Inside Politics: McCain says lack of aid to Syrian rebels is ‘shameful’

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Sen. John McCain says the lack of U.S. aid to Syrian rebels is “shameful,” and that helping the opposition would be the biggest blow to Iran in 25 years.

The United States has refused to arm Syrian rebels in part to avoid a proxy fight with Iran and Russia, which back the Syrian government. The crisis in Syria is likely to come up when President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico on Monday.

Mr. McCain told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that members of the Syrian opposition are being “killed and massacred and tortured and raped” and “the fact that Americans aren’t helping them is shameful.”

CAMPAIGN

Santorum sticks by earlier campaign jabs at Romney

Rick Santorum is sticking by earlier questions he posed about former rival Mitt Romney’s authenticity, saying the points he made during the primary campaign were legitimate.

Mr. Santorum said in a CNN interview Sunday, “I don’t back away from any of those things.”

Mr. Santorum had also argued in March that Republicans should give President Obama a second term because Mr. Romney wasn’t conservative enough. The former Pennsylvania senator now says “clearly, the difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney is a chasm.”

IOWA

Ron Paul faithful seekinfluence at convention

DES MOINES — Ron Paul has given up on becoming president, but loyal supporters are promising to promote the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman’s principles at the Republican national convention this summer, a potential complication for Mitt Romney’s goal of a peaceful coronation.

Paul backers have taken over state Republican conventions Nevada and Maine, and they had a strong showing this weekend in Iowa, aiming to increase their voice and clout at the nominating convention in Tampa, Fla.

Supporters say they hope to promote Mr. Paul’s conservative principles, which have attracted a strong following of young voters and tea party activists, by flooding ballots for the convention and urging changes to the party platform.

Since Mr. Paul’s unsuccessful 2008 candidacy for the GOP nomination, his top organizers have set about working within the party’s structure to gain influence. The hope is to bend it toward principles he espouses, chiefly smaller government, sound monetary policy and a limited international military presence.

ENVIRONMENT

EPA calls for new standards for soot pollution emissions

In a step that officials said would save lives, the Obama administration Friday announced new air quality standards intended to reduce the amount of soot that can be released into the air.

Environmental groups and public health advocates welcomed the move by the Environmental Protection Agency, saying it would protect millions of Americans at risk for soot-related asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease and premature death.

But congressional Republicans and industry officials called the proposal overly strict and said it could hurt economic growth and cause job losses in areas where pollution levels are determined to be too high.

Perhaps wary of the rule’s political risk, the administration had sought to delay the new soot standards until after the November elections. But a federal judge ordered officials to act sooner after 11 states filed a lawsuit seeking a decision this year.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s top air official, said the new rule was based on a rigorous scientific review. All but six counties in the United States would meet the proposed standard by 2020 with no additional actions needed beyond compliance with existing and pending rules set by the EPA, she said.

WHITE HOUSE

President promises support on gay, transgender issues

President Obama told gay supporters Friday that they will have a friend and “fellow advocate” in the White House as long as he is president.

Mr. Obama spoke to gay, bisexual and transgender guests during a White House reception. He touted his administration’s work on gay rights issues, including repealing the military’s ban on openly gay service members.

The president also referenced his recent public embrace of gay marriage. He said that while some Americans may still be evolving on same-sex marriage, he and his wife, Michelle, “have made up our minds on this issue.” The remark drew extended applause.

RELIGION

Catholic hospitals reject birth-control compromise

Sharpening an election-year confrontation over religious freedom and government health insurance rules, the nation’s Catholic hospitals Friday rejected President Obama’s compromise for providing birth control coverage to their women employees.

The Catholic Health Association was a key ally in Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul, defying opposition from church bishops to help the president win approval in Congress. But the group said Friday it does not believe church-affiliated employers should have to provide birth control as a free preventive service, as the law now requires.

In a letter to the federal Health and Human Services department, the hospital group said the compromise initially seemed to be “a good first step” but that examination of the details proved disappointing.

WISCONSIN

State GOP lawmaker asks for recount in recall race

MILWAUKEE — A Republican state senator in Wisconsin has asked for a recount in the election that could hand Democrats their only victory in this month’s six recalls, and at least a temporary majority in the state Senate.

An official canvass this week showed incumbent Racine Republican Van Wanggaard trailing Democratic challenger John Lehman by 834 votes, or 1.2 percent of the nearly 72,000 votes cast.

Democrats had called on Mr. Wanggaard to concede, but Mr. Wanggaard’s campaign said Friday it was concerned about reports of voting irregularities and wanted to ensure the outcome was accurate.

The state Senate currently has 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans, meaning the winner of the Wanggaard-Lehman race will give his party majority control.

MASSACHUSETTS

TV attacks mostly absent in hard-fought Senate race

BOSTON — In the tight Senate race in Massachusetts, GOP incumbent Scott P. Brown has spent weeks questioning Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage, while Mrs. Warren portrays Mr. Brown as a darling of Wall Street.

The rhetoric is constant, sometimes caustic and all but invisible from the ad campaign waged on television.

That’s because Mr. Brown and Mrs. Warren signed a deal to discourage third party groups from running television, radio and online ads in Massachusetts. At this point, at least, their pleas seem to have been heard.

Mr. Brown and Mrs. Warren can’t stop outside groups from getting involved. But less than five months before the election, it seems those groups are taking the candidates’ wishes to heart. If the groups stay on the sidelines, the candidates would have to use their own ads to attack each other, should they decide to go that route.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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