State Dept photo(WASHINGTON) -- Negotiators trying to produce a nuclear accord with Iran will fail to meet their self-imposed March 31 deadline to come up with a broad political understanding about eliminating Iran’s pathway to a bomb, the State Department said Tuesday.
"We've made enough progress in the last days to merit staying until Wednesday,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement to reporters in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the talks are being held. “There are several difficult issues still remaining."
Less than 24 hours ago, Harf said there was a “50/50” chance that they could come to a deal. Officials inside the negotiations are not commenting on why more time is needed, but the sticking points during these talks have been clear.
They’ve included disagreements on how many centrifuges -- which are used to enrich nuclear fuel -- might remain online at Iran’s deep-buried Fordo nuclear reactor, whether or not Iran will be allowed to continue nuclear research and development for scientific purposes, and what to do with the stockpile of enriched uranium already owns.
Negotiators on all sides have been working towards this deadline since November 2013. That’s when Iran and the so-called P5 1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany) agreed on a Joint Plan of Action, an interim agreement that paved the way for talks by temporarily halting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and subjecting it to daily inspections in exchange for the loosening of some economic sanctions.
Though there is still hope in Lausanne that an agreement can be reached, Congress is likely to see this most recent delay as a failure of diplomacy.
"The decision to extend the nuclear negotiations in the face of Iranian intransigence and duplicity proves once again that Iran is calling the shots," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said in a statement. Cotton gained notoriety after authoring a controversial letter to Iran's supreme leader, warning in it that future U.S. presidents have the power to overturn any nuclear deal.
"The best solution is walk away from the nuclear negotiations now and return to a position of strength," Cotton added. "We should reinstate existing sanctions suspended under the Joint Plan of Action and Congress should act immediately to impose new sanctions. It's time for the United States to regain the upper hand and quit negotiating out of weakness."
Two weeks ago, 367 members of Congress, many of them Democrats, signed a letter expressing “grave and urgent” concern over the Iran nuclear negotiations. Many of them have threatened to derail any potential deal by voting to enact tougher economic sanctions on Iran. President Obama has threatened to veto that legislation, but it’s possible Congress could get the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.
Congress, however, is on a two week recess, which could explain why the Obama administration believes it still has more time.
Later Tuesday night, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz briefed President Obama and other members of his administration on the latest negotiations.
marcnorman/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said Tuesday that the agency has corrected a backlog in processing tax-exemption requests after Tea Party groups claimed in 2013 that they had been singled out for tougher treatment.
"In the tax exempt area we acted on all of the inspectors general's recommendations to fix the management problems they identified nearly two years ago," Koskinen said in front of the National Press Club. "These problems should not have happened and we continue to work to make improvements to ensure that they never happen again."
Koskinen credited a new form, the 1023EZ, with helping to clear the backlog. The form allows smaller non-profit groups to file and has led to the current status, which Koskinen describes as being "current."
"Fifteen months ago we had a backlog of applications from groups seeking status as private non-profit organizations. Those applications came in at the rate of 70,000 a year," Koskinen noted. At one point, the backlog was greater than 60,000 forms.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House on Tuesday ripped the Indiana "religious freedom" law signed last week by Gov. Mike Pence, calling it "not fair" and not consistent with "our values."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest denied claims from the law's supporters that it was "in line" with a federal law passed during the Clinton administration.
"I know that Governor Pence has tried to falsely suggest that the law that was signed in Indiana is the same as the law that was passed on the federal level in 1993," he said at Tuesday's White House press briefing. "That is not true."
Instead, Earnest countered, the Indiana law "seems to legitimize discrimination." The White House sees the federal law, on the other hand, as "an effort to try to protect the religious liberty of religious minorities based on actions that could be taken by the federal government."
"The Indiana law is much broader," Earnest claimed. "It doesn't just apply to individuals or religious minorities. It applies to...'a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint stock company, or an unincorporated association.'"
"We've seen business leaders all across the country say that they're reluctant to do business in Indiana," he pointed out, referencing statements criticizing the law last week from Apple CEO Tim Cook and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. Those business leaders he said, made their statements "because this law could make it more likely that the customers of those businesses, and that the employees of those business, are now more likely to be discriminated against."
"It's important for everybody to stand up and speak out," Earnest concluded.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Susan Burke isn’t going to war with the U.S. military, she just wants it to have its day in court.
The Baltimore attorney has become the face of the movement to reform how the military handles sexual assault cases, and on Tuesday she announced a new federal lawsuit aimed at combatting the problem.
At issue for Burke and the four former military members involved in the suit is that sexual assault allegations within the military are handled entirely within the command structure.
Burke and other like-minded reform advocates believe the judicial process should be handled outside units by a process independent of the chain of command.
This latest suit filed in the Eastern District Court of Virginia alleges instances of retaliation, sexual harassment and abuse in various levels of command that Burke said ought to lead to complete removal of the members from the judicial process.
In one particular case, former Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith brought forward an unofficial Air Force songbook that contained dozens of sexist and violent lyrics. She said she had filed an administrative complaint over the book in 2012.
But Smith said the general assigned to address her complaint sang the sexist songs with the airmen regularly.
“These are not judges or lawyers, these are actual battlefield commanders,” Burke said. “They have extraordinary judicial powers despite having no legal training and in many instances having the type of personality that openly sings these incredibly sexist songs in front of their soldiers and airmen.”
The complaint alleges some of the most disturbing content is found in the songbooks of the 55th, 77th, and 79th fighter squadrons of the Air Force.
Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske didn’t comment on the lawsuit itself to ABC News, but noted that the book was from 2012, prior to the Air Force initiating a health and welfare inspections program where such materials would have been confiscated.
In the news conference though, retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen alleged the songbooks were still used by airmen to this very day.
Brzozowske said she didn’t know the current status of the books, but said the Air Force had contacted the Inspectors General Tuesday to reach out to make sure the books were not still in use.
While Congress has sought to address sexual assault in the military in recent years after increased media attention and disturbing revelations in the documentary The Invisible War, in which Burke was a central figure, Smith told ABC News that the fight has turned political.
“They keep dancing around the issue, when the real remedy is just to take it out of the chain of command,” Smith said. “I was assaulted, but I couldn’t count on my reporting it to go anywhere because of who I knew was in charge.”
Burke said that while Congress has been able to enact “incremental steps” to fix the inner workings of the military justice system, that is like “building a house on a weak foundation.”
The songbook is one of several allegations in the 44 pages provided to reporters Tuesday, but Burke said the biggest hurdle will be getting the federal court to take up the case.
To date, the Department of Defense has successfully fought off Burke every time she has filed suit on this issue, citing the need for military discipline. But Burke said if the federal court agrees to take up the case this time, she expects it would go to a hearing in the next six months.
“You have the laws that give people the rights but you have no enforcement mechanism, and a right without an enforcement mechanism is an empty right,” Burke said.
iStock/Thinkstock(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) -- Three amendments to an Arkansas bill similar to the controversial "religious freedom" bill signed into law in Indiana last week were approved by the Arkansas State Legislature on Tuesday.
The bill, which aims "to enact the religious freedom restoration act; and to declare an emergency," was passed weeks ago, and three amendments passed the state Senate on Tuesday. The combined bill will next be sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk for approval.
Hutchinson has said publicly that he would approve the bill.
Walmart, whose headquarters is in Arkansas, released a statement on Tuesday criticizing the bill. "Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve," the statement reads. "Today's passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and dos not reflect the values we proudly uphold."
ABC News(INDIANAPOLIS) - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Tuesday admitted that he mishandled the passage of a religious freedom law and now wants a piece of legislation to clarify that it does not give anyone the right to discriminate in their state.
"This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples. I could have handled that better this week," he said.
Pence said that he has been working with state legislators and businesses “literally around the clock” to work through the controversy, saying that discrimination was never part of his plan.
"I don’t believe for a minute that it was the intention of the general assembly ... it certainly wasn’t my intent but I can appreciate that that's become the perception ... and we need to confront that and we need to confront that boldly,” he said.
The changes that Pence mentioned are expected to be put into a stripped version of an election-related bill that is slated to be debated Wednesday or Thursday by a conference committee, Indiana's Republican speaker of the House's spokesman Brian Bosma told ABC News.
The new language is expected to be debated throughout Tuesday night between business leaders, state legislators and stakeholders.
“As I said we've got a perception problem here ... and we intend to correct that," Pence added.
He slammed “gross mischaracterizations about the bill” and the smeared reputations of Hoosiers as a result of the backlash.
“We want to make it clear that Indiana is open for business, we want to make it clear that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan it's a way of life,” he said.
"The things that have been said about our state have been at times deeply offensive to me and I will continue to use every effort to defend the good and decent people of Indiana," Pence added.
The controversial law -- called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- was signed by Pence last week and prompted national outcry from human rights groups and businesses, though a number of likely Republican presidential candidates have all come out in support of the law.
"It's been a tough week here in the Hoosier state but we're going to move forward," he said on Tuesday.
Pence told ABC News this weekend that he would not be adding sexual orientation as a protected class in any amendment to the law. He specifically referenced the This Week appearance during Tuesday's press conference, saying that "going into that interview this weekend I was just determined to set the record straight about what the law really is."
He has followed that interview up with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and a news appearance Tuesday morning where he adamantly stated that he stands by the law.
State Democratic leaders slammed Pence for calling for additional legislation to clarify Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law, calling for the law to be repealed fully.
“I see some indication that there’s an awareness that he’s in a difficult political situation,” Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said in reference to Pence’s news conference Tuesday morning. “I don’t see any indication that there’s a willingness to admit that a mistake has been made."
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane said that the religious freedom bill is “very, very toxic and very, very wrong,” and the repercussions are being felt in business communities as a “growing list” of national corporations speak out against their future plans to operate in the state.
“What’s happened here is that this situation created by this bill has gone beyond being about just about the bill... to the very question of does Indiana discriminate,” Lanane said.
The debate over the future of the Indiana law comes just as another state is expected to pass a similar bill.
Arkansas' state House of Representatives has already passed a "religious freedom" bull but their Senate added some amendments which will either be voted on Tuesday or in coming days. If the bill passes, it will be sent to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk and he has already said he will sign it.
The Arkansas bill, called House Bill 1228, allows businesses and individuals to refuse service to individuals based on their religious beliefs.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, aside from Indiana and Arkansas, there are 10 other states with similar bills in the works and 19 states already have similar laws in place.
ABC News(NEW YORK) — In a Wall Street Journal op-ed appearing in Tuesday’s edition, Indiana Republican Governor Mike Pence tries to quell some of the controversy surrounding his signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), explaining that the law “is not a license to discriminate,” as his critics have said.
Saying the law “mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993,” Pence argues that the law as written “provides a mechanism to address claims, not a license for private parties to deny services.”
The governor, who has come under attack from LGBT groups, politicians, business organizations and others, contends, “If I were presented a bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation.”
However, some have pointed out that Pence’s editorial still does not answer the question of whether merchants can still be permitted not to serve gays or lesbians based on their religious beliefs.
Furthermore, the Indiana law differs from the law signed by Clinton in that it also applies to corporations and associations, not just people who may feel their religious liberties have been impinged upon.
Pence, who is believed to be considering a run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, has support for his law from at least three other White House hopefuls: Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Juan Bernal/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Americans by a 2-1 margin favor an agreement with Iran over its nuclear development program, even while broadly questioning whether a deal would, in fact, prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.
A new national ABC News/Washington Post poll also finds sharply politicized views of U.S.-Israel relations, which have been strained by the two allies’ dispute over the advisability of an agreement with Iran.
In a result that supports the Obama administration’s position in the face of Republican and Israeli criticisms alike, Americans by 59-31 percent back a plan to lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions making it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.
The finding in the survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, is in concert with longstanding preferences for diplomatic rather than military solutions to international conflicts, when possible. It comes as Secretary of State John Kerry seeks a framework for an agreement, working with negotiators from Iran, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Their self-imposed deadline was Monday.
While still a clear majority, support for a deal has slipped slightly from 64 percent in November 2013. It comes even though 59 percent are not particularly confident that such an agreement would achieve its goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear arms. Support endures because even among those who are “not so confident” that an agreement will work, most still think it’s worth a try. Among those who are not at all confident, by contrast, most are opposed.
Support for an agreement peaks at 72 percent among liberals and 68 percent among Democrats, but also draws majorities of moderates and independents, 63 and 60 percent, respectively. Indeed, it’s backed by 46 percent of conservatives and 47 percent of Republicans -- at least as many, in both groups, as oppose it. Forty-seven GOP U.S. senators wrote a letter to Tehran earlier this month opposing a deal, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Republican leaders to deliver an address to Congress criticizing the approach.
ISRAEL -- The poll finds both Obama and Netanyahu underwater in their handling of U.S.-Israel relations. Just 38 percent approve of Obama’s handling of relations with Israel, and 37 percent approve of Netanyahu’s work on relations with the United States. Fifty and 44 percent, respectively, disapprove.
There’s vast partisanship in these views, marking the sharply politicized nature of current relations between the two longtime allies. Obama’s approval for handling relations with Israel ranges from 66 percent among Democrats to 34 percent of independents and a mere 8 percent of Republicans. Opinions on Netanyahu run the other way; 59 percent of Republicans approve of his handling of U.S. relations, vs. 37 percent of independents and just 21 percent of Democrats.
Lastly, the poll finds essentially a split decision on the establishment of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of U.S. policy that Netanyahu appeared to call into question during his recent re-election campaign. While many are undecided, 39 percent support establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while 36 percent are opposed. That’s backed off from 58-22 percent in a Gallup poll in June 2003, as the Bush administration pushed its “Roadmap for Peace.”
Rather than partisanship, ideology is the stronger factor in attitudes on a Palestinian state. Support ranges from 58 percent among liberals to 41 percent of moderates, then drops to 30 percent of “somewhat” conservative Americans -- and just 18 percent of those who are “very” conservative. Strikingly, there were no such divisions in 2003.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone March 26-29, 2015, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock's resignation from his position in Congress takes effect Tuesday, and as the FBI continues its investigation into his finances, one question remains. What will happen to the pheasant feathers, golden sconces, picture frames and “drippy crystal chandelier” of the Downton Abbey-inspired office that led to greater scrutiny of Schock’s spending?
Functionally, Schock’s office will remain staffed, and continue offering services to the constituents of the 18th Congressional District of Illinois. The office will be supervised by the Clerk of the House until a new member is elected.
After the special election, the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer of the House and the Office of the Architect of the Capitol will “make sure the office is ready for a new Representative,” according to a spokesperson with the Office of the Clerk.
In this case, that work could include a new coat of paint (or many coats) to cover Schock’s choice of red. Typically, when a member resigns, workers with the Architect’s office give the member their office nameplate, remove pictures and repaint office walls at the incoming member’s discretion, according to a spokesperson for the Architect’s office.
In this case, anything beyond "some touch up work" on Schock's office is considered "unlikely," the spokesperson added.
All furniture purchased using Schock’s Members’ Representational Allowance -- the official taxpayer-funded stipend used to operate Congressional offices -- will remain in the office.
But Schock has the option of taking the décor with him when he leaves Washington.
When he personally cut a check to the design firm Euro Trash for the $35,000 in renovations, the furnishings became his private property, according to the Office of the Chief Administrator of the House.
Schock refused to answer any questions about his plans or the investigation into his spending when spotted leaving the Capitol for the final time last week. His office also did not respond to requests for comment.
In his farewell speech from the House floor, the embattled congressman cited President Abraham Lincoln -- whose Springfield home full of period furniture is now a museum in Schock’s home district -- as a source of inspiration who overcame setbacks in his public and private life on the way to the White House.
“[Lincoln’s] continual perseverance in the face of these trials -- never giving up -- is something all Americans should be inspired by, especially when going through a valley in life,” Schock said on the House floor Thursday. “I believe that through life's struggles, we learn from our mistakes, and we learn more about ourselves.”
Now, Schock could bring some more hardware back to Illinois’s 18th District.
iStock/Thinkstock(HARTFORD, Conn.) — The Nutmeg State is saying "nuts" to Indiana's so-called "religious freedom law."
With questions still unanswered on whether business owners would be able to use their personal beliefs to discriminate against gays and lesbians, Connecticut Democratic Governor Dan Malloy announced Monday that no one from his state would be able to travel to Indiana on the taxpayers' dime.
Malloy said his executive order also pertains to "any other state that has laws or are using laws to allow them to discriminate against our citizens here in Connecticut."
The governor remarked, "Somebody's got to stand up to this kind of bigotry and I'm prepared to do it."
Actually, at least one other high-profile politician has. On Sunday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed an order prohibiting municipal employees from traveling to Indiana on city funds, explaining the new law "doesn't reflect the values" of his city.
ABC News(BOSTON) -- Anyone can now experience the challenge of life as a U.S. senator.
The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate opens to the public this week in Boston, following a public dedication Monday attended by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as well as a bipartisan contingent of Capitol Hill colleagues of former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died of brain cancer in 2009 after serving nearly 47 years as the "Liberal Lion" of the Senate.
"Ted understood that the only point of running for office was to get something done. Not to posture. Not to sit there worrying about the next election or the polls. To take risk," President Obama said at the dedication on Monday. "There are Republicans here today for a reason – because they knew Ted as somebody who bridged the partisan divide over and over and over."
Victoria Kennedy, co-founder of the Institute that bears her late husband's name, gave ABC News' David Wright a behind-the-scenes tour last week, explaining her husband's vision for the institute, which was first discussed over a family dinner in 2002.
"Teddy said everybody knows about the presidency because there are presidential libraries, but the truth is that nobody understands or knows anything about the Senate. And he'd get that mischievous look in his eye and say, 'We're in Article 1 of the Constitution,'" Victoria Kennedy said. "And he was such a man of the Senate, loved it so much, he wanted people to feel that same way."
"He also thought about that next generation of men and women who would serve in the Senate, and he wanted them to get inspired to get into the public sphere," Kennedy added.
The institute, located next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, features a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chamber, as well as a recreation of Kennedy's Capitol Hill office filled with Kennedy family mementos.
But more than a museum, the Kennedy Institute is a high-tech civics class, using touch tablets to guide visitors through interactive exhibits on the history and functioning of the Senate. Student groups can participate in longer sessions in the replica Senate chamber, debating and voting on a legislative issue of the day, such as comprehensive immigration reform.
"What we're hearing from teachers is the whole way back from school, it's not like any other field trip, they're talking about the issues," Victoria Kennedy said. "They're engaged talking about what they just experienced, they want to come back and be senators again."
The Kennedys were the only three brothers in history to all serve as senators. John F. Kennedy was a senator from 1953 until his election as president in 1960, while Robert Kennedy was a senator from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. Ted Kennedy sat at JFK's desk in the back of the Senate chamber the entire time he served from 1962 until 2009.
"He was entitled to sit in the front row, move up with seniority because he certainly had a lot of that," Victoria Kennedy said while giving a tour of the replica Senate chamber in Boston. "But he always liked sitting in the back and I think it's because you can see everything from here. I think he also enjoyed being with younger, more junior members where he could talk to them."
Echoing President Obama's words Monday on Kennedy's legacy in the Senate, Victoria Kennedy says it was her husband's ability to connect with other senators through personal relationships that made him successful at legislating.
"Ted Kennedy reached across the aisle and he had great relationships across the aisle," Kennedy says. "He would listen until...they could find common cause and move an issue forward."
And while Washington remains gridlocked today, Kennedy says she hopes the institute will help teach its visitors, young and old, the value of debate and compromise.
"Legislating is hard and that's one of the things you learn when you go through this place....But what we're showing here is you need to look each other in the eye, talk, and find that nugget of common ground," Kennedy said.
ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Key Republican presidential hopefuls are backing Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act amid growing concern over possible discrimination against gays and lesbians when the law takes effect.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination last week, said in a statement on Monday that he favors the new law.
"I want to commend Governor Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition. There was a time, not too long ago, when defending religious liberty enjoyed strong bipartisan support," Cruz said in the statement. "Alas, today we are facing a concerted assault on the First Amendment, on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience. Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I'm proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same."
Earlier on Monday, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum said in a tweet he supports Pence.
US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday he will announce whether he will run for president at an upcoming event.
“I will announce on April 13 what I’m going to do next in terms of running for president or the U.S. Senate," Rubio said on FOX News' The Five.
Rubio, a first-term senator, is up for re-election to the Senate in 2016, but Florida law bars him from running for both the Senate and the presidency at the same time. If he chooses to run for president but loses, Rubio said he wouldn't fall back on a Senate bid as a backup plan.
"When you choose to do something as big as that, you’ve really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy," Rubio said earlier this year.
One of Rubio's potential presidential opponents, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is planning on running for both offices in 2016. Earlier this month, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, became the first major presidential candidate to declare a 2016 presidential bid.
Should Rubio decide to run for president, he will likely face his old mentor -- former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Asked to assess how Bush's expected candidacy could affect his own race, Rubio said, "The time will come for comparison shopping."
Rubio also commented on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server for official business, saying it must be determined if she sent sensitive information using the private email.
"I think she has bigger problems than emails. Ultimately I don’t think she has an agenda that looks forward to the 21st century," Rubio said.
Rubio revealed he uses a private email of his own, but stressed that he never includes "sensitive" information in his messages.
"I don’t write anything that’s national security related in an email," Rubio said.