In the News

  • Senate turns out lights – buh bye
  • Cruz confirmations
  • School massacre: Pakistan mourns
  • Sydney siege: Questions
  • Did VA “mislead Congress” about wait time scandal?
  • Sony hackers threaten violence
  • Jeb Bush “actively” exploring 2016
  • Obama to sign Russia sanctions bill
  • Kerry juggling UN resolutions
  • Judge rules against Obama immigration executive actions


Senate Turns Out the Lights – Buh Bye
• The Senate Tuesday finished its final session of the year by confirming Sarah Saldana, a federal prosecutor, as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and Anthony Blinken, to be deputy secretary of state. Neither received 60 votes (NYT, Hill, Politico, Roll Call, WaPo, me)

• The Senate approved 76-16 a package of popular tax breaks for business and individuals in time for beneficiaries to claim them on their 2014 tax returns. But the package, which will cost the Treasury around $42 billion, expires on 1 Jan, leaving it to the next Congress to decide whether to bring them back (here we go again)

• Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), the top tax writer in the Senate, voted no. “This bill doesn’t have the shelf life of a carton of eggs,” Wyden said in a floor statement ahead of the vote. “The only new effects of this legislation apply to the next two weeks.”

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had tried to broker a longer deal that angered Democrats who were left out of the talks – including Wyden and the WH. The general sense was that the bill was better than nothing. “You have to take what you can get,” said Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Cruz Confirmations
• Democrats and Republicans held their noses to vote for the short-term extension after Wyden and President Obama joined forces to oppose a deal negotiated by Reid and House Ways and Means chair Dave Camp (R-MI) that would have extended most tax breaks for two years and made permanent several tax breaks for businesses

• Obama issued a pre-emptive veto threat before the pact was done, complaining that Democrats got a raw deal because it failed to make permanent an expansion of favored tax credits for working families

• But most of the day was consumed with nominations, none more irritating to Republicans than the ones who received a vote because of an impulsive move over the weekend by Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) – the Cruz Confirmations

• At a private lunch with Republican senators Tuesday, Cruz apologized for keeping his colleagues in session over the weekend, though he refused to acknowledge any role in the nominations debacle (Scooby “huh?”). Sen Kelly Ayotte (R-NY) had been scheduled to see the Nutcracker with her daughter and had to cancel because of Cruz – bet she wasn’t happy
School Massacre: Pakistan Mourns
• The Pakistani city of Peshawar is burying its dead after a Taliban attack Tuesday at a military school killed at least 132 children and nine staff. Mourners crowded around coffins bedecked with flowers, after candlelight vigils were staged overnight. Pakistan has lifted a moratorium on the death penalty (BBC, Hill, TRNS, WaPo, NYT, AP, me)

• Seven Taliban gunmen wearing bomb vests had attacked an auditorium where children were taking an exam. They then went from room to room, shooting students and teachers where they found them. The siege lasted eight hours. All the gunmen were killed

• President Obama on Tuesday condemned the “horrific attack” and said “by targeting students and teachers in this heinous attack, terrorists have once again shown their depravity,” Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousefzai, 17, who was shot by the Taliban for championing girls’ rights to education, condemned “these atrocious and cowardly acts.”

• India’s PM Narendra Modi offered his country’s “deepest condolences.” Even the Afghan Taliban called the attack “un-Islamic” and condemned it

• Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif declared three days of mourning. It’s believed that this attack may finally bring the country together against the Taliban in a way that hasn’t happened before. Sharif called a meeting of all parliamentary parties in Peshawar today to discuss the response. Pakistan’s army says it has launched air strikes at militants – unclear if a response to attack
Sydney Siege: Questions
• Australian PM Tony Abbott said today that he will “never let down” the Australian people in the aftermath of the Sydney cafe siege. He announced a review into the background and security checks on the gunman, Man Haron Monis, who died along with two hostages in a police raid. He was facing charges of sexual assault and being a murder accessory

• Monis had a history of religiously motivated activism and called himself a cleric, but officials have said there’s as yet no evidence his actions were linked to international Islamist militant networks, despite his use of a flag with the Islamic creed on it during the siege (BBC, me)

• Monis was from Iran and granted asylum in Australia in 1996. The day before the siege, he had been refused the right to appeal against a conviction for sending “grossly offensive” letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers. Iran also says he was wanted there over fraud allegations, but that Australia had refused to extradite him 14 years ago

• Abbott said authorities needed to know how Monis had acquired permanent residency in Australia, how he lived on welfare for many years while apparently being physically able, how he obtained a gun license and “how someone with such a long record of violence and instability was out on bail.” (#whatamess)

• Abbott said Monis had been on a security watch list until 2009. “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days and that’s one of the reasons we need this inquiry,” he said. When asked whether Monis should have been on a terror watch list, NSW Police Commissioner Scipione said none of the charges he faced related to political violence
Did VA “Mislead Congress” About Wait Time Scandal?
• House Veterans Affairs Committee chair Jeff Miller (R-FL) accused the leadership of the VA of “misleading Congress and the public” after a new report from the oversight office at the VA stated that the dept had given “misleading” and “incorrect” info to members of Congress and the media amid a furor over patient wait times (Hill, me)

• In April, the VA distributed a fact sheet that said 23 patients had died and 76 had suffered serious harm from having to wait more than 90 days for an appt at VA facilities. That document said the VA examined unresolved health care requests dating back to 1999. In fact, the requests reviewed only went as far back as 2007 (whaaaat)

• Miller said VA leaders have made “undeniably false” assertions about the scope of the dept’s review. “Consequently, the VA’s statistics regarding the number of veterans harmed by dept delays in care are almost certainly wildly inaccurate and we may never know the actual number of veterans affected by gaps in the VA system that existed for years.”

• The report from the VA’s office of IG also found that the VA made mistakes when reporting the number of deaths. One of the death disclosures was attributed to the wrong facility and, in another instance, VA overstated the number of deaths by two. So the 23 deaths reported could be off base (bit casual)
• Pic: A Jackson MS pastor dressed his horse, Charlotte, in a wedding dress and stomped around a federal courthouse on Friday, to protest legalization of gay marriage in his state. Horse looks very pretty (TPM, me)

Sony Hackers Threaten Violence
• People claiming to be the Sony hackers vowed in an online message Tuesday that there would be attacks similar to those of Sept 11, 2001, at movie theaters that show the studio’s forthcoming comedy “The Interview.” (WSJ, AP, NYT, me)

• “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places ‘The Interview’ be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” read the note, which claims to be from the same group that stole a huge amount of data from the Sony Corp-owned studio’s computers last month

• “The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.”

• “The Interview” stars Seth Rogen and James Franco have canceled all upcoming media appearances following the latest threats. Tuesday night, Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema said it had canceled Thursday’s NY premiere of the film. Sony held a premiere for “The Interview” in LA on 11 Dec.

• The comedy about a plot use journalists (have a problem with that) to assassinate Kim Jong-un is scheduled for general release on 25 Dec (likely to tank). A spox for the FBI said it is “aware of the threat and is continuing to investigate the attack on Sony.”


• Several people briefed on Sony’s internal discussions on Tuesday said the studio wasn’t withdrawing the film but had told theater owners that it wouldn’t object if they canceled or avoided booking “The Interview.” In early reviews, “The Interview” has received mixed-to-negative scores, BTW

• U.S. officials and private investigators have linked the Sony breach to North Korea, which has called Sony’s forthcoming release “an act of war.” But Pyongyang watchers and former U.S. officials said there’s no evidence North Korea wants to start a ground war with the U.S.

• The goal seems to be to scare Americans from attending the movie, which would hurt opening weekend sales. The stock prices of companies that operate big movie theater chains started trending downward as reports of the threat emerged

• Separately Tuesday, two former employees of Sony Pictures Entertainment sued the company for not preventing hackers from stealing nearly 50,000 social security numbers, salary details and other personal info from current and former workers

• The lawsuit claims that Sony Pictures failed to secure its computer systems despite “weaknesses that it has known about for years,” and made a business decision to accept the risk. It states that the latest breaches are especially “surprising and egregious” because Sony has been repeatedly hacked over the years

• Vid: Best C-Span call ever – “Oh God, it’s Mom!” – says Dallas Woodhouse, who heads conservative group Carolina Rising, putting his face in his hands. Then his brother Brad, who runs liberal group Americans United for Change, does the same thing when he realizes Mom’s on the phone (Vox)

Jeb Bush “Actively” Exploring Run at 2016 / Clinton
• Former FL Gov Jeb Bush (R) said in a Facebook post Tuesday he will “actively explore” a run for the WH in 2016. He said he intends to create a new leadership PAC in January “that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.” (Hill, Politico, TRNS, me)

• Bush would enter the race as a financial juggernaut able to draw on his brother’s campaign and fundraising apparatus. He could also become the preferred candidate for the establishment wing of the GOP. Besides his name, Bush brings a two-term record popular with conservative-leaning voters in FL, expertise on education and strong ties to the Hispanic community

• But some grassroots conservatives are furious at Bush for his support of Common Core education standards and comprehensive immigration reform. Bush said this month, “We have to actually show that we can, in an adult-like way, we can govern, lead.”

• Meanwhile, in a speech Tuesday, Hillary Clinton heaped praise on the Obama admin for banning “brutal interrogations” and called for legislative action. “The United States should never condone and practice torture anywhere in the world.”

• Speaking at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights gala in Midtown Manhattan as she was honored, Clinton also cited statistics showing “a third of all black men face the prospect of prison
[at some point and black men are] 20 times more likely to be shot dead by a police officer than a young white man.”
• Story in USA Today – screamer this morning on Drudge – says President Obama has issued more presidential memoranda than any other president in history, and making it sound as though it’s something nefarious, scary and a bit secret. They’re published in the Federal Register
Obama to Sign Russia Sanctions Bill
• President Obama has decided to sign legislation imposing further sanctions on Russia and authorizing additional aid to Ukraine, despite concerns that it will complicate his efforts to maintain a unified front with European allies, the WH said on Tuesday (NYT, BBC, Hill, me)

• The legislation calls for a raft of new measures penalizing Russia’s military and energy sectors and authorizes $350 million in military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, tactical surveillance drones and counter-artillery radar. The bill was approved unanimously by Congress, but Obama hedged for days on whether he would sign it

• The new sanctions came even as Russia’s economy is reeling from the collapse of the ruble, the increasing flight of capital investment and specter of recession. WH spox Josh Earnest said the turmoil was owing to “the failure of Vladimir Putin’s strategy to try to buck up his country.”

• Jason Furman, the chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers said Tuesday at the WH briefing, “If I was chairman of President Putin’s council of economic advisers, I would be extremely concerned. They are between a rock and a hard place in economic policy.”

• Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said there were “very serious reasons to believe” that the U.S. was pursuing a regime change strategy to topple Putin’s govt. “If you look at U.S. Congress, 80% of them have never left the USA, so I’m not surprised about Russophobia in Congress.” (paranoia doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you)
• Six international human rights groups have petitioned the UN to freeze its counternarcotics aid to Iran until that country abolishes the death penalty for drug offenses. Iran executes more prisoners than any country except China. At least half of the condemned were convicted for drug trafficking (NYT)
Kerry Juggles UN Resolutions
• In London Tuesday, SecState John Kerry was expected to urge chief Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat not to push for a UN Security Council vote on a draft resolution calling for Israel to leave the occupied territories by November 2016. A separate draft would set a two-year deadline for a final peace treaty (NYT, Reuters, BBC, me)

• Israel has sought reassurances from the U.S. that it would veto both resolutions. The Palestinian representative to the UN, Rayid Mansour, has said the draft might be submitted today and could be put to a vote as soon as 24 hours later. However, Jordan’s rep has said she’s not expecting any developments this week

• Another draft resolution, being formulated by France, would call for a return to negotiations on a final peace treaty to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict within two years. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu made clear Monday in Rome that he rejected France’s proposal

• It doesn’t mention an Israeli withdrawal, but does lay out some of the parameters of a permanent deal, including using the ceasefire lines which separated Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Six Day War as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state

• Kerry said Tuesday that various proposals have been made for Security Council resolutions, but “we’ve made no determinations about language, approaches, specific resolutions, any of that.”

• Bill Cosby will not be charged with a crime after a woman claimed he molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974, LA prosecutors said Tuesday – statute of limitations. Another woman has come forward – she says Cosby molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 2008 when she was 18 – it could fall within the statute of limitations (LAT, HuffPo, Daily Mail, Gawker, me)
Judge Rules Against Obama’s Immigration Exec Actions
• “The Court holds that the Executive Action is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers and the Take Care Clause of the Constitution,” wrote U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab in Philadelphia, who was appointed by President George W. Bush (Politico, TPM, Hill, me)

• Schwab issued a memorandum in a case involving a Honduran man facing criminal charges over returning to the U.S. after deportation. Judge Schwab himself raised the question of whether the actions President Obama announced 20 Nov might apply to the case

* In his brief five-page ruling, the judge quoted past statements by Obama suggesting that granting deportation reprieves to more undocumented immigrants would exceed his executive authority. “While President Obama’s historic statements are not dispositive of the constitutionality of his Executive Order on immigration, they cause this Court pause.”

• “The judge is clearly reaching way beyond the bounds of the case before him to engage in constitutional scrutiny of the executive action,” said Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, noting that the new policies had not yet gone into effect. “It involves a lot of judicial gymnastics for the judge to get to that question.”

• In a lengthy memo, the Obama admin explained its legal rationale for the move, citing Supreme Court precedent about broad “prosecutorial discretion” under the Constitution when it comes to executive branch enforcement of immigration laws and actions by prior presidents who have granted “deferred action” to categories of unlawful immigrants

• The story of Hanukkah as told by SLOTHS – Happy Hanukkah! (Buzzfeed)

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Victoria Jones

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar contributed to this report


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