President Obama’s trade agenda passes huge Senate obstacle with 62-38 vote

WASHINGTON - President Obama's trade agenda passed a big Senate hurdle Thursday. The Senate voted 62-38 to allow Obama to negotiate trade deals that Congress can accept or reject, but not change. OBAMA'S FIGHT WITH WARREN OVER PACIFIC TRADE DEAL ESCALATES The measure barely cleared a 60-vote hurdle after last- minute negotiations. Both New York senators opposed the bill. Key pivotal votes came from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and a handful of other lawmakers who support the trade measure, but used the fight to win a commitment that the Senate would act next month on legislation to keep a semi-public Export-Import Bank in existence. The government-backed bank backs overseas sales by U.S. companies. HILLARY CLINTON SLAMMED FOR NOT TAKING SIDE ON TRADE DEAL Obama and major business groups worked in the final hours to help secure the needed Senate votes on trade. Obama made phone calls late Wednesday night to Democratic senators including Cantwell and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat handling the trade legislation. The White House seeks the trade legislation to improve prospects for a treaty under negotiations with 11 other Pacific-Rim nations. Supporters say a deal would boost U.S. exports and create jobs for an economy still not showing full strength. Labor unions and other groups vital to Democrats strongly oppose Obama's trade agenda. They say free-trade deals cost U.S. jobs. There were 49 Republicans and 13 Democrats who voted to advance the measure Thursday. Another 31 Democrats, two independents and five Republicans opposed. The measure now goes to the House. With News Wire Services ON A MOBILE DEVICE? WATCH THE VIDEO HERE Continue Reading

President Obama to visit Phoenix veterans’ hospital that sparked health care overhaul

WASHINGTON — President Obama will visit the Arizona veterans’ hospital that prompted an overhaul of veterans’ health care and led to the resignation of the VA secretary, his first visit since reports of mismanagement surfaced nearly a year ago. The White House said Obama will travel to Phoenix on Friday to discuss veterans’ issues. He will be joined by VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who filled the post following the ouster of Eric Shinseki. The VA came under scrutiny last year following reports that dozens of veterans died awaiting treatment at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Medical Center and that records were manipulated to hide delays. A series of government reports said workers throughout the country falsified wait lists while supervisors looked the other way. While veterans encountered chronic delays, the reports found managers who falsely appeared to meet on-time goals received bonuses. Obama drew criticism in January for traveling to Phoenix but not stopping at the VA hospital. Friday’s visit will come at the end of a two-day West Coast trip by Obama. He will be in Los Angeles on Thursday attending a Democratic Party fundraiser and taping an appearance on ABC’s late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The White House said that while in Phoenix Obama wants to hear about improvements in veteran’s health services as well as areas where further progress is needed. Congress approved a sweeping law last year to overhaul the VA and make it easier for veterans to get VA-paid private health care. It also limits the time VA employees have to appeal firings for alleged wrongdoing. Lawmakers have complained about the implementation pace of the law. On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he was pleased Obama has “finally decided to visit veterans at the Phoenix VA,” but questioned the Obama administration’s Continue Reading

President Obama calls out Kanye West for saying he ‘calls the home phone’

Did President Obama just call out Kanye West? During his Thursday appearance on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live,’ the Commander-in-Chief denied the ubiquitous rapper's recent contention that the two were tight. “I love his music, but I don’t think I have his home number,” Obama said of Kanye, laughing. "I don't." The discussion stemmed from comments the rapper made to Oxford University students during a March 2 speech at the Museum of Natural History, in which he said that he and Obama were pals. “I understand that I’m a servant, and with my voice, with my ability to build relationships with amazing people, speak to amazing people,” West says. “Call Elon Musk out of the blue or call Obama out of the blue," he added " … he calls the home phone, by the way.” Obama told it differently, explaining to Kimmel that he met the rapper twice, once when he was a senator and a second time as President. But as far as the President calling West? Looks like Yeezus might have exaggerated a bit about “all that power” he actually has. ON A MOBILE DEVICE? WATCH PRESIDENT OBAMA CALL OUT KANYE WEST HERE. Continue Reading

President Obama declares himself ‘honorary member of the tribe’ in speech at D.C. synagogue

WASHINGTON - President Obama declared himself an "honorary member of the tribe" in a Friday address at a D.C. synagogue aimed at shoring up his Jewish support. Wearing a white yarmulke and a blue suit, Obama told the congregation he has hosted seven White House Seders and employed two Jewish chiefs of staff. He recalled being described as the "first Jewish President." Obama’s address at Adas Israel, one of Washington's oldest synagogues, was officially scheduled to mark Jewish American Heritage Month. But he used the speech to defend his push to reach an agreement with Iran restricting its nuclear weapons program and to explain his clashes with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "My commitment to Israel's security is and always will be unshakable," Obama said. Citing shared values between the countries, Obama said he has an obligation to speak "honestly" about political differences, especially on the Palestinian issue. Obama also touted ties between black and Jewish Americans, citing persecution both groups faced and their shared commitment to civil rights. "Our shared heritage makes us stronger," he said. Obama retains support among Jews, 70% of whom voted for him in 2012. But Republicans hope to use the spat with Netanyahu and opposition to the Iran talks to make inroads with Jewish voters. Following the address, Obama made an unscheduled visit to a preschool class at the synagogue. According to a White House pool report, Obama joined the 11 toddlers in singing "Shabbat Shalom." ON A MOBILE DEVICE? WATCH THE VIDEO HERE Continue Reading

President Obama to appear on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ Thursday night

President Obama will appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Thursday night,” according to a report. Obama will tape the segment with Kimmel Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles and it will air that evening, The Hollywood Reporter reported. Obama will travel to Los Angeles earlier that day to attend a Democratic National Committee event. The President, who also appeared on Kimmel’s show in 2008, has a varied history on the late-night talk show circuit, having appeared over his tenure in office on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Show with David Letterman” and, most recently, on one of Stephen Colbert’s final episodes of “The Colbert Report.” Continue Reading

President Obama signs USA Freedom Act, overhauls NSA’s phone records sweep

Two days after allowing post-9/11 surveillance programs to lapse, President Obama has signed a bill reviving the measures. The USA Freedom Act bill, which the Senate voted to approve earlier Tuesday, continues the Patriot Act but overhauls the National Security Administration's controversial program sweeping up Americans' phone records to check for terror ties. The Senate approved the compromise, previously passed by the House, after rejecting it last week. The vote was 67-32. The reversal came after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reversed his prior push to block any changes to the Patriot Act. In another defeat for McConnell, senators on Tuesday voted down three amendments he proposed to the act. House Republicans had urged the Senate not to amend the measure, because any change would have sent the bill back to the House, requiring more time to pass it. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said following the Senate's approval that Obama would be quick to approve the measure. "The president will quickly sign it into law and give our law enforcement professionals, once again, tools that they say are critical to their efforts to keep the country safe," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. The bill will continue post-9/11 surveillance provisions that also lapsed Sunday night. Those include the FBI's authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations and to more easily eavesdrop on suspects who are discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance. The bill would alter the NSA's phone records operation, leaving the records with phone companies and giving the government the ability to seek access with a warrant. The vote came two years after NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of the agency's phone records program. It followed acrimonious Senate debate in which senators in both parties blasted Sen. Rand Paul Continue Reading

President Obama speaks at Selma to commemorate 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday: ‘What they did here will reverberate through the ages’

The nation's first African-American President on Saturday marched across the bridge in Selma, Ala., that served as the site of one of the most pivotal events in the civil rights struggle. President Obama, joined by First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia, followed the footsteps of the voting rights demonstrators assaulted by police 50 years ago. The violent confrontation on the Edmund Pettus Bridge — dubbed Bloody Sunday — helped galvanize the civil rights movement and pave the way for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing, but they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office, but they led a nation,” Obama said. “What they did here will reverberate through the ages,” he added. “Not because the change they won was preordained. Not because their victory was complete. But because they proved that nonviolent change is possible — that love and hope can conquer hate.” Thousands packed into historic downtown Selma to hear the President commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march. On hand were former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. But top Republicans — including House Speaker John Boehner and the presumptive GOP presidential candidates — skipped the event. Among the prominent Democrats missing were Bill and Hillary Clinton who were in Miami for an event sponsored by their foundation. Obama was introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader of the Bloody Sunday march who was overwhelmed by the enormity of the occasion. “If someone had told me when we were crossing that bridge that one day I’d be back here introducing the first African-American President,” Lewis said, “I’d say you’re crazy, you’re out of your mind, you don’t know what you’re talking Continue Reading

President Obama cites daughter Malia’s childhood asthma as example of climate change harm

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday cited his daughter Malia’s childhood asthma as an example of the harmful effects of climate change. “Malia had asthma when she was 4, and because we had good health insurance, we were able to knock it out early,” Obama said in an interview on “Good Morning America.” Obama cited Malia, now 16, while arguing that higher temperatures lead to forest fires, which send allergy-causing particulates into the air, potentially increasing asthma cases. The President said that he can relate to “the fear a parent has when your 4-year-old daughter comes up to you and says, ‘Daddy, I’m having trouble breathing.’ ” “The fright you feel is terrible,” Obama said. ON A MOBILE DEVICE? WATCH THE VIDEO HERE. Continue Reading

President Obama discovered Hillary Clinton’s personal email use through news reports

President Obama discovered former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email at the same time as news readers. Obama, after delivering a Saturday speech in Selma, Ala., was asked when he found out about Clinton’s personal email system run from her Chappaqua home. “The same time everybody else learned it through news reports,” he told CBS News. Obama waded into the controversy for the first time since Clinton’s use of a private email account was revealed last week — raising questions about whether key messages were preserved. Clinton’s use of the “” address drew widespread criticism from Republicans. The revelation has come at a delicate time for Clinton, who is preparing to launch a second bid for the presidency in the coming weeks. The President called Clinton a “great Secretary of State” and insisted that his administration encouraged transparency. “My emails, the Blackberry I carry around, all those records are available and archived,” Obama said, according to an excerpt from the interview released Saturday evening. “I’m glad that Hillary’s instructed that those emails about official business need to be disclosed.” The White House has refused to say whether they believe Clinton’s personal email use violated any administration policies or broke any laws. Asked how Clinton’s private server squares with his commitment to transparency, the President said: “The fact that she is going to be putting them forward will allow us to make sure that people have the information they need.” Clinton tweeted Wednesday that she wants all of her emails made public. In an appearance at the Clinton Global Initiative University in Florida, she made no mention of the controversy. Former President Bill Clinton also refused to address the Continue Reading

President Obama, aides launch pitch to get support for U.S.-Iran nuclear deal

WASHINGTON — President Obama and top aides launched an aggressive sales pitch Friday in a bid to line up support for a landmark nuclear deal with Iran. Obama called the four top leaders in Congress to defend the deal. “The most important thing we can do... in the sort of immediate aftermath of the deal being reached is make sure they feel like they’re getting the information they need,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. Vice President Biden, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, National Security Adviser Susan Rice “and a whole host of other White House and senior administration officials” also made calls to lawmakers. Obama wants to head off a push in Congress to pass a bill granting lawmakers the power to reject the deal, over which they currently lack authority. Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, addressing a point of concern critics raised about the agreement, said Iran will not get sanctions relief until months after a June 30 deadline for finalizing a written agreement. The tentative pact, aimed at preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon, says the country can enhance uranium only for energy and reduces the number of centrifuges from 19,000 to 5,060. The deal calls international inspectors to have access to all of the Islamic republic’s facilities. The White House is also working to reassure nervous Middle East allies. Obama called the leaders of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates Friday, following on a prior call to King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The White House push came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his cabinet for a special session to discuss the agreement, which he hopes to block. “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period,” Continue Reading