Barack Obama

THE FINAL TRADE BATTLE

THE HUFFINGTON POST

FAST-TRACK FRIDAY: Obama’s Trade Agenda Faces Stiff Opposition On Day Of House Vote… Labor vs. White House — AND GOPPresident Makes Eleventh-Hour Appeal On Capitol Hill… Dems Revolt: He’s Out Of Touch With Real World… REID: ‘Insanity’… Activists Threaten 2016 Primaries… Ryan Throws In Anti-Climate Change Wrench… THE ULTIMATE GOAL: Usher In Legacy-Making Deal

Iraq War Supporters Run For The Hills

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AP Photo / J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

TPM DC

Among the prominent Iraq War figures TPM contacted: Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, Douglas J. Feith, Bill Kristol, Scooter Libby, Peter Feaver, Bruce Jackson, and Stephen Cambone. They all either declined to comment or did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.

“They’re in their foxholes and they don’t want to say things, because they’re all sort of positioning to engage these candidates, be in the inner circle for these candidates,” said Shawn Brimley, executive vice president and director of studies at the Center for a New American Security who previously served on Obama’s National Security Council staff.

It was not too long ago, however, that many of the voices that initially cheered the Bush administration towards war were still loudly defending the decision.

Kristol, a neoconservative commentator who now is the editor of The Weekly Standard, told CNN last June he would not apologize for supporting the war, as it was the “right thing to do and necessary and just thing to do.” Likewise, Rumsfeld said in 2013 it would have been “immoral” not to invade Iraq. Former Vice President Dick Cheney also said last summer he had no regrets when asked about the decision.

Jeb Bush has tapped a number of members of his brother’s administration to advise him on foreign policy, including Wolfowitz, making Jeb’s grappling with the issue particularly awkward.

Republicans are “finally having the reckoning that is long overdue on the issue of Iraq,” according to Brimley.

“The silver lining for the Republicans is that it’s good that this reckoning is happening now, potentially very early in the primary,” Brimley said.

Still, a few Iraq defenders have emerged from the woodwork in recent days. John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Bush, said unequivocally that the decision to invade Iraq was the correct one.

Other hawks have danced around the intel heralded at the time — that Iraq was in possession of WMDs. They argue that was to blame.

“I think that most of the Republicans would say no — that the proximate cause of the invasion was the intel about WMDs. And had that intel not been there, we would’ve tried to get the no-fly zone going and the sanctions going,” Elliott Abrams, a former national security adviser in the Bush administration, told Bloomberg.

Michael Rubin, a Pentagon official during the Bush years, also said in an email to TPM that President Bush’s decision was justified by the intelligence available to him at the time. He added, “Reconstruction, redevelopment, and lengthy occupation both in Afghanistan and Iraq were mistakes. We have little to show for our efforts in either. The Washington model of throwing money at problems doesn’t work in the Middle East.”

Jim Hanson, executive vice president at the Center for Security Policy — which is led by Frank Gaffney, one of the most vocal Iraq War advocates — said judging a position on the Iraq War by what is known now is “unfair” and a “ complete cop out.”

“You don’t get to make decisions in hindsight. You take the best available intelligence and you make the best decision you can at that point in time,” he said. “Hindsight is not a part of the game, so I think it’s an unfair question to ask.”

Richard Perle, another prominent figure from the pre-invasion days, defended the 2003 decision in an interview with Huffington Post last week: “The evidence is strong enough and the cost of standing down would be not delaying for a week or two, but essentially abandoning the capacity.”

But some of the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders just wanted to move away from the argument entirely.

“Our collective intellectual efforts would be much better employed trying to understand how to manage the wars and threats we face now — none of which are going well — than continuing to rehash an argument we’ve been having for more than a decade,” Fred Kagan, once a promoter of the Iraq War who is now a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told TPM in an email.

Prominent Iraq War critics were not surprised.

“Clearly it was one of the largest blunders the U.S. has ever made in its foreign policy history,” said Paul Pillar, a former CIA counterintelligence official. “We still have much cognitive dissonance among those who promoted the war who have had a hard time recognizing that. If we are getting silence from neocons, it’s because they don’t have anything plausible to say in defense of the decision.”

Last Monday, Bush told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that, even knowing what is known now, he supported his brother’s decision to invade Iraq and his Republican rivals were quick to pounce. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) lined up against Bush, arguing that at least in retrospect, the decision to intervene in Iraq was a mistake.

Meanwhile, Bush recalibrated his position a few more times, before settling on an opinionThursday that, “I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

The issue of Iraq is unlikely to go away for Republicans.

“By virtue of who Secretary Clinton is — and she is the presumptive nominee, I would assume, on the Democratic side — they’re going to have to run at her on national security and foreign policy,” Brimley said. “Does being hawkish on foreign policy mean having to embrace all of the hawkish elements of the George W. Bush- kind of legacy? They’re struggling with this right now.”

Tellingly, Rubio — who counts Abrams and former Dick Cheney aide Eric Edelman among his advisors — has flipped again on the issue, arguing Sunday to Fox News’ Chris Wallace that “the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn’t run Iraq.”

When pressed whether the decision was a mistake knowing Hussein didn’t have WMDs, Rubio still wouldn’t say that President Bush made the wrong decision. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who is mulling a presidential run, also said Saturday that Bush made the correct decision given what was known then. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is also expected to announce his White House candidacy next month, conceded Monday, “If I [knew] then what I know now, a land invasion may not have been the right answer,” but said the war was not a mistake and blamed Obama for withdrawing troops in 2011.

“We have somewhat similar debate going on right now with Iran — the fact that having a nuclear program doesn’t by itself constitute a case to do any one thing — to go to war, to negotiate or whatever,” Pillar said. “You have to argue the pros and cons.”

According to Pillar, the broader back-and-forth proves that we “are still stuck in the framework that the war promoters in the Bush administration gave us,” in that perceived threat alone justifies an invasion.

~TIERNEY SNEED

Obama and Bill Nye rip climate deniers in Congress using ‘I’m not a scientist’ excuse

President Barack Obama interviews 'Science Guy' Bill Nye in a video released by the White House on April 24, 2015. [YouTube]

President Barack Obama interviews ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye in a video released by the White House on April 24, 2015. [YouTube]

 The Raw Story

President Barack Obama asked “Science Guy” Bill Nye how to promote science education in a video released by the White House on Friday, while also taking a shot at lawmakers who have argued against the existence of climate change.

“When I see members of Congress being part of the climate-denier clubs and basically stiff-arming what we know are facts — and not rebutting them with other facts but rebutting them with anecdote or just being dismissive,” Obama said before Nye interjected.

“‘Oh, I’m not a scientist,’” Nye said, sarcastically repeating a common conservative argument against the phenomenon.

“I’m not a scientist, either, but I know a lot of scientists,” Obama replied. “I have the capacity to understand science. The capacity to look at facts and base my conclusions on evidence. Part of shifting our political culture I think, is we’ve gotta model for our kids that facts matter.”

Nye also encouraged the president to promote “science every day in every grade,” calling it a huge opportunity.

“Teaching science [at] elementary level is very inexpensive,” he said. “We fight these surprising problems about reading and arithmetic and standards problems and so on, it seems like a very solvable problem. We have to invest in the elementary grades.”

“Part of it is also, I think, our culture has to support and elevate science,” Obama said, adding, “Sometimes what we see in the popular culture is, if not a denigration then not an emphasis on science.”

Nye told CNN before the video was posted that the White House asked him to join Obama in the Florida Everglades to film the video.

“[Obama] knows I’m like-minded when it comes to the environment,” Nye said. “He didn’t bring in Marc Morano or somebody like that. I think it’s cool.”

Morano, who has been featured on Fox News on several occasions, is a blogger whose parent organization, Climate Depot, has ties to the oil industry. On Wednesday, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld argued that global warming was a trumped-up threat because the president and the former TV host flew there on Air Force One.

Watch Obama’s discussion with Nye, as posted by the White House on Friday, below.

Obama, Castro spoke by phone ahead of Panama summit

CNN

Panama City (CNN)President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro spoke by phone Wednesday before leaving Washington for the President’s trip to Jamaica and Panama, a White House official told CNN on Friday.

Obama was set to meet face-to-face with Castro on Friday, the first time the leaders have interacted since their nations agreed to renew diplomatic relations after half-a-century of enmity.

Obama arrived in Panama late Thursday to his third Summit of the Americas, a large gathering of Latin American leaders that in years past was tinged with animosity at Cuba’s exclusion. Moments after Marine One, Obama’s helicopter, touched down in Panama City, Castro’s plane landed on the same tarmac. Panamanian television carried both arrivals live.

Details of Wednesday’s phone call were not immediately available Friday.

This year, Obama was expecting a warmer welcome from the dozens of countries represented at the conference, after announcing in December he was seeking to engage Havana in talks over reopening embassies and removing barriers to commerce and travel.

READ: Obama to test engagement doctrine with Cuba

In Panama, Obama is expected to announce he’s removing Cuba from the United States’ list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a major advance in building diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The State Department delivered its report on the designation to the White House on Wednesday; Obama said on Thursday a panel of experts was reviewing it before he makes a final determination.

But in remarks during a brief stopover in Jamaica, he strongly hinted he was ready to remove Cuba from the list, which also includes Iran, Sudan and Syria.

“Throughout this process, our emphasis has been on the facts,” Obama said. “So we want to make sure that given that this is a powerful tool to isolate those countries that genuinely do support terrorism, that when we make those designations we’ve got strong evidence that, in fact, that’s the case.”

“As circumstances change, then that list will change as well,” he said.

While some inside Cuba have expressed dissatisfaction at the pace of the diplomatic thaw, U.S. officials insist they’re pleased at the progress toward re-establishing diplomatic ties, which the White House argues has helped improve relations with other countries in the region.

Obama said in Jamaica he “never foresaw that immediately overnight everything would transform itself.”

The summit meetings Friday and Saturday will mark the first time Cuba participates in the conference, which takes place every three years. At the two Obama previously attended, in Trinidad and Colombia, reception toward the U.S. delegation was icy.

“We felt it was long overdue and takes a huge irritant out of our policy in Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs who’s led talks with Cuba re-establishing diplomatic ties.

The overtures to Cuba have not been universally popular in the United States; some lawmakers were irate that Obama was seeking to engage what they regard as a corrupt government.

Obama was planning to meet in Panama with Cuban dissidents, some of whom were violently accosted earlier this week by supporters of the Castro regime.

By Alexandra Jaffe and Elise Labott, CNN

Pastor Who Spoke At Rand Launch: We Don’t Yet Know Obama’s ‘Real Religion’

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C-SPAN

I wonder how much he got paid to say that.  I’m sure all speeches go past Rand Paul or his aids first, so one could surmise that Paul espouses this guy’s train of thought…

TPM LiveWire

“In five years we’ll find out what [Obama’s] real religion is,” Rev. Jerry Stephenson told reporters after the event, according to Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins.

Stephenson, a Louisville-based preacher, voiced his discontent with the Democratic Party in 2010 and then embraced the tea party movement, as well as then-Senate candidate Paul. He’d been discussing the issue of religious freedom after Paul’s presidential announcement when a radio interviewer pressed him to explain his belief that Obama wasn’t supporting conservative Christians, according to Coppins’ report.

Asked to expand on the comment about the Obama’s “real religion,” Stephenson explained that he didn’t believe Obama had been friendly toward Christians.

“Once he’s out, he will ‘evolve’ like he did on gay marriage,” the pastor added, according to Coppins. “I just believe that’s what he will do.”

Stephenson declined to say how he believed the President’s faith would evolve.

Ted Cruz is Trying and Failing to Weasel Out of His Obamacare Duplicity

Texas-Ted-Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) | Attribution: none

Note: As other GOP Presidential candidates announce their intention to run, TFC will have less news on Ted Cruz.

Sen. Ted Cruz was the first candidate to announce his intention to run for the presidency, hence the incessant coverage from all news outlets…

Daily Banter

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is a master at what Al Franken used to call “weasel words” — talking points that are carefully constructed to sound legitimate but really aren’t at all. Come to think of it, Stephen Colbert famously referred to this sort of thing as “truthiness.” Cruz is especially on his game when the topic of the complicated Affordable Care Act comes up because even top-shelf reporters don’t quite grasp all of the ins and outs of Obamacare and, frankly, the administration hasn’t been very strong at educating the public about what the law covers. And Cruz is exploiting every square mile of this supercolossal Obamacare ignorance gap.

For the last two days or so, Ted Cruz has repeatedly said that 1) as a member of the Senate, he’s required to have an Obamacare policy, 2) in spite of this requirement he was on his wife’s insurance policy until just recently, and 3) Congress is exempt from Obamacare because of an illegal move by the president. So, Obamacare is mandatory now, but it wasn’t before, and it’s actually not any more because of the allegedly “illegal” Obama exemption.

On Wednesday, Cruz sat down with a reporter from an outfit called The Daily Signal and delivered this troika of nonsense once again.

1) First, Cruz again described how for two years he’s been on his wife’s insurance — not an apparently mandatory congressional Obamacare plan.

When I announced the campaign, my wife also decided to take an unpaid leave of absence from her job. We have been for the past couple of years covered on my wife’s health insurance. When she took an unpaid leave of absence, it means that she’s also losing her benefits. And so we’re gonna do what anyone else would do, which is take their health insurance from their employer. So, in all likelihood, we’ll go on the exchange.

2) After discussing so-called “Obama subsidies,” Cruz then described why Obamacare is a requirement for members of Congress.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley introduced an amendment to Obamacare that said members of Congress have to be on the exchanges with no subsidies just like millions of Americans.

So, the “amendment” stipulates that members “have to be on the exchanges with no subsidies.” When he first mentioned this to CNN’s Dana Bash on Tuesday, he said it was “one of the great things about Obamacare.” Then why is he still not on the exchange? It’s because members of Congress really don’t “have to” use Obamacare — unless they choose employer-based health insurance from the government. If they do, the government’s plan is now the Healthcare.gov exchange rather than the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program. If members and staffers don’t want employer coverage, they can buy a plan directly from a provider or go without insurance. On top of all that, there’s absolutely nothing in the Affordable Care Act that says Congress isn’t permitted to receive subsidies or premium-sharing. Nothing. Cruz lied.

3) Next, even though he said he plans to follow the law (he hasn’t for two years now, but okay) which he claims features an Obamacare requirement, he goes on to say that Congress doesn’t have to use Obamacare after all because the White House carved out an exemption for Congress.

Now, Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats when this passed were horrified. They didn’t wanna be under Obamacare. They went to Obama and said, “Give us a special exemption.” And Barack Obama did, and his administration ignored the plain text of the statute and created an illegal exemption. I have no intention of using that illegal exemption. I’m gonna follow the law.

Inexplicably, he wants viewers to think Congress is no longer mandated to be on Obamacare (it never was) — that Congress has an “illegal” waiver to get around Grassley’s amendment. In fact, the spirit of Grassley’s language is still intact and in effect. The “exemption” is, in reality, the Office of Personnel Management’s decision to continue to cover 72 percent of the premium costs for Congress and its staffers — just like both the government and private businesses alike always have. There was no “plain text of the statute” to ignore because, to repeat, there’s nothing in the law that says Congress can’t have a premium sharing employer benefit.

While we’re here, let’s get to the bottom of who lobbied the administration for this so-called “exemption.” Politico reported that it was a collaboration between Harry Reid and Senate Democrat John Boehner. Wait. Boehner’s not a Senate Democrat like Cruz said. He’s the Republican Speaker of the House. It was a completely bipartisan move that included both the White House and congressional leaders. Let’s clear another thing up. Grassley merely proposed an amendment that failed. The Democrats later resurrected and adapted the idea and wrote it into the body of the law. Grassley only deserves partial credit for the rule, since it was ultimately a Democratic decision.

More weasel words from Cruz:

So suddenly the media goes, “Hahahaha! Gotcha!” Because Cruz is now signing up for Obamacare. Listen, I have zero intention of take any government subsidy or Obama subsidy. Rather, what I’m gonna do is pay on the marketplace for health insurance for my family, just like millions of Americans.

Well, he won’t get a subsidy because he earns significantly more than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level — the upper limit to receive premium subsidies. Notice, though, that he didn’t say “premium sharing” or “cost sharing” or “employer contribution.” He said “subsidy.” Why would he go on the Obamacare exchange, a politically dangerous move, other than for the better deal: comparable benefits and continued employer premium sharing, just like his wife’s old plan? If he intends, on the other hand, to pay his premium dues entirely out-of-pocket without any premium sharing, why didn’t he just enroll in COBRA through Goldman Sachs or buy insurance directly from a provider, sidestepping the political mess he’s in? Obviously because he wants the premium sharing, which technically isn’t a subsidy but rather a employee benefit — just like millions of Americans receive through their employers.

It’s one thing to abide by a law you don’t like, which happens all the time, but it’s another thing entirely to abide by a law you don’t like even though you have numerous alternative options to choose from. Instead, he chose Obamacare, which he hates, and, worse, he clearly plans to accept the premium sharing “exemption” that he keeps saying was an illegal plot by the Senate Democrats. Why is he doing this? Because it’s a fantastic deal and, financially, he’d be insane not to take it. Politically, however, it was a massive blunder. You know why the press is saying “gotcha!” right now? Because Cruz just blindly derped his way into a gigantic bear trap — an unforced error — and now he’s trying to weasel out of it.

The Netanyahu Paradox: How Obama is Using Bibi’s Arrogance to Box in the Right and Promote Peace

That moment when you learn the hard way not to mess with Barack Obama | Attribution: none

I ran across this site and decided to post an article written two days ago…

The People’s View 

“Informed Citizenry: Progressive analysis, Commentary and Rants”

TPV doesn’t aim to be a “tomorrow’s news today” kind of a site. Instead, our goal is to help you understand the news in depth. That in-depth exploration, however, does become an ahead-of-time understanding of news events  sometimes.

The breaking of [March 24th’s] story of Israeli espionage against US officials in the confidential Iran negotiations is such a moment.

While it is in and of itself newsworthy that Netanyahu’s government crossed a line by disseminating it to members of Congress and while it is particularly troubling that those members of Congress participated in espionage against our own country by not immediately notifying the White House about Netanyahu’s attempt to circumvent the diplomatic process, the one element of the story that seems to be falling by the wayside is something we highlighted three weeks ago: Barack Obama is closer than any leader has ever been to striking an international pact to peacefully put nuclear weapons out of Iran’s reach.

Three weeks ago, I had to rely on the dumbness of the GOP’s move and Netanyahu’s repeated appeals to “world powers” in his speech in front of the US Congress – World powers, I pointed out then, with whom President Obama had earned enormous capital by proving that his hard work on behalf of peace wasn’t mere lip service and by already having the disarmament of a middle eastern rogue power (Syria) under his belt.

The Wall Street Journal, breaking the spying story, describes that desperation:

“Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer early this year saw a rapidly closing window to increase pressure on Mr. Obama before a key deadline at the end of March, Israeli officials said.”

They decided to do so, WSJ goes on to say, by channeling to members of Congress confidential information the Israelis had learned in an attempt to derail the President’s plans. Little did they know that US counterintelligence had in short order discovered the Israeli spying however, and Netanyahu’s belligerence received blowback when the espionage turned off pro-Israel Democrats Netanyahu had counted on to scuttle the President’s plans.

But it didn’t stop at ticking off Democratic members. Netanyahu’s petulance and the following fallout not only backfired, it has angered officials who aren’t necessarily political appointees, and thus whose times of service aren’t always linked to the length of their presidents’ administrations.

““People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said. “That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.””

On the other end, Netanyahu’s screw-ups – including an election-eve assertion he has now been forced to backpedal on – has enabled the White House to make a point too many American administrations have been afraid to due to fear of the We-gotta-be-more-pro-Israel-than-Israel lobby. This weekend, in a speech to J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization, the President’s Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough made the case for and end to occupation (which Netanyahu said he would expand) and the establishment of a free Palestinian state as not only the best option for Israel’s long term security but the only way for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic.

McDonough’s speech, though making the usual rounds among the right wing echo chamber, has done what right wing dogmatism hasn’t allowed in decades: established the United States as both pro-Israel and pro-peace. McDonough was even backed up at J Street by the George Bush Sr’s Secretary of State Jim Baker (before that Reagan’s Secretary of Treasury), who lit into Netanyahu in his own speech.

Frankly, Netanyahu has done so much to draw attention to himself that even some conservatives are finding it difficult to defend his rhetoric and actions. By making himself the cause celeb, Netanyahu has put the American right wing in the uncomfortable position of having to reject the longstanding, bipartisan goal of a two-state solution and defending expanded settlements and now, spying on the United States, all at the behest of a foreigner.

The Right’s open contempt for peace and Netanyahu’s open defiance of the United States may well have had a big part in creating the atmosphere in which the White House Chief of Staff can articulate in clearest of terms that indefinite occupation and settlement does not have the backing of the United States, and that Benjamin Netanyahu is part of the problem against a peaceful resolution in the Middle East, without allowing the press to instantly brand this longstanding American position as anti-Israel. It is better understood than ever that the President is merely dropping support of a petulant, arrogant foreign leader, not his proven commitment to the security of the state of Israel.

Let’s recount. Netanyahu’s attempt to derail the Iran negotiations – from spying and secretly talking to members of Congress to the belligerent electioneering on the floor of the US Congress – not only failed but backfired, reiterating to our allies as well as to Iran that the window to make a deal is now. Bibi’s rhetoric following that has now resulted in what is a well-earned rebuke from the White House and loss of support on the Right. Not for Israel, but for Bibi.

Netanyahu may have won an election, but he seems to have lost a tremendous amount of ground on the global stage and within the US.

Barack Obama has generally taken a simple but deadly effective approach to neutralizing Right wing belligerence. Hand them enough rope, wait for them to screw up, then move in at lightening speed. He said it a long time ago, even before he was president, that he would work with anyone, but if you come at him with an attack posture, he will knock you out.

Now he has used that tactic with the precision of a neurosurgeon against Bibi’s follies, and at the same time, tied and hung Netanyahu like a sinking rock around the American far Right’s neck, all the while continuing to advance his global leadership. The GOP is back in a box: if they now back Netanyahu, they are committing sedition by backing a foreign leader who not only spied on the US but passed that info to unauthorized individuals, and if they don’t, their base is going to call them a n____ lover. Welcome to the Netanyahu Paradox.

Well done, Mr. President.

NOTE: Please please please understand that this article’s comments section is not an invitation to jump into the “Israel good, Palestine bad” or vice versa kind of a discussion. Rather, it is meant to be an introspection on American leadership and moving the peace process (both between Israel and Palestine and the current negotiations with Iran), and exactly who’s getting in the way (Netanyahu, the American Right wing).  As such, please keep your comments on that topic. I know passions run high on both sides, but since that cat has already been skinned every way possible, let’s be forward looking to the solutions. ~  (Author of this article)

(Original article dated 3-24-15)

 

Obama Ribs GOP: Obamacare Didn’t Bring ‘Death Panels, Doom’

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AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin

TPM DC

“I mean we have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case —death panels, doom, a serious alternative from Republicans in Congress,” Obama said, smirking during a speech highlighting the fifth anniversary of his signature healthcare law. “The budget they introduced last week would literally double the number of uninsured in America.”

Obama’s comments came a week after Republicans introduced a new House budget that gutted most of Obamacare but did not offer an alternative. Obama conceded part of the reasons Republicans hadn’t yet offered an alternative plan was because healthcare policy isn’t easy.

“And in their defense, there are two reasons why coming up with an alternative has proven to be difficult,” Obama said. “First, it’s because the Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it!”

Obamacare, Obama said, was “based on conservative market based principles developed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans in Congress. And deployed by a man named Mitt Romney in Massachusetts to great effect. If they want to take credit for this law, they can. I’m happy to share it.”

There have been many efforts, Obama added, to reform the country’s healthcare system.

“And second, because health reform is really hard and people here who are in the trenches know that. Good people from both parties have tried and failed to get it done for a hundred years,” Obama said. “Because every public policy has some tradeoffs, especially when it affects one sixth of American economy and applies to the very personal needs of every individual American. Now we’ve made our share of mistakes since we passed this law. But we also know beyond a shred of a doubt that the policy has worked. Coverage is up, cost growth is at a historic low, deficits have been slashed, lives have been saved.”

Obama also said in the speech that he was ready to sign a major overhaul of Medicare negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

10 things you need to know today: March 20, 2015

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

The Week

1.ISIS claims responsibility for Tunisian museum massacre
The Islamic State on Thursday claimed responsibility for a Wednesday attack on a Tunisian museum that left 20 foreign tourists and three Tunisians dead. ISIS called the attack “the first drop of rain” in the northern African nation, although there was no proof of its involvement. Tunisia said it had arrested nine people in connection with the attack, and that it would deploy soldiers to major cities to ramp up security against terrorists. The foreign victims came from Japan, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.

Source: Reuters

2.Obama uses video greeting to urge Iranians to support nuclear deal
President Obama made a direct appeal to young Iranians to pressure their leaders into accepting a proposed agreement to curtail the country’s controversial nuclear program. “A nuclear deal now can open the door to a brighter future for you, the Iranian people,” Obama said. The message was included in Obama’s greeting to Iranians for Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebration. The message came two weeks after Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iranian leaders warning that any deal with Obama could be unraveled after his term ends.

Source: The New York Times

3.Netanyahu backs down after ruling out Palestinian state
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fresh off a parliamentary electionupset victory, backed away Thursday from a late campaign promise to block the establishment of a Palestinian state as long as he remained in office. He saidThursday that he still supported creating a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes Israel, but that circumstances would have to change for a two-state solution to work. In a sign of how far relations between the two leaders had deteriorated, U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly told Netanyahu directly that his campaign comments had forced the United States to “re-assess” its options on the two-state solution.

Source: MSNBC, Haaretz

4.Arctic sea ice levels reach record winter lows
Arctic sea ice reached record lows for winter this year, scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Thursday. The levels fluctuate from year to year — summer ice levels hit record lows in 2012, then rebounded some in the next two years. Another recent study, however, found Arctic sea ice had thinned dramatically in recent decades as global temperatures have risen, thinning ice in the Arctic by 65 percent between 1975 and 2012.

Source: BBC News, Vox

5.Congressional Republicans advance budget plans
The Republican-controlled House Budget Committee on Thursday signed off on a budget proposal calling for cutting Medicaid and other social programs, and repealing ObamaCare. The plan promises $5 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade, largely due to those cuts. The proposal advanced on a 22-13 party-line vote. Senate Republicans are trying to advance their version, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said gave the rich tax breaks while cutting programs for “some of the most vulnerable” Americans.

Source: The Associated Press

6.Judge blocks release of grand jury testimony in Eric Garner chokehold death
A New York judge refused Thursday to release testimony heard by the grand jury in the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after a white police officer put him in a chokehold. The grand jury decision not to indict the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, sparked protests. Civil rights groups tried to make the evidence from the hearing public, but District Attorney Daniel Donovan argued that would “damage the credibility of prosecutors” guaranteeing witnesses and jurors confidentiality.

Source: The Associated Press

7.Police investigate hanging death of black man found in Mississippi
A black man was found dead, hanging by a bed sheet from a tree in Mississippion Thursday. The man was believed to be 54-year-old Otis Byrd, who had not been seen since March 2 and was reported missing March 8. The tree was just over a quarter mile from a house belonging to Byrd’s family. It is too early to say “what happened out there, if it is a suicide, a homicide,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jason Pack. The man’s arms were not bound.

Source: CNN

8.Google announces development of smartwatch
Google announced Thursday that it was entering the smartwatch war. The internet search giant is teaming up with Intel and watchmaker TAG Heuer to create a luxury smartwatch using Intel hardware and Google’s Android Wear operating system. The announcement suggested Apple’s newly unveiled Apple Watch, which goes on sale April 24 for $349, could be in for stiff competition. Google did not provide details on the pricing or features of its device.

Source: Bloomberg

9. Nigeria makes gains against Boko Haram ahead of election
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is up for reelection next week, said in an interview aired Friday that soldiers could retake all of the towns seized by the ISIS-linked group Boko Haram within a month. At the start of the year, Boko Haram controlled an area the size of Belgium, with 20 local government districts. Now it has just three, thanks to a regional offensive by Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Nigeria, the Nigerian army says.

Source: The Guardian (Nigeria), Reuters

10.March Madness kicks off with two upsets
Two No. 3 seeds fell in the first full day of the NCCA men’s basketball tournament on Thursday. First, No. 14 seed U.A.B. beat Iowa State, a No. 3 seed ranked the ninth best team in the country, by a score of 60-59; then, No. 14 Georgia State upset Baylor, 87-86, on a late 3-point shot. Another of the four No. 3 seeds, Notre Dame, held off a surprisingly strong challenge, beating No. 14 seed Northeastern, 69-65.

Source: The Associated Press, The Plain Dealer

10 things you need to know today: March 11, 2015

(Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

THE WEEK

1.Oklahoma students expelled over racist video
University of Oklahoma officials expelled two students on Tuesday, accusing them of playing a “leadership role” in a racist chant by Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members that was caught on video. President David Boren said the school was enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy for “threatening racist behavior.” The university has closed the fraternity house and boarded up its windows. One of the students in the video, Parker Rice, apologized for what he called “a horrible mistake” and vowed to “reject racism” in the future.

Source: CNN, NBC News

2.Hillary Clinton defends her use of a private email system at State Department
Hillary Clinton on Tuesday made her first response to criticism over her use of a private email account as secretary of state, saying she used the personal account because she “opted for convenience.” Clinton pushed back against suggestions she skirted record-keeping rules, and said she “went above and beyond” what was required of her. She said she gave the State Department “anything that could be possibly viewed as work-related,” but conceded it “would have been better” to use a second, government account.

Source: The Associated Press, NBC News

3.Ferguson’s city manager resigns after highly critical Justice Department report
Ferguson, Missouri, city manager John Shaw resigned Tuesday in the wake of a scathing Justice Department describing rampant racial discrimination by the city’s police department and municipal court system. The report named Shaw, the city’s most powerful official, as one of the people responsible for much of the unfair conduct of the police and courts. The announcement about Shaw’s resignation came during a City Council meeting a week after the release of the Justice Department report.

Source: The New York Times

4.Feud continues over GOP senators’ letter to Iran
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) pushed back Tuesday against White House criticism of a letter, signed by 47 GOP senators, that he wrote to Iran warning that Congress could reverse any nuclear deal Tehran negotiates with President Obama. Vice President Joe Biden said the letter was “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.” Cotton shot back that Biden, “as Barack Obama’s own secretary of defense has said, has been wrong about nearly every foreign policy and national security decision in the last 40 years.”

Source: Mediaite

5.11 missing after military helicopter crash
An Army helicopter crashed during a routine training mission Tuesdaynight at Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida, leaving seven Marines and four National Guard soldiers missing. Debris from the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was found on a remote government-owned beach early Wednesday. A search-and-rescue mission was underway. An Eglin spokesman could not say what went wrong with the helicopter, although there were “weather issues” at the time of the crash.

Source: NBC News

6.Iraqi government forces retake part of Tikrit
Iraqi forces, backed by Shiite militia, retook parts of Tikrit from Islamic State fighters on Tuesday. ISIS forces reportedly had begun retreating from the besieged, strategically important city. Government forces have been fighting for a week to take back Tikrit. The offensive involves more than 30,000 pro-government fighters, making it the largest Iraqi military operation yet against ISIS. A victory there would mark major progress toward reclaiming Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, from ISIS.

Source: The New York Times

7.Stocks plunge as interest rate hikes loom
U.S. stocks fell into the red for the year on Tuesday, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted by 333 points, or 1.9 percent, on anxiety over the prospect of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve. European stocks fared even worse, with Britain’s FTSE 100 plunging by 2.5 percent thanks to the euro’s declining value compared to the dollar. The euro his a 12-year low at 1.077 per dollar.

Source: USA Today

8.ISIS releases video showing child shooting and killing Israeli hostage
The Islamic State reportedly released a video on Tuesday showing a child shooting and killing a man identified by the terrorist group as an Israeli spy. The victim was identified as Mohamed Said Ismail Musallam, a 19-year-old Israeli of Arab descent. His father, Said Musallam, said the victim had no ties to the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and that he had been recruited by ISIS. “Mohamed told me and his brother that ISIS took him,” Said Mussalam said.

Source: CNN

9. Teenage suicide bomber kills 34 in Nigeria
A teenage girl reportedly detonated a suicide bomb in a market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Tuesday, killing at least 34 people. Many more people were wounded. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the attack was similar to a series of others blamed on Boko Haram, an Islamist terror organization that recently declared its allegiance to the Islamic State. Boko Haram has been fighting for six years to impose Islamic law in Nigeria.

Source: The Associated Press

10.Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams told to pay $7.4 million in Blurred Lines suit
A federal jury in Los Angeles found Tuesday that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give it Up when they created their 2013 hit Blurred Lines. The jury awarded Gaye’s children $7.4 million. Testimony in the trial described numerous similarities between the two songs, and focused on whether Blurred Lines was an homage to Gaye or a copy of his work. An attorney for Thicke and Williams said they remained “unwavering in their absolute conviction that they wrote this song independently.”

Source: MTV