• What does the political wrangling over a one-lane gravel road through 10 miles of a remote Alaskan wildlife refuge tell us about President Barack Obama’s influence with Congress? Plenty, as it turns out.

    Inside the Beltway, reporters and political players have been consumed with trying to gauge the prospects for Obama's second-term agenda in light of his defeat in the fight over a bipartisan bill to enhance background checks of would-be gun buyers. Can he twist arms? Can he cut deals? Is Congress immune to his charms and his threats?

    On Monday, the New York Times' analysis was that the president lacks “an appetite for ruthless politics that instills fear in lawmakers.” Exhibit A, the Times said: Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska asked Obama to send newly minted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to his home state to help get the road approved. Begich voted against the gun bill, but Jewell is still going. The rebellious senator still gets what he wants from the wobbly White House.

    Case closed? Not so much. A closer look at Jewell’s trip also teaches a very different lesson, providing evidence of a president cutting deals with recalcitrant lawmakers to get what he wants. And then keeping his end of the bargain.

    Read More »from What does an obscure Alaska road project say about Obama’s clout?
  • Tamerlan Tsarnaev waits for a decision during the 2009 Golden Gloves National Tournament of Champions on May 4, 2009. (Glenn DePriest/Getty Images)The immigration status of the Boston bombings suspects may become a stumbling block for a new bill that seeks to legalize nearly 11 million immigrants and increase the number of legal immigrants to the United States.

    Opponents of the bill—which was crafted by a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the Senate—and even some supporters, say the process of reforming the country's immigration system should be stalled until all the facts about the suspects' interactions with the immigration system are known.

    Both Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the two brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombings, emigrated to the United States legally from Russia as refugees a decade ago when they were children. The Tsarnaev family, which is ethnically Chechen, was granted asylum because it feared persecution in its home country, according to media reports.

    Tamerlan's application for citizenship was put on hold in 2012 by the government, because he had been questioned by the FBI at the request of the Russian government for possible ties to Chechen terrorism, the New York Times reported. Dzhokhar's citizenship application was approved, and he naturalized in 2012.

    At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over the bill on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended immigration officials' handling of the Tsarnaevs, saying the process for granting asylum is rigorous.

    "In the past four years we have increased both the number and the coverage of the vetting that goes on," Napolitano said. As things currently stand, she noted, those who seek asylum must go through multiple screening interviews and submit biometric data to be checked across government databases. If granted asylum and legal status, immigrants must go through two more interviews if they want to become citizens when they become eligible five years later.

    (Asylum applicants must show that they face government-sanctioned persecution in their home country stemming from their race, religion, nationality, political views or membership in a particular social group.)

    Napolitano argued that the immigration reform bill would make the country safer because the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country would be brought "out of the shadows" and screened. The bill requires immigrants to pass a background check before they are eligible for temporary legal status. They must pay fines and back taxes and enroll in English classes to gain permanent legal status.

    Opponents of the immigration bill have argued that the Tsarnaevs' alleged crime suggests that the current immigration system is unable to weed out potential terrorists, and that the process of crafting the bill should be slowed down to address that. If the bill is stalled until next fall, opponents hope it will be close enough to the next election that on-the-fence lawmakers will withdraw their support, effectively killing the bill. President Barack Obama has said he hopes the bill will pass this summer.

    Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the most prominent opponents of legalizing immigrants, said at Monday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the legalization process in the bill could present a national security threat.

    "The background checks in this bill are insufficient from preventing a terrorist from getting amnesty," Kobach said.

    Supporters of the immigration reform bill say the argument is a specious excuse to delay the legislation.

    Read More »from Bombing suspects’ immigration status could stall reform
  • Obama to keynote Planned Parenthood gala

    President Barack Obama (Charles Dharapak/AP)President Barack Obama will keynote Planned Parenthood's annual gala on Thursday night, the abortion rights group announced on Tuesday.

    “President Obama has done more than any president in history for women’s health and rights,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We are honored to have President Obama join us at our 'Time for Care’ Gala at this pivotal moment for women's health.”

    The White House had previously confirmed the president would attend the gala in Washington, D.C. But his keynote address wasn't publicly announced until Tuesday.

    Discussions about the country's abortion laws have increased in recent weeks amid the Philadelphia murder trial of former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who is charged with murdering a woman during an abortion procedure and with killing seven babies.

    White House press secretary Jay Carney said on April 15 that the president could not take a position on the case because it is currently in trial.

    Carney said Obama is "aware" of it, and later added that "certainly, the things that you hear and read about this case are unsettling."

    Read More »from Obama to keynote Planned Parenthood gala

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  • Stradivarius viola could sell for $45 million
    Stradivarius viola could sell for $45 million

    A rare Stradivarius viola valued at $45 million (32.6 million euros) could become the most expensive musical instrument ever sold when it is auctioned later this year. Auction house Sotheby's has invited sealed bids to be received by June 26 for the nearly 300 year-old instrument made by the Italian master craftsman Antonio Stradivari in 1719. Musical instrument expert Tim Ingles described the sale of the instrument, one of only 10 Stradivarius violas still in existence, as a "once in a lifetime" event. Known as the "Macdonald" viola in a reference to a previous owner -- Baron Macdonald who purchased it in around 1820 -- it is said to be in perfect condition and has never been restored.

  • Iran expects next payment under nuclear deal, signaling compliance

    By Fredrik Dahl and Mehrdad Balali VIENNA/DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran expects to get a fifth installment this week of previously blocked overseas funds, a senior official was quoted as saying, a payment that would confirm Tehran's compliance with an interim deal with world powers to curb its nuclear program. Separately, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said "tough issues" faced the Islamic Republic and the six major powers in negotiating a permanent accord to resolve the decade-old nuclear dispute but that it was still possible by a late July deadline. "This means removal of sanctions and restoring financial relations with the rest of the world," he said, making clear Iran's aim to have sanctions that limit oil exports and make financial transactions difficult lifted as soon as possible. Diplomats and experts say it will be difficult, but not impossible, to resolve the standoff over nuclear activities which Iran says are peaceful but the West fears may be aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability.

  • U.S. agencies back DigitalGlobe bid to sell sharper images

    By Warren Strobel and Andrea Shalal TAMPA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. intelligence community has thrown its support behind a bid by commercial space imagery provider DigitalGlobe Inc to sell higher resolution images from its satellites, the leading U.S. intelligence official said Tuesday. DigitalGlobe has pressed the government for years to allow it to sell such imagery but U.S. government agencies worried that giving public access to them could undermine the intelligence advantage they have from even higher resolution satellite images. The green light from the U.S. intelligence community follows rapid advances by non-U.S. space imagery companies that have raised concerns DigitalGlobe could lose market share if it is not allowed to compete on high resolution images. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told an industry conference that U.S. intelligence agencies had agreed to allow commercial providers to sell higher resolution imagery but that the decision still needed approval by other agencies.

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