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Marco Rubio Insists Jeb Bush Won't Affect His 2016 Timetable


US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Could the 2016 Republican presidential primary turn into a Sunshine State brawl?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential GOP presidential candidate, responded to Tuesday's announcement by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that he would "actively explore" running for president.

"Bush is someone I admire greatly," Rubio told ABC News' Jeff Zeleny Wednesday. "I think he'd be a very formidable candidate."

Rubio declined to say whether he has spoken to Bush since his 2016 exploratory announcement on Tuesday, but said his decision wouldn't be influenced by Bush’s.

“If you decide to run for president you do so because you want to be president not you want to be president unless you want to be president first,” Rubio said. “I want to make my decision on the basis of where’s the best place for me to achieve our agenda to restore the American dream and that’s a decision we’re going to make.”

Rubio said Bush's plans do not affect his timetable of making his decision of whether he will throw his hat into the 2016 ring.

Rubio added, "We'll make a decision in due course."

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How Alan Gross' Release Went Down


jzuckman/Twitter(WASHINGTON) -- Early Wednesday morning, Alan Gross lifted off on an official U.S. transport plane and landed just a few hours later on American soil for the first time since being imprisoned in Cuba five years ago.

The agreement was reached following more than a year of secret back channel talks at the highest levels of both governments. President Obama authorized high level channels of communication with the Cuban government last spring, a senior administration official told reporters Wednesday.

There were multiple meetings with Cuban officials that took place in other countries. Canada hosted the majority of these meetings and even the Vatican played a role. Pope Francis personally issued an appeal to both Cuban President Raul Castro and Obama, calling on them to resolve the imprisonment of Gross and the three Cubans in the U.S.

“I want to thank his holiness Pope Francis,” Obama said Wednesday in an address to the nation.

The pope’s personal involvement was very important to the president, the senior administration official said. Obama and Pope Francis discussed Cuba when they met at the Vatican earlier this year.

The first face-to-face discussions between the U.S. and Cuba took place in June 2013 in Canada. The prison transfer that led to Gross’ release was finalized at a meeting at the Vatican this fall. No meetings took place in Cuba or the U.S.

As part of the swap, the United States agreed to the release of three Cuban agents convicted of espionage in a controversial trial that found them guilty of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami, but not the U.S. government. In addition to Gross, Cuba also released a “U.S. intelligence asset” who has been imprisoned for nearly 20 years. This individual, who remains unnamed, was responsible for high-level counter-intelligence for the U.S.

The “swap” was for the intelligence asset, not Gross, according to the senior administration official. The Cuban government made the additional “sovereign decision” to release 53 political prisoners whose cases the U.S. brought to their attention. The U.S. welcomes their release.

"Yesterday I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize" the release of Gross, Obama said.

The conversation was a “summing up” of the work that has been done over the past year, according to the senior administration official. They discussed issues of importance in the hemisphere, while also noting that they will have differences to come. Obama made clear his intent to maintain U.S. advocacy for human rights in Cuba.

Three U.S. lawmakers accompanied Gross on the plane ride home from Cuba, according to a statement from one of the lawmakers, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. The two others are Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

In a statement Wednesday, Leahy said he visited Gross twice in Cuba.

“Tim Rieser of my staff met with him two other times and spoke with him by phone weekly over a period of many months,” the Vermont Democrat added. “From discussions with Judy Gross, I know the pain and heartache and worry that Alan's imprisonment has meant for her and for their two daughters. I met twice with President Raul Castro, with Foreign Minister Rodriquez, and with other Cuban officials about Mr. Gross. I discussed his case many times with President Obama, Secretary Kerry and other U.S. officials, and I thank them for what they have accomplished.”

Flake called it “an honor to be with Alan as he touched down on U.S. soil after more than five years in a Cuban prison. When I visited Alan last month, he expressed the hope that his ordeal might somehow lead to positive changes between the United States and Cuba. With today's significant and far-reaching announcements, I think it already has."

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Joint Base Andrews from his European trip shortly after Gross, and met briefly with him and his family in an unplanned meeting.

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Martha McSally Wins Arizona Congressional Race by 167 Votes


McSally for Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Six weeks after Election Day, the lone Congressional race left uncalled has been decided.

Republican Martha McSally, a former Air Force colonel, has defeated Rep. Ron Barber in the race for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional district seat, once held by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. She beat her two-time opponent by just 167 votes.

On Wednesday, an Arizona judge put to rest what’s been a historic nail-biter of a rematch -- one so close it called for an automatic recount. The initial ballot count of the nearly 220,000 ballots in the district showed the congresswoman-elect ahead by a measly 161 votes. State law requires a candidate to win by more than McSally’s razor-thin margin of .08 percent.

McSally’s now final 167-ballot edge still makes for an equally stunning result to what seemed at times to be the race that wouldn’t end.

Barber was able to best McSally by roughly 2,500 votes in their first faceoff in 2012. At the time, this was considered the slightest of victories; however, compared to the newly-elected representative’s miniscule winning margin in 2014, that number now seems quite large.

The recount didn’t stop McSally from declaring victory after the first ballot count results were announced, nor from getting two impressive Capitol Hill committee assignments last week.

The first female to fly in combat, McSally is on the roster for the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee come January. She’s served abroad in the Middle East in wars and military operations. Though McSally has no formal political experience, she is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Though she picked up six votes in the recount process, McSally maintains a winning margin so low it still falls in the below .10 percent recount territory.

It was a closely watched race for many reasons, among them Barber’s relationship with his close friend and former boss, Gabby Giffords.

Giffords asked Barber to run to replace her upon deciding to retire in 2012. Barber was her district director at the time of the deadly 2011 Tucson shooting that gravely injured the former congresswoman, and sustained gunshot wounds, too.

Though Giffords did not do any in-person campaigning alongside with Barber, she appeared in two on-camera ads touting the outgoing congressman. She also sponsored several aggressive ads through her PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, attacking McSally on gun violence prevention measures she failed to support.

Even still, it was not enough for Barber to defend the seat of his former boss this time around. He joins a pack of Democrats who experienced historic defeats this election.

After clobbering Democrats in the 2014 midterms, McSally’s win means the GOP now boasts another historic achievement: Their single largest House majority since the onset of the Great Depression.

Previously tied with the 246-seat majority achieved by Republicans in 1946, the victory pushes the party just over the edge to achieve their greatest majority since 1929-31, when Republicans controlled 270 seats under President Herbert Hoover -- making it the GOP’s third highest congressional majority.

The 270-seat record is largely considered the high water mark for Republicans, and is second only to the 302 Republicans elected to the 67th Congress in 1920.

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Marco Rubio: Alan Gross Release Put 'a Price on the Head of Every American Abroad'


Robert Giroux/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The release of Alan Gross, the American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years, “set a price on the head of every American abroad,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in an interview Wednesday.

“I would love for there to be normal relations with Cuba, but for that to happen, Cuba has to be normal, and it's not. It is a brutal dictatorship,” Rubio, who is a Cuban-American, told ABC News' Jeff Zeleny. “Now dictatorships know that if they take an American, they may be able to get unilateral policy concessions.”

According to Rubio, the Obama administration’s intention to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba is “terrible for the Cuban people.”

The Cuban government won’t allow free elections, political parties, freedom of the press “just because people can buy Coca Cola,” said the Florida Republican, who is often mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. He added, “Five years from now, Cuba will still be a dictatorship -- but a much more profitable one.”

“I think this has now made it even harder to achieve the sort of democracy in Cuba that you find virtually everywhere else in this hemisphere,” Rubio said.

Rubio called President Obama the “worst negotiator” of “my lifetime.”

“He'll give up everything in exchange for nothing,” Rubio said. “What have the Cubans agreed to do?”

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POLL: Obama and Immigration: What He Did vs. How He Did it


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(NEW YORK) — A slim majority of Americans support the immigration program created by Barack Obama’s executive action -- but divisions on whether he exceeded his authority impede most of the political capital he might have gained.

Overall, 52 percent support Obama’s initiative, with 44 percent opposed. But 49 percent say he exceeded his authority, 51 percent say congressional inaction on the issue doesn’t justify his approach and the public also divides closely on whether or not Congress should try to block the program.

[See PDF with full results, charts and tables here.]

These sharp rifts in views of Obama’s method, combined with overall post-election advances for the GOP, are limiting the benefits the president may have hoped to glean. Fifty-five percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the issue -- down by 6 points since October, but still a majority. And more now trust Republicans in Congress over Obama to handle immigration issues, by 48-39 percent, reversing an 8-point Obama advantage a year and a half ago.

AUTHORITY –
Even among people who support Obama’s program, a third don’t approve of his handling of immigration generally, and as many don’t pick him over the Republicans to handle the issue. That’s particularly true of those who back his initiative, but only “somewhat.”

At least some of this reflects the view that Obama acted outside his authority. Even among people who favor his program, nearly one in four thinks he exceeded his authority in creating it. In that group, 62 percent disapprove of his handling of immigration overall, regardless of the initiative; and 53 percent better trust the GOP on this issue.

RACE – Not surprisingly, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds there are very sharp racial and ethnic divisions on the issue. Obama’s executive action wins support from 72 percent of Hispanics, and an equal number of nonwhites overall, compared with 42 percent of whites.

Decidedly more Hispanics approve of the president’s handling of immigration now than in October, but that’s up from a low level -- three in 10 then, 53 percent now. It was seven in 10 percent in May 2013, when congressional action on the issue seemed near.

Approval among whites, meanwhile, has held essentially even in the past six weeks, now just 26 percent, and also trails what it was a year and a half ago, by 11 points. Further, six in 10 whites think Obama went beyond his authority; as many say that congressional inaction is not a valid reason for him to have acted and that Congress should block the program.

Many fewer Hispanics feel the same -- but that still means that even among Hispanics, three in 10 think that Obama overstepped his authority and that congressional gridlock was an insufficient rationale for acting. One in four Hispanics, moreover, feels that Congress should block the program from going forward. Views among nonwhites overall are similar.

Additionally, the number of Hispanics who trust the GOP over Obama to handle this issue has doubled, from 16 percent in May 2013 to 34 percent now, likely reflecting hesitation about the way immigration reform has been achieved. Whites’ preferences for the GOP over Obama also have grown -- from a 45-36 percent split a year and a half ago to 59-27 percent now.

One takeaway is that even Hispanics are not monolithic in their attitudes on immigration. That should not be a surprise; while 46 percent of Hispanics are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, an additional 33 percent are Republicans, or lean that way.

GROUPS – There also are profound political and ideological differences in views of Obama’s immigration program. Eight in 10 Democrats and 73 percent of liberals support it, compared with a quarter of Republicans and a third of conservatives. Independents and moderates fall in between, with 51 and 58 percent supporting the initiative, respectively.

Eight in 10 Republicans think Obama exceeded his authority, while an equal number of Democrats think he did not; independents divide, 51-45 percent. Views of the president’s rationale for acting, and whether Congress should try to block the program, are similarly divided.

Further, approval of Obama’s handling of immigration issues has increased by 14 and 13 points since mid-October among independents and Democrats, respectively, while holding essentially steady among Republicans. But even with that gain Obama has just 34 percent approval on the issue from independents, and they prefer the GOP in trust to handle it, by 47-37 percent.

Among other groups, support for Obama’s executive action peaks at 64 percent among adults younger than 30, compared with 45 percent among seniors. And approval for Obama’s handling of immigration overall has increased disproportionately among young adults, from 27 percent six weeks ago to 46 percent now -- better, but still less than half.

METHODOLOGY –
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 11-14, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.

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POLL: Democratic Allegiance Hits a Low; Can the GOP Seize the Opportunity?


Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats has dropped to a record low in nearly 34 years of ABC News/Washington Post polls, marking the party’s challenges after its poor showing in the 2014 midterm elections. The Republican Party, by contrast, has gained sharply in popularity, if not allegiance.

Just 26 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Democrats, down from 32 percent six weeks ago to the fewest since ABC/Post polling began in 1981.

[See PDF with full results, charts and tables here.]

The GOP has not benefitted in terms of direct allegiance: Twenty-three percent of Americans describe themselves as Republicans, essentially unchanged from recent levels. Instead 41 percent say they’re independents, extending a six-year run as the dominant choice.

But the GOP has gained in other gauges. Forty-seven percent see it favorably overall, up by a remarkable 14 percentage points since mid-October to its best among the general public since March 2006. Forty-four percent rate the Democrats favorably -- also up since the heat of the midterm elections has eased, but just by 5 points. The Republican Party’s numerical advantage in this basic measure of popularity is its first since 2002.

The Republicans in Congress, moreover, lead Barack Obama by 47-38 percent in trust to handle the economy, a clear GOP advantage on this central issue for the first time in his presidency.

Beyond the economy, 43 percent also trust the Republicans over Obama to handle the nation’s main problems in general, while 39 percent pick Obama -- not a meaningful difference in this case, but the first time the GOP has held even a numerical advantage vs. Obama on the question. And with no help from his initiative on immigration, the president trails the GOP by 9 points in trust to handle that issue, as well.

Obama has a 41 percent job approval rating in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates; that’s a single point from his career low, with 54 percent disapproving. His rating on the economy is essentially flat; 52 percent disapprove, despite recent economic gains. Fifty-four percent disapprove of his work on international affairs, a steadily negative majority since September. And while he’s gained 9 points on handling immigration, that’s only to 38 percent approval, with 55 percent disapproving on this issue.

ECONOMY? – The irony in these results is that the economy’s off the floor. Sixty-nine percent are optimistic about their own finances in the year ahead, the most since 2007 (albeit narrowly). And 54 percent are optimistic about the national economy, similar to last year but up from a low of 40 percent in early 2008. Other measures of consumer sentiment have improved recently.

The conclusion is that while a bad economy almost always damages a president, an improving one doesn’t automatically help. That’s clear in the survey results: Two years ago there were fewer economic optimists, but, on the heels of Obama’s re-election, 80 percent of them approved of his overall job performance. Today, there are more optimists, but many fewer of them approve of Obama -- just 55 percent. The rest see other things to criticize.

It’s true, too, that the economy’s improvement has left many Americans cold. Just two in 10 are highly optimistic about the economy; a third feels the same about their own finances. And far short of a majority, 41 percent, say their personal finances have been substantially boosted by easing gas and oil prices, including 25 percent who report a great deal of help. (That may still be plenty, though, to help keep registers ringing in the holiday shopping season.)

HISTORY – There’s historical precedent for the Democratic Party’s troubles. The GOP lost 6 points in allegiance after its midterm drubbing in 2006. The Democrats also lost ground, albeit less steeply, after their losses in the 1994 and 2010 midterms. The difference this time is that Democrats, who customarily outnumber Republicans, are at a new low.

That shows in another result, the number of adults who either identify themselves with one of the parties or say they lean that way. So-called “leaned” Democrats now account for 42 percent of adults; leaned Republicans account for 43 percent.

While that single-point difference is well within the poll’s margin of sampling error, it’s only the seventh time in hundreds of ABC/Post polls since 1981 that the GOP has been on the positive side of the ledger. The last was in June 2003, in the early days of the then-popular war in Iraq.

Earlier results have presaged the Democrats’ weakness. The party hit a 30-year low in favorability and a 20-year high in disapproval of its members of Congress in separate ABC/Post polls in October.

OBAMA – The Democratic Party’s woes are linked closely with the president’s. His approval rating has averaged just 43 percent in 2014, his worst year by a significant margin. That’s not as bad a sixth year as George W. Bush’s, but far weaker than Bill Clinton’s in the growing economy of 1998 (his impeachment notwithstanding), or Ronald Reagan’s, likewise in a growth cycle.

Further, as the country’s slogged through the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, Obama’s career-long approval rating, 50 percent on average, lags those of all three of his immediate two-term predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

As with his party, previous results have indicated the president’s problems. He reached career lows in both favorability and empathy -- understanding the problems of “people like you” -- in a pre-election ABC/Post poll. His career low job approval, 40 percent, was Oct. 12.

Obama’s current job approval rating is especially weak in some groups. He’s at 29 percent approval among whites, the lowest of his presidency; not only do 67 percent disapprove, but a majority, 53 percent, does so strongly. Nearly two-thirds of nonwhites, by contrast, approve of Obama’s work in office.

The president’s getting little help from other issues. For only the second time, numerically more Americans disapprove than approve of his handling of terrorism, 48-43 percent, an issue that long was his best. Still, it’s the only one in this poll in which disapproval doesn’t reach a majority.

GOP GAINS – While Obama’s in a trough, the Republican Party is on a roll, with notable breadth in its advances in favorability. It’s gained 17 points since October in the number of independents who see the party positively, as well as 12 points among Republicans themselves. And its favorability is up by 12 to 15 points among liberals, moderates and conservatives alike, albeit with still-sharp differences among them.

The improvement has been much needed by the GOP, which saw its fortunes fall sharply during George W. Bush’s unpopular second term. The question for the party now is whether it can seize the opportunity to gain not just popularity, but personal affiliation. For Obama and the Democrats, it’s whether they’re looking at just a post-election stumble -- or something more lasting.

In the meantime, the country is ever more firmly one in which independents predominate over both of the main political parties. That’s been the case continuously in annual averages since 2009, making for the longest and strongest run of independents on record. With their looser links to partisan preferences, independents often introduce volatility into election politics -- precisely what’s occurred in recent cycles. As the parties try to sort themselves out, more of that instability may be the likeliest story ahead.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 11-14, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,000 adults, including landline and cell-phone-only respondents. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-23-41 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.

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Barack the Deejay: Obamas Reveal Intimate White House Dance Party


Taylor Hill/WireImage(WASHINGTON) — It's played host to royalty, presidential family Christmases, and first lady summits. At one time it served as FDR's personal study. Now, President Obama says the Yellow Oval Room in the upstairs residence of the White House has also served as his personal dance floor.

In an interview with People magazine for release Friday, Obama reveals that he, the first lady and close friends spent a recent Friday evening grooving to soul tunes in the privacy of their official Washington home.

"Friday night. In the Yellow Oval. We had some guests over. It was a small group,” Obama told the magazine when asked about the last time he danced.

“Somebody wanted to dance. And Barack was the deejay,” Mrs. Obama explained.

Obama said his playlist included selections from rock legends.

“We started with Aretha’s ‘Rock Steady.’ Sly and the Family Stone," he said. "Then we ended the night on Al Green, and everybody did a slow dance.”

The Obamas are known to love music and dancing, and have been seen singing and dancing in the front row of a regular performance series they host at the White House.

The president most recently showcased his dancing abilities on stage with Santa at the National Christmas Tree lighting. Earlier this year, Mrs. Obama released a Vine video of herself dancing with a turnip.

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Obamas on Race: We've Been Treated Like the Help


ABC(NEW YORK) — President and Michelle Obama personally identify with everyday experiences of racial bias in America that have underpinned recent protests across the country, they told People magazine in an interview to be released Friday.

“Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs," Michelle Obama told the magazine.

On one occasion, she said, her husband “was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

President Obama said he's even been mistakenly treated as a valet.

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys," he said, according to excerpts of the interview released Wednesday.

The first lady also described being mistreated at a Target store in suburban Washington, during a shopping trip she took in 2011.

"Even as the first lady," she told the magazine, "during the wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf."

She said the incidents are "the regular course of life" for African-Americans and a "challenge" for the country to overcome.

Though they've lived inside the White House bubble for six years, the Obamas have been making the point that they are still in touch with the experience of minority communities.

President Obama has pushed back against criticism that he has not been aggressive enough in talking about issues of race and justice, particularly involving African-American men.

"If you look at after what happened with Michael Brown, if you looked at what happened after Trayvon, if you looked at the decision after Eric Garner, I'm being pretty explicit about my concern, and being pretty explicit about the fact that this is a systemic problem, that black folks and Latinos and others are not just making this up," Obama told BET in an interview earlier this month. "I describe it in very personal terms."

The president told People that he applauds the efforts of other prominent African-American athletes and celebrities to speak out against police brutality using the "I Can't Breathe" slogan, inspired by the case of Eric Garner, the Long Island man who died after he was put in a choke hold by a New York City police officer. President Obama has not directly weighed in on the case.

“I think LeBron did the right thing," Obama said of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who wore a shirt with the slogan on the court. "We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness. I’d like to see more athletes do that -- not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.”

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Trump Thinking About Thinking About Running for President


Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Stop us if you heard this one before: Donald Trump is thinking about running for president.

The real estate mogul and host of TV's Celebrity Apprentice has previously talked about a White House bid but never quite dips his toe all the way in.

If Trump is to be believed by what he said Monday evening at the Economic Club in Washington, D.C., this time he's serious.

In a chat with philanthropist David Rubenstein, Trump insisted that he is "considering it very strongly" when asked if he'll seek the presidency in 2016.

Trump cited the national debt as his primary motivation for throwing his hat in the ring and connected his success in business dealings to his strength in handling the economy.

Looking back on his most recent run at the presidency, Trump asserted “four years ago I was leading in the polls, I was beating everybody in the polls.” Any announcement this time around would come in “March, April or May” of 2015, he claimed.

"I would rather do what I’m doing than run for president," Trump said. "But I also love the country more, and I just think that unless I see somebody that’s outstanding I would be very much be inclined to do it."

For good measure, Trump told the audience, "I have a really big voice. I have, you know, millions and millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook. And when I say something some people don’t like it, but most people do like it."

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Hillary Clinton Makes First Public Statements on Torture Report


Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday night that she was “proud” to be part of an administration that "banned illegal renditions and brutal interrogation tactics” in reference to last week’s release of a Senate report on enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA following the 9/11 attacks.

Accepting an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in New York City, Clinton, a potential candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said that American “values are what set us apart from our adversaries.”

Siding with President Obama, most Democrats and Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, Clinton stressed that “the United States should never condone or practice torture anywhere in the world” even if it takes Congressional legislation to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Clinton also mentioned that “black lives matter” when speaking about the deaths of two African-Americans at the hands of cops in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City’s Staten Island.

She added that if Robert Kennedy were alive today, he would believe that it’s "possible to keep us safe from terrorism and reduce crime and violence without relying on torture abroad or unnecessary force or excessive incarceration at home."

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McConnell Says Keystone Pipeline Will Be 2015's First Priority


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — What will be Mitch McConnell's first order of business when he becomes majority leader of the U.S. Senate in January?

The Kentucky Republican says he'll start work immediately in trying to get Congress to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline that has been more like a pipe dream for the past six years.

McConnell, the GOP and some Democrats argue that the proposed pipeline running from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico will create tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S. and boost oil supplies.

However, President Obama has expressed reservations about the project and is still awaiting a review from the State Department on whether a pipeline that runs through the heartland is environmentally safe.

Although a bill supporting construction of the pipeline easily passed the House, similar legislation failed to win approval in the Senate last month by one vote.

With the GOP taking control of the chamber in January, approval is virtually assured although Obama can still use his veto power to stop it.

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Senate Adjourns with One Matter Left Unfinished


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate adjourned for the year late Tuesday evening, but there was one item on the Senate's agenda left unaddressed: the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which expires at the end of the month.

Set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, also known as TRIA, was established to help American businesses with insurance coverage in the case of a terrorist attack. Some have speculated that the Super Bowl may not be played if TRIA expires, though the NFL has insisted it will be played regardless.

The Senate was unable to come to an agreement on the TRIA legislation this week. Over the summer, the Senate passed a seven-year extension of TRIA. Last week, the House passed a measure that would extend TRIA for six years and would roll back limits placed on Wall Street bank provisions.

Democrats, like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, opposed the changes to the Dodd-Frank legislation in the House bill on TRIA. But ultimately, it was objections from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that sank the bill.

Senate Democrats attempted to place the House's TRIA program on the calendar Tuesday night, but Coburn blocked the bill from moving forward.

“Several weeks ago I warned Speaker Boehner that if he followed Jeb Hensarling’s dangerous gambit, he risked killing terrorism insurance. Tonight, Senator Coburn struck the final blow when he objected to bringing the bill to the floor," Schumer said Tuesday. "We hope that next year, the House Republican leadership will work with us in the same bipartisan way that the Senate did when we passed a TRIA bill 93-4. We hope the House will pass a bill quickly because billions of dollars of projects and hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk.”

The Senate was able to cross off many of the items on its to do list in the final days of session, ranging from issues like controversial nominees to tax extenders to the spending bill. But with the Senate now adjourned and the TRIA legislation set to expire at the end of the month, Congress will need to address TRIA early next year.

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Obama Signs $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill into Law


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama signed the $1.1 trillion spending bill, known as the "Cromnibus," into law on Tuesday night.

The bill, passed by both the House and Senate last week, would fund the government through September 2015, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is funded through late February.

Senators on both sides of the aisle saw problems with the bill, but the majority passed it in order to keep the government funded and avoid a shutdown situation similar to 2013.

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There’s Work Ahead If Jeb Bush Does Run, Poll Finds


ABC News/Washington Post(NEW YORK) -- Jeb Bush has his work cut out for him, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds -- but no more than any of the other potential Republican presidential hopefuls for 2016.

Fourteen percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who are registered to vote support Bush for the GOP presidential nomination. In a matchup assuming that Mitt Romney doesn’t run, that puts Bush numerically first, but not by a meaningful margin. Paul Ryan has 11 percent support, Rand Paul 10 percent, and six others have 7 or 8 percent apiece.

[Click here to see a PDF with full results and charts.]

Having 14 percent support means that 86 percent of leaned Republicans aren’t Bush backers. Still, he has major name recognition, and some advantages in his support profile.

Chief is the fact that he does better among mainline Republicans, who are most apt to participate in primaries. Bush has 19 percent support in this group (compared to Ryan’s 14 percent). Among GOP-leaning independents, by contrast, Bush’s support declines to 9 percent. Paul has 15 percent among those independents; Christie, 10 percent.

Bush, a former Florida governor, announced on Tuesday that he will “actively explore the possibility” of running for president, and will form a political action committee for that purpose next month.

Bush may have challenges in the strongly conservative wing of the party; his support ranges from 18 to 15 to 12 percent among moderate, somewhat conservative and very conservative leaned Republicans, respectively. On either side of him among very conservatives are Ted Cruz, with 14 percent support, and Scott Walker, with 10 percent.

If Romney were to run again, the poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that Bush would slip to the next tier: When included in the mix, Romney has 21 percent support, vs. 10 percent for Bush, 9 percent for Paul and 8 percent for Ryan.

One open question is the potential impact of Bush’s family history; his father lasted a single term and his brother had the most unpopular second term of any president in modern polling. In an ABC/Post poll in late October, 52 percent of registered voters said they did not think Jeb Bush would make a good president, compared with 43 percent who said the same about Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has led Bush in a range of head-to-head matchups this year. But these are early days, the Democrats took a drubbing in the November midterms, and it’s an uncertain world entirely.

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Senate Extends Tax Breaks Through End of Year


Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that offers 55 temporary tax breaks for businesses and individuals, which had expired last year.

The so-called tax extenders bill enacts those tax breaks retroactively to January 1, 2014, and extends through the end of December. A larger debate about those tax breaks will likely be in store in 2015.

The Senate has been active Tuesday, confirming a pair of appointments in addition to approving the tax extenders bill. With Republicans set to take control of Congress in January, Democrats in the Senate hope to confirm 18 more nominees and pass the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act before the end of the year.

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