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February 9, 2016

Posts in "Foreign Policy"

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 and follow him on Twitter at @BennettJohnT.

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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 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

January 29, 2016

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 25, 2016

Will Obama Issue Executive Action on Cap-and-Trade?

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., speaks with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy lunch on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Inhofe. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Obama administration is refusing to make his final year in office as uneventful as Republicans would like. In fact, lawmakers expect executive action on everything from terrorist detention to campaign finance to environmental issues.

One possibility is an executive action setting up a carbon cap-and-trade system, says Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James M. Inhofe, R-Okla. President Barack Obama “has legacy things and he doesn’t have as much time as he would like to have,” Inhofe said in an interview. “Cap-and-trade and closing Gitmo, those are the things he wants to do.”

Full story

January 16, 2016

Democrats Join GOP Warnings On Iran As Sanctions Eased

Obama speaks from the G20 summit in Turkey. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Obama faces new political fire for Saturday’s developments in Iran. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama’s legacy became further tied to Tehran on Saturday when Iran released four American prisoners and U.N. inspectors cleared the way for the easing of some painful sanctions on the Middle Eastern power.

Obama is taking new political fire from Republican presidential hopefuls and lawmakers — joined by some notable Democrats — over the nuclear deal his administration and other world powers inked with Iran that made the sanctions lifting possible. Now, he is under new attacks after swapping seven Iranians for Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and three other Americans.

White House officials hailed Saturday’s developments as major victories — “a demonstration of what diplomacy is able to achieve,” as one put it Saturday — but warned the sanctions could be put back in place if Iranian leaders’ violate the nuclear pact.

Full story

January 13, 2016

Biden, McDonough Defend Obama’s Last SOTU

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 12 - President Barack Obama speaks during his final State of the Union to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. Behind him Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan listen. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Obama speaks during his final State of the Union to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday. Behind him, Biden and Ryan listen. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama deployed two of his closest advisers to defend his final State of the Union address, and they championed his shots at Donald Trump and calls for economic adjustments.

During his likely final address to a joint session of Congress, Obama landed some not-so-subtle jabs on Trump’s chin. White House aides said the speech was not crafted as a political document meant to influence the presidential election cycle, but the president clearly wanted voters to hear an anti-Trump message from perhaps the most powerful bully pulpit in American politics.

Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast near the White House, that Obama wanted to put on display an “alternative argumentation to rebut the prevailing wisdom in some of the public debate right now.”

But, by criticizing the Republican front-runner on such a bright stage, was Obama failing to live up to his own call for politicians and citizens to behave better when participating in the political system? Full story

January 12, 2016

Obama Urges ‘Better Politics’ to Tackle Challenges

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 12 - President Barack Obama speaks during his final State of the Union to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. Behind him Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker Paul Ryan listen. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

“Democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens,” Obama told Congress and a nationwide audience. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama used his last State of the Union address to prod both Congress and the American people, saying America’s political system needs an overhaul if the country is to successfully tackle a list of “challenges.”

In an unique address to a joint session of Congress, Obama laid out a mostly optimistic vision for a United States, one he said should be followed long after he leaves office to provide “prosperity and security for generations to come.”

Full story

SOTU: Obama Tries to Reassure Anxious Public

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12:  U.S. President Barack Obama works at his desk in the Oval Office at the White House January 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. President Obama will give his 7th and the final State of the Union address tonight at the Capitol.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Obama works at his desk in the Oval Office on Tuesday as he prepares to give his 7th and the final State of the Union address. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama will take an optimistic message about the future of America to Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening, using his final State of the Union to reassure a distressed public and challenge a restive Congress.

Obama hopes to use his final address to lawmakers to strike a stark contrast with what the White House has described as “gloom and doom” talk from the Republican presidential candidates about the trajectory of the country. He and his top aides are previewing the prime time speech as a break from tradition, saying Obama will speak in broad terms rather than lay out a sweeping legislative agenda. Full story

December 24, 2015

Amid ISIS Worries, Voters Warm to Obama’s Economy

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)

Will Obama get credit for the economy being less of a concern?. (Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images)

Polls show voters are giving President Barack Obama higher marks for guiding the economy, but security concerns could be clouding recent snapshots of the electorate’s mindset.

Trends in voters’ collective worries have transformed, for now at least, the 2016 election cycle into one focused in large part on national security and foreign policy issues. In recent months, terrorism has surged to the top of lists of voters’ top concerns nearly 10 months before the presidential and congressional elections. Full story

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