Grill On The Hill - Homeland Security Edition
PHOTO:  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • IN THE HOT SEAT: President Obama's pick for a key national security post is set to be grilled on Capitol Hill today over allegations of misconduct, specifically that he "personally facilitated and assisted" the approval of a visa application for a politically connected foreign investor, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and CHRIS GOOD report. The president's nominee to be the No. 2 at the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, is expected to launch a vigorous defense to lawmakers denying any wrongdoing. He is one of several officials under internal investigation by the DHS inspector general, according to a letter to Congress from the inspector general's office obtained by ABC News. That letter pointed out that "we do not have any findings of criminal misconduct" by Mayorkas. However, the letter said its months-long probe has produced allegations of "an appearance of impropriety" by Mayorkas and other officials.
  • THE TERRY MCAULIFFE/CLINTON CONNECTION: The investigation also involves Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who repeatedly appealed to senior DHS officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in 2010, for assistance in obtaining visas for investors in his electric car manufacturing firm GreenTech. The U.S. visa program, commonly known as EB-5, provides American visas to foreign investors who invest over $500,000 in American companies. Mayorkas, who currently leads the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, is being investigated for allegedly intervening on behalf of a company run by Hillary Clinton's brother, Anthony Rodham, called Gulf Coast Management LLC, which tried to get visas for investors in GreenTech. McAuliffe, who resigned as GreenTech's chairman last year, often touts his business record on the campaign trail.
  • CAMPAIGNS SPAR: Chris LaCivita, a senior advisor to the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, said from their point of view GreenTech and Gulf Coast Management LLC are one in the same. "From our standpoint Gulf Coast describes itself as the sister company of GreenTech," LaCivita told ABC News. "GreenTech was formed, put together, and financed by Terry McAuliffe. Gulf Coast runs the EB-5 program for one client: GreenTech. This individual with DHS is being looked at for approving an EB-5 visas for this organization." The letter from the DHS IG does not mention McAuliffe by name and their campaign is noting that, saying in a statement from press secretary Josh Schwerin that they believe the "investigation does not involve Terry and we hope that it is completed in a timely matter." McAuliffe's campaign said the attacks from Cuccinelli's campaign are instead an "attempt to distract from his ties to the Star Scientific scandal" - a separate imbroglio that involves current Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Wow, that was close. The Obama administration dodged a bullet on the House floor, with a 205-217 vote on defunding the NSA surveillance programs. The angry warning of House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., asking whether "we forgot what happened on Sept. 11? couldn't convince 134 of his colleagues that the nation wouldn't be better off without the programs. The odd coalitions exposed by this vote, uniting party leadership in favor of the programs and the liberal and libertarian party wings against, is about more than the scrambled politics of national security under a Democratic president. Here, in the first policy showdown over the recently disclosed phone and electronic surveillance programs, the administration almost lost. Polls suggest the public is largely comfortable with the programs continuing, but members of Congress and hearing and acting on something different. This is not where the White House wants to discover bipartisanship.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Department of Homeland Security official Alejandro Mayorkas will get grilled on Capitol Hill today by lawmakers eager to know if he improperly helped get a visa through for a foreign investor in Terry McAuliffe's electric car company, Greentech. Yes, it's complicated, but a Republican super PAC, America Rising, is trying to dig in on the McAuliffe side of things since he is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Virginia. America Rising has filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for "all records of physical and or electronic correspondence, memoranda, scheduled meetings and records of phone calls" regarding the decision to invite McAuliffe, as well as GreenTech executives Charles Wang and Rick Wade, to a State Department luncheon on February 14, 2012. The luncheon honored Xi Jinping, then-vice president, now-president of China, and was hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Clinton. The request included photographs of Wang with Biden, Wang with Clinton, and McAuliffe talking to Xi. The group wants to know why McAuliffe, Wade and Wang were invited to the luncheon and if it was connected to their desire for the EB-5 visas for their company. Will it come up at today's hearing? Not necessarily, but it might on the Virginia campaign trail.

ABC's TOM SHINE: Last week Senator Kirsten Gillibrand got two Tea Party celebrities, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., to stand right next to her and enthusiastically proclaim their support for her legislation to remove military sexual assault cases from the chain of command. This morning, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., with retired female judge advocates, commanders, and non-commissioned officers surrounding her, will hold a news conference to talk about the need to keep military sexual assault cases in the chain of command. That's two powerful women senators, both on the Senate Armed Services Committee, both determined to rid the military of sexual assault.


OBAMA'S ECONOMIC ROAD SHOW CONTINUES: President Obama continues his economic campaign with a quick trip to Florida. This afternoon he delivers remarks at Jacksonville Port Authority. This morning, the president meets with President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam at the White House. In the evening, the president hosts an Iftar dinner in the State Dining Room.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Seeking to force the public debate back to the economy, President Obama yesterday slammed Republicans for standing in the way of his efforts to boost the middle class, as he launched a campaign to highlight his second-term priorities, ABC's MARY BRUCE notes. "With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop," the president said in a lengthy, high-profile speech at Knox College, the site of his first economic address on the national stage in 2005. "Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires. Our focus must be on the basic economic issues that the matter most to you - the people we represent. And as Washington prepares to enter another budget debate, the stakes for our middle class could not be higher," he said. With a fresh round of federal deficit and debt ceiling negotiations looming, the president outlined his economic vision and vowed to help the middle class going forward, declaring his "highest priority" to be the fight against economic inequality.

CAROLINE KENNEDY TAPPED AS NEXT AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN. President Obama has nominated Caroline Kennedy to be the first female ambassador to Japan, ABC's MATTHEW LAROTONDA reports. Senior administration officials confirmed the news yesterday shortly before the White House went public with the naming. Japanese media had indicated an announcement was imminent earlier this month. Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, is among the most well known surviving member of that family and is largely credited with having helped to launch President Obama into the office formerly occupied by her father. Her endorsement of the senator from Illinois over Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign helped Obama clinch the Democratic nomination, and she helped woo female voters by stumping for the White House hopeful in key states. She also was part of the team responsible for selecting then Sen. Joe Biden as running mate. She is an attorney and author but has lived relatively secluded compared with other family members in recent years. She recently served as the president of the Kennedy Presidential Library and at Harvard's institute of Politics, but she's also quietly volunteered for New York City's public school system sharing poetry with students.

POLL: MAJORITY SUPPORTS LEGAL ABORTION, BUT DETAILS INDICATE AMBIVALENCE. Most Americans continue to support legal abortion, as many oppose making it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate and two-thirds say the U.S. Constitution should trump state abortion laws. But views on legal time limits for abortions mark underlying ambivalence on the issue, ABC's DAMLA ERGUN notes. Fifty-five percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent believe it should be entirely or mostly illegal. Those almost exactly match their long-term averages, 55-42 percent, in more than 30 ABC/Post polls since 1995. A similar 54 percent oppose state laws that effectively make it more difficult for abortion clinics to operate (most of them "strongly" opposed), vs. 40 percent in support. And by more than a 2-1 margin, 66-30 percent, Americans prefer abortion laws to be decided constitutionally rather than by each state individually. Preference for federal over state abortion laws encompasses both 69 percent of those who support legal abortion and 63 percent of those who oppose it.

SENATE PASSES DEAL TO LOWER STUDENT-LOAN RATES. The student-loan stalemate is all but over. After Republican and Democratic senators reached an agreement on student loans a week ago yesterday, the Senate passed its bipartisan deal Wednesday evening 81-18, ABC's CHRIS GOOD and JOHN PARKINSON report. The Democratic caucus was split, with 17 of the "no" votes coming from Democrats. "It's not the best we can do with respect to students and families," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said on the Senate floor before the vote. Reed spearheaded a Democratic plan to temporarily lower rates to 3.4 percent, an effort that ultimately failed as Republicans and a handful of Democrats preferred a longer-term fix. Senate passage all but ends Washington's summer dispute over how to address student-loan rates, which doubled automatically. Interest rates on subsidized undergraduate loans jumped from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1. Under the deal, student-loan rates would be tied to 10-year Treasury notes. The bill is predicted to keep rates mostly steady through the 2015 school year.

FORMER PRESIDENT SHAVES HEAD IN SOLIDARITY WITH 2-YEAR-OLD LEUKEMIA PATIENT. Former President George H.W. Bush, 89, sported a clean-shaven head in solidarity with a 2-year-old named Patrick, who lost his hair when he started being treated for leukemia. The 41st president was pictured in a wheelchair on the family's Maine compound sporting his signature colorful socks, with Patrick seated on his lap. Both he and Patrick wore light-blue shirts, although Patrick had a couple of toy cars, as well. Patrick is the son of, Jon, a member of Bush's Secret Service detail, many of whom also went under the razor to support the young cancer fighter. (Last names were withheld at the request of the family, Bush's office said) Bush and Barbara Bush have an even more personal connection to Patrick's fight. They lost their second child, Robin, to leukemia 60 years ago when she was 4.

TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER VOWS TO KEEP FIGHTING. Tracy Martin, the father of the Florida teenager killed last year in what a jury ultimately ruled was a case of self-defense, told lawmakers yesterday that he will never get over his son's death - but he hopes to use his family's loss to start a national conversation on the American judicial system, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON writes. During the inaugural hearing of Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, Martin called his son, Trayvon Martin, his hero and expressed regret that he was not present to help him when he encountered George Zimmerman on the night of Feb. 26, 2012. "Just to have your son's life taken away from you when you've molded him in becoming an upstanding citizen of this country - it's heart-wrenching. That's something that you can never get over," he said. "Not to be there in his time in need is real troublesome." Martin said he hoped to spread a "message to the world" that the not-guilty verdict earlier this month will not "sum up who Trayvon was." "I vow to do everything in my power not to give up the fight for him - not only to fight for Trayvon but to fight for so many other young black and brown boys of this country," Martin said.


"SHHHH. REPUBLICANS ARE DEFENDING EARMARKS," by the National Journal's Amy Harder. "Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are starting to quietly defend earmarks, three years after Congress banned the practice because members said it wasted taxpayer dollars during a time of trillion-dollar deficits. 'We have a moratorium, so we're living by that,' said Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. But his thoughts, though not fully articulated, are friendlier toward earmarks than the defenders of the moratorium. As he put it, 'I see it very differently.' Shuster acknowledged the bad reputation that earmarks-federal dollars directed to local projects-have earned in years past. And he didn't go so far as to explicitly say that earmarks have a legitimate role in Congress, or that the House should drop the ban. But he also didn't dwell on the negative side, noting the practice could be helpful to legitimate projects, "as long as there's transparency and it's not done in the dark of night." Leaders on the Transportation Committee are keenly aware of exactly how earmarks can be used (and abused). Geography has played a huge role in the committee's jurisdiction over roads and waterways, making earmarks integral to most bills before the ban was put in place in 2010. The last time Congress passed a full-scale reauthorization of the highway bill eight years ago, under the chairmanship of Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, it included some 6,300 earmarks. The last time Congress reauthorized the Water Resources Development Act in 2007, under then-Chairman Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., it contained almost 900 earmarks."


-FLORIDA REPUBLICANS WELCOME OBAMA TO THE SUNSHINE STATE. The Republican Party of Florida is running a full-page ad in today's Florida Times-Union, welcoming President Obama to Florida. According to the party, "The ad highlights the Obama administration's admission that they took their 'eye off the ball,' and focuses on Governor Rick Scott's formula for success in Florida - unlike the President, Governor Scott has gone to bat for Floridians every single day and he has the results to prove it." Party Chairman Lenny Curry said in a statement accompanying the ad, "I want to welcome President Obama to Jacksonville today. While Floridians look forward to hearing what you have to say about the economy, I know that they are much more interested in what you will do to strengthen our economy." SEE THE AD:

-DEMOCRATIC SUPER PAC RELEASES NEW ANTI- CUCCINELLI VIDEO. The Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, released a new video today titled: "Cuccinelli: Not Buying It." The video's narrator says that Virginia's Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli "talks about jobs and transportation. The truth? Ken Cuccinelli will say anything to get elected. His real agenda? To wage a war on women and force his extreme views on Virginia." During the campaign, Democrats have sought to portray Cuccinelli's views on a variety of issues as far out of the mainstream and today's video aims to show that he cares more about social concerns than the bread-and-butter issues voters in the state care about. American Bridge is promoting the video with an ad buy on Twitter. WATCH:


@jonward11: "We're all living in a Tom Wolfe novel." - Bill Kristol sums up the Wiener saga

@DLeonhardt: BClinton & Obama stitched together left and center. Events may make it harder for HClinton to do so. @jmartNYT:

@daviesabc: Facebook's Shares and Sales… Campbell's Soup Adds New Brands and Tastes: MorningBusinessMemo Soar.. … via @abc

@Chris_Moody: Bob Vander Plaats, Iowa social con who endorsed Santorum, says his support for him was "not big." He's into Cruz now.

@ZekeJMiller: Robert Gibbs remembers Helen Thomas via @TIME

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