MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate confirmed Robert McDonald as the new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday, one month after President Obama nominated him for the post.
McDonald was confirmed with a vote of 97-0. McDonald, a former CEO of Procter & Gamble, will join the VA as the embattled department tries to ease wait times for veterans by providing health care outside the VA system as well as hiring new doctors, nurses and clinicians at VA facilities.
Here are five things that could help McDonald in his new position leading the VA.
1. He Is a West Point Grad
McDonald graduated in the top 2% of his class at West Point and went on to serve in the United States Army as an Airborne Ranger captain in the 82nd Airborne Division. During his confirmation hearing, McDonald told senators his experiences at West Point and in the military influenced his leadership style at Procter & Gamble and will help him at the VA.
"I am still guided by the West Point Cadet Prayer, which encourages us to 'choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong,'" McDonald said earlier this month.
2. He Comes From a Military Family
Not only did McDonald serve in the military, but so did multiple members of his family, including his father, who was part of the Army Air Corps after World War II. His wife's father became a POW after he was shot down over Europe, and his wife's uncle served in Vietnam, where he was exposed to Agent Orange, which he still receives treatment for through the VA system.
3. He Worked at Procter & Gamble for 33 Years
McDonald started his career at Procter & Gamble as a brand assistant, eventually making his way to the top of the company, where he managed more than 120,000 employees. Procter & Gamble is a unique company in that its employees are promoted from within, similar to the tradition of rising in the ranks in the military. Lawmakers who met with McDonald ahead of his confirmation said they were impressed with his management experience at Procter & Gamble.
4. He Will Give Lawmakers His Personal Cell Phone Number
At his confirmation hearing, McDonald said he would give his personal cell phone number to all the senators on the committee to make sure he is held accountable for his work at the VA, even if that means after-hours phone calls.
"Every member of the committee will have my cell phone number. And I would expect if we're not meeting your needs you will call me," McDonald said. "When you run a large corporation globally, you have a cell phone that's on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it gets called. And so if you have concerns I want to know about them and I want to react to them."
5. He Compiled a List of What It Takes to Be a Leader
McDonald wrote a list called "What I Believe In," which includes 10 principles he lives by and could be applied to his time at the VA.
Here's the list: 1. Living a life driven by purpose is more meaningful and rewarding than meandering through life without direction. 2. Companies must do well to do good and must do good to well. 3. Everyone wants to succeed, and success is contagious. 4. Putting people in the right jobs is one of the most important jobs of the leader. 5. Character is the most important trait of a leader. 6. Diverse groups of people are more innovative than homogeneous groups. 7. Ineffective systems and cultures are bigger barriers to achievement than the talents of people. 8. There will be some people in the organization who will not make it on the journey. 9. Organizations must renew themselves. 10. The true test of the leader is the performance of the organization when they are absent or after they depart.
iStock/Thinkstock(BOULDER COUNTY, Colo.) -- Colorado's Supreme Court is ordering Boulder County to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
Boulder began issuing the licenses in June after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled against a gay marriage ban in neighboring Utah, calling it unconstitutional. Now, Colorado's Supreme Court says Boulder must stop while an appeal is heard.
Boulder County had been the only county in Colorado still issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Talk of impeachment has been all the rage in Washington this summer.
Democrats say Republicans are shilling for it. Republicans counter that the buzz is merely a Democratic fundraising ploy. So who really started it, and when?
Almost immediately after Obama took office, conservative commentators on the fringes began toying with the idea of impeaching the president. Slowly but surely, the talk migrated into the mainstream as Republican lawmakers began to chime in.
Back in 2010, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told Lou Dobbs that Obama's actions on the border came "awfully close" to violating his "oath of office" -- an impeachable offense. And about a year later, Rep. Ted Yoho, an outspoken tea party congressman from Florida, outlined six reasons the president should be impeached in a post on his campaign website. Not long after, Texas GOP Rep. Michael Burgess said explicitly that impeachment "needs to happen."
By this spring, at least 11 Republican lawmakers – Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Rep. Steve Stockman of Michigan and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, had floated the idea of impeachment, and several high-profile Republican candidates, including Iowa U.S. Senate hopeful Joni Ernst, put impeachment on the table. As June rolled around, and the weather warmed, impeachment talk heated up, too.
Here's a brief history of how Republicans started the most recent outbreak of chatter, and how the Democrats have sought to use it to their advantage:
June 4: Former Congressman Allen West, R-Fla., talks impeachment, calling Obama's handling of the Bowe Bergdahl deal "an impeachable offense."
"Ladies and gentlemen, I submit that Barack Hussein Obama's unilateral negotiations with terrorists and the ensuing release of their key leadership without consult — mandated by law — with the U.S. Congress represents high crimes and misdemeanors, an impeachable offense," West wrote in his Washington Post op-ed.
June 25: House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, quashes the impeachment question. Asked whether his lawsuit against the president could be a precursor to impeachment proceedings, Boehner insists the suit "is not about impeachment."
July 8: Sarah Palin raises the issue's profile. In an incendiary op-ed published by Breitbert, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee says "it's time to impeach" Obama.
"Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president," she writes. "His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the president say, 'No mas.'"
July 10: When asked about her comments, Speaker Boehner brushes off Palin's remarks, saying simply, "I disagree."
July 10: Palin's running mate, 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, is also asked to weigh in. He says he "respect[s] always Sarah Palin's views" but believes that impeachment "was not a good thing to do" to President Clinton and prefers to "devote our energies to regaining the majority in the Senate."
July 23: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sends the first in a veritable flood of emails warning of the threat of impeachment, and soliciting donations.
July 24: First lady Michelle Obama reportedly predicts "more" talk about impeachment if the Democrats lose the 2014 midterms. "If we lose these midterm elections, it's going to be a whole lot harder to finish what we started, because we'll just see more of the same out in Washington -- more obstructions, more lawsuits, and talk about impeachment," Obama said, according to the Washington Examiner.
July 25: Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer tells reporters he "would not discount" the "possibility" of impeachment, noting that Boehner's lawsuit against the president "has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future." July 25: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterates Pfeiffer's point, saying "there are some Republicans, including Republicans who are running for office, hoping that they can get into office so that they can impeach the president," and rejects the notion that impeachment is a democratic fundraising ploy. July 27: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., unprompted, raises the issue in an interview on CNN.
"The Republicans are … on a path to impeach the president while we're trying to create jobs and have stability in our country and in the world. And I'm sorry that we didn't get a chance to talk more about that," she says.
July 27: The DCCC circulates an email claiming that "House Republicans held a closed-door meeting to discuss impeaching President Obama," and urging Dem supporters to "throw everything we've got at this."
July 29: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also blasts impeachment chatter. "Isn't it good that we're talking about this, rather than impeachment of the president?" Reid says in reference to the VA deal. July 29: Boehner calls talk of impeachment "a scam started by Democrats at the White House."
"This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president's own staff. And coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill," the speaker said. "Why? Because they're trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year's elections. We have no plans to impeach the president." July 29: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., echoes Boehner, saying, "the only people I've heard mention [impeachment] are the White House and the majority leader."
Despite all the gossip, history is on Obama's side. Only two U.S. presidents– Andrew Johnson, in 1868, and Bill Clinton, in 1998– have been impeached. (Richard Nixon voluntarily resigned before the House could impeach him.) And not once has presidential impeachment resulted in removal from office.
iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for cell phones to be equipped with a "kill switch."
A kill switch would allow a cell phone owner to completely disable a phone if it is lost or stolen.
Mayor Emanuel hopes the legislation would lead to a drop-off in thefts.
"So if one of the reasons on robbery, people are robbing, is for smart phones if it automatically switches off, it takes away the incentive for the robbers to actually take the smart phones, steal the smart phones," Emanuel said.
Smart phone thefts have accounted for up to half of all street crime in some cities. Minnesota and California have already adopted the legislation.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Mirror mirror on the wall, are Rand Paul and Cory Booker the most beautiful of them all? The answer is yes, at least according to an annual assessment of D.C.’s best-looking people.
The Hill released its annual "50 Most Beautiful" rankings on Tuesday, which included several lawmakers from Capitol Hill, including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. The two senators ribbed each other on Twitter for making the list.
Paul, who came in as the ninth-most beautiful person, took a jab at Booker for being listed in 44th place.
Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate confirmed Robert McDonald as the new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Tuesday, one month after President Obama nominated him for the post.
McDonald, a former CEO of Procter & Gamble, was confirmed with a vote of 97-0.
Late Monday night, a conference committee advanced legislation to provide nearly $17 billion in funding to help ease VA wait times and provide veterans with faster access to healthcare both in and out of the VA system.
The House and Senate hope to pass the legislation by the end of the week before August recess starts.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker John Boehner shot down talk of impeachment once again Tuesday, raising his voice as he blamed Democrats for trying to push the idea for political gain.
“We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans,” Boehner said, answering a question from ABC News at a press conference. “Listen, it’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.”
A scam or not, Democrats say they are raising record amounts of money over the threat of impeaching President Obama. Republican leaders have repeatedly said they have no plans to call for articles of impeachment. But they are moving forward with a lawsuit against the president, accusing him of overreaching his executive authority, which has kept the talk of impeachment alive. The House is set to approve this rare lawsuit in a vote Wednesday.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Majority Leader Harry Reid also seized on the impeachment idea.
“We shouldn't be off on the tracks of impeachment and suing the president,” Reid said. “We should be legislating.”
Democratic leaders have flooded supporters with fundraising appeals, including one that said: “House Republicans Refuse to Rule Out Impeachment.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it raised $2.1 million in online contributions last weekend alone.
Boehner blasted Democrats at a press conference Tuesday for misleading Americans.
“This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill,” Boehner said. “Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in their year’s elections.”
ABC News(NEW YORK) -- He’s reportedly worth around $250 million, so you might think Mitt Romney would opt for an opulent, luxurious vacation now that he’s out of the spotlight.
Instead, the former presidential nominee, his wife, Ann, and five of their grandkids roughed it out in the “American West,” hiking over 50 miles cross-country, according to Mitt Romney’s post on the blogging site Medium.
Romney says the (apparently enthusiastic) troupe visited Goblin Valley, Spooky Gulch, and Peekaboo Slot Canyon and even escaped “a very close encounter with a rattlesnake.”
And along the way, grandpa entertained his “captive audience” with stories about their ancestors.
“Ann’s side played instrumental roles in the foundation of the country, including William Bradford and Grover Cleveland. Mine were key to the establishment of our church and the settlement of the American West,” Romney explains.
(These history lectures weren’t exactly out of the blue. During his presidential campaign, Romney was criticized for his highly-regimented vacations, which included non-optional athletic contests, and a chore wheel.)
“We came away more appreciative of the landscape God gave us, of the sacrifices of the pioneers, and of the comforts of air conditioning and home cooked meals!” Romney wrote.
Though the post was largely anecdotal in nature, the former politician couldn’t help but slip in an allusion to current events: “We were also sobered by the tragic events in Ukraine and Israel. ...As we experienced the grandeur of the West, our hearts went out to those millions in the world who suffer.”
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Though the Supreme Court issued a major opinion concerning gay rights in 2013, it has so far sidestepped the issue of whether states can ban gay marriages.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Monday striking down Virginia's strict marriage laws brought the issue one step closer to the justices.
It's the second time a federal appeals court has struck down a state ban since the Supreme Court ruling in United States vs. Windsor.
"We are talking about the Commonwealth of Virginia!" Theodore Olson, an attorney for the challengers of the gay marriage ban, exclaimed after the decision was handed down. "It's the birth place of George Washington."
David Boies, another lawyer representing the challengers called the opinion "powerful" and said "it holds that the Virginia marriage laws seriously harm plaintiffs, and seriously harms the children that the plaintiffs raise."
If, down the road, the Supreme Court were to adopt the 4th Circuit’s reasoning, "It would mean that everyone in every state in the nation would be able to marry the person that they love," Boies said, declining to speculate which case the Supreme Court might ultimately take up if it does indeed decide to take up one or more cases.
It will take at least a few weeks for the 4th Circuit's ruling to go into effect. In the meantime, supporters of the law could ask for a re-hearing with either the full court of appeals or the Supreme Court.
Though the opinion deals directly with Virginia's laws, the reasoning could apply to other states under the 4th Circuit's jurisdiction, "including to states with bans that, as the majority noted, are similar to Virginia's, including South Carolina, North Carolina, and West Virginia," said Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center.
Boies noted that the opinion "does not depend upon anything that is unique to Virginia." "I think," he said, "it is clearly controlling law in all of the states in the Fourth Circuit."
Because Virginia's attorney general has declined to defend the law, the conservative group, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has stepped in to represent clerks supporting the marriage law.
After Monday's ruling, ADF's senior counsel Byron Babione released a statement, saying, "Every child deserves a mom and a dad, and the people of Virginia confirmed that at the ballot box when they approved a constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as a man-woman union."
Babione has not announced any plans for appeal, but he said, "Ultimately, the question whether the people are free to affirm marriage as a man-woman union will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court."
For some, Virginia is an important landmark because of the 1967 Supreme Court decision, Loving vs. Virginia, regarding interracial marriage.
"It's appropriate that marriage for same-sex couples took a big step forward today in a case from Virginia, since Virginia is where the fundamental right to marry was born," said James Esseks, one of the ACLU lawyers who won the Windsor decision at the Supreme Court.
In the 1967 decision the Supreme Court struck down the Commonwealth's ban on inter-racial marriages.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- What a difference a decade makes: this past weekend marked the 10-year anniversary of President Obama's keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.
One of the biggest visible changes is how Obama's hair has visibly greyed since his time as a state senator from Illinois in 2004.
Back then, Obama was the 42-year-old Democratic state senator who was in the midst of his first U.S. Senate campaign when John Kerry asked him to speak at the convention.
Obama won wide acclaim for his speech, which many cite as a major turning point in his political career.
As for Kerry, the visible decade difference is less pointed then that of Obama. Though Kerry didn't end up winning his presidential bid in 2004 (losing to then-President George W. Bush), Obama has since made him the Secretary of State.
Congressman Cardenas(WASHINGTON) -- A frustrated California congressman is calling for a swimming pool to be installed in the chambers of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — to facilitate a medieval litmus test.
In a statement caked thick with sarcasm, Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., called on the committee's Republican chairman, Darrell Issa, to "install an above-ground pool" to aid the GOP chairman's investigations into a wide range of controversies.
"We are picking winners and losers, when it is clearly obvious that witches can only be found by dunking them in water," Cardenas wrote. "If they float they're a witch. If they don't, installing a pool will allow us to retrieve the non-witch before he or she drowns."
The committee voted Friday to reject White House assertions of "absolute immunity" of David Simas, a senior adviser to President Obama and the director of the new White House Office of Political Strategy, who has refused to testify voluntarily or under subpoena at the committee.
"Like the Chairman, I am interested in effective government oversight and reform," Cardenas continued. "This pool will allow that to take place, wasting far fewer taxpayer dollars in the process."
But Cardenas' proposal — however tongue-in-cheek it is — would be duplicative. Lawmakers already enjoy access to a swimming pool in the lawmakers-only gym in the Rayburn House Office Building, where the committee room is located.
Asked to comment on the pool proposal, multiple aides to Issa refused to directly address Cardenas' idea.
Cardenas joked that the committee's prospective pool could be named the "Senator Joseph R. McCarthy Memorial Truth Pond," and proposed installing a plaque quoting former head counsel for the U.S. Army, Joseph N. Welch, who asked McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
Concluding his statement, Cardenas pledged to make the pool available "for staff and member recreation" when the committee is not holding hearings in order "to avoid excessive government waste."
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Outside the hallways of the Capitol, the immigration reform debate isn't political. It's personal.
When Washington, D.C. resident Cindy Monge saw the images of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border it hit home. Eight years ago she was one of them.
Monge left Guatemala in 2006 to reunite with a father she had never met and a mother who had spent six years traveling back and forth on a tourist visa.
"I only had one option, which was to cross the border," she says. "I wanted to be with my parents."
Alone at age 11, she traveled from bus to bus, contact to contact as she made the harrowing journey from Guatemala to the Mexico-U.S. border. For eight days she lived off peppermint candies and water, hiding in luggage compartments to evade Mexican authorities.
At the U.S. gates, clutching a false birth certificate provided by smugglers, her plan derailed.
"They took me to the back, they did my fingerprints, they found out everything," Monge says, recalling her journey in an interview with ABC News. "I felt like it was the end for me."
She would spend the next month in a juvenile detention center without an immigration hearing, praying that her undocumented father would risk his own security to claim her.
"I was alone in my thoughts and in my mind about what was going to happen next," she says. "What was going to happen with my parents? Would they even know about me? Would they find out what was going on?"
Monge, who is now 19, shares a story with the 57,000 minors who have flooded through the southern border in the past nine months, a 106% increase since last year. While there is bipartisan agreement an immediate fix is necessary, Congress divides on how to address the crisis and whether to implement comprehensive immigration reform. With the president's $3.7 billion supplemental package in limbo, and the August recess fast approaching, immigrant communities in the United States grow restless over inaction.
A month after she was taken into custody, Monge's father came to claim her from the San Diego detention center. He brought her to Maryland, where he worked as a gardener, and told her to never speak of her status to anyone, to "never come out of the shadows."
"This is a secret and you're taking it to the tomb," she recalls him saying. "To everybody you are a resident or a U.S. citizen."
The flow of unaccompanied children has been a trickle that just recently became a wave. Monge left Guatemala eight years ago for the same reasons children are leaving today – to flee violence and poverty and to reunite with her family.
Immigration expert Marie Price calls it a calculated risk. "The threat is immediate" if individuals stay in these countries, says Price, former director of Latin American studies at George Washington University. "People do get killed, whereas you have a shot of running the gauntlet and getting through Mexico to the United States."
While concentrated in the U.S., unaccompanied minors also seek asylum in countries like Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize, which have documented a 435% increase in asylum application in recent years, according to a U.N. report.
Monge quickly learned English, attended public school in Maryland and "understood that I needed to accustom to this country and I needed to Americanize as fast as possible."
When she was 15, she received legal status under Homeland Security's deferred action for childhood arrival plan (DACA). Since 2012, more than 600,000 children have received legal status under the controversial statute.
Congress' inability to agree on legislation has consequences for tens of thousands of families, and poignant consequences for Monge. Her parents grew tired of waiting for reform and decided to leave the country. They were tired, she says, of living in constant fear of arrest and deportation.
"I'm going to be left alone again," she says through tears. For the second time in her short life, she says, she feels abandoned, trapped on the wrong side of a border that's divided her family.
Monge recently graduated from high school and plans to attend community college in the fall. But even once in the U.S., her journey has not been easy.
"Some days we didn't have food in our house. We had nothing," she says. She works two jobs back to back. "I'm always trying to save money. Everything I wear, everything I have was given to me."
But despite the journey, the detention center and the life in the shadows, she doesn't hesitate to say it was all worth it.
"I was in such a small town and now this country is like a world," she says, dreaming of one day working at the United Nations. "It opens your eyes. It opens your mind."
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- After weeks of negotiations, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees announced a deal Monday that provides at least $15 billion to help address the healthcare issues at the embattled Department of Veterans Administration.
“Funding for veterans’ needs must be considered a cost of war and appropriated as emergency spending. Planes and tanks and guns are a cost of war, so is taking care of the men and women who use those weapons and who fight our battles,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said.
“We have a VA that is in crisis today. This agreement will go a long way to helping resolve the crisis that exists out there today. Helping to get veterans off waiting lists is extremely important and this bill does that,” Rep. Jeff Sanders, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said.
The deal provides for $10 billion, which is considered “mandatory emergency money,” to contract care outside of the VA system. An additional $5 billion, which is all offset within the VA, is allotted to hiring new doctors, nurses and clinicians within the VA system. The bill also allows veterans living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility to obtain care outside the VA network.
Some Republicans might object to the measure because it does not include as many offsets to pay for the funding, but Miller remained optimistic that he will be able to convince enough House Republicans to back the measure.
“I come from a sales background before I came to Congress, and I think I can do an adequate job,” Miller said. “As we go through the process, there will be an educational process that will have to take place. Obviously some of our members will need a little more educating than others.”
The chairmen hope to have the bill passed by the end of the week. The conference committee will still need to approve the bill before it heads to the House and Senate for a full vote.
“It is absolutely imperative that we get this bill done, and we get it done now before the August break,” Sanders said.
Passing the VA reform bill is part of a long to-do list that Congress has to complete before it heads into a five week recess, along with providing funding for highway projects and President Obama’s emergency spending request to deal with the influx of unaccompanied minors streaming across the U.S. Texas border.
“The United States Congress today in my view is a dysfunctional institution,” Sanders said. “There are major issue after major issue where virtually nothing is happening when important legislation needs to be happening.”