U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy careened through underground catacombs connecting the Capitol complex Thursday, bumping into pockets of other wide-eyed freshmen lawmakers and seasoned members.
WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden rallied Latino members of Congress on Thursday to push for immigration reform, calling Latinos "the center of the nation's future" and reminding them that their political power will only grow after the last presidential election.
"The way to make the mark ... is for the Hispanic community to step up and step out and let the world know, let the Republicans know, let others know that if you ignore the needs and concerns of the Hispanic community, you will not win," Biden said at a swearing-in event hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonpartisan group that runs programs encouraging Latino leadership.
A record 26 members were welcomed into the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is separate from the institute, on Thursday. Not all Latino members of Congress joined the caucus, but their total, too, is a record: There are three senators and 33 House members of Latino descent in the 113th Congress.
Many of them are strong supporters of immigration reform, which also ranked high -- though not first -- on the list of priorities of Latino voters. President Barack Obama has promised swift action and will begin major work on the issue this month now that the "fiscal cliff" battle is out of the way. Members of Congress are already beginning to craft a deal and hope it can receive a vote by the end of the summer.
The president made something of a down payment on his promise of reform last summer when he announced that his administration would grant deferred action on deportation for some undocumented young people, often referred to as Dreamers.
Before the deferred action announcement, Biden told Thursday's crowd, he and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, had met with now-retired Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), who chaired the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to discuss what could be done for Dreamers.
Although deferred action was considered by many a risky political choice, Biden said he and Muñoz "absolutely believed that what we were about to do was not only the right thing to do, but that it would be embraced by the vast majority of the American people."
They found they were right, the vice president said. Obama won more than 70 percent of the Latino vote in his reelection bid.
Biden said the American people also recognize what Latinos, including those who are undocumented, can and will contribute to the country.
"It's no longer about what can be done for the Hispanic community," he said. "The question is what the Hispanic community is going to do to take this country to a totally new place."
WASHINGTON -- You wouldn't know it by watching Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on the Senate floor Thursday, but history was being made and she was a big part of the reason why.
Murray was one of 20 female senators sworn in for the 113th Congress -- a record high. As chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, she had specifically recruited women to run and, as it turned out, four of her five candidates won: newly elected Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).
"I opened the door," Murray told HuffPost. "Others would have left it closed."
But as senators in both parties buzzed around the Senate chamber on Thursday, embracing each other and welcoming new faces, Murray sat quietly in the back and just watched.
"I was looking out at what was in front of me. And it was just great," she said. "I mean, when I first came here, there were six of us. And today I was just looking out at this roomful of us."
The Washington Democrat said seeing the new wave of female senators reminded her of how different the chamber was when she first stepped onto the floor in 1993, when she was left speechless after the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) walked up and introduced himself. Even visually, she said, the Senate has shifted.
"To look at it today and see how it's changed, the colors, the bright colors," Murray said of the diverse attire of female senators, compared to male senators' typically bland mix of dark suits. "It looks more like America now."
HuffPost spent part of the day with Murray, shadowing her as she made stops around Capitol Hill at more than half a dozen receptions for newly elected Democratic senators. She met privately with reelected Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and her family for a few minutes, stopped by to say hello to Baldwin at her gathering, and when Warren wasn't around at her own reception, just worked the room for a while.
Two things were clear after spending hours with Murray: She walks incredibly fast -- HuffPost lost her a couple of times -- and some people view her as a rock star of sorts. Random individuals in the hallways of Senate buildings said "congratulations" as she passed. Strangers asked for photos or hugs, and others volunteered their plans to help prepare Democratic candidates for the next election cycle.
Some of those eager to see Murray weren't strangers. Jim Messina, President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign manager, greeted her warmly at a reception for newly elected Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who also sought out Murray when she arrived and thanked her for helping with his campaign.
Minutes later, Murray was speed walking down another hallway to another event.
For all the celebrating throughout the day, there was perhaps one moment that stood out the most for Murray. During the swearing-in ceremony on the Senate floor, Murray herself put on a lei and escorted Hirono to the front of the chamber to be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden. She told HuffPost later that an ailing Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) had specifically requested that Murray escort Hirono down the aisle on his behalf, in the event that he wasn't there to do it. Inouye wrote his request in a note to his wife just before he died last month, Murray said.
"That was really special," she said. Asked why she thought Inouye had wanted her to take his place, Murray paused for a few seconds before responding.
"I think Danny just respected the work that women do," she said.
Giffords, who two years ago survived a shooting at a campaign event in Tucson that left six dead and many more wounded, will attend a private event at a Newtown home.
On Wednesday, Giffords met with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at City Hall to discuss the need for tougher gun control measures in the wake of the tragic shooting at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School. Details of Giffords' meeting with Bloomberg have not been made public.
The former congresswoman, who has made a remarkable recovery after suffering a gunshot wound to the head, has become an advocate for gun control since the 2011 shooting that nearly took her life. Following the massacre in Newtown, Giffords' husband Mark Kelly wrote a Facebook post on behalf of Giffords and himself, urging action on gun violence:
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and the entire community of Newtown, CT. I just spoke to Gabby, and she sends her prayers from Tucson.
As we mourn, we must sound a call for our leaders to stand up and do what is right. This time our response must consist of more than regret, sorrow, and condolence. The children of Sandy Hook Elementary School and all victims of gun violence deserve leaders who have the courage to participate in a meaningful discussion about our gun laws - and how they can be reformed and better enforced to prevent gun violence and death in America. This can no longer wait.
WASHINGTON — New York area-lawmakers in both parties are erupting in anger, saying the House Republican leadership has decided to let Congress adjourn without holding a vote on aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy.
There is no immediate comment from either Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) or Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who sets the floor schedule.
In remarks on the House floor, Republican Rep. Peter King called the decision absolutely indefensible, while Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey said she felt betrayed.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the October storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress' term ends Thursday at noon.
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama says 50 U.S. troops have deployed to the African country of Chad to help evacuate U.S. citizens and embassy personnel from the neighboring Central African Republic's capital of Bangui in the face of rebel advances toward the city.
Obama informed congressional leaders of Thursday's deployment in a letter Saturday citing a "deteriorating security situation" in the Central African Republic.
The evacuation of the U.S. diplomats comes in the wake of criticism of the Obama administration's handling of diplomatic security at its consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The ambassador and three other Americans were killed in a Sept. 11 attack.
In the Central African Republic, rebels have seized at least 10 northern towns. On Saturday they continued their advance, seizing the city of Sibut, 114 miles from Bangui.
With just days before the fiscal cliff is reached, public opinion is growing increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of a deal.
An online HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday found that 51 percent of Americans thought a fiscal cliff deal was not very or not at all likely, up from 36 percent in late November. Only 8 percent thought a deal was very likely.
The skepticism transcended partisan lines, with more Democrats, Republicans and independents all saying a deal was more unlikely than likely. Republicans, however, were the most likely to expect further gridlock, with 59 percent predicting that a compromise wouldn't be reached.
The results mirror a Gallup poll that showed a 7-point dip over the last week in the belief a deal would be reached. Other polling has found even less confidence.
Most Americans have been following fiscal cliff news at least somewhat -- 88 percent in the HuffPost/YouGov poll said they'd heard something about the issue. The debate, however, has seemingly changed few minds, giving Democrats a relatively stable edge in public opinion for their handling of the negotiations, as well as their position on ending the Bush tax cuts on incomes over $250,000. A proposed last-ditch deal might set the threshold at $400,000.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted among 1,000 adults in the United States and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, though that variation does not take into account other potential sources of error including statistical bias in the sample. It used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church.
For those who came of age during World War II, or post-9/11, the death Thursday of retired Army general H. Norman Schwarzkopf may not be of great moment. But for those of us who came of age during Vietnam, when that war veered from the discredited Gulf of Tonkin to the Tet Offensive to Kent State, he was a godsend.While there was trepidation before the Persian Gulf War began in January 1991 — a six-week bombing onslaught followed by a 96-hour ground campaign — it pitted a Cold War superpower against Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein (it was a mismatch that would have to be...
Chicago experienced its 500th murder of the year on Thursday night, when a 40-year-old man was shot to death in the Austin neighborhood. It was only the second time in the last ten years the city has reached that mark. In 2008, 513 people were murdered.However, this year’s violence has attracted unprecedented national attention to Chicago. In October, Diane Sawyer held a town hall meeting at St. Sabina’s Church, hosted by Father Michael Pfleger. The killings have earned the city the nickname “Chiraq” and have been inspired an emerging Chicago rap form...
* Obama to meet congressional leaders at White House
* House of Representatives convenes Sunday on fiscal crisis
* Reid assails Boehner's "dictatorship" in the House
* Tax hikes, spending cuts to begin next week
By Richard Cowan and Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON, Dec 27 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and lawmakers are launching a last-chance round of budget talks days before a New Year's deadline to reach a deal or watch the economy go off a "fiscal cliff."
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet congressional leaders from both parties at the White House on Friday at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) to try to revive negotiations to avoid tax hikes and spending cuts - together worth $600 billion - that will begin to take effect on Jan. 1.
Members were divided on the odds of success, with a few expressing hope, some talking as if they had abandoned it and a small but growing number suggesting Congress might try to stretch the deadline into the first two days of January.
In order to be ready to legislate if an agreement takes shape, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives convened a session for Sunday.
And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor advised members to be prepared to meet through Jan. 2, the final day before the swearing-in of the new Congress elected on Nov. 6.
It "doesn't feel like anything that's very constructive is going to happen" as a result of the meeting with Obama, said Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker. "It feels more like optics than anything that's real."
The two political parties remained far apart, particularly over plans to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help close the U.S. budget deficit. But one veteran Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, held out the prospect that if Obama came through with significant spending cuts, Republicans in the House might compromise on taxes.
The coming days are likely to see either intense bargaining over numbers, or political theater as each side attempts to avoid blame if a deal looks unlikely.
"Hopefully, there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves the taxpayers from a wholly, wholly preventable economic crisis," Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Democratic-controlled Senate, said on the Senate floor.
But the rhetoric was still harsh on Thursday after months of wrangling - much of it along ideological lines - over whether to raise taxes and by how much, as well as how to cut back on government spending.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat in Congress, accused Republican House Speaker John Boehner of running a "dictatorship" by refusing to allow bills he did not like onto the floor of the chamber.
Reid urged Republicans in the House to prevent the worst of the fiscal shock by getting behind a Senate bill to extend existing tax cuts for all except those households earning more than $250,000 a year.
Both Reid and Boehner, as well as McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are to meet Obama on Friday.
U.S. stocks sharply cut losses after news of the House reconvening as investors clung to hopes of an 11th-hour deal. Even a partial agreement on taxes that would leave tougher issues like entitlement reform and the debt ceiling until later could be enough to keep markets calm.
"I'm not convinced it will result in a deal, but you could get enough concessions by both parties to at least avoid the immediacy of going over the cliff," said Randy Bateman, chief investment officer of Huntington Asset Management, in Columbus, Ohio.
Obama arrived back at the White House on Thursday from a brief vacation in Hawaii that he cut short to restart stalled negotiations with Congress.
He is likely to meet the toughest resistance from Republicans in the House, where a group of several dozen fiscal conservatives have opposed any tax hikes at all.
But Flake of Arizona said his fellow Republicans in the House and Senate are resigned to seeing some sort of increase in top income tax rates. But they will push back if Obama does not offer spending cuts.
"There will be resistance from a lot of House conservatives to a deal that does that," Flake said.
Strictly speaking, the fiscal cliff measures begin on Jan. 1 when tax rates go up but the House might stay in session until the following day if an agreement is being worked out.
"This January 1 deadline is a little artificial. We can do everything retroactively. We have to get it right, not get it quickly," said Republican Representative Andy Harris.
Another component of the "fiscal cliff" - $109 billion in automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs - is set to kick in on Jan. 2.
The House and Senate passed bills months ago reflecting their own sharply divergent positions on the expiring low tax rates, which went into effect during the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush.
Democrats want to allow the tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans and leave them in place for everyone else. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for everyone.
In another sign that Americans are increasingly worrying about their finances as Washington fails to address the budget crisis, consumer confidence fell to a four-month low in December.
Americans blame Republicans in Congress more than congressional Democrats or Obama for the fiscal crisis, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.
When asked who they held more responsible for the "fiscal cliff" situation, 27 percent blamed Republicans in Congress, 16 percent blamed Obama and 6 percent pointed to Democrats in Congress. The largest percentage - 31 percent - blamed "all of the above."
Reaction to the death Thursday of retired Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf:
"Barbara and I mourn the loss of a true American patriot and one of the great military leaders of his generation. A distinguished member of that `Long Gray Line' hailing from West Point, Gen. Norm Schwarzkopf, to me, epitomized the `duty, service, country' creed that has defended our freedom and seen this great nation through our most trying international crises. More than that, he was a good and decent man – and a dear friend. Barbara and I send our condolences to his wife, Brenda, and his wonderful family." – former President George H.W. Bush.
"With the passing of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, America lost a great patriot and a great soldier. Norm served his country with courage and distinction for over 35 years. The highlight of his career was the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm. `Stormin' Norman' led the coalition forces to victory, ejecting the Iraqi Army from Kuwait and restoring the rightful government. His leadership not only inspired his troops, but also inspired the nation. He was a good friend of mine, a close buddy. I will miss him. My wife, Alma, joins me in extending our deepest condolences to his wife, Brenda, and to her family." – former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
"The men and women of the Department of Defense join me in mourning the loss of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose 35 years of service in uniform left an indelible imprint on the United States military and on the country. The son of a decorated Army officer, Gen. Schwarzkopf followed his father's legacy of service by enrolling in West Point in the 1950s. His bravery during two tours in Vietnam earned him three Silver Stars, and set him on the path lead our troops into battle in Grenada, and then to take charge of the overall allied effort in the first Gulf War as commander of United States Central Command. Gen. Schwarzkopf's skilled leadership of that campaign liberated the Kuwaiti people and produced a decisive victory for the allied coalition. In the aftermath of that war, Gen. Schwarzkopf was justly recognized as a brilliant strategist and inspiring leader. Today, we recall that enduring legacy and remember him as one of the great military giants of the 20th century. My thoughts and prayers are with the Schwarzkopf family in this time of sadness and grief." – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"I was saddened to learn today of the passing of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, a fellow West Point graduate, former CENTCOM commander and one of the 20th century's finest soldiers and leaders. I join the civilian and military leaders of our country, and servicemen and women, past and present, in mourning his death. Gen. Schwarzkopf embodied the warrior spirit, serving with distinction in three conflicts over his 35 years of dedicated service. The hallmark of his remarkable career was the swift and decisive victory over Saddam Hussein's forces after they invaded Kuwait. The thoughts and prayers of the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Force are with Gen. Schwarzkopf's family and friends." – Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
* Fears that an absence of spending cuts could doom deal
* House Republicans decide to return, but little else
By Richard Cowan and David Lawder
WASHINGTON, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are resigned to seeing some sort of income tax increase in legislation to avoid a "fiscal cliff," but such efforts could be doomed in the absence of spending cuts, some Republican lawmakers say.
Congress and President Barack Obama are gearing up for a last-ditch attempt to avoid $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts that could halt progress in the U.S. economy, which lately has been showing signs of gaining ground.
The White House said Obama will host a meeting on Friday with the four top congressional leaders - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Republicans have a majority in the House, while Obama's Democrats control the Senate.
House Speaker John Boehner informed his 241 Republican members on Thursday that the House would come back into session late on Sunday in anticipation of possible fiscal-cliff votes.
This Sunday's session "was about the only thing decided" during a half-hour conference call among House Republicans, said Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona, who will leave the House at the year-end to join the Senate.
In an interview shortly after the phone call, Flake said Republicans in the House and Senate were resigned to seeing some sort of increase in top income-tax rates, although he did not specify a dollar threshold.
While he said he did not want to see any income tax rates go up, Flake said: "I've felt we should've moved a week or two ago to accept the top rate going up and tell the president 'congratulations.'"
The bigger problem in avoiding the fiscal cliff, Flake said, would be if Obama demanded cancellation of the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts set to begin on Jan. 2 without alternative spending cuts to replace them.
"There will be resistance from a lot of House conservatives to a deal that does that," Flake said.
Asked if the days leading up to next Monday, Dec. 31 could thus be fruitless, Flake said, "That is what I am afraid of."
A Senate Democratic aide did not discount the possibility of some spending cuts being included in a limited bill to avert the fiscal cliff - even if they fell far short of the $1 trillion or so in cuts over 10 years that at one point was being discussed in talks between Boehner and Obama.
'TIRED OF WAITING'
Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who also participated in Thursday's House Republican conference call, said its overarching theme was that the Senate should take the bill passed by the House earlier this year to extend all expiring income tax rates and amend it in a way senators see fit.
The House could then either accept that measure, or amend it, and bounce it back to the Senate.
"People are tired of waiting on the Senate to do things," Cole said.
Senate Democrats counter that last July they passed a bill extending the Bush-era tax cuts - except on net household income above $250,000 a year.
Nevertheless, the Senate must still couple its tax-cut bill with Obama's request for extending jobless benefits and possibly some other budget or tax measures.
"I assume the House would want to come back on Sunday knowing that we (the Senate) were going to do something on Friday or Saturday," said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Senate's Republican leadership.
House Republican leaders informed their members that the chamber could stay in session dealing with the fiscal cliff through Wednesday, Jan. 2 - the last day of the current Congress and a day before the new Congress is sworn in.
Cole said Boehner "made very apparent he is not interested in passing a bill that didn't have a majority of Republicans" supporting it.
But Cole said this was "not quite as elusive to achieve" as many people thought. He said Boehner had "over 200 votes" out of 241 Republicans for his failed "Plan B" - a bill extending lower tax rates except for millionaires - which everyone knew would not become law.
Thus, a bill with prospects of being enacted could attract more support, Cole suggested.
If a new bill came to the House floor to raise taxes on upper incomes, Boehner could force passage with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes.
With public opinion polls showing that Republicans would get most of the blame if the country were to go over the fiscal cliff, some House Republicans have become nervous about their political fortunes.
Both Flake and Cole told Reuters that during Thursday's conference call, some Republicans urged Boehner to bring the House back to Washington sooner than Sunday - a request Flake described as being aimed at improving the "optics" of House Republicans being absent from Washington so close to the Dec. 31 deadline.
But Boehner stuck with his promise to give members at least 48 hours notice of a return.
Cole remained upbeat about a positive end to the fiscal-cliff mess that has gripped Washington for two months now.
"I'm a hopeless optimist. I still think there's a chance we'll get things done. All major deals get done at the end," said Cole, who was one of the first House Republicans to say that he could go along with raising some income-tax rates.
HONOLULU — President Barack Obama will cut short his traditional Christmas holiday in Hawaii, planning to leave for Washington on Wednesday evening as he and lawmakers consider how to prevent the economy from going over the so-called fiscal cliff.
Obama was expected to arrive in Washington early Thursday, the White House said Tuesday night. First lady Michelle Obama and the couple's two daughters will remain in Hawaii.
In the past, the president's end-of-the-year holiday in his native state had stretched into the new year. The first family had left Washington last Friday night.
Congress was expected to return to Washington on Thursday. Before he departed for Hawaii, Obama told reporters he expected to be back in the capital the following week.
Automatic budget cuts and tax increases are set to begin in January, which many economists say could send the country back into recession. So far, the president and congressional Republicans have been unable to reach agreement on any alternatives.
Lawmakers have expressed little but pessimism for the prospect of an agreement coming before Jan. 1. On Sunday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she expects any action in the waning days of the year to be "a patch because in four days we can't solve everything."
The Obamas were spending the holiday at a rented home near Honolulu. On Christmas Day, the president and first lady visited with members of the military to express thanks for their service.
"One of my favorite things is always coming to base on Christmas Day just to meet you and say thank you," the president said at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Anderson Hall. He said that being commander in chief was his greatest honor as president.
Obama took photos with individual service members and their families.
On Christmas Eve, Obama called members of the military to thank them for serving the nation, then joined his family for dinner, the White House said. The Obamas opened gifts Christmas morning, ate breakfast and sang carols.
Friends were joining the Obamas for Christmas dinner Tuesday night, the White House said.
Charter schools could be the next frontier for Michigan teacher's unions determined to keep organizing in the wake of recent right-to-work legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
Teachers and staff seeking to unionize several Detroit charters rallied in the pouring rain Thursday at a school on the city's southwest side to make their case for collective bargaining. The wet, umbrella-toting crowd, which totaled about 250 people, was a mix of parents, community supporters and school employees.
They gathered to publicize a request for a union election filed that day with the National Labor Relations Board. The campaign involves four campuses of the Cesar Chavez Academy, a charter which has been operating in Detroit for around 15 years. The academy's schools, named after the famous Latino labor leader, are run by the Leona Group, a charter operator that runs more than 60 schools in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
If the union drive succeeds employees would be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, a group affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the AFL-CIO. Currently only one charter school in the state is organized under the AFT. It's the second attempt to formally unionize Cesar Chavez Academy in recent years. A 2006 effort to hold a union election through the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) unions fell flat -- with MERC finding that the charter school workers didn't qualify as public employees and dismissing the petition.
Organizers with the current campaign say a clear majority of the academy's staff have signed on in favor of a union. Their employer, however, isn't quite as enthusiastic. A recent request for immediate union recognition was declined by the charter operator.
Leona Group spokesman Mike Atkins told the Huffington Post they had received the letter and explained their reasons for rejecting the offer.
"We think that the system, the process that's set up by the National Labor Relations Board for secret ballot elections giving every employee the opportunity to cast the ballot without anybody standing over their shoulder or pushing them in any particular direction is an important right," he said. "We thought it's gone really well for them, but if they think there are some issues that need collective bargaining that's perfectly all right to do so -- and the election will indicate that."
Atkins expects a union election to held within 45 days of the NLRB request.
Flordemaria Garay, a social worker who has worked with the Cesar Chavez Academy Middle School for 10 years, told The Huffington Post she believes a union would help improve the environment at her school.
"I want to have competitive wages and competitive conditions for teachers, [so] teachers remain in our school," she said. "I've been working at this school and seen a lot of people leave this school because we're not heard. We're never heard. We don't have a voice in the way things run in the schools."
Responding to the claim that the charter operator isn't listening to input, Atkins of the Leona Group said his organization strives to encourage participation.
"We want everybody to to take ownership in the school and the whole reason that school works is through innovation and the thoughts and the suggestions that come from staff people." he said, "So, if they're not getting that, the procedures and the policies and the protocols that are set up to promote that haven't been working as well as they should."
In addition to the AFT, the effort also has the support of the United Auto Workers and a number of community groups.
Brenda Jacintos of the parent's group Mujeres Mejorando Educacion (Women Improving Education), which is also requesting recognition from the Academy, told The Huffington Post the group fully supports the union. "We want teachers to stay and we want our kids to have a better education," she said.
Rev. Bullock, president of the Highland Park NAACP and Rainbow PUSH Detroit, attended Thursday's rally as a member of the Change Agent Consortium, a progressive coalition of labor, faith and citizen groups that's been working with parents to support the campaign.
Noting the Leona Group's involvement with a public-private partnership in Highland Park's school system, he told The Huffington Post he believed the move to organize the charter schools could have important repercussions beyond the four campuses of Cesar Chavez Academy.
"The Leona Group has this huge footprint, which will determine really in large measure -- also with the EAA (Educational Achievement Authority) -- what education's going to look like in the future of this region," he said.
"Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined." "”Toni Morrison On Thursday evening, embattled U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice tweeted this:"Those of you who know me know that I'm a fighter, but not at the cost of what's right for our country."Rice leaves the Capitol after meeting with Senators on Benghazi last month. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)Immediately, thousands of retweets and responses came pouring in to her feed expressing both sadness and support for her decision to remove her name from consideration for the...
The Mayans turned out to be wrong about the end of the world, but there was still a lot of gloom this week as we watched the procession of funerals for victims of the Newtown shooting. On Thursday alone, services were held for four six-year-olds and one seven-year-old. In an attempt at establishing some normalcy for those kids who survived, officials are recreating their classrooms at a nearby school, right down to the art on the walls and the placement of desks and backpacks. That's good for the children; the rest of us need the exact opposite. We need to break the all-too familiar routine of gun-victim funerals and leaders who helplessly throw up their hands. On Wednesday, the president announced that Joe Biden would lead a task force on gun violence. It's a step in the right direction, but only if it results in legislation that makes a week of wrenching funerals begin to seem utterly unfamiliar.
WASHINGTON - On Jan. 1, 2000, the world awoke to find that little had changed since the night before. After years of hype around what was then called Y2K -- the fear that computer systems across the globe would collapse, unable to handle the year shifting from '99 to '00 -- the date change turned out to be a momentous non-event.
Next week, the United States is in for much the same, after months of frantic hype about the economic disruption that awaits if Congress and the president fail to reach a deal and the federal government goes "over the fiscal cliff."
The so-called fiscal cliff is a combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1. But the agencies responsible for implementing those changes, including the IRS and the Pentagon, are well aware that congressional and White House negotiators will most likely come to some sort of deal within weeks or months -- and so they are planning to carry on as usual, according to a broad review of private and public government plans.
In other words, there will be no cliff. There won't even be a slope. Congress and the president can have their public and private dramas, but the government officials responsible for carrying out their eventual orders have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends.
An IRS spokesperson said the agency is not commenting on possible fiscal cliff consequences beyond a letter it sent to Congress last week. That letter's purpose was to inform lawmakers just how many taxpayers would see higher tax bills if the alternative minimum tax (AMT) isn't patched. But the letter also holds clues to the agency's broader plans -- or lack thereof. The IRS told lawmakers it would not reprogram its system to account for the possibility the AMT would not be patched because "if Congress were to act at some point next year to enact a new AMT patch, the time and substantial expense necessary for the IRS to reprogram its systems ... would ultimately be wasted."
The IRS also isn't commenting on how it will handle tax withholding from paychecks in the new year, but if it uses the same reasoning it has applied to the AMT, there is no reason to believe the agency will reprogram all its computers to begin immediately withholding higher amounts come January. Such an effort would be wasted if Congress ends up extending tax cuts for those making less than $250,000, as it is broadly expected to do, even by House Republicans.
The IRS might be able to move more quickly on the end of the payroll tax holiday, which both parties have signaled they will let expire. But even if the IRS can immediately implement a payroll tax hike, and employers can instantly begin witholding at higher rates, a person making $50,000 a year will see $40 or so less in his or her first paycheck of 2013.
Other agencies are planning to do just as little as the IRS to prepare for a fall off the fiscal cliff. On Friday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured his personnel that nothing would change come January, saying that no layoffs would be announced in the near future, nor would any be announced without extensive advance notice.
The Government Accountability Office, charged with overseeing other government agencies, itself is not planning any January changes. Instead, the GAO is backloading any possible cuts toward the end of the fiscal year in June and assuming a deal will be reached before then, according to a source at the agency who isn't involved with the press operation.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu also said no immediate cuts are in the works, though he did not rule out future furloughs. "I do not expect our day-to-day operations to change dramatically on or immediately after January 2, should sequestration occur," Chu wrote in an email to staff on Thursday. "This means that we will not be executing any immediate personnel actions, such as furloughs, on that date."
On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency sent out a memo that read almost identically to Chu's, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also told her staff not to worry about department operations come January, according to a staffer there. At the Federal Trade Commission, workers were told the same. "I hope all of you have heard reassurances from your supervisors that, should the Congress and White House fail to avoid the 'fiscal cliff' triggers on January 1, the FTC will remain fully able to meet its payroll and support its mission. We have planned for this contingency and you should continue to do your work and not worry," reads a memo sent to employees.
[HuffPost readers: Do you work at a federal agency? If so, send any fiscal cliff guidance you've received from your bosses to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Much like government workers, for the vast majority of the population, life on the other side of the cliff will be no different than life on this side. Those most likely to get hit, however, are the jobless, who would see unemployment benefits cut off. (They would be eligible for back benefits once a deal is cut.)
The most substantial fiscal cliff pain, then, will likely be felt by House Republicans. Indiana Rep. Dan Burton, a strongly conservative Republican, laid out on Thursday what has increasingly become conventional wisdom across party lines.
"If we go over the fiscal cliff, the president just comes back and says, 'OK, we're going to give tax cuts to everybody under $250,000.' Who's going to vote against that? Everybody'll vote for that. Everybody," Burton told reporters in the Capitol. "Because it will be just a fait accompli. You won't be voting on whether you're going to do away with a tax cut, you're going to be reimposing tax cuts for everybody under $250,000. So the Republicans are in an untenable situation."
Laura Bassett, Sabrina Siddiqui and Jason Cherkis contributed reporting.
On Wednesday night, senators took a break from the hard work of rescuing the nation’s finances. They summoned Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg, ordered in popcorn and watched the movie “Lincoln.”After Thursday night’s debacle in the House — in which Speaker John Boehner had to pull his own tax bill from the floor for lack of votes — Republicans in that chamber may wish to schedule a movie night of their own. Perhaps they should consider an earlier Spielberg film: “Jurassic Park.”
By Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba
NEW YORK, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Fears about imminent tax hikes and cuts to government spending are taking a toll on U.S. shoppers and could deprive retailers of a strong finish to the 2012 holiday shopping season.
The acrimonious debate in Washington over how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff has cast a pall over shopper sentiment, retail experts say, as consumers head to the malls on the last Saturday before Christmas - typically one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Talks to avoid the fiscal cliff stalled on Thursday when Republican lawmakers rejected House Speaker John Boehner's proposal aimed at winning concessions from President Barack Obama.
"The longer Congress delays making a decision on the fiscal cliff and the more uncertainty people feel, as we go toward Christmas, they would start pulling back on their spending," said Ron Friedman, retail practice leader at consulting firm Marcum LLP. "I don't think we're going to get a great pickup in the last few days here."
About 17 percent of the 1,514 Americans who participated in a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Dec. 17-20 said the impending "fiscal cliff" was making them spend less this season.
U.S. consumer sentiment also plummeted in December as Americans were unnerved by ongoing negotiations, data showed.
The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's final reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment tumbled to 72.9 from 82.7 in November, worse than forecasts for 74.7. It was the lowest level since July.
"What could have been a merry Christmas is going to turn to a ho-hum Christmas, and we can thank our, you know, politicians for getting in the middle of it all," NPD analyst Marshal Cohen said. "It is like this great unknown puts a big damper on the consumer feeling confident to go out and spend more."
More than 60 percent of U.S. consumers have already finished more than three-quarters of their holiday shopping, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday. This means retailers will have to offer deeper discounts to force Americans to open their wallets in the last lap of the holiday season.
The holiday quarter can account for about 30 percent of annual sales and half of profit for many chains, and experts including Cohen and Friedman see retailers pulling out all the stops this weekend and the week ahead to woo last-minute shoppers.
"The only way retailers now are going to be able to get a boost is by creating their own stimulus package, and that stimulus package is going to be markdowns," Cohen said.
Earlier this week, research firm ShopperTrak lowered its sales forecast for November and December and now expects sales to be up 2.5 percent, rather than up 3.3 percent.
Many retailers reported record traffic at the beginning of the season, but several, including Macy's Inc and Saks Inc , lost a lot of business because of Hurricane Sandy.
Earlier this week, Redbook Research said chain-store same-store sales rose 2.2 percent so far in December, suggesting shoppers are indeed cooling their heels. Sales for the November-December holiday season look set to rise 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year after a 5.6 percent increase in 2011, according to a National Retail Federation forecast.
"Retailers are going to be pretty challenged this year in trying to get beyond all this," Cohen said, referring to a string of events this holiday season that have weighed on U.S. shoppers including the hurricane, gridlock in Washington and a recent shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.
NRF sees 2013 retail sales rising about 2 to 2.5 percent if the fiscal cliff is averted. If not, sales would be essentially flat for the year, the trade group estimated in a study with Macroeconomic Advisers. (Editing by Matthew Lewis)
House Speaker John Boehner's big idea for a backup "Plan B" exploded Thursday night when, after days of wrangling with his own troops, he realized he didn't have enough votes to pass the tax cut part of his plan. With four days until Christmas and 11 until the effects of the "fiscal cliff" begin the big question today is: what happens now? Boehner sent House Republicans home for Christmas after last night's legislative collapse, ensuring nothing will be passed until Dec. 27 at the earliest, when members are due back in town. That leaves...
WASHINGTON -- Thursday night's failure by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to garner enough support among House Reopublicans for his fiscal cliff "Plan B" was a major setback for his role as speaker. It was also a clear example of the growing influence of outside groups over the GOP caucus.
"We were on the phone all day long today, talking to members of Congress," said Mike Needham, executive director of Heritage Action, the political arm of the powerful conservative nonprofit Heritage Foundation. "I think we definitely changed people's minds today, absolutely."
Lacking the votes to pass his bill, Boehner on Thursday night canceled a floor vote on Plan B and dismissed the House for the rest of the year. Republican leaders had been trying to persuade rank-and-file members to back Boehner's budget all week and by Thursday afternoon, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) were confident they had enough votes to send the bill to the Senate. "We're going to have the votes," Cantor said at a press conference.
But as the afternoon wore on, the situation changed rapidly. By the time Boehner called the hastily scheduled caucus meeting, his bill was doomed. The bill, Boehner said after the meeting, "did not have sufficient support from our members to pass."
A leading Tea Party group, Teaparty.net, said it enlisted the help of former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) to urge Republicans in Congress to vote against Boehner's plan. "For the last three days, we've had Hayworth calling members of Congress," said Teaparty.net spokeswoman Scottie Nell Hughes. "And other staffers of ours have been calling chiefs of staff to make sure they knew what our positions are."
A spokesman for the Club for Growth, another major conservative group cited as an active participant, said that after it publicly issued a statement opposing Plan B on Wednesday afternoon, group representatives needed to make few phone calls on Thursday.
"Members of Congress know we're not afraid to get involved in a primary," Club for Growth's communications director, Barney Keller, told HuffPost on Thursday night. "Members know that the first thing we do is look to our scorecard, and decide who is a pro-growth vote and who isn't. And we felt that to vote in favor [of Boehner's plan] would be to vote for a tax increase, and against economic growth"
The efforts derailed the Republican leadership at the last minute.
The failure leaves President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with little opposition in crafting a measure to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. When the House returns, its members will have few options -- either back the Senate bill or allow taxes to rise for the middle class.
Club for Growth's clout stems from its campaign spending. The group aims its spending on a few select races, and rewards fiscal conservatives while challenging moderate Republicans. It spent " target="_hplink">more than $20 million during the 2012 election cycle.
Keller was unapologetic about Club for Growth's impact on congressional races. "The number one thing people in Congress fear is losing their jobs," he said. "So we don't lobby members, we help educate them. And if you look at the rising stars of the [Republican] party, it's a lot of people who were supported by" Club for Growth.
The power of Club for Growth and other conservative groups to swing Republican votes in Congress underscores the defeat for Boehner and other House Republican leaders. At least one grassroots conservative group, American Majority Action, is calling for Boehner's replacement as speaker. "Tonight’s vote is a harbinger of things to come. Speaker Boehner is on the ropes & his speakership is in jeopardy," the group said. This is not the first time that American Majority Action has called for Boehner's replacement.
A senior GOP leadership aide emphatically denied that Boehner's role as speaker was under threat following Thursday's failed vote. But Keller, the Club for Growth spokesman, painted House leadership under Boehner in painfully unflattering terms. "The House leadership should be grateful that they were saved by their conference from raising taxes tonight," Keller said.
The Heritage Foundation, another group involved in the opposition to Plan B, is poised to see its influence rise in coming years. In January, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) will retire to become chairman of the group, a 501c3 nonprofit affiliate of Heritage Action. In this role, DeMint's power is likely to grow alongside that of Heritage and the other conservative outside groups.
Before Thursday's caucus meeting, DeMint helped put pressure on House Republicans. "I haven't talked to DeMint in a week," said Needham, the Heritage Action spokesman. "But I know he's been privately talking to people about the vote."
Keller said many GOP House members were grateful to have outside entities standing up to House leadership.
"We got a lot of calls from members tonight after the [informal] vote, and they were very gratified that this went down," Keller said. "We didn't talk to leadership ahead of it, but rank-and-file members should be proud of what they accomplished."
WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) failed to muscle a controversial fiscal cliff
fallback plan through the House Thursday night, suddenly pulling the bill after spending almost week on a plan that Democrats called a waste of time.
"The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass," Boehner said in a statement. "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff. The House has already passed legislation to stop all of the January 1 tax rate increases and replace the sequester with responsible spending cuts that will begin to address our nation's crippling debt. The Senate must now act."
The failure to bring the measure to a vote marks a defeat for Boehner, who was unable to marshal enough of his fractious, Tea Party-inspired members. Meanwhile, the nation moves closer to the so-called fiscal cliff, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared earlier Thursday that the Senate will recess Friday until two days after Christmas.
That would leave less than five full days to find a way around the cliff, which Congress itself created by mandating in last year's debt-ceiling agreement that some $1 trillion in budget cuts start kicking in after Jan. 1. That's also when Congress has mandated that all of the Bush-era tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 expire.
Boehner's bill aimed to keep all the tax cuts for those earning less than $1 million a year -- a scheme similar to what Democrats had backed two years ago, when they were unable to get the GOP to budge at all on taxes.
Democrats opposed Boehner's plan because it did not include many provisions that were included in their version. They argued that the Plan B bill would end some tax cuts for the middle class -- worth on average about $1,000 a year -- while it actually preserved some tax breaks for millionaires worth approximately $50,000. On top that, Democrats campaigned -- and won -- on keeping taxes lower for those with incomes of less than $250,000.
Democratic leaders said the whole effort was a futile display that drew the nation closer to the fiscal cliff. They argued that Boehner should work more closely with Obama on a real solution.
"The reason we're here is because our Republican colleagues refuse to compromise," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "We are wasting the people's time."
Boehner stood by his strategy as recently as Thursday afternoon, insisting that the Senate would have to give his bill a vote.
If Boehner's bill had passed, it would have marked a shift in the GOP's absolute opposition of all tax hikes, and offering a ray of hope that the two sides could come together. With time running out, however, it would be difficult for Democrats and Republicans to agree on a plan that Boehner could get his stalwart Tea Party members to sign.
Still, the attempt was strongly opposed by Democrats, and Republicans can tell their anti-tax base that holding the purist line on taxes is impossible because of the utter rejection of Plan B by the other party.
"We're showing that we don't have a partner in the White House and we don't have a partner in this body," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Republicans have admitted that the whole equation changes after Jan. 1, when tax rates default back to the Clinton era. The debate then would no longer be about raising taxes, but about lowering them, and the GOP would have few options to stop Democrats from passing their middle class tax break. Then, cutting a deal on taxes -- if not spending -- becomes relatively easy, and likely would be accomplished quickly.
"If we go over the fiscal cliff, the president just comes back and says, 'Ok, we're going to give tax cuts to everybody under 250,000.' Who's going to vote against that? Everybody'll vote for that. Everybody," Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said shortly before the votes. "It will be just a fait accompli. You won't be voting on whether you're going to do away with a tax cut, you're going to be reimposing tax cuts for everybody under 250,000. So the Republicans are in an untenable situation."
Ryan Grim contributed.
For the first time since a recession gripped the country in 2008, Maryland is approaching a General Assembly session with good fiscal news: Neither tax increases nor drastic budget cuts are likely to be needed to balance the budget.
The improved forecast is driven by higher-than-expected revenues, led by corporate and individual income tax payments. For the current budget year and the one that begins July 1, the state is expected to take in $161 million more than anticipated.
"It's been a long time since we've had such good news," state Budget Secretary T. Eloise Foster said after the Board of Revenue Estimates adopted the forecast Thursday. "I'm always happy when we are writing revenues up."
State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp added: "We are making significant progress. Maryland is going to see a brighter day, and we are ahead of the rest of the nation."
There is a significant caveat: The ink would turn red if the federal government goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, automatically triggering a combination of spending cuts and tax increases if Congress cannot reach a budget deal by the end of December.
Maryland would stand to lose more than 60,000 jobs and nearly $1 billion in tax revenue, analysts say, leaving the state with a significant budget shortfall that would have to be resolved during the 90-day legislative session that begins Jan. 9.
"These estimates assume that our political parties can come together to solve our nation's economic challenges," said state Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who once worked for a Washington lobbying firm. "Given the consequences, it's a reasonable assumption. But as someone who spent years on Capitol Hill, reason and logic might not be applicable."
Shortly after the board released its revenue forecast, a legislative committee that sets limits for government spending recommended that Gov. Martin O'Malley submit a budget that would narrow the remaining $383 million gap between long-term spending projections and expected revenue -- known as the "structural deficit" -- by at least $200 million.
That would bring the gap, which stood at about $2 billion just three years ago, under $200 million, thanks to a combination of cuts in expected spending growth and tax increases adopted over the past two years. The projected gap is small enough -- in a state budget of more than $35 billion -- that it likely could be closed without further tax increases or spending cuts on the scale of those made in recent years.
Taxes might not be entirely off the table, however. Revenue for transportation, which for the most part is financed separately from the state's operating budget, has been lagging far behind what experts say is needed. Taxes on gasoline -- or other revenue producers for roads and transit -- could become part of O'Malley's agenda.
The indicators for the general fund, which finances most other state programs, are looking healthier than they have since O'Malley took office in January 2007.
State analysts believe tax revenue in 2013 will be higher than thought even a few months ago -- a rare uptick after years of gloomy news. The increase is driven by an expected 38 percent rise in revenue from corporate income taxes amid improved earnings.
Meanwhile, personal income tax payments are expected to be up by 8 percent this year and 3.7 percent next year -- with the strong 2013 numbers driven by an expectation that many wealthy Marylanders will reap capital gains by selling off investments to avert higher taxes in case Congress does not reach a budget deal by the fiscal cliff deadline.
The Maryland Constitution requires that the state budget be in balance, and each year the General Assembly has reached that goal by the end of the session.
But each year since 2007, as the weather turned cold and the session drew near, state fiscal analysts have been offering grim predictions. In December 2010, with the state's economy battered by the recession, they warned lawmakers that the structural deficit was nearing $2 billion.
Lawmakers had hoped to eliminate the gap entirely in next year's budget, but the Spending Affordability Committee voted Thursday to keep open the option of taking an extra year to do so.
Del. John Bohanan, House co-chair of the panel, defended the decision. He said that by doing so, the legislature could fulfill its goals of fully funding such long-standing programs as aid to community colleges and private universities.
Bohanan, a Southern Maryland Democrat, said the recommendation calls for the governor to come within 1 percent of full elimination of the long-term deficit. With the right combination of legislative cuts and good revenue news, the structural gap could be closed in the coming year, he said.
"Essentially, we're saying we've eliminated it for all intents and purposes," Bohanan said.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell tried to amend the spending affordability goal to require elimination of the entire $383 million gap now. He was voted down, 17-3, joined by two other Republicans.
As he left, the Calvert County Republican expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome. "I still think we're spending too much money," he said.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called it "a bit of a miracle" that O'Malley and the legislature will have been able to narrow a $2 billion gap to less than $200 million.
"I just want to congratulate the state of Maryland for coming together and working harmoniously," he said.
Miller, a Calvert County Democrat known for his long memory, complimented O'Malley -- who has generally abided by the legislature's fiscal guidelines -- while taking a dig at governors past.
"We thank the governor for staying within spending affordability limits. There's governors, Republican and Democrat, that have not done that," Miller said.
What to make of UN Ambassador Susan Rice's withdrawal from consideration on Thursday afternoon to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
Rice's image has suffered greatly since the election, and not just because of her notorious appearances on five network Sunday TV chat shows five days after the Benghazi disaster, in which she said that the assaults on U.S. facilities in the Libyan city and the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on the anniversary of 9/11 were the result of a protest over an anti-Islamic video gone sour.
Her candidacy has clearly been waning.
In addition to that controversy, there were controversies over her big investments in Canadian petroleum companies that helped persuade our neighbor to the north to opt of out greenhouse gas reductions (including the Keystone XL pipeline, the disposition of which the State Department is handling), the handling of '90s jihadist attacks on embassies while she was assistant secretary for African affairs, and her support for African dictators.
None of that helped her, obviously, and it all helped dissipate her core backing on the left.
Still, it was Benghazi that was the key.
The story she peddled on the chat shows was supported by intelligence community talking points, but we know now that those talking points were somehow altered as they worked their way through the system. There are now at least four versions of what agency was responsible. But even if the talking points hadn't been changed, and even if Rice had not had access to classified intelligence, which quite simply gave the lie to those talking points, the reports of the Libyan government, widespread news reports, and plain old common sense argued that she not go forth with the spin she employed.
My old mentor Regis McKenna, the Silicon Valley PR and marketing guru, always said that reality makes for the best spin. The further the spin gets from reality, the worse it is in the moment. And it will get worse still as time goes on.
The underlying imperative was to suggest, in the midst of Barack Obama's re-election campaign, that Al Qaeda was defeated -- if so, why are we still carrying out so many drone strikes and special ops raids around the world? -- but that was not especially intelligent.
(Here is the reality on terrorism: The core group of al Qaeda has been decimated and largely defeated. But others have sprung up to take up the banner, and one of the dangers of our aggressive policy is that, beyond a certain point, all the drone strikes and night raids create new jihadists and new problems.)
"Despite what we saw in that horrific incident where some mob was hijacked ultimately by a handful of extremists," Rice, in full spin mode, opined.
"There's no question, as we've seen in the past with things like 'The Satanic Verses,' with the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, there have been such things that have sparked outrage and anger and this has been the proximate cause of what we've seen," Rice averred.
But of course there was no mob of protesters, hijacked or otherwise, as Mohammed Magarief, the president of Libya, not to mention U.S. video of the event, made clear. There was only a terrorist attack. Which continued later that night, on yet another U.S. compound in Benghazi.
Rice's performance not only violated the rule of reality-based spin, it made a mockery of it. What she was saying was simply preposterous for anyone with half a brain who was paying attention.
That would have been bad enough for a political operative. But it was disastrous for someone who was angling to be secretary of state.
It was also very bad news for the Obama Administration. Because it guaranteed that the most obviously egregious element of the Benghazi disaster -- the gross mischaracterization of the attack itself -- would be center stage throughout Rice's nascent candidacy for the nation's top diplomatic post.
Obama might, I emphasize might, have gained her confirmation in the end, after a very tough fight. But it would not have been worth it, for the effort would have shined a very harsh light on Benghazi, a disaster which appears to contain a number of very bad judgments. All of which constitute a separate matter from the rabid performance of Fox News and others on the far right, who posit preposterous conspiracies.
Now that Rice has stepped aside -- or, perhaps more accurately, been moved aside by the president or his operatives -- it may be possible to get to the bottom of the Benghazi disaster in a more measured fashion. Mistakes are inevitable in government and politics, as in life. The question is how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. To do that, we have to understand what happened. And it is increasingly evident that CIA, which had a very big presence in Benghazi, was at the center of what went down -- and of what was tragically not perceived in advance -- even more so than State.
So long as Rice, insistent that she had not erred, was in center stage of the issue, with the most prestigious post in the Cabinet at stake, there was no chance that the inquiry would take place in a sober-minded fashion. The sheer hyper-partisanship of the nation's politics and much of its media made that clear. Her past performance, her defiant manner, and her enemies' fixation on her made that impossible.
It's unfortunate that Rice did not find a way to acknowledge the obvious -- that she had spun up an unsustainable stance -- and move forward. She's clearly a very talented person, if perhaps a bit stuck in political operative mode. Making mistakes, which everyone does, is often the best way to learn. But only if we acknowledge the errors.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.