The Obama administration's plan to force new reporting requirements on thousands of gun dealers near the Mexico border is under fire from members of his own party. (AP)By
By Stephen Clark
Oxon Hill, Maryland (CNN)By Peter Hamby
Oxon Hill, Maryland (CNN)The Republican National Committee tossed out controversy-plagued chairman Michael Steele Friday and tapped Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus to lead the debt-ridden party organization into the 2012 presidential election cycle.
Priebus remains largely unknown to Washington's political class but is now tasked with rebuilding the committee's damaged relationship with deep-pocketed GOP donors and raising hundreds of millions of dollars to compete with President Obama's re-election campaign.
The RNC also faces a more immediate challenge: retiring more than $21 million in debt leftover from the 2010 election cycle.
The soft-spoken Milwaukee attorney oversaw a banner election year for Republicans in Wisconsin and is a close friend and political adviser to Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson, but he is perhaps better known within the Beltway for his ties to the embattled Steele.
Priebus managed Steele's successful campaign in 2009 and went on to serve as RNC General Counsel, but he resigned the post in December to launch his own bid for the chairmanship after some arm-twisting by Steele critics eager to find a competent committee insider to replace their gaffe-prone leader.
"I am here to earn the trust and support of each and every one of you," Priebus said, addressing the RNC following his win. "I am going to start working right now as your chairman. We all recognize that there is a steep hill here ahead of us, and the only way we will be able to move forward is if we're all together."
Priebus said the RNC's top priority should be to ensure that the GOP's presidential nominee in 2012 "has the organization in place to beat Barack Obama."
His path to victory lasted four hours and was hardly the drama-free exercise that his supporters had hoped for at the outset of the RNC's Winter Meeting, held this week at the Gaylord National Hotel just outside Washington.
The voting process, in which the winner must collect a majority of 85 votes from the 168-member committee, lasted seven rounds.
Priebus led his opponents from the outset but hit a ceiling of roughly 50 votes after four series of votes at the Gaylord Hotel complex just outside.
That left the rest of the field - former Bush administration official Maria Cino, former Missouri GOP Chairwoman Ann Wagner and Michigan National Committeeman Saul Anuzis - rushing into private rooms to discuss possible deals with rivals.
Their backers on the committee, meanwhile, worked the room whipping up votes, but no candidate managed to build up a bloc of support to match Priebus.
Cino, whose bid was supported by House Speaker John Boehner, picked up a boost from the anybody-but-Priebus camp before the fifth round when Steele dropped out and urged his delegates to back her.
Steele earned a standing ovation after delivering a valedictory from the stage.
"I really thank you for the chairmanship of this party, for the two years that I have had and at this time I will step aside for others to lead," he said. "But in so doing I hope you all appreciate the legacy I leave, despite the noise. Despite the difficulties, we won."
Immediately after the endorsement, rumors shot throughout the hotel ballroom that Steele, who had little relationship with Cino prior to Friday's vote, had cut a deal with Boehner in exchange for his support.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel admitted that his team had spoken with Steele about endorsing Cino, but told CNN there was no "quid pro quo deal."
"Boehner has been pretty public about his endorsement, so I think it's fair to say it came up when our folks spoke with [Steele]," the House Speaker's spokesman said in an e-mail.
By Nick Wing
Eric Fuller, 63, who was struck by a bullet in the hail of gunfire in Tucson that killed six and wounded 13 on Saturday, claimed Thursday that conservative figureheads such as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Sharron Angle were to blame for the violence in Arizona.
"How many more demented people are out there? It looks like Palin, Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest got their first target," Fuller, a former campaigner for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), told Democracy Now.
"Their wish for Second Amendment activism has been fulfilled -- senseless hatred leading to murder, lunatic-fringe anarchism, subscribed to by John Boehner, mainstream rebels with vengeance for all, even nine-year-old girls," he added, reading from comments he said he had written down while being treated for his wounds.
Fuller was taking part in Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" meet-and-greet when he was shot in the back of the knee and grazed in the back.
In the wake of Saturday's shooting, the debate over the need for possible self- or legally-imposed limits on political rhetoric has largely revolved around criticism of language used by Palin, Beck, Angle and other conservatives, a contention that some on both sides of the aisle have vehemently rejected.
As if states did not have enough on their plates getting their shaky finances in order, a new bill is coming due — from the federal government, which will charge them $1.3 billion in interest this fall on the billions they have borrowed from Washington to pay unemployment benefits during the downturn.
The interest cost, which has been looming in plain sight without attracting much attention, represents only a sliver of the huge deficits most states will have to grapple with this year But it comes as states are already cutting services, laying off employees and raising taxes. And it heralds a larger reckoning that many states will have to face before long: what to do about the $41 billion they have borrowed from the federal government to help them pay benefits to millions of unemployed people, a debt that federal officials say could rise to $80 billion.
The states, when they borrowed the money, hoped that the economy would have turned around by the time the first interest payments came due, or that future Congresses might loosen the terms. But the economy did not turn around in time and the new Congress, dominated by Republicans determined to shrink the size of government, shows little appetite for deepening the federal deficit by bailing out the states.
The problem is not only the staggering number of people who have lost their jobs, but the fact that many states entered the downturn with too little money salted away in the trust funds they use to pay unemployment benefits, which they are supposed to build up in good times by taxing employers.
Those anemic trust funds ran dry quickly in many states as millions of newly jobless Americans began collecting benefits. So many states borrowed money from the federal government, helped by the stimulus act, which gave them a break on interest for nearly two years. But that grace period ended Dec. 31, and states will owe the first interest on those loans in September.
Michigan, which owes Washington $3.7 billion, is supposed to pay $117 million in interest by September — just about what it pays each year to run Western Michigan University. California, which owes $362 million in interest on a total debt of $9.7 billion, the highest in the nation, plans to juggle its accounts, borrowing from a trust fund for disabled workers to pay interest to the federal government.
In New York, which owes $115 million in interest on $3.2 billion, the cost will be passed on to employers in the form of a tax surcharge. Texas went to the bond market and borrowed $2 billion to pay back all the money it borrowed from the federal government, judging that the interest on the bonds, which are backed by a tax on employers, would cost less.
Some states are planning to follow the lead of Texas, and borrow the money to repay the federal government. Others are asking for more time.
“During this time of extreme economic stress not only on the citizens of our states, but also on state budgets, state loan interest payments that will come due in September 2011 place further hardship on states’ finances and could slow economic recovery,” a group of 14 governors from both parties wrote to Congressional leaders last month. Their letter added: “Extending the interest-free loans would allow states to avoid increasing payroll taxes, reducing benefits, or both, while the economic recovery continues.”
Many advocates believe that the new Republican majority in Congress, which has said it plans to focus on deficit reduction, may be hesitant to postpone collecting the interest. But they could face pressure from newly elected Republican governors in states like Michigan, Ohio, which owes $2.3 billion, and Florida, which owes $2 billion.
The effects of the problem are already being felt. While states are generally loath to increase taxes on businesses during a recession, for fear that it can discourage much-needed hiring, 35 states were forced to raise their state unemployment taxes on employers in 2010, according to a survey by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.
The Obama administration's plan to force new reporting requirements on thousands of gun dealers near the Mexico border is under fire from members of his own party.
At least three Democrats in the Senate and several more in the House are voicing opposition to a proposed regulation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that would require about 8,500 gun dealers in four states – California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas – to report gun sales of two or more high-powered rifles sold within five consecutive business days.
The proposal isn't connected in any way to the mass shooting in Arizona last weekend that left six people dead and 14 others wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., because the suspect used a handgun, which is already covered under these reporting requirements.
The new regulation would cover semiautomatic rifles greater than .22 caliber with detachable magazines.
"While I understand the importance of cracking down on violence and gun trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border, this wide-reaching regulation would punish law-abiding American gun owners and impede their Second Amendment rights," Begich wrote in a letter last week to ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson. "Instead, we must secure our border and target Mexican drug cartels, as well as participating offenders in the United States."
The proposal also faces opposition from Montana's two Democratic senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, as well as 36 House members in both parties who say the regulation would subject gun dealers to burdensome requirements.
They want the administration to enforce the agency's existing power to ensure gun dealers are in compliance with the law.
In a letter to President Obama last month, House members, including Reps. Dan Boren, D-Okla, Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., Mike Ross, D-Ark., Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., and Ron Paul, R-Texas,said the regulation should be reviewed by Congress first.
"While Congress has authorized multiple sales reporting for handguns, we have never extended this authority to other types of firearms," they wrote. "Expanding this power by executive decree would be an end run around Congress."
Other Republicans who have expressed opposition are Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyle.
The White House did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The controversy over the proposal comes as the Tucson shooting renews debate on gun control laws and Obama struggles to get Senate confirmation for his choice to run the ATF, Andrew Traver. The agency has not had a director for more than four years.
Obama resubmitted the nomination last week after it died in the last session of Congress. But Traver still faces fierce opposition from groups such as the National Rifle Association.
"Traver has been deeply aligned with gun control advocates and anti-gun activities," the NRA said in a statement last week. "This makes him the wrong choice to lead an enforcement agency that has almost exclusive oversight and control over the firearms industry, its retailers and consumers."
The ATF announced the new proposed regulation last month. The agency was expecting approval from the Office of Management and Budget last week but the White House is still reviewing the request.
"Review of this ATF information is proceeding expeditiously," an OMB spokeswoman said in an e-mail to FoxNews.com.
The ATF has rejected the notion that its regulation will violate Second Amendment rights or impose burdensome paperwork on gun dealers.
"These reports will give ATF real-time leads for the investigation of gun trafficking," Melson said in a webcast last month announcing the proposal.
"ATF's experience in these source states proves that multiple purchases of the described rifles are strong indicators of firearms trafficking to Mexico," he said. "By obtaining information about these multiple sales, ATF increase the likelihood of uncovering and disrupting trafficking schemes before the firearms make their way into Mexico."
Melson called the gun dealers who would be affected by the regulation "good citizens who share ATF's interest and commitment in keeping guns out of criminal hands."
"Working together, we can do that without infringing on the rights of law abiding citizens," he said.
Mexico's drug war has claimed more than 30,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on the powerful drug cartels shortly after assuming control in late 2006. ATF tracks the weapons found in Mexico and has linked tens of thousands of recovered guns to U.S. dealers.
Scott Thomasson, the chief spokesman for ATF, told FoxNews.com that the agency is pushing for this new regulation now because since 2004, there's been a 100 percent increase by Mexican drug cartels using rifles, which are not covered by any reporting requirements.
"This move by the ATF to capture this information is a direct result in the cartel shift in weapon of choice and in our attempt to stem the flow of violence," he said.
"We seem to be losing sight of the fact that this simple requirement, and it is a simple requirement, is one of the greatest tools we have as investigators in stopping and stemming violence before it happens and identifying those who put guns in the hands of people who shouldn't have them," he said.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence strongly supports the proposal.
"It makes sense that law enforcement should be alerted if someone is buying five, 10 or 100 assault weapons, when it's likely that those guns could be headed to drug cartels in Mexico," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign.
"It will give ATF the same amount of information about people who buy military-style assault weapons in bulk that they already have had for more than 40 years about people who buy handguns in bulk," he said in a statement. "It's the kind of crime-fighting information that our law enforcement officials ought to have if we want to reduce the number of assault weapons being trafficked illegally to Mexico, as well as to American cities."
The NRA, which says it is keeping a close eye on the ATF, has vowed to make every effort possible to block the proposal.
"ATF doesn't have the authority to unilaterally impose this new requirement," the group said on its website. "If the Obama administration is going to run roughshod over the statutory limitations of the ATF in this regard, what other restrictions on their authority will they attempt to undermine or ignore?"
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John McCain has extended a hand to his old rival. Writing in the pages of the Washington Post, McCain praises President Obama for his remarks at the Tucson memorial on Wednesday and makes his own commitment to not let his passion get the best of him. He also bears witness. Referring to the president, McCain writes: "He is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country's cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals."
McCain also defends Sarah Palin, though he never mentions her name. Using the same call to empathy and the golden rule that Obama invoked in his speech in Tucson, McCain asks that those who criticized Palin and other conservatives to put themselves in her shoes:
How it must feel to have watched one week ago the incomprehensible massacre of innocents committed by someone who had lost some essential part of his humanity, to have shared in the heartache for its victims and in the admiration for those who acted heroically to save the lives of others—and to have heard in the coverage of that tragedy voices accusing you of complicity in it. It does not ask too much of human nature to have the empathy to understand how wrong an injury that is or appreciate how strong a need someone would feel to defend him or herself against such a slur.
It is a more artful defense of Palin than the former Alaska governor mounted for herself. But McCain was also speaking from experience. During the presidential campaign, when McCain supporters were questioning Obama's values and commitment to the country, Rep. John Lewis, a leader and hero of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, leveled a similar charge at McCain. Asserting that "there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," Lewis charged McCain with "sowing the seeds of hatred and division" and compared McCain to the segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace. "George Wallace never threw a bomb," Lewis said in a statement. "He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama."
McCain has signed on to the idea of mixing up the seating at the State of the Union address as a way to improve relations between the parties and send a message of civility. Instead of following tradition and sitting with their party, members of Congress will sit with members of the opposition. They won't just cross the aisle—they're planning to remove it. You can imagine the White House taking advantage of McCain's op-ed and using a handshake between the two bitter presidential rivals to reinforce the theme of the night. Perhaps McCain can add one more important symbolic gesture and sit next to John Lewis.
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