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White House Chief of Staff: U.S. 'Sparing No Effort' to Free American ISIS Hostage


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Following the apparent execution of a Japanese hostage this weekend by ISIS, President Barack Obama's chief of staff said Sunday the U.S. is working aggressively to free the remaining Japanese hostage as well as a female American hostage held by the radical Islamic group.

"Well, the president had a good talk overnight, our time here, with [Japanese] Prime Minister Abe, underscoring our continued support for and partnership with the Japanese, they [are] making this huge investment of, you know, halfway around the world, like we are, in Iraq and Syria against ISIS," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on This Week.

"And as it relates to our hostages, we are obviously continuing to work those matters very, very aggressively. We are sparing no expense and sparing no effort, both in trying to make sure that we know where they are and make sure that we're prepared to do anything we must to try to get them home," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

The president's chief of staff also addressed the chaos that engulfed the country of Yemen in recent days, after the country's president and cabinet resigned under pressure from Houthis rebels who had seized the country's capital.

The power struggle has thrown U.S. counter-terrorism strategy against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula into doubt, with McDonough saying it "remains to be seen" if the Houthi forces will have the same commitment to working with the U.S. to fight al Qaeda forces in Yemen.

"That remains to be seen. And what the president also said today is that we want to see this resolved through a political process that's transparent, that includes all the actors in the country, mindful of the fact that AQAP lives in these chaotic situations," McDonough said.

"So I'm not going to jump to any conclusions. I am going to say to the parties on the ground that they have to resolve this transparently, peacefully, politically. And we will, while they're doing that, continue to make sure that we're focused on the threats to us and to our people," McDonough added.

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Obama: US Will 'Ratchet Up the Pressure on Russia,' Can't Play 'Whack-a-Mole' By Sending Troops to Yemen


Photo by Gurinder Osan/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- President Obama on Sunday weighed in on the situations in Yemen and Ukraine, vowing to keep Americans in Yemen safe while issuing stern words to Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin for their actions in Ukraine.

"We have a profound interest...in promoting a core principle," Obama said at a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, that "large countries don't bully smaller countries." He reiterated that the U.S. will continue to take the same approach that it has in the past, to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia."

In addition, Obama spoke of the importance of "making sure that we're continuing to provide the support that Ukraine needs to sustain its economy during this transition period, and to help its military with basic supplies and equipment."

The president also touched on the situation in Yemen, where attacks on the capital city and the resignation of much of the government have led to questions about whether the U.S. would evacuate its embassy. For now, the embassy is operating with a reduced staff. Obama said Sunday that the "top priority has and always will be to make sure that our people on the ground in Yemen are safe." Calling the nation "a dangerous country in a dangerous part of the world," Obama reaffirmed that counterterrorism activity there would continue. "We continue to go after high-value targets inside of Yemen...and we will continue to maintain the pressure that's required to keep the American people safe."

Obama also said that he hoped to go after terrorist networks in Yemen without an "occupying U.S. army," because "the alternative would be for us to play whack-a-mole every time there is a terrorist actor inside of any given country, to deploy U.S. troops." Such a strategy, he said, would not be sustainable.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal: US Needs a Spiritual Revival


Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Like a lot of Republicans with national name recognition, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is "seriously looking" at a 2016 White House bid, but he says the country needs more that just for the right candidate to win.

"We can't just elect a candidate and fix what ails our country," he said at a prayer rally that he attended Saturday instead of the Iowa Freedom Summit. "We can't just pass a law and fix what ails our country. We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country."

The Louisiana Republican, who told ABC's George Stephanopoulos he's "seriously looking at" a 2016 White House bid, said the relationship between leadership and prayer "is as old as our country."

"You know, it is a time-honored tradition, going back to our nation's founding, for our presidents, for our leaders to turn to God for guidance, for wisdom," he said on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

When asked about the crowded GOP presidential field, Jindal said voters want leaders "who have the courage to speak the truth," citing his controversial comments last week in London as evidence.

In that speech, Jindal said there were Muslim "no-go zones" in Britain and Western Europe carrying out Sharia law -- a claim disputed by many, including British Prime Minister David Cameron.

"I know it made a lot of people upset, but we need leaders to tell us the truth," he said. "I think people are looking for leaders who are willing to take on the big challenges."


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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Thinks He Could 'Certainly' Win Iowa


Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie thinks he could “certainly” win Iowa in 2016.

Christie spoke exclusively with ABC News following his speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit, the first major event of the year to bring together a dozen potential presidential candidates in Iowa. Christie has made six trips to the Hawkeye State since 2014.

“I don’t know why they keep inviting me back if I can’t win here,” Christie told ABC News. "I certainly think I could.”

As he prepares for a possible 2016 run, Christie has already tapped political operatives in the state, including Phil Valenziano, who served as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Iowa field director ahead of the 2012 caucuses.

Christie also traveled to Iowa last week for the inauguration of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

“I’m being deliberative about it and I’m not going to let anybody else rush me,” he said. “We’ll make it sometime soon, but everybody defines soon differently right?”

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Obama Visits Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi on First Day of India Trip


Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- President Obama arrived in India for a three-day trip on Sunday, visiting the Raj Gat, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

The U.S. president laid a wreath of white flowers at the site where Gandhi, the father of modern India, was cremated after his 1948 assassination on Sunday. He also inscribed the guest book, referencing Martin Luther King, Jr.

"What Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said then remains true today," Obama wrote. "'The spirit of Gandhi is very much alive in India, and it remains a great gift to the world. May we always live in his spirit of love and peace -- among all people and nations.'"

While at the Raj Gat, Obama bowed next to the eternal flame and threw two handfuls of flower petals atop the marble platform. He also planted a tree to honor Ghandi's legacy.

Later on Sunday, Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked through the gardens of the Hyderabad House, the state guesthouse for the Indian prime minister, drinking tea and discussing a long-stalled civil nuclear deal that would allow American companies to build reactors in India.

At a joint press conference, Obama discussed the agreed upon friendship agreement. "Not only is it grounded in the values we share," he said, "but it commits us to regular meetings at the leaders level and sets up frequent consultations across our government."

On the Indian prime minister, Obama said that Modi "described...his ambitious efforts to empower rural Indians with bank accounts, and to ensure clean water and clean air for the Indian people; and we want to be partners in this effort."

The two nations also agreed to work together, on a leadership level, to tackle climate change and renewed a defense agreement that was set to expire in June.

City officials have gone to great lengths to keep monkeys out of the president's way -- groups of them can be seen wandering the streets, on sidewalks, fences and in trees. Locals say the monkeys are considered friends, and that in Hindu culture, they represent to god Hanuman.

Later Sunday, President Obama, the first lady and the U.S. delegation feasted on Indian cuisine at the presidential residence. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee hosted the dinner, while prime minister Narendra Modi was there as well.

Obama thanked the Indian officials for their hospitality, telling Modi that his "life story could only happen in India." He also noted that Modi had told him earlier that he only sleeps for three hours per night. "[That] made me feel bad," Obama said. "I thought I was doing okay with five."

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Obama Shares Unlikely Friendship with Indian Prime Minister Modi


Photo by Vinod Singh/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- If there’s an Indian equivalent of President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Narenda Modi just might be it.

The rapidly budding friendship between the two leaders, catching many observers by surprise, stems from shared experiences with democratic organizing, a technological savvy, and deep personal ambition, U.S. officials say.

And it comes in spite of the fact that Modi is a right-wing Hindu extremist.

“He is in a party which has a lot of fringe views. They have views about India being a country only for Hindus,” said Milan Vaishnav, a leading India analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “He ideologically is of one with this movement.”

Many in Modi’s party are deeply fearful of Muslims, want to ban cow slaughter, and revise the nation’s textbooks to present a slanted history.

The views contrast sharply with Obama’s global advocacy for diverse multicultural societies where minority views and rights are protected and even openly celebrated.

But experts say a little bit of Obama may be rubbing off on his new “bro,” a friendly nickname he’s used to describe British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders he considers friends.

“We don't know what is in his heart but he is clever enough to recognize that destiny has given him this opportunity,” Ashley Tellis, a former senior adviser to the ambassador at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, said of Modi. “Whatever his ‘real views’ are, he's going to be ruthlessly pragmatic because that's the ticket to political longevity and power.”

Obama doesn’t seem to mind. His hearty embrace and back slap of Modi on the tarmac after landing on Air Force One was replayed on loop on Indian TV.

The two men will spend more than 10 hours together Sunday in Delhi, including a joint visit to the memorial for the father of India, Mahatma Gandhi, a private lunch and meeting, a state dinner, and cultural celebration.

On Monday, they will be partners on stage for the elaborate Republic Day parade.

“Are they buddy-buddy? That’s for them to tell you about,” said Richard Rossow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But more importantly for the president of the United States, he sees a counterpart that will actually try to deliver on things that are promised in those meetings."

On the surface, they would seem to be unlikely friends. Modi had been banned for 10 years from visiting the U.S. by the State Department for his alleged complicity in ethnic riots in 2002 that left thousands of Muslims dead in his home state.

After Modi was elected last year, the U.S. government was forced to take a different course by default, forging ties with a man with whom they had none and rescinding the visa ban allowing him to enter the U.S. They held their first bilateral summit in Washington in September.

“Personal relationships play a big role in who [leaders] choose to engage with, and I think there’s no better indication of the fact that they seem to have gotten along fine than the fact that the president agreed to go back so soon [to India]," said Rossow.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration sees a lot of Obama in Modi.

“In their first conversation after Prime Minister Modi’s election, I think they noted some similarities in terms of how their campaigns kind of changed the way in which politics was practiced in their respective countries,” he said.

They also came into office with super-sized expectations for bringing about political change. While Obama is in the twilight of his term, Modi is just beginning.

“Our hope is that the chemistry between the leaders and the personal relationship can lead to positive outcomes for our country," said Rhodes. "It’s worth the investment in the relationship with the country, the leader, and the people of India.”

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At GOP Summit, Republicans Turn Fire on Obama, Clinton, and Each Other


Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- The first conservative showcase of the 2016 cycle is taking place in Iowa Sunday, marking the unofficial start of the presidential cycle. Most of the jabs have been focused directly at President Obama and a Democrat they may be running against -- Hillary Clinton.

But there have been some intra-party jabs, mostly directed at two possible candidates not at the forum: Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.

Here are six examples from the Iowa Freedom Summit:

1. Trump vs. Romney/Bush:

Donald Trump was clear with his fire:

"It can't be Mitt, because Mitt ran and failed. He failed," Trump said to cheers from the audience. "He choked. He had that election won."

He was just as clear when it came to Bush:

"You can't have Bush," Trump said, criticizing the former Florida governor's support for Common Core education standards and immigration views, as well as his brother former President George W. Bush. "The last thing we need is another Bush."

2. Walker vs. Possible Rivals

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got quite a rousing reception from the audience and he didn't name any of his potential political rivals by name, but he made contrasts with the senators he's likely to run against when he described his "leadership" as "new and fresh and bold and aggressive that has been proven," adding that "commonsense conservative reforms from outside Washington, D.C., can help."

He also described in detail how thrifty he and his wife are telling the crowd that next month he will celebrate his 23rd wedding anniversary with his wife Tonette, but when they were first married he "made a critical mistake."

"I went to a Kohl's department store and I bought something for the price it was marked at," Walker said. "My wife said to me, 'You can never go back there ever again until you learn how to shop at Kohl's.'"

He then detailed his frugal shopping skills, saying he could get so much money off the price of a shirt, "the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt."

The crowd cheered his budget-cutting ways, and although he didn't mention any of his possible Republican rivals by name he set up quite contrast with at least two of his wealthy possible opponents, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Expect to hear this all again if they do get on the campaign trail.

3. Gilmore vs. Christie/Bush/Romney

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore went after both Bush and Romney without mentioning them by name, attacking Bush for his support of Common Core education standards and then asking the crowd, "Do we want a nominee who enacted state control of health care and then flipped and said he was against Obamacare?" The audience yelled, "No" in response. Gilmore was referring to Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, sometimes referred to as Romneycare.

Gilmore then aimed his fire directly at a possible presidential candidate who was actually slated to take the stage later in the day. Also without mentioning New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by name, he asked the crowd, "Do you want a nominee who wrapped his arms around President Obama while all of us were fighting on behalf of our candidate for President of the United States?" The crowd again bellowed "No!" in response.

Gilmore is referring to Christie's infamous embrace of the president after Hurricane Sandy when the two were touring devastation together. It took place just a few weeks before the 2012 presidential election.

4. Santorum vs. Paul

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also didn't mention rivals by name, but it was clear he had a vague dig at one potential opponent, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and others he may face who have spent less time in office than he did, warning the crowd not to support a candidate similar to President Obama.

"We have seen the impact of isolationism, we have seen the impact of weakness and indecision on the part of an American president, an inexperienced, raw American president who had ideologies that didn't face reality," Santorum said. "Ladies and gentleman, in this election cycle, we need to be looking for somebody who has that experience, who's been tested and understands. I spent 16 years in the House and Senate, eight of those in the Senate Armed Services committee."

Santorum has previously criticized Paul on his foreign policy, calling him an isolationist, something Paul regularly denies.

5. Palin vs. The Establishment

Sarah Palin regularly speaks up against the GOP establishment and Saturday at the summit was no different, although she made sure to praise GOP governors. The former Alaska governor paraphrased former President Ronald Reagan, saying, "Now is the time for bold, conservative colors, not establishment pale pastels."

She told the crowd the "GOP primary" should be a "competition, not a coronation."

6. O'Brien vs. Romney/Bush

Bill O' Brien, the former speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, didn't mention Romney and Bush by name, but he also could not have been clearer when he told the audience, "We lose when we nominate RINOS," or Republicans in Name Only.

"What is worse, nominating someone merely because he's been nominated twice before or nominating a liberal supporter of Common Core because he has a familiar name," O'Brien said.

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Michelle Obama Has India Buzzing About Her Outfit


Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- Michelle Obama is taking something of a backseat on her husband's second trip to India, with no official schedule of her own and no Indian first lady on hand to keep her company. But she is creating buzz with her wardrobe, turning heads with her choice of outfit the second she stepped off Air Force One.

Her knee-length floral dress by Bibhu Mohapatra, a famous Indian designer who lives in New York but was born in Rourkela in Odisha, was paired with a matching coat and black pumps.

Mohapatra celebrated Mrs. Obama’s choice as soon as she got off the plane.

"The President and the First Lady arrive in #India. @flotus wearing @bibhumohapatra #spring15 poppy,” he wrote.



The first lady has been seen in public wearing Mohapatra before, most recently in 2012 during her appearance on The Tonight Show.

The fact that Mrs. Obama will be a third wheel is described in India as a “bit of drama” because Modi is married but estranged from his wife. They wed when she was very young and as one local described it, they “parted ways” but “as part of Indian tradition, she still considers him as her husband. It’s a bit of a drama here."

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: What Shopping at Kohl’s Has to Do With His White House Hopes


Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the first big 2016 name to take the stage at the Iowa Freedom Summit, got a rousing reception on Saturday from the conservative activists gathered and promised to "be back many more times in the future."

"I'm hopeful to work together with you to help us provide that type of leadership that is new and fresh and bold and aggressive that has been proven, that commonsense conservative reforms from outside Washington, D.C., can help and with your help I have no doubt we can move this country forward, we can have our own American revival," he said in what sounded like a debut of a presidential campaign speech.

It was one of his first big national addresses and Walker stressed his governing credentials and how -- due to a recall -- he's been successfully re-elected "three times in the last four years," something he will undoubtedly repeat on the campaign trail, if he runs.

"Three times mind you in a state that hasn't gone Republican for president since I was in high school more than 30 years ago, how about that," Walker said to applause. "I think that sends a powerful message to Republicans in Washington and around the country, if you are not afraid to go big and bold you can actually get results."

While walking back and forth across the stage, Walker also portrayed himself as a fighter, describing in detail how protesters during the 2012 re-call sent him and his family "assassination" threats.

"Someone literally sent me a threat that said they were going to gut my wife like a deer," Walker said, noting he didn't back down, but the threats reminded him "how important it was to stand up for the people of my state."

He ticked off his conservative successes in his state, saying he's "taken on aggressive agenda" including cutting taxes and reducing spending, merit education hiring, anti-abortion rights measures, voter ID laws, and other victories for the approving crowd.

He stressed that in Wisconsin -- as opposed to Washington -- he is focused on how to "give more money back to the people who earned it."

Describing in detail how thrifty he and his wife are, he told the crowd that next month he will celebrate his 23rd wedding anniversary with his wife Tonette, but when they were first married he "made a critical mistake."

"I went to a Kohl's department store and I bought something for the price it was marked at," Walker said. "My wife said to me, 'You can never go back there ever again until you learn how to shop at Kohl's.'"

He then detailed his frugal shopping skills in order to get so much money off the price of a shirt "the next thing you know they are paying me to buy that shirt!"

The crowd cheered his budget-cutting ways, and although he didn't mention any of his possible Republican rivals by name, he set up quite a contrast with at least two of his wealthy possible opponents, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney.

He said "hard work" is not just a "buzzword" for him, describing his background and noting his humble beginnings, which included part of his childhood spent in the first caucus state of Iowa.

"In America, the opportunity is equal for each and every one of us, but in America the ultimate outcome is up to each and every one of us individually," he said, towards the end of his speech, which he finished to a rousing standing ovation from the crowd.

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Trump Blasts Romney, Jeb Bush; 'Seriously Thinking' About Presidential Run


Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Donald Trump arrived at a high-profile GOP gathering in Iowa to train his fire on his fellow Republicans, telling the audience that neither Mitt Romney nor Jeb Bush can win the presidential nomination.

He drew applause for those lines at the Freedom Summit on Saturday, a gathering that neither of those men attended.

"It can't be Mitt, because Mitt ran and failed. He failed," Trump said, bringing cheers from the audience. "He choked. He had that election won."

Turning to Bush, Trump cited the former Florida governor's support of Common Core education standards and a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants as straying too far from conservative ideology.

He also condemned Bush's brother President George W. Bush's appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court, since Roberts authored the opinion that saved Obamacare.

"The last thing we need is another Bush," Trump said, drawing more applause.

Trump also told the Iowa Freedom Summit what he's been telling interviewers and audiences for weeks, even though his history would leave many doubting his sincerity.

"I am seriously thinking of running for president," he said. "We have a presidential election coming up. We have some good people -- nobody like Trump, of course."

In a brief interview with ABC News, Trump insisted that he's serious about running for president this time -- even though he flirted with and rejected White House runs in 1988, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Seeking to demonstrate that, he brought handouts to the Freedom Summit, the conservative confab that drew as many as 10 potential Republican candidates for president, although Bush, Romney, and Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were among the prominent no-shows.

Attendees got postcard-sized two-sided pictures featuring Trump. Included were a younger Trump shaking hands with the late President Ronald Reagan -- and a much, much younger Trump in his Presbyterian confirmation class, in 1959.

One of the cards also includes a glossy family photo, with bold type at the top: "THE KEY TO SUCCESS IS HAPPINESS THROUGH FAMILY."

"I was friendly with Reagan," Trump told ABC. "I got along with him great. I'm a big fan of his. I had a great relationship with him."

Asked why voters should take him seriously this time around, when he's made similar noises about a presidential run so many previous times, Trump insisted that he's in a better place in his own life, and therefore really, really serious this time.

"Because I'm in a great position from every standpoint. My children are in executive positions. And from every standpoint I'm in a great position," Trump said.

Trump indicated to the crowd that if he runs, he'll offer an aggressive alternative to his fellow Republicans. With customary braggadocio -- he said his company is "incredible," that he owns "many, many" websites, and that the American people will be "very proud of me" if and when he files financial disclosure forms.

He expressed anger not just with President Obama but Republicans in Congress.

"I'm very disappointed by our Republican politicians, because they let the president get away with absolute murder," he said.

He said he'd build a "beauty" of a border fence if elected president, and tweaked Republican doctrine that favors curbing entitlement reform.

"I'll probably be the only Republican who doesn't want to cut Social Security," he said. "I'm not a cutter of Social Security. I want to make the country rich so we can afford Social Security, and Medicare, and Medicaid."


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High-Alert in Delhi as President Obama Arrives for Republic Day


sihasakprachum/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW DELHI) -- U.S. and Indian security agencies and intelligence services are mounting an unprecedented operation to keep President Obama safe on foreign soil as he arrives in India for a historic visit as “chief guest” of Republic Day.   

Driving it all is the fact that the president will spend more than two hours outdoors Monday on an open-air viewing platform in the center of the city – a situation U.S. Secret Service tries very hard to avoid – made more complicated with foreign military aircraft crisscrossing overhead, tens of thousands of residents clogging surrounding streets (and escape routes), and Pakistani militants threatening terror.

“There’s not been a similar event that he’s attended overseas,” said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. “So this is unique.”

The memory of the September 2008 series of deadly coordinated bombings around Delhi is fresh on peoples’ minds in addition to the assault on a Mumbai hotel by alleged Pakistani militants two months later. India’s top military officials have warned in recent days of potential terror strikes by Pakistani militants against soft targets in and around New Delhi, a threat Pakistan denies.

The U.S. Secret Service and its Indian counterpart are not taking any chances. There will be more than 80,000 Indian police and paramilitary officers in the streets, officials say.  

At least 15,000 closed-circuit TV cameras have been installed to watch the crowds and every inch of the parade route has been scouted for pre-planted bombs.

A city trying desperately to clean up its image has even overturned thousands of trash cans within a mile radius around the ceremonial area, which is also lined with steel fence.

An Indian AWACS plane will for the first time be watching all of this from above, monitoring any incoming projectiles or errant aircraft.

While Indian security forces turned down American demands for their snipers, they will for the first time let their chief guest arrive to the viewing stand in his own car – an American non-negotiable, according to officials.


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Seven People President Obama Has Agreed to Meet With (Not Named Netanyahu)


Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Citing a “long-standing practice” that precludes American presidents from meeting with heads of state on the eve of their elections, the White House announced this week President Obama has declined to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he comes to Washington in March to advocate for new sanctions against Iran.

House Speaker John Boehner had just announced he invited the Israeli leader to address Congress without consulting the White House -- perceived to be a dig at the president, who promised in his State of the Union address on Tuesday to veto any new sanctions. (For his part, Boehner said, “I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye.”)

Obama’s National Security Council spokeswoman said Thursday that, even though the president has met with Netanyahu several times at the White House in the past, the administration is seeking to “avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country.”

The Israeli elections come just two weeks after Netanyahu is slated to visit Washington.

“The president has spent more time talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu than any other world leader,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stressed to reporters Friday. “This president has certainly not allowed the disagreement over our Iran approach to in any way shake the commitment of the United States to the national security of Israel.”

Regardless of the reasoning, here are some of the other people the president has carved out time in his schedule to see. That list includes a woman who bathes in cereal, several pop stars and a man whose TV show concept revolves around green leafy plants:

1. GloZell Green

This Los Angeles comedian, who calls herself the “Queen of YouTube,” scored a coveted interview with Obama on Thursday. GloZell, who posts videos of hijinks such as attempting the cinnamon challenge and eating Fruit Loops in a bathtub full of milk, interviewed the president on more serious topics such as Cuba and race relations.

 

Selfie with @BarackObama @BethanyMota @hankgreen #YouTubeAsksObama #GloZellAsksObama pic.twitter.com/OhlG0c2Pf1

— GloZell Green (@GloZell) January 23, 2015



2. Katy Perry

Singer Katy Perry -- of “Firework,” “Roar,” and “Teenage Dream” fame -- is one of the president’s “favorite people.” Perhaps that’s why he agreed to meet with the pop star at a White House gala celebrating the Special Olympics in July 2014 with her Republican mother in tow.

 

 

May I exclusively present what might be the cutest photo ever taken: Me, Gma & POTUS! Happy voting tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/9CDZmuil

— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) November 6, 2012



3. Zach Galifianakis

In March 2014, Obama sat down with Between Two Ferns comedian Zach Galifianakis to plug healthcare.gov. The decidedly irreverent interview, aired on the website Funny or Die, was panned by some as “beneath the dignity of the office.” But according to then-Press Secretary Jay Carney, the video was designed “to reach Americans where they live." “It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be with you here today if I didn’t had something to plug,” Obama deadpanned on the show.

 



4. George Clooney

In October 2010, the president met up with George Clooney to discuss U.S. involvement in southern Sudan. The president called the movie star a “a good man and a good friend,” as well as a “terrific advocate on behalf of the people in Darfur.”

5. Beyoncé and Jay Z

Power couple Bey and Jay have rubbed elbows with the president and the first lady a few times. Obama tweeted out this picture from a fundraiser at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club back in 2012.

 

 

PHOTO: A couple supporters in a New York state of mind last night. pic.twitter.com/vL3XyiZA

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 19, 2012



6. Girl Scouts

White House photographer Pete Souza caught a fun moment featuring President Obama in a tiara. Girl Scout Troop 2612 met Obama this past year at the White House’s annual science fair.

 

A photo posted by Pete Souza (@petesouza) on Dec 24, 2014 at 1:33pm PST

 

7. Kid President

Also famous from YouTube, 9-year-old Robby Novak, or, as he is better known, Kid President, got to share an embrace with President Obama in the Oval Office.

 

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President Obama’s Weekly Address: 'The Choice Is Clear’


Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In his weekly address, President Obama repeated calls for some of the programs he spoke of in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, such paid leave, greater access to child care, and two free years of community college.

“Middle-class economics means doing more to help Americans upgrade their skills through opportunities like apprenticeships and two years of free community college, so we can keep earning higher wages down the road,” Obama said.

The president also suggested tax reform in in “closing loopholes” in the tax code.

Obama said that he knows there are Republicans in the new Congress that disagree with his latest proposals, but that he looks forward to “hearing their ideas for how we can pay for what the middle class needs to grow.”

Read the full transcript of the president's address:

Hi, everybody.  This week, in my State of the Union Address, I talked about what we can do to make sure middle-class economics helps more Americans get ahead in the new economy.  

See, after some tough years, and thanks to some tough decisions we made, our economy is creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our deficits are shrinking.  Our energy production is booming.  Our troops are coming home.  Thanks to the hard work and resilience of Americans like you, we’ve risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.  

Now we have to choose what we want that future to look like.  Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?  Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and rising chances for everyone who makes the effort?

I believe the choice is clear.  Today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives.  Wages are finally starting to rise again.  Let’s keep that going – let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American.  

That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  

Middle-class economics means helping workers feel more secure in a world of constant change – making it easier to afford childcare, college, paid leave, health care, a home, and retirement.  

Middle-class economics means doing more to help Americans upgrade their skills through opportunities like apprenticeships and two years of free community college, so we can keep earning higher wages down the road.  

Middle-class economics means building the most competitive economy in the world, by building the best infrastructure, opening new markets so we can sell our products around the world, and investing in research – so that businesses keep creating good jobs right here.

And we can afford to do these things by closing loopholes in our tax code that stack the decks for special interests and the superrich, and against responsible companies and the middle class.

This is where we have to go if we’re going to succeed in the new economy.  I know that there are Republicans in Congress who disagree with my approach, and I look forward to hearing their ideas for how we can pay for what the middle class needs to grow.  But what we can’t do is simply pretend that things like child care or college aren’t important, or pretend there’s nothing we can do to help middle class families get ahead.  

Because we’ve got work to do.  As a country, we have made it through some hard times.  But we’ve laid a new foundation.  We’ve got a new future to write.  And I’m eager to get to work.  

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

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GOP Weekly Address: 'It's Time We Embrace The Opportunities Before Us'


United States Congress(WASHINGTON) -- In this week's Republican Address, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska spoke on how the Keystone XL pipeline represents an important infrastructure project following President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Murkowski, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, says she believes America is ready for the role of an energy superpower and lawmakers in Washington can start by passing legislation approving construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and President Obama signing the bill into law.

"It’s time we embrace the opportunities before us. Republicans have a positive agenda that will help create jobs, keep energy affordable, and increase our security,” Murkowski said.  “Over the next two years, it is our hope that President Obama will be a partner in our efforts, and that he will start by finally approving the Keystone XL pipeline.’

Murkowski argues the benefits of the construction of the pipeline will create jobs and keep energy prices affordable for all Americans.

Read the full transcript of the Republican address:

Hello. I’m Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.  This past week, President Obama, in his State of the Union address, laid out his plans for America.  And as part of his speech, he called on Congress to pass an infrastructure bill that will create jobs and make our nation stronger for decades to come.

I welcomed that message, and the fact is, we’ve already started.  For over two weeks now, the Senate has been working hard on a bipartisan bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.  This important infrastructure project will support thousands of jobs.  It would carry both American and Canadian oil, in the cleanest and safest way, and help keep energy affordable for American families.

After more than 2,300 days of presidential indecision, it’s important for us to act.  The world is watching to see whether the United States is willing to lead as a global energy superpower that respects its neighbors, trades with its allies, and builds needed infrastructure.  I believe we are ready for that role – and our leadership can start with the approval of Keystone XL.

The new Republican congress you elected has only been in office a few weeks now, but already we’ve made important strides towards making congress function again and getting Washington back to work. We’re fulfilling the promises made in the recent elections, and considering legislation in an open and a transparent manner where both Republicans and Democrats can offer their ideas.

Now, here’s an interesting fact: more amendments were voted on in the Senate just this past week, than were voted on during all of 2014.  Our approach to this energy infrastructure bill is one that allows members from both parties – and every state – the chance to have their voices heard.

Once Congress approves the Keystone XL pipeline with bipartisan support, we will have an opportunity to put forth additional energy solutions that will grow our economy and help hardworking Americans.

We are focusing on energy because it is vital to our prosperity, and a strategic asset that we can use to assist our allies and trading partners.  It is in our interest to continue making our energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure.  And I am confident we can reach those goals by strengthening our supply, modernizing our infrastructure, supporting energy efficiency, and ensuring federal accountability.

As Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I will do my best to ensure the Senate approves broad energy legislation this year.  The last time that happened was in 2007.  That was a time of scarcity, but America is now producing more energy than ever before. We’ve seen firsthand that American supply matters to global prices – and the only question now is whether we’re going to take the steps necessary to keep energy affordable.

We can start by looking to Alaska, where we have tremendous amounts of oil just waiting to be produced.  We have prolific resources in our National Petroleum Reserve and offshore.  If we also unlock just a fraction of the non-wilderness portion of ANWR, we could bring about a huge range of economic benefits.  Some may consider this controversial, but it really is not.  Even the head of the Alaska Democratic Party wrote a piece this week, urged that it be opened. It’s time we embrace the opportunities before us.

Republicans have a positive agenda that will help create jobs, keep energy affordable, and increase our security.  Over the next two years, it is our hope that President Obama will be a partner in our efforts, and that he will start by finally approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

Thank you for listening.

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Obama Returns to India: Five Reasons His Trip Makes History


Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images(NEW DELHI) -- With new bounce in his step at home amid rising poll numbers, President Obama is pivoting to his agenda abroad. 

Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama depart Saturday morning for a three-day visit to India aimed at bolstering ties with a rising economic and military ally, and garnishing his legacy on foreign affairs.

“He sees this as a potentially transitional if not transformational moment for the relationship because we have a very strong and clear indication from India’s leadership that they want to elevate our bilateral cooperation and our global cooperation,” said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

The trip may end up being more symbolic in nature than producing many major policy agreements.  Still, experts say Obama will make history on several fronts:

1. First American President to Visit India Twice:

Six U.S. presidents have visited India since its independence in 1947. Barack Obama will become the only one to visit twice.

“It is extremely significant for the president to go back to India a second time, to do it only as an India trip, to be the guest for Republic Day,” said Richard Rossow, an expert in U.S.-India relations at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Obama scheduled his State of the Union address to specifically accommodate this trip, his aides say.  He could have had an easy excuse to pass on the invitation.  It also comes unusually soon after the two leaders held a summit in Washington four months ago.

“The symbolism of all this is tremendous,” Rossow said.

The Obamas most recently visited in November 2010, becoming only the second president after Richard Nixon to visit India in his first term.  

2. First American as ‘Chief Guest’ of Republic Day

For the first time in India’s 65 year history, an American president has the high honor to be the nation’s chief guest for an elaborate pageant of military and cultural pride on Republic Day.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has had the honor. So, too, Nelson Mandela, the president of Iran, Queen of England, Japanese prime minister – even high-level officials from neighboring rival Pakistan.

“Frankly it took us by some surprise,” Rhodes said of the invitation to Obama from Prime Minister Narenda Modi.

“There’s great affinity between the U.S. and India. But there’s also a history that is complicated and that would have made it seem highly unlikely that a US leader would be sitting with India’s leaders at a Republic Day ceremony as chief guest,” he said.

The president and first lady will spend several hours viewing the parade and participating in ceremonial events and receptions that mark the 1950 birth of the world’s largest democracy.

3. Unprecedented: POTUS to Spend Hours Outdoors Amid Terror Threats

Wherever the American president goes, so does his super-sized security apparatus.  But never before has it been brought to bear on another country’s biggest national holiday celebration, in a capital city that’s one of the most densely-populated in the world.

Obama and Modi will spend several hours outdoors on an open-air viewing platform watching the Republic Day parade as tens of thousands of Indians pour into the streets – a potentially risky setting that U.S. Secret Service generally prefers to avoid. 

“There’s not been a similar event that he’s attended overseas,” Rhodes said. “So this is unique in that case.”

There will be a seven-layer ring of security along the Republic Day route, according to local media reports. Satellites and drones – operated both by Indian and American security services – are expected to fly overhead. 

More than 15,000 closed-circuit TV cameras will monitor the crowd, while more than 100,000 Indian policy and paramilitary forces are on the ground, according to India’s Mail Online.

India’s top military officials have warned of potential terror strikes by Pakistani militants against soft targets in and around New Delhi ahead of Obama’s visit, putting officials and security services on high alert.

4. From Blacklist to Best Friend: Modi & Obama

Perhaps never before has a world leader gone from being on a U.S. blacklist – denied a visa and cutoff from diplomatic outreach – to being a top priority of an American president in such a short turn.

Just one year ago, Modi was still sidelined by the U.S. for his alleged role in one of the deadliest religious riots in modern Indian history. He was accused of condoning the killing of some 2,000 Muslims in the state where he was governor; a complicity he has denied.

But all has been absolved, at least from the U.S. diplomatic perspective. After a summit with Obama in September, their relationship blossomed in unexpectedly positive ways, diplomatic observers and administration officials say. 

“This is a seminal moment in the bilateral relationship,” said Phil Reiner, the administration’s top adviser for South Asia.  “The extension of this invitation by the Prime Minister really continues to set a different tone for our reinvigorated partnership.”

5. Doubling Down on Defense Deals

President Obama will see an awful lot of Russian military hardware paraded before him on Republic Day. The Russians have been India’s top defense supplier for decades.

But that’s starting to change, and Obama hopes to accelerate U.S. defense deals.

Overhead on Monday, he may spot an American-made C130J Hercules transport plane or a C17 Globemaster during the ceremonial fly-over. Soon the Indians could be adding a new batch of Chinook and Apache helicopters to their fleet as well.

A number of defense deals are waiting in the wings, including one to bring production of lightweight American-designed Howitzer artillery to India. Some are expected to be sealed shortly after Obama leaves.

There’s also word that renewal of the 10-year Defense Framework between the two countries is in the works – a key piece of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” program and plan to counterbalance the rise of China.

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