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Friday, January 18, 2013

GOP to seek three-month extension of debt limit

Provided that the Senate passes a budget, House Republicans said they would vote to lift the debt ceiling limit for three months without offsetting spending cuts. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

Updated 2:26 p.m. - Republicans will act to push the deadline at which the U.S. government would default on the national debt to mid-April, demanding that Democrats pass a budget in exchange for a long-term extension in borrowing authority.

House Republicans said they will take up legislation next week to temporarily extend the debt limit for three months, past the mid-February deadline when the government, according to the Treasury, would reach its legal limit on borrowing to finance the government's obligations.

"Next week, we will authorize a three month temporary debt limit increase to give the Senate and House time to pass a budget," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said. "Furthermore, if the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job. No budget, no pay."

Recommended: Different attitude greeting Obama's upcoming inaugural

"We are encouraged that there are signs that congressional Republicans may back off their insistence on holding our economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education and programs middle class families depend on," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in response.

 "Congress must pay its bills and pass a clean debt limit increase without further delay."

Such a move would push the deadline for default to mid-April, around the time at which the House and Senate are typically expected to produce and pass budgets. To secure a longer-term extension in the debt ceiling, Republicans said Friday, the Senate must finally pass a budget.

"Before there is any long-term debt limit increase, a budget should be passed that cuts spending," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told GOP lawmakers at the conclusion of their retreat, according to remarks released by his office.

Republicans have vocally criticized the Democratic-controlled Senate for failing to produce a budget in recent years, a mark of the upper chamber's unseriousness in the eyes of many conservatives. Democrats have used the two budgets authorized by House Republicans as a political cudgel against the GOP; the Senate's failure to pass a budget has been partially meant to escape similar political culpability.

"We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem," Boehner said. "The principle is simple: no budget, no pay."

Recommended: NBC/WSJ poll - Public lowers expectations heading into Obama's 2nd term

Republicans' new strategy cuts against a strain of thought within the GOP that suggests that default would not be as catastrophic for the economy as many experts have warned. These Republicans have argued for using the debt ceiling deadline -- and the specter of default -- as leverage to extract spending cuts or entitlement reforms from President Barack Obama.

"It is reassuring to see Republicans beginning to back off their threat to hold our economy hostage," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in response. "If the House can pass a clean debt ceiling increase to avoid default and allow the United States to meet its existing obligations, we will be happy to consider it."

But Republicans are facing increasing political pressure to act, and prevent default. The party's favorable/unfavorable rating was near its worst ever in Thursday's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll following a drawn-out battle over the fiscal cliff, a political fiasco many Republicans aren't eager to repeat. And Obama gave a press conference earlier this week explicitly refuse bargaining over the debt limit.


J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, right, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, walk to a second Republican conference meeting to discuss the fiscal cliff bill passed by the Senate Monday night and now awaits a vote in the GOP-controlled House, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013.

In recent days, high-profile Republicans had steadily backed away from the prospect of defaulting on the national debt, sending signals that they'll extend the nation's borrowing authority for at least a little while longer.

"We will raise the debt ceiling. We're not going to default on our debt," Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Republicans' No. 2 in the upper chamber, told the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle. "I will tell you unequivocally, we're not going to default."

And Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman and former vice presidential nominee, told reporters at House Republicans' retreat on Thursday that lawmakers were "discussing the virtue of a short term debt limit extension."

They join Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, in acknowledging the need for a debt ceiling increase; more and more members of the conservative media have also questioned the political wisdom behind using the debt limit as leverage in the spending debate.

What's more, traditionally GOP-friendly business groups have privately urged lawmakers against wrangling over the debt limit, which has become a factor weighing upon Republicans' strategy.

"There was serious displeasure and concern within the financial services community over the way Republicans handled the debt ceiling issue in 2011," said one business advocate tied into Republican politics. "It was the financial community that helped deliver the resources for a Republican takeover in 2010 and now House Republicans are at risk of jeopardizing their credibility with their free market allies. Cutting spending and helping the economy are not mutu

Army spouses club offers 'special guest membership' for same-sex wife


Courtesy of Ashley Broadway
Ashley Broadway, left, married her 15-year companion, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell."
An on-base club for Fort Bragg spouses extended a "special guest membership" Thursday night to the lesbian spouse of an Army lieutenant colonel, marking another twist in a six-week-long saga that prompted a pro-gay Marine Corps directive and that has drawn the attention of gay and lesbian activists nationwide.

The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses (ABOS) offered Ashley Broadway an invitation to join the group as a “special guest,” but not as a full member — meaning she can attend all club functions but cannot vote on club matters — according to an email to NBC News by the association’s board.

Broadway immediately rejected the overture, calling it “extremely demeaning.” Broadway married her 15-year companion, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the policy that kept gays from openly serving in the military. The couple has a 2-year-old son and Mack is due to give birth to their second child on Sunday.
“I correlate ‘guest membership’ to saying, ‘Heather, you can be gay and be in the military but we’re not going to treat your spouse as equal.’ I can be in this club but I can’t have full membership?  That’s not acceptable,” 
Broadway said in an interview with NBC News Thursday night. “I’m either going to be a member or not. I applied to be a full member with a vote.

“I am declining their offer.”

In a statement mass emailed Thursday evening, the Bragg officers club said some information reported in the media about Broadway’s membership application “has been false or misleading,” including assertions that the board changed its bylaws after Broadway applied.

“In mid-November, ABOS received an inquiry from ... Ashley Broadway, requesting information on the eligibility for membership in ABOS of a same sex spouse. As this was a case of first impression, she was told that such a request would need to be studied,” read the club’s statement.

Since going public with her story, Broadway has maintained that she received a phone call during the first week of December from a club representative, informing her that Mary Ring, the group’s president, had rejected her application because Broadway does not have a military spouse identification card. (The U.S. military does not recognize same-sex marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act and does not offer benefits — or ID cards — to same-sex spouses.) Broadway also serves as director of family affairs at the American Military Partner Association, a fact mentioned by ABOS leaders in their explanation of the events.

“ABOS’ membership application does not explicitly require a valid (Department of Defense) ID Card but some member benefits and events do require a valid DoD ID Card,” the club’s statement continued. “ABOS received Ms. Broadway’s letter requesting reconsideration on Friday, December 7 and by Monday, December 10 a similar letter to the ABOS President was published on her organization’s website.

“ABOS’ by-laws were never changed retroactively in an attempt to exclude anyone. The ABOS Board’s bi-annual review of the by-laws began in July 2012, at which time the by-laws were removed from the ABOS website and continue to be under review,” the statement said. “Since the by-laws were written and adopted well before the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, the term ‘Spouse’ is not defined.”

In a separate email to NBC News, the club’s board maintained that Broadway was never rejected by the Bragg social club because “a formal application was never filed,” and that she simply had inquired about membership eligibility of a same sex spouse and was told the club would need “time to look at the issue.” 
The "special guest" invitation to Broadway sparked criticism and skepticism Thursday night from Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association, a Washington, D.C.-based resource and support network for lesbian and gay military families. 
“So that leaves the question of: If the bylaws and the application do not explicitly require a valid DoD ID card, why is she still being denied full membership?” Peters asked. “What do certain unnamed ‘events’ requiring a valid DoD ID card have to do with anything?"

Before the ABOS website was made fully password protected and before the group took down its Facebook page – both done after initial reports of Broadway’s membership battle surfaced – the American Military Partner Association took screenshots of both sites. The ABOS website and Facebook page “were changed retroactively in order to add the requirement of an ID card after Ashley applied for membership,” according to Peters. Those screenshots were shared Thursday with NBC News.

As of Thursday night, the website was fully accessible and no longer password protected.

“It's fantastic that they have finally contacted Ashley after a month of silence, but if the ABOS mission is to support all military families, why are they continuing to deny same-sex military spouses full membership?” Peters asked. “Offering ‘guest membership’ to Ashley is like offering her ‘second-class membership status.’ There is no valid reason why she should not be offered full membership as outlined in the organization's bylaws.”
Citing the Broadway flap, the U.S. Marine Corps on Dec. 9 issued a branch-wide directive that same-sex spouses be allowed to participate in spouses clubs at all Marine bases. 
On Wednesday, Pentagon officials said they support a decision by leaders at Fort Bragg not to intervene in the matters of its on-base spouses club. 
The legal basis for the Pentagon’s stance is a Department of Defense “instruction” drafted in 2008, three years before the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, a Pentagon spokesman said. That directive ensures that “non-federal entities” operating on U.S. military installations don’t discriminate on the basis of “race, color, creed, sex, age, disability, or national origin.” There is no mention of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Broadway, meanwhile, has been nominated for the Fort Bragg Military Spouse of the Year award, a precursor to the Army Military Spouse of the Year award and — perhaps, ultimately — the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year award, which represents all branches. She is one of about 10 Bragg spouses nominated for the award from that base. Online voting for the base-level award takes place Jan. 22.

Just the facts: Gun violence in America

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images file
People wait to be reunited with loved ones after a school shooting at Gardena High School on January 18, 2011 in Gardena, Calif. According to reports, a student had brought a gun into school in a backpack and the weapon accidentally fired, injuring two students.
As lawmakers at the state and federal level weigh various measures to stem gun violence, here are some facts and figures on guns and crime, compiled by the NBC News research department.

The big picture:
  • Every year in the U.S., an average of more than 100,000 people are shot, according to The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.
  • Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention, the Brady Campaign reports.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns -- more than the population of St. Louis, Mo. (318,069), Pittsburgh (307,484), Cincinnati, Ohio (296,223), Newark, N.J. (277,540), and Orlando, Fla. (243,195) (sources:  U.S. CensusCDC)
  • One person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes, 87 people are killed during an average day, and 609 are killed every week. (source: CDC)
Homicides by weapon:
  • Handguns comprised 72.5 percent of the firearms used in murder and non-negligent manslaughter incidents in 2011; 4.1 percent were with shotguns; 3.8 percent were with rifles; 18.5 percent were with unspecified firearms.
  • 13.3 percent of homicides were done with knives or other cutting instruments. 
  • 5.8 percent of homicides were from the use of hands, fists, feet, etc. (source: FBI)
Guns and kids:
  • 82 children under five years old died from firearms in 2010 compared with 58 law enforcement officers killed by firearms in the line of duty (sources: CDC, FBI)
  • More kids ages 0-19 died from firearms every three days in 2010 than died in the 2012 Newtown, Conn., massacre (source: CDC)
  • Nearly three times more kids (15,576) were injured by firearms in 2010 than the number of U.S. soldiers (5,247) wounded in action that year in the war in Afghanistan (source: CDC, Department of Defense)
  • Half of all juveniles murdered in 2010 were killed with a firearm (source: Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention)

NRA head: Controversial ad 'wasn't about the president's daughters'

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The president of the National Rifle Association defended his organization’s use of President Obama’s children in a web ad about armed guards at schools, insisting Thursday “it wasn’t about the president’s daughters.”
The video is aimed at anyone critical of the NRA and skeptical of the organization’s proposal of how to make schools safer, David Keene told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.
“We believe that every parent ought to be able to be comfortable, knowing that their children are safe, and if that requires armed security, it’s as good for the working man as it is for the president,” he said.

In the 35-second spot, Obama is called an “elite hypocrite” for dismissing the idea of adding armed guards to schools while accepting Secret Service protection for his girls.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” the narrator asks at the beginning of the spot. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?”
The White House called the ad “repugnant and cowardly” and criticized the organization for using the president’s children as “pawns in a political fight.”
Advertising executive Donny Deutsch called the ad “disgusting” for inserting the president’s children into the issue.
“This is a disgusting, vulgar ad,” he said.

Watch: Obama prepares for fight over gun proposals

The video also features a picture of NBC “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, whom Keene grouped as among those “who have attacked the NRA and the very idea of school security.”
NBC News released a statement Wednesday, saying it “firmly objects to the use of our journalists in any political ad. David Gregory's role as moderator of 'Meet the Press' is to ask tough questions of guests representing all sides of the issues."
Also Wednesday, Obama unveiled an ambitious gun control program that includes numerous congressional programs and 23 executive actions. Among them: mandatory background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun, including individuals who purchase weapons from a private seller.
Keene expressed concern over how such a rule would be fairly enforced.
“It becomes more problematic when you talk about the farmer who buys a new shotgun and sells his old one to his neighbor over the fence, or the father who sells to the son or all those kinds of things,” Keene said Thursday. “The laws need to be certain. And they need to fair and fairly enforced.”
Another proposal Keene criticized was the effort to limit the size of ammunition magazines.
“This all sort of makes you feel good, but in fact it doesn’t do much,” Keene said. “If you are out there, and if you’re crazy, and if you’ve got a gun like this and if you’re going to shoot people with it, it takes a second or so to change the magazine.”

New portrait of President Obama unveiled


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Pete Souza / White House
The new official portrait, right, was taken on December 6, 2012. The previous one (left) is from 2009.
What a difference four years makes! He’s quite a bit grayer and his smile, much wider.

President Obama’s official portrait for his second term, posted Friday to the White House Flickr page, holds a different tone than the photo taken four years ago right after he won his first presidential election.

Obama posed for the new portrait in the Oval Office, with the American and presidential flags on either side of him. This time around, more of Obama’s torso is shown, as his arms are folded across his body, but he holds a wide grin missing from his last head-and-shoulder photo.

White House photographer, Pete Souza, took the portrait on Dec. 6, 2012.
Obama's new portrait made us want to remember how other presidents transformed during their time in the White House, so we took a look back at how the last three Commanders-in-chief aged in office:


Getty file
George H.W. Bush was inaugurated in 1989, and had picked up a snazzy pair of shades by the time he left office in January of 1993.
When Bill Clinton was inaugurated at age 46, he was the nation's third-youngest president:

Getty file
Bill Clinton left office with a full head of gray hair eight years after he began.
Here's George W. Bush in January of 2001 and again in January of 2009:

Getty file
President George W. Bush had a few more gray hairs by the time he left office compared to when he began his first term.

Cheat Sheet: Watching the presidential inauguration with NBC News

An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 attendees are expected in Washington, D.C. on Monday for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Can’t make the trip to the nation’s capital? Fear not, NBC News will have you covered on TV and myriad other platforms. We’ll carry full Inauguration Day coverage live on NBC News and your local affiliate, beginning Monday at 10 a.m. ET. You can also get the full inauguration experience away from the television.

Consider this your guide on how to follow, like, fan and participate in inauguration festivities from the device or social network of your choice.

NBCNews.com and the NBC Politics App
NBCNews.com and the NBC Politics app (available on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) will carry live streams of NBC News' special coverage beginning Monday at 10 a.m. ET and provide full analysis, video and updates all day long. Utilizing Storify, we’ll also be curating the best social media reaction and photography from around Washington and the nation.

Inauguration Social Gallery
On NBCNews.com we’ll be curating user generated photography with the help of Chute. This hub, a beautifully designed photo experience pictured above, will be a place to view pictures taken by users and NBC News correspondents in and around the Washington, D.C. area as festivities take place. Some of the best images may also make it onto the TV broadcast. To join in, tweet your geotagged inauguration images using the hashtag #NBCPolitics.

Social TV

NBC News will optimize an experience with second-screen platform Zeebox.

Released in late 2012, Zeebox has already been downloaded one million times in the U.S. and offers users a unique way to follow along with the broadcast on their desktop, iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Within the app, users will have a curated view of real-time social media reaction along with the ability to share images, quotes, participate in surveys, questionnaires and more. For more information, visit zeebox.com.

On GetGlue, NBC News has created a unique sticker to commemorate the special occasion. The only way to unlock and receive your sticker is to check-in to the broadcast on GetGlue.

Twitter
Viewers can be a part of the inauguration experience on Twitter by following and joining the conversation using the hashtag #NBCPolitics and following @NBCPolitics and @NBCNews. Not sure who else to follow? We’ve pulled together a list of some of the best sources for analysis, photos and more throughout the day. View that list at https://twitter.com/NBCNews/inauguration. As an added bonus for you to join in on the fun, some of the best #NBCPolitics tweets will also appear on-air during our broadcast.

And one last Twitter surprise: NBC News White House Producer Shawna Thomas (better known to the Twitter crowd as @ShawnaNBCNews) will take the reins on the @NBCNews account on Inauguration Day to offer insight and analysis.

Facebook
Turn to NBC News and NBC Politics on Facebook for a livestream of inauguration coverage in its entirety. Additionally, check out photos from the scene, highlights, surveys, analysis and more.

Instagram
Follow @NBCNews on Instagram for a visual look at life in capital during this big weekend through the eyes of NBC News photographers and producers.

First lady celebrates 49th birthday with dramatic new 'do!

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For her 49th birthday on Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama launched a new Twitter account and revealed a dramatic new hairstyle!
In the second tweet sent from her brand new @FLOTUS account (which stands for, naturally, First Lady of the United States), Mrs. Obama posted a photo with Inaugural citizen co-chair David Hall ahead of the MLK Day of Service Saturday — and unveiled a set of bangs.

The National Day of Service, Mrs. Obama shared in an email to TODAY.com, is her "favorite event of inauguration weekend," when people from across the country volunteer in their communities in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Previously, her official Twitter handle was @michelleobama, which was run by an arm of the president's re-election team. The @FLOTUS account is run by the first lady's staff, but when she sends a tweet herself, she'll sign it with her initials, -mo.

The first tweet sent by the account explained the strategy:
A White House official said the Obamas planned to celebrate the first lady's birthday by dining with friends on Thursday evening at Cafe Milano, an upscale Italian restaurant in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C.
President Barack Obama also wished his wife a happy birthday on his official Twitter account, posting a montage of their adorable moments together. 
 The President has not yet weighed in on the bangs.
This story was originally posted at 3:40 p.m. ET on Thursday, Jan. 17.

Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images
The first lady looks as sophisticated in designer dresses as she does in outfits from J. Crew.

More:

New hair, new term: Michelle Obama's second act

Aside from her recent surprise hairstyle and a new Twitter account, Michelle Obama seldom called attention to herself. Yet, she emerged from her husband’s first term more popular than the president, the “mom-in-chief” who championed military families and healthy lifestyles.

But time will tell whether she’ll make those or other issues a signature in her final years at the White House.

Second-term first ladies usually feel freer to speak more forcefully about their pet issues, said Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University.

“You don’t see them deviating greatly from their interests or public causes from their first terms, but there’s a general sense of being more relaxed in advocating the more controversial aspects of those projects,” she said.

Case in point: Laura Bush.

During her husband’s first term, the former librarian rarely made any political statements.

“She was basically a Bess Truman — she left Harry alone and went back to Independent, Mo., whenever she could,” said Robert Watson, who has written two books and one encyclopedia on first ladies.

But after President George W. Bush won a second term, his wife surprised many people when she began speaking out against the deplorable way Afghan women were treated in their country. It’s an issue she continues to lecture about today.

Bush also spoke out against the repressive dictator in Myanmar, championing the release of the recently freed democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Mrs. Bush felt a certain amount of freedom because she knew they didn’t have to face re-election again,” said Myra Gutin, a frequent lecturer on first ladies. “These were definitely issues more political in nature, but at that point, a second-term first lady will ask, 'Is it going to cost my husband political capital?' Eh, maybe, but he’s not going to be voted out of office.”

Jellison noted Eleanor Roosevelt also surprised people in her second term. Although she arrived at the White House with a more progressive attitude than her husband about civil rights, she didn’t push the issue until Franklin D. Roosevelt won a second term.

“That’s when she became acknowledged as civil rights advocate. She resigns from the Daughters of the American Revolution because of their racist rules, and she would put her chair right on the color line (separating blacks from whites) when she traveled in the South,” Jellison said.


And she did it all thinking it would be her last term in office, not knowing her husband would be re-elected two more times.

Officially, the White House remains mum on Michelle Obama’s agenda, outside from acknowledging that “we’re developing our second term strategic plan right now.”

In the meantime, Obama will continue work on her key initiatives, Joining Forces, which supports military families, and the Let’s Move! campaign to battle childhood obesity. Both have proved extremely popular for the first lady.

Story: Obama: I'll put moves on Michelle during Inaugural dance

Obama acknowledged that she has learned to avoid controversy over the years.

“I think that I am strategic,” she told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie during an interview last fall. “I feel like I have to be strategic because I want to be sure that the things I that do further my husband's administration."

One topic that she has largely avoided has been race, something that surprised Gutin, a communications professor at Rider University and the author of several books on first ladies.

“There’s always that race consciousness there, but Mrs. Obama has really gone beyond that and has made it a non-issue,” she said.

But race definitely weighs on Obama’s mind, particularly as she starts to think about what kind of legacy she will leave behind, said Watson.

Story: From the silly to the somber, White House photos show 2012 highlights

“She is the first African-American first lady and therefore it is something special. A thousand years from today, you’ll talk about Martha Washington and Eleanor Roosevelt, and you’ll talk about Michelle Obama," Watson said. "She's making history and so she’s got to be concerned about her legacy.”

One main reason is because of her age. The first lady, turned 49 Thursday by launching a Twitter account and posting a photo of her with new bangs, has plenty of years to reflect upon her time at the White House once she moves out.

“She can have decades to think, ‘Why didn’t I do that or try that?’ Michelle Obama will have plenty of time to think, ‘Wow, why didn’t I embrace everything from gun control to affirmative action?’” Watson said.
He predicted Obama won’t tackle overtly political issues head on, but she will get bolder.

“I suspect she’ll take some time to spread her wings a wee bit more but then I think she’ll swing for the fence more than she does now.”

Why gun groups say 'no way' to assault weapons ban


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Fulfilling a promise made in Newtown one month ago, President Obama is set to reveal proposals to curb gun violence. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
With assault weapons firmly in the crosshairs of state and federal lawmakers, gun-rights groups say they are not willing to give an inch when it comes to restricting access to the weapon of choice in recent mass shootings.

From arguments over what exactly defines an assault weapon to enthusiasts who say the guns are just plain fun to shoot, defenders of assault weapons say the White House and others are misguided in their focus on banning them.

“I can’t possibly imagine what logic people are following that somehow another law, just one more law, will solve these issues,” said Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun group.

“People are killed in greater number by cars, bats, hammers, hands, and feet,” he added. “Examining the tool and attempting to ban the tool will have absolutely no effect. We’re dealing with a people problem. We’ve got to find a people solution.”

President Obama on Wednesday called for a renewed ban on "military-style" assault weapons, among the most popular guns in America. They were used by both accused Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes and Connecticut gunman Adam Lanza. But gun-rights advocates like Morgan argue that despite the guns’ roles in high-profile mass killings, they are used in a relatively small number of homicides.

First Read: Obama set to go big on guns

According to the FBI’s Unified Crime Report for 2011, handguns were used 6,220 of the 12,664 homicides reported. Rifles accounted for 323 homicides, with knives and other unnamed firearms making up most of the rest.


Julie Jacobson / AP
Sig Sauer representative Adam Painchaud explains one of the company's newest products, the MPX 9mm pistol caliber submachine gun, at the 35th annual SHOT Show, Jan. 15, in Las Vegas.
Other gun-rights advocates are willing to entertain a conversation about assault weapons, but they remain dubious.
“If someone can show me how it can save lives, we’ll look at anything,” said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association. He remains unconvinced, however, that an assault weapons ban would have done anything to prevent mass shootings like that in Newtown, Conn.

“I don’t like a bunch of dead kids, so I don’t see why we waste time on stale policies,” Irvine said.

The debate about what works will play out in the halls of Congress as well as state capitals, but also in American living rooms.

A survey released this week by the Pew Research Center found generous support among most Americans for at least some new controls on guns. The poll found that a majority of the public – 55 percent – would favor a ban on assault weapons. That support broke somewhat along party lines, with 69 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans favoring a legislation restricting assault weapons.

California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York already place some prohibitions on assault weapons.

Support soars for tougher gun laws, surveys show

In California, which has some of the nation’s toughest regulations on assault weapons, the law lists 75 assault weapon types by name, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. California is also one of three states that employ a “one-feature” test to identify assault weapons, banning all weapons that have one military-style feature, such as a pistol grip or telescoping stock.

Some pro-gun activists, like Paul Valone of Grass Roots North Carolina, dismiss the category of assault weapons entirely.


Joe Raedle / Getty Images
A Rock River Arms AR-15 rifle.


“It’s relatively easy to circumvent a firearms ban based on cosmetic features. A pistol grip does not change the function of the firearm,” Valone said. “None of these things make any difference whatsoever.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law on Tuesday that tightened the state’s existing ban on assault weapons by applying the one-feature test.

The last federal ban on assault weapons lapsed in 2004. It was criticized by gun control proponents for allowing gun makers to easily circumvent restrictions may making small changes to existing models of rifles.

That law required guns to have two military-style features to be considered assault weapons.

Ross Meyer, a manager at Gun World and Archery, a Nevada gun store, said some of his customers buy AR-style weapons for defense – but many also simply enjoy shooting the guns.

Gun-rights groups: Our 'backs are against the wall'

“A lot of them, it’s just kind of fun to go out and shoot,” said Meyer. His store sold out of the 150 AR-style weapons it had in stock within three days of the shooting in Newtown. “And then also the high-capacity magazine, that’s fun to have.”

“Semi-autos are just one of the most fun to go out and shoot when it comes to the recreation of it,” Meyer said.

Activists contend that there’s no political gain for them in sitting down at the table to discuss restrictions on assault weapons.

“As a strategic measure, it would be a horrific mistake for Republicans to play this game again,” said Michael Hammond, legislative consultant for Gun Owners of America, a national pro-gun rights group that claims 300,000 members.

Longtime conservative activist Larry Hunter is a co-organizer of Gun Appreciation Day. The day, which Hunter said is intended to promote Second Amendment rights, is scheduled for January 19. Hunter sees any ban on assault weapons as an encroachment on American’s constitutional rights.

“I hope it’s a non-starter,” Hunter said of any new ban on assault weapons.

“But I think the world has changed so dramatically since it was first enacted and then allowed to expire, we have to take very seriously the possibility that they will do something.”

TSA Finds Hundreds of Hidden Weapons

Jess Baker Published: Jan 17, 2013, 4:41 PM EST

People try to sneak guns through security by hiding them in stuffed animals.

Caught Red Handed!

While most Americans are still busy trying to figure out the TSA's 3-1-1 Rule f
or liquid carry-ons, some people are trying to sneak things much more dangerous than a large shampoo bottle through airport security.
The TSA revealed in a recent blog post that it confiscated 1,543 firearms in carry-on bags last year - 78% of those were loaded!  Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson topped the list with 95 firearms confiscated. TSA found 80 at Dallas-Ft. Worth International.
(MORE: Could You Survive Getting Sucked Out of An Airplane?)
TSA says agents uncovered guns hidden in plants, stuffed animals and even a hollowed-out book.
Guns aren't the only things the TSA is finding. Click through the next few pages to see what other dangerous things people have tried to get past security in carry-ons and checked luggage.


Mortar Round

Agents found the Inert Mortar Round at El Paso International.


Black Powder, Detonation Cords & Timing Fuse

TSA discovered these inside a bag at a Colorado airport.


IED

Agents found the explosives with a block of SEMTEX-H in checked baggage at Georgia's Columbus Metropolitan Airport.


Spear Gun, Shells and More

This montage photo from the TSA shows a spear gun found at Raleigh-Durham International, a stun cane discovered in Cleveland, Shells from Newark, and a chainsaw found at New York State's Elmira Corning Regional Airport.

Winter storm could leave six inches of snow before heading out to sea

Dusty Compton / Tuscaloosa News via AP
A vehicle that slid off Highway 86 near Carrollton, Ala. is seen Thursday.



Sydney Temps Hit All-Time Record High

Agence France Presse Published: Jan 18, 2013, 8:19 AM EST From our partners


People sunbathe and swim at Dee Why Beach on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. Sydney temperatures reached 114.4 degrees, breaking the previous record of 113.5 set in 1939. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Snow Disrupts Travel in Britain

Agence France Presse Published: Jan 18, 2013, 7:33 AM EST From our partners

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
A woman looks at snow covered cars Friday, Jan. 18, 2013 near Bath, England. Heavy snow is bringing widespread disruption to many parts of the U.K.

25 Dogs in Snow to Melt Your Heart
Published: Jan 16, 2013, 6:55 AM EST weather.com
25/25





Some sheriffs vow not to enforce Obama's gun plan; anti-violence groups praise measures


Jackson County Sheriff's OfficeDenny Peyman, sheriff of Jackson County, Ky., vows not to enforce gun-control measures he believes are 
unconstitutional.
Denny Peyman didn't watch  President Barack Obama's gun-control announcement Wednesday. But the Jackson County, Ky., sheriff said he already knows how the proposals will affect the way he does his job: not one whit.

Peyman is one of several sheriffs across the country who are vowing not to enforce new firearms restrictions that could be imposed by Congress or by executive order.

"Kentucky is a sovereign state," Peyman told NBC News. "The federal government is coming in and saying, 'This is what you're going to do.' We're not going to do it."

The White House's wish list includes an assault-weapons ban. Peyman said if it comes to pass, he won't be part of any crackdown.

"Let's say I know there's a thousand assault weapons in my county ... I'm not going to be a witch hunter and go door to door checking," he said.

"I just happen to see someone with one?" he added. "He's hunting? He's on his own property? I'm not going to do a thing to him."

Police chiefs from around the country, who are appointed not elected, were on hand in Washington to support the president’s announcement. But a number of sheriffs, many of whom must run for office, were vocal in their opposition.

In Minnesota, Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole told constituents in a letter that he would "refuse" to carry out any federal law that infringed on his interpretation of the Second Amendment. Two Oregon sheriffs, Tim Meuller of Linn County and Jim Hensley of Crook County, said the same in letters to Vice President Joe Biden.


NAGR Staff
Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners says sheriffs have been calling him to say they won't be part of any federal gun crackdown.

Dudley Brown, founder of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which considers the National Rifle Association too weak on gun rights, said he has gotten calls from other sheriffs around the country who say they won't cooperate with the feds.

"We'll see how many of them have the courage to do it," he said.
Brown said he particularly wants to take aim at Obama's move to require background checks before all private sales of guns.
"This is an attempt to catalog every gun owner in America. It's registration," he said. "We don't believe he can do this. We know there are U.S. senators who don't believe this is legal."

Obama's slate won praise, however, from an array of gun-control advocates and anti-violence organizations.

"We applaud it," said Tom Yates, who co-founded Lower Merion United, a group that formed after the Sandy Hook school massacre that sparked Obama's response.

Yates said it was apparent that passing the legislative component of the package would be a challenge, but he lauded a "comprehensive approach" that includes stepped-up law enforcement of existing laws, better education and mental health resources.

"If you look at how much has been done over the past generation, this is the most anyone could expect to happen," he said. "It's sad it took the tragedy of Sandy Hook for it to happen."

Dr. Gary Slutkin of Cure Violence, a nonprofit in Chicago, where more than 500 people were murdered last year, said he was gratified by the White House's order expanding research into violence and its plan to consult the health-care community for solutions.

"We've got three independent evaluations that show you can drop shootings and killings through the public health approach," Slutkin said.

The research-focused parts of the plan won't generate the same fiery debate as those that affect who can buy guns and ammunition and what kind.
There was plenty of heated rhetoric on Twitter, which was flooded with opposing views, many using the hashtag #nowisthetime, a reference to Obama's catchphrase.


Courtesy Henry Washington
Pastor Henry Washington of Richmond, Calif., worries that Obama's gun-control proposals won't stop the killing in his community.

"How is more red tape imposed on lawful citizenry going to save lives?

And using child grief to vilify U.S. Reps is despicable," one critic tweeted.

"Great job, Pres. Obama," a supporter posted. "There are way more for you than against you. Let's get it done."

In Richmond, Calif., Pastor Henry Washington said he supported any move to keep guns out of the hands of the young people he counsels, but he worried it wouldn't happen fast enough or at all or attack the root of the problem.

"By the time it touches the gun dealers, how many more lives will be cast out?" he said.

"In Marin County just yesterday they were out of money in three hours on a gun buyback program," he said.

"Maybe there will be a few less choppers -- that's what we call assault rifles -- that they can get on the streets. But what do we do with the ones already in hand?"


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
An Oregon sheriff is vowing not to enforce new federal gun restrictions and accusing the White House and lawmakers of "attempting to exploit the death of innocent victims." KGW's Abby Gibb reports.

Stop gun violence, kids ask President Obama in handwritten letters

Susan Walsh / AP
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, left, hugs 8-year-old letter writer Grant Fritz during a Wednesday news conference on proposals to reduce gun violence. Obama and Biden were joined by law enforcement officials, lawmakers and children who wrote the president about gun violence following the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last month.
In the wake of the school shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children along with six adults in Newton, Conn. last month, some of the smallest advocates for gun control got out their pencils to seek the president's help.
A series of children's handwritten letters asking President Obama to make changes in gun laws was released by the White House on Wednesday, and their simple messages proved a heartbreaking reminder of the tragedy that struck Sandy Hook Elementary.

Courtesy The White House
The letter written by Taejah, 10.
"I started getting a lot of letters from kids," Obama said. "These are some pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people."

Courtesy The White House
Julia, 11, sent this letter to the White House.
"Even though Im not scared for my safty [sic] Im scared for others. I have 4 brothers and sisters and I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them," wrote Julia Stokes, adding "my opinion is that it should be very hard for people to buy guns...I beg you to try very hard to make guns not allowed."
The letters came out ahead of a press conference by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden introducing new policies on gun control. At the event, Obama addressed Julia Stokes' letter specifically, saying: “Julia, I will try very hard."

The president added: "But she’s right. The most important changes we can make depend on congressional action.”

Another child, Grant, wrote: "Please don't let people own machine guns or other powerful guns like that. We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook. I feel really bad about what just happened."

Courtesy The White House
Grant, a third grader, sent this letter to President Obama.
Four of the children joined Obama at the press conference on Wednesday as he read portions of their letters aloud.
Obama called for an assault weapons ban and better background checks for gun buyers. "This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe," he said. "Their voices should compel us to change."

Meanwhile, the NRA released a controversial new ad slamming Obama on guns. The ad spotlighted the president's daughters, asking "Are the president's kids more important than yours?" and calling Obama "an elitist hypocrite."
The White House called the ad "repugnant and cowardly."
 

RIP Dear Abby :(
The woman who founded the most popular advice column in the world has died. Pauline Phillips, better known as "Dear Abby" passed away yesterday at the age of 94, after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease. Her Dear Abby column was first printed in 1956 - and would eventually grow to be read by 100-million people every day. The column is now written by her daughter, Jeanne.
  



'Dear Abby' columnist Pauline Phillips dies at 94

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
Pauline Phillips, known to millions as "Dear Abby," has died at the age of 94.
By Lauren Sullivan, TODAY

Pauline Phillips, the original “Dear Abby” advice columnist, died Wednesday at the age of 94 after a decade-long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, NBC News has confirmed.

Phillips wrote the most widely syndicated column in the world — published in more than 1,200 newspapers and read by nearly 9 million people daily — under the pen name Abigail Van Buren for four decades.

In 1956, the 37-year-old housewife became a journalist, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle and, soon after, for newspapers across the country. Phillips gave advice to men and women alike, championing equal rights for women, minorities, mentally ill individuals and those suffering from disease in her column and beyond.




She continued giving advice through the publication of six books and a popular radio show, "The Dear Abby Show," which aired on the CBS Radio Network for 12 years.

Her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, co-wrote the column with her mother for more than a decade.

"I have lost my mother, my mentor and my best friend," she said in a statement. "My mother leaves very big high heels to fill with a legacy of compassion, commitment and positive social change. I will honor her memory every day by continuing this legacy."
John Gaps III / AP
sing the pen names Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby) respectively, identical twins Eppie Lederer and Pauline Phillips competed for space in newspapers across the nation for almost 50 years. Lederer, right, died in 2002, the same year Phillips' daughter, Jeanne, took over Dear Abby. Phillips, left, died Wednesday.

Jeanne Phillips continues to write the column today, carrying on her mother’s legacy under the pen name Abigail Van Buren. Other popular advice columnists — like Slate’s Dear Prudence and The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar — have followed in the iconic journalist’s footprints.

Dr. Gilda Carle, TODAY.com's 30-Second Therapist, spoke of Pauline Phillips' impact on her own career. “I am indebted to her,” Carle said. “I would never have been able to do what I do without first being shown the way by 'Dear Abby.'”

Phillips continued writing her column even into her 70s, seeing hundreds of letters daily. "Age has nothing to do with it," she once said of her work. "It's only work if you would rather be doing something else."

She was born on July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa. Her twin sister, Esther "Eppie" Pauline Friedman Lederer, also was a popular advice columnist — under the pen name Ann Landers. She died in 2002 at age 83 of multiple myeloma.

Declan Haun / Time & Life Pictures via Getty I
Twin sisters and advice columnists Ann Landers (Esther "Eppie" Lederer) and "Dear Abby" (Pauline Phillips, aka Abigail Van Buren) are shown in a photo from the late 1970s.


Phillips is survived by her husband of 73 years, Mort Phillips, her daughter, Jeanne, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Flowers were to be placed on Phillips’ “Dear Abby” star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 4:30 p.m. ET Thursday.

Obama: 'We Are Not a Deadbeat Nation'
President Barack Obama held the seventeenth solo news conference of his presidency Monday, using it to reiterate his position that he will not negotiate with House Republicans over raising the debt ceiling. "America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether they should pay bills they have already racked up," he said. "We are not a deadbeat nation."

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.
~B. Obama

 President Obama hammered Republicans for threatening to refuse to pay America’s bills by raising the debt ceiling “if they don’t get 100% of their way.”

Obama kicked off the final press conference of his first term by outlining his second term agenda, including job growth, energy independence, immigration and guns legislation, but quickly pivoted to discuss the impending Congressional battle over raising the debt ceiling, saying “we’ve got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis.”

“While I’m willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficit, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress over how to pay the bills they’ve already racked up,” Obama said. “To even entertain the idea of this happening, of America not paying its bills, is irresponsible. It’s absurd.”

“This is about paying your bills.”

President Obama particularly criticized Republicans for entertaining the idea of a government shutdown or default. “Even the threat of default hurts our economy,” he said. The president said he was willing to discuss ways to reduce debt, but pointed out that the November election results showed that “the American people agreed with me that we need to reduce our deficits in a balanced way.”

House Speaker John Boehner interprets the public differently. “The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time. The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved,” he said in a statement.

The president signaled his own willingness to address deficits by noting nearly $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction already found through spending cuts, interest payments, and increased revenue. “We’ve made progress. We are moving towards our ultimate goal of getting to a $4 trillion reduction,” he said. “We can’t finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone… That’s not a recipe for growth.”

“To even entertain the idea of the United States not paying its bills is absurd.”

Obama suggested he’d be willing to take over the job of raising the debt ceiling, if Congress won’t act. “If they want to put the responsibility on me to raise the debt ceiling, I’m happy to do it,” he said. “If they want to keep this responsibility then they need to get it done.”

“They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.”

The president also addressed the ongoing debate over gun violence on the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Newtown, Ct. He discussed a handful of proposals, including stronger background checks, keeping high capacity magazines “out of the hands of folks that shouldn’t have them,” and an assault weapons ban, but acknowledged all those proposals would face political opposition. “Will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know. But what’s uppermost in my mind is that I’m clear … about what will work.”

“If there is a step we can take that will save even one child from what happened in Newtown, we should take that step,” he said.

“Those who oppose any common sense gun control or gun safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that some how the federal government’s about to take all your guns away.” he said. “There’s probably an economic element to that. It’s good for business.” But he insisted he had no plans to take guns from those who legally possess them to protect themselves or hunt, saying those gun owners “don’t have anything to worry about.”

“The issue here is not whether or not we believe in the second amendment,” he explained. “The issue is: are there are some sensible steps we can take to make sure that somebody like the individual in Newtown can’t walk into a school and gun down a bunch of children in a shockingly rapid fashion?”
“Surely we can do something about that.”