Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Nov. 20 2014 9:38 PM

Republicans Declare War, Details TBD

The Republican response to the president’s move on immigration is going exactly as expected. It wouldn’t have mattered if Obama said, “Republicans are the best party in America and we’re putting a statue of an elephant on the national mall”—the fact that he’s going forward with his executive action to defer deportations for upwards of 5 million undocumented immigrants means Republicans’ criticism will be unrelenting and without qualification.

Sarah Palin, on her eponymous Sarah Palin Channel, said the president is “giving voters the middle finger” and “placing our nation in grave danger.” On the other end of the GOP spectrum, Sen. Marco Rubio—who helped write the comprehensive immigration reform bill that the president praised in his speech— said Obama’s move makes a legislative fix less likely.

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“The President’s actions now make all of this harder and are unfair to people in our immigration system who are doing things the right way,” he said in a statement.

So Republicans’ responses range from chagrined to apocalyptic to fiery. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement committing that Republicans in the lower chamber would “fight this brazen power grab.”

Similarly, Sen. Rand Paul said he would not “sit idly by and let the President bypass Congress and our Constitution.”

But there’s a big catch to all this: Top Congressional Republicans haven’t actually said what they’re going to do. Take a look at Speaker John Boehner’s statement:

“Republicans are left with the serious responsibility of upholding our oath of office,” he said. “We will not shrink from this duty, because our allegiance lies with the American people. We will listen to them, work with our members, and protect the Constitution.”

What exactly Hill Republicans will to do protect the Constitution is still very much up in the air. Sen. Ted Cruz, the de facto leader of the conservative wings of House and Senate Republican lawmakers, wrote a Politico Magazine op-ed saying soon-to-be-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should refuse to confirm the president’s executive and judicial nominees as long as the president’s move is in place.

McConnell has been coy about his plans.

“We’re considering a variety of options,” he said earlier in the day, per a transcript on his website. “But make no mistake. When the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act.”

Others have been a little less discrete. Rep. Mo Brooks, an adamant opponent of increased immigration, suggested that the president’s move could theoretically merit jail time.

Here’s the bottom line: Republicans of all stripes have come together as one in a rare moment of consensus to express the greatest opposition possible to the president’s move. That’s not a surprise. The big question: What will they do about it? And how much rancor will we see in their ranks as they figure that out?

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Nov. 20 2014 8:56 PM

President Obama Announces Sweeping Immigration Reform Through Executive Action

In a primetime national address on Thursday, President Obama announced sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policy. “When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system.” Obama said. “Tonight, I am announcing those actions.”

During his remarks, Obama repeatedly stressed that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and that rounding up and deporting some 11 million undocumented immigrants wasn’t realistic. “For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations,” Obama said. “But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.”

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Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President—the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me—that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.
Tonight, I am announcing those actions.
First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over. Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed. Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country …
Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes—you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.
That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive—only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

In the lead up to Obama’s speech, the administration laid out more specifics of the Obama plan that would temporarily protect between four and five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, and allow them to work legally in the U.S. The plan prioritizes undocumented families and long-term residents in the country: Undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, and undocumented individuals who immigrated to the U.S. before the age of 16, are eligible for deportation protection. In both cases, an undocumented person must have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years—or since Jan. 1, 2010.

Obama also addressed Republican opponents of the plan, stressing that the measures did not amount to a blanket amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today—millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That’s the real amnesty—leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability—a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.

Obama also spoke to Republican concerns that his sidestepping Congress and reforming immigration policy amounted to unlawful executive overreach.

The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.

Nov. 20 2014 7:17 PM

These Are the Millions of Undocumented Immigrants Obama’s Executive Action Will Impact

President Obama’s plan for taking executive action on undocumented immigrants in the U.S. won’t be officially announced until Obama addresses the nation later this evening. But White House officials, and a White House press release leaked ahead of Obama’s speech, paint a picture of the reported four million undocumented individuals who will be directly impacted.

Obama’s new deferred deportation plan, which the government will begin accepting applications for early next year, will give temporary, three-year relief from deportation, along with the ability to work legally in the country, to two specific classes of individuals: undocumented parents of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, and undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before the age of 16. In both cases, the individual must have continuously lived in the country for a minimum of five years—or since Jan. 1, 2010.

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Individuals who meet this criteria, “will have the opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and work authorization if they come forward and pass criminal and national security background checks, pay their taxes, pay a fee,” according to the White House press release. “These executive actions will not benefit immigrants who recently crossed the border (defined as those who entered the country after January 1, 2014), who may cross the border in the future, or who help those who cross in the future, but rather immigrants who have been living in the United States for years.”

Ahead of the speech, the White House has “sought to portray [Obama's] actions as an effort to ensure that the U.S. immigration system focuses on deporting the highest-priority immigrants, such as felons, gang members, and recent border-crossers,” according to the Washington Post. “According to prepared excerpts, Obama plans to say that mass deportation of the nation’s more than 11 million illegal immigrants ‘would be both impossible and contrary to our character.’ But he will also argue that his plans do not amount to ‘amnesty’ but rather increased ‘accountability’ for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.”

Nov. 20 2014 6:20 PM

Tim Kaine “Horrified” by UVA Rape Story, Not Sure Frat Should Be Kicked Out

Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine expressed horror on Thursday at a Rolling Stone story about the widespread rape crisis at the University of Virginia.

“Horrific story, horrific,” said Kaine as he and Warner, both Democrats, walked toward a Democratic lunch.

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“I’ve got three daughters this age and they’re outraged," said Warner. 

Later, Kaine spoke at length about the story, which details the brutal fallout one student faced after telling a UVA dean that she was gang-raped in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

“I’m most interested to see what the university’s response is,” he said, “not really what they say in response, but what they do in response.”

When asked about the best way to handle fraternity cultures that foster rape, he said “it is not uncommon” to see fraternities get suspended or expelled.

“There’s gotta be some very strong action there,” he continued.

Then I asked if Kaine thought the fraternity should be kicked off campus, assuming the allegations of gang rape in the Phi Kappa Psi house are true.  

“I wouldn’t want to say—I don’t want to make the comment about it, because I don’t know what the rules are on campus,” he said. “But I just know I read articles about fraternities being suspended and kicked off all the time. You gotta dig into it and find out, is it true?” 

Update, 10:54 p.m.: Kaine's office emailed with an additional comment from the Senator. “If the law enforcement and school investigations into these allegations are found to be true, the organizations and individuals involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Senator Kaine.

Nov. 20 2014 6:19 PM

The Last Guy to Veto as Few Bills as Obama Was Only President for 200 Days

As President Obama prepares to face a newly GOP-dominated Congress, his use of executive power has been the focus of not a little attention. But when it comes to one of the most obvious of his delegated powers, the veto, Obama has exercised striking restraint, vetoing only two bills (far outstripped by George W. Bush's 12, Bill Clinton's 37, George H.W. Bush's 44 and Reagan's whopping 78 vetoes). A new USA Today piece examines the president's veto habits and wonders whether his restrained approach will change soon.

USA Today writes that not only has Obama vetoed fewer bills in his time in office than any president since James Garfield (whose 200-day veto-free term in office was cut short by his assasination in 1881), he's also issued veto threats less frequently than any president since Jimmy Carter. Obama tends to take a more positive approach than that of his predecessor, announcing the likelihood he'll sign legislation he wants to encourage where Bush relied more heavily on the disincentive of the veto threat against bills he disliked, the paper says. Obama's administration also softens most of its veto threats by issuing them through "senior advisors" rather than directly from the president himself. Of the 18 bills Obama himself threatened to veto during this Congress, all but one related either to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act or the government shutdown.

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The veto isn't the only way a president can exercise influence at the signing table, though. Like Bush and others, Obama has used "signing statements," interpretive commentary added by the president when signing a bill into law. The practice, at its most controversial, can be used to suggest elements of the new law conflict with the Constitution. As the Washington Post explains, signing statements date back to the 19th century but experienced a boom in popularity with Reagan; George W. Bush issued 161 statements, citing problems with more than 1,000 provisions in laws he signed. In comparison, Obama has relied far less heavily on the tool, issuing about 30 such statements.

Our current president, of course, has heretofore never worked with a Republican Senate; 11 of George W. Bush's 12 vetoes came after the Democrats took the Senate in 2007. So time will tell whether Obama's relative reticence to use vetoes and signing statements is a sign of his famous tendency toward compromise—or simply a function of favorable circumstances that no longer exist.

Nov. 20 2014 4:34 PM

Elderly Japanese Woman Arrested Because Her Romantic Partners Keep Dying Suspiciously

A 67-year-old Japanese woman named Chisako Kakehi, who's collected a great deal of money from deceased husbands and boyfriends over the last 20 years, has been arrested on suspicion of killing her most recent husband and may be responsible for the other deaths, reports say.

Cyanide was found in the body of her 75-year-old husband, a senior official at the investigative department said. Kakehi has denied involvement in the deaths and has not been formally charged ...
Her latest marriage lasted one month before her husband died in December. Cyanide was also found in the blood of a 71-year-old partner who fell while riding a bike in 2012, officials said. His death was initially attributed to heart disease.
Kakehi reportedly married three times and had relationships with three other men over the past two decades. All died within a few years of marrying or starting relationships with her.
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Though the case is being reported by credible sources, the details vary by account. The Associated Press, quoted above, says Kakehi has had three husbands and three boyfriends die. The Japan Times says it's four husbands and two boyfriends, and that she's inherited more than $800,000. And the AFP has the numbers at seven dead partners and more than $6 million.

Nov. 20 2014 2:20 PM

There Are Bags of Puke on the Moon

A BBC article about an effort to send a time capsule to the moon notes an interesting fact.

The Moon is already strewn with rubbish - exploration has left its surface dotted with everything from abandoned modules to golf balls to a bag of vomit from Apollo 11.
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Indeed, it's right there on NASA's list of stuff we left on the moon, right under "Urine collection assembly, large."

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In fact, a 2012 Atlantic article suggests that there are a number of bags of vomit on the moon, along with other human waste. (Emesis bags from other missions are noted in NASA's inventory.)

Moon puke!

For a less juvenile outlook on the current state of the moon—specifically its potential as a site of commerce and scientific research, and as a potential staging area for expeditions into deeper space—you can read Kevin Hartnett's recent "Return to the Moon" piece in the Boston Globe Ideas section. (The article mentions that a Japanese beverage company would like to send its signature product, "Pocari Sweat," to the moon. If this company is successful, I suggest we blow up the moon, because we would no longer deserve to have a moon.)

Nov. 20 2014 1:46 PM

Israel Isn’t Releasing Bodies of Tuesday’s Terror Attackers to Their Families for Burial

Israel is refusing to return the bodies of the perpetrators of Tuesday's Jerusalem terror attack to their families, a move that may be without precedent even in the long history of Israeli-Palestinian hostility. Four rabbis and a police officer died in the attack against a synagogue, which was carried out by cousins Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32. From Haaretz:

This is apparently the first time that Israel has withheld the bodies of terrorists as a deterrent measure.
“We can’t commit to a certain date [for returning the bodies],” Chief Inspector Yigal Elmaliah, who was representing the Israel Police, told the court. “There are two aspects, the investigative aspect, which the court has seen, and another aspect that I’m not sure I’m authorized to report. For this reason we are arguing that this isn’t the forum to discuss it. The State of Israel is trying to cope with the recent wave of attacks. One possibility being considered is not to return the bodies to the families, but [for the state] to bury them. The issue is being examined at the highest levels.”
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Objections to the move have been immediate. Said one representative of an Israeli human rights organization: "The state doesn’t need to trade in bodies."

United States forces buried Osama Bin Laden's body at sea after killing him in 2011.

Nov. 20 2014 1:32 PM

Even a Government Shutdown Wouldn’t Stop Obama’s Immigration Overhaul

Congressional Republicans remain committed to blocking President Obama’s plans to unilaterally overhaul the nation’s broken immigration system. Their problem, however, is that they appear to be running out of options to do it.

House Speaker John Boehner and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made it clear that they want to avoid another government shutdown. Instead, Republicans had hoped they’d be able to do the job with a more laser-like cut to the budget by zeroing out funds for the agencies that would implement Obama’s executive actions. The problem there, however, is that it now looks like that’s not possible after all.

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Here’s the statement from the House Appropriations Committee, the powerful, GOP-controlled panel that writes the spending bills that keep the government’s lights on (emphasis mine):

The primary agency for implementing the president’s new immigration executive order is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications. Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the ‘E-Verify’ program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to “defund” the agency. The agency has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new executive order, without needing legislative approval by the Appropriations Committee or the Congress, even under a continuing resolution or a government shutdown.

In short, not only can’t Republicans kill Obama’s plan with the scalpel (a specific spending bill), there’s not a lot they can do with an ax (a government shutdown) either. The silver lining for GOP leadership, though, is the announcement may take the steam out of their more right-wing colleagues who want a full shutdown to remain on the table.

Meanwhile, things don’t look any more promising on the legal front. GOP assertions aside, there’s no evidence that Obama’s plan is illegal, and most experts agree that the expected moves have plenty of legal precedent behind them. That’s not to suggest Republicans won’t wage a legal challenge, just that they’ll be less likely to succeed in the court of law if and when they do.

Nov. 20 2014 12:23 PM

Watch Bill Cosby’s Standoff With the AP Over a Question About Rape Allegations

With Bill Cosby facing an increasing number of accusations of sexual assault, the Associated Press has released a video of a standoff between Cosby and an AP reporter who asked him, during an interview about another topic, to comment on the allegations. "There's no response," Cosby says. "I don't talk about it." The interview, which you can watch above, was taped on Nov. 6—before Joan Tarshis and Janice Dickinson became the fifth and sixth women to allege publicly that Cosby sexually assaulted them.

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