- Created on 28 January 2013
(CNN) -- The emerging immigration reform plan from a group of bipartisan senators, set to be announced Monday, is the product of a months-long process that began after this November's election, which saw overwhelming Latino support for President Barack Obama.
A source familiar with the plan's development told CNN Monday that the process began right after the election with a call from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to Democrat Chuck Schumer, proposing they re-start their work on a comprehensive immigration bill that had broken down in 2010.
Those 2010 efforts drew fire from all sides, with the progressive publication The American Prospect at one point calling their plan "ridiculous" and GOP party committees in Graham's home state of South Carolina censuring him for his congressional votes on immigration. Talks eventually stalled.
In their November phone call, Graham told Schumer that fellow Republican Sen. John McCain also wanted to be involved this time. McCain was an early supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, but backed away from pushing a path to citizenship after his position hurt him with GOP primary voters during his run for president in 2008.
Soon after Schumer and Graham's conversation, a core group of six senators formed, meeting five times in Schumer and McCain's Capitol Hill offices. That group included Schumer, Graham and McCain, along with Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, and Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate.
Two other senators - Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado - attended some of those meetings, but not all of them, and were the last to sign onto the proposal, which is set to be announced at a press conference Monday afternoon.
The eight lawmakers' proposal includes provisions for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, and guest worker and employment verification systems.
At their first meeting, the senators established a timetable for themselves: create a framework for immigration reform by the end of January, write the more detailed text of a bill by March, and pass the legislation in the Senate by the end of July.
That schedule would allow the Republican-controlled House of Representatives enough time to work through the bill so that President Barack Obama could sign it into law by the end of the year - avoiding any overlap with the 2014 midterm elections.
Debate on the measure in the House is still a far way off, though a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said Monday "The Speaker welcomes the work of leaders like Sen. Rubio on this issue, and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal in the coming days."
The Senate group's last meeting was January 23, which was followed by several days of working through certain details of the plan. On Sunday, Schumer called the president to tell him the group had created an immigration reform framework, and was planning to announce the measure on Monday.
That's one day ahead of Obama's own immigration push, slated to come during a speech in Las Vegas Tuesday. The source who provided the details of how the plan came about said the Senators timed their announcement to give the president's speech more "oomph."
The source also revealed that the White House has been working on its own immigration reform bill - an unusual move for the executive branch - that they were planning to ask Sen. Patrick Leahy to introduce in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs.
The source said if the White House does push their own bill, it would only serve as a "fallback" to the bill pushed by the eight senators to make clear they have a "contingency plan" if the bipartisan process breaks down.
So what are the potential sticking points? The source pointed to still-unsettled items in the bipartisan framework released Monday, which lacked specific details on how border security would be bolstered and how a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the United States would work.
Senators still need to decide whether border security measures would be determined by boots on the ground or drones, or a combination of both, and whether any final decision would be subject to assessment by an administration official.
And on the path to citizenship, the senators must determine a compromise between the plan advanced by Rubio, which would not increase the number of permanent resident cards - often called "green cards" -- available, and the Democrats' preference, which would increase the number of permanent resident slots for the eleven million undocumented immigrants who are stuck waiting for legal status.
- Created on 28 January 2013
Once again, Georgia lawmakers are trying to get a law passed to keep drivers from yakking on their cell phones while they drive.
Rep. Rahn Mayo, (D) of Decatur, who proposed law, aims to stop people from using cell phones while driving in the state, but would not limit drivers from hands-free devices, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
"It's going to save lives," Mayo told the Chronicle.
Mayo has been in a two-year fight to collect enough votes in the House to move the bill over to the Senate. Mayo hopes the latest version of the bill will make it through the legislature and onto Governor Nathan Deal's desk.
The most recent Georgia driving law already restricts drivers who are 17 and younger from using cell phones completely while driving and bans adults from texting while driving.
- Created on 24 January 2013
(CNN) -- The U.S. military is dropping its longstanding exclusion of women from combat units, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Thursday, calling it a recognition of the reality on the battlefield.
"The fact is, they have become an integral part of our ability to perform our mission, and for more than a decade of war they have demonstrated courage and skill and patriotism," Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. American servicemen and women are already "fighting and they're dying together, and the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality."
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recounted a foray onto the streets of Baghdad as commander of an armored division in the early days of the war in Iraq.
"I slapped the turret gunner on the leg and I said, 'Who are you?' And she leaned down and said, I'm Amanda.' And I said, 'Ah, OK,' " Dempsey said.
"So, female turret-gunner protecting division commander. It's from that point on that I realized something had changed, and it was time to do something about it."
About 203,000 women are in the active-duty military, including 69 generals and admirals. Despite the official ban on combat, which dates back to 1994, women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan often found themselves engaged in firefights.
Women made up 67 of the nearly 3,500 Americans lost in hostile fire in Iraq and 33 of the 1,700-plus killed in combat in Afghanistan; more than 600 in Iraq and 300 in Afghanistan were wounded.
The Pentagon loosened the restrictions in 2012, and Panetta said the result "has been very positive."
"If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job -- and let me be clear, I'm not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job -- if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation" he said.
Dempsey said Thursday's announcement would be implemented "over time and with careful analysis." But he said the service chiefs were unanimous in their support for the move.
Officials told CNN on Wednesday that not every position will open all at once. Once the policy is changed, the Department of Defense will enter what is being called an "assessment phase," in which each branch of service will examine all its jobs and units not currently integrated and then produce a timetable for integrating them.
The Army and Marine Corps, especially, will be examining physical standards and gender-neutral accommodations within combat units. Every 90 days, the service chiefs will have to report on their progress.
Dempsey said the services can still recommend closing a particular specialty or unit to women -- but "They have to explain why, and I think there will be the right amount of scrutiny on that."
Earlier this month, the Army opened the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to women, and it has begun recruiting female pilots and crew chiefs. The Navy has put its first female officers on submarines in the past year, and certain female ground troops have been attached to combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The move is one of the last significant policy decisions made by Panetta, who is expected to leave in mid-February. It is not clear where former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the nominated replacement, stands, but officials say he was apprised of Panetta's announcement.
Panetta is setting the goal of January 2016 for all assessments to be complete and women to be integrated as much as possible, a senior defense official said Wednesday.
"It will take a while to work out the mechanics in some cases. We expect some jobs to open quickly, by the end of this year. Others, like special operations forces and infantry, may take longer," the official said.
But the announcement drew an early cheer from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who served in Iraq as an officer in her state's National Guard.
"The first two women who earned Silver Stars since World War II, one was a military police sergeant. Another was a medic," Gabbard told CNN ahead of Thursday's announcement. "And they both were operating on the front lines per se, under fire, under extreme duress, shoulder to shoulder with their male and female counterparts and exhibiting great courage and heroism and saving the lives of their brothers and sisters."
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who spent six years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, said he supports lifting the ban on women serving in combat, pointing out women are already serving in harm's way. But he said the move should not fundamentally change the military.
"As this new rule is implemented, it is critical that we maintain the same high standards that have made the American military the most feared and admired fighting force in the world -- particularly the rigorous physical standards for our elite special forces units," McCain said in a statement Wednesday.
Gabbard said she agreed with McCain that physical standards shouldn't be compromised, but added, "If women are in an ability to meet those standards, they should be allowed to serve."
The Pentagon must notify Congress of each job or unit as it is sent up to the secretary to be opened to women. Then the Defense Department must wait 30 days while Congress is in session before implementing the change.
It is a marked difference from the way the military ended the exclusion of gays serving openly, or the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In that case, there were no stipulations attached to openly gay service members. There was no staggered approach that integrated openly gay troops into units. It was instead done all at once, across the board.
The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Defense, charging that combat exclusion is unfair and outdated, harms America's safety and prevents women from receiving training and recognition for their work. The plaintiffs, who include women awarded Purple Hearts, say the exclusion places them at a disadvantage for promotion.
The ACLU said was thrilled with Panetta's announcement.
"But we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts," Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project, said in the statement.
- Created on 26 January 2013
Heroic Newark, New Jersey mayor Cory Booker once again came to the rescue; this time, saving a freezing dog left on the doorstep by its owner, reports the Daily Mail.
“This is brutal weather, this dog is shaking really bad and you just can’t leave your dogs out here on a day like this and go away and expect them to be OK,’ Booker told an ABC news cr
- Created on 24 January 2013
(CNN) -- On one side were pegboard panels mounted with various assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons -- including a Bushmaster similar to the one used in last month's Newtown school massacre.
Behind the stage stood police officers supporting a renewed ban on such firepower. One by one, victims of gun violence told their brief stories and expressed support for a new federal ban being proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein on some assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.
Almost six weeks after the Connecticut shooting rampage that killed 20 first graders, Feinstein said she planned to introduce her measure later Thursday, with Reps. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado doing the same in the House.
Feinstein's proposal would upgrade an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and also outlaw ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
She said the goal is to "dry up the supply of these weapons over time."
"These massacres don't seem to stop," the California Democrat lamented, listing notorious rampages of past years known by the lone name of their locations -- Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson and Oak Creek.
"We should be outraged at how easy it is" for attackers to get hold of the semi-automatic weapons or large-capacity magazines used in those slaughters, Feinstein told the event at the U.S. Capitol that she organized.
Her legislation is opposed by the nation's powerful gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association. That means that despite a push by the White House and Democrats for tougher gun control steps, Feinstein's full measure is given little chance of winning congressional approval.
In a statement on Thursday, the NRA said that Feinstein "has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades."
"The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach," the organization added.
In a sign of the gun lobby's influence, a nine-day sports and outdoor show scheduled to take place in Pennsylvania next month was postponed Thursday because the NRA withdrew its support over the decision by organizers to ban the display of "modern sporting rifles" -- the kind of semi-automatic weapons targeted by Feinstein's proposal.
At her Washington event, Feinstein acknowledged that enacting a ban was "really an uphill road," adding: "If anyone asks if we can win this, the answer is we don't know, because it's really uphill."
She then made a plea for people to call their senators and House members to declare "enough is enough," adding that a mobilized public is "stronger than the gun lobby."
Later Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden made a similar appeal in an online discussion on Google, saying: "Make your voices heard."
He insisted that a reasonable ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as strengthening background checks, presented no threat to the constitutional right to bear arms.
"It's not about keeping bad guns out of the hands of good people," Biden said. "It's about keeping all guns out of the hands of bad people."
President Barack Obama called for renewing the assault weapons ban as part of his package of gun control proposals announced earlier this month in response to the December 14 Newtown school massacre and overall gun violence in America.
Feinstein's measure would stop the sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of more than 100 specialty firearms and certain semi-automatic rifles, as well as limiting magazines to 10 rounds or less, she said. Not all of the weapons in the bill meet the technical definition of assault weapons.
The restrictions would not apply to guns owned before enactment of any law. Feinstein noted her proposal exempts from the ban more than 2,000 models used for hunting or sporting purposes.
"They are by make and model exempted from the legislation," she said, adding that the old ban had 375 such exemptions.
Those exemptions were an apparent effort to garner support for the measure from conservative Democrats and others expected to face fierce lobbying by the NRA and constituents.
Supporters of more gun control acknowledge the constitutional right to bear arms, but argue that rifles capable of firing multiple rounds automatically or semi-automatically exceed the reasonable needs of hunters and other gun enthusiasts.
They also contend that high-capacity ammunition magazines provide the capability for mass shootings such as the Newtown massacre.
Opponents contend the Second Amendment forbids the government from this type of limit on weapon ownership by citizens.
They worry that such a weakening of gun rights would signal a shift that would leave citizens defenseless against criminals and, some also argue, against potential future government tyranny or abuse. Instead, the NRA has called for increasing armed guards at schools to protect students.
Speakers at the event organized by Feinstein rejected arguments that anyone beyond the military or law enforcement officers needed such firepower.
"How are you going to hunting with something like that?" asked Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, pointing to the assault weapons displayed to his left. "You kill something, there's nothing left to eat."
Continuing bloodshed on the nation's streets -- with dozens dying every day from gun violence -- should be enough evidence to overcome the past inability to get gun control legislation enacted, he argued.
"If the slaughter of 20 babies does not capture and hold your attention, then I give up because I don't know what else will," Ramsey continued, thrusting a pointed finger for emphasis.
At Feinstein's request, people who were injured or lost loved ones to gun violence, including several from the Virginia Tech massacre, then offered their support for her efforts.
Some told of losing a parent or child. Others described how attackers inflicted carnage so quickly.
Pam Simon, a staff member to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, said she was a few feet away from the congresswoman on the day both were shot outside a Tucson grocery store.
"On that day, 30 bullets were delivered in less than 30 seconds," Simon said.
Some of the weapons on display Thursday are currently against the law in the District of Columbia, and Democratic sources told CNN that Feinstein coordinated with police on being able to have the guns there.
NBC's David Gregory was recently investigated for holding a banned ammunition magazine on the network's "Meet the Press" program broadcast from Washington. No charges were brought in that case.
Obama's proposals include expanding and strengthening background checks on gun buyers to ensure all sales include screening to prevent weapons from going to criminals and the mentally ill.
While the gun lobby has indicated support for some improvements in background checks, it remains opposed to other steps, saying they won't prevent criminals from getting weapons.
Instead, gun advocates urge tougher enforcement of existing laws and making criminals serve their full sentences.
Biden led a panel assembled by Obama in December to examine gun control steps after the Newtown shootings, which sparked a fierce public debate over how to prevent such mass killings. Biden's recommendations formed the basis of the package of proposals Obama announced this month.
A recent CNN/Time Magazine/ORC International poll indicated that Americans generally favor stricter gun control, but they don't believe that stricter gun laws alone would reduce gun violence.
In announcing his gun control package, Obama also signed executive actions that call for tougher enforcement of existing laws and require federal agencies to provide data for background checks.
New York state recently enacted a series of new gun regulations, the nation's first since the Newtown shootings. Ten other states are reviewing some form of related action.
The issue is among the most politically divisive in the country, as demonstrated by the decision by Reed Exhibitions to postpone the nine-day Eastern Sport and Outdoor Show scheduled to start February 2 in Harrisburg.
On Tuesday, the NRA withdrew its support for the show due to the decision by organizers to ban modern sporting rifles from exhibition.
"We had called on Reed Exhibitions to reconsider their decision; unfortunately they have steadfastly refused to do so," an NRA statement said. "As a result, the NRA will not be participating in the upcoming show in Harrisburg or in any other shows hosted by Reed Exhibitions that maintain this policy."
In announcing Thursday that the show was off, a Reed Exhibitions official said the intent of excluding "certain products" was to focus on hunting and fishing traditions of the event.
"It has become very clear to us after speaking with our customers that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year's show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment," said Chet Burchett, the company's president for the Americas.
"It is unfortunate that in the current emotionally charged atmosphere this celebratory event has become overshadowed by a decision that directly affected a small percentage of more than 1,000 exhibits showcasing products and services for those interested in hunting and fishing," he added.
CNN's Halimah Abdullah, Kevin Bohn and Todd Sperry contributed to this report.