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Obama Calls Netanyahu to Discuss Continued Tension in Gaza


Credit: The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Sunday to discuss the ongoing tensions in Gaza and reaffirm the United States' hope for a lasting cease-fire.

The two leaders spoke after Israel had resumed military operations in Gaza on Sunday, blaming Hamas for violating the cease-fire by launching rockets into Israel. Obama condemned Hamas' attacks against Israel while expressing concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths, the loss of Israeli lives and the worsening situation in Gaza, according to a readout of the phone call.

Obama and his administration continues to press for a permanent cessation of hostilities based on a November 2012 cease-fire agreement. Any such agreement, Obama said, would require the disarming of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.

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US Less Safe Than Several Years Ago, Top Intelligence Official Says


Photo By: DIA Public Affairs/Public Domain(ASPEN, Colo.) --  The United States is now less safe than it was years ago, in part because a brutal terrorist group has been able to gain power in Iraq after the post-war government there "blew it," a top U.S. intelligence official said Saturday.

The frank words came from Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, at a national security forum in Aspen, Colorado, where over several days top current and former counterterrorism officials warned of several simultaneous threats to the United States emanating from the Middle East and Africa.

Asked if the United States is generally now safer than it was two or even 10 years ago, Flynn said, "My quick answer is we're not."

Flynn also took a different view over whether "core al Qaeda" is on the run, as many U.S. officials have claimed. Flynn said he believes "core al Qaeda" is the ideology, not any individuals associated with it, and that is "not on the run."

"That ideology ... sadly feels like it's exponentially grown," he said.

Speaking about the unraveling situation in Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is wreaking havoc and threatening the West, Flynn said the U.S. government knew they were gaining influence months ago but was "taken by surprise" when the group so quickly took over parts of Iraq "like a hot knife in butter."

He put the blame for that, though, at the feet of the Iraqi government.

"The Iraqis blew it ... and boy is it coming back to haunt them now," he said.

Though he argued that the United States is no safer than it was years ago, "We understand that we're not, and we're working to organize ourselves better," Flynn said at the forum.

In addition, despite U.S. efforts to broker a peace deal between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the bloody conflict between them might never end, Flynn said.

"I have two grandchildren and they will deal with this," he said. "Is there gonna be peace in the Middle East? Not in my lifetime. Not in my lifetime."

Flynn warned the Israelis "to be careful" about how they go after Hamas, saying, "If Hamas were completely destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse."

He also called on Hamas militants fighting Israel to put their skills to better use. Israeli authorities recently uncovered a series of sophisticated tunnels built by Hamas to launch an attack.

Flynn said a significant amount of "physical energy," money and "engineering intellect" was invested into a "subterranean ability to ... bring violence to not just Israel but to the region."

Hamas should put "those resources and the skills that did that ... into the street-level to build jobs and schools and hospitals and turn it into wealth," said Flynn.

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Texan Bipartisan Pair: American Public Wants an ‘Orderly Border’


United States Congress(NEW YORK) -- With just five days left until Congress adjourns for summer recess, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, are attempting a bipartisan, last-ditch effort to address the border crisis in their home state – but there are few signs of support in Congress.

“The American public wants us to have an orderly border,” Cuellar told ABC’s Jonathan Karl on This Week Sunday. “Right now… they’re seeing chaos at the border.”

The Cornyn-Cuellar bill aims to change the existing 2008 law that differentiates between the process undocumented children coming from Central America and those coming from Mexico go through if they are returned to their home countries after entering the U.S. Specifically, the proposed legislation would allow the U.S. to expedite the deportation process for migrant children from Central America, which is how the U.S. currently handles Mexican immigrants.

Despite the lack of strong support in favor of the proposal from congressional Democrats, Sen. Cornyn said he remains optimistic about House legislators using the Cornyn-Cuellar bill as a potential guide for a solution, while acknowledging difficulties on the Senate side.

“Fortunately it sounds like the House of Representatives is going to move a piece of legislation this week, which would actually offer a solution, and it will include something along the lines Henry and I have proposed,” Cornyn said on This Week. “In the Senate, Senator Reid is – still opposes our proposed solution… My view is a solution beats no solution every day. And nobody has offered an alternative, so I hope we will act.”

When pressed to further acknowledge the lack of support from high-ranking politicians on the left, Cuellar echoed Cornyn’s optimism by noting the White House’s efforts to find a solution to the crisis, while stressing the need to evaluate the current conditions on the border.

“President Obama requested [cooperation] at the beginning; Secretary Johnson has been good, but again I represent the district. I don’t just go down there once in a while and see what’s going on, I live there.” Cuellar said.

“42,000 of the unaccompanied kids out of the 58,000 have come through that small area, so we’re at the epicenter,” Cuellar continued, describing his district, which includes 200 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. “The folks in the community have been dealing with this on a day-to-day basis. We need the resources and we also need a policy change.”

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"New York Times" Editorial Page Editor: 'I Have Smoked Pot'


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After the New York Times editorial board came out in support of national legalization of marijuana on Saturday, the editorial page editor for the Grey Lady told ABC’s Jon Karl Sunday on This Week, that he has indeed smoked pot.

“I’ve never asked the people that work for me whether they smoke pot, and I’m not going to ask. I have smoked pot in my life. I went to college in Colorado in the 1970′s, you figure it out,” Andrew Rosenthal told Karl.

On Saturday, the Times editorial board published their endorsement of the legalization of marijuana nationwide, stating the “federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.”

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Threat from Syria Will Last a Decade, Top Lawmaker Warns


US Congress(NEW YORK) -- The growing chaos in Iraq and Syria, where thousands of Western recruits have joined terrorist groups to train and fight, is cultivating a global threat that the United States is "going to be dealing with for the next decade," the head of the House Homeland Security Committee warned Saturday.

"As that threat grows overseas, so too does that threat to the homeland," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told a group of counterterrorism officials and reporters attending the Aspen Institute's annual national security forum.

McCaul expressed particular concern over Syria, where "the biggest safe-haven in the world" is fostering a union between expert bomb-makers from Yemen and associates of the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front, who are jointly working to develop a new generation of undetectable explosives.

Nearly a month ago, U.S. officials, led by the Transportation Security Administration, boosted security measures at airports overseas amid deepening concerns that Syria-based terrorists could be looking to down a U.S.- or Europe-bound plane, with help from one of the thousands of foreign fighters in the region carrying U.S. and European passports.

"It's the biggest threat to the homeland," McCaul said, noting that many of the foreign fighters in Syria, including more than 100 Americans, have "clean documents, legal travel documents" and "can blend in."

"[Now] you have this combination of technology and manpower coming together," McCaul said.

In a recent interview with ABC News' Pierre Thomas, Attorney General Eric Holder called it "a deadly combination" that is "more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general."

Earlier this year, U.S. officials learned that a particularly extreme "subset" of the Al Nusrah Front and other terrorist groups in Syria was teaming up with elements of the Yemen-based group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to produce "creative" new designs for bombs that could be smuggled onto airplanes, as one source put it.

Asked by ABC News why U.S. officials didn't boost security measures at airports sooner -- when some of that intelligence was first detected -- McCaul indicated that at first the government only saw "the link," not more specific information about what the joint effort was producing.

"The threat became more credible and specific over time," he said.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula built such innovative devices as the "underwear bomb" that ultimately failed to detonate in a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, and the group is "still very intent on blowing up airplanes," as McCaul described it.

McCaul praised TSA administrator John Pistole, who was in the audience, for "guarding our airports overseas" and doing "exactly the right thing in protecting American lives."

It's unclear exactly which airports overseas are implementing the expanded security measures, which include requiring U.S.-bound passengers to show that cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices can power-up if they want to carry them onboard.

"TSA overseas is stopping these foreign terrorists from getting into the United States," McCaul added. "They do a great job of keeping them out."

But a number of Americans who went to Syria to fight have made it back into the United States in recent years. Some have been arrested and prosecuted for providing support to a terrorist group, while the FBI tries to "maintain coverage" on those in the United States not currently behind bars, the outgoing head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, said at the Aspen Institute's forum on Friday.

FBI Director James Comey recently said the government is spending "a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to identify" anyone who's gone to Syria, but "the challenge" is how to not miss anyone.

Over four days at the forum in Aspen, current and former U.S. officials warned of a potential homeland threat from the Islamic State, a brutal terrorist group distanced from al Qaeda that is now wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria. But many officials suggested the group is currently focused on efforts in the region with only "aspirational" hopes to ultimately attack the West.

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White House Extends 'Heartfelt Condolences' to Family of Passengers on Air Algerie Flight


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House issued a statement on Air Algerie Flight 5017 on Saturday, offering condolences to the families of those onboard.

"We extend our deepest and heartfelt condolences to all those who lost loved ones," the statement from Deputy National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan read. "We appreciate the close cooperation among the United Nations as well as the governments of France, Mali, the Netherlands, Algeria, Burkina Faso, and others who worked in concert on the swift and coordinated international response to this tragic event."

The jetliner -- owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria's flagship carrier -- had 110 passengers and six crew members on board.

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Florida Judge Rules State Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- A Miami-Dade County Circuit Court judge ruled on Friday that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

According to the Miami Herald, the ruling is the second in eight days to declare the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Judge Sarah Zabel said the ban violated equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is expected to file for a stay to prevent marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples while she appeals the ruling.

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President Obama's Weekly Address: Some Big Corporations 'Cherrypick Their Taxes,' Adding to Economic Weakness


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- In his weekly address, President Obama called out big companies that use overseas merges to avoid U.S. taxes.

Obama highlights the need to close "one of the most unfair tax loopholes," saying some businesses "cherrypick their taxes" and negatively impact the country's finances. While the president touted the nearly 10 million new jobs added over the past two years, along with the low unemployment rate, he addressed the loopholes as a threat to progress.

"Even as corporate profits are as high as ever, a small but growing group of big corporations are fleeing the country to get out of paying taxes.  They’re keeping most of their business inside the United States, but they’re basically renouncing their citizenship and declaring that they’re based somewhere else, just to avoid paying their fair share," he said.

The president called on Republicans to advance proposals to close the "unpatriotic tax loophole for good."

Read the full transcript of the president's address:

Hi, everybody.  Our businesses have now added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months.  The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September 2008 – the fastest one-year drop in nearly 30 years.  401(k)s are growing, fewer homes are underwater, and for the first time in more than a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that the world’s number one place to invest isn’t China; it’s the United States of America – and our lead is growing.

None of this is an accident.  It’s thanks to the resilience and resolve of the American people that our country has recovered faster and come farther than almost any other advanced nation on Earth.

But there’s another trend that threatens to undermine the progress you’ve helped make.  Even as corporate profits are as high as ever, a small but growing group of big corporations are fleeing the country to get out of paying taxes.  They’re keeping most of their business inside the United States, but they’re basically renouncing their citizenship and declaring that they’re based somewhere else, just to avoid paying their fair share.

I want to be clear: this is only a few big corporations so far.  The vast majority of American businesses pay their taxes right here in the United States.  But when some companies cherrypick their taxes, it damages the country’s finances.  It adds to the deficit.  It makes it harder to invest in the things that will keep America strong, and it sticks you with the tab for what they stash offshore.  Right now, a loophole in our tax laws makes this totally legal – and I think that’s totally wrong.  You don’t get to pick which rules you play by, or which tax rate you pay, and neither should these companies. 

The best way to level the playing field is through tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate, closes wasteful loopholes, and simplifies the tax code for everybody.  But stopping companies from renouncing their citizenship just to get out of paying their fair share of taxes is something that cannot wait.  That’s why, in my budget earlier this year, I proposed closing this unpatriotic tax loophole for good.  Democrats in Congress have advanced proposals that would do the same thing.  A couple Republicans have indicated they want to address this too, and I hope more join us. 

Rather than double-down on the top-down economics that let a fortunate few play by their own rules, let’s embrace an economic patriotism that says we rise or fall together, as one nation, and as one people.  Let’s reward the hard work of ordinary Americans who play by the rules.  Together, we can build up our middle class, hand down something better to our kids, and restore the American Dream for all who work for it and study for it and strive for it.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

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GOP Weekly Address: America's Energy Resources Will Support Jobs, 'Revitalize the Economy'


Office of Congressman Steve Daines(WASHINGTON) -- In this week's Republican Address, Montana Congressman Steve Daines discusses America's energy sector and its potential to lower utility costs, increase jobs, and "revitalize the economy."

While there are these benefits, Daines says, President Obama has "spearheaded a war on American energy." He adds that the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are imposing "job-killing regulations" and support policies that have "directly harmed the security and future of those they claim to fight for."

"We need action—not more press conferences and empty rhetoric. We need solutions—not more backroom deals and political games. And we need more results – not more excuses, barriers and delays. We need more jobs, and less government," he says.

Daines calls on the Senate to join the house in putting "America's future first."

Read the full transcript of the Republican address:

Hello.

I’m Steve Daines and I proudly represent the state of Montana in Congress.
 
As a fifth-generation Montanan, a sportsman, a husband and father of four, it’s an honor to serve the people of Montana in the House of Representatives.
 
I grew up in Bozeman, Montana, where my parents worked from the ground up to start a home construction business.
 
And like my great-great-grandma, a Norwegian widow who homesteaded in central Montana, my parents worked tirelessly to achieve the American Dream.

Growing up, I learned the importance of hard work, accountability, personal responsibility—values that shaped who I am today and reflect what I’ve passed on to my four children.

These principles make up the fabric that formed our nation—but stand in stark contrast with what we see in Washington today.

Americans are losing trust in those they have sent to represent them in Washington.

Washington has become a town that promotes all the wrong behavior and all the wrong people at the expense of hard-working taxpayers.
 
It is no accident that Washington, D.C. has emerged from the recession better than any other region in the country.
 
Inaction is rewarded, and political tricks trump finding solutions. Personal gain comes first, and “we the people” come last. 
 
I graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, then spent 28 years in business—balancing budgets and helping create hundreds of good-paying Montana jobs— and like most Americans, I know that Washington’s way of doing things doesn’t work in the real world.

While thousands of American families are living paycheck to paycheck, President Obama and Harry Reid have run up the nation’s credit card and burdened our nation with debt that’s gonna last for generations.
 
And while countless small businesses are being forced to reduce their workforce or even close their doors, President Obama and Harry Reid continue to impose job-killing regulations on the industries that hold the most hope for our economic future.
 
Let me be clear.
 
The reckless policies that President Obama and Harry Reid have championed have directly harmed the security and future of those they claim to fight for.
 
President Obama is waging a war on the middle class, and Harry Reid’s Senate is fully complicit and eager to carry out the President’s job-killing agenda.
 
In Montana, we’ve seen first-hand the potential that our energy sector holds for lowering utility costs for hard-working middle class families, it’ll revitalize the economy on our Indian Reservations, and supporting thousands of good-paying union jobs.
 
Yet President Obama has spearheaded a war on American energy that not only stands in the way of the potential—it works to reverse it.
 
The Crow Indian Reservation is home to some of the richest coal reserves in Montana – but the Obama administration’s war on coal is standing in the way of the Crow people’s ability to develop their resources and reap the economic benefits that are so badly needed on the Reservation.
 
I was recently meeting with Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote, and I asked him what his top three priorities were.

And he told me: “Jobs, jobs, and jobs.”
 
And then he continued, and he said: “A war on coal is a war on the Crow people of Montana.”

We have an unprecedented opportunity to grow our economy and create good-paying jobs through the responsible development of our nation’s natural resources.

But rather than working toward solutions that promote responsible energy production, renew our economy and bring accountability to Washington, the President and the Senate have maintained their roadblock to badly-needed progress and reform.
 
The House has passed more than 300 bills that the Senate has refused to even take up for a vote.
 
Well, the American people have had enough.
 
We need action—not more press conferences and empty rhetoric.
 
We need solutions—not more backroom deals and political games.

And we need more results – not more excuses, barriers and delays.
 
We need more jobs, and less government.
 
We need a Senate that will join the House in putting middle class jobs, affordable energy, and America’s future first.
 
And I know that working together, we can change the Senate.

Together, we can get our country back on track, and we can ensure that the voice of the people is heard in Washington once again.

And with your help, we can ensure that future generations have the opportunity to achieve the same American Dream that our parents and grandparents worked for.
 
I firmly believe that America’s best days are yet to come—and I won’t stop working until we get there.
 
Thank you, and may God Bless America.

 

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Illinois Lawmaker Calls on Feds To Allow Undocumented Immigrants Into Military


United States Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Illinois Rep. Bill Foster is introducing a resolution urging the Secretary of Defense to allow undocumented immigrants to serve in the U.S. military.

Under the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors legislation, or DREAM Act, illegal immigrants would receive conditional permanent residency.

Foster said he asked the Department of Defense last year to let DREAMers serve, but there hasn't been any effective action.

"Despite the fact that they have been designated as second-class citizens left in a state of limbo, with no clear path to citizenship, many of these young men and women would be first in line for the opportunity to serve our country in the military," the Democratic lawmaker said Friday. "... It is morally reprehensible to deny these patriotic young men and women the opportunity to serve the country that they love."

Foster also called on the government to resolve the much-debated immigration issue.

"They are turned away for one reason and one reason alone:  because of our broken immigration system," he added.

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Report: More Undocumented Kids, Especially Girls, Crossing the Border


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The number of unaccompanied girls fleeing Central America and caught at the Southwest border has increased 77% since last year, and far more rapidly than the number of boys, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center.

The analysis, which looks at data provided by the Department of Homeland Security via a Freedom of Information Act, shows that while the number of girls under 18 detained at the U.S.-Mexico border has jumped significantly, the number of boys went up only 8 percent in the same period.

While boys have historically made up the majority of those apprehended at the border, the stark rise in girls represents a “change in who is coming across the border,” Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center told ABC News.

In fiscal year 2013, teenagers, particularly teenage boys, made up the bulk of those crossing the border,” Lopez said. “And while they still do make up the bulk of those crossing the border, we’ve seen a spike in the number of children and the number of girls and that’s different from 2013. … The growth in unaccompanied kids this year has been driven in large part by more children and more girls crossing the border illegally. That is a change from last year.”

This data is a follow-up on Pew’s report earlier this week showing that pre-teens account for the sharpest spike in unaccompanied child migrants.

When looking at the gender breakdown for those under 12, Pew found a 140% increase in girls apprehended and 100% increase among boys.

But probably most shocking in their analysis is the difference between boy and girl unaccompanied teenagers apprehended.

Teenage girls saw an increase of 62% this year, but teenage boys have seen almost no change — only 2%.

“Teenage boys have been a big point of this unaccompanied minors story, but many of those teenage boys 15,16,17 years of age, to the higher end — these are young people who in many respects may be of working age,” Lopez said. “More interesting question is why have we seen the surge or spike in children and teenage girls.”

Lopez said that spike is being driven largely by those fleeing violence in Honduras and El Salvador, and according to the Department of Homeland Security, poverty in Guatemala.

Honduras had the highest 2012 murder rate in the world with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, and El Salvador had 41.2, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Honduras is first and El Salvador is second when looking at all unaccompanied girls apprehended this year by country, according to Pew’s analysis.

President Obama is meeting Friday with the leaders of the three countries — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — at the White House to discuss the flow of children.

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Obama Meets with Central American Presidents on Border Crisis


Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Meeting at the White House on Friday, President Obama told Central American presidents that they have a “shared responsibility” to do everything they can to stem the flow of migrant children flooding across the border.

Obama warned that children without proper claims to stay in the U.S. will likely be sent back to their home countries.

“I say that not because we lack compassion, but because, in addition to being a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws,” Obama told reporters as he sat alongside President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, and President Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador.

“And if you have a disorderly and dangerous process of migration, that not only puts the children themselves at risk, but it also calls to question the legal immigration process of those who are properly applying and trying to enter into our country,” he added.

Obama also suggested the U.S. could create a refugee program in Central America, explaining  “there may be some narrow circumstances in which there is a humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for.”

“If that were the case, it would be better for them to be able to apply in country rather than take a very dangerous journey all the way up to Texas to make those same claims,” he said, adding that such a program “would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”

Obama thanked his counterparts for their efforts to discourage parents from sending their children on this dangerous journey and for working with the U.S. on repatriating the children and families in an orderly way.

“Initial reports show that our joint efforts appear to be paying off, and the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border this month appears to have dropped by half since June,” he said.

As lawmakers prepare to leave town, Obama urged Republicans to act on his request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to tackle the crisis at the border.

“It is my hope that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans will not leave town for the month of August for their vacations without doing something to help solve this problem,” he said.

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White House Doesn't Discount Possibility of Impeachment


Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Don't dismiss the possibility of the House of Representatives bringing articles of impeachment against President Obama, senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Friday.

"I think a lot of people in this town laugh that off," Pfeiffer said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "I would not discount that possibility. I think that [House] Speaker [John] Boehner, by going down this path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future."

He went on to say that the executive actions being considered by the White House on immigration would probably “up the likelihood” of impeachment, making the point that lawmakers such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have already said that the president is violating the law with his unilateral moves on immigration.

Pfeiffer noted that the House is set to file a formal lawsuit next week against the president over his executive actions. While the idea of impeachment is only being discussed by the likes of Sarah Palin -- and very few elected lawmakers -- that could change.

He went on to say that the White House views the lawsuit as “validation” of its “year of action” strategy, saying of executive actions: “If they were small-ball, the Republicans would not be suing over them.”

Asked whether impeachment would be good for the president, Pfeiffer said: “No, I don’t think so.”

Boehner, who has publicly ruled out impeachment, responded in a statement through his spokesman.

"We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and the White House is making matters worse with inattention and mixed signals,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. “It is telling, and sad, that a senior White House official is focused on political games, rather than helping these kids and securing the border."

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Rand Paul Takes on Cocaine Sentencing Laws


Tom Pennington/Getty Images(CINCINNATI) -- Sen. Rand Paul wants to level the playing field when it comes to criminal sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine offenses. 

In a speech to the Urban League in Cincinnati Friday, Paul announced new legislation that would eliminate the disparity in sentencing for offenses involving crack and powder cocaine.

Current law carries much harsher penalties for the possession of crack cocaine compared to powder cocaine.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, first time offenders possessing 28 grams of crack cocaine would receive a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.  People with powder cocaine, on the other hand, would have to possess 500 grams to receive that same sentence.

Paul officially introduced the legislation, titled the RESET Act (short for “Reclassification to Ensure Smarter and Equal Treatment Act”), on Thursday afternoon.  

In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which narrowed the sentencing disparity for crack vs. powder cocaine offenses from 100:1 to 18:1. Paul’s bill would go much further, completely eliminating the disparity between the two.

The Kentucky Republican, who is not shy about interest in a 2016 presidential run, has made criminal justice reform a cornerstone of his recent legislative pushes.

Earlier this month, Paul teamed up with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to unveil bipartisan legislation to reform the criminal justice system -- from offering adults ways to seal their non-violent criminal records to permitting the sealing and expungement of juvenile records for kids who commit non-violent crimes.

In recent months, Paul has argued for broadening the Republican Party and has made a concerted effort to reach out to urban communities and young people.

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Josh Earnest’s Guide to Softening 'Hard-Bitten' Reporters


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Josh Earnest stepped up to the podium as the new White House press secretary just weeks ago, but already he’s figured out a few ways to butter up “hard-bitten” White House reporters.

Principle among his methods, the father-to-be revealed to ABC News, is to discuss parenthood.

“It’s something that so many people can relate to and hearing the experience of even some hard-bitten White House reporters…talking to them about the birth of their first child, they routinely describe it as the greatest day of their life,” said Earnest, whose wife is due later this summer.

“I think, like all parents who are about to have their first child, we are feeling a lot of trepidation about this experience that we're preparing for, but also incredibly excited,” he said.

The trepidation of first-time parenthood aside, Earnest admits he’s still getting settled into his new job as press secretary -- a role he assumed following Jay Carney’s departure last month.

But playing the role of mediator between the White House and the press corps is nothing new to Earnest. He has worked for President Obama since the Iowa caucus in 2007 and went on to assume a principal role in the White House press office following the president’s election in 2008.

“Having [had] that office right through that door,” Earnest said while gesturing toward his old office that sits directly behind the White House press briefing room. “I often described myself as the option of first resort for a lot of reporters.”

Over his six and a half years working in the White House, the Missouri native has developed a reputation among the press corps as the “Midwestern nice guy.” And now that he’s fielding reporters’ tough questions in the daily press briefings -- exchanges which can sometimes be combative -- Earnest said he hopes he’ll continue to be thought of as the nice guy.

“I would like it to be,” Earnest said. “I like reporters. Reporters that are working here at the White House have really difficult jobs…One of the things that's old-fashioned about working at the White House is that even in the age of email and Twitter and even telephones, a lot of the interactions that I have with reporters on a daily basis are in person, are face-to-face.”

Though he now has the challenging task of going head-to-head with reporters on a daily basis, there are some definite perks to the new job. For one, Earnest has an unusual level of access to Obama.

In addition to having a seat at the table for the president’s meetings with senior advisers, Obama has given Earnest rights to come by the Oval Office whenever he needs to -- no appointment necessary.

“The president mentioned to me when he offered me this job…that if I was ever in a circumstance where I needed to speak with him about something, either in advance of a briefing or related to something else that we were handling, that I should come stand outside the Oval Office, and I could walk in and talk to him as necessary,” he said.

It’s a perk that Earnest said he’s only taken advantage of once so far, following some comments the president made alluding to additional financial market regulations.

“Knowing of the market sensitivity of that answer, and knowing that it was only the president himself who knew exactly what he was alluding to, I wanted to make sure that he was comfortable with the answer to that I was prepared to give,” Earnest said.

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