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House Cancels Monday Votes Due to Inclement Weather


Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- The House of Representatives canceled the votes scheduled for Monday night due to the impending blizzard.

The announcement from the House Majority's office is likely due to the number of lawmakers who were set to travel back to Washington on Monday following a three-day weekend in their districts. The inclement weather which was expected to hit the Northeast from D.C. up through Maine caused weather problems for many.

Instead, the House Majority's office said, the first votes of the week would occur no earlier than 1 p.m. Tuesday. The House is slated to discuss human trafficking suspensions and the export of liquefied natural gas on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

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Chris Christie Spends 'Blizzard of 2015' Tweeting with Constituents


Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(TRENTON, N.J.) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent his Monday night inside, tweeting back and forth with his constituents and followers as a blizzard rocked the Northeast.

At about 8:30 p.m. Monday, Christie announced a travel ban would go into effect at 11 p.m., preventing any vehicles from being on New Jersey roads -- excluding emergency vehicles, public safety personnel and utility companies -- in an effort to keep New Jersians safe. Shortly thereafter, the governor tweeted, asking his nearly 500,000 followers how they were spending the "Blizzard of 2015."

 

Alright, its 9pm New Jersey. What's everyone doing at home tonight? #blizzardof2015

— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 27, 2015

 

It seems most of Christie's followers were abiding by the travel ban, with many followers saying they were spending time with the families or friends.

 

awesome. send us a pic when you're done RT @AmericasMazz: @GovChristie building a Lego batmobile. 3500 pieces. Incredible fun with my boys

— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 27, 2015

 

 

pokemon is still a thing? RT @Americapaldi: @GovChristie playing some pokemon and enjoying your awesome tweets

— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 27, 2015

 

 

looks awesome RT @warren_kruse: @GovChristie pic.twitter.com/IuBrPCS3j6

— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 27, 2015

 

 

me too. Summer cant come soon enough RT @dnj1999: @GovChristie thinking about this summer down the shore ??????????

— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 27, 2015

 

 

The office is great. Knitting hats? A skill I don't have RT @courtneywrightt: @GovChristie watching the Office and knitting some warm hats!

— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 27, 2015

 

Christie even answered one follower's question as to his wardrobe plans for Tuesday.

 

too cold for the fleece RT @the_real_kuzi: Wonder if @GovChristie is going to be wearing his fleece tomorrow

— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) January 27, 2015

 

In advance of the storm, Christie declared a state of emergency, telling New Jersey residents to plan for "really hazardous conditions."

"This is gonna be a lotta snow no matter how you add it up," the governor said Monday. Still, he said he felt as though the state was "prepared, and we're ready, and if you all stay home and help that will make things significantly safer for you and your family and significantly easier for the men and women who are going to be working hard to try to restore New Jersey to normalcy after the storm is over."

 

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Three GOP Senators Fight Against Koch Brothers Critics on Election Spending


David Koch (L) Photo Credit: Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images / Charles Koch (R) Photo Credit: Paul Zimmerman/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- They have been called "radical," "toxic," and even "un-American," but over the weekend, three likely Republican presidential contenders defended the billionaire Koch brothers, who are reportedly planning to spend nearly $900 million to support conservative candidates and causes during the 2016 election cycle.

"Let me be very clear, I admire Charles and David Koch," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told ABC's Jonathan Karl at a forum sponsored by Freedom Partners, a non-profit backed by the brothers. "They are businessmen who've created hundreds of thousands of jobs and they have stood up for free market principles and endured vilification with equanimity and grace."

The Texas senator was joined on stage by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, at this year's first 2016 presidential forum held in Palm Springs.

"There are a bunch of Democrats who have taken as their talking point that the Koch brothers are the nexus of all evil in the world," Cruz continued. "I think that is grotesque and offensive."

Cruz, who noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vilifies the Kochs "every week," added, "There is a reason Harry Reid and the Democrats do that. They cannot defend the record. They can't defend the Obama economy, it's a disaster. They can't defend Obamacare, which is a trainwreck. And they certainly can't defend the Obama/Clinton foreign policy. So they want to scare people by painting a picture of nefarious billionaires."

Rubio asserted that some on the left criticize the Kochs for their political spending, but welcome campaign cash from friendlier sources.

“The people who seem to have a problem with it are the ones that only want unions to be able to do it, their friends in Hollywood to be able to do it and their friends in the press to be able to do it,” Rubio said.

Rubio used the example of billionaire Tom Steyer, who donated heavily to Democratic candidates in 2014, arguing that while he doesn't agree with Steyer's views, he stands by his right to spend money to promote them.

"There is a gentleman out there who has radical environmental ideas who has spent tens of millions of dollars, lost most of his races," Rubio said. "But spent tens of millions of dollars attacking Republicans that don't want to impose his radical environmental agenda. He has a right to do that."

Rubio added, "I believe in freedom of speech. And I believe that spending on political campaigns is a form of political speech that is protected under the Constitution."

Paul acknowledged that special interests can have a negative influence on government, but said the only special interests he's concerned about "are those who do business with government, get government contracts, take the government money and then try to get more contracts."

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Harry Reid Undergoes Successful Surgery on Right Eye


Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was released from the hospital on Monday after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot from his right eye.

The surgery was previously scheduled as part of his recovery from an exercise-related injury earlier this month. A statement from Reid's office said the surgery took about three and a half hours and successfully removed a blood clot and additional blood from the front of his right eye. Doctors also repaired the orbital bones that were fractured in the accident.

Sen. Reid was under full anesthesia during the surgery, his office said. The statement noted that "doctors...are optimistic about his prospects for regaining vision in his right eye but there is no definitive verdict yet."

Reid is expected to spend this week recovering and monitoring the Senate floor through meetings and phone calls with fellow senators.

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Rubio vs. Walker: Why a Senator Thinks Governors Might Not Be Good Presidents


ABC News / US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- On the heels of a midterm cycle where public ire surged, anti-Washington sentiment is high nationwide – and some pundits have suggested that in 2016, a governor, rather than a legislator, might be more palatable to voters fed up with bickering in Washington.

But at a conservative forum moderated by ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, one senator with possible presidential ambitions made a strong case for senatorial leadership:

“I think the No. 1 obligation of the federal government is the national security of the United States in conducting its foreign policy,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who appears to be preparing to mount his own bid for the White House.

“I do think having experience but also a seriousness about the breadth and scope of the challenges we face which are much more difficult than they were 25 years ago” is important for a potential president, he said.

This isn’t the first time Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has touted his foreign policy experience – but as ABC's Karl pointed out, his potential 2016 rivals remain unconvinced.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, also thought to be contemplating a bid for the presidency in 2016, told Karl in November that the Republican nominee has “got to be an outsider.”

“I think both the presidential and the vice presidential nominee should either be a former or current governor, people who have done successful things in their states, who have taken on big reforms, who are ready to move America forward,” Walker told Karl.

“Well, if I was a governor I'd say the same thing,” Rubio said Sunday night, as laughter rippled through the audience.

“It is important for the next president of the United States to understand the diversity of the challenges, to have a global strategic vision and an understanding of what the U.S.' role in it,” said Rubio. “Now does that mean that, you, a governor, can't acquire that? Of course they could. But I would also say that, you know, taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger either.”

And Rubio couldn’t resist a jab at the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton:

“I think it would be a mistake to elect as president the architect of the Obama foreign policy,” he said. “That would be a terrible mistake.”

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Five Ways Chris Christie Has Dealt With Weather Crises


President Obama and Gov. Christie at a shelter for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy, in Brigantine, N.J. Pete Souza / The White House(TRENTON, N.J.) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has dealt with his fair share of natural disasters. With a nasty blizzard heading towards the Garden State Monday, he declared the 15th weather-related state of emergency since he took office in January 2010.

“We’re tough in this state; we’ve been through plenty of things before. So have I,” Christie said during a press conference urging residents to prepare before the storm hits.

Each hurricane, flood or related crisis has the side effect, however unintended, of providing the possible 2016 contender an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership style.

Here, in chronological order, are five key weather-related moments during Christie’s tenure:

1. The Disney World Blizzard – 2010

Christie came under fire when he stayed on vacation at Florida’s Disney World during a brutal December snowstorm, rather than coming home to lead his state’s response. To make matters worse, his lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno was also vacationing at the time, leaving Steve Sweeney, the Democratic state Senate president, in charge. Christie defended himself by saying the state would have responded the same way regardless of where he was, and that he didn’t want to break a promise to his children to visit the most magical place on Earth.

2. “Get the hell off the beach” – 2011


Christie flaunted his signature tough-talking style when he called for a mandatory evacuation of points on the Jersey Shore in the run-up to Hurricane Irene. “Do not waste any more time working on your tan. Get off the beach, get out of your beach houses and get to safer lands,” he said, expressing frustration over news coverage of people catching rays despite severe weather warnings. His performance impressed conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, who at the time said Christie’s stewardship of this storm reflected a “kinder, gentler and more paternal Chris Christie.”

3. Sandy bipartisanship – 2012

The devastating late-October hurricane, which killed 117 people per a CDC analysis and destroyed thousands of homes, will likely remain one of the most defining periods in Christie’s administration. Politically, it was memorable in part because Christie warmly welcomed President Obama to tour storm damage on the Jersey Shore, praising him for his rapid mobilization of federal assets and coordination with the state. “He has worked incredibly closely with me since before the storm hit...It's been a great working relationship," Christie said during the October 31 visit. While Christie’s overture earned him bipartisan praise for seeming to put politics aside in the interest of his state (and some state polls had his approval rating soaring) he upset many national Republicans, some of whom later suggested his harmony with the president might have contributed to Romney’s ballot box loss just four days later. Longtime Iowa political operative Doug Gross was quoted by the New York Times as saying it might hurt Christie with Iowa caucus voters, who, Gross said, “don’t forget things like this.”

4. Swiping at other leaders – 2010, 2012

Christie has never shied from defending himself against criticism, especially coming from fellow tri-state leaders over his response to a storm. After former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani tweaked Christie for staying in Florida during a 2010 blizzard (see #1), the New Jersey governor shot back on Fox News. “It’s easy when you are out of office to be shooting from the peanut gallery when you no longer have any responsibility, but I have a responsibility to my family…I’m just going to chalk it off to a bad morning for the mayor. Maybe he didn’t have a good breakfast or something like that,” Christie said. He also blasted Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford during Hurricane Sandy for allowing residents to shelter locally rather than evacuate the area. Christie and Giuliani seem to have made up since their 2010 spat, as Giuliani campaigned with Christie last year and called him “one of the best governors in the United States.”

5. Canceling the party – 2014, 2015

Whether as a result of the backlash over his Disney trip in 2010 or not, Christie has recently bowed out of several political events due to winter storms. The governor canceled his own re-election celebration in January 2014 over concerns that bad weather could lead to road hazards, and skipped ceremonies in Ohio and Illinois this month as part of his tour congratulating Republican governors which has also taken him through, coincidentally or not, key presidential primary and battleground states including Florida and Iowa.

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Federal Appeals Court Grants Bond for Former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell


Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A federal appeals court granted bond to former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pending an appeal of his conviction on corruption charges.

McDonnell was convicted in September 2014 on 11 of 13 charges. Prosecutors said that McDonnell, while governor, traded favors in exchange for $177,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy friend who was trying to promote a business.

A statement from a spokesman for McDonnell's legal team said that the appeal "will be a strong one, and many such cases have been overturned on the grounds that the nature of the 'official acts' weren't indeed illegal." The spokesman also said that the appeal will likely take longer than McDonnell's two-year sentence.

The court found that McDonnell "is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any other person or community fi released." Further, the court documents say, "the appeal is not for the purpose of delay."

McDonnell released a statement Monday saying that he was "grateful" for the ruling and that he plans to "spending time with my new granddaughter who was born this month, attend my sons' graduation ceremonies, and embrace family time with my daughters."

Opening briefs in the appeal trial are scheduled for March 2, with oral arguments slated for May 12.

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Iowa Governor Falls Ill, Transported by Ambulance to Hospital


Steve Pope/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad "fell ill" at an event Monday, according to his office, requiring an ambulance to take him to a Des Moines hospital.

In a statement Monday evening, Dr. Mark Purtle, chief medical officer of UnityPoint Health-Des Moines, who treated Branstad said, “After personally reviewing the governor’s medical records, with his permission, and visiting with him and his attending physicians, we believe the governor has a viral illness with dehydration.”

“We also conducted a series of tests in which we ruled out other contributing factors, including cardiac issues,” Purtle said. “The governor is still receiving fluids and is resting comfortably.”

An earlier statement from the governor's office Monday afternoon said he was "currently alert and resting comfortably" at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in downtown Des Moines.

"He is being observed and hydrated after having flu-like symptoms," Branstad's spokesman Jimmy Centers said in the statement. "The governor did have a flu shot this season. The governor has been admitted and will be kept overnight out of an abundance of caution.”

Branstad, the longest-serving governor in United States history, was transported to the hospital at about 12 p.m. central time. His office said while in the ambulance he was “alert, conscious, and accurately answering questions during transport” and he is being kept overnight for “observation, rest and hydration.”

"During the transport, paramedics took the governor’s vitals and initial tests indicate that the spell was caused by a seasonal illness," the statement said. "The governor had been suffering from the effects of a cold.”

Des Moines Register reporter Jason Noble reported in a tweet that Branstad was at one point lying on the ground "in distress."

An aide to the governor told ABC News that Branstad, 68, had been battling the cold and flu in recent days. But during an appearance at his weekly press conference on Monday morning in Des Moines, Branstad's voice was hoarse, but he otherwise seemed fine.

Branstad has a history of heart illness. He had a heart attack in 2000 and 10 years later had a procedure to open a blocked artery. But aides said they did not believe Monday's incident was anything more than the cold or flu, but would know more after Branstad was admitted to the hospital.

He was holding an event at DuPont Pioneer, an agriculture company.

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Joe Biden, John Boehner Share State of the Union Survival Tips


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- In a rare instance of bipartisanship, Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner both agree that sitting through the State of the Union can be a bit of a bore.

Biden got little sympathy from his wife when he complained about having to sit attentively behind the president at last week’s address.

"I sit back there and I listen and I helped write the ideas in the speech and I know it all and I've got to pay attention," Biden griped in an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, didn't want to hear it.

"She said, 'Welcome to the Good Wives Club," Joe Biden explained.

"She said, 'How many time have I sat and listened to you make a speech and pretend to be interested,'" he added. "So I'm a member of the Good Wives Club."

Feigning interest in the speech is a task that Biden shares with Boehner as the two sit on-camera behind the president throughout the entire address.

"I stare at the back of the president's head and my goal is to make no news," Boehner told CBS' 60 Minutes.

"This is the president's night. ...Although inside I've got a lot of things rolling through my mind," he said.

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Hillary Clinton Has Been M.I.A. Lately -- and Here’s Why


Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- At a time when many potential 2016 presidential contenders appear to be starting the ignition of their campaigns, Hillary Clinton has pressed the brake pedal.

Or so it seems.

Clinton’s calendar, which was jam-packed throughout most of last year with paid speeches, award ceremonies, fundraisers, book tour stops, campaign appearances and official Clinton Foundation business, is now virtually empty.

Over the past six weeks, the likely Democratic presidential candidate has made just two public appearances -- both on the same day, and both in Canada. She doesn’t have another event scheduled until late next month.

Although Clinton still insists she hasn’t decided whether she’ll run, it is widely believed that she will, and an announcement is expected this spring.

Until then, Clinton appears to be lying low and staying out of the public eye. Meanwhile, much of the focus has turned toward potential Republican candidates like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul. A dozen others tested out their possible stump speeches at a summit in Iowa last weekend.

A Clinton spokesman declined to comment on reasons for her light public schedule. But, according to Democratic strategists and Clinton insiders, this is exactly how it should be.

Here’s why:

Playing It Safe

After a rocky book rollout last summer and a few flubs on the midterm campaign trail, some see Clinton as politically rusty. Keeping out of the spotlight now lowers the chances of making mistakes that could come back to haunt her later.

“Why take the risk?” said one prominent Democrat with ties to Clinton, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about Clinton’s vulnerabilities. “The more you’re out there -- I don’t care how prepared you are or how experienced you are -- she’s going to slip up.”

But, the source added, it’s about the optics, too. And her high-dollar speaking fees aren’t a good look for a potential presidential candidate.

The closer Clinton gets to an announcement, “the more she really needs to pay attention to the arguments that she’s going to make about the economy, and other issues. And doing speeches for $250,000 a pop will detract from that,” the source said.

Above the Fray

By lowering her profile, Clinton has avoided what Democratic strategist and ABC News contributor Donna Brazile described as “day-to-day, flash and burn politics.”

"There’s no reason Hillary Clinton should be involved in what I call partisan, insular, inside-the-beltway politics,” Brazile explained. “She doesn’t need to be a part of what happens in Obama’s White House and the Republican Congress. Her campaign is not predicated on what budget decision they make now, or what compromise they forge.”

This also gives Clinton the ability to cherry pick when she wants to weigh in. Recently, for instance, Clinton sent out unsolicited tweets criticizing Republicans attempts to roll back financial reform laws in Congress and supporting President Obama following the State of the Union.

Clinton can swing this because she is technically still a private citizen.

Party Timing

At this point in 2007, Clinton had already announced her candidacy, but the playing field was different: There was a Republican president and Democrats were the opposition.

There is no upside, some strategists say, to coming out early when your own party occupies the White House.

“If Clinton were out there right now, they’d say, ‘What is she doing?’” Brazile said. “What advantage does she have in this battle?”

This time around, Republicans have more of a reason to be out there early.

Gearing Up, Getting Ready

Another likely reason Clinton is limiting her public events: To focus on her behind-the-scenes operation.

In recent weeks, Clinton has begun staffing up, hiring longtime strategists and former Obama advisers to be part of her senior leadership team. She’s been digging into her 2007 polling numbers. And, as the Washington Post reported, she has been holding daily strategy meetings in her Chappaqua, New York, home.

“She’s hunkered down, preparing, and making a decision," said one Clinton insider with knowledge of the situation. “The idea that she’s off the radar, laying low, precludes the fact that she’s working really hard and being very much the Hillary Clinton that everyone knows."

Because She Can

A break from the public, strategists say, is a luxury Clinton can afford at the moment.

Unlike lesser known candidates, Clinton doesn’t have to make a name for herself. Plus, Clinton has outside groups -- like Ready for Hillary and Correct the Record -- doing some of the early organizing work for her. This allows her to focus on other things like spending time with her family and preparing for what’s to come.

Because, as one top Clinton donor noted, “The day she announces, she’ll be ready to go” -- and squarely in the spotlight.

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Rand Paul on Possible Mitt Romney Run: 'No, No, No, No'


ABC/ DONNA SVENNEVIK(PALM SPRINGS, Calif.) — As recently as October, Ann Romney was waving off the notion of a third Mitt Romney candidacy. After two failed presidential bids, in 2008 and 2012, she and her husband had “moved on,” she told ABC News.

Though sources close to Mitt Romney recently announced he’s once again “thinking about” another bid for the White House, at least one of Romney's GOP colleagues thinks Ann Romney had the right idea.

“I’m with Ann Romney on this one: No, no, no, no, never,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told ABC News' Jonathan Karl at a forum of three likely 2016 presidential candidates in Palm Springs, California, Sunday night.

Romney “would have made a great president,” added Paul, rumored to be considering his own White House bid. “But to win the presidency you have the reach out and appeal to new constituencies. And I just don't think it's possible.”

“And if he thinks, ‘Well, I'm just going to change a few themes and next time I'll reach out to more people,’ I think it's a little more visceral than that,” the libertarian lawmaker said of Romney.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another Republican rumored to be harboring presidential ambitions, said Romney's infamous on-camera gaffe cost Republicans the White House.

“I think in 2012, the reason Republicans lost can be sum up it in two words: 47 percent,” Cruz said at the forum.

Just months before the 2012 election, Romney was caught on tape at a private fundraiser telling guests that they shouldn’t “worry about” the 47 percent of people “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

“I don't just mean that comment,” Cruz said. “The central narrative of the last election, what the voters heard, was, ‘We don't have to worry about the 47 percent.’ And I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent.

“We should be fighting for the little guy who has dreams and hopes and desires,” he said.

The forum’s third guest, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., refused to “Monday morning quarterback” Romney’s performance in 2012.

“I think he put it all into the race,” Rubio said. “He's someone who's earned the right to decide whatever it is he wants to do.”

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Small Drone Found on White House Grounds: Law Enforcement Sources


Photo Credit: U.S. Secret Service(WASHINGTON) — A small drone was found on the White House grounds overnight, the United States Secret Service confirmed on Monday, but White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the situation “does not pose any sort of ongoing threat.”

Two law enforcement sources told ABC News that the drone belonged to a government employee who said he lost control of it. The employee contacted the Secret Service claiming it was for recreational use only. According to officials, his story seems to check out but further investigation is underway and a determination will be made about whether to file charges.

Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary issued the following statement Monday:

"An individual called the Secret Service this morning at approximately 9:30am to self-report that they had been in control of the quad copter device that crashed on the White House grounds early this morning. The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative. Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device. This investigation continues as the Secret Service conducts corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews all other investigative leads."

"An investigation is underway to determine the origin of this commercially available device, motive, and to identify suspects. As additional information becomes available we will update our statement."

President and Michelle Obama are currently in India, with a stop planned in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. It was unclear whether or not the president's daughters were at home at the time of the incident.


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Splits on Iran, Cuba Dominate First GOP Presidential Forum


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(PALM SPRINGS, Calif.) — The first 2016 presidential forum of the year revealed sharp divisions on foreign policy Sunday night, with Sen. Rand Paul breaking with his colleagues on both Iran and Cuba -- a split that’s likely to play out in detail over the next year.

Flanked by Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio, Paul joked when the panel’s moderator, ABC’s Jonathan Karl, asked a question about Cuba, “I’m kinda surrounded on this one.”

He was right. The night’s liveliest moments came when Paul said his colleagues in Congress should give the president negotiating space with Iran before imposing new rounds of sanctions.

“They’re saying you want 535 negotiators, not the president,” said Paul, R-Ky. “Diplomacy is better than war, and we should give diplomacy a chance.”

His fellow senators pounced. Cruz called Iran the “single greatest threat in the United States today,” and said the problem is trying to negotiate with Iranian leaders he called “radical Islamic nutcases.”

“When you have religious leaders who glorify death or suicide, ordinary cost-benefit analysis doesn't work,” said Cruz, R-Texas.

Rubio agreed that Paul is misguided in trusting the president that a true deal disarming Iran is even possible.

“I am a little cautious and perhaps skeptical about negotiating with someone who has said, either be with us or die,” said Rubio, R-Fla.

But Paul suggested that his colleagues would put the United States on a path to war.

“Many times in our fear and anger and distrust and we want to – you know, what are we going to do?” said Paul. “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb ‘em? Are you ready to send 100,000 troops?”

Similarly, on Cuba, Paul was more closely aligned with Obama than with his GOP colleagues. He called it a “form of isolationism” to be “retreating, not engaging” with other countries.

Rubio and Cruz, who are both Cuban-American, sharply if politely disagreed while sitting on opposite sides of Paul.

“It’s hard to argue that the president’s deal is a good one,” Rubio said.

The forum featuring the senators was the first such event of 2015. It was held barely 24 hours after the first major Republican showcase event of the 2016 campaign, at an all-day conservative gathering Saturday in Iowa.

Sunday night’s panel was sponsored by the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a not-for-profit connected to Charles and David Koch that is holding a donor conference at an exclusive resort in Palm Springs.

The 75-minute forum featuring the three senators and Karl was the only portion of the conference that wasn’t shielded from the press and the public. Freedom Partners provided reporters a link to a private livestream of the event, and the first 15 minutes of the forum aired live at ABCNews.com.

The splits on economic and domestic policy were mild by comparison to those over foreign policy. All three senators indicated that they would reject a deal that would cut $10 in spending for every $1 in new taxes, though none of them directly answered the question.

That marks a potential split with former Gov. Jeb Bush. He said he would have taken such a deal back in 2012, after all of that cycle’s presidential contenders said in a highly publicized debate moment that they wouldn’t sign off on a trade like that.

“When and if any of the people up here run for president, there should be an absolute rule: No yes or no answers,” Paul said. He then indicated that he wouldn’t like such a deal. “I think we have plenty of taxes in this country.”

Cruz said that while it’s a question “the media likes to ask,” it represents a false choice.

“That trade-off has proven historically to be a fool’s errand,” Cruz said. “It’s a little bit like Lucy and the football. One element of the promise never happens.”

Rubio chimed in: “The only way you can get out of this problem is spending discipline, holding the line on spending, and rapid and dynamic economic growth.”

None of the three candidates directly answered whether they think there should be a federal minimum wage, though none advocated repealing it, either. They did agree that too many people make -- as Cruz said -- “zero dollars and zero cents” in an economy they don’t think the president deserves credit for improving.

“I think the minimum wage consistently hurts the most vulnerable,” Cruz said.

The debate also drew some agreement on the question of whether Mitt Romney should run for president again. Rubio was the most mild in his critique of the most recent GOP nominee, saying that he “ran the best race he possibly could,” and that he didn’t want to second-guess his campaign.

Paul referenced the fact that Romney’s wife is among those who have said they didn’t want him to run again: “I’m kind of with Ann Romney on this one -- No, no, no, no, no.”

Said Cruz: “The reason Republicans lost can be summed up in two words: ‘47 percent.’ ”

In a reference to the crowd of some 450 well-heeled conservatives -- including the Koch brothers themselves, who have emerged as among the largest financial forces in politics -- Karl asked at the end of the forum if the super-rich have too much influence in politics.

Rubio broke a long pause.

“As opposed to Hollywood or the mainstream media, you mean?” Rubio said. “I believe in freedom of speech.”

Cruz turned his fire on Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, for suggesting that the Koch brothers are “nefarious billionaires.”

“Let me be very clear: I think that is grotesque and offensive,” Cruz said. “I admire Charles and David Koch. They are businessmen who have created hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Rubio also shot back at the suggestion by some governors -- including, notably, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- that only someone who’s served in an executive capacity should be the Republican nominee next year. He said that only senators have the foreign-policy depth to navigate a complex world.

“Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said.

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White House Chief of Staff: U.S. 'Sparing No Effort' to Free American ISIS Hostage


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Following the apparent execution of a Japanese hostage this weekend by ISIS, President Barack Obama's chief of staff said Sunday the U.S. is working aggressively to free the remaining Japanese hostage as well as a female American hostage held by the radical Islamic group.

"Well, the president had a good talk overnight, our time here, with [Japanese] Prime Minister Abe, underscoring our continued support for and partnership with the Japanese, they [are] making this huge investment of, you know, halfway around the world, like we are, in Iraq and Syria against ISIS," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on This Week.

"And as it relates to our hostages, we are obviously continuing to work those matters very, very aggressively. We are sparing no expense and sparing no effort, both in trying to make sure that we know where they are and make sure that we're prepared to do anything we must to try to get them home," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

The president's chief of staff also addressed the chaos that engulfed the country of Yemen in recent days, after the country's president and cabinet resigned under pressure from Houthis rebels who had seized the country's capital.

The power struggle has thrown U.S. counter-terrorism strategy against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula into doubt, with McDonough saying it "remains to be seen" if the Houthi forces will have the same commitment to working with the U.S. to fight al Qaeda forces in Yemen.

"That remains to be seen. And what the president also said today is that we want to see this resolved through a political process that's transparent, that includes all the actors in the country, mindful of the fact that AQAP lives in these chaotic situations," McDonough said.

"So I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. I am going to say to the parties on the ground that they have to resolve this transparently, peacefully, politically. And we will, while they're doing that, continue to make sure that we're focused on the threats to us and to our people," McDonough added.

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Obama: US Will 'Ratchet Up the Pressure on Russia,' Can't Play 'Whack-a-Mole' By Sending Troops to Yemen


Photo by Gurinder Osan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- President Obama on Sunday weighed in on the situations in Yemen and Ukraine, vowing to keep Americans in Yemen safe while issuing stern words to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin for their actions in Ukraine.

"We have a profound interest...in promoting a core principle," Obama said at a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, that "large countries don't bully smaller countries." He reiterated that the U.S. will continue to take the same approach that it has in the past, to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia."

In addition, Obama spoke of the importance of "making sure that we're continuing to provide the support that Ukraine needs to sustain its economy during this transition period, and to help its military with basic supplies and equipment."

The president also touched on the situation in Yemen, where attacks on the capital city and the resignation of much of the government have led to questions about whether the U.S. would evacuate its embassy. For now, the embassy is operating with a reduced staff. Obama said Sunday that the "top priority has and always will be to make sure that our people on the ground in Yemen are safe." Calling the nation "a dangerous country in a dangerous part of the world," Obama reaffirmed that counterterrorism activity there would continue. "We continue to go after high-value targets inside of Yemen...and we will continue to maintain the pressure that's required to keep the American people safe."

Obama also said that he hoped to go after terrorist networks in Yemen without an "occupying U.S. army," because "the alternative would be for us to play whack-a-mole every time there is a terrorist actor inside of any given country, to deploy U.S. troops." Such a strategy, he said, would not be sustainable.

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