ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The White House says the president’s strategy against ISIS is working, despite the fact that ISIS is in control of much of Syria and has gained control of the capital city of Iraq’s largest province.
"We are in the degrade portion of this operation,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Thursday’s press briefing, pushing back against those who are calling for an overhaul of the current strategy and drawing a hard line against the consideration of a large-scale military deployment.
“The president is not going to be in a position where he's going to consider a large-scale U.S. military deployment,” Earnest added. “And for those who are calling on a change in strategy, I would encourage them to be specific.”
Instead of overhauling current strategy, Earnest told ABC News' Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl that that President Obama and his national security team are looking for ways to apply strategies that have worked in other places -- using Kobani and Tikrit as examples of success -- to areas where the United States is experiencing setbacks.
“What's under consideration is how can we learn from those situations where we have had success and made progress and how can we apply those lessons to this area where we have experienced a setback,” Earnest told Karl.
Though Earnest said the White House is “deeply concerned” about the situation in Palmyra, the administration is not changing its current strategy in Syria.
“Until we're able to build up local forces on the ground in Syria who can take the fight to ISIL in their own country, you know, this is going to continue to be a difficult challenge, and one that is not going to be solved overnight, but rather, one that will require a long-term commitment,” he said.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- It was a historic first at the White House, as Press Secretary Josh Earnest took a question from a Cuban reporter in Thursday’s press briefing.
“Welcome to the United States and to the White House,” Earnest told a group of visiting Cuban journalists before taking a question from a reporter who identified her affiliation with Cuba’s government-run national television network.
“First, do you think that it's possible to see a scenario in which we will open embassies in Havana and Washington? In that future scenario, is the administration committed to be more respectful of the Vienna Convention towards the behavior of the American diplomats in Havana?” the reporter asked Earnest.
After affirming hopes that the United States and Cuba will re-open embassies in each respective country, Earnest said it’s a priority that the two countries reach an agreement that will allow U.S. diplomats to do in Cuba what they “do in countries around the world, which is to not just engage the leaders of the government, but also to engage the people.”
Diplomatic movement within Cuba has been a sticking point in the ongoing negotiations to restore full diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Earnest also used the exchange as an opportunity to pointedly voice concerns about Cuba’s human rights record.
“We continue to have significant concerns about the way that the Cuban government all too often fails to respect the basic universal human rights that we hold so dear in this country,” he said. “That there are too many Cuban political activists, Cuban journalists, who see their freedom of speech, their freedom of assembly, their freedom of expression trampled by the Cuban government. That continues to be a source of significant concern, not just on the part of the president of the United States, but by a lot of Americans.”
Asked about the likelihood of a presidential visit to Cuba, Earnest said there’s one person in particular who is eager to for the president to make a visit to the island country in the near future: President Obama himself.
“I know that he would relish the opportunity to visit the island of Cuba, and Havana in particular,” Earnest said.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine says his officers are receiving potty training (get it?) after three separate incidents this year when officers left firearms unattended in the Capitol’s public restrooms.
“We are now providing additional training on what to do when you have to go to the bathroom,” Dine told lawmakers during a hearing on Wednesday.
Dine said a first-time offender would be suspended for five days under current policy for leaving a weapon unattended, but he is considering toughening the penalty to 30 days or even potential termination for a first offense because of the seriousness a single error can carry.
“There are no excuses for these mistakes,” he stressed.
The chief appeared before the House Committee on Administration to discuss a number of troubling issues that have plagued his police force in the past year, including the widely publicized gyrocopter landing on the Capitol lawn on April 15.
Dine defended his officers’ actions during that event, telling lawmakers that his agency had little heads-up of the possibility Douglas Hughes - the pilot who was indicted Wednesday on six counts related to the incident - might be heading to the Capitol on his helicopter-like aircraft.
“I think the officers acted properly, heroically, swiftly and efficiently," Dine said.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Senate narrowly advanced a bill that would give President Obama the “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade deals with foreign partners.
Sixty votes were needed to move forward with the measure, and the Senate voted 62 to 38 in favor of invoking cloture -- setting up a vote on final passage for this week before the Senate leaves for Memorial Day recess.
The vote was a squeaker, going down to the wire with many observers unsure how a group of senators, led by Sens. Maria Cantwell, R-Washington, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, threatening to vote against advancing the measure if a vote was not held on the Export-Import bank.
With Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, draping his arms over the South Carolinian's shoulder, Graham and Cantwell were at the center of intense negotiations on the Senate floor with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who eventually assured the senators he would allow a vote on the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank despite personally opposing the measure. After nearly thirty minutes of huddling, Graham and Cantwell voted in favor of invoking cloture on the trade bill, opening the floodgates for other senators to advance the measure.
Many Senate Democrats, who normally side with the White House on its legislative agenda, opposed the measure over concerns about a lack of amendments and secrecy surrounding the bill.
“We’re going to shut down debate on the first full day of consideration?” Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said ahead of the vote. “We’re not being unreasonable. We’re playing this straight. We’re simply asking for the Senate to debate this legislation.”
Before the vote, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, offered votes on nine amendments to the measure, but Brown objected, saying it didn’t reflect a thorough amendment process.
If the Senate failed to advance the bill, it would have sent a brutal blow to the White House. Last week, Senate Democrats defeated the first effort to move forward with the legislation.
“What we just witnessed here is Democratic senators shutting down debate on the top economic priority of the Democratic president of the United States,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at the time.
Obama acquired some unlikely allies in his push for obtaining negotiating authority for trade deals. McConnell was one of the pivotal lawmakers advocating in favor of the president’s plan. But the debate has put the president at odds with some of his top Democratic supporters, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who engaged in a back and forth battle with the president over the deal.
iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — A State Department employee has been arrested and charged with computer hacking, cyber-stalking and extorting college-aged women in what authorities say was a scheme to gather sexually explicit material.
Michael C. Ford, a State Department employee who has worked out of the U.S. Embassy in London since 2009, is accused of using government computers there to conduct the alleged crimes. He was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday and is scheduled to appear in a federal court later Thursday.
Authorities said investigators found a spreadsheet on Ford’s work computer that appeared to summarize criminal activity that included a list of approximately 250 e-mail addresses he may have used to target the women.
A criminal complaint filed in Atlanta's federal court contains an affidavit from a diplomatic security agent that details the emails found after searching Ford’s computer records. It alleges that, in early 2015, Ford “apparently hacked into and stole compromising photographs from online accounts belonging to an 18-year-old Kentucky woman.” He then sent her threatening emails demanding she sent him more photographs and video of other “girls” and “sexy girls” who were undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, according to the court papers.
He allegedly would threaten to send the compromising photos to acquaintances of his targets or make them public in other ways if the targets did not comply.
The affidavit quotes emails recovered from Ford’s accounts. “Finally, I found you! What do you think? Nice a**!,” his first email to one victim allegedly read. When the woman responded by asking where he got the photos, according to the court documents, he answered: “I’m a wizard, I have lots. Do you like it? :).” He then allegedly asked, “Can I text the picture to [her acquaintance's phone number] or maybe email it to [other individuals].”
When the woman threatened to tell the police, according to the documents, he responded: “I’ve hacked nothing. You threaten me again and I send it out. Would you like that.”
The affidavit adds that when the woman begged him to leave her alone he responded yet again, demanding his terms. “I want you to video girls in the changing room [of her gym]. If you don’t, I send your details and picture to everyone. What do you say? Looks like you’ve made up your mind. Get ready for my email and post to go out tomorrow morning. Enjoy!”
Based on the totality of the information recovered from Ford's computer, the diplomatic security investigator said in the documents that he believes "Ford may be targeting college-aged women throughout the U.S."
The federal charges also state that at one point a man with the same name and Social Security number was arrested in connection with “'peeping-Tom'-like” offenses, without offering additional details.
The State Department declined to comment on Ford or the case, noting the pending charges and citing department policy.
ABC News reached out to Ford’s lawyers for comment but they were not immediately available.
JP Yim/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Like so many job seekers, Hillary Clinton, has posted her resume to LinkedIn, the social media site that helps professionals connect and find work.
She included her education (Wellesley College and Yale Law School), the books she’s published, as well as a long list of the various positions she's held throughout her career -- going all the way back to her days as a staff lawyer for the Child Defense Fund and an attorney for Rose Law Firm in Arkansas during 1970’s.
She even lists her current position: “2016 Presidential Candidate.”
But there's at least one thing missing from Clinton's extensive resume: Her first — and failed — attempt at the same job she’s seeking now.
Clinton left off her roughly year-and-a-half long stint as a presidential candidate from 2007 to 2008.
In addition, Clinton appears to have made at least one error. She is listed as being a First Lady from 1993 to 2000. Clinton actually held the role until January 2001.
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — It’s official: Donald Trump is moving to Pennsylvania Avenue.
No, not to the most famous address in America, but just down the street, where the real estate mogul turned reality TV star is set to open a luxury hotel in the Old Post Office space.
But the sign that reads “Coming 2016” and below in big letters “Trump” over the construction site may turn out to be a double entendre, according to The Donald.
We asked Trump what the chances are that he'll make a bid for the White House in 2016 (he decided against one in 2012).
"Very good -- very strong,” he told Power Players during a recent interview. “I'm looking at it very, very seriously.”
What's more, Trump suggested he may have a fair shot.
“We're getting great poll numbers. New Hampshire just came out with a very strong poll,” he said. “And nobody thinks that I'm running…when you get really good, you beat almost everybody in the poll numbers.”
He explained, “Politicians are all talk, no action. They do a terrible job; a tremendous disservice to the country. And I know them better than anybody, and I love them — I think they're great. It's easy to make money with politicians. But, the fact is that it's all talk and no action…and the country's going to hell.
“So the chances are very, very good and I'll be announcing something in June and you will be surprised,” he added.
Trump was not only in town to check in on the transformation of the Old Post Office Building into a Trump International Hotel, but to participate in an event benefiting the caregivers of veterans through an organization founded by Elizabeth Dole.
For more of the interview with Trump, including whether he would have invaded Iraq if he had been president, and what he thinks of his likely opponents’ answers to the question, watch this episode of Power Players.
Public Domain(WASHINGTON) — But really, who is Lincoln Chafee?
If you haven’t heard of former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, you’re probably not alone. The little-known Republican turned Independent turned Democrat recently announced that he might run for president, and he’s already making headlines.
Chafee was elected as mayor of Warwick, Rhode Island, in 1992 and re-elected three times. He served a term in the U.S. Senate before being elected governor in 2010. While in the Senate, he was famously the only Republican to vote against the war in Iraq. Now, he may be the only Democrat already taking swipes at 2016 democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. He says Clinton’s vote in the Senate authorizing the Iraq war “disqualifies” her from becoming president.
Could this relatively unknown underdog from a tiny state gain traction as an anti-war candidate? As he continues to explore a run for the White House, ABC News spoke with Chafee this week. Here’s what he told us, edited for length: Are you running for president?
“I hope to make an announcement before mid-June and certainly I am leaning very heavily in that direction.” Tell us about your decision back in 2002 to vote against the war?
“With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had a moment in time there before Sept. 11 where we really were looking at a peaceful world. So when Sept. 11 occurred, I thought we have to make really good decisions now and not jeopardize this possibility of handing to our children a peaceful world. So when they started talking about going into war in Iraq, I had my concerns about the reasons and were they accurate about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction?"
"I went to the CIA and asked them for a full briefing, and what I learned was there was really no intelligence that supported the rush to war based on weapons of mass destruction. So, when you hear these candidates talk about basing their decisions on faulty intelligence that is completely inaccurate. There was never any intelligence at all, never mind faulty intelligence. It was all rhetoric about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” Hillary Clinton has said her vote was a mistake. Aren’t people allowed to make mistakes?
“The magnitude of this mistake is just so enormous. Not only in the 4,000 dead Americans -- over 4,000 dead Americans -- but now it is going to cost us $6 trillion. And it’s a loss of American credibility. And the ramifications that we live with today with ISIS: what’s happening in Syria, what’s happening in Yemen, what’s happening in Libya, what’s happening in Nigeria with Boko Haram. The chaos that has spread through the region based on this mistake. Absolutely in my view it is a disqualifier to be president.” What disqualifies her from being president — specifically?
“The line is the moment in American history where we had to make good decisions and those of us that were saying, 'Let's let the inspectors do their work in Iraq, let’s go slowly,' were on the right side. Those that rushed to war were on the wrong side and we are paying for that mistake not only, sadly, with lost American lives, but in so many ways. It was a huge, huge mistake. I would argue one of the biggest in American history.” You recently said that your “high ethical standards” differentiated you from Clinton, too. What did you mean by that?
“It’s a long list of ethical misjudgments on behalf of Mrs. Clinton starting back from her time as First Lady and the Rose Law Firm records that were lost and then found. It just seems to never stop. Now, as Secretary of State, the email servers and the Clinton Foundation ... it is just a long litany of ethical missteps in my view. And the American people support what I am saying. All of the polls show that there is a lack of trust with Secretary Clinton.” You have also cited a New York Times op-ed talking about the people Secretary Clinton might theoretically chose as advisers. Do you see that as another place you differentiate yourself from her?
“Absolutely. Ever since I announced I was exploring a run for president I have talked about her hawkish approach to the world ... based on that same unilateralism, muscular approach that I have compared to the 'neocons.' Yes, it a huge a difference between her and I and our approach to the world. Her approach to Iran as to the secretary of state, her approach to Syria, Libya, Russia, Venezuela, it is all very close to the 'neocon' approach: muscular, unilateral. I don’t think that is in our long-term best interest. We need a new approach.” How would you characterize your approach?
“It is strong alliances and building trust and credibility with other nations around the world.” You have also accused her of flip-flopping -- what issues do you think she has flip-flopped on?
“Well certainly, immigration. She is getting a lot of credit for coming out in favor of the Dream Act and the path to citizenship for undocumented Americans. But there was a bill when we were both in the Senate, introduced by John McCain from Arizona and Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts: ‘The McCain-Kennedy Path to Citizenship.’ There were only nine of us in the Senate that then signed on as co-sponsors and I am one of the nine. I sure would have liked to have had her help back then in 2005. Certainly, gay marriage. I have been an early supporter, a consistent supporter of marriage equality. So, whether it is flip-flop or coming late to the issue, I think it’s very similar.” You were a Republican, then an Independent, then a Democrat, so why should Democrats across the country trust you?
“That’s a fair questions and I would answer: look at my record. It has been very, very consistent whether it is on fiscal responsibility, or an approach to the environment, or an approach to civil liberties, or an approach to building our middle class. I have a very, very consistent record on all of these issues. It used to be there was a home in the Republican Party for those philosophies ... but there became less of an opportunity for those of us with those views to stay in the Republican Party. We were primaried — as I was — because of those views, and so I became an Independent and I never changed my views, and then I became a Democrat where I believe is my home and the best fit for those issues.” Even you would have to admit that you’re starting off with a pretty big deficit in name recognition across the country -- how will you break through?
“It’s a long path to the nomination. It is a long path between here in May until Iowa and New Hampshire when the primaries start and the caucuses start. I think my issues align with the Democratic Party and we will be debating those issues. We know that those that are going to be voting in the primaries and the caucuses are going to be listening. I think they are going to like the answers to the questions they ask when I give them.” What is the one thing you would want every voter to know about you?
“My judgment. I think that’s what people want from their leader, especially in times of high pressure. Americans can look at my record: making decisions and showing good judgment in times of high pressure over and over again, and making the right call.”
ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, wrapped up his so-called "filibuster" over the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of Americans' phone records just before midnight Thursday.
Paul's talk-a-thon on the Senate floor lasted exactly 10 and a half hours.
"My voice is rapidly leaving, my bedtime has long since passed," Paul said as he began to wrap up his speech. "The bulk collection must end, and I think we have the votes to do it now."
"Thank you for staying and not throwing things. We will try not to do this but every few years," he said. "I want to thank the American people for considering the arguments and hopefully for helping us push this towards a reform where we all respect the Fourth Amendment and the Bill of Rights all again. Thank you Mr. President, and I relinquish the floor."
Armed with binders full of material, Paul started his lengthy speech opposing the PATRIOT Act at 1:18 p.m. Wednesday.
“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer. That time is now, and I will not let the PATRIOT Act, the most un-patriotic of acts, go unchallenged," Paul said as he started his speech on the Senate floor. "The bulk collection of all Americans' phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
"The people don't want the bulk collection of their records, and if we were listening, we would hear that," Paul said.
Provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including Section 215, which authorizes the NSA's controversial bulk collection of phone records, is set to expire on June 1. Paul, known for his libertarian leanings, has said he does not want the program to be reauthorized.
Over the course of his filibuster, Paul was joined by several of his Senate colleagues, most notably including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is running against Paul in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Cruz, who partook in Paul’s 2013 filibuster against drones and waged a filibuster of his own against Obamacare in 2013, compared the moment to the “Blues Brothers”
“Standing here with the senator from Kentucky, with the Senator from Utah at 11:40 p.m., I’m reminded of the movie the Blues Brothers, saying “Jake we gotta get the band back together again,” Cruz said. “I’m reminded of previous evenings standing here with this same band of brothers in the wee hours of the morning.”
Cruz acknowledged he and Paul “don’t agree entirely on this issue,” but said they are both determined to ensure the government's bulk collection of metadata ends. The two men differ because Cruz supports the House-passed USA Freedom Act, which Paul opposes.
Before speaking on the Senate floor, Cruz presided over the Senate, a task that falls to the newest members of the Senate. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, then took over duties for presiding over the Senate, but he was not expected to join in on the filibuster.
Rubio stands in stark contrast to Cruz and Paul. The Florida senator would like to reauthorize the controversial NSA spying program, a position supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Richard Burr, R-Florida, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But Cruz argued that extending the PATRIOT Act will not pass the Senate, all while Rubio presided over the Senate.
"I address my friends in the Republican Party who would prefer to reauthorize the Patriot act. Even if that’s their preference, it is abundantly, abundantly clear that a clean reauthorization of the Patriot act ain’t passing this body, and it certainly ain't passing the House of Representatives," Cruz said.
Over the course of his filibuster, Paul has been joined by more Democrats than Republicans. Only three Republican senators — Sens. Cruz, Steve Daines and Mike Lee - delivered speeches alongside Paul compared to seven Democratic senators — Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Maria Cantwell, Chris Coons, Martin Heinrich, Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, and Ron Wyden — participated in the filibuster.
Paul's family even extended their support. Paul's father, Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2012, and his mother posed for a photo in front of a television during Paul's multi-hour talk-a-thon.
Paul's speech could become a flash-point in the 2016 campaign, with candidates such as Sen. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and potential candidates Chris Christie and Lindsey Graham advocating for the extension of the PATRIOT Act.
In 2013, Paul famously filibustered for nearly 13 hours against drone strikes on U.S. citizens on foreign soil.
Paul's office labeled Wednesday's endeavor as a "filibuster," but many have argued it technically is only a really long speech, since it is not blocking or delaying action on a bill.
The longest Senate floor speech in Senate history took place in 1957 when Sen. Strom Thurmond spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the 1957 civil rights bill. Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2013 speech over health care that led to the government shutdown was the fourth-longest filibuster ever, coming in at 21 hours and 19 minutes.
Paul’s 2013 filibuster over drones was the 10th longest speech, clocking in at 12 hours and 52 minutes.
Prior to taking the Senate floor on Wednesday, Paul recorded a video explaining why he decided to filibuster the PATRIOT Act.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- They’re a rare breed of fighter pilots: “aces,” those who have shot down five or more hostile aircraft in combat. And on Wednesday, those still living received the nation’s highest civilian honor -- the Congressional Gold Medal.
“We are proud to honor the American fighter aces with a Congressional Gold Medal as an expression of our boundless gratitude and deep respect,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said during a ceremony at the Capitol Visitors Center Wednesday.
The head of the American Fighter Aces, Charles “Chick” Cleveland, accepted the award on behalf of his fellow aces. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said there were about three dozen in attendance.
Wednesday's honor "celebrates not just what they did, but how they did it -- with daring and devotion, to live what Teddy Roosevelt would call, 'the strenuous life,'" Boehner said.
All aces are veterans of World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Their youngest member is a 72, while the oldest is 104, according to Cleveland.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Business and reality television mogul, Donald Trump, who is perhaps most famous for uttering the words “you’re fired,” had a few words for some of the candidates he may face should he run for president in 2016.
Speaking with ABC News from inside the Old Post Office Building in Washington, DC -- soon-to-be the site of a luxury downtown Trump International Hotel -- we asked Trump to tell us the first thing that came to mind about a few big names.
Here’s what we learned: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
“I call him the reluctant warrior -- and perhaps warrior is not a good word, because I am not sure he's a warrior.”
“I don't understand this man – he’s stumbling like he's not even a smart person.”
“Honestly he doesn't look happy, he doesn't want to be doing what he's doing – I don't know is the family forcing him to do it?”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio
“I was so disappointed when I looked at his answer on Iraq. … It was such a stupid answer, and such a foolish answer, and he's got a lot of problems.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
“I like him very much, he’s a good guy.”
“Wisconsin, as you know, is piling on debt after debt – and that's going to be I think a big problem for him.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
“I know him very well he's a friend of mine.”
“I don't know if he's running, but he certainly has a lot of difficulties with what's going on in New Jersey and with the Bridgegate and other things.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
“What she's done with emails is unbelievable.”
“I think the book, the cash, is a big problem for her -- I think it's going to end up being a big problem. I think she's got some difficulties.”
The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama told the US Coast Guard Academy class of 2015 that, with the planet getting warmer and the world’s glaciers melting and pouring new water into the seas, “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country. And so we need to act -- and we need to act now.”
Obama said climate change is already happening and cited some current global crises as examples, linking drought and its subsequent food shortages to the unrest in Syria and to the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria. And he said those who are “denying it or refusing to deal with it” are endangering US national security.
“There are still some folks back in Washington who refuse to admit that climate change is real,” Obama said. “But the best scientists in the world know the climate change is happening … the science is indisputable,” he said, adding that US intelligence agencies, military and homeland security officials all know it’s happening as well.
Obama also said that just because there is a focus on fighting the “grave threat of terrorism” doesn’t mean that the US can ignore the pearl of climate change and he said he refuses to accept a military budget that is affected by sequestration.
And part of the threat includes a cost in economic terms, he said, citing devastation caused by flooding and storm surges of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“It’s estimated that a further increase in sea level of one foot by the end of this century could cost our nation $200 billion,” he said.
Looking forward, Obama extolled the virtues of clean energy solutions – saying the military is well on its way to converting much of its infrastructure to green or clean energies.
“It will require sacrifice, and the politics will be tough. But there is no other way. … Every nation must do its part,” he said. “Politicians who say they care about military readiness ought to care about this, as well … because when the seas rise and storms come, we all have to be ready,” he said.
Obama shook hands and posed for photos with the 218 graduates as they were handed their diplomas and commissions. This was the 134th commencement at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Both criticism and praise were bipartisan Wednesday in a Senate hearing over the Obama administration’s normalizing of relations with Cuba, as a new round of diplomatic discussions between senior officials from both countries is set to begin Thursday.
In front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were State Department counselor Thomas Shannon Jr. and Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who has taken the lead role for the U.S. since the historic negotiations kicked off on Dec. 17.
The hearing touched on everything from reported political detentions by the Castro regime since negotiations began, to Airbnb, a website where users can post private rental accommodations, used by many Cubans recently.
GOP 2016 presidential contender Sen. Marco Rubio, who has hardly been shy in his opposition to the negotiations, said he was mainly opposed to the idea that any tourist dollars from Americans who gain the ability to visit would go to the Cuban military.
"In essence, when you travel to Cuba and stay in one of these hotels, not only are you putting money in the hands of the Cuban government, you're trafficking in stolen goods,” Rubio said. “Because that is a property that belonged to a private holder, some of whom are American citizens, who were never compensated for it."
But Jacobson pushed back by saying that more options have opened up in recent months, included Airbnb postings that would involve an exchange of money primarily between Cuban and American citizens.
“We are aware that there will be some financial benefit to the Cuban government by the larger number of Americans going to Cuba,” Jacobson said. “The benefit to the Cuban people of this larger number of Americans going far outweighs the increased economic benefit that may accrue to the Cuban government.”
Rubio, a son of Cuban immigrants, then suggested that Americans choosing to travel to Cuba should be restricted from staying in government-owned hotels, a comment that elicited push-back from colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
“Are we going to start telling people what hotels to stay in in China and Russia?” asked Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, who acknowledged Airbnb was a company that originated in her own district in San Francisco. “Come on, we don't do that. We're not an authoritative country.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, went so far as to pull out his own iPad to show off the surge of Airbnb postings inside Cuba.
“If you just scroll down, they have now more than 2,000 listings in Cuba,” Flake said. “I've often said that if somebody is going to limit my travel, it should be Communists, that's what they do. But not our government.”
Democratic Senator and son of Cuban immigrants Bob Menendez was more pointed in his criticism, raising concerns about politically motivated arrests reported in the country since the December deal.
“Human rights abuses continue unabated. With more than 1,600 cases of arbitrary political arrests this year alone,” said Menendez, D-N.J. “Only five months into the year. So, President Obama may have outstretched his hand, but the Castros still have their fists real tight.”
Jacobson, however, said the effects of the agreement were already causing a healthy shift among Cuban citizens, which she maintained ought to transfer upwards into the government.
“While we decry the detentions of the activists, we know there are Cubans who are benefiting from this new policy in their independent businesses and in their belief that they are going to prosper and have a better life because of engagement with the U.S.,” Jacobson said.
Shannon asked lawmakers to approach the deal in a broader capacity as to how it could potentially effect America’s influence throughout the Western hemisphere.
“We are at a moment of strategic momentum,” Shannon said. “If we can show that through our dialogue we can present a consolidated face to the rest of the world, we will have done something remarkable.”
Jacobson also offered up a brief preview ahead of this week’s talks.
“In terms of what we will talk about tomorrow, it's really getting the rest of the agreement for an embassy that operates similar to the way we operate in some other countries," she said.
The U.S. designation of Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism" is set to expire May 29.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — After 28 days of not taking questions from the press, Hillary Clinton finally did on Tuesday — even answering a question about not answering questions! — and the spectacle that ensued overshadowed any answer she actually gave.
This is what it looked like inside the bike shop in Cedar Falls, Iowa, when Clinton walked over to her (pent up) press corps for the first time in four weeks.
Two weeks ago, after Clinton ignored the media at a campaign event on immigration, The New York Times launched a feature titled "Questions for Hillary" — which posed hypothetical questions they would have asked Clinton if they had the chance. Other media outlets, including ABC News, also began to point out Clinton's limited engagement with the press, and soon the Washington Post was featuring a countdown clock on its website to show the exact number of minutes since she had answered a reporter's question.
Not surprisingly, Clinton's potential opponents quickly took notice too – and railed against her for, what Jeb Bush described as, staying in a "protective bubble."