the Republicans want and we cut $100 billion we are going to add $11 trillion in debt.  Neither plan is sustainable.  So what I’m about, and what the Tea Party is about is keeping both Republicans and Democrats honest on this,” he said.  “You have to cut enormous amounts.  You have to do much more than anybody is proposed.  But the alternative is it will bankrupt the country.”

Paul said he will keep up his end of the bargain -- agreeing to cut federal aid to his home state which receives $1.51 for every $1 paid in federal taxes, according to the Tax Foundation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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