Wednesday, July 27, 2011

David Wu to Resign Amid Pressure

Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., announced Tuesday he would resign from Congress, following allegations of sexual misconduct with a teenage girl.

The resignation announcement came in the wake of a report last week that the teenage daughter of a longtime friend and campaign donor called the congressman's office earlier this year to accuse him of an unwanted sexual encounter over Thanksgiving.

Wu, 56, acknowledged the incident to his aides but said it was consensual, the Portland Oregonian reported.

On Monday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, called for a formal ethics investigation. By Tuesday, Wu, a seven-term member of Congress, said he would resign his post, which he called "the greatest privilege of my life."

"I cannot care for my family the way I wish while serving in Congress and fighting these very serious allegations," Wu said in a statement. "The well-being of my children must come before anything else."

The accusations against David Wu are jarring and exceptionally serious. While he – like every American – deserves an opportunity to address those accusations and defend himself, our constituents in the first district of Oregon deserve a member in the House of Representatives whose main focus is fighting for their interests,” the senators said.

“This is a critical time for our state and our nation and Oregonians need every member of their Congressional delegation to be effective. While no one takes pleasure in asking a colleague to resign, we believe he can no longer be an effective representative for our shared constituents and should, in the best interest of Oregon, step down.”

On Monday, Wu confided in his close friend and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who in his advice to Wu said, “Dave, you have to do what’s in the best interest of your young family, and yourself and then the institution, in that order.”

Larson also told Wu that “there are no good answers to this,” during their conversation.

Someone speaking on Wu’s behalf initially told reporters the 7-term Oregon Congressman would not resign, but would not seek reelection in 2012. Two Democrat elected officials had already announced their intentions to run against Wu before these recent allegations were made public.

The congressional district Wu has represented since 1999 is heavily Democratic and he previously won each of his previous races by double-digit margins.

Wu is the second House Democrat to resign over sexual indiscretions this year. In June, former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) resigned after sending inappropriate messages and photographs to several women via Twitter.

When Wu’s resignation is effective and his seat has been officially vacated, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber will call a special election.

Huntsman campaign focuses on N.H.

While Jon Huntsman was winding down his tenure as the U.S. Ambassador to China, a "campaign-in-waiting" was being carefully assembled, so that when he was free of his duties to the Obama White House, he could hit the ground running and get his 2012 candidacy in gear. Those first days of the Huntsman campaign were a model of effeiciency -- Huntsman got on the ground, met with state officials, laid out a plan of attack and -- with a little bit of web-video whimsy -- they got the media to devote lots of time covering the lead-up to his official announcement in front of the Statue of Liberty.

And that announcement? Well, it was kind of a bust! Republican voters, as it turned out, liked him less the more they got to know him. And since then, the campaign has gotten stranger.

Huntsman, in his speech, called for a “more skeptical’’ view of America’s foreign entanglements.

“I look at Libya. There’s no defined goal, no defined national security interest, no exit strategy. I say why do we want to be involved?’’ Huntsman said.

On Afghanistan, Huntsman said, “It’s time for us to come home,’’ citing several achievements there including free elections.

Turning to Pakistan, Huntsman said, “We can’t do a damn thing about Pakistan. Only Pakistan can save Pakistan. . . . We can’t wish for stability in a nation state more than they do.’’

The appearance came as Huntsman is building his presence in New Hampshire, with more than 20 paid staff and several offices opening this summer. Huntsman plans to return the first week in August. He will need to build up his name recognition. Recent polling put him in the low single digits in New Hampshire, and voters tend to know little about him.

Behind the scenes, Huntsman has been attacking former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is ahead in polls here. A recent e-mail from Huntsman’s campaign was headlined, “The Romney-Obama Budget Plan: Raise Taxes.

Jared Lee Loughner: 'I Want to Die, Give Me the Injection, Kill Me Now

Jared Lee Loughner, who is accused of killing six people and injuring 13 others in Tucson Arizona, including Gabrielle Giffords, is being forcibly medicated as he is a danger to himself.

Court papers have revealed that Loughner, who has been deemed not fit enough to stand trial, is depressed and has "regret for the circumstances that led to his arrest. He also reported that the radio was talking to him and inserting thoughts into his mind."

While under suicide watch, Loughner "began pacing quickly in circles near his cell door" and was heard "screaming loudly and seen crying for hours at a time," according to court documents. "He was observed rocking back and forth in the showers."

One doctor reported that Loughner was often viewed as "inconsolable, uncooperative and unresponsive" and "also displayed hypersexed behavior." He talked about the "killings" and the possibility of receiving the death penalty and sobbed uncontrollably for 55 minutes. At one point Loughner said, "I want to die. Give me the injection, kill me now."

A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments regarding Loughner's forced medication in August after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday night denied an emergency motion by defense lawyers to keep prison officials from forcibly medicating Loughner with a psychotropic drug.

Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty in the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson that killed six and left 13 others wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. Loughner was declared mentally unfit to contribute to his defense by a federal judge and is being held in Springfield, Mo.

Credit hit worries Obama, Congress more than default

US debt crisis has escalated after Republicans were forced to rewrite their proposal to lift the debt ceiling, because they miscalculated how much the original plan would cut spending.

In an embarrassing development for John Boehner, the Republican Congress speaker, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) ruled on Tuesday night that his bill would have only cut spending by $850bn over the next decade, not the $1.2tr he had aimed for. Republicans are now racing to rewrite the legislation, and have pushed back a Congressional vote on the plan from Wednesday to Thursday at the earliest.

Although Boehner was already struggling to find support for his package, the delay increases the risk that Washington will fail to agree a deal to raise the debt ceiling before 2 August, when the federal government is expected to run out of money.

The dollar dropped against other currencies on Wednesday morning as investors faced the possibility that America could default. Several economists believe the country will lose its AAA credit rating within months, which would push up its borrowing costs, even if the $14.3tr debt ceiling is increased in time.

The White House said on Tuesday it was working with Congress to devise a "Plan B" that might attract enough support. The two sides have been deeply divided for weeks, with Republicans demanding deep spending cuts and Democrats anxious to include tax rises as a major part of the deal.

Threat of a downgrade “is very damaging to all of us, and that would be a product of the dysfunction of Congress” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who led a faction of House Democrats who argued for a “clean” debt-limit increase early in the process, only to watch escalating chatter about the “Armageddon” of a missed deal feed scrutiny of the nation’s fiscal health.

S&P raised the threat of a downgrade July 14 by declaring that raising the debt limit alone might not be enough. It wanted to see an enforceable agreement to cut $4 trillion over 10 years to affirm the triple-A rating.

Administration officials were shocked by the move. They suggested privately that it did not seem to square with prior S&P reports, which said the nation’s larger budget problems could be dealt with over several years. Some administration officials dismissed the S&P report as little more than amateur political prognostication by people with limited understanding of how Washington works.

But the White House’s statements in the past week show a downgrade is now top of mind. Obama himself invoked the country’s triple-A rating in a rare prime-time address Monday as he outlined the consequences of default.

“For the first time in history, our country’s triple-A credit rating would be downgraded, leaving investors around the world to wonder whether the United States is still a good bet,” Obama said. “Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, on mortgages and on car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people. We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis — this one caused almost entirely by Washington.”

Nearly every debt-limit conversation on Capitol Hill is infused with debate over the potential for either a downgrade, a default, or both. Democrats have embraced the argument of the White House: A short-term plan could result in a debilitating downgrade even if default is avoided.

Republicans are moving forward with their two-phase plan, but they’ve shown some concern about the possibility of ratings agencies scarring America’s creditworthiness. There’s significant disagreement in the GOP about the prospects of default and downgrade, and some lawmakers believe the administration and congressional leaders have created a false panic to box them into voting to raise the debt ceiling.

Norway suspect's claim of allies in doubt

OSLO, Norway — The leader of Norway's Delta Force says the breakdown of the team's boat didn't cause any significant delay in its efforts to reach the island where Anders Behring Breivik's shooting rampage killed 68 people.
Anders Snortheimsmoen told reporters Wednesday that even though the assigned boat quickly broke down, the team immediately jumped into another, better boat. He says his team arrived by the harbor at the same time as local police and that the boat mishap caused "no delay."
At the same news conference, Justice Minister Knut Storberget praised the team, saying it helped "limit the tragedy" on Utoya island and the bombing in the city center. Friday's twin terrorist acts claimed at least 76 lives.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
OSLO, Norway — A spokesman for the Norwegian Railway Authority says parts of Oslo's central station have been evacuated as police investigate an abandoned suitcase.
Olav Nordli says the suitcase was found in the area where buses depart for Oslo's airport. Police have sealed off the area and are examining the abaondoned luggage.
The city is on high alert in the wake of Friday's bombing and youth camp shooting that killed 68 people.
The first Cabinet ministers were to return to their offices Wednesday after a car bomb exploded in the government district of the Norwegian capital.

On Wednesday, police detonated an unknown quantity of explosives found on a farm owned by Breivik north of Oslo in a controlled blast.

CBS News partner network Sky News reports that Breivik posed for years as a farmer in order to purchase large amounts of synthetic fertilizer, some of which he obtained online from a Polish company.

Norway's intelligence chief told the BBC on Wednesday that investigators have found no evidence to support Breivik's claims of contact with other extremist individuals or groups in Britain or anywhere else.

"We don't have indications that he has been part of a broader movement or that he has been in connection with other cells or that there are other cells," Janne Kristiansen told the BBC.

She cautioned that the investigation was still underway and that connections to other groups or individuals could not be ruled out.

In a voluminous online manifesto posted the morning before the attack Breivik expressed an admiration for right-wing extremist groups in the U.S. and Europe.

"We are in close contact with our sister services in Europe, America and elsewhere," said Kristiansen.

Norway killer: 'no link' to British far-right groups

Explosives found at a farm leased by Anders Behring Breivik, the sole suspect in Friday's killings in Norway, have been safely detonated in a controlled explosion about 160km north of Oslo by the Norwegian police.

Police believe that Breivik, 32, made his bomb using fertiliser which he had bought under the cover that he was a farmer.

Tueday's detonation came as Breivik's lawyer, Geir Lippestad, said that he is probably insane, and was on drugs while he carried out his attacks that killed 68 in Utoeya island and eight in Oslo.

Lippestad said it was too early to say if his client would plead insanity at his trial, even though he thought the loner and computer-games enthusiast was probably a madman.

"This whole case indicated that he is insane," Lippestad said of Breivik, who has confessed to "atrocious but necessary" actions, but denies he is a criminal.

Breivik, who killed at least 76 people in twin attacks last week, has written of meeting British right-wing groups nine years ago.
But Ms Kristiansen said she believed he had acted on his own.
The intelligence chief added that she did not believe the killer was insane, but calculating and evil, and someone who sought the limelight.
Breivik's lawyer Geir Lippestad, had said it was too early to say if his client would plead insanity at his trial, even though "this whole case indicated that he is insane".

He believes that he's in a war and he believes that when you're in a war you can do things like that without pleading guilty," Mr Lippestad told reporters.
Ms Kristiansen's comments came as Norwegian police started releasing names of some of Breivik's victims.
They published four names, with more expected to follow later today.
Norwegian police have also defended the fact that it took an hour and a half for armed officers to reach Utoeya.
"I don't think we think we could have done this faster," Police Chief of Staff Johan Fredriksen said in Oslo.

GOP Bucks Boehner's Plan That Obama Threatens to Veto

WASHINGTON - US Representative Richard Neal has been thwarted for years in his effort to stop foreign insurance companies from shifting premiums paid by their US customers to offshore tax havens.

This week, it became clear that the Springfield Democrat will be frustrated once again, as Democrats and Republicans in Congress have left tax code changes out of their competing plans to raise the debt limit.

While much of the nation’s attention has been riveted on the determination of fiscal conservatives in the House to block any provision that raises new revenue, Neal’s unsuccessful effort to close what he calls an offshore tax loophole is an example of how business interests have stymied an array of tax code changes sought by President Obama, Democrats, and even some Republicans in the Senate.

“It’s the lobbying muscle,’’ Neal said. “Once something becomes embedded in the tax code, its very hard to extract.’’

Coincidentally, the aftermath of the tornadoes that tore through Western Massachusetts last month, causing an estimated $200 million in damage, offers a peek at the particular strategy on some insurance premiums that Neal and others say is unfair to US taxpayers.

So far, it doesn't appear Cantor's efforts are working. Rep. Jim Jordan, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, said, "I am confident as of this morning that there were not 218 Republicans in support of this plan," The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez reports. (No hard feelings though: Jordan insists that he and fellow conservatives "appreciate the speaker's hard work.") Though she's out on the campaign trail, Rep. Michele Bachmann wants everyone to know she does not back Boehner's plan--her staffers told the liberal site Think Progress, "the congresswoman is standing firm opposing the Boehner plan."

The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman tweets that first the Republican Study Committee, then an arm of the Heritage Foundation, and now the Club for Growth are all opposing Boehner's plan: "This is a whip's nightmare -- or a real [break] for compromise." Could conservatives' abandonment of Boehner mean there's a chance to compromise with Democrats? Probably not. The New York Times' Jada F. Smith reports that House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer says when it's time to vote Wednesday, Boehner's plan will get "very few" Democratic votes, if any. And the White House's Office of Management and Budget released a memo saying if the plan, "is presented to the President, the President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill."

Sen. Kent Conrad, of the declared-dead-then-revived-now-probably-dead-again Gang of Six plan, says the "Boehner plan probably has to fail in the House or Senate before debt limit end game becomes clear," Brian Beutler reports. That's one of two scenarios Democrats are gaming out with the hopes of exploiting the disunity in the Republican ranks, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reports. Sargent explains.

Short-term debt hike confounds 2 sides

WASHINGTON — Neither the House nor the Senate has a clear path forward for must-pass legislation to allow the government to continue to borrow to pay its bills, putting lawmakers and financial markets alike on edge less than a week before the deadline for heading off a first-ever U.S. default.
The pressure is on House Speaker John Boehner, who's being forced to rewrite his debt and budget plan after nonpartisan congressional scorekeepers said it wouldn't reap the savings he's promised.

The Ohio Republican also needs to shore up his standing with tea party-backed conservatives demanding deeper spending cuts to accompany an almost $1 trillion increase in the government's borrowing cap.

In a national, prime-time address Monday, the president declared that Boehner's plan "would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now. In other words, it doesn't solve the problem."

But debt ceiling increases are by definition temporary. Since 1993, when the debt ceiling stood at $4.37 trillion, Congress raised the limits 13 times, in amounts that lasted from three months to almost five years. The debt ceiling was raised 18 times during President Ronald Reagan's two terms, including three times during his 1984 re-election run, for an average length of about five months. House Republicans point out that is a shorter period than the six-month debt ceiling increase their plan would provide.

The problem for Obama is that Boehner's plan ties a second debt ceiling increase to a broad scrubbing of entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, with a goal of reducing long-term deficits by at least $1.8 trillion. White House officials fear that under such a plan, the debt ceiling would once again be pushed to a near-crisis point in January as lawmakers undertake what so far has been a Sisyphean task to cut the costs of the nation's biggest benefit programs.

White House officials say that effort would be further complicated because it would be colored by election-year politics.

Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both have accused Obama of being more worried about his own re-election than the fiscal health of the country. "With all due respect to the president, we have more important things to worry about than getting through the next election," McConnell said.

Obama, however, has said he would be willing to seek increases in the debt ceiling during an election year if they somehow would be guaranteed to pass, as they were in a proposal by McConnell.

"That way folks in Congress can vote against it, but at least it gets done," Obama said Friday. "I'm willing to take the responsibility. That's my job. So if they want to give me the responsibility to do it, I'm happy to do it."

For House Republicans, the two-step process was not always the preferred method either.

On June 13, Cantor asserted, "It's my desire to have one debt ceiling vote."

A week later, on June 21, he said: "I don't see how multiple votes on a debt ceiling increase can help get us to where we want to go. We want big reforms, we want big spending cuts and big changes to how this town works. And to me, it is a case of having to make some tough decisions. I am not so sure that if we can't make the tough decisions now, why we would be making those tough decisions later."

With six days left before the government exhausts its borrowing authority, Republican officials say they no longer have the luxury of planning a single debt ceiling increase to accomplish the deficit reductions they have in mind.

Those chances faded Friday when Boehner ended negotiations with the White House for a large package of $4 trillion in deficit reductions over 10 years in exchange for a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling. Boehner said he walked out of the talks because Obama had insisted on $400 billion more in tax revenue than the $800 billion that Boehner was willing to concede.

But Republicans believe the only way Democrats and the president will seriously consider structural changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security is if the debt ceiling is on the line. Boehner's plan as outlined Tuesday would increase the debt ceiling by $900 billion and seek cuts in day-to-day spending that are greater than that. It then would require a joint committee of Congress to identify deficit reduction measures totaling at least $1.8 trillion. Congress would have to approve those cuts before granting a second debt ceiling increase of $1.6 trillion.

"At this late hour, any plan that's going to have significant deficit reduction is going to have to be a two-step plan," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. "There's just not time to write all the reforms needed.