Sarah Palin Visits Liberty Bell, Plans Bus Tour Stop in New York

Jeff Fusco/Getty Images(PHILADELPHIA) -- More than a hundred tourists, fans, and members of the media crowded around Sarah Palin as she visited the Liberty Bell Museum in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

She told ABC News that she's relishing her whirlwind road trip.

"Each site we're at is just so inspiring," she said.

Palin confirmed she's heading to the Empire State next, saying, "We're going to spend a little bit of time here before we go to New York."

Todd Palin and other members of the Palin family accompanied the former Alaska governor on a tour of the museum as fans, press, and school tour groups jockeyed for her attention. Palin shook hands and took photos -- one with a crying child who stopped wailing when she bent down to pose next to his stroller.

As far as her plan for the 2012 election, Palin maintained she's still figuring out her plan, but confirmed to reporters that she will visit Iowa, a key state in the race to the Republican nomination.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Republicans Vow to Block Obama’s Pick for Commerce Secretary

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama formally nominated John Bryson for Commerce Secretary on Tuesday, saying that he is confident that Bryson will deliver the "growth, prosperity and job creation here in America that we all want."

But Bryson has to go though Senate confirmation -- and Republicans have vowed to hold up any confirmation for the new commerce secretary until the president submits the trade agreements for Panama, Colombia, and South Korea to Congress for approval and commits to signing them.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid in March, 44 Republicans said that further delay on the three trade agreements would be unnecessary and inexcusable.

"The administration has delayed sending up legislation for free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. These agreements were negotiated and finalized more than three years ago," the letter stated. "Until the President submits both agreements to Congress for approval and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary and any trade-related nominees."

The White House has stated it will not send up the free trade agreement treaties until Congress approves more retraining money for a jobs program for laid-off workers.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama to Nominate Mike McFaul as Ambassador to Russia

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will nominate Mike McFaul to be his next Ambassador to Russia, a senior administration official tells ABC News.

McFaul, director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Staff and a special assistant to President Obama, has been one of the key players in the president's attempt to "reset" the at-times rocky US-Russian relationship while also pushing Russia to embrace human rights and to respect the territory of neighboring countries such as Georgia.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Weiner Hires Lawyer After Twitter ‘Prank’

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., has hired a lawyer after a lewd photo of an unidentified man was posted to his Twitter account and sent to a 21-year-old female college student from Seattle the politican was following on the microblogging service.

A spokesman for Weiner said the congressman is exploring "civil or criminal actions" in response to the incident, which he called a "prank." It's unclear whether the office has also requested an independent investigation.

The Twitter post, which appeared Friday night and was quickly deleted, was first reported on by conservative website 

"I was hacked. It happens to people," Weiner told CNN Monday night. "This is a prank, not a terribly creative one, and it's a distraction."

Gennette Cordova, the alleged target of Weiner's tweet, said in a statement Sunday to the New York Daily News that even though she was a "fan" of Weiner, she has never met the congressman. For his part, Weiner has yet to explain why he was following the young woman who had been following him on Twitter.

Weiner, 46, is married to Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Internet security experts said the controversial post could have easily been done by someone with access to the congressman’s accounts.  But they also say it's plausible that an unauthorized person infiltrated the system.

"Those things get hacked the simplest ways," Alan Paller, director of the SANS Institute for Computer Security Training, said of Twitter and Facebook accounts. 

"It's either shoulder surfing, where someone stands behind you when you sign in, or they just guess," he said. "They figure out what your user name is, which is usually your name, and then they just try your wife's name, your kid's name, your wife's birthday for the password or just keep trying until they find one."

What happened in Weiner's case remains to be seen. Twitter users have pointed out since the story broke how easy it is to accidentally send public a so-called DM, or a private, user-to-user direct message.

If a hacker was responsible for the post, it wouldn't be the first time. A 25-year-old Frenchman hacked into President Obama's Twitter account last year and was later arrested. And hackers broke into Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's personal email account in 2008, exposing cell phone numbers and other private information.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


California Pushes to Opt Out of Federal Immigration Program

Spencer Platt / Getty Images(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Controversy continues to amplify regarding a nationwide enforcement program that screens for illegal immigrants in local jails.

California lawmakers are joining a growing number of states that are resisting the program -- which requires states to forward fingerprints of all arrestees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for screening.

The program purports to identify and subsequently deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes, such as murder and kidnapping.

However, some California lawmakers say the program isn't as successful as supporters suggest. State politicians are trying to take a proactive stance against the program by considering a bill that would allow California counties to opt out of the federal program.

The Assembly has already approved the bill with a 47 to 26 party-line vote. The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote.

Democratic lawmakers say the program discourages illegal immigrants from reporting crime, out of fear that they too could be deported. Those lawmakers say the program targets also low-level offenders  and sometimes even immigrants who have never been convicted at all.

Meanwhile, majority of California Republican lawmakers disagree with the bill, saying opting out of the program would undermine federal law.

They identify as proponents of the program, saying it successfully helps locate and alleviate threats to public safety.

California's bill regarding the program does not mark the first time the program has sparked controversy.

In April, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) called for an investigation into the actions of federal immigration officials as to whether they lied to local governments about their ability to opt out of the program. Lofgren also questioned the legal authority for implementing the program.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Congress Mulls Cuts to Food Stamps Program

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Congress is under pressure to cut the rapidly rising costs of the federal government's food stamps program at a time when a record number of Americans are relying on it.

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday will review the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill for the Department of Agriculture that includes $71 billion for the agency's "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program." That’s $2 billion less than what President Obama requested but a 9 percent increase from 2011, which, critics say, is too large given the sizeable budget deficit.

A record number of Americans -- about 14 percent -- now rely on the federal government's food stamps program, and its rapid expansion in recent years has become a politically explosive topic.

More than 44.5 million Americans received the so-called SNAP benefits in March, an 11 percent increase from one year ago and nearly 61 percent higher than the same time four years ago.

Nearly 21 million households are reliant on food stamps.

Opponents of the program argue that money from the food stamps budget -- with what they call its increasingly lax requirements -- needs to be shifted to other programs such as education and child nutrition. The program's supporters argue that at a time of economic decline, such welfare programs are even more important to try to keep Americans from spiraling into poverty.

The cost of the food stamps program has increased rapidly since it was established by Congress in 1964. It cost taxpayers more than $68 billion last year, double the amount in 2007.

Nutrition assistance now accounts for more than half -- or about 67 percent -- of the USDA's budget, compared with 26 percent in 1980. That shift in focus, critics say, is ineffective because it hasn't put a dent in poverty or hunger in the United States while taking away money from other programs, specifically agricultural programs that should be the main focus of the agency.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bachmann Nearing 2012 Decision; Calls Palin a "Friend," Not a "Competitor"

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- It's all systems go for Rep. Michele Bachmann: her last daughter leaves the nest this week and the congresswoman is scheduled to make a formal announcement about her decision to run for the 2012 presidential election next month in Iowa.

"We'll be making it in the city where I was born, conveniently enough in Waterloo, Iowa.  So I'm looking forward to that," she told ABC News on Tuesday.

Referring to Sarah Palin, the Minnesota Republican insisted there was enough room for two Tea Party favorites in the 2012 race, and that she would have no problem running against the woman she considers a friend.

"All I want to say is that I like Sarah Palin a lot, we're friends.  And I don't consider her a competitor, I consider her a friend.  But my comparison ultimately is to Barack Obama," Bachmann said.

If she does make it to the White House, would President Bachmann sign the proposed GOP Medicare plan that Congresswoman Bachmann voted for?

"I think some version of this bill because [Rep. Paul Ryan] is right, we have to sustain Medicare.  We can’t let it just go away for senior citizens, and that's exactly what he's trying to do.  I agree with what Paul is trying to do," she said.

Bachmann's previously said she supports Ryan's bill with "an asterisk."  On Tuesday, she said that asterisk is because "people don't recognize that this is about people who are 55 and under.  I don't want a 78-year-old woman to think that Medicare is going to be pulled out from under her, because it won't.  It's the 55 and under plan."

While other potential candidates have bowed out citing their family obligations, the mother of five plus 23 foster children said everyone's on board in the Bachmann house.

"All of the children as of about a week from now will be graduated and gone from high school.  And so we are at a very different life.  After 29 years of parenting, it is going to be a very different household," she said.

So one solution to an empty nest is to run for president?

"I guess so," Bachmann said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rogue Is Vogue: What Is Sarah Palin Trying to Tell Us?

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- For the last 48 hours, the biggest mystery in political circles was where Sarah Palin and her giant tour bus, draped in images of the American flag and the Constitution, were going next.

She's already stopped in Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon, and Fort McHenry in Maryland. On Tuesday, she starts in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and her next stops continue to be the subject of intense speculation.

"Many of the mainstream media are looking for kind of a conventional campaign type tour and I’ve said from that beginning that this isn’t a campaign tour except to campaign on our Constitution, our charters of liberty," Palin told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in an interview broadcast Monday night. "I don't think I owe anything to the mainstream media...I want them to have to do a little bit of work on a tour like this."

So, if Palin's goal is to bypass traditional media, the bigger mystery may be why we keep scrambling to cover her like a traditional candidate.

The narrative of her trip is beginning to sound a lot like a grade school, "What I did on my summer vacation" routine.  Palin's getting asked mostly the same question about her 2012 presidential ambitions at each stop along the way, and giving mostly the same non-committal answer.

"I don’t know. I honestly don't know," she told reporters on Monday. "It's still a matter of looking at the field and considering much.  There truly is a lot to consider before you throw yourself out there in the name of service to the public because it's so all-consuming."

There's evidence that despite her ability to get non-stop, almost obsessive attention from the press, she garners only a fraction of that interest from voters in her own party.

A recent Gallup survey found that while she has almost universal name recognition among Republican voters, her approval rating is just 48 percent.  Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the nominal frontrunner in this still-fluid primary, has a 56 percent approval rating.

Even so, Palin has already succeeded in doing two things this week: making herself the center of the story, and poking the mainstream media in the eye.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Calls On John Bryson to Head Commerce Department

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will announce John Bryson, the former CEO of Edison International, as his choice to run the U.S. Department of Commerce, ABC News has learned.

The president was to make the announcement Tuesday afternoon in the Rose Garden, but because of the heat outdoors, the announcement was moved to the White House's State Dining Room.

An experienced business leader, Bryson serves on several corporate boards, including that of The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC News.

In March, President Obama nominated Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China, replacing Jon Huntsman, who stepped down to explore a run for the presidency.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Women Fighting and Dying in War, Despite Combat Exclusion Policy

Jupiterimages/Comstock(WASHINGTON) -- By this Memorial Day, nearly 150 U.S. female troops have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, with over 700 wounded. Although Department of Defense policy precludes women from being assigned to ground combat-infantry units, women have for years served in combat situations where they're just as vulnerable.

Marine Lance Corp. Angelica Jimenez, 26, was one of them.

On June 25, 2005, Jimenez was riding in the back of a truck carrying 14 female Marines near the Iraqi hotbed of Fallujah. The all-female unit was tasked with searching and questioning Iraqi women at security checkpoints, ensuring they were not armed with explosives. Since females were not allowed to sleep at the checkpoints as their male counterparts were, every day the women would be driven to and from an American base, making them a visible target each time they hit the road. It was only a matter of time before their luck would run out, and that night, it did.

A car approached their convoy, moments before it ran straight towards the women's truck. Packed with explosives, it detonated on impact, enveloping all 14 women in a deadly fireball. Most of the women were severely burned. Two women died immediately, one later that night, in what would become the deadliest attack on servicewomen since 1991.

Jimenez was knocked unconscious. She remembers waking up, directly in the line of insurgent fire, her flak jacket covered in blood, her M-16 gone.

Since 1994, the Department of Defense's combat exclusion policy prohibits the assignment of women to any unit below brigade level when the unit's primary mission is direct combat on the ground. However, according to DOD spokesperson Eileen Lainez, the policy does not "preclude women from being involved in ground combat."

Blurring the lines further, the Army precludes women from being "assigned" to ground combat infantry units, but allows them to be "attached" to such units, where they often perform the same roles their male counterparts would.

The policy defines ground combat as "engaging the enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force's personnel." Genevieve Chase, veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and founder of American Women Veterans, found herself in that situation while serving in 2006 in the hotspots of Helmand and Bagram, where counterinsurgency strategy emphasizes building relationships with locals including Afghan women who won't talk to a male stranger.

"In both Iraq and Afghanistan, female troops have worked from day one outside the wire," Chase told ABC News. "In war, you do what you can. You can't withhold somebody because of their gender. If you are in charge of an aid station with three female medics, and this infantry unit needs another medic, you're sending them a medic. Rules in combat are very different."

But while Chase served alongside men and carried the same weapons, the policy precluded her from having the same combat training as the infantrymen.

The policy also precludes female officers from leading ground combat units. Not only does the rule prevent women from gaining the experience they need to win promotions to the military's top ranks, Chase said, it does not always reflect reality on the battlefield.

Recently, the congressionally mandated Military Leadership Diversity Commission recommended that the DOD rescind the combat exclusion policy. Commission chair retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles said rescinding the policy is one way the military can get more qualified women into its senior leadership ranks.

Today, women make up about 15 percent of active-duty service members; 18 percent of National Guard and reserves; 10 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans; and 10 percent of those who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.

The idea of women serving in ground combat infantry units has been controversial throughout U.S. history. Arguments against women serving in combat center around the physiological and purported emotional differences between men and women, as well as the interaction between men and women that could distract from a mission.

Chase agrees there will have to be a thorough review on whether to rescind the policy, and that rescinding without a plan as to how to implement changes would be premature. But, she added, "It's long past time to revise the current policy so that it accurately reflects the capacity with which women have and will continue to serve in our armed forces. It gives combatant commanders the ability to truly build the most cohesive, well-trained and effective teams for their respective missions."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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