Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama to transform immigration policy, spare 5 million from deportation

    White House confident controversial executive action can survive Republicans’ political and legal challenges

    President Barack Obama on Thursday will announce a legacy-defining plan to transform U.S. immigration policy, sparing up to 5 million people from deportation and defying Republicans who charge that he is breaking the law.

    White House officials expressed rock-solid confidence that Obama’s sweeping executive actions will survive any political or legal challenges and practically dared GOP lawmakers to attempt to get their way with a government shutdown.

    But Obama won’t to take any chances in the court of public opinion. The president, top White House aides, and Cabinet officials will crisscross the country to make the case to affected populations and the broader public, officials told reporters at a briefing in the White House Roosevelt Room hours before the announcement.

    The administration will also step up “very, very aggressive” efforts in Central America to make sure that people there don’t respond to the news of more lenient treatment for those who come to the United States illegally

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  • Top Obama aide won’t rule out unilateral easing of Cuba policy

    Tony Blinken says Castro must free Alan Gross first

    President Barack Obama’s pick for the No. 2 job in the State Department repeatedly refused on Wednesday to rule out unilateral action by the White House to ease U.S. pressure on Cuba.

    But the official, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, emphasized that the government in Havana would first have to make progress on democratic reforms and free imprisoned U.S. aid worker Alan Gross. The comments came during Blinken's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    “Do you anticipate, during the rest of the president’s term, that there will be any unilateral change” to sanctions on Cuba absent democratic reforms, asked Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose parents emigrated from Cuba to the U.S.

    “Anything that might be done on Cuba will have to be consistent with the law,” Blinken replied. He added, “Anything that in the future might be done on Cuba would be done in full consultation” with Congress.

    Rubio tried again, noting “chatter” that Obama could try to

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  • Frustrated senators have questions about Obama’s Islamic State strategy. On Wednesday, they may get answers

    Approach to dealing with militia group looms large over confirmation hearing for Tony Blinken

    Key senators of both parties are deeply frustrated with what they view as President Barack Obama’s confusing strategy for taking on the Islamic State and mixed messages to lawmakers about what sort of legal authority he needs from them to wage war against the radical Islamist militia.

    On Wednesday, they will get their chance to grill Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken on those issues when he appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for what was supposed to be a combative but relatively routine confirmation hearing.

    The White House always knew Blinken’s nomination to hold the No. 2 job at the State Department would be an opportunity for Republicans to criticize Obama’s foreign policy. Administration officials remain optimistic about Blinken's confirmation prospects — he has good relationships with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, few in Washington question his qualifications for the job, and he can count on Vice President Joe Biden’s help in winning over his

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  • Foreign leaders lavish Obama with gifts he won't keep

    A $2,500 box of chocolates? A glass falcon? Twenty baseball caps with his face on them?

    Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) bestows a gift of an etched bowl filled with traditional shamrocks to President Barack Obama during a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House in Washington, on March 19, 2013. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny (L) bestows a gift of an etched bowl filled with traditional shamrocks to President Barack Obama during a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House in Washington, on March 19, 2013. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

    The inventory of world leaders’ gifts to President Barack Obama last year reads like the props list from a forthcoming “Hangover” movie. It includes a $2,484 box of chocolates; a 50-inch-tall bronze statue of a cheetah; 12 bottles of pisco, Peru’s national liquor; and 20 white baseball caps with the president’s image on them.

    The State Department’s Office of Protocol released the list of presents Tuesday that American government officials received from foreign government officials from late 2012 through 2013.

    They’re not bribes. By law, Obama must turn them over to the National Archives or other institutions for storage or display. He can pay fair market value for those he wants to keep  but he appears to have opted not to hold on to any items from his 2013 haul. In each case, under the heading “circumstances justifying acceptance,” the State Department says “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and U.S. Government.”

    President Barack Obama (L) holds a gift he received from Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah during a meeting at the King's farm outside Riyadh on June 3, 2009. (Larry Downing/Reuters)President Barack Obama (L) holds a gift he received from Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah during a meeting at the King's farm outside Riyadh on June 3, 2009. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

    The baseball caps with Obama’s portrait came from

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  • John Cleese: U.S. politics are funny but ‘dangerous’

    'Monty Python’ star talks ‘Ministry of Silly Walks,’ the ‘Fish Called Wanda’ musical, the horror of selfies and his new autobiography

    Actor/comedian John Cleese signs copies of his book So, Anyway at Barnes & Noble, 5th Avenue on November 4, 2014 in New York City. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)Actor/comedian John Cleese signs copies of his book So, Anyway at Barnes & Noble, 5th Avenue on November 4, 2014 in New York City. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
    So John Cleese walks into a bar…

    At 6 feet 5 inches, the “Fish Called Wanda” star and “Monty Python” mainstay would be a head-turner even if he weren’t one of the most recognizable comic writer/actors of the last 40 years. He’s in Washington to promote “So, Anyway,” 375 pages of autobiographical recollections, packed with one-liners.

    But it’s not, strictly speaking, a comedy book. It’s not, to the probable dismay of “Monty Python” fans, even a thorough personal history of the absurdist, Ministry of Silly Walks-taking, Black Knight-maiming, you-sold-me-a-dead-parrot-I-want-to-return-it comedy troupe.

    It’s Cleese’s life story, from childhood in the tiny English town of Weston-super-Mare onwards, through high school, Cambridge, performances in London, New Zealand (where the awkward Cleese lost his virginity), New York and ultimately the process of putting together “Monty Python.” It’s also an examination of how he used humor as a means to survive life, and what, at 75, the co-creator of “

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  • Obama doubles US troop levels in Iraq

    President orders postelection surge, seeks $5.6 billion for military campaign

    In a dramatic post-election surge, President Barack Obama is doubling the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 3,000 and asking Congress for $5.6 billion for the war against the so-called Islamic State, officials said Friday. Obama aides denied that the timing was political or that the escalation amounted to "mission creep."

    The Pentagon said the new forces would deploy to Iraq “in a noncombat role, to expand our advise-and-assist mission and initiate a comprehensive training effort for Iraqi forces.”

    It was the second major announcement regarding Obama’s undeclared and open-ended campaign against the extremist group since Tuesday’s elections. After months of rejecting calls to seek new war-making authority from Congress, Obama reversed course on Wednesday.

    The U.S. Central Command overseeing the campaign will use some of the funds to set up two “advise-and-assist operations centers” outside Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurd capital of Irbil. It will also set up sites across Iraq for training 12

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  • Obama says he’s not ‘mopey’ about the election

    Casually describing sweeping Republican election gains as “a good night” for the GOP, President Barack Obama promised on Wednesday to work with the GOP to “take care of business” but offered to make few changes to his priorities, principles, staff or style.

    “There’s no doubt that Republicans had a good night,” the president said in his first press conference since Tuesday’s drubbing of Democrats. “It doesn’t make me mopey, it energizes me, because it means that this democracy’s working.”

    Brushing off Republican warnings, Obama defiantly vowed to forge ahead with executive action on immigration if Congress refuses to enact a comprehensive overhaul that cleared the Democrat-held Senate but stalled in the Republican-led House of Representatives.

    “I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take,” he said. “My executive actions not only do not prevent them from passing a law that supersedes those actions, but should

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  • What the White House is planning for the next 2 years

    On tap after the election: An Iran nuclear deal, a push on trade and the battle to replace Eric Holder

    Life after the midterm elections was never going to be easy for President Barack Obama. In the best-case scenario, he would have watched his influence dwindle steadily as the fight to succeed him heated up. He would have worked to polish his legacy. There would have been work on his “library,” that traditional political-mausoleum project beloved by lame-duck presidents drifting ever closer to the day when they are forgotten but not gone.

    But now Obama finds himself pushed toward the sidelines by two potent forces. One is the Republican capture of the Senate as well as major governorships. The other is frustrated congressional Democrats’ increasing focus on what the party’s 2016 nominee – potentially Hillary Clinton – needs from them over the next two years.

    The president planned the traditional post-election press conference for 2:50 ET Wednesday afternoon, and planned to host House and Senate leaders of both parties at the White House on Friday.

    In a series of interviews over the past

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  • With Obama largely absent from the campaign trail, Democrats turned to Biden

    The vice president has rallied all over the country, but one Democrat called it ‘an A-for-effort campaign in a Ready for Hillary world’

    Struggling Democrats largely kept President Barack Obama in political quarantine this year, shunning joint public appearances as though they feared his sagging approval ratings were contagious. First lady Michelle Obama has helped to fill the vacuum somewhat, but perhaps no one has worked as hard to help Democrats as Vice President Joe Biden.

    Biden has labored all year to generate cash, supporters and positive headlines for his party’s candidates — as well as amass political chits he could call in should he decide to run for president in 2016.

    In 2014 alone, the vice president has campaigned for 66 different candidates, local committees or Democratic Party branches and held 70 events in 22 states and Washington, D.C., according to figures provided last week by his office.

    Tune in: Midterm Mixer with Katie Couric and David Gregory, 11 p.m. EST on Nov. 4

    "There's no question that Vice President Biden is appealing — he has spent his life in public service fighting for working families and

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  • State Dept. defends balance of career vs. political posts

    For Kerry, foreign service is ‘in his blood’ spokeswoman says

    The State Department on Friday rejected criticisms that too many top diplomatic jobs have gone to political appointees rather than career foreign service officers.

    “There’s never been a secretary of state more personally connected to the Foreign Service than Secretary (John) Kerry. It’s in his blood. It’s stamped in his DNA. He’s the son of a foreign service officer,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Yahoo News by email.

    “It’s no accident that he has worked with President (Barack) Obama to build a senior team with more foreign service officers in leading assistant secretary positions than at any time in recent memory, and no accident that he chose a foreign service officer to serve as the State Department’s Counselor for the first time in thirty years,” she added.

    The head of the American Foreign Service Association, which represents current and former career diplomats, had warned in an interview with Yahoo News on Thursday that the historical balance between foreign service officers and

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