WASHINGTON (AP) — John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and a trusted Democratic operative, will join the White House staff as a senior counselor to President Barack Obama, two persons familiar with the move said late Monday.
Podesta will take his place at the White House at a critical time for Obama as his health care law tries to shake itself off from a disastrous enrollment rollout and as the president seeks to re-establish his agenda going into a midterm election year.
Podesta is the founder and former president of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank with close ties to the White House.
The New York Times first reported Podesta's move. The two persons familiar with the development confirmed it to The Associated Press on the condition they weren't named because the announcement was not official.
Podesta, 64, is well respected in political circles both as a strategist and a policy thinker. He would likely step into the role played by Pete Rouse at the White House, who is expected to leave soon after serving as a counselor and, for a time in 2010, as acting chief of staff for Obama.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is laying the groundwork for potential military action in Syria in the coming days, with intelligence agencies readying additional evidence about last week's alleged chemical weapons attack and high-ranking U.S. officials declaring there was "no doubt" that Bashar Assad's government was to blame.
Administration officials also said Assad's actions posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, providing President Barack Obama with a potential legal justification for launching a strike without authorization from the United Nations or Congress. However, officials did not detail how the U.S. was directly threatened by an attack contained within Syria's borders. Nor did they present concrete proof that Assad was responsible.
"Allowing the use of chemical weapons on a significant scale to take place without a response would present a significant challenge to, threat to the United States' national security," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
The U.S. and international partners were unlikely to undertake military action before Thursday. That's when British Prime Minister David Cameron will convene an emergency meeting of Parliament, where lawmakers were expected to vote on a motion clearing the way for a British response.
Obama and Cameron spoke Tuesday, their second known conversation since the weekend. A Cameron spokesman said the two leaders agreed that a chemical attack had taken place, and that the Assad regime was responsible. Cameron "confirmed that the government had not yet taken a decision on the specific nature of our response, but that it would be legal and specific to the chemical weapons attack," the spokesman said.
Also Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden became the highest-ranking U.S. official to charge that Assad's government fired chemical weapons last week near Damascus. Assad has denied using chemical weapons, calling the allegations "preposterous."
"There's no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime," Biden said.
Obama is weighing a response focused narrowly on punishing Assad for violating international agreements that ban the use of chemical weapons, an act the president repeatedly has said would cross a "red line." Officials said the goal was not to drive the Syrian leader from power nor affect the broader trajectory of Syria's bloody civil war, which is now in its third year.
"The options we are considering are not about regime change," Carney told reporters.
According to U.S. officials, the most likely military operation would be largely sea-based, with the strikes coming primarily from Navy warships in the Mediterranean Sea. Fighter jets often are deployed to monitor the area and protect the ships, but Syria's robust air defense system makes airstrikes more difficult and risky.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said military forces stood ready to strike Syria immediately if the commander in chief gave the order. The Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean within range of targets inside Syria and also has warplanes in the region.
"We are ready to go," Hagel said in a BBC television interview Tuesday while traveling in Asia.
Ahead of any strike, the U.S. also planned to release additional intelligence it said would directly link Assad to the Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs. Syrian activists said hundreds of people were killed in the attack. A U.S. official said the intelligence report was expected to include "signals intelligence" — information gathered from intercepted communications.
All of the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.
Even before releasing that information, U.S. officials said they had very little doubt that Assad was culpable in the attack, based on witness reports, information on the number of victims and the symptoms of those killed or injured, and intelligence showing the Syrian government has not lost control of its chemical weapons stockpiles.
Other administration officials echoed Biden's comments, which marked a subtle shift in the administration's rhetoric on who bears responsibility for the attack. Earlier in the week officials would say only that there was "very little doubt" Assad was responsible.
Besides the pain of deep defense cuts which could lay off some 8,000 defense workers, Missouri could lose nearly $12 million in education funding.
In Illinois, the defense cuts would furlough more than 14,000 defense department employees and cut more than $30 million from education.
Democrats have proposed a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, including a tax on income above $1 million and eliminating tax breaks for oil companies.
Republicans have said they will only consider spending cuts.
Democratic Congressman Bill Enyart of Belleville, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the defense cuts would hit the area hard because of the importance of Scott Air Force Base and other military installations to the local economy.
Illinois Republican Representative John Shimkus told KSDK-TV that he doesn't believe a deal will be reached before the deadline.
That draft, according to USA Today, would create a visa for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years.
Obama aide Denis McDonough tells ABC's "This Week" that the White House is working with a bipartisan group of senators.
GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says if such a measure was proposed, it would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.
McDonough says "let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed" because the White House and Congress are able to work out a deal.
Instead of making the hard choices to fix Social Security's financial problems, policymakers "use it as a tool of political rhetoric," Astrue said.
Astrue, 56, has headed the federal government's largest program since 2006 — he was nominated by former President George W. Bush. By law, Social Security commissioners serve six-year terms, so President Barack Obama will now have the opportunity to choose his own nominee, who must be approved by the Senate. Astrue's last day on the job was Wednesday.
The trustees who oversee Social Security say the program's trust funds will run dry in 2033, leaving Social Security with only enough revenue to pay about 75 percent of benefits. Already the program is paying out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes.
As commissioner, Astrue served as a trustee. He regularly urged Congress to address Social Security's long-term financial problems but refrained from publicly weighing in on various options to cut benefits or raise taxes — until now.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Astrue said benefit cuts and tax increases are inevitable — despite fierce opposition to both. Yet he questions whether Congress is up to the task.
The White House counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, is Obama's nominee to run the nation's spy agency. He helped manage the deadly drone program.
Brennan's confirmation hearing today sets the stage for a public airing of some of the most controversial programs in the covert war on al-Qaida, from the deadly drone strikes to the CIA's use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding during the George W. Bush administration.
The Senate committee's chairman, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the secret legal opinion about drone strikes would be provided to her committee by this morning.