- Created on 15 January 2013
(CNN) -- Just wait and see.
That was President Barack Obama's response Monday to critics who have questioned why his second-term cabinet nominees have all been white males.
"I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they've seen all my appointments, who is in the White House staff and who is in my cabinet, before they rush to judgment," Obama said during his Monday news conference, which focused mostly on the upcoming debate over raising the federal debt limit.
Since winning re-election in November, Obama has made four high-profile nominations for posts in his cabinet, including tapping Sen. John Kerry for secretary of state. If confirmed, he'll replace Hillary Clinton, the highest profile woman in Obama's administration.
Obama was originally said to be considering U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for the post at State, but continued questions over her statements following the terror attack at an American diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, caused her to withdraw her name from consideration.
Obama pointed to Clinton Monday as an example of a high-profile member of his team who is a woman, though he didn't mention her by name.
"If you think about my first four years, the person who probably had the most influence on my foreign policy was a woman," the president said, adding later that "one woman, admittedly a high profile one, is leaving the administration -- has already left the administration -- and I have made a replacement."
The three other prominent cabinet positions with second-term openings - secretary of defense, secretary of the treasury, and CIA director -- were previously held by white men. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, and chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan have been tapped for those posts, respectively.
While Obama's record of appointing women to top posts doesn't differ significantly from former President George W. Bush, many take the issue with Obama's appointments since he ran as a champion of women's issues during both of his presidential election campaigns, unlike his predecessor.
In the 2012 campaign, he mocked his rival Mitt Romney for saying that as governor of Massachusetts he relied on "binders full of women" to find qualified females for government posts.
"I've got to tell you, we don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women," Obama said at a campaign rally the day after Romney made the remark at a presidential debate.
While his second-term nominees thus far have all been white men, many of his top advisers in the White House are women, including Valerie Jarrett, arguably his most trusted aide.
Other top White House staffers who are women include Alyssa Mastromonaco, a deputy chief of staff, and Kathy Ruemmler, the White House counsel. A second deputy chief of staff, Nancy-Ann DeParle, announced last week she was leaving her post in the West Wing for a job at the Brookings Institution.
Though men's names have been but forward to take the top cabinet posts, other spots at the departments of transportation, commerce and labor remain to be filled. Obama will also need to choose a new chief of staff and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
"I think until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we're going backwards," Obama said Monday. "We're not going backwards, we're going forward."
The president also confronted a question about his attitude toward socializing with lawmakers in Washington, which he has done little of since entering office in 2009. Some critics attribute the near-constant stalemate between the White House and Congress with Obama's unwillingness to get to know Republican lawmakers personally.
"Most people who know me know I'm a pretty friendly guy, and I like a good party," Obama said, reminding his audience that a round of golf in 2011 with GOP House Speaker John Boehner didn't end in a grand bargain on reducing the federal debt.
Ultimately, Republicans on Capitol Hill wouldn't want to publically mingle with the president since it could hurt them politically, Obama said.
"I think there are a lot of Republicans at this point that feel that given how much energy has been devoted in some of the media that's preferred by Republican constituencies to demonize me, that it doesn't look real good socializing with me," he said, singling out former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist as an example. Crist, a Republican, supported Obama's stimulus plan in 2009 to the chagrin of some in his party. Last year Crist officially became a Democrat.
- Created on 15 January 2013
(CNN) -- The gun lobby is "ginning up" fears the federal government will use the Newtown shooting tragedy, exactly one month ago, to seize Americans' guns, President Barack Obama said Monday.
At least part of the frenzy is little more than marketing, he implied.
"It's certainly good for business," the president said, responding to a question about a spike in weapons sales and applications for background checks after the massacre at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School left 27 people dead, 20 of them children.
"Part of the challenge we confront is that even the slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow, 'Here it comes, everybody's guns are going to be taken away,'" Obama said.
This week, the president is reviewing recommendations from a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden looking into ways to curb gun violence. Obama set up the group after December's carnage in Newtown and demanded reform ideas by this month.
Obama said he expects to have a fuller presentation later in the week "to give people some specifics about what I think we need to do," he told reporters Monday.
While the final recommendations have not been made public, Biden has said he's found widespread support for universal background checks and restrictions on the sale of high capacity magazines, which gun-control advocates believe contribute to more bloodshed at mass shootings.
Obama said he backs such measures as well as renewing the Clinton-era assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
Passing any legislation may not be easy: The influential National Rifle Association, among other gun rights groups, has vowed to fight any new gun restrictions -- like an assault weapon ban, which the group's president David Keene predicted Sunday wouldn't make it through Congress -- tooth and nail.
Yet, as he weighs options, Obama said politics isn't his first concern.
"My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works, what should we be doing to make sure our children are safe," he told reporters. "I think we can do that in a sensible way that comports with the Second Amendment."
'This is about the safety of the public'
Gun control advocates, gun violence victims, the NRA, video game makers and others have met with the Biden-led task force, with their conversations ranging from the capacity of ammunition magazines to portrayals of violence in the media.
The vice president met Monday with congressional Democrats, talks that are "part of a larger outreach effort that will involve other members of Congress," a source familiar with the meeting told CNN.
In addition to new gun restrictions, the package proposed by Obama may include mental health provisions that could garner wider support. Some initiatives -- like how the government tracks how weapons fall into criminals' hands -- could be accomplished by executive order, Obama said.
Yet other measures would require approval of a Congress that, on many issues, has been hard-pressed to get anything accomplished -- even though the momentum to act in some way, be it by clamping down on guns or putting armed guards in schools, as the NRA has proposed -- is undeniable.
Mark Kelly, a former Navy pilot and astronaut whose wife, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, survived a 2011 mass shooting that left six dead, said he and his wife both own guns and support the Second Amendment. Yet the couple is adamant that more must be done to curb gun violence, touting measures like banning high-capacity magazines and having universal background checks, which Kelly said a vast majority of the NRA's 4.2 million members support.
"This isn't really about the Second Amendment," said Kelly, who has formed a political action committee intent on pursuing reforms. "This is about gun safety, and it's about the safety of the public."
The retired Navy captain told CNN he believes the debate can produce "common sense solutions to this very serious problem."
People around the country are demanding nothing less in the wake of the Newtown shooting, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. He said Monday that more than 1 million people have signed a petition backed by his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
"For many Americans, this is the straw that broke the camel's back," he said about the Connecticut school carnage.
Polling appears to support the contention.
Poll shows public dissatisfied with gun laws
A new Gallup poll released Monday shows 38% of Americans are dissatisfied with current gun laws and support stricter proposals. That is a 13 percentage point jump from a year ago.
The shift is most marked among men. The poll revealed a 17 percent increase in support for stricter gun control laws among men, compared to 10 percentage points for women. That may be because polling has shown women already tend to be more supportive of gun control legislation.
The increase spanned the partisan divide, but it was strongest with Democrats, 64 percent of whom said they favor additional regulations. That's up 22 percentage points from last year, Gallup reported.
Among Republicans, support rose by 12 percentage points, though that still only works out to 18 percent overall.
The poll of 1,011 adults was conducted January 7-10 and has a sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
New gun violence proposal in Maryland
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy wrote Biden, and told CNN, that federal gun control action is imperative, noting there's little to stop would-be criminals from taking advantage of relatively lax laws in one state and transporting guns around the country.
While this view is widely shared among gun control supporters, that hasn't stopped some of them from taking actions on the state level.
Speaking at a Johns Hopkins University summit on reducing gun violence attended by Bloomberg, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said he will debut gun control proposals this week that would ban military style assault weapons and limit the size of magazines and introduce a "common-sense licensing requirement for handguns that respects the traditions of hunters and sportsmen."
The proposals would also include mental health reforms, O'Malley said.
Those include additional funds for treatment and efforts to detect and head off serious mental illness sooner. The plan also calls for investments in school safety, including a center to study ways to improve security at schools.
He said the issue isn't a partisan one, but rather a public health issue, and said it "makes no sense to blame every factor but guns."
"There may be no way to completely prevent the next Newtown tragedy," he said. "But again, perhaps there is."
New York Senate passes new gun regulations
In New York -- where a week ago, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo spelled out tough new gun control proposals -- the state Senate passed a series of new gun regulations in a 43-18 vote Monday night.
The bill now goes to the state Assembly.
Cuomo called for an assault weapons ban, background checks for people who purchase guns in private transactions and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
The tentative deal would include a statewide assault weapons registry and add a uniform licensing standard across the state -- altering the current system, in which each county or municipality sets a standard -- a state Senate source said Monday.
Magazines could have no more than seven bullets under the would-be agreement, according to the source, among other provisions.
Discussions had percolated about crafting a law, similar to one in California, that allows mental health professionals to inform law enforcement if they believe their patient could pose a threat to themselves or others, the source said. Law enforcement authorities may then revoke the patient's license to carry a firearm and prevent them from having a gun for at least six months.
One month since shooting
Meanwhile, bitter memories of the tragedy that spurred such proposals remains raw, especially in western Connecticut.
The one-month anniversary of the shooting went largely unmarked in any formal way, save for a moment of silence at a news conference held by a community group, "Sandy Hook Promise," formed after the killings to find a solution to gun violence.
Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was among the children killed in the shooting, was among several parents who spoke.
"I still find myself reaching for Dylan's hand to walk through a car parking lot, or expecting him to crawl into bed beside me for early morning cuddles before we get ready for school," she said, her voice quavering. "It is so hard to believe he is gone."
Others spoke of their resolve to ensure such violence ends.
"We refuse to be remembered only for our loss," group co-founder Tom Bittman said. "We want the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings to be recalled as the turning point when we brought our community, and communities across the nation, together and set a real course for change."
CNN's Josh Levs, Olivia Smith, Paul Steinhauser, Dan Lothian and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
- Created on 14 January 2013
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reportedly ended his silent streak Monday. His nearly seven year long silence came to an end when he offered up an opinion about the value of a law degree from Yale.
Although what Thomas said is not clear, according to a paraphrased tweet from SCOTUSblog, Thomas argued about the competency of lawyers with a Yale degree.
The transcript only records a few words that show Thomas as saying, "Well, he did not..." There was laughter in response to Thomas' comment.
His comment came as a surprise to many. Thomas has not spoken in court since February 2006.
- Created on 15 January 2013
(AP) — House conservatives opposed to more deficit spending tried Monday to chip away at the $50.7 billion Hurricane Sandy aid package by requiring offsetting spending cuts to pay for recovery efforts and by stripping money for projects they say are unrelated to the Oct. 29 storm or not urgently needed.
The push by budget hawks for...
- Created on 14 January 2013
(CNN) -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday he's still a member of the Republican Party, despite voting for President Barack Obama in the last two elections and being very critical of the GOP of late.
"I think the Republican Party right now is having an identity problem - and I'm still a Republican," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But in recent years there's been a significant shift to the right, and we've seen what that shift has produced: two losing presidential campaigns."
Powell said the key for the GOP is to recognize that the country is changing and the party needs to change along with it.
"I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself, and understand that the country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they're going to be in trouble," Powell said.
Powell said the Republican disconnect with minorities runs deep and encompasses everything from problems with immigration reform to tax rates among lower-income people. But he also suggested elements of racism may be in play.
"There's also a dark vein of intolerance in some part of the party. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is, they still sort of look down on minorities," Powell said.
Former Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Mississippi, responded to Powell's comments later in the show and agreed Republicans have to do better among minorities.
"We have to improve our standing among all of those. The good thing is, with the right kind of policies and the right kind of effort, we will do that. Remember, George W. Bush, the last Republican (president), got 44% of the Hispanic vote - so it's not like there's some 1,000-year history here," Barbour said.
Going forward, Powell said, Republicans have to think not just about who their next presidential candidate is going to be, but also about what the whole party stands for. For the GOP, Powell said, it's time to stop moving so far to the right and come back toward the middle.
"I'm a moderate, but I'm still a Republican. That's how I was raised, and until I voted for Obama twice, I had voted for seven straight Republicans for president," Powell said.