Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Senate Democrats muscle big Obama donors into ambassadorships

    Controversial nominees squeak through on party-line votes

    In one of their final acts before losing their majority to Republicans, Senate Democrats confirmed as ambassadors on Tuesday two big donors to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, despite a controversy over their qualifications.

    David Bryson Mamet won confirmation as envoy to Argentina in a 50-43 vote, while senators agreed 52-42 to send Colleen Bell on her way to Hungary. No Republicans voted for either nominee, and several senators missed both ballots.

    Before the votes, Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., passionately urged his colleagues to reject Bell’s nomination. He argued that whatever her talents for scooping up campaign cash and for producing “The Bold and the Beautiful,” Bell was “totally unqualified” for the ambassadorship.

    “She is the producer of a soap opera, has no experience in foreign policy or national security, no familiarity with the language, country or region, has never been there, and lacks meaningful knowledge of history or economics,” McCain thundered on the

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  • In executive 'amnesty' move, Obama pardons turkeys 'Mac' and 'Cheese'

    Jokes about the controversy over his immigration policy

    Joking that “some will call this amnesty,” President Barack Obama on Wednesday took part in one of the oddest traditions in American politics: The pardoning of two turkeys, “Mac” and “Cheese,” who will be spared from a Thanksgiving roasting.

    “I am here to announce what I’m sure will be the most talked-about executive action this month,” Obama declared with a smile in a thinly veiled reference to the controversy over last week's immigration announcement.

    “Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me, to spare the lives of two turkeys.”

    “Some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of turkey to go around,” Obama said at the ceremony, which was driven indoors by bad weather.

    Profile of Mac.  One of the two turkey's pardoned by President Barack Obama on Novermber 26, 2014 at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Whitehouse.gov)Profile of Mac.  One of the two turkey's pardoned by President Barack Obama on Novermber 26, 2014 at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Whitehouse.gov)
    As it has in past years, the White House posted an online poll and asked the public to decide which gobbler would be named "America's Next Top Turkey."  The poll reads like an online dating profile and

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  • Top contenders to succeed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary

    Whom does Obama want to take up what is arguably the worst job in Washington?

    Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hadn’t even formally confirmed his resignation at his White House sendoff Monday before one of the top potential candidates to replace him pulled his name from contention.

    Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and served as an officer in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, is happy where he is, spokesman Chip Unruh said.

    Senator Reed loves his job and wants to continue serving the people of Rhode Island in the United States Senate,” said Unruh. “He has made it very clear that he does not wish to be considered for secretary of defense or any other Cabinet position. He just asked the people of Rhode Island to hire him for another six-year term and plans to honor that commitment.”

    Standing next to Hagel in the White House’s state dining room, Obama praised the Republican former senator’s service but gave no hint of whether he has settled on a shortlist for his fourth defense secretary.

    Instead, the

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  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to resign

    Will stay on until Senate confirms a successor

    Hagel’s departure  a major post-election reshuffle of Obama’s struggling national security team  comes as the United States faces a series of major international challenges, from the war against the so-called Islamic State (IS) to the planned troop drawdown from Afghanistan.

    The New York Times, which first reported the former senator’s departure, cited anonymous Obama aides as saying Hagel was being removed because he was the wrong person to lead the campaign against IS.

    A senior administration official, who requested anonymity, said a successor would “be named in short order,” but that Hagel would stay on until that person was confirmed.

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  • White House to Democrats: We’ll seek extension to Iran nuclear talks

    Obama aides say they won’t budge on sanctions

    President Barack Obama expects to seek an extension in Iran nuclear negotiations past the current Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a deal, White House aides told congressional Democrats on Friday.

    Secretary of State John Kerry could float the idea as early as Friday night to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, White House officials disclosed in the briefing for Capitol Hill aides, which was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.

    There are “eons to go until Monday, but it’s going to be pretty difficult to get to a comprehensive agreement by Monday,” though “not impossible,” one Obama aide said.

    So it’s a “reasonable expectation that we'll be requesting an extension,” the aide said. He did not specify a duration. The current talks resulted from a first extension that began July 20.

    Kerry and representatives of Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia have been negotiating with Iranian diplomats including Zarif in Vienna. The United

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  • Senate to vote on two controversial Obama ‘ambassadonors’ Dec. 1

    Obama bundlers Noah Bryson Mamet, Colleen Bell finally get their day

    The debate in Washington shifts from undocumented immigrants to questionably credentialed emigrants Dec. 1 as the Senate votes on two of President Barack Obama’s most controversial ambassador nominees — big-time donors seemingly picked only to reward them for scooping up campaign cash.

    Noah Bryson Mamet and Colleen Bell each raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. The president then nominated Mamet to be ambassador to Argentina and Bell to be ambassador to Hungary.

    But each of them ran into trouble early in the Senate confirmation process. Mamet admitted that he had never been to Argentina, while Bell stumbled and stammered her way through answering the question, “What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”

    Their nominations stalled. The Senate went on to confirm other ambassadors, including some big-time Obama donors, nominated after they were.

    But with Republicans due to take over the Senate in January, the “lame-duck” session is likely Mamet's and Bell’s

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  • 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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