Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., may be getting ready to announce his presidential campaign next month.
TheTampa Bay Timesreported on Friday that Rubio has reserved the Freedom Tower in Miami for an event on Monday, April 13, which could be the announcement date and site.
An aide to the Rubio told ABC News on Saturday that they still have several options they are looking at, and nothing is final.
If Rubio were to announce on April 13, it would make him the third major Republican contender in the race. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the first to announce last Monday, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is expected to announced in early April in his home state of Kentucky.
gnagel/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- Another state is now considering controversial “religious rights” legislation.
A North Carolina State Representative filed a bill this week similar to those in 20 other states across the country, according to a report by ABC News station WTVD-TV.
The bill would allow employers to pick and choose who they want to do business with based on their own personal religious beliefs.
Republican State Representative Paul Stam told WTVD-TV that state or local governments shouldn’t be able to order citizens to do things they have a religious belief against.
“Three or four years ago, when our marriage amendment supposedly was going to kill business in North Carolina. The 10 states that were fastest-growing in the nation all had marriage amendments,” he said.
Indiana’s Republican Governor Mike Pence signed a new law on Thursday that allows businesses to refuse to serve people based on the business owner’s religious beliefs.
Sarah Preston, who works for the state's American Civil Liberties Union, told the television station that the law is a slippery slope.
“People could ignore non-discrimination laws. They could ignore other laws that they don't want to abide by, just by saying that they have a religious belief,” Preston said.
Raleigh business owner Tony Cope told WTVD-TV that if the law is passed, it would hurt efforts to recruit business and talent.
“It's a hurdle,” Cope said. “I have to spend my time and effort convincing people that, well, this is the way the legislation is going, but it's not really the way we do business in North Carolina."
vichie81/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama spoke with the new king of Saudi Arabia on Friday over recent developments in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia continues to conduct airstrikes against rebels in parts of the country.
“The President reaffirmed the strong friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and emphasized the United States’ support for the action taken by Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and others in response to President Hadi’s request and in support of the legitimate government of Yemen,” National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.
In addition to underscoring the commitment by the U.S. to Saudi Arabia’s security, President Obama and King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud agreed on a collective goal to achieve “lasting stability” in Yemen through a negotiated political solution, according to Meehan.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- In his weekly address, President Obama notes the impact of the Wall Street Reform he signed into law five years ago, and highlighted the importance of protecting American workers' paychecks.
"Five years ago, after the worst financial crisis in decades, we passed historic Wall Street reform to end the era of bailouts and too big to fail," the president said. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created as part of that reform, has "already put $5 billion back in the pockets of more than 15 million families," Obama says. "This week, they took an important first step towards cracking down on some of the most abusive practices involving payday loans."
"Protecting working Americans' paychecks shouldn't be a partisan issue," Obama says. "But the budget Republicans unveiled last week would make it harder, not easier, to crack down on financial fraud and abuse."
He further vowed to continue fighting for middle-class economics.
Read the full transcript of the president's address:
Hi, everybody. Five years ago, after the worst financial crisis in decades, we passed historic Wall Street reform to end the era of bailouts and too big to fail.
As part that reform, we created an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with one mission: to protect American consumers from some of the worst practices of the financial industry.
They’ve already put $5 billion back in the pockets of more than 15 million families. And this week, they took an important first step towards cracking down on some of the most abusive practices involving payday loans.
Millions of Americans take out these loans every year. In Alabama, where I visited this week, there are four times as many payday lending stores as there are McDonald’s. But while payday loans might seem like easy money, folks often end up trapped in a cycle of debt. If you take out a $500 loan, it’s easy to wind up paying more than $1,000 in interest and fees.
The step the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced this week is designed to change that. The idea is pretty common sense: if you’re a payday lender preparing to give a loan, you should make sure that the borrower can afford to pay it back first.
As Americans, we believe there’s nothing wrong with making a profit. But there is something wrong with making that profit by trapping hard-working men and women in a vicious cycle of debt.
Protecting working Americans’ paychecks shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But the budget Republicans unveiled last week would make it harder, not easier, to crack down on financial fraud and abuse. And this week, when Republicans rolled out their next economic idea, it had nothing to do with the middle class. It was a new, more-than-$250 billion tax cut for the top one-tenth of the top one percent of Americans. That would mean handing out an average tax cut of $4 million a year to just 4,000 Americans per year, and leaving the rest of the country to pay for it.
I don’t think our top economic priority should be helping a tiny number of Americans who are already doing extraordinarily well, and asking everybody else to foot the bill. I think our top priority should be helping everybody who works hard get ahead. This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.
That’s what middle-class economics is all about, and as long as I’m your President, that’s what I’ll keep on fighting to do.
US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., gave the weekly Republican address, highlighting the benefits of bipartisan legislation passed this week by the House to strengthen Medicare.
Roe, a physician by trade, begins by explaining the unsustainability of Medicare. "Right now, a married couple -- both 66, both making average earnings -- will receive more than double in benefits what they actually contribute in Medicare payroll taxes over the course of their lifetimes," he notes. Roe also notes that doctors "will soon be hit with an automatic 21 percent cut to the payments they receive for treating patients on Medicare."
The House-passed legislation would replace Medicare's Sustainable Growth Rate formula, meaning in Roe's words, "a more stable Medicare program."
"We need to repeal the president's flawed health care law," Roe concludes. "We need to put the focus on patient-centered reforms that lower costs." Still, Roe says, "for now, this is progress."
Read the full transcript of the Republican address:
Hello, I’m Dr. Phil Roe, and I have the great honor of representing Tennessee’s First Congressional District, which is located in the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee. As a physician, I ran a successful medical practice in Johnson City for 31 years, delivering more than 5,000 babies.
Today I’d like to talk to you about strengthening Medicare so it works for everyone from seniors now to a child born today.
First, here’s a fact. Right now, a married couple – both 66, both making average earnings – will receive more than double in benefits what they actually contribute in Medicare payroll taxes over the course of their lifetimes. That’s unsustainable. It’s what’s driving our debt, and robbing our kids and our grandkids of benefits they’ll never see.
Not only that, but due to what’s called Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate formula, or SGR, doctors will soon be hit with an automatic 21 percent cut to the payments they receive for treating patients on Medicare. This only jeopardizes seniors’ access to physicians they count on every day.
Congress has faced this cliff before, nearly 20 times in fact. And it won’t surprise you to learn that each time, Congress has punted, spending your money on short-term fixes without providing any kind of certainty for doctors and our seniors.
But this time is different. This week, the House passed bipartisan legislation to permanently repeal this formula. Instead, we’re delivering the first real entitlement reform in nearly two decades.
These reforms ask higher-income seniors, like myself, to pay a little more for their premiums for Part B and D, and encourage certain beneficiaries to think more like consumers when it comes to their health care – a concept we know is the right approach to reducing health care costs. Both reforms will be phased in over time.
For seniors, this will end years of needless concern and frustration that care will suffer from arbitrary cuts.
And for families, this will mean a more stable Medicare program to care for their elderly parents.
And for taxpayers, this will result in a huge amount of savings 20, 30, 40 years down the road.
Of course, much more needs to be done and like you, my to-do list for fixing our health care system is pretty long.
We need to repeal the president’s flawed health care law. We need to put the focus on patient-centered reforms that lower costs. And we need to make the real reforms necessary to ensure Medicare and all of our entitlement programs can serve future generations.
For now, this is progress, and it’s an example of what we can accomplish when we focus on finding common ground.
Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy on Friday criticized Hillary Clinton, saying she had "unilaterally decided to wipe her server clean and permanently delete all emails from her personal server."
Last week, Gowdy called for Clinton to turn her email server to a third-party for analysis of her records. "After seeking and receiving a two-week extension from the committee," Gowdy said Friday, "Secretary Clinton failed to provide a single new document to the subpoena issued by the Committee and refused to provide her private server to the Inspector General for the State Department or any other independent arbiter for analysis."
Gowdy said that the committee learned on Friday that Clinton had wiped the server. "While it is not clear precisely when Secretary Clinton decided to permanently delete all emails from her server, it appears she made the decision after October 28, 2014, when the Department of State for the first time asked the Secretary to return her public record to the Department," Gowdy wrote.
Gowdy further criticized Clinton, saying that "not only was the Secretary the sole arbiter of what was a public record, she also summarily decided to delete all emails from her server ensuring no one could check behind her analysis in the public interest."
Terming Clinton's decision "unprecedented," Gowdy says that that action involves the Select Committee and Congress, "but also those of the American people and their right to the full record of her tenure as secretary of State."
Clinton has previously said that she deleted all private emails after turning over the records she and her team had identified as public record.
US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Indiana Gov. Mike Pence stirred fierce backlash from critics by signing a "religious freedom" law on Thursday, and he might have also shaken up the 2016 presidential race in the process.
The former congressman and potential 2016 presidential candidate signed into law a controversial state Senate bill that simply states the government can't interfere with people and businesses exercising their religious beliefs. Religious freedom is already protected under the U.S. Constitution, and Pence posed the new law as an innocuous affirmation of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, against the mandate for employer-provided birth-control coverage under Obamacare.
Known as a social conservative, Pence has said he's considering a White House run and will reportedly decide sometime this spring.
The bill has sparked intense backlash online, but it's won a very important fan for Pence: Bob Vander Plaats, the noted Iowa-caucus kingmaker who heads up the FAMiLY Leader, a socially conservative group that exercises notable political influence in the critical primary-campaign state.
"I think it definitely boosts his credibility, not just with a group like ours, but for any freedom-loving American who wants to have a full-spectrum conservative in the White House," Vander Plaats told ABC News.
Since Pence signed the bill, critics have lashed out at the governor online. Miley Cyrus posted a photo of Pence on Instagram, calling the governor an "a**hole." Businesses reportedly lobbied against the bill, and Yelp's CEO said it sets a "terrible precedent."
Pence defended the law at a press conference on Friday after he signed it, saying it is "not about discrimination" and pointing to similar laws in other states, and to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by president Bill Clinton. Pence said he thinks there has been a lot of "misunderstanding" surrounding the bill.
Critics see it differently. The bill "absolutely does" give a green light to discrimination, according to Jenny Pizer, national director of law and policy at Lambda Legal, an LGBT legal-defense and advocacy group.
"Many people take these bills as a message that the usual rules to not apply, and that other people should endure mistreatment if that is based on a religious motive," Pizer said.
At issue is whether businesses can discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual clients: for instance, wedding photographers, wedding-cake bakers, or florists who may see a gay wedding as contradicting religious beliefs against gay marriage. In some places, businesses already can refuse to serve gays and lesbians, Pizer said, with nondiscrimination laws on the books in fewer than half the states and a dozen counties in Indiana. For Pizer and other critics, the concern is that the bill will green-light discriminatory attitudes.
For Pence, the decision could bring embarrassment for his state -- the NCAA issued a strongly worded statement that it is "concerned" about the law's effects, as the men's basketball Final Four heads to Indianapolis next weekend -- but it could also provide a political windfall among activists like Vander Plaats in key primary states.
"This isn't about driving through McDonald's and saying you can't order a Big Mac 'cause you're gay," Vander Plaats, who says he's examining Pence along with other candidates, told ABC. The social-conservative vote will likely be sought by the likes of Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and a handful of others in the 2016 GOP race. Huckabee and Santorum each carried Iowa with Christian-conservative messages in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
"Gov. Pence, he did a great job signing that legislation, and I truly believe this will be a big issue in the 2016 race, the idea of religious freedom," Vander Plaats said.
State Dept photo(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State John Kerry this week sent a letter to State Department Inspector General Steve Linick calling for the department to review its records preservation policies.
"It is critical for the State Department to preserve a full and complete record of American foreign policy," Kerry writes, noting that "it is also important for the American public to have access to that record." While he praises the strides made by the department in terms of both preservation and transparency, Kerry says that more still must be done.
"We must adapt our systems and policies to keep pace with changes in technology and the way our personnel work," Kerry writes. He also highlights the "sizable Freedom of Information Act burden" that the department receives each year -- as many as 18,000 requests.
Kerry admits that "putting the principles of preservation and transparency into practice is an evolving challenge, often hampered by resource constraints," but that his department must increase its efforts to do so.
Kerry brings up a number of key questions that he hopes would be central to a potential review, including the ways the department can improve its tools and methods for complying with FOIA requests, the challenges posed by the department's international presence.
Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama praised Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's long career in the Senate on Friday, after the Nevada Democrat announced he will not seek re-election in 2016.
"Harry Reid is a fighter. In his five terms as a U.S. Senator, Harry has fought for good jobs, a safer environment for our kids, and affordable health care for all. He's never backed down from a tough decision, or been afraid to choose what is right over what is easy," Obama said in a statement.
"Time and time again, Harry stood up to special interests and made sure every one of his constituents had a voice in their nation's capital," the president added. "Above all else, Harry has fought for the people of his beloved state of Nevada."
Reid, 75, suffered a serious eye injury while exercising earlier this year, causing him to reconsider whether he would seek re-election.
"This accident has caused Landra and me to have a little down time. I have had time to ponder and to think," Reid said in a YouTube video announcing his decision. "We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I'm not going to run for re-election."
Obama said he and the first lady wish Reid and his wife Landra "well in whatever the future holds."
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Secret Service is tightening its rules on drinking and driving -- even though evidence suggests a recent report of agents driving drunk near the White House was exaggerated.
The quasi-scandal started with an anonymous email saying two Secret Service agents drove drunk through a crime scene near the White House.
Secret Service employees "are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects credit on themselves, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Government, and the citizens we serve," said the new policy, which was distributed to all Secret Service employees via official email on Monday. "Effective immediately, employees may not operate a Government Owned, Leased, or Rented vehicle within 10 hours of consuming an alcoholic beverage," the email reads.
But, "the initial reports of a vehicle crash were inaccurate. There was no crash," Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said at a hearing this week.
Although sources tell ABC News there's no evidence the agents were drunk, the agency still announced a new rule: No driving government cars within 10 hours of drinking alcohol.
The old rule said simply, no driving if you're impaired.
The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama calls it one of the world's most pressing public health crises, and on Friday, his administration is announcing a long-awaited plan to tackle it, releasing the first ever White House strategy to counter superbugs and antibiotic resistance.
The 63-page national action plan released Friday outlines steps to strengthen surveillance and spur the development of new antibiotics and tests. The new guidelines would also put increased pressure on the agriculture industry to reduce its use of antibiotics on farm animals, though critics say the plan is weak on industry enforcement.
There are parts of the aggressive effort that the administration can act on now, but to get the whole job done, the president says he needs Congress to step up.
Bryant Avondoglio / Office of the Speaker(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) — It’s not every day that the President openly applauds the Republican-led House of Representatives, much less House Speaker John Boehner. But that’s exactly what he did before a crowd in Birmingham Thursday night, praising Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for passing the Doc Fix.
“The good news is that today the House of Representatives passed a bill. No, no. You think I’m joking -- I’m not,” he said to some laughter at Lawson State Community College. “It was a bipartisan bill designed to make sure that doctors in our medicare system get paid on time.”
Boehner and Pelosi came together Thursday to strike a deal, repealing the Sustainable Growth Rate and replacing it with a long-term solution to Medicare repayment, as well as extending funding for community health centers for two years.
“I called the Speaker John Boehner and the Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and I said congratulations,” said President Obama. “They did good work today and they deserve credit and the House of Representatives deserves credit.”
Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday he will not seek re-election in 2016, ending a Senate career that has spanned three decades.
Known for his feisty and combative style in the Senate, the 75-year-old Nevada Democrat made the announcement in a YouTube video earlier Friday morning.
Earlier this year, Reid suffered a serious eye injury while exercising at home, causing him to reconsider whether he would seek re-election in 2016.
"This accident has caused Landra and me to have a little down time. I have had time to ponder and to think," Reid said. "We've got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I'm not going to run for re-election."
Reid has led Senate Democrats for the past eight years, first as Senate Majority Leader from 2007 until this year when Republicans took control of the Senate, bumping him to Senate Minority Leader.
Reid's departure will open up a battle for the top Democratic spot in the Senate as well as for his Nevada seat back home. Hours after announcing he would retire from the Senate, Reid threw his support behind Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to be the next Democratic leader.
"It's the caucus' decision but Senator Reid thinks Senator Schumer has earned it," Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, said.
Prior to joining the Senate in 1987, Reid, a Mormon, served two terms in the House of Representatives and as Nevada's Lieutenant Governor for four years.
Reid gained his first exposure to Capitol Hill as an officer for the Capitol Police while he attended Georgetown University Law School.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Having a parent who works at the White House is no longer a prerequisite for participating in “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The chance to spend a day “at work” at the White House used to be limited to the sons and daughters of staff who work there. But this year, on April 23, the president and first lady are also opening the White House gates to kids in the D.C. community who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.
“Every year, lots of kids are left out,” President Obama said in a web video, announcing the new twist to the long-held tradition of parents bringing their kids to work for a day. “Maybe they’re foster kids, or homeless, or struggling in school, or their parents don’t have jobs that allow them to bring their kids to work.”
The White House Council on Women and Girls and My Brother’s Keeper Initiative have teamed up with the local chapter of Boys and Girls Club and DC Child and Family Services to select candidates from some of Washington’s poorest and most at-risk communities, including foster kids and youth likely to drop out of high school.
Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington Vice President Michael McDonald said the day will be an “incredibly exciting” opportunity for some of the most at-need kids in the nation’s capital to dream big.
“The Boys and Girls Club is in the business of offering hope,” McDonald told ABC News. “What greater hope than to be president? And it’s that connection to these things you see on TV and on the nightly news -- these are real and real people who work there -- and I think that connection is going to be a really eye-opening opportunity for our kids.”
In years past, “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” at the White House have included a question and answer session with first lady Michelle Obama and activities with key White House staff. This year will also feature a question and answer segment with a senior-level official, who has yet to be announced, as well as career panels and lunch with senior staff members.
President Obama is calling on businesses and local governments across the country to join in on the effort to open “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” to a larger community of kids.
“We’re asking employers across the country to reach out to young people in your community who don’t have a workplace to visit,” Obama said. “Invite them to spend the day with you. Show them what you do every day – and tell them that, with hard work and determination, they can do it too.”
Agencies across the federal government, including the Justice and Treasury Departments, as well as some city governments and private businesses, have already signed on to the White House-led initiative this year.
“Companies like Johnson & Johnson already do this, and the mayors of Philadelphia and Sacramento are joining us this year,” Obama said. “See if your employer will join us, too. ‘Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day’ is already a special day for millions of kids across the country. Together, we can help more kids participate -- so they, too, can dream bigger dreams about their futures.”
BackyardProduction/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- New documents obtained by ABC News reveal conflicting accounts by top Secret Service officials about whether two senior agents were drunk when they drove into the White House complex.
It all started with an allegation -- via anonymous email -- that Secret Service agents were “extremely intoxicated” as they drove through an active crime scene set up just outside the White House complex on the evening of March 4. But documents obtained by ABC News show that two senior Secret Service officials believed the two agents involved in the now infamous incident were not intoxicated, based on their interactions with the agents that evening. The agents, Marc Connolly and George Ogilvie, had been accused of driving through the crime scene near a White House gate while possibly under the influence of alcohol after attending a retirement party for a colleague.
The accusation of drunkenness was slow to move up the chain of command and word of the anonymous email only reached Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy five days later on March 9. Secret Service officials then gathered information on the allegations of agent misconduct to be passed on to the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, in accordance with agency policy. The information was based in part on recollections of some of the supervisors involved in the incident five days earlier.
The documents were part of the material presented to the DHS Inspector General by the Secret Service. One of those documents details some of the recollections of Secret Service Deputy Chief Alfonso Dyson and Captain Michael Braun, both of the Uniformed Division.
“Deputy Chief Dyson advised that based on his conversation with DSAIC Connolly, it did not appear as though DSAIC Connolly [was] impaired,” according to Dyson’s account of his phone conversation with Connolly described in the document. Dyson called Connolly on the evening of March 4, after he was alerted to the incident. Connolly told Dyson that he had made a mistake, which Dyson believed to be referring to driving into the crime scene at that entrance caused by a suspicious package tossed at that location by a woman earlier that evening.
The document goes on to say, “Captain Braun advised that the driver of the [government vehicle] (ATSAIC Ogilvie) did not appear to be intoxicated.” And though Braun advised that Connolly’s eyes appeared glassy, he commented “that he did not believe that DSAIC Connolly or ATSAIC Ogilvie was intoxicated.”
According to documents, Deputy Chief Dyson had been briefed on the incident on the evening of March 4 by Uniformed Division Inspector Keith Williams. Citing an “unknown source,” Williams said he was told Connolly, a passenger in the car, “smelled of alcohol,” the document states.
According to congressional sources, no other evidence other than the anonymous email and the unknown source has been presented to suggest that either agent was drunk. Multiple sources who have reviewed video of the incident tell ABC News that it does not provide any conclusive evidence of impairment.
The documents also show that Connolly told Dyson that he and Ogilvie did not realize that the White House complex was under alert condition yellow due to the suspicious package investigation at that entrance. Only when they noticed that the security post was unoccupied did they check their BlackBerry devices and learn of the alert.
A detailed timeline of events obtained by ABC News shows that Director Clancy was called at 10:48 p.m. on the evening of March 4 to inform him of the suspicious package. The two agents arrived at the White House only 10 minutes later, at 10:58. Yet, records show, no one from the Secret Service bothered to call Clancy back that evening to inform him of alleged misconduct.
Video of the incident released Tuesday shows no drama, no collision and, at most, a low-speed vehicle maneuver which bumped a temporary traffic barrel out of the path of the entrance of the White House complex. The video has a limited view, but does not show indications of a particularly active crime scene.
The video also does not show that the agents flipped on their lights to go around the barrier, as they are accused of doing in the anonymous email. It does show a vehicle moving just behind the agents’ car followed closely by a police car that did have its rooftop light bar flashing.
Rep. Elijah Cummings was troubled by the email, telling Director Clancy at a Tuesday hearing, “It appears that we have an agency at war against itself. The idea that in an organization like this that somebody would create this kind of document to bring this kind of disruption when they are supposed to be guarding the president of the United States of America. We are better than that.”
It is now up to the inspector general to determine whether the allegations of misconduct have merit, why they were not communicated more quickly up the chain of command and what can be done to get the Secret Service can get back on track. That process, sources say, could take several weeks.