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POLL: President Obama Rated Poorly on Mideast Conflict


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(NEW YORK) -- President Barack Obama falls short of majority approval for his handling of two of the world’s prime hotspots in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, with an especially weak rating for his work on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Just 39 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip, while more than half, 52 percent, disapprove. The president does better for his response to the downed Malaysian Airlines jetliner in Ukraine; 46 percent approve -- but virtually as many, 43 percent, disapprove.

[See PDF with full results here.]

The United States has realized some progress in Ukraine, where European nations this week agreed to join the U.S. in imposing sanctions on Russia. The administration continues to struggle in the Middle East, where U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire thus far have failed.

Obama’s approval rating for handling international affairs overall, at 46 percent, is up by 5 percentage points from his career low last month. But 50 percent still disapprove, unchanged. And the number who strongly approve of Obama’s work on foreign affairs has hit an all-time low, 16 percent. Thirty-six percent strongly disapprove; that gap is the largest of his presidency.

There’s a similar, 19-point gap in strong sentiment on Obama’s handling of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians -- 14 percent approve strongly, while 33 percent strongly disapprove. The division on the Ukraine incident is less sharp, but still 9 points net negative in strength of sentiment.

Partisanship is a key driver of these views: Among Democrats, 77, 72 and 65 percent approve, respectively, of Obama’s handling of international affairs, the Ukraine situation and the conflict in Gaza and Israel. Among Republicans, those numbers plummet to 13, 20 and 18 percent.

As often is the case, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that the balance is tilted by independents: Just 37 percent approve of Obama’s work on international affairs overall, 41 percent on the Ukraine incident and 31 percent on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Obama’s rating for handling the situation involving Israel and the Palestinians is worse than four such measures for his predecessor, George W. Bush, ranging from a high of 59 percent approval in 2002 to a low of 46 percent in 2003, amid growing doubts about the war in Iraq.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cell phone July 23-27, 2014, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,026 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points. The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y.

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House GOP Offering a Fraction of What Obama Asks to Fix Border Crisis


John Moore/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans are offering a relative pittance of what President Obama is asking to help shelter and deport tens of thousands of Central American children who crossed the border into Texas.

While the president said $3.7 billion is needed, the GOP is only willing to ante up $659 million, which is even less than half of what House lawmakers proposed last week.

The Republican plan also includes a provision untenable to most Democrats: it would do away with an amendment in a 2008 law that protects Central American migrants from immediate deportation if stopped by Border Patrol agents.

There is also resistance within the GOP from those on the far right who don't want to provide any emergency funding at all.

Even if a House bill does pass, with a vote likely scheduled for Thursday, there's virtually no chance of it getting approved by the Senate.

With Congress heading out of town after that for a five-week recess, any emergency funding package is probably dead through the end of the year with lawmakers focusing their efforts on the midterm elections.

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Five Things to Know About the New VA Secretary


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.

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Boulder, Colo. Ordered to Stop Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses


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.

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How the Tea Party Started Impeachment Talk and Democrats Co-Opted It


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.

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The Mystery of the Presidential Golf Ball


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Looks like President Obama's back swing might need a little work.

A customized golf ball was reportedly found in the woods off the first hole at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

The ball had "Titleist 44" printed on one side and "POTUS" on the other.

Instagram user "larrydoh" claimed to have found the ball while playing a round of golf at Congressional Country Club over the weekend, writing "Looks like he's off line again" in his post Sunday.

Congressional Country Club was unable to verify whether the president plays with such a golf ball, and Titleist did not respond to a request for comment.

However, the presidential golf ball very well may belong to Obama — as he was golfing at Congressional over the weekend.

President Obama played a round of golf Saturday with Mike Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, co-hosts of ESPN’s "Pardon the Interruption."

And on the first hole, who wouldn't let POTUS take a mulligan?

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Chicago Mayor Says 'Kill Switch' on Cell Phones Could Decrease Theft


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.

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Rand Paul, Cory Booker Tease Each Other on Making DC 'Hot' List


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.

In response, Booker, 45, noted that he and Paul, 51, were added out of "pity" instead of based on looks.

Other lawmakers who made the list included Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.;  Donna Edwards, D-Md.; Tony Cardenas, D-Calif.; Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla.; and Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio.

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Senate Confirms Robert McDonald as VA Secretary


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.

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Boehner Shoots Down Impeachment Talk, Blasts Dems


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.”

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Americans Split over Crisis in Gaza


Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A plurality of Americans believes that the militant group Hamas is to blame for the violence that has erupted in Gaza for the past three weeks.

A Pew Research poll release Monday found that 40 percent of respondents fault Hamas while 19 percent says Israel spurred the attacks.

Meanwhile, 14 percent say both sides are to blame while 28 percent don't know who was responsible for violence.

However, when broken down by political affiliation, the differences are starker.

Sixty percent who identify themselves as Republicans blame Hamas while 13 percent hold Israel responsible.

On the Democratic side, 29 percent says Hamas brought the violence in Gaza on themselves but 26 percent contend that it was Israel who is the aggressor.

Meanwhile, younger respondents to the Pew poll are more inclined to blame Israel than those who are older.

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The Romneys Took a Summer Vacation and It Was Amazing


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.”

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Gay Marriage: One Step Closer to the Supreme Court? Why Virginia Matters


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.

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What's Changed 10 Years After Obama's DNC Speech?


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.

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Why a Frustrated Democrat Wants a Swimming Pool in Darrell Issa's Committee Room


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."

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