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February 9, 2016

February 8, 2016

White House Seeks Emergency Funds to Fight Zika


First Lady Michelle Obama, Pope Francis, and President Barack Obama waves from the balcony overlooking the South Lawn of the White House last September. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The White House initiative would support research and diagnostics. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

The Obama administration will ask Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to combat the Zika virus — a disease the president says is a cause for concern but not panic.

The White House announced the request to cover research and planning in the United States and abroad minutes after CBS aired an interview with President Barack Obama during which he said “there shouldn’t be panic on this — this is not something where people are going to die from.”

Still, the president made clear “it is something we have to take seriously.”

“The good news is this is not like Ebola, people don’t die of Zika,” Obama said during an interview Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

“A lot of people get it and don’t even know that they have it,” he noted. “There appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant.

“We don’t know exactly what the relations there are, but there is enough correlation that we have to take this very seriously,” Obama said. “And so we are going to be putting up a legislative proposal to Congress to resource both the research on vaccines and diagnostics but also helping in terms of public health systems.”

In a fact sheet released shortly after the interview, the White House said it has been “aggressively working” for several months “to combat Zika.” The virus, typically transmitted through mosquitoes but also known to be sexually transmitted, has been linked to birth defects and other ailments.

If approved by lawmakers, the funding would be used “to enhance our ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus, both domestically and internationally,” according to the White House.

The funds would be used to build on ongoing efforts to prepare for and respond to the virus, including “rapidly expanding mosquito control programs; accelerating vaccine research and diagnostic development; [and] enabling the testing and procurement of vaccines and diagnostics,” according to the White House.

The White House also is planning to step up work on fighting the virus’ impact on unborn babies. It says it needs some of the $1.8 billion to accelerate efforts on “educating health care providers, pregnant women and their partners; improving epidemiology and expanding laboratory and diagnostic testing capacity; improving health services and supports for low-income pregnant women, and enhancing the ability of Zika-affected countries to better combat mosquitoes and control transmission.”

The lion’s share of the request, $1.5 billion, would be channeled to the Department of Health and Human Services. Its share would include $828 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for work on “mosquito control programs,” enhanced work at laboratories, creation of rapid-response teams and other efforts.

Another $250 million would go to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to enhance health care services for at-risk or infected pregnant women in Puerto Rico, as well as children there who have microcephaly, a condition that results in abnormally small heads when pregnant women are infected.

Various other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, would receive the rest of the money for such things as increased “research, rapid advanced development and commercialization of new vaccines and diagnostic tests” and to help other countries deal with the virus and halt its spread, the fact sheet said.

The administration did not disclose exactly when the emergency funding request would be sent to Capitol Hill, saying only that it would be submitted “shortly.”

The CDC says, so far, it has no evidence of “locally transmitted Zika cases … in the continental United States.” However, the center notes in its own fact sheet that “cases have been reported in returning travelers.” To date, the center has reported 50 confirmed cases of American travelers who have the virus.

The virus has been actively transmitted in a list of South and Central American countries, as well as countries in Africa and Asia, according to the CDC.

U.S. officials are rushing to secure the funds necessary to ramp up their anti-Zika work before the spring and summer months bring mosquitoes out in droves in the continental United States, especially in the South.

“As spring and summer approach, bringing with them larger and more active mosquito populations, we must be fully prepared to mitigate and quickly address local transmission within the continental U.S., particularly in the southern United States,” the White House said.

The administration on Monday bluntly acknowledged “there is much that we do not yet know about Zika and its relationship to the poor health outcomes that are being reported in Zika-affected areas.”

We must work aggressively to investigate these outbreaks, and mitigate, to the best extent possible, the spread of the virus,” the White House said.

That’s why the administration wants lawmakers to act quickly, arguing prompt allocation of the $1.8 billion would “accelerate our ability to prevent, detect and respond to the Zika virus and bolster our ability to reduce the potential for future infectious disease outbreaks,” according to the release.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s global health subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday with witnesses invited from the CDC, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters it is important that Congress and the White House move quickly to combat the virus, saying Washington moved too slowly during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

McConnell’s call for action came after he discussed the matter, and others, with Obama and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., during an Oval Office meeting.

Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @BennettJohnT.

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February 5, 2016

On Unemployment Rate, Obama Spikes the Football


In this photo made using a teleconverter in-between two crop factors, President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of around 15,000 during a state arrival ceremony for Pope Francis on Sept. 23, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

In this photo made using a teleconverter in-between two crop factors, President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of around 15,000 during a state arrival ceremony for Pope Francis on Sept. 23, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama on Friday took credit for the latest jobs report, saying the 4.9 percent rate shows his stewardship has made the U.S. economy the “strongest and most durable” in the world.

The Labor Department on Friday released data that was a mixed bag for both American workers and the Obama administration. The numbers showed the lowest unemployment rate in eight years and rising wages; they also concluded that 151,000 new jobs were created in January, down from three consecutive months during which nearly 300,000 jobs were created per month.

“After reaching 10 percent in 2009, the unemployment rate has now fallen to 4.9 percent even as more American joined the job market last month,” Obama told reporters during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room. “Americans are working.” Full story

Criminal Justice Debate Turns to ‘How Much’ Is Possible


 

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks with reporters at the Capitol. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks with reporters at the Capitol. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Debate about a sweeping criminal justice overhaul bill favored by Republicans and Democrats is now focused on the size and scope of potential changes, but there are reasons to doubt its passage this year.

Some congressional aides and members of the advocacy community involved in the overhaul effort say they remain upbeat about Obama signing a measure into law — possibly before Congress adjourns for a prolonged summer and campaign season break.

Still, some sources say, with one month of a truncated election-year legislative calendar already gone and the politics of an election year overlapping the legislative calendar, the prospects for the kind of soup-to-nuts bill Obama and some senior Republicans want appear to be fading. Full story

February 3, 2016

At Maryland Mosque, Obama Calls Muslims ‘Real Americans’


President Obama speaks during his final State of the Union address last month. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama speaks during his final State of the Union address last month. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Visiting a mosque on U.S. soil for the first time, President Barack Obama urged Americans to reject politics that target those of a single faith and told Muslim-Americans “you’re right where you belong.”

Obama’s visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore offered him a chance to counter anti-Muslim rhetoric from some leading GOP presidential hopefuls such as Donald Trump. And it was met with resistance from some on the country’s political right. Full story

February 2, 2016

Ryan, McConnell Find Little ‘Common Ground’ at White House


Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walk to the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 3. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walk to the Senate Republicans’ policy lunch in the Capitol on Nov. 3. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama’s private meetings with congressional Republican leaders appeared to do very little to  break the legislative impasse that largely has defined his tenure.

Descriptions of the meeting from both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. were clinical at best. Notably missing were usual Washington declarations that a high-level meeting was “productive” or “constructive.” Asked about that omission, an aide to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., called the speaker’s time on Tuesday with Obama “cordial.”

And, in a fitting bit of symbolism, Ryan departed the White House for yet another House attempt to derail Obamacare. The chamber, however, failed to override a veto of a bill to repeal it.
Full story

February 1, 2016

Obama, Ryan to Lunch Tuesday at White House


President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as he arrives to deliver his final State of the Union address. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as he arrives to deliver his final State of the Union address. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The White House expects President Barack Obama and the Republican House and Senate leaders on Tuesday to discuss issues ranging from taxes to criminal justice to national security.

Obama is scheduled to meet privately with Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Later, he and Ryan will have a one-on-one lunch meeting. It will be Obama’s first private meeting with Ryan since the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee became speaker in late October. Full story

Is Cancer Task Force Another Placebo?


Vice President Joe Biden on Dec. 3, giving remarks in the Capitol Visitors Center. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Biden is heading up Obama’s task force to fight cancer. The group will meet this week. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

History suggests the White House’s new high-level task force to fight cancer could prove more placebo than antidote, despite its broad bipartisan support.

The same Republicans who sat dismissively as President Barack Obama ticked off a wish list of stalwart Democratic policy desires during his final State of the Union address joined Democrats in a standing ovation when he announced he was placing Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in charge of a new task force charged with curing cancer in 10 years.

In doing so, Obama added to a long list of such groups he has created during his presidency. But the use of presidential task forces and their big brother, the presidential commission, is as old as the office itself. Electronic searches show presidents as far back as William Howard Taft have turned to these hodgepodge, government-wide entities to get something or, in most cases, nothing done. Full story

January 29, 2016

Obama to Meet With Ryan, McConnell on Tuesday


Ryan and Obama will meet Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ryan and Obama will meet Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama will meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., next week to discuss legislative priorities and potential areas of common ground in 2016.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest informed reporters at his weekly briefing that the president would meet with the Republican leaders on Tuesday, one day after the Iowa Caucuses.

Earnest said the group would meet “to discuss legislative priorities in the coming year building on the bipartisan budget agreement that was signed into law.”

The meeting will be the first time Obama and Ryan have sat down together since Ryan was elected speaker in October. The budget agreement Earnest referred to was negotiated as Ryan’s predecessor, John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, was heading out the door. Ryan ultimately supported the agreement, but said the process of crafting it at the last-minute “stinks.”

Earnest said they have been in discussions with Ryan since the beginning of the year about setting up a meeting with the president. “It’s obviously been a busy couple of weeks,” he said, when asked why it has taken so long for Obama to sit down with the new speaker.

The president will discuss potential areas of cooperation between the White House and Congress as Obama heads into his final year in office, Earnest said. After Obama’s final State of the Union address, some Republicans appeared open to some of Obama’s priorities, particularly overhauling the criminal justice system and authorizing the use of force against the Islamic State.

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In Shift, Trump Touts ‘Great’ Relationships With Top Democrats


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with reporters and supporters at a rally organized by Tea Party Patriots on Capitol Hill on Sept. 9, 2015, to oppose the Iran nuclear agreement. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump is fond of calling U.S. leaders “stupid,” but he’s now trumpeting his “great” relationships with them — even name-dropping senior Democrats.

“I think that I’m going to be able to get along with Pelosi. I think I’m going to be able to — I’ve always had a good relationship with Nancy Pelosi,” Trump said this week during a television interview, referring to the House Democratic leader from San Francisco. “I always had a decent relationship with [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid.” Full story

January 28, 2016

Obama: ‘We Will Have a Democratic President Succeeding Me’


WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on December 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama is addressing the terrorism threat to the United States and the recent attack in San Bernardino, California. (Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

Obama predicts a Democrat will win the White House(Photo by Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE — President Barack Obama delivered a message to House Democrats gathered for their annual retreat:

“Democrats will win in November and we will have a Democratic president succeeding me,” he said on Thursday.

“The reason I can say that with confidence is because we focus on the things that matter in the lives of American people,” Obama added.

Just a few hours after Vice President Joseph R. Biden told the same audience that Democrats would reclaim a majority in the House this year, Obama used what is likely his last formal speech to the House Democratic Caucus to focus on the 2016 campaign.

“The press has been focused on debates and divisions that they can drum up within the primary and within our party,” Obama said, noting he’s not worried about Democrats staying united. “Our trajectory is clear.”

Republicans “may have some stuff to work out,” Obama added. Later, he made a remark that played into the divisions the media has highlighted.

“We’re not going to strengthen our leadership around the world by allowing politicians to insult Muslims,” Obama said in an apparent reference to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The president said Republicans have offered “some slogans,” while Democrats have actual policies that would help working families, such as raising the minimum wage, and making college more affordable.

“If we stay true to those principles,” Obama said, “our party is not just going to have a good year, America will have a  good year. And we’ll have more good years after that.”

Contact McPherson at lindseymcpherson@cqrollcall.com and follow her on Twitter at @lindsemcpherson.

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By Lindsey McPherson Posted at 10:50 p.m.
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