Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Health care law brawl arrives at Supreme Court steps

Published March 25, 2012
For all the lofty legal wrangling that's expected at this week's historic arguments over President Obama's health care law, the story of two families running their own business helps boil the Supreme Court case down to its core. 
Ariane Speck and her husband, Dustin, run a small eatery in Evergreen, Colo. She's overjoyed the two-year-old law allowed her husband to pick up health insurance even though he recently had brain surgery. 
"To have it all covered was the difference between us losing our business, losing our homes, our employees losing their jobs, our town losing this thriving business," Ariane said, after her husband needed another operation. "It made all the difference." 
The law means something else to John Nicholson, who owns a flower and gift shop with his wife in northern Virginia. 
"I can't afford a whole fleet of lawyers to handle all of the new regulations. I've got to handle that by myself. That's a burden," he said. Nicholson says the old system wasn't perfect but at least when he had a dispute with the insurance company, he said he could take his business elsewhere. It's leverage he doesn't think exists when dealing with federal bureaucrats. 
This clash of opinions -- a disagreement at its heart over whether the law's benefits are worth the added government control -- will play out on the national stage this week. The Supreme Court will dissect the constitutionality of the health care overhaul for six hours over the course of three days and four cases. 
No case has been given so much courtroom attention by the justices in nearly half a century. The economic and political ramifications of their decision could have repercussions for decades to come. Nearly one-fifth of the economy is tied to health care, and the reform legislation is the hallmark domestic accomplishment of the Obama administration. 
It is a rare and historic case, one that will impact most Americans and potentially a presidential race. 
The ruling, expected in early summer, will come about four months before voters decide whether to give Obama a second term. Every Republican presidential candidate has spoken at length to countless campaign audiences about wanting to repeal the law. It's a guaranteed applause line. 
Obama enjoys similar approval when he defends the law in front of friendly audiences. Yet he gave it a passing mention during his most recent State of the Union address and let Friday's two-year anniversary pass with only a paper statement: "Today, two years after we passed health care reform, more young adults have insurance, more seniors are saving money on their prescription drugs, and more Americans can rest easy knowing they won't be dropped from their insurance plans if they get sick." 
Perhaps the relatively modest outreach from the White House makes sense given that poll numbers consistently show Americans aren't thrilled with the law. A recent Fox News survey found that most voters want all or some of the 2,700-page law repealed, including 63 percent of independents. A majority of them also give Obama poor marks for his handling of health care. 
Roadmap to the Supreme Court Hearings 
The landmark hearings will be broken up over the course of three days. 
Monday's opener is sure to be a letdown for people looking for a battle royal over health care because the 90-minute argument -- cases before the Supreme Court usually only last an hour -- has absolutely nothing to do with the federal government's involvement in regulating how health care is administered. Rather, it examines whether an obscure tax law passed during Reconstruction prohibits challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 
That statute says no lawsuit can be filed challenging a tax provision -- in this case, the individual mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance -- until after it's been implemented. All parties in the cases before the Court agree that the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act isn't applicable to the health care law. But one lower appellate court ruled otherwise and a prominent federal judge in Washington D.C. also said the current lawsuits against the controversial law must wait until someone has actually been forced to pay a penalty. That will not happen until 2015. 
It's a preliminary issue the high court wanted to resolve, which is why it's the first case, but some people familiar with the Court's docket think it's unlikely the justices will ultimately issue a ruling saying the lawsuits will have to wait. Instead, the thinking goes, they will be eager to move on to the merits of the challenge which are addressed in the week's other cases. 
If the Court eventually issues a blockbuster constitutional ruling, it will come from Tuesday's arguments about the individual mandate. The dispute is over the central provision of the law requiring near-universal participation in the new health insurance system. 
The government argues it has the regulatory power under the Commerce Clause to force people to buy health insurance, even if they don't want to, because all people must at some time purchase health care and therefore are in the marketplace. "The Affordable Care Act expands access to health care services and controls health care costs by reforming the terms on which health insurance is offered and rationalizing the timing and means of payment for health care services," Solicitor General Don Verrilli wrote in his brief to the Court. 
Opponents of the law maintain the breadth of the powerful Commerce Clause does not also allow for the government to force people into commerce. It's something they argue the Founders would never have approved of and wonder why, if constitutional, Congress has never before used this authority given the crises of past generations. "The only explanation for the utter absence of comparable mandates is the utter absence of constitutional authority," lawyer Paul Clement wrote on behalf of the 26 states challenging the law. 
The arguments will also feature discussion over whether other parts of the Constitution, including the Necessary and Proper Clause and Congress's taxing power, gives the government cover for the health care law. 
Wednesday will be the only day with two cases. The morning argument examines whether other parts of the law will be preserved if the mandate is struck down. Various courts below reached different conclusions and the Supreme Court, if it strikes down the mandate, will have to determine whether to keep some, none, or all of the rest of the law in place. 
The afternoon case focuses on the expansion of Medicaid to increase coverage for poorer Americans. The states say costs associated with the expansion will be too much for their treasuries. They also object to the nature of the mandate from Washington saying lawmakers have turned Medicaid away from a federal-state partnership into a compulsory program. 
Verrilli says the new Medicaid provisions are fully in line with the original workings of the program. He also points out that for the first couple years the federal government will fully pay for all costs associated with the expansion and then after 2020 Washington will cover 90 percent of the costs. That's a greater percentage than the current contributions from the federal treasury. 
After Wednesday's arguments the justices are expected to take the next three months to write their opinions. 
"I think they wish they weren't in the political eye of the storm," Chapman University Law Prof. John Eastman said in a phone interview. "(But) now that they are, they are going to do their job as in any other case." 
How Did We Get Here? 
The case, for all the reams of judicial decisions and court filings, started with a seemingly simple concept -- that insurance companies should cover more people, for more ailments and reduce the costs associated with health care. 
Key features of the controversial law include provisions designed to force insurance companies to extend what is called "minimal essential coverage" to all Americans -- regardless of past medical histories -- and to charge premiums on a more equal basis to all customers. 
To balance those enormous additional costs (an estimated 30 percent increase in premiums) Congress added a provision, known as the individual mandate, forcing everyone to obtain private or government-administered insurance, thus increasing the amount of people paying into the system. Some smaller aspects of the law have already taken effect while the mandate is scheduled to start in 2014. 
Political wrangling over the details of the bill played out for months after the president's inauguration and into 2010. The biggest drama was in the Senate, where controversial provisions were added to entice (opponents of the law would say bribe) wavering lawmakers to vote for the law. Debate was eventually halted without a vote to spare, thus allowing the chamber to pass the measure. 
But before the Senate bill could be combined with the different House proposal, a special election in Massachusetts put Republican Scott Brown into office. Brown won largely because of his stand against the law and took away the key vote Democratic leaders needed to easily get the law to the president's desk. Brown's election also set the stage for huge Republican victories later in 2010. Eventually, the House bill was abandoned and through various parliamentary maneuvers, also controversial, the bill passed both bodies and was sent to the White House for Obama's signature. 
The legal challenges to what's derisively called "ObamaCare" were filed just hours after it became law. Dozens of lawsuits have worked their way through the federal courts to become the four cases now pending before the Supreme Court. 
While flower shop owner John Nicholson hopes the law is struck down, a final resolution from the high court is what he really wants. 
"I hope they make a decision yea or nay, I don't care which way, but get it resolved so we can then have this country get back to a little bit more cheerful attitude because that's going to help my sales. And that's really my bottom line," he said. 

Annan says Syria accepts peace plan, fighting enters Lebanon

Updated at 8:20 a.m. ET: Syria accepted a ceasefire and peace plan drawn up by Kofi Annan, the U.N. and Arab League special envoy said on Tuesday, even as Syrian troops thrust into Lebanon to battle rebels who had taken refuge there.
On a two-day visit to Beijing, Annan told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that he faced a long and difficult task in his mission to end fighting in Syria, but global cooperation with China and other countries was the only way to do it.

"I indicated that I had received a response from the Syrian government and will be making it public today, which is positive, and we hope to work with them to translate it into action," Annan told reporters in Beijing after meeting Wen.
"I have a six-point plan which the Security Council has endorsed, dealing with issues of political discussions, withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from population centers, humanitarian assistance being allowed in unimpeded, release of prisoners, freedom of movement and access to journalists to go in and out," he said. "So we will need to see how we move ahead and implement this agreement that they have accepted."

Finally, UN reaches agreement over Syria efforts

The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, welcomed the government's acceptance of a U.N. peace plan, a member of the Syrian National Council said.

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Syria's rebel fighters are desperate for arms and ammunition. Members of the Free Syrian Army were forced from Idlib - one of the last rebel strongholds. ITN's John Irvine reports from outskirts of Idlib, the north western city which rebels surrendered last week.

Bassma Kodmani told The Associated Press by telephone that "we welcome all acceptance by the regime of a plan that could allow the repression and bloodbath to stop."
She is a Paris-based member of the opposition Syrian National Council.
"We hope that we can move toward a peace process," she said.

Incursion into Lebanon

Meanwhile, Syrian troops advanced into north Lebanon on Tuesday, destroying farm buildings and clashing with Syrian rebels who had taken refuge there, residents told Reuters.
"More than 35 Syrian soldiers came across the border and started to destroy houses," said Abu Ahmed, 63, a resident of the rural mountain area of al-Qaa.

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Amateur videos from Syria were released online on Monday, purportedly showing shelling by government forces in the city of Homs.'s Dara Brown reports.

Another resident told Reuters that the soldiers, some traveling in armored personnel vehicles, fired rocket-propelled grenades and exchanged heavy machine-gun fire with rebels.
Regional English-language news channel Al-Jazeera has previously reported an escalation in tensions along the border. It said residents claimed the Syrian military planted landmines close to inhabited areas while, in early October, a Syrian army tank reportedly fired shells at Lebanese military targets inside Lebanon's borders.

Officials: Iranian arms used against Syria protesters

Annan called for Beijing's support and advice, according to a pool report.
"And I know you've already been helpful but this is going to be a long difficult task and I am sure that together we can make a difference," Annan told Wen.
Annan's trip to China followed a similar one in Russia, where he asked Moscow to back his mission to end fighting in Syria.
Russia and China have shielded Assad from U.N. Security Council condemnation by vetoing two Western-backed resolutions over the bloodshed, but approved a Security Council statement this week endorsing Annan's mission.

Report: Syria leader's wife says she's 'real dictator'

However, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Syrian people, not foreign powers, should decide their own fate.
Russia has said Annan has its full support and that his mission could be the last chance to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war but would need more time.
"I would like the decision on the fate of the Syrian state, society, political system and people to be taken not by the respected leaders of world powers, even by those acting in good faith, but by the Syrian people themselves, by all the levels of the Syrian society," Medvedev said at the end of a nuclear security summit in Seoul.
Reuters and's Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report. Follow Alastair Jamieson on Twitter.

Bomb plot foiled: Cache of suicide vests found in Afghan defense ministry

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A number of Afghan national army soldiers have been arrested inside the country’s defense ministry over a foiled suicide bomb plot, officials told NBC News.
The soldiers were held on Monday afternoon along with 11 suicide bomb vests in a guard box in the building in the capital, Kabul, army officials said on Tuesday.

Afghan news web site Khaama also reported the arrests, saying the incident raises fresh concerns over infiltration of militants among the country’s Afghan security forces.
There were no further details immediately available.

Tim Marshall, foreign editor of UK channel Sky News, said that the incident was serious, and showed that the Taliban are determined to chase NATO out of the country.
"The fact that these arrests took place within the walls of the defense ministry illustrates the level of insurgent penetration within the Afghanistan establishment and just tells you -- gives a signal of -- what is likely to happen when NATO leaves," he said.

The arrests came on the same day that at least three NATO service members were shot dead by Afghan security forces in two separate attacks.

March 12: The killing of 16 civilians by an American soldier has further enflamed tensions in Afghanistan. 

ITN’s Martin Geissler reports from Afghanistan. A gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform killed two NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, while another was shot in eastern Afghanistan by an alleged member of the Afghan Local Police.
The attacks brought to 16 the number of NATO-led forces killed so far this year in what appeared to be attacks by members of Afghan forces.
Meanwhile, support for the war in Afghanistan has dropped sharply among both Republicans and Democrats, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll published Tuesday.
The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported.

Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, it said.
It added that the increased disillusionment was even more pronounced when respondents were asked their impressions of how the war was going. The poll found that 68 percent thought the fighting was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly,” compared with 42 percent who had those impressions in November.
The poll was conducted by telephone from March 21 to 25 with 986 adults nationwide.
Akbar Shinwari, NBC News in Kabul, and staff also contributed to this report.

Officials: CIA offered to curtail Pakistan drone strikes

updated 3/26/2012 9:59:27 PM ET:

In a bid to save the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan, U.S. officials offered key concessions to Pakistan's spy chief that included advance notice and limits on the types of targets. But the offers were flatly rejected, leaving U.S.-Pakistani relations strained as President Barack Obama prepares to meet Tuesday with Pakistan's prime minister.
CIA Director David Petraeus, who met with Pakistan's then-spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha at a meeting in London in January, offered to give Pakistan advance notice of future CIA drone strikes against targets on its territory in a bid to keep Pakistan from blocking the strikes — arguably one of the most potent U.S. tools against al-Qaida.
The CIA chief also offered to apply new limits on the types of targets hit, said a senior U.S. intelligence official briefed on the meetings. No longer would large groups of armed men rate near-automatic action, as they had in the past — one of the so-called "signature" strikes, where CIA targeters deemed certain groups and behavior as clearly indicative of militant activity.
Pasha said then what Pakistani officials and its parliament have repeated in recent days: that Pakistan will no longer brook independent U.S. action on its territory by CIA drones, two Pakistani officials said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations.
Pasha went further, saying Pakistan's intelligence service would no longer carry out joint raids with U.S. counterterrorist teams inside its country, as it had in the past. Instead, Pakistan would demand that the U.S. hand over the intelligence, so its forces could pursue targets on their own in urban areas, or send the Pakistani army or jets to attack the targets in the tribal areas, explained a senior Pakistani official.
The breakdown in U.S.-Pakistani relations follows a series of incidents throughout 2011 that have marred trust — from a CIA security officer who shot dead two alleged Pakistani assailants, to the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May, to the border incident where U.S. forces returned fire they believed came from a Pakistani border post, killing 24 Pakistani troops. The diplomatic fallout has led to the ejection of U.S. military trainers who'd worked closely with Pakistani counter-insurgent forces, slowed CIA drone strikes, and almost halted the once-common joint raids and investigations by Pakistan's intelligence service together with the CIA and FBI.
Pasha's pronouncements were in line with the Pakistani parliament's demands issued last week that included ceasing all U.S. drone strikes as part of what Pakistani politicians call a "total reset" in its relationship. Pakistan's parliament last week demanded cessation of all unilateral U.S. actions including the drone strikes.
Other US officials said no such concessions were offered to Pasha, and insisted US counterterrorism actions continued as before.
Difficult meeting for Obama
The hardening positions on both sides set up a potentially rocky meeting ahead between Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani in South Korea on Tuesday, on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. President Asif Ali Zardari met with special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Mark Grossman in Tajikistan this week, and Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis is headed to Pakistan in April.
Complicating efforts to restore relations are the demands made by a Pakistani parliamentary committee.
A personality change at the top of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence is another wrinkle, with Pasha now replaced by Army Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam officially last week, a senior U.S. official said. While Islam has spent time studying at U.S. military institutions, and once served as deputy to the ISI, he is a mostly unknown quantity to U.S. officials. The staff change was not anticipated when the January Pasha-Petraeus meeting took place, both U.S. and Pakistani officials said.
The diplomatic furor threatens to halt the CIA's drone program, which in the last eight years, has killed an estimated 2,223 Taliban, al-Qaida and other suspected militants with 289 strikes, peaking at 117 strikes throughout 2010, reducing al-Qaida's manpower, firepower and reach, according to Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal website, which tracks the strikes. U.S. officials say his figures are fairly accurate, though they would not give more precise figures.
The strikes have markedly slowed to only 10 strikes in the opening months of this year, with the last in mid-March, Roggio said. That puts the program on pace for a total of 40-50 strikes for the year, less than the year before.
Roggio says the strikes so far this year seem to back up that report: out of the 10 strikes, two killed high-value targets, and another strike killed three mid-level Taliban leaders, with no large groups reportedly targeted by any of the drone's missiles. In previous years, an average of only 5 percent to 10 percent of targets were deemed high value, with larger numbers of foot soldiers and a much lower percentage of commanders among those hit.
U.S. officials took issue with the interpretation that signature strikes had ceased, adding the "U.S. is conducting, and will continue to conduct, the counterterrorism operations it needs to protect the U.S. and its interests." The CIA offered no official comment.
Other U.S. officials said no such concessions were offered, and insisted US counterterrorism actions continued as before.
In his opening salvo to keep the program going, Petraeus offered to give his Pakistani counterpart advance notice of the strikes, as had been the practice under the Bush administration, which launched far fewer strikes overall against militant targets.
Return to 'Reagan rules'?
The U.S. had stopped giving the Pakistanis advance notice, after multiple incidents of targets escaping, multiple senior U.S. counterterrorist officials say. U.S. intelligence intercepts showed Pakistani officials alerted local tribal leaders of impending action on their territory, and those leaders oftentimes in turn alerted the militants.
Petraeus also outlined how the U.S. had raised the threshold needed to take strikes, requiring his approval more often than in the past, the U.S. official said.
Pakistan's military wants to go back to the "Reagan rules — the way the CIA operated with the ISI against the Soviets" inside Afghanistan, says former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institute. "We give them a big check, and they make every decision about how that is spent. Minimal American footprint in country, or involvement in actual fighting the bad guys."
"We cannot trust the ISI to fight this war for us," after finding bin Laden in a Pakistani military town, "showing the ISI was either clueless or complicit," Riedel said.

Pakistan wants to dramatically overhaul the rules of engagement with the U.S. in an attempt to clarify relations that have deteriorated dramatically since the Osama bin Laden raid last year. In an exclusive Andrea Mitchell Reports interview, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar explains the country’s response if the U.S. refuses to ends its drone attacks.

Vice President Biden Remarks on Medicare

March 23, 2012

Obama Presidential Campaign
Vice President Joe Biden spoke at Wynmoor Village in Coconut Creek, Florida. He talked about the benefits of the 2010 health care law and the Obama administration's Medicare policies versus what the Republican proposals are on these programs. In his remarks he said, "Make no mistake. If Republicans in Congress and their amen corner of Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich get their hands on the White House, they will end Medicare as we know it."

Hypocrisy on all sides with individual mandate

People have accused President Obama of flip-flopping on issues like gay marriage (his stance is "evolving") and keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay open (he tried, but ran into opposition in Congress). But the really fundamental flop for him is on the individual mandate, the subject of tomorrow's oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

American Crossroads is out with a video highlighting that today, showing Barack Obama in his own words arguing with himself before the Supreme Court.

When Obama was running for president, he spent months campaigning against Hillary Clinton with the biggest distinction between them (besides Iraq) being the mandate. Clinton's team argued fiercely that the only way to cover everyone and control costs was with the mandate. Obama, however, likely realizing the general-election politics of requiring people to buy health insurance, disagreed and said it was possible to cover everyone without it.

Crossroads' tag line in the video is "Obama was right on the individual mandate...before he was wrong."
Of course, then by that standard, Mitt Romney is still wrong, because he defends the mandate for Massachusetts (though he now argues it is OK for states to make those decisions at a local level and not federally). And wrong, too, would be the Heritage Foundation, which first floated the idea of a mandate and became the conservative alternative to the plan then-First Lady Hillary Clinton put forward in the early 1990s.

Presidential Remarks on Energy Policy

March 22, 2012

White House Travel | Domestic Trip
President Obama talked about his energy policies amid high oil and gas prices at an oil storage yard in Cushing, Oklahoma, the starting point of the Keystone oil pipeline's southern half. In his speech he announced that he will expedite the permit process for the southern half of the pipeline.

Presidential Remarks at Copper Mountain Solar Facility

March 21, 2012

White House Travel | Domestic Trip
President Obama visited the e Cooper Mountain Solar Facility, the largest solar plant operating in the country. He outlined his U.S. energy policy amid high gas and oil prices.

Santorum loses cool with press over Romney comment

FRANKSVILLE, Wis. -- What started as a good day for Rick Santorum took an abrupt turn on Sunday after the GOP presidential candidate grew frustrated with reporters asking him to clarify his remark that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country to take on President Obama.
During his final campaign stop of the day here, Santorum said of Romney, “Pick any other Republican in the country, he is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama." The comments, Santorum would clarify, were in reference to the similarities between Romney's and the president on the issue of health care. It is a common critique he levels against his chief rival, but never has the former Pennsylvania senator called Romney the "worst Republican in the country" to go head-to-head with the president.
When pressed by reporters to clarify his statement, Santorum said, “On the issue of health care. That’s what I was talking about, and I was very clear about talking about that. OK? Come on guys, don’t do this. I mean you guys are incredible. I was talking about Obamacare, and he is the worst because he was the author of Romneycare.”
But the questions struck a chord with Santorum, and when he faced the same question again, he used a profane word and accused the media of "distorting" his speech.

The Washington Post's Dan Balz and MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney review presidential candidate Rick Santorum losing his cool following a Wisconsin speech. 

However a press release sent out from the Santorum campaign shortly after the rally here seemed to double down on the candidate's comments. "Rick Santorum spoke plainly and clearly that of all the Republicans in the field, Mitt Romney is the worst possible candidate to take on Barack Obama, because Mitt Romney authored the blueprint for Obamacare and the issue of healthcare would be off the table," the release said.
Santorum has done a lot of clarifying lately, with recent comments suggesting Obama would be a better choice than Romney in a general election and saying the unemployment rate will not affect his campaign. In both cases, he accused the media and his opponents of taking his words out of context. But in both cases, the Romney campaign used his own words against him.
Sunday's remarks were no exception, with Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams telling reporters, “Rick Santorum is becoming more desperate and angry and unhinged every day...He’s panicking in the final stages of his campaign.”
Before his last event, Santorum had been all smiles on the trail the day after receiving nearly double the amount of support Romney did in the Louisiana primary.  Along with two rallies today, the GOP hopeful also fit in brunch at the Machine Shed and, for the second time in as many days, a few frames of bowling. In an earlier rally in Fond du Lac, WI, Santorum drew an overflow crowd.
But by Sunday's end, Romney advisers were using the hash tag "Tantorum" to draw attention to past instances of the former senator losing his cool. The response blasted out by the Santorum campaign no mention of his use of a not so family friendly word.
Santorum heads to Washington, DC where he will spend Monday before returning to the Badger State later in the week.

A Political Tip Sheet for the Rest of Us

A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Tuesday, March 27, 2012:

By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL Associated Press


CAUGHT ON TAPE: While President Barack Obama seeks to assure Americans that he has no hidden agenda with Russia if he wins a second term, the Republicans who want to take Obama's place aren't buying it. On Monday, Obama was caught on tape telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more room to negotiate on missile defense after getting through the November election, presumably expecting to win and not have to face voters again. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney says the unguarded comments were "an alarming and troubling development" and accuses Obama of "pulling his punches with the American people, and not telling us what he's intending to do with regards to our missile defense system, with regards to our military might and with regards to our commitment to Israel." Rick Santorum says that Obama's comments suggest he is willing to sacrifice U.S. security and the security of its allies, and Newt Gingrich also questioned Obama's motives. "I'm curious, how many other countries has the president promised that he'd have a lot more flexibility the morning he doesn't have to answer to the American people?" Gingrich said on CNN. On Tuesday, Obama explained that he wants to work with Russia on the deeply divisive issue of a missile defense shield in Europe, knowing only by building trust first on that matter can he make gains on another goal of nuclear arms reductions. And there's no way to expect progress during the politics of this election year, so he is already looking to 2013.

ROMNEY'S MONEYMEN: Mitt Romney's presidential fundraising operation is a bit of a mystery, withholding the names of major fundraisers who have helped amass much of its money. A review by The Associated Press of campaign records and other records provides clues to the vast national network of business leaders bringing in millions to put Romney in the Oval Office. Dozens of people fit the profile of top Romney fundraisers, known as "bundlers" for their ability to sweep up donations from wealthy acquaintances and steer them to campaigns. At least seven are the mega-rich donors who each gave gifts of at least $1 million to an allied pro-Romney political committee. Dozens more were listed on invitations for fundraising events, assigned to mine their business and personal networks for maximum campaign contributions. The AP identified likely Romney bundlers through interviews, finance records, event invitations and other publicity about campaign events. Federal law does not require the Romney campaign to divulge the names, but both GOP and Democratic presidential candidates in recent years routinely provided the identities and money ranges of their top fundraisers. The lack of transparency by the Romney campaign about its top bundlers prevents voters from knowing who wields influence inside the GOP front-runner's campaign and how their interests might benefit if he is elected.

SINGLE WOMEN IN POLITICAL DEMAND: In an election year heavily focused on social issues and the economy, Democrats are trying to energize unmarried women who overwhelmingly vote for their candidates while Republicans work to peel them away. Political math tells the story of the so-called marriage gap: Exit polls show that women are a majority of voters in presidential election years and about 4 in 10 female voters don't have a spouse. They lean more heavily Democratic than their married counterparts. But the U.S. census says about 22 percent of them are unregistered, a rich pool of potential new voters for both parties competing for the presidency and the majorities in Congress. Though single women are among the most Democratic groups in the electorate, recent political history gives Republicans hope: In the 2010 elections, Republican House candidates grabbed their highest share of women's votes in decades, at 49 percent. Single women also were hit harder than others by the recession Obama inherited. So in both parties, the race is on to woo single women, register them to vote and inspire them to show up at the polls.

SANTORUM'S STRUGGLES: Rick Santorum is showing signs of fatigue and frustration while grasping for strategies to right his unsteady White House bid. In trying to derail Mitt Romney, the former Pennsylvania senator is using any means available — even contradictory messages. One example: Santorum has called Romney "the worst Republican in the country" to challenge President Barack Obama, but in a subsequent interview he said he would consider serving as Romney's running mate. Struggling to settle on a consistent message, Santorum turned to social issues as part of a throw-it-all-out-there approach in recent days, hoping to find something that sticks with Republican voters. In recent days he turned to abortion rights, which Romney once supported but has since disavowed. "Gay marriage went into effect under Gov. Romney. Fifty-dollar abortions went into effect under Gov. Romney, and free abortions for low-income people under Romney," Santorum said in Sheboygan, Wis. Santorum has even tried to appear more friendly to the working man, partaking in events featuring guns, golf and bowling. He's also turned to a conservative-friendly strategy of bashing the news media, using profanity when responding to a New York Times reporter who asked him to clarify his assertion that Romney is the worst Republican to run for president. He said later: "If you're a conservative and you haven't taken on a New York Times reporter, you're not worth your salt as far as I'm concerned."

A PLEDGE OF SUPPORT: Under pressure to help unify his party, Newt Gingrich said he would support Mitt Romney if the former Massachusetts governor wins enough convention delegates to clinch the nomination by the end of the GOP primary season in June. Gingrich is short on funds, and his hopes for a Southern-based comeback in the race were all but extinguished by rival Rick Santorum's recent victories in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Even so, Gingrich has insisted he plans to campaign actively into the party convention, which begins Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla. Gingrich and Santorum have come under increased pressure from some Republicans in recent weeks to swing behind Romney, who is on track to pick a majority of delegates before the primaries end with the vote in Utah.


A national McClatchy-Marist poll finds Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama running neck and neck among registered voters. Against other potential Republican nominees, however, Obama has a clear lead.
—Obama 46 percent, Romney 44 percent, undecided 9 percent


—"There is a group of women who are up for grabs." — Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, describing a majority of such voters as older, white and blue collar.

—"Obviously I will support him and will be delighted to do anything I can to help defeat Barack Obama." 

— Gingrich, saying he would back Romney if he collects enough delegates to win the Republican nomination.

—"I haven't thought about that." — Daniel Dumezich, a partner with the Winston & Strawn law firm in Chicago and a Romney fundraiser, when asked whether the Romney campaign should disclose how much he and others are raising.

Trayvon Martin Investigator Wanted Manslaughter Charge

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Zimmerman's Account of Trayvon Martin Shooting
The lead homicide investigator in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin recommended that neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman be charged with manslaughter the night of the shooting, multiple sources told ABC News.

But Sanford, Fla., Investigator Chris Serino was instructed to not press charges against Zimmerman because the state attorney's office headed by Norman Wolfinger determined there wasn't enough evidence to lead to a conviction, the sources told ABC News.

Police brought Zimmerman into the station for questioning for a few hours on the night of the shooting, said Zimmerman's attorney, despite his request for medical attention first. Ultimately they had to accept Zimmerman's claim of self defense. He was never charged with a crime.

Serino filed an affidavit on Feb. 26, the night that Martin was shot and killed by Zimmerman, that stated he was unconvinced Zimmerman's version of events.

Zimmerman, 28, claimed he shot Martin, 17, in self defense.

One complicating factor in the investigation was that the first detective to interview Zimmerman about the shooting was a narcotics officer rather than a homicide detective.

The State Attorney's office said only "no comment" when asked about the affidavit today.

The revelation is the latest salvo in a war of leaks meant to bolster each side amid rising tension over the shooting.

Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, will appear before a House panel today and rallies continue around the country demanding that Zimmerman be arrested.

About 200 to 250 protesters gathered in front of the Justice Department today to demand the Justice Department to charge Zimmerman with a federal hate crime.

Martin's family attorney confirmed today that the teenager was suspended from his Miami school three times over the past year.

Family attorney Benjamin Crump told ABC News that Martin had been slapped with a 10 day school suspension after a bag with suspected marijuana was found in his backpack.

Last year Martin was suspended for spraying graffiti on school grounds. The Miami Herald reported that the school guard who stopped him searched his backpack and found 12 items of women's jewelry and a flathead screw driver that the guard believed to be a "burglary implement." But Martin was never charged or specifically disciplined for the incident.

Crump alleged that the Sanford police had leaked damaging information about Martin into order to muddy the case, calling it a "conspiracy." Crump called the school disciplinary problems "irrelevant" to the case that "an unarmed 17 year kid was killed."

The case has triggered national interest with pro-Martin rallies in cities from coast to coast. Martin's mother has moved to trademark two popular rallying cries, "I am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon." The family said it does not want want other people printing memorabilia.

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George Zimmerman's Comments on Trayvon Martin
Friend of shooter maintains Zimmerman acted in self-defense.
"Sybrina Fulton has no desire to profit from her son's death, but wants to protect her son's name legacy," said family representative Ryan Julison.

Martin was shot as he made his way to his father's fiance's house while returning from a convenience store where he bought a pack of Skittles and iced tea. He was followed by Zimmerman who found him suspicious.

At some point, Zimmerman ignored the suggestion from a 911 dispatcher that he stop following Martin, left his truck and went to look for Martin.

At the same time, Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend and complained that someone was following him.

What happened then is not clear. The girlfriend has said that she heard Martin ask someone, "Why are you following me?" before the sounds of a scuffle and the phone was disconnected.

Zimmerman is described as 5-foot-9 and well over 200 pounds while Martin was 6-foot-3 and 150 pounds.
Leaks from the police report detail Zimmerman telling police he was heading back to his truck when Martin knocked him down with a punch to his nose, jumped on him, repeatedly banged his head on the ground, then tried to grab Zimmerman's gun.

In a struggle for Zimmerman's gun, the watchman shot the teenager, Zimmerman told police.

More from ABC News

Obama makes light of, clarifies hot mic moment

SEOUL, South Korea - President Obama made light Tuesday of the hot microphone moment he had the day earlier with Russian President Medvedev, where he said that after the November election, he'd have more "flexibility" on the issue of missile defense.
Just as leaders were greeting one another and about to sit down at the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit, Obama spotted Medvedev, looks over at him, puts his hands over the microphone in front of him with a big smile, and then goes to greet the Russian president.
Obama was asked about the "flexibility" statement later while making remarks to the press about a nuclear safety agreement, and said "Arms control is extraordinarily complex, very technical, and the only way it gets done is if you can consult and build a strong basis of understanding both between countries as well as within countries."
The open microphone comments he made Monday after a bilateral meeting with Medvedev happened right as journalists were being let into the room.
Obama could be heard saying, "On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him to give me space."
Medvedev responds in English, "Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you..."
Obama then brings up a frank statement about timing and what he can get done, "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility."
Medvedev replies, "I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir," a reference to the next Russian President-elect Valdimir Putin.
Building up missile defense in Europe, which the U.S. is for, and Russia is against, has been an issue of contention between the two countries.
 While later explaining the hot mic remarks Tuesday, he also noted the START treaty took them two years to get ratified.
"I don't think it's any surprise that you can't start that a few months before a presidential and congressional elections in the United States and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia, and they're in the process of a presidential transition where a new president's going to be coming in a little less than two months," he added.
He downplayed that he was making any new revelation, saying that in speeches he's noted wanting to reduce nuclear stockpiles and a barrier to doing that is building trust and cooperation on missile defense.
Obama added he thinks they'll do better in 2013 and outlined steps he's taking.
"[T]he only way I get this stuff done is if I'm consulting with the Pentagon, if I'm consulting with Congress, if I've got bipartisan support, and frankly the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations. I think the stories you guys have been writing over the last 24 hours is probably pretty good evidence of that," Obama said.
Obama has struggled to agree with Republicans because they haven't been happy he hasn't given upgrades on the nuclear arsenal, something he promised two years ago.
In response to the comments after being public, the White House initially issued a statement Monday and noted other elections were in play and the reality of the situation.
 "Since 2012 is an election year in both countries, with an election and leadership transition in Russia and an election in the United States, it is clearly not a year in which we are going to achieve a breakthrough."


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FoxNews on Affordable Health Care Act

What are the Real Costs of the Health-Care Law?

Mar 26, 2012
- 6:35 -
Former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist on the health-care law’s mounting costs.

All-Star Cast in Attendance for Health-Care Battle

Mar 27, 2012
- 4:15 -
FBN's Rich Edson breaks down details of issues discussed on the second day of hearings on the health-care law.

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Health-Care Law Violates Commerce Clause

Mar 26, 2012
- 3:55 -
Former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum on the challenge to the health-care law in the Supreme Court.

Sen. Barrasso on Efforts to Repeal Health-Care Law

Mar 21, 2012
- 6:11 -
Sen. John Barrasso, (R-Wyo.), on the flaws, and rising costs, of the health-care law.

FoxNews on Affordable Health Care Act

Will Justice Kennedy decide ObamaCare's fate?

Mar 27, 2012
- 5:20 -
'Swing justice' poses tough questions on individual mandate

Sen. Lee: Individual Mandate Will be Unconstitutional

Mar 27, 2012
- 1:55 -
Sen. Mike Lee, (R-Utah), reacts to the second day of hearings on the U.S. health-care law.

The Tax Implications of the Health-Care Law

Mar 26, 2012
- 5:53 -
Former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist on why the health-care law will lead to higher taxes and the debate over whether the individual mandate is a tax or a penalty.

Drama in the air at health care arguments

Mar 27, 2012
- 3:55 -
Sen. Ron Johnson describes mood in Supreme Court

Hypocrisy on all sides with individual mandate

People have accused President Obama of flip-flopping on issues like gay marriage (his stance is "evolving") and keeping the prison at Guantanamo Bay open (he tried, but ran into opposition in Congress). But the really fundamental flop for him is on the individual mandate, the subject of tomorrow's oral arguments before the Supreme Court.
American Crossroads is out with a video highlighting that today, showing Barack Obama in his own words arguing with himself before the Supreme Court.
When Obama was running for president, he spent months campaigning against Hillary Clinton with the biggest distinction between them (besides Iraq) being the mandate. Clinton's team argued fiercely that the only way to cover everyone and control costs was with the mandate. Obama, however, likely realizing the general-election politics of requiring people to buy health insurance, disagreed and said it was possible to cover everyone without it.
Crossroads' tag line in the video is "Obama was right on the individual mandate...before he was wrong."
Of course, then by that standard, Mitt Romney is still wrong, because he defends the mandate for Massachusetts (though he now argues it is OK for states to make those decisions at a local level and not federally). And wrong, too, would be the Heritage Foundation, which first floated the idea of a mandate and became the conservative alternative to the plan then-First Lady Hillary Clinton put forward in the early 1990s.

Drama in the air at health care arguments
Sen. Ron Johnson describes mood in Supreme Court
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