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President Obama Offers Legal Status to Millions of Undocumented Immigrants

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Thursday night, President Obama announced a sweeping executive action intended to secure the border while providing relief for an estimated 4.1 million undocumented family members of U.S. citizens and about 300,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

"Today, our immigration system is broken and everybody knows it," the president said from the East Room of the White House. "Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility and give their kids a better future?

"There are actions I have the legal authority to take as president -- the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me," Obama boldly claimed, "that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just."

The action will be finalized Friday with the signing of a presidential memorandum at a rally in Las Vegas. It will fulfill, at least in part, the promise Obama first made in 2008 as a candidate to lift the threat of deportation from millions of people living in the U.S. illegally.

The move means nearly half the nation's undocumented immigrants -- roughly 5 million people -- will be eligible for temporary legal status and work permits.

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The announcement set off celebrations on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and at watch parties organized by immigrant advocacy groups all around the country. It was also unleashed a flurry of protests from critics who have asserted Obama is exceeding his constitutional authority and setting a dangerous new precedent.

The White House said the president's primary focus, in light of limitations on his executive power, is on keeping families united. The biggest group that will benefit is an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and who have children that were born here as American citizens.

"Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable," Obama said. But, "let’s be honest -- tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn't realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn't being straight with you.

"That’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who's working hard to provide for her kids. We'll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day," he said. "After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours."

Obama's order will also extend legal status to a larger universe of so-called Dreamers, who first came to the U.S. illegally as children and either are attending school, have graduated high school or have served in the military. As many as 270,000 more undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for legal status under the program, which Obama first unveiled in 2012, administration officials said.

All immigrant applicants must have clean criminal records, provide their biometric information and pay a fee of around $500, officials said. The legal status will only last three years but can be renewed. The president's executive action does not create a pathway to citizenship or allow access to federal health care benefits, he is claiming.

The application process won't begin until the spring of 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to deportation relief, Obama has also directed that immigration enforcement agencies focus on those who have committed felonies and those who have crossed the border within the last year. By forgoing crackdowns on those without criminal records and who have been here longer, the White House claimed it will be able to devote more resources to border enforcement and cracking down on those who pose a threat.

"Today is an important step toward rational and humane enforcement of immigration law," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement.

Hillary Clinton sent a tweet after Obama's announcement, thanking him for taking action. She also released a statement in support of the president's remarks, saying, "I support the President’s decision to begin fixing our broken immigration system and focus finite resources on deporting felons rather than families. I was hopeful that the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in 2013 would spur the House of Representatives to act, but they refused even to advance an alternative. Their abdication of responsibility paved the way for this executive action, which follows established precedent from Presidents of both parties going back many decades. But, only Congress can finish the job by passing permanent bipartisan reform that keeps families together, treats everyone with dignity and compassion, upholds the rule of law, protects our borders and national security, and brings millions of hard-working people out of the shadows and into the formal economy so they can pay taxes and contribute to our nation’s prosperity."

Clinton's statement continued, "Our disagreements on this important issue may grow heated at times, but I am confident that people of good will and good faith can yet find common ground. We should never forget that we’re not discussing abstract statistics – we’re talking about real families with real experiences.  We’re talking about parents lying awake at night afraid of a knock on the door that could tear their families apart, people who love this country, work hard, and want nothing more than a chance to contribute to the community and build better lives for themselves and their children."

Ahead of the president's address, Republicans were sharply critical of Obama's move to circumvent Congress, some vowing to sue the administration and others warning it would spoil any attempt at bipartisan compromise over the next two years.

"Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. But that is just not how our democracy works," House Speaker John Boehner said in a short video statement posted on YouTube. "The president has said before that 'he’s not king' and he's 'not an emperor,' but he sure is acting like one. And he’s doing it a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.”

Boehner's comments referred to President Obama's previous comments that he didn't have the authority to make the moves he announced Thursday evening.

"I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not," Obama said tonight. "To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill." 

But even some congressional Democrats questioned Obama's unilateral action, expressing preference for a more permanent solution through legislation.

"It is clear the immigration system in this country is broken, and only Congress has the ability to change the law to fix it," said Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana. "I am as frustrated as anyone that Congress is not doing its job, but the President shouldn't make such significant policy changes on his own."

Said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, "I am concerned if the president's action goes too far, that number one it will set the cause back, that it will inflame our politics, get us into a kind of retribution situation with the opponents of immigration reform, and really change the subject from immigration to the president and whether he should've done what he did."

"I know the politics of this issue are tough," Obama said during his address. "But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids."

"I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers," the president continued. "I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people -- our neighbors, our classmates, our friends -- they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success."

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The Immediate (and Not So Immediate) Impacts of Obama's Immigration Announcement

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has announced Executive Action on immigration reform. Now what?

Some of the measures take effect immediately, while other reforms will take longer. Those reforms to deferred action won’t be fully implemented for six months, after applications can be accepted.

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While Obama waits and hopes, Congress will take some action that will be more comprehensive and lasting.

So when will we see what?

1. Relief For 4 Million From Fear of Deportation – Immediately.

While they can’t file their application for 6 months, those who qualify for deferred action through a son or daughter that is a U.S. citizen will feel immediate relief.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are instructed to “immediately begin identifying persons in their custody” who meet the criteria; as well as consider the new criteria for “all individuals encountered.”

So that means parents of U.S. citizen can now go about their lives free from constant fear of deportation.

For those who qualify for expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Dreamer status, those applications can be filed in 90-days.

2. President Selling His plan – Immediately.

Starting Friday, president Obama hits the road to sell his plan to the American public and put pressure on the GOP to get something passed in Congress.

He speaks at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas -- the same place he visited nearly two years ago to lay out his principles for reform. But it’s not just the everyday Americans he is trying to get on board.

“I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution,” he said in his speech. “And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”

So expect him to continue putting pressure on the GOP to get something done.

3. Advocate Groups Will Organize Sign-Ups and Seminars – This Weekend.

Almost immediately, immigration groups will begin holding information sessions to help those impacted understand what they need to do to gain deferred action, as well as who exactly will qualify.

Also, don’t expect them to slow down their efforts. While claiming success for President Obama finally acting, most groups are continuing to push for more action to include those left out and get congress to move forward.

4. New Staffing and Resources at Border – Coming Weeks.

In the coming days we should get a better picture of the new staffing and resources for the border and when exactly they go into effect.

We do know there will be a new task force formed with made up of the coast guard, customs and border protection, immigration and customs enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and immigration services.

According to a Department of Homeland Security memo, within 90 days there should be a realigning of personnel to accomplish these task forces, all while maintaining the “the surge of resources” sent to the U.S.-Mexico border during the unaccompanied minors crisis over the summer.

We can also expect to see an overall change in the priorities, as outlined by the President, for CBP and ICE.

Their first priority for deportation: those that are threats to national security, followed by those with three or more misdemeanors, and lastly those “who have been issued a final order of removal on or after January 1, 2014.”

5. Credit Card Payments for Naturalization Fee — End of 2015.

It’s not cheap to become a citizen! The cost of naturalization is about $680, but you can’t currently pay for it with a credit card, which may be why so many permanent residents never take the next step to become citizens

Come the end of 2015, you can use your credit card.

6. Adjustments to High Tech Worker Visas – It’s Not Clear.

In a memo to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson outlined steps to improve the backlog for green cards and visas for high skilled workers, but no timetable is given.

What we will see, however, is a modernization to the process. That means the Department of State and USCIS will work together more closely so temporary status doesn’t expire as quickly.

Additionally, the 2007 expansion that allows students in STEM to stay an additional 17-months, for a total of 29-months on their “optional practical training” visa could also be increased.

“I direct that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and USCIS develop regulations for notice and comment to expand the degree programs eligible for OPT and extend the time period and use of OPT for foreign STEM students and graduates, consistent with law,” the memo outlines.

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Nominee for Counterterrorism Directorship Warns of Latest Threats

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Nicholas Rasmussen, the acting director at the National Counterterrorism Center, painted a stark picture of what may lie ahead for U.S. efforts to protect the homeland from terrorists while testifying Thursday before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

In line to become the next full-time director of the counterterrorism agency, Rasmussen told lawmakers that the nation faces "broader array of threats from a greater variety of terrorist groups and individual actors than at any point since 9/11."

Thirteen years ago, al Qaeda was regarded as the top threat to launch more attacks inside the U.S. However, Rasmussen said the danger to U.S. interests at home and abroad has been expanded to include so-called "lone wolves," the Islamic State and Iran-sponsored terrorists.

In fact, he went as far as to say, "We're far more at risk, presently, of attack from an individual homegrown violent extremist who may be inspired by, but not necessarily directed by," the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen suggested that the renewal of sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Syria is being exploited by Iran in its backing of Shiite extremist groups, which are also considered a threat against the U.S.

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Administration Lowers Number of Affordable Care Act Enrollees

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Health and Human Services admitted Thursday that the actual number of people who enrolled in the Affordable Care Act between Oct. 1, 2013 and March 30, 2014 was under the 7.3 million that the Obama administration reported.

The discrepancy was first pointed out by the GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee.

HHS spokesman Ben Wakana wrote in a statement Thursday that the corrected number of enrollees is 6.7 million.

Apparently, the administration mistakenly counted dental-only plans as well that numbered about 400,000. HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the error was inadvertent and that an internal investigation is under way to discover what happened.

After the enrollment period earlier this year, the administration actually reported eight million enrollees in the Affordable Care Act, but revised the figure downwards when 700,000 people did not pay for their plans.

Republicans have renewed their battle to take apart the program they call "Obamacare," particularly after one of its architects, Jonathan Gruber, said one of the reasons the law passed was due to the "stupidity" of U.S. voters.

The White House has disavowed Gruber's remarks, saying it does not reflect the president's opinion of Americans.

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GOP Governors: Enough About Immigration Already

ABC News(BOCA RATON, Fla.) -- Republican governors huddled in Florida for their annual conference and a victory celebration to note their huge wins earlier this month during the midterm elections where they even gained seats in bright blue states, but the issue of immigration has overshadowed the party.

The Republican Governors Association conference being held this year at the posh Boca Raton Resort and Club coincides with the news of the president’s intention to announce major executive action on immigration reform and through most of the events that were open to reporters the governors were pressed over and over on the topic. One thing was clear: they are sick of the issue or at least being asked about it.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who just won re-election and is a possible 2016 presidential contender, said today it was the press and the president who were “obsessed” with the issue.

“This didn’t just come about in the last two weeks. All the media acted like this came up since the election,” Walker said, noting he believes no Republican or Democratic gubernatorial candidate even dealt with the issue that much on the campaign trail. “I would argue actually, most of the U.S. senators didn’t talk about that and yet you have fallen into the trap that the president of the United States has done to try and get you to divert your attention away from the real issues in this country.”

Walker stressed he and other governors here got elected because they are “actually talking about issues that people care about in our states.”

“You can keep asking about it, but that doesn’t change the fact... we responded to the issues people care about instead of obsessing over the things you are talking about now that aren’t even in the top 10 list of most Americans,” Walker said at a press conference with several other governors, including two other possible 2016 contenders Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Kasich, who sounded a more moderate tone over immigration at Wednesday’s events, said he hopes the president’s action is a “really small one,” adding he would tell President Obama: “Do what you feel you absolutely have to do, but you can’t go so far.”

These governors know whatever they say about immigration could put them on shaky political ground when it comes to 2016. It’s an issue Mitt Romney had to deal with in 2012 and no Republican candidate wants to have to face in a general election in 2016. GOP candidates routinely make more conservative points during the primaries, especially on the issue of immigration, in order to win the more conservative voting base. Of course, it’s not always easy to moderate in the general election as Romney’s “self-deportation” comments proved.

That’s another reason why changing the topic could be quite helpful.

On Wednesday, many of the country’s most watched governors came together for an event titled “Republican Governors: The Road Ahead” and the majority of the event focused on immigration and the president’s pending action. After almost half of the event was completely focused on the issue, it was clear the governors were getting antsy.

Jindal even tried himself to move the conversation to another topic saying to moderator, NBC’s Chuck Todd: “We’ve now spent 30 minutes talking about the president breaking the law.”

He wasn't the only governor on the stage tired of the topic. To laughs from the crowd, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told Todd: “Here’s what I’m thinking: You will probably not be invited to do a moderation for a presidential debate.”

The governors also met with donors and discussed strategy in private meetings at the pink-colored resort during the gathering. The party heads into January with 31 governorships, the most for either party in 16 years.

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Everything You Need to Know About Obama's Immigration Announcement

Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- In a rare primetime nationally televised address, President Obama Thursday night will unveil the most sweeping executive action on immigration in decades. He plans to circumvent Congress and extend legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants, boost visas for valuable high-skilled workers, and strengthen security along the Southwest border.

"Everybody agrees that our immigration system is broken, unfortunately Washington has allowed the problem to fester for too long," Obama said in a video message posted to Facebook.

Who gets relief, and who doesn’t, under Obama's plan? How will immigration enforcement change inside the country and along the border? And what will the immediate impact be on families, businesses and communities? Here's everything you need to know:

The Announcement

The president will speak live at 8 p.m. ET from the East Room of the White House. On Friday, he will travel to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas to further detail his plans and rally supporters. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will also attend, officials said. The school is the same place where Obama announced a second-term push for immigration reform in Jan. 2013.

The Action

The White House says Obama will “maximize the use of his authority" to extend temporary legal status to more than five million undocumented immigrants.

Who Gets Relief?

  • 4.1 million undocumented parents and families of U.S. citizens who have been in country more than five years with no criminal record.
  • 300,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children, so-called Dreamers, will be newly eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Current age limits for the program will be dropped, sources say.
  • 400,000 highly-skilled workers will be eligible for visas.
  • Some other smaller categories for relief will bring the number affected above five million.

Who Gets Left Out?

  • Undocumented parents of DACA recipients will not be eligible for legal status.
  • Undocumented agricultural workers will not be addressed.

Border Security

Obama will direct more resources on border security with an emphasis on deporting new arrivals. Guidance to law enforcement will be to focus on criminal aliens rather than those living quietly in the shadows with no arrest record.

The Legal Argument

The White House believes Obama's acts are effectively bullet-proof in court, backed up by the precedent of more than a dozen presidents who have used discretion in enforcement of immigration law and granted temporary legal status to thousands of immigrants on their watch. Advocates have been told the dreamer families were left out because White House believes inclusion of non-citizen families would jeopardize the legal underpinning of the plan.

The Caveats

Obama will sign his executive order Friday at the event in Las Vegas, but it will take several weeks for many of the new initiatives to roll out, people familiar with the plan say. Terms of the action will take effect in six months, giving time for congressional action to replace the order with legislation and allow advocacy groups to organize people to apply for relief.

Nothing in Obama's plan will create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and any legal status received would be temporary. Officials have said the eligible immigrants -- as under DACA -- would not be entitled to federal benefits such as Medicaid, health care subsidies, etc.

While up to as many as five million undocumented immigrants would be eligible to apply for relief under Obama’s new order, it is expected that fewer will actually apply and be approved. So bottom line: five million is the high end, but a rough estimate.

The Public View

A majority -- 52 percent -- of Americans said they would like to see Obama act unilaterally on immigration in the absence of congressional action, with 44 percent opposed, in an early September ABC News/Washington Post survey. But when asked about plans to extend legal status and work permits to undocumented immigrants now living and working in the U.S., a majority were opposed -- 50 percent saying they do not back the idea, up four percentage points from the year before.

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Ted Cruz Graduates from Dr. Seuss to Cicero on Senate Floor

US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- It seems Sen. Ted Cruz has graduated from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to the towering words of Cicero.

The Texas Republican took to the Senate floor Thursday to criticize President Obama’s expected executive action on immigration, set to be announced at 8 p.m. Thursday. But instead of using his own words, he adapted Cicero’s speech against Catiline to make his point.

“The words of Cicero, powerfully relevant 2,077 years later," Cruz said.

"When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience?" he said, substituting "President Obama" for "O Catiline" in the speech's opening. "How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end to that unbridled audacity of yours swaggering about as it does now?”

Cruz continued, appropriating features of Cicero's address to fit the specifics of the immigration debate.

"Do not the nightly guards placed on the border, do not the watches posted throughout the city, does not the alarm of the people and the union of all good men and women, does not the precaution taken of assembling the Senate in this most defensible place, do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present have any effect upon you?" he asked. "Do you not feel that your plans are detected? Do you not see that your conspiracy is already arrested and rendered powerless by the knowledge that everyone here possesses of it?"

Cruz regularly referred to notes while reading, though Cicero was said to have had the capacity to memorize his speeches.

The speech by Cicero, delivered in 63 B.C., was meant to further humiliate Catiline, apparently attempting to seize and overthrow the Roman Republic while Cicero was a consul.

Cruz's Cicero references were a giant leap from when he read Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham during a marathon filibuster in 2013. The reading was supposedly intended to entertain his kids, who were at home watching Cruz on the Senate floor.

The late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., was also known to use Cicero quotations to enhance his arguments on the Senate floor.

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The Seven Luckiest and Unluckiest Freshman Members of Congress

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It’s not every day you spot suits doing backflips in the halls of the U.S. House of Representatives. But this week, the rules were different.

The 57 new members of the 114th Congress, gathered in a Capitol committee room to draw numbers for the Congressional Office Lottery, needed all the luck they could get.

“There’s a direct correlation between the number you drew and demonstrations of something that brings luck to you,” House Building Superintendent Bill Weidemeyer told fledgling members.

Rep.-Elect Gwen Graham, D-Fla., wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

She asked her chief-of-staff’s husband, Paul Woodward, to do a lucky backflip in the aisle before she reached her hand into the box to pick a numbered button that would determine the location of her office for the next two years.

Those with the lowest numbers pick their office space first and can choose some envy-creating digs. Those with high numbers choose their office space last when only some pretty cramped rooms with views of ventilation vents are left as options.


Rep.-Elect Gwen Graham, Number: 6

Woodward’s stunt apparently worked. Graham drew pick number six.

“It was a last minute decision. We just -- the room seemed like a fun room, and Gwen was like, will you do a back flip? I’m like, ‘Sure.’” Woodward told ABC.

“I was worried about his safety,” Graham chimed in. “I can barely do a forward roll.”

She eventually selected Longworth 1213, an ancillary office building located just south of the Capitol.

Rep.-Elect Steve Knight, Number: 1

Despite his refusal to bust a move, Rep.-Elect Steve Knight, R-Calif., drew number one, netting himself a highly-coveted office in the Longworth building.

Rep.-Elect Will Hurd, Number: 18

Former CIA agent Rep.-Elect Will Hurd, R-Texas, snagged a hidden gem: Cannon 317, an office former President John F. Kennedy occupied during his time in the House.

“I think every office in these buildings has a unique history. When you think about some of the legends and characters that have walked these halls, you know, it's interesting to know our names are going to be added in that footnote,” he said.

But for the Republican congressman, utility was more important than sentimentality.

“I think as long as it has Internet connection and some desks, we'll be ready,” he said.

But he wasn’t the only one who had his eye on JFK’s office.


Rep.-Elect Debbie Dingell, Number: 40

Rep.-Elect Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who in January will replace her husband, retiring Rep. John Dingell, the U.S. House’s longest serving member, was itching to claim the JFK office.

“I am somebody that believes in rituals and traditions and has some sentimentality,” she told ABC. “But I’ll never get it.”

She was right. Dingell ended up in Cannon 116.

In her new workspace, the Michigan Democrat says, she’ll likely use her husband’s desk. It also belonged to his father, former Rep. John Dingell Sr., a newspaperman who served in the House for 22 years.

“If I could have the desk that the man who authored Social Security and the man who sat in the chair and helped author Medicare and the Civil Rights Act, maybe it’ll inspire and help me to do good things while I’m here," Dingell said.

Rep.-Elect Rick Allen, Number: 50

Rep.-Elect Richard Allen, R-Ga., the second new lawmaker to choose a button, refused to dance.

He’s probably regretting it right about now.

“Mr. Allen did not dance and he drew number 50 [out of 57]. Just saying," Weidemeyer quipped, as Allen hung his head.

Rep.-Elect Barbara Comstock, Number: 57

Rep.-Elect Barbara Comstock, R-Va., laughed when she drew pick 57 -- dead last.

Some of her colleagues began to groan.

Comstock took it with good grace and soon her colleagues began to applaud.

“As I’ve told folks when I first started working here, I worked in House Annex Two. So any office in the people’s house is a fabulous office to be working in,” Comstock told ABC.

Rep.-Elect Brad Ashford, Number: 11

Rep.-Elect Brad Ashford, D-Neb., drew a fairly good number -- 11 -- despite being late to the selection and being bumped to be the last person to draw a button.

Ashford reportedly joked that his lateness was “sort of nonpartisan gesture to my new colleagues.”

“In the end, I feel good about it, since it’s fine. It’s so incredibly unimportant to me, so I was glad the others got their picks,” he told The Hill.

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Meet the Biggest Upset Winner of 2016 Midterm Elections

Hogan For Governor(BOCA RATON, Fla.) -- Larry Hogan, the political longshot who is now the governor-elect of Maryland, is being applauded at the Republican Governors Association conference for his shocking upset win in the midterm elections.

Hogan says he won despite being outspent “five to one” and says he’s only the “second governor in nearly 50 years to be elected as a Republican” in the state.

Maryland was one of the rare spots that even got a visit from the president in the days before the election. The race wasn’t on the national radar and he even describes himself as a “no name, regular” guy.

But he’s at this week’s annual Republican Governors Association conference and he’s getting quite the reception. The RGA even decided to go into $1.5 million in debt to play in the state, a successful gamble.

Here’s a condensed Q and A with the man who pulled off the biggest upset of the midterm cycle, including his thoughts on 2016 and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:

ABC: Are you being treated like a rock star here after your big win?

LH: Well I’ve got to tell you nobody really expected us to win Maryland and it does seem like the surprise of the election season, so we are getting people coming up and congratulating us, I’ll tell you that.

ABC: How much has your life changed overnight?

LH: It is a little bit overwhelming quite frankly and it’s a little bit of a whirlwind. I mean immediately on election night state troopers show up in my room and now everybody in the country wants to talk to us and I’m just a no name guy who’s a small businessman whose never held elected office and now we pulled off the biggest upset in the country so it’s changed quite a bit, but I’m going to try and stay grounded. I mean what got me elected was talking to real people and just being a regular guy that was saying the same kind of things average Marylanders were talking about.

ABC: Are you the most in demand governor here?

LH: It seems like. Well, we ran a lot of tough races in Illinois, in Massachusetts, and in Maryland, but a lot of people are pretty excited about our win…I was surprised last night when during the opening dinner [New Jersey] Gov. Christie spent half his speech talking about the win in Maryland. And he came into our state four times and he really pushed the other governors to try and make a decision to come in and help us. And he said a lot of them thought he was completely crazy when he talked about Maryland, but we’re happy to have his support and the RGA helping us at the end of the race.

ABC: How much do you think that Chris Christie himself helped put you over the top?

LH: Well he helped a lot. We ran a great campaign. I worked for three and a half years to try and make this happen and we had a great grassroots effort with 130,000 volunteers involved, half of which were Democrats and Independents. But Chris Christie came at the end when no one believed and that helped convince the media to pay more attention to our race and it helped us raise a little bit more money to get our television ads on at the end.

ABC: How did you pull it off?

LH: We went into non-traditional areas. We did better among women, we did better among Hispanics, Asians, black voters. We did tremendously well, three times better than the last candidate than ran in our state. We won a lot of Jewish voters. We won in places people didn’t expect to win because we went there we talked with people and we talked about things they cared about and we came up with solutions they thought were better for the state.

ABC: When it comes to 2016, do you think it has to be a governor?

LH: I don’t know it has to be a governor, but my opinion is the crop of governors we have here, and I’ve gotten a chance to know some of them and have been following them all for a long time, they actually govern. And being a governor of a state you have to govern, you have to represent everybody, you have to make really tough decisions, you have to actually manage things... It’s a better breeding ground, better training to become president when you are in an executive capacity. Not to say we don’t have any great folks in the Senate or in the House, but legislators dont' have the same experiences as people who are actually governing and running things.

ABC: Is that person here now?

LH: I think there’s a very good likelihood that the next president of the United States could be right here at his conference, yes.

ABC: What about Chris Christie?

LH: I’m a huge Chris Christie fan, have been for a long time since he was first elected in 2009. He won in a blue state, which is what I did, and he was kind of a role model for me because he did it in 2009... Nobody believed he could win, he pulled off an upset, and he’s done a great job as governor and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for his help and his advice and for believing in us and coming in to our state. I think the world of Gov. Christie and I think he would make a great president.

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NSA Worries Hackers May Shut Down American Utilities

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers worries that it is only a matter of time before other countries exploit vulnerabilities in the computer systems that control America’s energy infrastructure to bring them down.

Rogers said that last year the Department of Homeland Security responded to 198 cyber incidents across critical infrastructure sectors, with 40 percent targeting the energy sector.

“The energy sector continues to bear the brunt of our country's cyber-attacks because hackers recognize that the energy sector is our country's Achilles heel” said Rogers.

“I have told my organization is I fully expect that during my time as the commander we are going to be tasked to help defend critical infrastructure within the United States because it is under attack by some foreign nation or some individual or group,” Rogers told the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

He said his agency has seen nations, groups and individuals aggressively working towards gaining the capability to selectively shut down parts of the American power grid and other utility sectors.

Rogers described intrusions into those networks as reconnaissance designed “to understand vulnerabilities that could be exploited in the future.”

“There shouldn’t be any doubt in our minds that there are nation states or groups that have the capability to do that,” said Rogers.

He added, “All of that leads me to believe it is only a matter of the 'when,' not the 'if' that we are going to see something traumatic.”

Getting access to those systems could mean shutting down selective parts of the American infrastructure.

“If I want to tell it power turbines to go off line and stop generating power, you can do that,” said Rogers. "If I wanted to segment the transmission systems so you couldn’t distribute the power that was coming out of power stations, this would enable you to do that.”

Rogers did not challenge committee Chairman Mike Rogers’ assertion that a report by the private cyber security firm Mandiant blamed Chinese government hackers as having gotten access into some of America’s industrial control systems.

Rogers also worries that nation states will begin using cyber criminals as their surrogates to enter America’s computer networks.

"I’m watching nation states attempt to obscure, if you will, their fingerprints. And one of the ways to do is to use surrogate groups attempt to execute that for you,” said Rogers.

He said recent activity by some cyber criminals targeting major companies to steal credit card information may already show links as they’ve used some tools historically used by nations.

He said that “suggests to us that increasingly in some scenarios we’re going to see more linkages between the nation state and some of these groups that’s a troubling development for us."

Rogers likened that possibility as “cyber hitmen for hire really, to serve nation states.”

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Takata Airbag Safety Exec Denies Need for Nationwide Recall

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A vice president of Takata, the airbag company that has been subject to a series of recalls in recent years, told a congressional committee on Thursday that he does not believe a nationwide recall of Takata's airbags is necessary.

Takata feels "strongly" that Takata recalls should continue to focus on "regions of high absolute humidity. Our best information supports the view that these regions must be the priority for the replacement of airbags," Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president of global quality assurance, told the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday morning.

The National Highway Safety Transportation Administration has called for a series of regional recalls to be expanded to a nationwide recall to replace Takata airbags installed in cars.

Senators had their first opportunity to question a Takata representative since its airbags were linked to five deaths related to faulty deployments. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sought to link Takata airbags to a sixth death, holding a press conference with a young woman who lost her sister in a 2003 automobile crash in Arizona.

Kim Kopf detailed how her sister Charlene Weaver was killed after a car accident while riding as a passenger in a 2004 Subaru Impreza. Kopf and her family maintain Weaver was killed after she was struck by an airbag in the passenger’s seat.

Kopf noted that the car her sister was a passenger in has yet to be recalled for airbag related reasons though similar models in humid states have been placed on the recall list.

"The American people have a right to know about the story behind this airbag recall," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who chaired the hearing. "That's why we're here today."

Shimizu maintained that the main causes of airbag malfunctions are the age of the airbags, their exposure to humidity, and "potential production issues, which we have worked to identify and address."

So far, automakers including BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota have recalled several million cars because of defective airbags.

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CIA Praise, of Sorts, for Glenn GreenwaldÂ’s Book on Edward Snowden

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A CIA reviewer has halting praise for journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book on the Edward Snowden affair, calling it the book “the most complete, though far from the most objective account” of the leaker who exposed the National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance programs.

The review, written by a veteran of the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology and Directorate of Operations, was posted recently on the CIA’s website, in a regularly-updated section called the “Intelligent Officer’s Bookshelf.” The Agency veteran and others often review espionage-related popular nonfiction and fiction books for the site.

The reviewer describes Greenwald’s account in No Place to Hide of being contacted by Snowden and eventually meeting him in Hong Kong, before taking issue with what he called Greenwald’s “core arguments” presented later.

“Greenwald is appalled at the concept implied in the [third] chapter’s title ["Collect It All"] and analyzes it with the presumption of illegality while dismissing without comment the intelligence issues that led to its adoption,” the reviewer says. “Greenwald also ignores other interpretations regarding the legality of the NSA’s collection programs…”

Greenwald’s book is reviewed along with two others that cover the Snowden affair, and the reviewer concludes that Greenwald’s “sums up the common themes of these three books: Snowden’s acts were justified because he chose to seek ‘reform of the surveillance state.’”

A disclaimer at the bottom of the website notes that the opinions “expressed in this journal are those of the authors” and shouldn’t be “construed as asserting or implying U.S. government endorsement…”

In January, America’s top intelligence officials, including CIA Director John Brennan, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the purported severe damage Snowden’s disclosures had done to U.S. national security.

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Republican Governors Weigh 2016 Prospects

RGA(BOCA RATON, Fla.) — The first day of this year’s annual Republican Governors Association conference was overshadowed by the president’s pending executive action on immigration. But, there was one more issue Wednesday -- besides the victory lap after this year’s big Republican wins -- on everyone’s mind: 2016.

At least six attendees at the conference are mulling a bid for the top office. The RGA’s outgoing chairman New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been very vocal that he is considering a run saying Wednesday that running the RGA was his “first priority over the last year,” but now, “I’ve got some decisions to make, I’m not shy as you know, I’ll let you know.”

When asked if he thinks the next GOP nominee should be a governor, he was clear: “I do because we are better at it than people who do not have the experience of running large enterprises.”

Considering the number of GOP governors at the conference this week, Christie and another possible 2016 contender Indiana Gov. Mike Pence were asked if they had made pacts to play nice in what will likely be a nasty intra-party brawl.  

“No, no pacts,” Christie said, before dead panning. “I haven’t seen Pence in the corner making any pacts with anybody, but I’ll be watching.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was asked when the 2016 race should begin, to which he replied, the “more legitimate question” is “when did it start.”

“I think the campaign has engaged,” Perry said. “We are talking about issues here that are going to affect the presidential election in 2016.”

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Former Sen. Jim Webb Exploring Possible Run for the White House

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb is exploring whether to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.

Webb announced his intention to form an exploratory committee in a message posted Thursday on his website, Webb 2016 Exploratory Committee.

In his post, Webb asks, "Is it possible that our next President could actually lay out a vision for the country, and create an environment where leaders from both parties and from all philosophies would feel compelled to work together for the good of the country, despite all of the money and political pressure that now demands they disagree?"

Webb suggests he's the person for the job because of his one term in the Senate as a Democrat from 2007-20012 while also serving as Navy secretary during the Reagan administration in 1987 and 1988.

An exploratory committee is generally the first step in gauging the public's interest in one's potential candidacy as well as what kind of fundraising support is available.

Should Webb decide to run in 2016, one of his likely challengers will be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who many believe is just biding her time before making her candidacy official at some point in 2015.

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Obama to Announce Major Immigration Executive Action Thursday

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will announce a major executive action on immigration reform in prime time on Thursday, the White House said on Wednesday.

"Our immigration system has been broken for decades -- and every minute we fail to act, millions of people who live in the shadows but want to play by the rules and pay taxes have no way to live right by the law and contribute to our country," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wrote on the White House website.

"So tomorrow night, President Obama will address the nation to lay out the executive actions he’s taking to fix our broken immigration system," Earnest continued.

The president will then travel to Del Sol High School in Las Vegas on Friday "to discuss why he is using his executive authority now, and why Republicans in Congress must act to pass a long-term solution to immigration reform," according to Earnest.

Obama has invited senior lawmakers to the White House Wednesday night for dinner to explain his immigration decision, according to sources familiar with the dinner. It is unclear whether it will be only Democrats or whether Republicans will be included. House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman says Boehner was not invited.

The most controversial aspect of Obama’s planned action is likely to be an order to, on a temporary basis, exempt from deportation and grant work permits to as many as five million undocumented immigrants.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is being dispatched to Capitol Hill on Thursday for lunch with Senate Democrats, a move that presaged the announcement.

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