IN THE NEWS: Diplomat says Special Forces ordered not to intervene in Benghazi … Israelis says air strikes not meant to aid Syrian rebels … LaPierre links Boston attack to gun-control debate … Returning veterans at higher risk for fatal traffic accidents … NRCC site hacked with Viagra ads … Clinton couldn’t reunite Led Zeppelin.
Obama Just Can’t Get Away From the Middle East
Even as the Israelis and a United Nations prosecutor appeared to take a little heat off President Obama over his “red line” on Syria, congressional Republicans revived the long-dormant Benghazi inquiry, suggesting potential trouble for Hillary Rodham Clinton if she decides to run in 2016.
Just as he was getting hammered by Republicans over whether to respond to allegations of chemical-weapons use in Syria, Obama found an unexpected ally in Carla Del Ponte, a commissioner on the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Del Ponte said there were “strong concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof” that Syrian rebels, rather than President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, used the nerve agent sarin. If true, the allegation would make Obama’s restraint on Syrian intervention look more judicious than timid. Meanwhile, reported Israeli air strikes may be taking care of the worst of the weapons flowing in from Iran.
But the Benghazi investigation, which dogged Obama’s presidential campaign, came to life again with allegations that U.S. military forces may have been barred from intervening during the Benghazi attack.
If it’s not one thing, it’s almost always another.
U.S. DIPLOMAT: SPECIAL FORCES UNIT ORDERED NOT TO INTERVENE IN BENGHAZI. Gregory Hicks, the former deputy to Chris Stevens, the slain U.S. ambassador to Libya, told investigators from a House committee that American military forces were barred from intervening during the Benghazi attack last year, CBS News reports. In an interview prior to his testimony at a hearing Wednesday, Hicks said a Special Forces unit was prepared to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi to render aid when it was ordered to stand down by U.S. Special Operations Command South Africa. “I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split,” Hicks said. “They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them.” Read more
ISRAELI OFFICIALS SAY STRIKES IN SYRIA NOT MEANT TO AID REBEL GROUP. Israeli officials said today that its air strikes in Syria were not meant to aide rebels in the country’s civil war, NBC reported. Tzachi Hanegbi, “a confidant” of the Israeli prime minister, said the Israeli government wanted to avoid "an increase in tension with Syria by making clear that if there is activity, it is only against Hezbollah, not against the Syrian regime." Nevertheless, Syrian officials have threatened to retaliate. Activists said today that the airstrike over the weekend killed at least 42 soldiers. Read more
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., introduced a bill Monday that would, among other things, provide weapons to Syrian rebels and sanctions against the Assad regime. Read the release
PHILLIPOS TO BE RELEASED ON $100,000 BAIL PENDING TRIAL. During a hearing today, a U.S. magistrate judge ordered Robel Phillipos, who was charged with lying to investigators about Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, released on $100,000 bail pending trial. Phillipos will be released into his mother’s custody and subject to GPS monitoring. Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys for Phillipos filed a joint motion today seeking his pretrial release. “Since the initial appearance, the parties have conferred extensively and now agree that the court can fashion strict conditions of release that will reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance at future proceedings,” the prosecution and defense attorneys wrote. Read more
- The Washington Post examines the transformation of Katherine Russell from a student in suburban Rhode Island to the widow of the deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Read more
IMMIGRATION REFORM FACES OPPOSITION. Immigration advocacy group America’s Voice issued a statement today dubbing opponents of the “Gang of Eight’s” immigration reform plan “the Gang of Hate,” drawing a rebuke from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who called the characterization a “disgrace.” Indeed, the congressional recess has been rough for Rubio, who continues his effort to sell conservatives on immigration reform. Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Black Caucus could oppose the measure in the House over the replacement of the Diversity Visa program with a merit-based system, National Journal’s Rebecca Kaplan reports. Read more
- A new Heritage Foundation report claims that immigration reform will cost taxpayers from $6.3 trillion to $9 trillion in lifetime benefits to immigrants, while generating only $3 trillion in tax revenue from those individuals. Read more
INTERNET-SALES-TAX BILL LIKELY TO PASS SENATE; HOUSE FATE UNCERTAIN. A measure that would make online retailers subject to state sales taxes is expected to pass the Senate today, but faces a tougher road in the House, The Wall Street Journal reports. "It's probably more complicated in the House," said the measure's chief House sponsor, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. "There's a lot of political difficulty getting through the fog of it looking like a tax increase." The legislation is backed by retailers, including Wal-Mart and Amazon, while the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist are among the bill’s opponents. Read more
LAPIERRE LINKS BOSTON ATTACK TO GUN-CONTROL DEBATE. In a speech at his group’s annual meeting on Saturday, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre asked, “How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?” His remarks received criticism through social media, and NBC’s Kasie Hunt tweeted that it was the first time the organization tied the Boston Marathon attacks to the debate surrounding gun control. But LaPierre comments aren’t the first to receive attention. Arkansas state Rep. Nate Bell received wide backlash after he asked in a tweet the Friday after the attack “how many Boston liberals” were wishing they had a gun. Read more
HOUSE GOP PUSHING ALTERNATIVE TO OVERTIME PAY; SENATE UNLIKELY TO FOLLOW. HouseRepublicans are pushing legislation to allow those in the private sector to offer employees working more than 40 hours a week the option of taking paid time off instead of overtime pay, the Associated Press reports. The public sector already has a similar option, allowing workers to save up earned time off over the weeks and months to use at their discretion. Republicans say the bill is beneficial for working families, but Democrats are worried it would incentivize businesses to pressure employees into accepting comp time instead of overtime pay. The House is expected to vote on the measure by Thursday, but the Senate isn’t likely to take it up. Read more
RETURNING VETERANS AT HIGHER RISK OF FATAL TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS. Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a 75 percent higher rate of fatal vehicle accidents than civilians, The Washington Post reports. Veterans with multiple deployments to combat zones have the highest risk for traffic accidents. “The most common explanation is that troops bring back driving habits that were lifesaving in war zones but are dangerous on America’s roads,” The Post writes. Among those habits: speeding through intersections, straddling lanes, and swerving on bridges. Read more
VIAGRA ADS APPEAR ON NRCC WEBSITE AFTER HACK. From Sunday morning through 10 a.m. today, the National Republican Congressional Committee website was hacked to show ads for the erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra and Cialis, The Washington Post reports. The hack only worked for those typing “nrcc.org” into their browsers. But those who did over the last day were treated to lines of bare-bones text ads with SEO-oriented titles like “viagra no doctor canada.” None of the hyperlinks worked. Read more
OBAMA TO HOST SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT. On Tuesday, Obama will host South Korean President Park Geun-hye to mark the 60th anniversary of the American alliance with Seoul. But much of their time will likely be spent talking about continuing provocations from North Korea.
HOUSE HEARING ON DOC FIX. The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will be hearing testimony on Tuesday regarding changes to the model Medicare uses to pay physicians. The discussion comes at a time of heightened interest on Capitol Hill in repealing a flawed payment formula and passing a permanent "doc fix" this year.
SENATE HEARING ON BORDER SECURITY. The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday with several officials from the Department of Homeland Security to talk about the border-security elements of the Senate immigration bill. Their testimony will be critical to assuaging Republicans who are skeptical that sponsors of the bill mean it when they say they want to shore up immigration enforcement.
DONLEY TO TESTIFY ON BUDGET PRIORITIES. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and his chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, on Tuesday about their budget priorities, and subcommittees will hold oversight hearings this week on ballistic-missile defense policies and Navy shipbuilding programs.
"We're going to end up in the same boat, whether you like it or not, because there's holes in the other boat." —Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on his Republican critics (Washington Post)
PLAY OF THE DAY
JOE BIDEN AND CINCO DE MAYO: THE JOKE WRITES ITSELF. Cinco de Mayo was on Sunday, so of course Vice President Joe Biden was throwing a bash at his place Friday to celebrate. Friday night, Late Night's Jimmy Fallon said “we don’t even have to write a joke for that.” Saturday Night Live returned to air with less political humor than usual, though the show's cold open did include a shot at New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his efforts to influence the gun control debate. Weekend Update walked similar ground, with shots at the NRA and Tom Coburn's “self-background check” gun-control proposal. Watch it here
AL GORE’S GOLDEN YEARS. “Wherever Al Gore is, it’s hard not to get the sense that there are dark clouds lurking,” writes Steve Fishman in a profile of Gore’s “golden years” for New York Magazine.“This is partly because of his core identity—the man who should have been president. And it’s also because his writings are apocalyptic—like nature hikes through the Book of Revelation.” Fishman spent time at “Gore’s White House,” a mansion in Nashville where Gore now spends most of his time alone since separating from his wife Tipper in 2010. But Gore is not lonely or irrelevant. He is now more wealthy than Mitt Romney and as high-profile as ever. “Gore’s current wealth is based partly on his Internet investments, primarily Apple and Google,” Fishman writes. “But just as important have been his ventures as a kind of moral entrepreneur. He’s turned at least three of his obsessions into businesses. For Gore, capitalism and commitment to the health of the planet and its citizens, far from being in opposition, are now completely synergized and inseparable.” Read more
WILL MILLENNIALS BECOME GENERATION X-TREME? The generation of adults ages 18 to 29 is often considered by political observers and pop-sociologists to be a source of hope–measurably more tolerant, diverse, global-minded, and adaptable than their parents and grandparents. And yet a Harvard study suggests that young Americans are becoming more divided politically, giving rise to a chilling thought: The so-called millennials could become “Generation X-treme.” Read more
BILL CLINTON’S FAILURE: REUNITING LED ZEPPELIN. Former President Clinton has done some negotiating in his time, but he couldn’t convince Led Zeppelin to reunite, the Associated Press reports. The CBS 60 Minutes Overtime webcast reported today that Clinton was brought in to convince the legendary British rock group to get together for the superstorm Sandy benefit concert in New York City. Clinton asked, but the three surviving members simply said “no.” The trio last played together during a one-night reunion in London in 2007. Read more