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Washington Report – Dec. 19, 2014

19 Dec 2014

Washington Report – Dec. 19, 2014


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This week’s Washington Report! To sign up for the direct email, click here.

 

ENDING DAYS OF CHAOS … VOTE-O-RAMA … CUBA … CIGARS … CASTROS HIT THE JACKPOT … NORTH KOREA HAS FINALLY FOUND A WAY TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY … CYBERTERRORISTS WIN … and other news of the week.

Wishing all of you a wonderful holiday and a happy and healthy New Year!

This is the final Washington Report of 2014 (where did the year go!).  Not to worry, we will be back in early January!

Best,

Joyce Rubenstein and the Capstone Team (John Rogers, Alan MacLeod, Steve Moffitt, Diane Rogers, Erik Oksala, Kate Venne, Kathryn Wellner and Ross Willkom)

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ENDING DAYS OF CHAOS The Hill: “President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill Friday night, a day after the bill breezed through the Senate in a 72-26 vote (but not without drama), and two days after the House passed the bill by a 359-67 margin.” VOTE-O-RAMA Senators spent most of Saturday — and this week — plowing through votes on presidential nominees — a process known as a Vote-O-Rama. The list of nominations included Antony J. Blinken as deputy secretary of state, the department’s No. 2 post; Dr. Vivek H. Murthy as surgeon general; and Sarah R. Saldaña to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” VOTING NO Nearly every senator mentioned as a future presidential candidate voted against the omnibus: GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rubio and Cruz as well as liberal Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (D) and Bernie Sanders of Vermont (I).”

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MASSIVE DEFENSE POLICY BILL SIGNED BY PRESIDENT The bill, passed by Congress for the 53rd straight year, provides the administration a two-year authority to train and equip moderate Syrian rebel groups, as well as $5 billion in funding for operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

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4321e59a42ec70425de38238_280x158U.S., CUBA TO NORMALIZE RELATIONS Washington Post: “The United States and Cuba ended more than a half-century of enmity Wednesday, announcing that they would reestablish diplomatic relations and begin dismantling the last pillar of the Cold War. The historic move, following 18 months of secret negotiations … fulfilled one of President Obama’s key second-term goals. In addition to the release of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, who the Obama administration said was freed on humanitarian grounds after five years, the United States exchanged the three Cubans for an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset said to have been held in Cuba for two decades. The inclusion in the deal of the U.S. spy, a Cuban national, appeared to have been the break that allowed it to go through.”  Politico: “One of the three Cubans whose sentences Obama commuted …  was convicted in 2001 of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the shoot down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes over Cuba in 1996, in which four Cuban émigrés aboard the aircraft were killed. Hernández and the two others released were members of the so-called ‘Cuban Five’ – a group of Cuban nationals convicted in 2001 of acting as what amounted to a spy ring known as ‘the Wasp Network.'”

WHO IS AFRAID OF CUBA?  AH… ALMOST NOBODY The Fix: Republicans were quick on Wednesday to accuse President Obama of appeasing our nation’s adversaries and showing weakness. “First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba: One More Very Bad Deal Brokered by the Obama Administration,” blared the subject line of a release from Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Tex.) office. But there’s one very important way in which Cuba differs from all of these other bad actors on the world stage. And it’s this: Americans aren’t scared of Cuba — like barely even a little bit. Despite Cuba’s proximity to the US  (about 90 miles from Florida) and its alliance with other antagonistic countries like North Korea and Russia, Americans have grown progressively less and less concerned that the island country actually poses a threat to the United States. A CNN/Opinion Research poll earlier this year, in fact, showed that just 5% of people viewed Cuba as a “very serious threat” and 21% said it was a “moderately serious threat’ – another 72% said it wasn’t a threat at all or just a slight threat. Back in 1983, two-thirs of Americans viewed Cuba as at least a moderately serious threat.”

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CASTROS HIT THE JACKPOT Politico Magazine: “After waiting out 10 other U.S. presidents, the Castro regime finally hit the jackpot in Obama, whose beliefs about our Cuba policy probably don’t differ much from those of the average black-turtleneck-clad graduate student in Latin American studies. Every dictator around the world must be waiting anxiously for a call or a postcard from Obama. The leader of the free world comes bearing gifts and understanding.”

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HOW GOP COULD BATTLE OBAMA ON CUBA Politico: “… President Obama’s plan to normalize relations with Cuba has hit a roadblock: Republicans on Capitol Hill [who are] informally kicking around ideas to stop any changes to the U.S.-Cuba relationship.” AP notes: “Opponents spoke of holding up money to set up a full-service U.S. embassy in Havana, blocking Obama’s nominee as ambassador to Cuba or other such steps. But even if they were to pass sweeping legislation to stop what Obama wants to do, he could veto it and they are not likely to have the votes to override a veto.”

@ananavarro: US Embassy in Cuba requires $ & Ambassador. Confirmation of Ambass needs to go thru Rubio/Menendez. And Approps thru Diaz-Balart. Good luck!

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MARCO’S HAVANA MOMENT Tampa Bay Times, on how Sen. Marco Rubio – a Cuban-American who is mulling a 2016 run – seized the spotlight: “As President Barack Obama dropped the bombshell about Cuba on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio was hurrying to the Capitol where a packed room of reporters awaited. The Florida Republican stood outside for a moment, reviewing notes, then stepped to the podium and unloaded. ‘This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime,’ Rubio said.” –“For Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants who has fashioned their story into an American Dream narrative used throughout his political career, it was the most personal and aggressive moment of his time in the national spotlight.” AND THEN…PAUL BACKS OPENING UP TO CUBA Politico: “Sen. Rand Paul broke with other likely Republican presidential contenders on Thursday by saying that opening up more trade with Cuba “is probably a good idea” and declaring that the U.S. embargo on the country “just hasn’t worked.”

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OBAMA LIBRE Politico: “It’s been a bad year. But the president is closing strong” … If President Obama’s year ended in November, it would have been one of the worst of his presidency. Good thing he had the last five weeks. Obama feels liberated, aides say, and see the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend the last two years being more of the president he always wanted to be. … The Cuba announcement follows a post-[midterm] sprint that included sealing a landmark climate agreement with China …”Obamacare enrollment is ticking up, the economy is on the longest job growth streak since the 1990s, Obama’s done more on environmental protections than any previous president, and he took the single largest unilateral action on immigration policy in history. And though they got nowhere on trying to get Congress to raise the minimum wage, Obama and his advisers tout the success of shaping the conversation in a way that prompted companies and a growing number of cities and states to raise wages on their own.”

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THIS WEEK … it’s been a year since the passage of the Murray-Ryan budget deal that provided some fiscal relief to the Pentagon for fiscal 2014 and 2015. What will the new year bring?

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SPLIT DECISION ON NEW US NAVY SHIP Defense News: “The decision is in, and it’s split right down the middle. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has accepted the Navy’s recommendation that the design of the small surface combatant (SSC), a more powerful ship to follow the littoral combat ship, will be based on the existing LCS. … But Hagel — contrary to widespread expectations — did not decide whether the SSC would be based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom class [built in Wisconsin by Marinette Marine Corp], or Austal USA’s Independence-class ship. Nor, apparently, did the Navy favor either design in its recommendations. Rather, the Navy’s plan is to keep buying modified versions of both LCS variants. CHECK OUT JOHN ROGERS IN THE PRESS THIS WEEK Littoral Ship Program Changes Pose Opportunity, Risk to Marinette

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SESSIONS CONCEDES IN BUDGET GAVEL RACE Politico: “Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama is dropping his bid to be Budget Committee chairman in the new Congress, conceding to fellow Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming. Sessions and Enzi are both deficit hawks who are unlikely to support big increases in the current Budget Control Act spending caps that defense executives want eliminated.”

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IRS WARNS OF SHUTDOWN Politico: “The IRS is considering its own temporary shutdown due to recent budget cuts enacted by Congress, its chief said Thursday. In the recent budget deal, Congress cut the IRS budget by $ 346 million to $10.9 billion, making it nearly a billion down from several years back. The agency was one of the only agencies that was reduced — despite the storm of a tax season looming on the horizon. The IRS will be implementing Obamacare tax credits and penalties for the first time, among other new responsibilities.”

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FINAL HOUSE RACE OF 2014 SETTLED Politico: Republican Martha McSally has prevailed in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District over Democratic Rep. Ron Barber following a recount after initial vote totals showed McSally ahead by fewer than 200 votes. … more than six weeks after the Nov. 4 election — [results] showed McSally ahead by 167 votes. McSally, a retired Air Force officer and the first female to fly in combat, previously led the vote count by 161 votes, but a mandatory recount followed because the margin was not wide enough. NOW when the new Congress convenes, Republicans will control 247 House seats – 188 for Dems.”

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FIRE IT UP. FAMED CIGARS AMONG GOODS OK TO IMPORT USA Today: “[A]pproved travelers will be able to bring home $100 of cigars. … The president’s official act may take some of the fun out of Cuban cigars. For decades, U.S. travelers have made like amateur smugglers, stashing boxes and bundles of Cohibas and Uppman.” BOOK YOUR TICKETS “Cuba was once a haven for sun-seeking American tourists. Beautiful beaches, lively casinos and late-night dancing made it the perfect getaway, only an hour’s flight from Miami. Obama’s announcement … give[s] hope to airlines, hotel chains and cruise companies … that they soon will be able to bring U.S. tourists to the Caribbean nation.”

BuzzFeed: “Sí Change”

GOOD RIDDANCE TO A RIDICULOUS CUBA POLICY TheAtlantic.com: “Critics of Obama’s Cuba initiative have a point: There is no way to guarantee the success, in human-rights terms, of this dramatic new opening. But time has discredited the alternative vision. The seemingly never-ending embargo did nothing to bring about the conclusion of the seemingly never-ending rule of the Castro brothers.”

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SONY HACK NBC “FBI on Friday formally accused the North Korean government of the hacking attack that led Sony Pictures Entertainment to cancel the movie “The Interview.”

TWEET DU JOUR — @jaketapper: “We are all @Sethrogen”

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NORTH KOREA HAS FINALLY FOUND A WAY TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY Politico: The reclusive regime of Kim Jong Un caught the world off guard this week as Sony canceled the release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to kill the North Korean dictator, after a massive hack … orchestrated by the North (and subsequent threats aimed at theaters planning to show the film). The hacking has brought into focus just how unprepared Washington is to respond to cyber threats, with officials acknowledging there are few options.”

“Not only did Pyongyang reportedly manage to threaten a major multinational corporation into pulling its film, and embarrass the hell out of Hollywood royalty by publishing their emails for weeks, the North’s “Unit 121” – the cyberhacking outfit reportedly working out of North Korea’s military spy agency, the General Bureau of Reconnaissance – was able to simultaneously one-up two countries Pyongyang hates most, the United States and Japan, where of course Sony Pictures’ parent is based.

“In fact, Kim and Co. might be wondering, just about now, whether they’ve been going the wrong route all these years with their vastly ambitious if often errant nuclear program, which starved their nation and condemned generations of nuclear scientists to horrific radiation deaths. Internet terrorism is much cheaper, safer – and probably far more effective.”

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THE (CYBER)TERRORISTS WIN – “Hollywood Outraged at Sony’s Decision to Dump ‘The Interview,'” by The Wrap’s Linda Ge: “Hollywood’s creative community was outraged at Sony’s decision to yank the release of ‘The Interview’ … Jimmy Kimmel called it ‘an act of cowardice.’ … Aaron Sorkin also released a statement, saying in part, ‘The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public.”

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THE YEAR IN SEARCH Robin Williams, World Cup, Ebola and Malaysia Airlines are 2014’s most searched terms worldwide, Google said … in its annual “Zeitgeist” report. Others in the top 10 are ice bucket challenge, Flappy Bird and ISIS.

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THE BUSH – CLINTON THING IS EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS THAT YOU THINK Amid talk that Jeb Bush is considering a run for President in 2016 (as in he announced that he is forming a leadership PAC to look at running for President), The Fix reports that there has been only one presidential election without a Bush or a Clinton since 1976. That’s 38 years. IN FACT, going back a full half-century — i.e. to 1964 — there have been only three elections (midterm or presidential) in which a Bush or a Clinton hasn’t been on the ballot somewhere for something.

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BILL OF RIGHTS Monday was national Bill of Rights Day, the anniversary of the 1791 ratification of the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

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BITTERSWEET FAREWELL  After nine years and 1,447 episodes, Stephen Colbert made his last “Report” on Thursday night. Colbert will take over “The Late Show” from David Letterman next year. It was a great run.

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