IN THE NEWS: Obama defends NSA surveillance, backs nuclear drawdown ... Obama aide outlines climate strategy … FBI uses drones in investigations ... GAO questions launch for health exchanges ... Which states has Obama not visited? … The GOP's Steve King problem
Poll: Americans Divided Over Linking Security, Citizenship in Immigration Bill
The Senate is nearing a critical vote on a proposal from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to delay any pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants until federal officials certify massive improvements in border security. While most of the immigration bill's supporters see the measure as a deal-breaker, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found substantial public support for the concept.
Respondents divided in half, with 45 percent saying illegal immigrants should not be placed on a path to citizenship until the government meets high standards for securing borders against further illegal immigration, and 45 percent saying citizenship should not be linked to border security because unforeseen national security events could cause millions to remain in legal limbo.
Strikingly, this idea closely divided not only the public overall but most major demographic groups. Whites leaned slightly toward it and minorities slightly away from it. Republicans supported linking security by a wide margin, but Democrats opposed it by a narrower margin.
The poll results suggest that while Cornyn's proposal will produce a stark partisan contrast in the Senate, it provokes greater ambivalence inside both parties' electoral coalitions. Read more
IN GERMANY, OBAMA DEFENDS NSA SURVEILLANCE. During a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, President Obama defended the recently disclosed domestic surveillance programs employed by the National Security Agency, the Associated Press reports. Merkel emphasized the need to strike "an equitable balance" between national security and civil liberties, and called her morning conversation with Obama "an important first step" in that direction. Obama, who stressed that "lives have been saved" by the surveillance, referred to judicial supervision of what he termed "circumscribed, narrow" programs. Read more
- National Journal's Michael Hirsh writes that Obama's "honeymoon with the world is over."
TOP AIDE TO OBAMA OUTLINES COMING CLIMATE STRATEGY. The climate-change policy President Obama is expected to roll out next month will focus on energy efficiency, renewable-energy development on public lands, and—most contentious of the three—regulations controlling greenhouse-gas emissions, a top White House aide said Wednesday, National Journal's Amy Harder reports. "If there's one thing I learned in the four and a half years in the White House, it's not to get in front of the big guy, but it is worth mentioning the Clean Air Act," Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said at a forum hosted by The New Republic. Read more
- In Berlin on a 91-degree day, a perspiring Obama removed his suit jacket and promised to act on global climate change, saying, "Our dangerous carbon emissions have come down but we know we have to do more. And we will do more," The Atlantic Wire reports.
OBAMA PUSHES FOR SCALED-BACK NUCLEAR ARSENALS. During a speech Wednesday at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate, President Obama announced his plan to shrink the American and Russian nuclear arsenals, CNN reports. "I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures," he said, adding: "At the same time, we'll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe." The president's speech occurred nearly 50 years to the day after then-President Kennedy's famed "Ich bin ein Berliner" address, from which Obama quoted. National Journal's Elaine M. Grossman writes that the announcement offered few surprises. Read more
- The Weekly Standard takes note of today's crowd estimates in Berlin, which German authorities pegged at around 4,500. In 2008, then-Sen. Obama attracted roughly 200,000. The Atlantic Wire has some photo contrasts between 2008 and 2013. Read more
FBI'S MUELLER: DRONE SURVEILLANCE USED 'VERY SELDOM' IN INVESTIGATIONS. FBI Director Robert Mueller told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the bureau employs domestic surveillance drones "in a very, very minimal way, very seldom," The Wall Street Journal reports. Mueller said he was uncertain of the fate of images collected by the drones. "It's very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability," he said. Mueller acknowledged the lingering questions about drone surveillance, saying that the issue is "worthy of debate and perhaps legislation down the road." Read more
KARZAI ANGRILY ENDS SECURITY TALKS WITH U.S. Afghan President Hamid Karzai cut off security talks with the U.S. on Wednesday, just a day after the Taliban signaled interest in resuming peace negotiations, The New York Times reports. The move "again showed Mr. Karzai's willingness to unilaterally halt American initiatives when his allies displeased him," and deals a serious blow to the Obama administration's hopes to begin peace talks, which looked promising after the Taliban's opening Tuesday of a political office in Qatar, the paper reports. Karzai issued two statements condemning Americans for acting disingenuously at the negotiating table and calling the opening of the Qatar office in "absolute contrast with all the guarantees" pledged by the U.S. Read more
TWIN GAO REPORTS SKEPTICAL HEALTH CARE EXCHANGES WILL BE READY ON TIME. The Government Accountability Office released two reports (available here and here) Wednesday questioning whether state health exchanges forming in more than 30 states under President Obama's health care law will be ready by the Oct. 1 deadline for open enrollment. While crediting the Obama administration's progress toward reaching the October deadline, one of the reports concludes that "additional missed deadlines closer to the start of enrollment" could affect implementation. Federal officials have promised repeatedly that exchanges will be ready on time in states opting not to implement their own, Reuters reports. Read more
- LeBron James, health insurance advocate? As part of its wide-ranging push to sell the Affordable Care Act and encourage Americans to sign up for health insurance, the Obama administration has contacted the NBA about a potential marketing partnership, Politico reports. Read more
HOUSE BEGINS PROCEDURAL VOTES ON FARM BILL. The House began voting Wednesday afternoon on debate rules for amendments to the farm bill, and was scheduled to debate more than 100 proposed amendments. National Journal's Jerry Hagstrom reported Tuesday that the House may not be able to finish work on the farm bill by Thursday as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., had hoped. It was also unclear as the debate started whether the votes exist to pass the bill at any time.
FREDERICK DOUGLASS STATUE UNVEILED. A 1,700-pound statue of abolition hero Frederick Douglass was unveiled Wednesday inside the halls of Congress, but the pageantry was not devoid of controversy, The Washington Post reports. The bronze statue, which stands 7-feet tall in the Capitol Visitor Center's Emancipation Hall, was greeted by applause but also debate concerning potential statehood for Washington, D.C., and whether the District should have two statues inside the Capitol to match the two afforded all 50 states or, as it stands currently with the Douglass statue, only one. Read more
NASA ANNOUNCES EFFORT TO STOP EARTH-DESTROYING ASTEROIDS. NASA announced this week that it will launch a "Grand Challenge" aimed at finding dangerous space rocks and preventing them from destroying the Earth, Space.com reports. The mission is part of numerous efforts at NASA including a plan to capture an asteroid and pull it toward the moon so that astronauts can visit. The agency issued a "request for information" this week to solicit ideas from academia, industry and the public. The deadline is July 18. Read more
VIVA, LAS VEGAS FOR BIDEN. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Las Vegas on Thursday to deliver remarks to the League of United Latin American Citizens Youth and Young Adults Award Banquet at Caesars Palace.
SENATE COMMITTEE TO MARK UP ACT THAT WOULD PREVENT HELIUM SHORTAGE. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will mark up legislation Thursday that will seek to prevent a nationwide shortage of helium, a vital component of products in the space, medical, and manufacturing industries. The legislation seeks to prevent an October cutoff for private use of a federally run helium mine that extends from Texas to Kansas. The proposed bill would phase out the reserve over the next several years.
"With the notion of marriage–an exclusive, emotional, binding 'til death do you part' tie–becoming more and more an exception to the rule given a rise in cohabitation and high rates of divorce, why should the federal government be telling adults who love one another that they cannot get married, simply because they happen to be gay? I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less."—Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
HISTORY PUTS SYRIA'S ALAWITES IN PRECARIOUS POSITION. The Alawites, often linked closely to the government of Bashar al-Assad, believe that their fate hinges on the regime and that amid the country's civil war they are the targets of sectarian violence, Robert Worth reports in The New York Times. Some Sunnis, however, argue that they are simply swallowing regime rhetoric. The Alawites once made up a separate state along Syria's border on the Mediterranean, and even after they joined Syria a long history of tension with the country's Sunni majority remains. "We never used to feel any distinction between people of different sects....Now they are ready to slaughter us," said one woman, who has left her home with her children after her husband was killed. Read more
THE GOP'S STEVE KING PROBLEM. Earlier this year, the Republican National Committee released a 100-page report detailing how the GOP needed to retrofit its agenda and soften its tone. But if Republican officials had wanted to save time, they could have issued a shorthand summary that read: Be less like Steve King. The Iowa congressman's outspoken conservatism embodies the kind of politics that, in the RNC's own words, alienates minorities, young voters, and moderates, the very people the GOP desperately needs to bring under its tent. That immigration reform brings out King's most incendiary rhetoric is especially troublesome, because regaining popularity among Hispanic voters is the party's biggest priority heading into 2016, National Journal's Alex Roarty reports. Politico further explores what it calls the GOP's 'Clueless Caucus.' Read more
HERE ARE THE STATES OBAMA STILL HAS NOT VISITED. President Obama is busy in Europe this week, but of some interest is the fact that he has still not visited a handful of U.S. states, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Idaho, South Carolina, and Utah. He has visited these states just once: Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Wyoming. As The New York Times reports, Obama's "near-complete absence from more than 25 percent of the states, from which he is politically estranged, is no surprise, in that it reflects routine cost-benefit calculations of the modern presidency. But in a country splintered by partisanship and race, it may also have consequences." Read more