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Congress kicks off 2014 session

As lawmakers in Congress return to work this week for 2014, Democrats and Republicans are already less than 10 months away from key mid-term elections, as political concerns are certain to color the debates on Capitol Hill in coming months on a variety of issues.

The Senate will start things off this week by voting on the nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve; while her choice should receive strong bipartisan support, don't look for Congress to repeat that on a lot of other issues this year.

For example, right after that Monday evening vote on Yellen, Senate Democrats want to take the first procedural step on a bill that extends expiring long term jobless benefits.

Republicans have been cool to the idea, as some GOP lawmakers have demanded offsetting budget cuts to pay for the plan.

"Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year’s resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now," President Obama said in his weekend radio address.

Mr. Obama will certainly be able to use his State of the Union Address on January 28 to plug a number of domestic issues; while he says 2014 should be a "year of action" in the Congress - we'll see.

Expect both the President and Democrats to keep up the heat on Republicans over immigration reform legislation; at some point, Speaker John Boehner seems likely to bring a bill to the House floor on the issue, but the details still aren't clear.

As for Republicans, a centerpiece of their legislative agenda in 2014 will certainly be oversight - and continued opposition - to the Obama health law.

GOP lawmakers will bring a bill to the House floor this week dealing with security worries on the healthcare.gov website.

But there is no timetable for any GOP plan that would fully repeal the current the President's signature legislative achievement.

GOP activists are convinced that the health law could well be their ticket to victory in the mid-term elections; time will tell whether that issue will remain as troublesome for Democrats and the President in early November.

Regardless of what Republicans do in Congress, action by the U.S. Supreme Court will keep the health law in the news, as arguments are expected in March on a challenge to the law's contraceptive coverage mandate; the Court was asked last week by the feds to lift a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of that mandate.

When it comes to spending, GOP lawmakers would also like to focus on budget cutting - but it's not as clear if they will be able to push ahead with significant reforms in government spending in the wake of last month's budget deal.

Since the GOP won back the House in 2010, House Republicans have not come close to passing the dozen yearly spending bills that set out priorities in the Executive Branch, though their record is better than the big "zero" that have been approved in the Senate.

Will 2014 be any different?

One thing lawmakers must approve by January 15 - next week - is a giant omnibus funding bill for the rest of this fiscal year; we may get the details of that measure later this week.

There will be another battle over the debt limit in coming months - President Obama has said he won't negotiate on any budget changes, while Republicans say reforms are a must for any debt limit increase.

As for the elections, it's hard to know what this year will bring. Both sides are demanding change, but at this point Republicans are strongly favored to hold the House, while the future of the Senate remains a tossup.

Already, 22 House members won't be back a year from now, as 13 are running for another office and 9 are retiring - 16 of the House 22 are GOP lawmakers.

In the Senate, 6 Senators have decided not to run for re-election; four are Democrats and two are Republicans. Most of the trouble for Democrats comes for those running for re-election, as the GOP has a number of chances to grab back seats in 2014.

The best chance for a GOP pickup in the Senate right now seems to be in South Dakota; Democrats think their best chance to win a GOP seat may be in Georgia.

Buckle up. It should be a fun year.

Read More

News

  • American Airlines announced Sunday it will cancel more flights that were scheduled on the carrier's fleet of Boeing 737 Max planes. This could go on for a month, as the planes remain grounded worldwide after two deadly crashes and concerns over safety features. >> Read more trending news  American Airlines said it is still waiting to hear back from regulating authorities like the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board that would allow the 24 Boeing 737 Max aircraft in their fleet to resume flying. A spokesperson said the airline proactively decided to cancel 90 flights each day through April 24, which is an extension of the 85 flights that have been canceled every day since the aircraft was grounded. Initially, the cancellations were scheduled to last through March 28.  The advance cancellation is supposed to give customers better rebooking options.  American Airlines said it will be contacting customers affected directly by email or telephone but, not all flights previously scheduled on a Max will be canceled. Officials said they are working to substitute other aircrafts.  It is still important to note, if your flight was not scheduled to be on a Max, you still may be affected.  The airline said it will be using different aircrafts to cover Max routes. The goal, they said, is to impact the smallest number of people.  'Safety is the No. 1 thing. If I got bumped off my flight, even though I’m a paying passenger, oh, absolutely, it would be very, very frustrating. After finding out what you're telling me, I'm definitely going to make sure my flight is not canceled,' traveler Linda Wahe said.  'I mean, that's a big deal for travelers. You know, you put them in a bad spot if they need to get somewhere quick, but then again, safety. You want to make sure while you're in the air that safety is the main concern,' traveler Zachary James said. 'Just good for them to look out for them and protecting the consumer, that shows the passengers that safety is on their minds, so that's good for American Airlines to be doing that.'  American Airlines said if your flight was canceled and you do not want to rebook, you may request a full refund.
  • Special counsel Robert Mueller delivered the results of an investigation into possible collusion in the 2016 presidential election to Attorney General William Barr on Friday, ending a two-year saga that, at times, pitted the president against his own Justice Department.  On Sunday, the Department of Justice delivered a summary to the House Judiciary Committee.  >> Barr: Mueller found no evidence of Trump-Russia conspiracy Update 7:00 p.m. EDT March 24: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement on Attorney General William Barr’s summary of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report. Pelosi and Schumer said Barr’s letter “raises as many questions as it answers.” The pair are calling for the Justice Department to release the full report. “The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public,” Schumer said on social media. The statement calls into question Barr’s ability to be objective about the Mueller report. “Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” according to Pelosi and Schumer’s statement. “And most obviously, for the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” the statement said. Update 6:00 p.m. EDT March 24: The Mueller report is divided into two parts, according to the summary Attorney General William Barr sent to Congress Sunday. The first part of the report describes the Mueller team’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and outlines Russia’s attempts to influence the election, including the crimes committed by people associated with the Russian government, Barr said. A primary focus for the Mueller team was whether any Americans, and specifically associates of President Donald Trump, worked with the Russians in interfering with the election, which would be a federal crime. “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” according to the Mueller report. >> Related: Mueller report: Trump claims 'Complete and Total’ exoneration The second part of the report, according to Barr’s summary, focuses on whether Trump obstructed justice.  The Mueller report leaves “unresolved whether the president’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction,” Barr said in his summary. “While the report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” on obstruction allegations, Barr said. Mueller left a decision on obstruction of justice charges against Trump to the Justice Department. Barr confirmed he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that Trump’s conduct did not constitute a crime. >> Related: What is in the Mueller report? Update 5:20 p.m. EDT March 24: The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler, responded to President Donald Trump’s statement Sunday afternoon that the Mueller report offered him “complete and total exoneration.” Nadler disputed Trump’s characterization of the report, clarifying what Mueller actually said in the report. “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,’” Nadler said Nadler also confirmed his plan to call Attorney General William Barr to testify before the committee. “In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before (the House Judiciary Committee) in the near future, Nadler said on Twitter. Update 5:10 p.m. EDT March 24: Attorney General William Barr detailed the resources special prosecutor Robert Mueller used during his two-year investigation in his summary of the report to Congress. Barr said the Mueller team “employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.” Barr said Mueller’s report also does not recommend any further indictments. Update 4:50 p.m. EDT March 24: President Donald Trump and members of his administration feel vindicated by the Mueller report. Trump just sent his first tweet on the report since Robert Mueller sent it to the Justice Department on Friday. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!,” the president wrote. His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued this statement after Attorney General William Barr sent a summary of Mueller’s report to Congress Sunday afternoon. 'The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction. AG Barr and DAG Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction. The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.” Update 4:15 p.m. EDT March 24: The summary included these points: -The investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller did not find President Donald Trump or any of his campaign team coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, according to a summary Attorney General William Barr sent to Congress Sunday. -The probe also did not find sufficient evidence that the president illegally obstructed justice, but the Mueller team stopped short of exonerating the president, according to The Associated Press.  -Barr’s summary said Mueller did not reach any conclusions on the president’s conduct. -Barr also said in the summary that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein did not consider constitutional questions relating to criminal charges against a sitting president in reaching their conclusion, the AP reported. UPDATE 3:30 p.m. EDT March 24: Rep. Jerry Nadler said the Department of Justice issued a letter saying it is “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement” in terms of the findings in the report. Related: What is in the Mueller report? Nadler tweeted quotes from the letter, which can be read in full here. UPDATE March 24 3:10 p.m. EDT: Congress has been told to expect a Mueller report summary with in the hour, The Associated Press reported, according to two unnamed sources familiar with plans from the Justice Department. UPDATE 2:30 p.m. EDT: President Donald Trump has been relatively quiet leading up to the release of the report, according to The Associated Press. Sources not authorized to speak publicly claim Trump is relieved no new indictments have come from the probe. The AP reported that Trump has been in Palm Beach, Florida, over the weekend, golfing and spending time with family. He’s also been less engaged on Twitter, only posting “Good Morning, Have A Great Day!” and “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Sunday morning. UPDATE 9 p.m. EDT March 23:  Attorney General William Barr scoured special counsel Robert Mueller’s confidential report on the Russia investigation with his advisers Saturday, deciding how much Congress and the American public will get to see about the two-year probe into President Donald Trump and Moscow’s efforts to elect him, according to The Associated Press. Barr was on pace to release his first summary of Mueller’s findings on Sunday, people familiar with the process said. UPDATE 1:50 p.m. EDT March 23: Congress will not receive a summary of Mueller’s findings  Saturday, multiple media outlets have reported. The Washington Post cited a “senior Justice Department official” for this information, while Politico tweeted that “two sources familiar with the discussion” confirmed the news. President Trump flew Friday to his Mar-a-Lago resort with senior White House officials and lawyers, The Washington Post reported. Original report: The delivery of the report to Barr officially concludes the probe that has cast a shadow over the Trump administration from its earliest days. >> Read more trending news  Trump, who flew to Florida on Friday, has not yet commented on the report. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said the White House would not be seeing the report -- at least not for now. Barr, in a one-page letter, told Congressional leaders he would be able to advise them of the “principal conclusions” of the report as soon as this weekend. In the letter, Barr confirmed that there was no requests made by Mueller to take a specific action – such as subpoenaing a witness – that was not granted by the DOJ. “There were no such instances during the Special Counsel’s investigation.' Related: Read the letter William Barr sent to members of Congress It is up to Barr how much of the report Congress or the public will be able to see. Trump has said he would not care if the report was released to the public. According to an anonymous DOJ source, there will be no further indictments born out of the investigation, meaning Mueller’s work is done. Related: Who has Robert Mueller already indicted in his investigation? Since the investigation began in May of 2017, Mueller’s team of prosecutors has indicted or accepted plea deals from 35 people. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, issued a joint statement, saying “it is imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress. . . . The American people have a right to the truth.” The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced on Instagram that he is retiring from football following the team's Super Bowl LIII win, ending his historic nine-year NFL career. >> Read more trending news  Gronkowski was selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Patriots, the team he spent his entire professional career with, following his collegiate career at Arizona. He quickly became a favorite target of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, hauling in 10 touchdowns on 42 receptions throughout his rookie campaign. He followed that up with a historic season, starting all 16 of the team's games in 2011 while compiling 17 touchdowns on 90 receptions for 1,327 yards. His season total for receiving yards stood tall in the record books until the 2018 season, where two tight ends surpassed the mark. Gronkowski battled injuries for multiple seasons throughout his career, but still managed to put together double-digit touchdown totals in five of his nine seasons in the league, the most by a tight end in NFL history. He also set the team record for overall touchdowns in his career, surpassing Stanley Morgan in both overall touchdowns and receiving touchdowns. The tight end won three Super Bowls in his career, helping the Patriots take down the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. He was also a part of the Super Bowl LI roster that put together an incredible comeback to win against the Atlanta Falcons, but did not play due to injury. >> Related: Mass. woman awaiting heart, kidney transplant meets Gronk The thing most Patriots fans will remember about Gronkowski, though, will be his personality. An ever-charismatic enigma, Gronkowski was a memorable quote machine, winning the hearts of fans around the country with his persona off the field. >> Related: Rob Gronkowski shaves his head for kids with cancer at Buzz Off event Whether it was a Dunkin' commercial with David Ortiz, appearances in movies, memorable moments during championship parades or his hilarious thoughts in press conferences and interviews, Gronkowski gained quite the reputation around New England with all of his antics off the field. Gronkowski also had an impact on the community when he wasn't dominating on the football field, winning the Ron Burton Community Service Award in 2016, named after the first player drafted by the team. Burton was known as a community leader, and the team said his 'widespread charitable work was a model for how a Patriots player can make an impact off the field.' >> Related: Gronk announces he will play for the Patriots this season He also participated in many community events throughout his time in New England, and frequently 'buzzed off' his hair for kids with cancer at events during his summers. Gronkowski faced a lot of questions later in his career as injuries piled up, with retirement rumors swirling following the 2017 season.  However, Gronkowski decided to return to the field for the 2018 season, with his performance not meeting what many Patriots fans were used to throughout his career. His targets went down, he didn't find the end zone as much and things had changed. Following the season, Gronkowski decided he had done enough, wrapping up his career in a Patriots uniform with the final decision to hang up the cleats. With a faulty back and a body that's gone under the knife countless times over the last 15 years, Gronkowski is now forced to close the book on a Hall of Fame-worthy career. >> Related: Report: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski to consider retirement again after playoffs From here on out, Gronkowski will enjoy an eternal spot as one of the league's all-time greats, a three-time Super Bowl champion and an unforgettable cog in New England's championship machine.
  • President Donald Trump said Sunday the release of a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into possible collusion and Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election completely exonerated him of collusion and obstruction.  >> Read more trending news  “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION,” Trump tweeted Sunday.  >>Read Mueller report: DOJ releases summary U.S. Attorney General William Barr released the four-page letter Sunday.  Barr wrote that the special counsel stated 'while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
  • A brief summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was released Sunday.  >> Read more trending news  Here is the four-page letter Attorney General William Barr sent to members of Congress.
  • Two naked mannequins, part of a display placed in protest by a man in a dispute with the city over the height of his fence, were stolen. >> Read more trending news  Jason Windus was told by city officials his 6-foot fence was in violation of city ordinance and he had to lower it to 3 feet, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The city said someone complained about it. Windus said he was building the fence so his dogs could go in his backyard. Windus acquiesced and lowered the fence but he also added a garden party attended by five naked mannequins. Four of the dummies were seated on wicker furniture. Another was standing with shamrocks covering its breasts. 'They wanted me to tear down my fence to see inside my yard, and now they get to,' Windus said. He left a handwritten note atop a wooden barrel with a note that reads: 'Reserved seat for the nosey neighbor that complained about my fence to the city.' The city had not commented on the display or the theft, KGO reported. The Associated Press contributed to this report.