By Julia Edwards and Doina Chiacu WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama defended the U.S.-led international nuclear deal with Iran on Wednesday against a furious lobbying effort by political opponents and Israel and said abandoning the agreement would open up the prospect of war. Invoking the Cold War peacemaking initiatives of former U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, Obama said if Congress blocked the deal, it would accelerate Tehran's path to a bomb and severely damage America's credibility. Obama said "alternatives to military actions will have been exhausted once we reject a hard-won diplomatic solution that the world almost unanimously supports." He added: "Let's not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon." Obama's speech was part of a push to promote the July 14 agreement between Iran and six world powers put together over 18 months of negotiations. The six agreed to lift economic sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program, which Tehran said was for peaceful energy purposes only. The White House has pressured Congress to support the deal as they return home for an August recess. To counter an opposition effort that has spent millions on advertisements, Obama asked the audience to contact their representatives and ask them to support the pact. Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on the deal. If it passes and survives a presidential veto, a resolution rejecting it would cripple the agreement by eliminating Obama's ability to waive many sanctions. The leaders of the Senate said they had agreed to begin their recess on Thursday, but start debate on a resolution of disapproval on the Iran deal as soon as they return to Washington on Sept. 8. Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly oppose the nuclear agreement, saying it does not go far enough to ensure Iran will never be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Obama urgently needs his fellow Democrats' support in Congress, but only a few dozen have come out so far as strongly in favor. Some of his fiercest critics in the Republican-led Congress quickly dismissed Obama's arguments. The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said Obama had insulted both Democrats and Republicans who had questions about the deal by saying Iranian hardliners who opposed the deal were "making common cause with the Republican caucus." "The president needs to retract his bizarre and preposterous comments," McConnell said in a statement. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers left a meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency's chief meant to allay concerns about the deal more worried than when they went in. "It was not a reassuring meeting," Corker said after the meeting with IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. The IAEA would undertake much of the monitoring and verification work. WAR IS NOT INEVITABLE Obama spoke at American University, where Kennedy made the case in 1963 for a nuclear weapons test ban treaty with the Soviet Union. He cited Kennedy, a Democrat, and Republican Reagan in making his case for diplomacy. "The agreement now reached between the international community and the Islamic Republic of Iran builds on this tradition of strong, principled diplomacy," he said. Obama called the deal "the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated." He acknowledged his administration's split with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the deal. Netanyahu has called the agreement a threat to his country's survival. "I do not doubt his sincerity, but I believe he is wrong," Obama said. In a first response by an Israeli official to Obama's speech, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Israel Radio the situation was clear and that Israel remained vigilant against Iranian threats. "I would have preferred the U.S. president's speech to be different but this is the situation ... we must ... be able to remove (Iran's) threats to destroy us and to defend ourselves by ourselves, if we are called upon to do so," Katz said. Presenting himself as having done more than any other president to strengthen Israel's security, Obama said the United States would continue to help Israel keep its military edge. After the speech, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner emailed a video link to Netanyahu's March address to Congress against the Iran talks. Boehner said it was a powerful reminder "that the alternative to President Obama's bad deal with Iran is not war. The alternative is a better deal." Obama mocked that recurring critique. "That is repeated over and over again. 'It's a bad deal - we need a better deal,'" he said. "Walk away from this agreement, and you will get a better deal - for Iran." (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Yeganeh Torbati, Idrees Ali and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by David Storey and Grant McCool)
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
President Joe Biden will continue his flurry of executive orders on Monday, signing a new directive to require the federal government to “buy American” for products and services. Why it matters: The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.What they're saying: "President Biden is ensuring that when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars they are spent on American made goods by American workers and with American-made component parts," the White House said in a fact sheet.The big picture: Biden’s action kick offs another week in which the president will seek to undo many Trump policies with executive actions, while signaling the direction that he wants to take the country. * Biden will also reaffirm his support for the Jones Act, which requires maritime shipments between American ports to be carried on U.S. vessels. * Last week, Biden signed an order to attempt to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors and workers to $15 an hour.The bottom line: Former President Trump also attempted to force the federal government to rely on U.S. manufacturers for procurement with "buy American" provisions. * But supply chains — with some parts and components made outside of the U.S. — require long and complicated efforts to boost domestic manufacturing. Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
A U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt has entered the South China Sea to promote "freedom of the seas", the U.S. military said on Sunday, at a time when tensions between China and Taiwan have raised concern in Washington. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the strike group entered the South China Sea on Saturday, the same day Taiwan reported a large incursion of Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defence identification zone in the vicinity of the Pratas Islands.
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
- National Review
President Biden will sign a fresh round of executive orders during his first full week in office, including actions loosening restrictions around abortion and immigration. Biden will issue and order to rescind the Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. funding for foreign organizations that perform or promote abortions. The administration also dodged last week on whether Biden plans to scrap the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions under Medicaid. On immigration, Biden plans to establish a task force focused on reuniting migrant families who were separated as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, according to a memo outlining the upcoming executive actions obtained by The Hill. Biden will order an immediate review of the public-charge rule, which denies U.S. entry to migrants considered likely to become dependent on the government. The president also plans to roll back Trump administration policies on asylum and take “other actions to remove barriers and restore trust in the legal immigration system, including improving the naturalization process.” At the same time, Biden will take a page from the Trump administration’s playbook and sign an order directing federal agencies to tighten requirements on buying goods and services made in America from American businesses. Trump signed a similar directive during his first months in office. The president will also sign orders related to racial equity, including establishing a commission on police and bringing back Obama-era rules on transferring military-style equipment to local law enforcement. Another order will direct the Justice Department to improve prison conditions and begin the process of eliminating private prisons. Biden may also sign an order reversing a ban on transgender troops serving in the military. On climate change, Biden is expected to sign an order installing regulations to “combat climate change domestically and elevate climate change as a national security priority.”
Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani on Monday seeking $1.3 billion in damages for his "demonstrably false” allegations about the company's voting machines, the New York Times reports.Why it matters: Giuliani led former President Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the election and spread the baseless conspiracy theory that Dominion's voting machines flipped votes from Trump to Joe Biden.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * Another one of Trump's allies, Sidney Powell, is also facing a defamation lawsuit for falsely claiming that Dominion was part of an international communist plot to rig the election. * The lawsuit against Giuliani is based on more than 50 statements he made at hearings, on Twitter, on his podcast and in media appearances, including after Dominion sent him a legal notice calling on him to stop, according to the Times.This story is breaking news. Please check back for updates.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
- The Week
Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday."Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
- Associated Press
Indianapolis police arrested a 17-year-old boy Monday in the killings of five people, including a pregnant woman, who were shot to death inside a home in what the city's mayor called a “devastating act of violence.” The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that the name of the suspect in Sunday's killings was “not being released at this time since the suspect is a juvenile." As officers were investigating, police received information about 4:40 a.m. that led them to a nearby home, where they found multiple adults dead inside from apparent gunshot wounds, Sgt. Shane Foley said Sunday.
Tacoma Police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said police were alerted to the street racers and a 100-person crowd blocking area streets, according to the News Tribune. When the patrol car responded, the crowd began pounding on the vehicle's windows, she told local media. “He was afraid they would break his glass,” Haddow told the News Tribune, saying the officer sped away from the scene for his own safety.
- Business Insider
Barely any time has passed since President Biden's inauguration, and Republicans have already returned to their bag of shenanigans.
- Associated Press
The Supreme Court declined Monday to take up the case of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is serving a 6 1/2-year prison sentence after being convicted in a corruption case. The high court's decision not to hear Silver's appeal is another sharp blow to the Manhattan Democrat, who was once one of the three most powerful state officials. Silver was ousted as speaker in 2015 and was convicted later that year.
Pfizer Inc will pursue its request for India to approve its COVID-19 vaccine if the government commits to buying shots, the U.S. drugmaker told Reuters on Monday, even as global supplies tighten. Pfizer was the first company to seek emergency-use authorisation (EUA) for a COVID-19 vaccine in India, but the government this month approved two much cheaper shots - one from Oxford University/AstraZeneca and another developed at home by Bharat Biotech with the Indian Council of Medical Research. India's Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) says Pfizer officials failed to turn up to meetings after the company's application was made in early December.