Will Cuba Return Cop Killer Joanne Chesimard To U.S. With New "Normalization"?

In 1973 former Black Panther and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, killed New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in cold blood during a traffic stop. Shakur took Foerster's police issued firearm and used it to shoot him twice in the head. In 1977 Shakur was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Foester's family never received full justice as Chesimard escaped in 1979, fled to Cuba and been protected by the Castro regime ever since. She is listed on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list with a $1 million reward for information leading to her arrest. 

Tracking down Shakur under the protection of the Castros has been difficult, but with President Obama's announcement of normalization between the United States and Cuba, many are asking if Shakur will be extradited.

Renewed relations with Cuba brought hope that New Jersey cop-killer JoAnne Chesimard might finally be extradited to the U.S. to finish serving her prison term.

"We view any changes in relations with Cuba as an opportunity to bring her back to the United States to finish her sentence for the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973," State Police Col. Rick Fuentes said in a statement. "We stand by the reward money and hope that the total of $2 million will prompt fresh information in the light of this altered international relationship."

Considering the Obama administration's history of supporting cop killers, Shakur's extradition and return to the U.S. justice system might take awhile.

Government Sources: Yes, North Korea Hacked Sony

The cat is out of the bag:

U.S. officials have concluded that the North Korean government ordered the hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment — a breach that led to the studio cancelling the planned release of "The Interview". One U.S. official told NBC News that the country "can't let this go unanswered." The officials told NBC News the hacking attack originated outside North Korea, but they believe the individuals behind it were acting on orders from the North Koreans.

"We have found linkage to the North Korean government," according to a U.S. government source. An official said the U.S. is discussing what form a response could take, and couldn't detail what options the government has available.

You’ll recall that North Korea has been warning the U.S. about releasing the film for months. If the film is released, North Korea’s state mouthpiece once threatened, it would be “an act of war.” Now that Sony has basically met the demands of a maniacal dictator, however, the film has been permanently tabled. Put differently: The “Supreme Leader” has brought the “Great Satan” to its knees. Splendid.

As pathetic as that might sound, I’m also left scratching my head about Sony’s decision. The damage has already been done. So why not just release the film now?

Apparently, one could argue, they didn’t really have a choice:

Sony said it was cancelling “The Interview” release “in light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film.” The studio said it respected and shared in the exhibitors’ concerns.

“We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public,” read the statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

So blame the exhibitors for being cowardly then -- although Ed Morrissey points out that they had legal niceties to think about. Nevertheless, the whole situation reeks of gutlessness. Even President Obama shrugged his shoulders when asked if “The Interview” could threaten the safety and security of the United States:

The US president certainly did not seem overly concerned. Asked about the stern warnings of retribution targeted at screenings of The Interview, which invoked the memory of the 9/11 terror attacks, Barack Obama told ABC News: “For now, my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”

Now they can’t, of course, and many people are pissed off. Take, for instance, Mary Katharine Ham who has already started a petition to get the film onto the big screen:

Sign it if so inclined. But at least read the whole thing. She makes some excellent points.

"The Smallest Coffins Are the Heaviest"

Tuesday’s news was hard to read. The Taliban senselessly murdered schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan. Stunningly, 148 young lives were taken – with the number still rising.

On Wednesday night, a few hundred people came to Dupont Circle in Washington, DC to honor these innocent victims in a candlelight vigil. In fact, that was a common theme of the night: lost innocence. Peshawar parents dropped off their kids at school, not even considering that their precious sons and daughters wouldn’t come home to play with their toys after school. Their innocence could not save them from the Taliban’s savage plans.

Amnesty International’s Noor Mir, who helped organize the vigil, explained how they gathered 140 candles to represent the lives who were lost. The candles were surrounded by pictures released from the hospital in Peshawar.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Attendees also contributed to the display with signs they made, including one that had this powerful message, “The smallest coffins are the heaviest.”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Mir explained that Peshawar parents found out their children were dead by coming to a hospital and seeing a sheet with the victim's name and age, with the word, ‘Dead’ next to it.


Famed journalist Raza Rumi also addressed the crowd, especially thanking the Pakistani Americans in attendance for practicing solidarity. He urged participants to keep in mind that all Taliban are terrorists.

"There are no good Taliban and there are no bad Taliban."

The organizers were only able to find 40 of the victims’ names. They read each one as quiet sobbing could be heard throughout the crowd.

The vigil ended with a participant reading off an original poem he penned in response to the Peshawar attack, entitled, “Innocence.” I thought this was the most powerful line:

“A school that was supposed to be a fountain of knowledge, became a pool of blood.”

The senseless terrorists who performed this cowardly act are dead. Yet, the Taliban still looms.

May they be brought to justice.

Vermont Abandons Single Payer Healthcare Because It's Too Expensive

Legislators in the state of Vermont have been making moves toward establishing a single-payer health program that would make all health care available to all residents at taxpayer expense. The state had intended to apply for a waiver to free the state from Obamacare mandates for the purpose of setting up an in-state single-payer system.

Unfortunately, the liberal dream has been mugged by reality: Democratic Gov. Shumlin announced that they're going to abandon the plan because it's too expensive.

As the Associated Press reported:

Going forward with a project four years in the making would require tax increases too big for the state to absorb, Shumlin said. The measure had been the centerpiece of the Democratic governor's agenda and was watched and rooted for by single-payer health care supporters around the country.

The legislation called for the administration to produce a plan for financing the Green Mountain Care system by 2013 but it wasn't completed until the last several days. Shumlin said it showed the plan would require an 11.5 percent payroll tax on businesses and an income tax separate from the one the state already has of up to 9.5 percent.

Shumlin said small business owners would be hit with both, and he repeatedly expressed concern about whether those businesses, many of which now don't offer health insurance or offer much less costly insurance, could cover the new expense.

Those are astonishingly high tax increases. The politically-feasible solution would be to exempt "small business owners" from those tax increases, but the problem then becomes that it's impossible to get the revenue elsewhere. The entire state would have become a disaster zone, without enough economic activity to provide the tax revenue necessary to support such a scheme.

What's amazing is that Shumlin says this is partly due to our still-sub-optimal economy, recovering from the 2008 crash. This is absurd. If there's only enough revenue to support such a scheme in boom times, it's unwise to implement it at all - ever. A system that can't sustain itself through business cycles is unsustainable. Oh, and Shumlin also lamented that the state couldn't get enough federal money to assist their scheme. As if it needs to be said - a scheme that relies on tax money from other states funneled into one state is unsustainable, as well.

RINO Hunting: Policy and History Are Against Jeb Bush

Yes, it happened. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is “actively” exploring a possible 2016 candidacy. Needless to say, conservatives aren’t happy. Sen. Rand Paul has already begun attacking Bush, but the former governor is convinced he’s a mainstream conservative. Yet, his potential candidacy looks fragile–even more so than Mitt Romney. Bush supports Common Core, immigration reform, walks a waffled path on climate change, and is sort of open to tax increases.

“If you could bring to me a majority of people to say that we’re going to have $10 of spending cuts for $1 of revenue enhancement — put me in, Coach,” he once said in 2012. Bush gave his answer on a hypothetical budget deal at a congressional hearing, which had spending cuts and tax increases.

Again, more than a few Republicans might find this as rational, but to the base–this is anathema. He also never signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to oppose tax increases.

In Politico, they wrote how Cato Institute found that government spending increased 45 percent under his administration, though Bush’s allies claim the uptick was due to disastrous weather the struck the Sunshine State during his tenure. Yet, the piece also pointed out some of Jeb’s strong points as well:

It’s not that any of the friction from the right is a surprise to Bush. Even though his allies say he did, in fact, have a conservative record as Florida governor — cutting taxes by $19.3 billion, building the state’s reserves to $9 billion and streamlining regulations — they say his statement about “losing the primary to win the general” was meant to signal that he’s not going to change to please the right.

In some respects, Bush would be an unlikely candidate to be accused of being soft of tax increases. As governor, he cut levies on businesses, investments, large estates and homes.

Campbell [Spokesperson Kristy Campbell] says Bush “does not support tax increases” and that “his record on fiscal issues is clear,” especially with his deep cuts in Florida. And not all conservative activists have a problem with Bush’s record. The conservative Club for Growth said it is willing to hear Bush out, saying it could abide tax increases if they got major spending cuts or an overhaul of the Tax Code in return.

The article also mentioned that Bush supports repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a Republican alternative. Yet, he’s critical of the defunding strategy to undercut the law. On climate change, Mr. Bush has positioned himself as a skeptic, but warned how this issue could make Republicans look “anti-science.”

His embrace of Common Core will surely rub conservatives the wrong way–and he’s made no indication that he would compromise to suck up to the right of the Republican Party.

As the Wall Street Journal  wrote back in June, he was warned by an aide to avoid referencing Common Core at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2013, he simply said, “I respect those that don't agree with me," he told the group gathered in Chicago. "What I can't accept are dumbing [sic] down standards and expectations."

Last April, he told Fox News, "I just don't feel compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country. And others have, others that supported the standards all of a sudden are opposed to it."

To be fair, Common Core isn’t the brainchild of the left:

Created by a bipartisan group of governors and adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, Common Core was designed to boost academic achievement and allow for comparisons across states. One goal was to hand power back to the states to implement standards called for in President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law. But after President Barack Obama tied the disbursal of federal education grants to states adopting Common Core, conservatives revolted.

So, Jeb has some advantages; he doesn’t like Obamacare; he’s pro-life; he cut taxes as governor; and he’s leading in the polls, but that’s without Romney being factored into the equation.

Still, to quote A&E’s Storage Wars, there’s no “wow” factor with Bush. If anything, he’s like Mitt Romney, but only with a backbone.

Regardless, this looks like a campaign that can quickly venture towards rocky shoals.

On immigration, Bush said, “yes, they [illegal immigrants] broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love, it’s an act of commitment to your family.” He also supports background checks at gun shows, which isn’t going bode well with the NRA.

The Democrats are already trying to find dirty laundry belonging to any potential Republican in the 2016 crop. While American Bridge, which compiled a 900+ page opposition research paper on Romney in 2012, noted that Jeb could fundraise well. Yet, his work with Lehman Brothers and Barclays could reopen old wounds from the Bush administration. Whether we like it or not, the financial collapse happened in the twilight of Bush’s second term. That’s the sticking point. Bush’s presidency grappled with the financial industry’s potential demise, which led to the passage TARP. It also helped Obama trounce McCain 2008, which led to the stimulus in 2009. The Bush name is roped in with one of the worst economic recessions in recent memory and TARP. The latter of which is also anathema to the Tea Party.

Then again, National Journal noted that such dealings with Lehman and Barclays is relatively unknown. If there’s something, it will be made public. The article noted that Florida has good public-record keeping laws–and Jeb would release 250,000 emails during his time as governor. This all could be one huge nothing burger regarding Jeb’s work in the financial sector. And if he’s as certain about sticking to his guns about Common Core, it’s probably something–in Jeb’s view–that he feels won’t be as bad as the Democrats’ flaying of Romney via Bain Capital.

Charles Cooke over at National Review wrote a piece on why Jeb is not our guy in 2016. He also cited the Lehman-Bush obstacle as well:

As it stands, the Republican party has not won a presidential election without a Bush on the top of the ticket since 1984, and it has not won the presidency without a Bush somewhere on the ticket since 1972. If Jeb were elected president, it would be the case that, for three decades, one family had been in charge of the country each and every time the electorate moved in its party’s direction. What, I wonder, would that say about conservatism? And what, I wonder, would it say about America writ large if, 36 years after George H. W. was first sworn in as vice president, the Right concluded that the only way that it could credibly win power was to tap into the same, oft-pumped well?

Dynastic objections aside, it strikes me also that Jeb is almost perfectly wrong for this moment in American history. Without doubt, he is a talented, upstanding, and accomplished man, and he would probably do an admirable job if he parachuted into power. But, this being hardball democratic politics, and not the Biography Channel, there are many, many more questions for us to consider. In 2012, a weak President Obama not only managed to draw an astonishing amount of blood simply by riffing on Mitt Romney’s remarkable business career, but, with a little help from Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, was able to adroitly leverage the still-tender memories of the recent financial collapse and to paint his opponent as a detached, Gilded Age demon. Presumably, Bush would get precisely the same treatment. Just a few months ago, he teamed up with a bunch of Wall Street bankers and started a private-equity fund that will specialize in oil and gas. A few years ago, moreover, he worked with Lehman Brothers until, in the heat of the 2008 financial crisis that is still largely blamed on his brother, it collapsed in ignominious disgrace. Fair or unfair, what exactly do we imagine the story will be if the next Republican candidate is not only vulnerable in this area in his own right, but has the surname “Bush” to boot?

Also, history is against Bush. He possibly waited too long to mount a serious run for the White House. He’s been out of office for 14 years. The last president that had the same gap in time between his last successful election and winning the presidency was 150 years ago with Abraham Lincoln. His last victorious campaign before winning the presidential election of 1860 was his 1846 congressional run.

If Mr. Bush becomes more serious about 2016, he faces some rather staggering obstacles.

Rubio: Obama is Using a Talking Point of The Castro Regime

Last night Senator Marco Rubio, whose parents fled just before Castro's brutal regime takeover, made an appearance on Fox News to discuss President Obama's plans to normalize the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

Rubio specifically addressed comments made by Obama yesterday that the United States has tried to "colonize" Cuba, pointing out that statement is propaganda used directly by Dictator Raul Castro himself. 

"I don't know what he's talking about, the United States tried to colonize Cuba? I don't know of anyone who seriously believes that. That's a talking point of the Castro regime. In fact, that was a term that Raul Castro used today in his address to the Cuban people, that this is walking away from the era of colonialism. I have no idea what he [Obama] is talking about when he says something like that. It's an outrageous statement," Rubio said. "When it comes to Cuba in specific is that I think this president believes that much of what's happened between these two countries is the fault of the United States and I think that has led him to make many of these decisions."

"It's a very simple equation, you have a government that controls every aspect of society. You have a military, you saw Raul Castro today wearing his military uniform, they have a military that basically controls the island and every aspect of it. The more money comes in from the United States, to their economy, the more money will line their pockets. Very little of it will trickle down to the Cuban people," Rubio continued. "It is one ridiculous statement after the other that this President made during this announcement."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have condemned Obama's move and plan to take steps on Capitol Hill to stop him.

Editor's note: A previous version of this post said Rubio's parents fled Castro's regime. His parents left Cuba in 1956, the year the revolution started. Fidel Castro took over Cuba in 1958. The initial passage has been changed for clarification.

Obama Tried to Open Up Talks With...North Korea and Failed

By now you know President Obama announced yesterday he will unilaterally normalize the relationship between Cuba and the United States. Back in 2008, Obama said he would talk and negotiate with Iran and now, sources tell the Los Angeles Times that the president attempted to start talks with North Korea and failed last year. 

A White House official made two secret visits to North Korea last year in an unsuccessful effort to improve relations after new ruler Kim Jong Un assumed power, according to former U.S. officials familiar with the trips.

The former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the back-channel trips have not been formally disclosed, said the first visit was an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Pyongyang not to launch a long-range rocket.

Incredible. Negotiating with North Korea? What could possibly go wrong? 

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich is calling North Korea's hack attack and threats of violence against Sony cyber warfare. By the way, we're losing.

Exit question: When will Obama send White House officials to talk with the GOP on Capitol Hill?

H/T @WilliamAmos

Unwrapping the $1.1 Trillion Budget

President Barack Obama signed the 1,603 page Omnibus Appropriations Bill on Tuesday. The 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill ensures that the federal government will be up and running through Sept. 30, 2015.

New to this year’s budget is a 25 million dollar Ebola emergency preparedness and response fund. Money has also been allocated to fight the terrorist organization ISIS, “including $3.4 billion to continue the air campaign and replenish weapons and $1.6 billion to train and equip our Iraqi allies.”

The Internal Revenue Service saw a $345.6 million cut, and vice-president Joe Biden will not be getting a raise. 

So where exactly is the money going? After all, 1.1 trillion dollars is an almost incomprehensible sum for the average person. To help put that number into perspective think of it this way — you could go shopping with 10 million dollars every day for 273 years and still have a million left over to buy a vacation home.

Here is how the breakdown of the government plans to spend $1.1 trillion in 2015:

1. Agriculture: $20.6 billion — $305 million decrease from 2013

2. Commerce/Justice/Science: $50.1 billion — $1.5 billion decrease

3. Defense: $490.2 billion — $3.3 billion increase

4. Energy and Water: $34.2 billion — $142 million increase

5. Financial Services: $21.8 billion — $246 million decrease

6. Interior and Environment: $30.4 billion — $300 million increase

7. Labor/Health and Human Services/Education: $156.8 billion —  unchanged

8. Legislative Branch: $4.3 billion — $100 million increase

9. Military Construction/Veterans Affairs: $71.8 billion — $1.5 billion decrease

10. State/Foreign Operations: $49 billion —  unchanged

11. Transportation/Housing and Urban Development: $53.8 billion — $2.9 billion increase

Obama Has Issued Record Number of Presidential Memos

From overhauling the immigration system to imposing economic sanctions, President Obama has issued more presidential memoranda than any other president in history, according to a USA Today review.

Why is this significant? Well, because they’re nearly identical to executive orders in what they can accomplish and how they impact everyday Americans.

Like executive orders, presidential memoranda don't require action by Congress. They have the same force of law as executive orders and often have consequences just as far-reaching. And some of the most significant actions of the Obama presidency have come not by executive order but by presidential memoranda.

Obama has made prolific use of memoranda despite his own claims that he's used his executive power less than other presidents. "The truth is, even with all the actions I've taken this year, I'm issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years," Obama said in a speech in Austin last July. "So it's not clear how it is that Republicans didn't seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did."

Obama has issued 195 executive orders as of Tuesday. Published alongside them in the Federal Register are 198 presidential memoranda — all of which carry the same legal force as executive orders.

The difference, of course, is the messaging.

“Executive order immediately evokes potentially damaging questions of ‘imperial overreach,’” Kenneth Lowande, a political science doctoral student at UVA, told USA Today. Memorandum, on the other hand, does not.

If there’s one thing this administration is good at, it’s deceiving the American people.

Out Of The Ashes: Ferguson Rebuilds After Summer Of Unrest

Small businesses irreparably destroyed, lives ruined, and abject chaos engulfed Ferguson over the past few months. The shooting death of Michael Brown by former Officer Darren Wilson threw the small city outside St. Louis into turmoil.

Now, as some of the residents begin rebuilding their lives, the community finds donations, gofundme.org pages, and the “I Love Ferguson Campaign” representing the point of the lance in their effort (via CNSNews):

Abandoned by its destroyers, now forgotten by the cameras, this is Ferguson--still suffering the fallout from the rash of riots, looting, and vandalism the community endured in November after a grand jury chose not to indict Darren Wilson, a while police officer, in the shooting death of 18-year old black teenager Michael Brown in August.

But for the 52,000 citizens of the small St. Louis suburb, many retain hope that their city can and will recover, and dozens are already pitching in to help save their town.

Bryan Fletcher, chairman of the newly created I Love Ferguson Campaign, said he clings to that hope every day. A 30-year resident of Ferguson, Fletcher said it breaks his heart to see the town he loves so scarred and struggling--so much so that he decided to do something about it.

“The image that was being portrayed around the world of Ferguson being a so-called suburban ghetto was an inaccurate portrayal of our beloved city, and several of the residents, including myself, got together and we wanted to grab the media’s attention,” Fletcher told CNSNews.com in Ferguson. “So what we did was grab, collected money at the local coffee house, and within 24 hours we raised $8,000. And we bought 3,000 of the ‘I Love Ferguson’ yard signs.”

Already, dozens of businesses have set up pages on the fundraising website gofundme.org, which currently has an entire category of entries dedicated to raising funds for Ferguson businesses. So far, nearly $575,000 has been raised from donors across the nation to help the small community get back on its feet.

Kurt Barks, owner of the Complete Auto Body and Repair in Ferguson, said his company has had to lay off four workers since the riots decimated his store on W. Florissant St., located a few blocks from where Michael Brown was shot. Business continues to be far slower than normal, and employees who work on commission are struggling to earn money with so few customers.

Even still, Barks said his business will help in whatever way possible to give back to their hurting community, even as they work to repair thousands in damages to their own building and thousands more in lost business.

“We do a lot of fundraisers for local charities,” Barks said. “We’ve always focused on North County, and now we will truly focus on the businesses that are no longer here. More so the families and the employees of those businesses.”

Even though the business owners that CNSNews.com interviewed incurred massive amounts of damage, they're still helping fellow members of their community get back on their feet. I certainly hope this community becomes stronger than ever–and that everyone can move on from this horrible event.

Sony Cancels "The Interview" After North Korean Threats

Following terrorist threats and the hacking of Sony's computers by North Korea in response to the film "The Interview, which is about an attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Sony Pictures has canceled the theatrical release of the movie. The film was due to be released on Christmas Day.

Earlier today, five major movie theater chains announced that they would not show the film in their theaters.

In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

The Department of Homeland Security said there is no credible threat regarding the movie or any theaters that would have shown the movie.

Freedom-loving Americans took to Twitter to express their disbelief and outrage that Hollywood would cave to the demands of a murderous dictator:

Just absolute madness.

Ex-Cuban Prisoner: 'It’s Good to be Home'

Alan Gross was imprisoned in Cuba for half a decade. He’s a free man now and spoke to the public today from the nation's capital about his deliverance.

“Today is the first day of Hanukkah,” he said. “And I guess so far it’s the best Hanukkah I’ll be celebrating for a long time. What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country and thank you President Obama for everything you have done today and leading up to today.”

He also especially thanked his wife and lawyer who worked tirelessly to bring him home.

“They have my endless gratitude, love, and respect,” he emphasized.

“I want to thank all of the members of Congress from all sides of the aisle…who spoke up or visited me, subjected themselves to my ranting, and helped me regain some of my weight,” he continued. “Even in Cuba, M&Ms melts in your mouth and not in your hand.”

He also thanked Muslim, Christian and especially Jewish organizations and individuals who never gave up on him.

“It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten,” he said. “Your prayers and your actions have been comforting, reassuring, and sustaining.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, he also effusively praised President Obama.

“Ultimately, the decision to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office,” he said. “To President Obama and [his] staff, thank you.”

“I’m incredibly blessed finally to have the freedom to resume a positive and constructive life,” he continued. “But for now I’ll close with a quote from one of Nelson Demille’s characters: ‘It’s good to be home.’”

Cruz: Obama's Cuba Decision Will Be Remembered as a Tragic Mistake

Florida Senator Marco Rubio responded to President Obama's announcement earlier today to "normalize relations" with Cuba and now it's Texas Senator Ted Cruz' turn.

"This announcement today will be remembered as a tragic mistake," Cruz, whose father Rafael Cruz escaped Castro's Cuba in 1957 after beatings and torture, said during an interview with Fox News Wednesday afternoon. "There is no doubt this is a unilateral president."

During the interview, conducted by Neil Cavuto, Cruz reminded viewers that the Castro brothers are allies of North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. 

"Cuba is an avowed enemy of this country," Cruz said. "They are a leading state sponsor of terrorism." 

Cruz slammed President Obama for negotiating from a position of weakness with enemies of the United States while turning on allies like Israel and Poland.

"He [Obama] does not understand the difference between our friends and our enemies," Cruz said. 

Cruz also released the following statement in response to President Obama's annoucement: 

“We rejoice that Alan Gross’ wrongful imprisonment by the brutal Castro regime has finally come to an end, and that he will be able to spend the holidays with his loved ones. But make no mistake, although we are glad Alan is now free, the agreement the Obama Administration has entered into with the Castro regime has done nothing to resolve the underlying problem. Indeed, it has made it worse.

“Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama. But they remain in control of a totalitarian police state modeled on their old state sponsor, the Soviet Union. Their government can continue to detain individuals like Alan Gross indefinitely without process—as the many political prisoners still languishing in the Castros’ prisons can attest. They retain their close, long-standing ties with hostile nations, notably Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela. They will continue their support for terrorist organizations from FARC to Hezbollah and Hamas.

“The President spoke today about a new era for relations between American and the Cuban people, but these circumstances do not bode well for either. We have seen how previous Obama administration attempts at rapprochement with rogue regimes like Russia and Iran have worked out, with our influence diminished and our enemies emboldened. Now they are revisiting this same disastrous policy with the Castros, blind to the fact that they are being played by brutal dictators whose only goal is maintaining power. And if history be our guide, the Castros will exploit that power to undermine America and oppress the Cuban people. First Russia, then Iran, now Cuba – this is one more very, very bad deal brokered by the Obama Administration.”
Cruz and Rubio are not alone in their criticism of President Obama's decision on Cuba. Democrat Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey strongly condemned the move earlier today and warned about the direct impact on Americans.

"It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms," Menendez said in a statement. “President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government."

White House Claims They Don't Need Money For Embassy In Cuba

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dismissed Republican threats to defund President Obama's unilateral Cuban normalization policy today, claiming that the government already has all the money it needs to implement Obama's plan.

"It's not clear to me that additional appropriations will be necessary to establish an embassy in Cuba, principally because there is already a significant diplomatic presence in Cuba," Earnest said. "There is an Interest Section there that represents the United States. So I don't know of any specific appropriations request that has been made. There may be one in the future, we'll see."

Earlier in the day, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave an impassioned speech promising to do all he could stop Obama's "New Course on Cuba." “We are going to have interesting discussions about how they are going to get an ambassador nominated and an embassy funded,” Rubio said. 

Rubio's parents fled Cuba in the 1950s and he has been a consistent voice for maintaining a hard line against the rule of the Castro brothers over the island. 

“Time and again, the Cuban government has manipulated every single concession this country has made to its advantage,” Rubio claimed. “The Cuban government will never allow changes on the island that threaten their grip on power.”

The United States does, in fact, operate a United States Interests Section in Havana. It is in the same building that housed the U.S. Embassy in Cuba before the communist revolution and the U.S. has been operating in the building since the 1970s. You can see a picture of the building here

If Rubio and other Republicans want to stop Obama from turning the US Interest Section, Havana into the US Embassy, Havana, they will have to attach defunding language to separate must pass legislation, just like they will have to do if they want to stop Obama's amnesty.

Asked by Fox News's Ed Henry if Obama was considering normalizing relations with North Korea on the same theory that "opening it up" would put more pressure on the regime to change their behavior, Earnest curtly said, "no."

Another Poll: Americans Say Tough CIA Interrogations After 9/11 Were Appropriate

After days of brow-furrowed, self-righteousness analysis from much of the national media over Senate Democrats' tendentious and dishonest "torture report," poll after poll has shown that the American people aren't eager to join the anti-CIA mob. The latest, from NBC/WSJ:

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Fewer than three in ten Americans are willing to second-guess the intelligence community's use of harsh techniques in questioning captured terrorists in the wake of 9/11's deadly attacks.  Most people's memories of the fear and chaos of that time are fresh enough to give the CIA the benefit of the doubt.  Plus, Dianne Feinstein's squad did themselves no favors by refusing to interview a single person at the CIA who oversaw or carried out the EIT program, an indefensible shortcoming exposed in this op/ed by a group of former high-ranking officials at the agency.  Among those they declined to consult is Jose Rodriguez, a 31-year CIA veteran who ran the agency's clandestine operations at the peak of his career, and who assumed a major counterterrorism role shortly after the devastating attacks of 2001.  Rodriguez will appear on my radio program this weekend, for the full hour.  I will post a partial transcript of our discussion here at Townhall next week.  Other highlights from the NBC/WSJ poll:

(1) President Obama's approval rating has rebounded over to (45/50), much better than other recent polls have shown.  His approval on the economy is slightly underwater, while he remains in deep trouble on foreign policy and immigration.

(2) "[T]he nation shows weariness of President Barack Obama , with more than 70% saying the next president should take a different approach from the current one," the WSJ writes, noting that Republicans now hold a very slight (40/38) edge on 'next president' preferences.

(3) Seventy-one percent of respondents agreed that voters sent Obama a message in November, but a 55 percent majority believes he hasn't received, or has actively ignored, that message.  Only 16 percent say he's changing his policies and behavior in response to Democrats' electoral beating.

I'll leave you with this data point from a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, revealing a significant GOP bounce following the party's resounding midterm victory:

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. The spike in the party’s standing comes after Republicans picked up nine seats to take control of the Senate, raised their numbers in the House to the highest level in more than half a century and added new governorships to its already clear majority. In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively. The improved standing reverses a lengthy period in which the public had given Republicans declining and, ultimately, historically low ratings.

Bloomberg has picked up on this trend as well.

WaPo/ABC News Poll: GOP Favorability Rises After Midterms

As Christine wrote today, Republican Martha McSally has won former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ congressional seat. Republicans now have 247 House seats; their largest majority since 1929. With the 2014 midterms now officially over, the GOP has another thing to be happy about–and their approval rating has gone up (via WaPo):

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party’s image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.

The improved standing reverses a lengthy period in which the public had given Republicans declining and, ultimately, historically low ratings. Successful elections often give political parties or candidates a boost, though sometimes those improved ratings prove to be a bounce rather than a sustained change.

Public impressions of the Democrats are now a bit worse than those of the Republicans and overall more negative than positive. More people gave the Democrats favorable ratings than they did just before the midterm elections — 44 percent compared with 39 percent. But the percentage rating the Democrats negatively was essentially unchanged at 50 percent, compared with 51 percent earlier.

As for trust in handling the major issues facing the nation, the economy, and immigration, Republicans are more trusted 43/39 on the “main problems;” 47/38 over Obama on the economy, and 48/39 on immigration.

If you break those questions down along gender lines, women trust Republicans more on immigration by a 49/40 margin. On the economy, women trust Republicans by a 48/39 margin–and handling the “main problems” facing our nation; women trust Republicans 45/38.

Women trust Republicans more on the key issues facing the nation. I think I hear the heads of the feminist left exploding.

Men also trust the GOP more on these issues, though only by a slim 40/39 margin on the vague “main problems” crosstab.

So, in the end, the GOP favorability ratings are up, the Democrats are down, and the "War on Women" appears to be dead as female voters are trusting Republicans more on these issues.

Oh, and Obama’s approval rating is at a dismal 41 percent.

"A Concession to a Tyranny": Marco Rubio Absolutely Blasts Obama's New Cuba Policy

Shortly after the news broke, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had some tough words for the president about his unilateral action to relax diplomatic relations with Cuba.

“No commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to democracy,” he said about the announcement. “In exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners – who could wind up in jail tomorrow morning if they once again take up the cause of freedom – and to allow the United Nations and the Red Cross to monitor conditions on the island.”

“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, on a lie,” he continued. “The lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. All this is going to do is give the Castro regime – which controls every aspect of Cuban life – the opportunity to manipulate these changes to perpetuate its sovereign power.”

He also argued this unilateral approach is a kind of capitulation to human rights abusers, a lopsided bargain that will ultimately make it harder to topple the regime.

“These changes will lead to legitimacy for a government that shamelessly, continuously abuses human rights,” he said. “But it will not lead to assistance for those whose rights are being abused. It is just another concession to a tyranny by the Obama administration rather than a defense of every universal and inalienable right that our country was founded on and stands for. In short, what these changes are going to do is they will tighten this regime’s grip on power for decades to come.”

Sen. Rubio, however, acknowledged he was “overjoyed” Alan Gross was a free man and back in United States safely after five years in captivity. Nonetheless, he called the new policy “willfully ignorant.”

“This president is the single worst negotiator we’ve had in the White House in my lifetime,” he said. “[H]e has basically given the Cuban government everything it asked for and received no assurances of any advances in democracy and freedom in return."

"Today by conceding to the oppressors, this president and this administration have let the people of Cuba down,” he added.

McSally (R) Wins Recount in Arizona CD-2, Officially Declared Winner

Martha McSally (R) has been officially declared the winner in Arizona's second congressional district by a razor-thin 167-vote margin over incumbent Rep. Ron Barber (D). This was the final race of the 2014 election that was yet to be decided, as Arizona law mandates a recount if an election is decided by fewer than 200 votes.

Member-elect McSally released the following statement thanking everyone who worked on her campaign and the people of southern Arizona:

"We're grateful to everyone who devoted their time and resources, especially during the extended vote and recount processes, to get us over the finish line," said McSally. "With the results of the recount now official, we can move forward as one community to bring Southern Arizonans the strong representation they deserve."

"There's no getting around that this was an incredibly close and hard-fought race. After what's been a long campaign season, it's time to come together and heal our community. That's why my focus will be on what unites us, not what divides us, such as providing better economic opportunity for our families and ensuring our country and community are kept safe."

"I sincerely thank Congressman Barber for his service over many years to Southern Arizona. I'll be seeking his input to continue strong constituent services and help ensure a smooth transition. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I know that we're a community dedicated and united in our love for Southern Arizona - And, together, we can make a positive difference."

McSally is a retired colonel who served in the Air Force. She was the first female fighter pilot to fly a combat mission and was the first female in U.S. history to command a fighter squadron in combat. Her victory puts the Republican majority in the House of Representatives at 247 to 188, a gain of 13 seats.

Editor's note: this post has been updated with the correct number of seats the Democrats have in the House of Representatives. They have 188, not 118.

So, Joe Biden Might Run For President In 2016

Joe Biden does not have the best track record when it comes to mounting presidential campaigns. He ran in the 1988 campaign, but dropped out after it was discovered that portions of his speech were similar to those given by UK Labour Leader Neil Kinnock. In 2007, he managed to clinch a whopping 1 percent in the Iowa Caucuses, but he’s now the Vice President of the United States; a role he reportedly revels in at the Obama White House.

Regardless, Politico reported back in October that there are some on his staff who are convinced he would run after 2012–and there are some who think otherwise. As for presidential ambitions regarding his various trips across the country, it’s very hard to read the tea leaves there as well:

He’s made appearances in Florida, South Carolina and New Hampshire, but they’ve been brief. Three days after Clinton headlined Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry last month, Biden jumped on a plane to Des Moines to join a dozen sisters kicking off their “Nuns on the Bus” cross-country voter registration and social-justice tour. His office said the trip was an official event, nothing to do with politics or Clinton’s visit. In Washington and in Iowa both, he came across as not wanting to leave Clinton unanswered in Iowa.

He’s worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic National Committee to coordinate some of his travel. Sometimes, people don’t know what he’s up to at all. When Biden arrived two weeks ago in Columbia, South Carolina, for a get-out-the-vote rally and state Democratic Party fundraiser — catching up with an old commitment to the DNC to do some voting rights events in the South — a number of key Washington operatives learned about the stop from news reports once he was already there.

Or Biden stops come together like this: Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley is friends with his son Beau from their work together as AGs, so her campaign calls Biden’s office directly to work out the campaign schedule that generated a fundraiser at the Banshee Pub in Cambridge. Or he’s in Los Angeles with one candidate for a House seat and another for California secretary of state, and jumps up to Portland for a walk through town with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that was most memorable for the unplanned but instantly viral photo of him with an ice cream cone, those aviator glasses and a fistful of $10 bills.

Biden’s not the kind of person to think much about things like a field director when making his decisions, and he appears to be working under the assumption that he’d be able to put together another late-breaking staff, like he did in 1987 and 2007. He toyed with the idea of a leadership PAC, but that never came together in large part due to concerns it would play too much into the prospective presidential narrative.

Biden tells a story he’s told before, a lesson he says he learned in his earliest days in the Senate, when candidates kept asking him his secret to winning.

Simple, Biden remembers saying.

“You have to figure out what’s worth losing over.”

Biden will be close to his mid-70s if he mounts another bid for the White House in 2016. He’s the vice president, a former U.S. Senator, and oodles of experience in public life. After his VP stint, Biden will probably slip into political and historical obscurity–along with the vast majority of U.S. Vice Presidents–after he leaves office. So, what does he have to lose? Nothing.

If he wins, he wins. If not, it’s one last hurrah in public life before retiring after decades of service. Whether you agree with his political positions in that regard is a different story. I’m pretty sure the vast majority of you haven’t taken too kindly to his liberalism; you’re not alone.

If he does run and challenges Hillary’s potential campaign to a debate, she would have to oblige him. While former Sen. Jim Webb thinks he can beat her, she could ignore him and starve him of oxygen, forcing Webb to drop out. With a former Vice President of the United States, that’s not an option.

Then, you get two candidates whose gaffes have been widely reported in the media on the same stage together. That’s quite the popcorn moment.

Biden, who’s seen as a good surrogate, could tap into the neo-populist mood with this pro-middle class messages, but the GOP actually won or was competitive with those voters. Another thing going against him is that Clinton is trouncing him in the polls. Yet, that didn’t stop Barack Obama, but Obama was also young; Biden is not.

At Politico’s recent Women Rule event, the vice president said he really has not made up his mind on the issue of running for the presidency (via the Hill):

"I honest to God haven't made up my mind,” Biden said…

The one thing that moves me — I think that I have the ability to bring the sides together,” he added.

Biden’s daughter Ashley appeared on stage with him at the event, and called his potential presidential aspirations a “family decision.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is far and away the Democratic presidential frontrunner, leading her rivals by more than 50 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

Obama To Unilaterally Normalize Relations With Cuba

President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba today, including opening an embassy in Cuba.

"We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests," Obama claimed, "And instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries."

Specifically, the White House took three major steps today as part of their "New Course on Cuba":

  1. Initiating discussions to reestablish diplomatic relations, including a U.S. embassy in Havana, and a Cuban embassy in the United States.
  2. A review, by the State Department, of Cuba's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.
  3. Relaxing of regulations to facilitate the flow of travel, commerce, and information between the United States and Cuba.

In conjunction with the "new direction for U.S. policy," the White House also announced the release of United States Agency for International Development subcontractor Alan Gross who had been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. The White House insisted that Gross's release was not related to the release of three Cuban spies held by the United States. Senior Administration Officials insisted that those three Cuban spies were traded for a "U.S. intelligence asset" that had been imprisoned in Cuba for 20 years.

Asked if the White House was planning on working with Congress to remove the embargo on Cuba, Senior Administration Officials stressed that was not the focus of today's announcement.

"Again, we're not focussed today on legislative action. We are focussed on what the president can do so he's not sought to initiate any process with respect to the lifting of the embargo," a Senior Administration Official said. "We're not focused today on calling on Congress to take any particular action, we're focussed on communicating this new direction for U.S. policy."

Obama's unilateral actions on Cuba today are just the latest in a series of unilateral actions he has taken without consent of Congress. Just last month Obama announced he would grant temporary amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States and he announced a deal to cut U.S. carbon emissions with China. His administration has also signaled he will not seek any input from Congress as Obama tries to broker a nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

Unless Republicans in Congress show they are willing to stop Obama's actions through the appropriations process, Americans can expect many many more unilateral executive actions over the nest two years.

"Senators should also make clear that they will not allow the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba to proceed until there have been changes on the island," The Heritage Foundation's Michael Gonzales advises. "And look into the possibility of using policy riders in the upcoming Department of Homeland Security appropriations debate in February and the fiscal year 2016 appropriations process to deny the president funds for setting up relations."

Surprise: Insurers Extend Another Obamacare Deadline, Costs to Spike in 2016

The law. It's working, you guys. It's working so well that one entire year into its full implementation, insurers feel compelled to extend yet another alleged deadline because the so-called 'back end' of the program's website is still a hot mess.  That big "re-branding" campaign can't come soon enough, in order to allow supporters to keep on highlighting Obamacare's unparalleled success:

Trying to head off a new round of consumer headaches with President Barack Obama's health care law, the insurance industry said Tuesday it will give customers more time to pay their premiums for January. America's Health Insurance Plans, the main industry trade group, says the voluntary steps include a commitment to promptly refund any overpayments by consumers who switched plans and may have gotten double-billed by mistake. Though the HealthCare.gov website is working far better this year, the industry announcement highlights behind-the-scenes technical issues between the government and insurers that have proven difficult to resolve. Last year's enrollment files were riddled with errors, and fixing those has been a painstaking process. As a result, renewing millions of current customers is not as easy as it might seem.

Renewals and logistics:

Renewing coverage each year is standard operating procedure for the industry, but 2015 is the first renewal year for the health law. The process involves a massive electronic data transfer from the government to insurers, happening right around the holidays. Insurers then have to use that data to generate new cards for their customers. Normally, premiums for January would be due by Dec. 31. The industry's grace period for 2015 could vary among different carriers, so consumers should check with their plan...Making matters more confusing, open enrollment actually runs for another two months, until Feb. 15. People enrolling by that date will get coverage starting March 1. Current customers can still make plan changes through Feb. 15. Based on early numbers, it's looking like the majority of the roughly 6.7 million current customers have opted to stay with the plans they have now and be automatically renewed Jan. 1.

The good news about automatic renewals from the administration's perspective is that the process puts a lot of coverage on autopilot.  At least in theory.  The problem for them is that with Healthcare.gov's back end still under construction, the 'autopilot' reconciliation machinery still isn't working properly. Those bugs and flaws have resulted in improper subsidy payments for an untold number of consumers, which could lead to a nightmarish tax season for those victims of federal incompetence. Another problem that will impact even more Americans results from "benchmark" plans changing in 2015, meaning that auto-re-enrollment will, in many cases, result in unexpected rate increases for unsuspecting customers.  Most new consumers selected these "baseline" plans last year, based on cost considerations -- but many of the most popular 2014 plans will experience double-digit premium increases in the new year, and are being supplanted by fresh, less-expensive 2015 baseline plans.  People who simply stick with their existing plan to avoid hassle will get slapped with higher bills; avoiding that unpleasantness requires switching plans again, which comes will all of the access/network headaches that have dogged many Obamacare customers.  Meanwhile, even as many Americans are experiencing higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs, some average rate increases aren't as steep as critics predicted.  That will change next year, argues economist Stephen Parente:

Americans visiting Healthcare.gov to purchase 2015 health-insurance plans are finding a nice surprise: Average premiums for the cheap “bronze” plans have increased only by 3.4% and premiums for the middle-of-the-road “silver” plans are rising by 5.8%, according to the American Action Forum. Where are the double-digit premium increases that so many predicted? Check back around this time in 2016. That’s when you’ll see the real spikes. The Affordable Care Act includes two temporary programs that make compliant health-care plans temporarily appear far cheaper than they are: Risk corridors and reinsurance. Both programs will expire on Jan. 1, 2017. By November 2016, consumers will know how that sunset will affect their plan’s premium. Risk corridors and reinsurance are simple concepts: They subsidize insurance companies with taxpayer money. With the former, the taxpayer is covering the difference when patients spend more on health care than insurance companies predicted...The taxpayer’s generosity allows insurance companies to hide the true costs of the plans. But this will likely end when both programs expire in two years. At the same time, the exemptions issued by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services—including the exemptions that allowed millions of consumers to keep noncompliant plans that would have been canceled—will also expire on New Year’s Day, 2017.

Millions of Americans are already feeling stymied by Obamacare's lack of affordability.  As rough as it's been for some, many experts predict things will only get worse as the law's pain-masking gimmicks expire.  How do you think these folks will feel upon discovering the "good" news that their costs are "only" going up by, say, six percent over last year's rates?

As Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber has admitted, Obamacare's "cost containment" promises were all about telling people "what they want to hear."  In reality, he explained, the law is an expensive wealth redistribution scheme, which "would not have passed" if advertised honestly.

At Community Forum, Buffalo Police Explain Patrols Are not Racist, They’re ‘Data-Driven’

Buffalo, NY is a more than 6-hour drive to New York City, where Eric Garner died at the hands of the New York Police Department. Yet, community members felt compelled to attend a local forum with police officers to try and bridge the relationship between authority and citizens.

This line pretty much sums up how it went:

“While the forum's setup was meant to avoid chaos, it didn't take long for things to deteriorate in to a shouting match.”

At one heated moment, an attendee asked Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda why it seemed like the police were most often present in African-American communities.

"It's not stereotyping, it's where we respond to complaints," Derenda said. "It's data-driven. Every day we look at where the crime is occurring, and where the reported crime is occurring. It's not White or Black, it's not anything, it's data. If you're reporting a crime or robbery in your neighborhood, or shootings are happening in your neighborhood, people want to see us in those neighborhoods."

However, that explanation didn’t stop some attendees from shouting, “I can’t breathe!” before leaving the forum, echoing the last words Garner uttered before dying in a police choke hold earlier this year.

I have a suggestion: Enough with the forums, enough with the protests. Let the police do their job. Fatal cases like Eric Garner and Michael Brown are tragic, but they are rare. The majority of the time, our authority figures are doing their darnedest to keep us safe, putting themselves in harm’s way so we can get home safely at night.

My friend told me she was at a dinner in downtown Washington, D.C. last week, when a group of "police brutality" protesters starting shouting at the diners inside. Can anyone tell me what this accomplishes? Whether blocking I-395 traffic or, in the most egregious examples, looting stores and committing arson, these loud and sometimes violent and dangerous disruptions do more harm than good. Even Michael Brown’s parents have asked for peace after a grand jury decided not to acquit the officer who killed their son in Ferguson, Missouri.

Chants of “F*** the police” do not honor anyone.

Bombshell Report: US, Cuba to "Normalize" Relations

This is an historic diplomatic breakthrough, or so it would seem:

American officials say the U.S. and Cuba will start talks to normalize full diplomatic relations as part of the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades.

Officials say the U.S. is also looking to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months. The moves are part of an agreement between the U.S. and Cuba that also includes the release of American Alan Gross and three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying.

This is happening:

No doubt this is some kind of quid pro quo agreement:

Sit tight for updates.

UPDATE: President Obama is going to make the announcement official at 12:00 EST. We will cover his remarks.

UPDATE: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) weighs in:

UPDATE: Very interesting:

UPDATE: At least one Democratic Senator is not happy about the news:

UPDATE: This is what "full diplomatic relations" looks like:

UPDATE: I might end my post on this note -- but we'll see:

UPDATE: I spoke too soon. This is worth noting:

UPDATE: As is this:


UPDATE: He's returned safely.

New Poll: Romney, Clinton Lead for 2016

Get ready folks, 2016 is here. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush officially announced yesterday that he is actively exploring the possibility of running for the White House and Florida Senator Marco Rubio is meeting with mega-donors.

But a new Fox News poll shows former Massachusetts governor and two time presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are the top choices of Republicans and Democrats for the next election.

First, the Republican side: 

Romney dominates the field for the 2016 Republican nomination. He comes in at 19 percent among self-identified Republicans, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 10 percent. No other candidates garner double-digit backing.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul each receive eight percent. Next, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker captures seven percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan each at six percent and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at five percent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (four percent), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (two percent), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (two percent), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (one percent) and former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum (one percent) each receive the backing of less than five percent of Republicans.

Voters who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement are most likely to back Paul (13 percent), Cruz (12 percent), Romney (11 percent) and Carson (10 percent).

The top choices among white evangelical Christians include Romney (14 percent), Paul (10 percent), Bush (9 percent) and Carson (9 percent).
And over to the Democrats:
On the Democratic side, Clinton is still 50 points ahead of her nearest rival -- even though support for her is down somewhat from previous polls. Clinton receives the backing of 62 percent of self-identified Democrats. That’s down from 64 percent in July and a high of 69 percent in April.

The support Clinton has lost since April appears to be going to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who captures 12 percent. That’s up from 9 percent in July -- and double the 6 percent she received in April. Vice President Joe Biden comes in close behind at 10 percent. All other possible Democratic candidates tested garner three percent or less.

While the Republican side is somewhat close in terms of decisions on candidates, Democrats aren't even forcing a competition between potential candidates. It becomes more clear every day that Clinton will be the nominee on the left side of the political aisle. That being said, if Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren decides to run (she has said repeatedly she won't), Clinton could be in trouble next year. 

Federal Judge on Obama's Illegal Immigration Executive Action: It's Unconstitutional

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Schwab has issued an opinion classifying President Obama's executive action on illegal immigration as unconstitutional based on a list of violations, including the separation of powers. 

The opinion was issued in United States vs Juarez-Escobar, a case in which an illegal immigrant was sentenced for deportation after being arrested for driving under the influence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The immigrant did not ask for relief through Obama's amnesty program since illegal immigrants with drunk driving convictions were not eligible for Obama's first amnesty, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and are not eligible for Obama's most recent amnesty either.

Schwab, not the defendant, sought guidance from the federal government to see if Juarez-Escobar qualified for Obama's latest amnesty. The government said no. 

Schwab then opined on Obama's latest amnesty anyway, writing, "On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced an Executive Action on immigration, which will affect approximately four million undocumented immigrants who are unlawfully present in the United States of America. This Executive Action raises concerns about the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government. This core constitutional issue necessitates judicial review to ensure that executive power is governed by and answerable to the law such that “the sword that executeth the law is in it, and not above it," Schwab wrote.

"President Obama contended that although legislation is the most appropriate course of action to solve the immigration debate, his Executive Action was necessary because of Congress’s failure to pass legislation, acceptable to him, in this regard," Schwab continued. "This proposition is arbitrary and does not negate the requirement that the November 20, 2014 Executive Action be lawfully within the President’s executive authority. It is not."

"This Executive Action “cross[es] the line,” constitutes “legislation,” and effectively changes the United States’ immigration policy. The President may only “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed . . . ”; he may not take any Executive Action that creates laws," he continued. "President Obama’s unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and therefore, is

Since the government never claimed the defendant qualified for Obama's amnesty, Schwab's opinion is not binding on the government in anyway.

Separately, twenty-four states have filed lawsuits against President Obama's executive action and a variety of polls show the majority of Americans are against the move.

Conn Carroll contributed to this report.