President Obama plans to fill out his economic team on Thursday, nominating a long-time supporter and a top aide for the jobs of Commerce Secretary and U.S. Trade Representative.
Obama will nominate Chicago business executive and fundraiser Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary, and economic adviser Mike Froman for trade representative, administration officials said.
The Senate must confirm both nominees.
Two administration officials confirmed the Pritzker and Froman nominations, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to preempt Obama’s formal announcement on Thursday morning.
Obama will announce the nominations before departing on a three-day business trip to Mexico and Costa Rica.
According to The Washington Post, the Obama administration is reconsidering its opposition to a new Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, the foundational legal basis of the so-called war on terrorism. That short document, passed overwhelmingly by Congress days after the 9/11 attacks, tethered a U.S. military response to anyone who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” Nearly all of those people are dead or detained.
There are two ways to view that circumstance. One is to say the United States won the war on terrorism. The other is to expand the definition of the adversary to what an ex-official quoted by the Post called “associates of associates” of al-Qaida.
And that’s the one the administration is mooting. “Administration officials acknowledged that they could be forced to seek new legal cover if the president decides that strikes are necessary against nascent groups that don’t have direct al-Qaeda links,” the Post reports. Examples of the targets under consideration include the extreme Islamist faction of the Syrian rebellion; the Ansar al-Sharia organization suspected of involvement in September’s Benghazi assault; and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed terrorist who broke with al-Qaida but is believed to be behind the January seizure of an Algerian oil field.
The Obama administration is formulating a broader strategy for gun control as it looks to reduce U.S. gun violence, those privy to the discussions say.
Rather than just pursuing the reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a White House working group led by Vice President Joe Biden is looking at a multi-prong approach that would include universal background checks for gun purchasers, creation of a national database to track guns, strengthening of mental health checks, and tougher penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors, sources told The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported Saturday the administration also is coming up with a battle plan to defuse the National Rifle Association’s expected counter-attack. One source told the Post that could include recruiting Walmart and other gun retailers to support measures that would benefit their businesses.
“They are very clearly committed to looking at this issue comprehensively,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who has been in on discussions where there has been “a deeper exploration than just the assault-weapons ban.”
President Obama created the working group last month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, mostly young children.
The Post said leaders of various interest groups have discussed options for a wider approach with Biden and other top administration officials.
“Simply coming up with one or two aspects of it really falls short of the magnitude of the gun issue in the country,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum who was among the law enforcement leaders who met with the White House group.
Read more: upi.com
President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner moved close to agreement Monday on a plan to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff,” but they had yet to clear several critical hurdles, including winning the support of wary House Republicans.
Obama and Boehner (R-Ohio) huddled at the White House for 45 minutes Monday morning for their third conversation in the past five days. Later, Boehner met for an hour at the Capitol with his leadership team in advance of a briefing Tuesday morning for the entire House GOP that could be a crucial test of Boehner’s ability to sell the deal.
Administration officials and aides to Boehner declined to comment publicly on the talks. But people in both parties said they continued to make progress as Obama laid out a counteroffer that reduces the amount of new taxes he is demanding to $1.2 trillion over the next decade and concedes a key Republican demand: applying a less-generous measure of inflation to several government programs, including Social Security.
President Obama plans to ask Congress for about $50 billion in emergency spending to help rebuild the states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, according to administration and Congressional officials briefed on the discussions.
The White House is assembling a spending request to send to Capitol Hill as early as this week, and while the final sum is still in flux, it should fall between $45 billion and $55 billion. That represents an enormous sum at a time when Mr. Obama is locked in a titanic struggle with Republicans over the federal deficit, but is significantly less than the states sought.
Unless an austerity-minded Congress adds to the president’s plan, state leaders would have to figure out other ways to finance tens of billions of dollars of storm-related expenses or do without them. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were seeking a combined $82 billion in federal help both to clean up and restore damage from Hurricane Sandy as well as to upgrade and harden infrastructure to prepare for future storms.
Administration officials would not say which specific spending items were being excluded, but other officials monitoring the issue identified several that the White House seemed cool to. New York, for instance, sought reimbursement for business owners for money lost while they were closed as well as for privately held utilities like Consolidated Edison.
Another proposal that may not make the cut was fully reimbursing homeowners for the costs they incur bringing damaged and destroyed homes to their condition prior to the storm; typically, the federal government covers the cost of bringing homes to a lower “livable” standard after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Friday he would not support an expansion of Chick-fil-A in the District, referring to it as “hate chicken.”
The signs of a Chick-fil-A are seen July 26, 2012 in Springfield, Va. (Alex Wong - Getty Images) Gray issued his statement on Twitter after mayors in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco also stated that the company was not welcome due to president Dan Cathy’s outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage.
“Given my long standing strong support for LGBT rights and marriage equality, I would not support #hatechicken,” Gray wrote.
Earlier Friday, Gray declined to take a stand on the company, saying he needed more time to review its position on gay rights. But administration officials noted Gray has been a strong supporter of gay rights.
The Obama administration moved Friday to further insulate religiously affiliated hospitals and universities from paying for birth control for their female employees if they object to providing the coverage on moral grounds.
The new proposal, which follows a compromise announced by President Obama last month, seeks to quell lingering objections from religious groups about a provision in the new healthcare law requiring employers to offer women contraceptive coverage without co-pays or other cost-sharing.
Under fire from leading Roman Catholic hospitals and other institutions, the administration has proposed shifting the cost of providing birth control coverage onto insurance companies, while prohibiting those insurers from passing on the additional cost to employers.
But it was unclear what this would mean for large, religiously affiliated employers that self-insure rather than hire insurance companies to assume the risk of providing health benefits to their employees.
In a notice released Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services suggested these self-insured employers could pass the cost of contraceptive coverage to whomever administers their health benefits. Large employers typically contract with insurance companies to handle billing and other administrative tasks associated with providing health benefits.
These administrators would then use funds from other sources, such as rebates they might receive from drug makers, to offset the cost of the contraceptive benefit, according to administration officials.
The Obama administration also suggested that new national health plans to be set up under the law could be required to offer supplemental contraceptive coverage to employees of religiously affiliated institutions.
The pending deal to move senior Taliban figures from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar is part of a trade for the return of a Western prisoner, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
The Obama administration’s plan to move five top Taliban officials to live under house arrest in Qatar has been extensively reported but never openly discussed by administration officials. And until Feinstein confirmed it to The Cable, the fact that the crux of the deal is a swap for a Westerner had never been publicly disclosed.
“That’s the framework of the exchange. But it’s presented as a confidence-building measure,” Feinstein said. “We are giving up people who killed a lot of people, people who were head of major efforts of the Taliban.”
Feinstein said the deal involved the trade of one Westerner for the five Taliban leaders. She also confirmed the name of the Westerner in question, but The Cable has agreed to withhold that name at the request of U.S. officials out of concern for his safety.
Under the deal, the United States would reportedly place the Taliban officials under the responsibility of the Qatari government, where they would ostensibly remain under some degree of supervision and imprisonment. According to reports, the prisoners being considered for transfer include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister; Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan; and former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund.
But Feinstein said she opposes it.
“These are major Taliban figures, they are not minor people. And they will not be in the same kind of custody, maximum-security custody. Forget that it won’t be Guantánamo, just maximum-security custody,” she said. “And in my view, there’s no way of knowing what they may do and what kind of propaganda they may breed.”
Afghan officials have spoken about the deal as a step toward peace talks meant to end the decade-long Afghanistan war, but U.S. lawmakers suspect the released Taliban could eventually end up returning to the fight.
President Obama has begun embracing housing policies that administration officials earlier thought unwise or unworkable as he embarks on his most aggressive push to address the nation’s foreclosure crisis and depressed real estate market since the first months of his tenure.
Obama has unveiled more than half a dozen plans in recent months to help millions more Americans refinance their mortgages at low rates, to reduce the debts owed by struggling homeowners and to expand existing programs to broaden the pool of borrowers eligible for government aid. The latest initiatives, announced this week, seek to help members of the military and Americans who have government-insured mortgages.
The administration had previously rejected some of these efforts on the grounds that they were wrong on the merits, risky for taxpayers or could not be done. For instance, administration officials in the past had said they didn’t want to bail out speculators or people who had taken on far too much debt. Now, under certain circumstances, the administration is willing to do both.
What’s more, in recent months Obama has used his bully pulpit to discuss housing far more than earlier in his term. After rarely mentioning the nation’s housing problems for several years, the president is directly confronting the issue, which he has called the “most stubborn” of his presidency.
The new actions come after waves of criticism from Democratic groups, community activists, lawmakers and economists, who have argued that the administration was far too slow to deal with the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression.
The Pentagon is drawing up contingency plans for intervention in Syria that include military action, as the Obama administration casts around for a more effective strategy to stop the regime in Damascus carrying out violence its own people.
The defence department has for several weeks been planning a range of US actions, from dealing with a flood of refugees and the provision of medical relief to a direct military assault on Syria. Included in the planning is intervention coordinated with allies such as Turkey and other countries in Nato.
Administration officials said the “internal review” was at the initiative of the Pentagon, not the White House, in order to be able to present options to President Obama if he were to call for them. Officials said they are not an indication of a shift away from the focus on the pursuit of a diplomatic solution with a strong emphasis on sanctions against Damascus.
But pressure is growing in Washington for more decisive action by the Obama administration as the Assad regime intensifies its assault on Homs, reportedly killing scores of people in recent days in shelling. More than 5,000 people are believed to have been killed in the uprising over the past year.
The calls for Washington to act more decisively have also strengthened after Russia and China vetoed a UN security council resolution intended to ratchet up international pressure by calling on Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to resign.
Senator John McCain, who was a strong supporter of military intervention in Libya, this week said the US should plan to deliver weapons to the Syrian rebels.
“We should start considering … arming the opposition. The blood-letting has got to stop,” he said.
McCain was joined in the call for support to the rebels by senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham and other members of Congress.
Syrian protesters have been appealing for outside intervention for months.
The Pentagon declined to discuss the preparations.