Audio & Video from White House Tribal Nations Conference


The White House Tribal Nations Conference began this morning at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell kicked off the session after an introduction by Jodi Gillette, the Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs at the White House. This is Jewell’s first Tribal Nations Conference since joining the Obama administration earlier this year.

Tribal leaders also heard from five more Cabinet secretaries. They were: Secretary Eric Shinseki, Department of Veterans Affairs; Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Health and Human Services; Secretary Anthony Foxx, Department of Transportation; Secretary Ernest Moniz, Department of Energy; and Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Justice, who was introduced by David Gipp, the president of the United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota.

After the morning remarks, tribal leaders went into breakout sessions on a variety of topics. The sessions were not open to press.

The afternoon session will resume at 2pm with remarks from three more Cabinet secretaries, to be followed by a listening session of the new White House Council on Native American Affairs. President Barack Obama created the council by executive order in June.

Obama is expected to deliver final remarks at the conference around 3:30pm. The afternoon session will be webcast at

Video from the morning session can be viewed here

Related Stories:
Galbraith and Gillette: Obama hosts tribes at White House (11/13)
Galbraith and Gillette: Agenda for Tribal Nations Conference (11/12)
President Obama hosts tribal leaders ahead of conference (11/12)
President Obama to host White House Tribal Nations Conference (11/6)
White House Tribal Nations Conference in D.C. on November 13 (10/22)


Republicans Back Down, Ending Crisis Over Shutdown and Debt Limit

Doug Mills/The New York TimesSpeaker John A. Boehner before voting Wednesday night. He told his members to hold their heads high, go home and regroup.
Doug Mills/The New York Times
Speaker John A. Boehner before voting Wednesday night. He told his members to hold their heads high, go home and regroup.

By Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker, New York Times

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans conceded defeat on Wednesday in their bitter budget fight with President Obama over the new health care law as the House and Senate approved last-minute legislation ending a disruptive 16-day government shutdown and extending federal borrowing power to avert a financial default with potentially worldwide economic repercussions.

With the Treasury Department warning that it could run out of money to pay national obligations within a day, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday evening, 81 to 18, to approve a proposal hammered out by the chamber’s Republican and Democratic leaders after the House on Tuesday was unable to move forward with any resolution. The House followed suit a few hours later, voting 285 to 144 to approve the Senate plan, which would fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt limit through Feb. 7.

Mr. Obama signed the bill about 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

Most House Republicans opposed the bill, but 87 voted to support it. The breakdown showed that Republican leaders were willing to violate their informal rule against advancing bills that do not have majority Republican support in order to end the shutdown. All 198 Democrats voting supported the measure.

Mr. Obama, speaking shortly after the Senate vote, praised Congress, but he said he hoped the damaging standoff would not be repeated.

“We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis,” said Mr. Obama, who urged Congress to proceed not only with new budget negotiations, but with immigration changes and a farm bill as well. “We could get all these things done even this year, if everybody comes together in a spirit of, how are we going to move this country forward and put the last three weeks behind us?”

After the House vote, officials announced that the federal government would reopen on Thursday and that federal employees should return to work.

The result of the impasse that threatened the nation’s credit rating was a near total defeat for Republican conservatives, who had engineered the budget impasse as a way to strip the new health care law of funding even as registration for benefits opened Oct. 1 or, failing that, to win delays in putting the program into place.

The shutdown sent Republican poll ratings plunging, cost the government billions of dollars and damaged the nation’s international credibility. Mr. Obama refused to compromise, leaving Republican leaders to beg him to talk, and to fulminate when he refused. For all that, Republicans got a slight tightening of income verification rules for Americans accessing new health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

“We fought the good fight,” said Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who has struggled to control the conservative faction in the House, in an interview with a Cincinnati radio station. “We just didn’t win.”

In a brief closed session with his Republican rank and file, Mr. Boehner told members to hold their heads high, go home, get some rest and think about how they could work better as a team.

Two weeks of relative cohesion broke down into near chaos on Tuesday when Republican leaders failed twice to unite their troops behind a last-gasp effort to prevent a default on their own terms. By Wednesday, House conservatives were accusing more moderate Republicans of undercutting their position. Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a leading Republican voice for ending the fight, said Congress should have passed a bill to fund the government without policy strings attached weeks ago.

“That’s essentially what we’re doing now,” Mr. Dent said. “People can blame me all they want, but I was correct in my analysis and I’d say a lot of those folks were not correct in theirs.”

Under the agreement to reopen the government, the House and Senate are directed to hold talks and reach accord by Dec. 13 on a long-term blueprint for tax and spending policies over the next decade. Mr. Obama said consistently through the standoff that he was willing to have a wide-ranging budget negotiation once the government was reopened and the debt limit raised.

Mr. Boehner and his leadership team had long felt that they needed to allow their restive conference to pitch a battle over the president’s health care law, a fight that had been brewing almost since the law was passed in 2010. Now, they hope the fever has broken, and they can negotiate on issues where they think they have the upper hand, like spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs.

But there were no guarantees that Congress would not be at loggerheads again by mid-January, and there is deep skepticism in both parties that Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who will lead the budget negotiations, can bridge the chasm between them.

“This moves us into the next phase of the same debate,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat. “Our hope is now that Speaker Boehner and his caucus have played out their scenario with a tragic outcome, perhaps they’ll be willing to be more constructive.”

As Republican lawmakers left the closed meeting Wednesday, some were already thinking of the next fight.

“I’ll vote against it,” said Representative John C. Fleming, Republican of Louisiana, referring to the Senate plan. “But that will get us into Round 2. See, we’re going to start this all over again.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader who was instrumental in ending the crisis, stressed that under the deal he had negotiated with the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the across-the-board budget cuts extracted in the 2011 fiscal showdown remained in place over the objections of some Democrats, a slim reed that not even he claimed as a significant victory.

The deal, Mr. McConnell said, “is far less than many of us hoped for, quite frankly, but it’s far better than what some had sought.”

“Now it’s time for Republicans to unite behind other crucial goals,” he added.

Chastened Senate Republicans said they hoped the outcome would be a learning experience for the lawmakers in the House and the Senate who shut down the government in hopes of gutting the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Instead of using the twin issues of government funding and borrowing authority to address the drivers of the federal deficit, conservatives focused on a law they could never undo as long as Mr. Obama is president, several lawmakers said.

“Goose egg, nothing, we got nothing,” said Representative Thomas H. Massie, Republican of Kentucky.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina took a swipe at his fellow Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, as well as House members who linked government financing to defunding the health care law, which is financed by its own designated revenues and spending cuts.

“Let’s just say sometimes learning what can’t be accomplished is an important long-term thing,” Mr. Burr said, “and hopefully for some of the members they’ve learned it’s impossible to defund mandatory programs by shutting down the federal government.”

While Mr. Cruz conceded defeat, he did not express contrition.

“Unfortunately, the Washington establishment is failing to listen to the American people,” he said as he emerged from a meeting of Senate Republicans called to ratify the agreement.

For hundreds of thousands of federal workers across the country furloughed from their jobs, the legislative deal meant an abrupt end to their forced vacation as the government comes back to life beginning Thursday.

In a statement late Wednesday, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, made the reopening official.

“Employees should expect to return to work in the morning,” she said, adding they should check news reports and the Office of Personnel Management’s Web site for updates.

For Mr. Boehner, who had failed to unite his conference around a workable plan, Wednesday’s decision to take up the Senate bill proved surprisingly free of conflict. Hard-line Republican lawmakers largely rallied around the speaker.

Representative Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, said he was “really proud” of how Mr. Boehner had handled the situation. “I’m more upset with my Republican conference, to be honest with you,” he said.


Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

NCAI Welcome President Obama’s Support to Change Offensive NFL Team Name


President Obama joins the DC Mayor and City Council, leaders inCongress, and state governments around the country.
President Obama joins the DC Mayor and City Council, leaders in
Congress, and state governments around the country.

Source: Native News Network

WASHINGTON – In an interview with the Associated Press, President Obama joined the growing chorus of Americans calling for the Washington NFL Team to consider changing its name.

The President noted that the team name is offensive to a “sizeable group of people.” Obama also affirmed the “real and legitimate concerns” of Native peoples – and many others – calling for the team to drop the “R” word.

“President Obama’s remarks underscore the fact that has become increasingly obvious – the Washington franchise is on the wrong side of history,”

said NCAI President Jefferson Keel in a statement responding to the President’s remarks of support.

“The “R” word is a racial slur, deeply offensive to Native Americans. It originated in the bounty paid for Native body parts and human flesh. It does not honor Native peoples in any way and has no place in modern American society.”

“It’s 2013. It’s time for leadership at the Washington team to heed the growing chorus – from high school students to Commissioner Goodell, and now the President of the United States – and close the chapter on this offensive name,”

added NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata.

Background on the 45 Year Effort to Urge the Washington Team to “Drop the R Word”

Removing the name and caricatures associated with the Washington football team and other denigrating sports teams and mascots has long been the position of NCAI, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the broad interests of the nation’s 566 tribal governments and the over 5.2 million Native peoples.

In a soon to be released background paper on the era of racist “Indian” sports mascots, the organization underscores the importance of dropping the “R” word and provides contemporary and historical background on the need to end the era of harmful and racist mascots. Among the key insights from the paper:

  • The Washington team’s name is part of the racist legacy of the franchise, most prominently represented by former owner George Preston Marshall’s hard fought campaign against racial integration.
  • Native organizations and tribal nations have undertaken a sustained 45 year campaign to get Washington to change the name – since the team’s name was registered as a trademark.
  • President Obama joins the DC Mayor and City Council, leaders in Congress, and state governments around the country who have called for an end to racist “Indian” mascots.
  • There is a growing sense from the NFL itself that considering a name change is warranted. This year alone, Rodger Goodell has noted that “if one person is offended we have to listen” and has responded to racial language by Riley Cooper (who used the “N word”) by calling it “obviously wrong, insensitive, and unacceptable.” Also, former Washington Hall of Famers Art Monk and Darrell Green said a name change “deserves and warrants conversation” because it is offensive to Native peoples.
  • There is a diverse and growing chorus of organizations standing against the racist name and sporting teams (from high school to college) dropping the “R” word.

Obama Announces Fifth White House Tribal Nations Conference

Source: ICTMN

President Barack Obama recently announced the fifth White House Tribal Nations Conference this year will be held November 13 at the Department of Interior.

President Obama will host the conference that will give leaders from 566 federally recognized tribes the opportunity to interact directly with the president and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

A representative from each of the 566 tribes will be invited to share their concerns and help improve the government-to-government relationship.

More details will be released at a later date.



Obama Says Redskins Should Think Seriously About Changing Name

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

In an interview with the Associated Press, President Obama said that if he were Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington D.C. NFL franchise, he would consider changing the football team’s name.

“If I were the owner of a team and I knew that there was a name of my team–even if it had a storied history–that was offending a sizeable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” Obama said to the AP.

Snyder, the Redskins owner, has said that he would never change the team’s name, but has been urged by Native American leaders, media outlets and U.S. lawmakers to change it. This is the first time that the president has publicly weighed in on the name-change debate.

Last month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who previously agreed with Snyder, shifted his stance on the issue slightly, saying that those who are offended by the name should be considered. “All these mascots and team names related to Native Americans, Native Americans feel pretty strongly about it,” Obama told the AP. “And I don’t know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things.”

U.S. colleges and universities have changed mascot names that were offensive to Native Americans. According to the AP, St. John University changed its name from the Redmen to the Red Storm, Marquette is the Golden Eagles instead of the Warriors and Stanford University was the Indians, now they’re the Cardinals.

Obama also said he understands that fans have a long-standing attachment to their team and they don’t “mean offense” by supporting them. “I don’t want to detract from the wonderful Redskins fans that are here. They love their team and rightly so.”

NFL owners are meeting in Washington on Monday for their fall meetings and a protest against the team name is planned.

RELATED Opponents of Racist D.C. Mascot to Hold Event at NFL Fall Meeting

“The President has heard and given voice to the major national Native organizations, parents, educators and students who have long called for an end to race-based stereotypes in sports,”said Suzan Shown Harjo, a Native American policy advocate who is the lead plaintiff in the trademark challenge to the Washington Redskins name.”These public slurs — even when used by enthusiastic fans who have no ill intent — cause harm and injury to our young people and can no longer be tolerated in polite society.”

Obama said he doesn’t have a direct stake in the Redskins name debate because he is not a team owner, according to But he hinted that it was an interest of his.

“Maybe after I leave the presidency,” Obama said. “I think it would be a lot of fun.”




NCAI Applauds President’s Nominations of Diane Humetewa and John Tuchi for Federal District Court Judge in Arizona;

Confirmation will make Humetewa First American Indian Woman Federal Judge
Source: The National Congress of American Indians
Washington, DC – The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has endorsed President Obama’s nomination of Diane J. Humetewa from the Hopi Tribe to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona. Senator John McCain of Arizona is credited with recommending the nomination. Upon confirmation, Humetewa will be the first American Indian woman in history to serve as a federal judge. Humetewa served as the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona from 2007 to 2009 under President George W. Bush.
NCAI also endorsed the President’s nomination of John Joseph Tuchi to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the District of Arizona. Tuchi’s service as Tribal Liaison from 2009-2012 demonstrated his knowledge of federal Indian law and his commitment to the critical role of tribes in the American family of governments. His nomination has the strong support of tribes in Arizona.
“These nominations are a significant step forward for Indian Country. Diane Humetewa is highly qualified and has been recognized and nominated for important federal positions by both Present Obama and President Bush. John Tuchi is highly qualified and has a strong record of upholding the trust responsibility to tribal nations. NCAI endorses the President’s nominations and we urge the Senate to move quickly to confirm them both,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel.
“This also represents a great step forward for the federal courts. For many years we have stressed the importance of including Native Americans in the federal judiciary. Senator McCain should be applauded for recommending the nomination of Ms. Humetewa,” added Keel. “We have also underscored the need for all federal judges to understand federal Indian law. Mr. Tuchi has a firsthand understanding of the importance of federal Indian law, an asset that is far too rare among federal judges.”
NCAI First Vice Present Juana Majel also praised the nomination of Humetewa. “In 2013 we have witnessed the passage of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization that included extraordinarily important protections for Native women. With the nomination of Diane Humetewa to be the first Native woman to be a federal judge, 2013 is truly a landmark year for Native women.”
Biographies provided by the White House:
Diane J. Humetewa: Nominee for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona
Diane J. Humetewa currently serves as Special Advisor to the President and Special Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Arizona State University.  She is also a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.  From 2009 to 2011, Humetewa was Of Counsel with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP.  She worked in the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona from 1996 to 2009, serving as Senior Litigation Counsel from 2001 to 2007 and as the United States Attorney from 2007 to 2009.  During her tenure in the United States Attorney’s Office, Humetewa also served as Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General from 1996 to 1998.  From 1993 to 1996, she was Deputy Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.  Humetewa received her J.D. in 1993 from Arizona State University College of Law and her B.S. in 1987 from Arizona State University.  She is a member of the Hopi Indian Tribe and, from 2002 to 2007, was an Appellate Court Judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court. 
John Joseph Tuchi: Nominee for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona
John Joseph Tuchi has been an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Arizona since 1998.  He currently serves as Chief Assistant United States Attorney in the office and has previously served as Interim United States Attorney in 2009, Senior Litigation Counsel and Tribal Liaison from 2009 to 2012, and as Chief of the Criminal Division from 2006 to 2009.  Tuchi also worked as an associate at the law firm of Brown & Bain, P.A. from 1995 to 1998.  He began his legal career as a law clerk for Judge William C. Canby of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Tuchi received his J.D. magna cum laude in 1994 from Arizona State University College of Law, his M.S. in 1989 from the University of Arizona, and his B.S. in 1987 from West Virginia University. 

Obama Nominates Native American Woman to Federal Court

 Diane J. Humetewa has been nominated by President Barack Obama for the U.S. District Court for Arizona.
Diane J. Humetewa has been nominated by President Barack Obama for the U.S. District Court for Arizona.

By Rob Caprioccioso, Indian Country Today Media Network

Responding to widespread requests from tribal leaders and Indian legal advocates, President Barack Obama has nominated a Native American to serve on the federal bench.

The president announced September 19 that Diane J. Humetewa is a nominee for the U.S. District Court for Arizona. She is a Hopi citizen, and from 2002 to 2007 she served as an appellate court judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court.

Obama has previously nominated one tribal citizen to serve on the federal bench, Arvo Mikkanen, of the Kiowa Tribe, but Republican senators successfully blocked that nomination during the president’s first term. Oklahoma’s senators in particular expressed frustration that the administration did not consult with them on the nomination, but they would not say specifically what their problem with Mikkanen was at the time. The administration pushed back, with White House officials laying full blame with Senate Republicans, saying it was part of their overall plan to thwart the president.

RELATED: White House Laments GOP’s Mikkanen Rejection

If Mikkanen would have been confirmed, he would have been the only American Indian to serve on the federal bench, out of a total of 875 federal judgeships, and he would have been only the third Native American in history to secure a federal judgeship.

If Humetewa can pass muster with the Senate Judicial Committee and Arizona’s senators, then she will have the distinction of being the first Native American appointed and confirmed to the federal bench by Obama. It is already known that she has a strong ally in U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) who previously recommended her for a U.S. attorney position during George W. Bush’s second term.

Indian affairs experts had been pressuring the president to make another Native American federal judgeship appointment – several more, in fact – citing the large number of Indian law cases heard in federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court’s tendency not to understand tribal law.

Jack Trope, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, told Indian Country Today Media Network earlier this month that getting more Indians appointed to the federal bench during Obama’s second term was a top priority for a range of tribal advocates.

“We just have to hope the administration goes through the process of consulting the appropriate senators,” Trope said. “We don’t want another situation like what happened with [Mikkanen].”


Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, a law dean at the University of New Mexico before joining the administration last year, expressed optimism on learning of the selection.

“Diane Humetewa will make an excellent judge,” said Washburn, a Chickasaw Nation citizen. “She was a very capable U.S. Attorney for Arizona and a capable career prosecutor before that.  She is tough, but compassionate, and I know that she can gracefully handle the stress of being the first Native American woman to travel this path. This is a historic nomination.”

Matthew Fletcher, director of the Indigenous Law Center at Michigan State University, said Humetewa was “a wonderful selection,” and he expected that she should be easily confirmed.

Humetewa was previously nominated by President George W. Bush in his second term to serve as the first female Native American U.S. attorney in history. She resigned from that position in July 2009 as part of the political appointee process in Obama’s then-new administration. Some Native Americans asked the administration if Humetewa could stay on in that position at the time, but the White House declined.

RELATED: Humetewa Officially Resigns

In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network in June 2008, Humetewa said she was “humbled” to be chosen for the U.S. attorney position, and she hoped her promotion would encourage more young Indians to consider careers in the legal field.

“The opportunity arose when one day I was sitting in my office, and the telephone rang—a gentleman said, ‘Please hold for John McCain,’” she shared. “Sen. McCain simply asked me whether I wanted to provide this service for Arizona. Frankly, I was pretty taken aback and surprised and flattered. I felt I certainly couldn’t say no.”

RELATED: First Female Native US Attorney Airs Her Concerns

Humetewa’s biography, as provided by the White House, follows:

“Diane J. Humetewa currently serves as Special Advisor to the President and Special Counsel in the Office of General Counsel at Arizona State University. She is also a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. From 2009 to 2011, Humetewa was Of Counsel with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP. She worked in the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Arizona from 1996 to 2009, serving as Senior Litigation Counsel from 2001 to 2007 and as the United States Attorney from 2007 to 2009. During her tenure in the United States Attorney’s Office, Humetewa also served as Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General from 1996 to 1998. From 1993 to 1996, she was Deputy Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Humetewa received her J.D. in 1993 from Arizona State University College of Law and her B.S. in 1987 from Arizona State University. She is a member of the Hopi Indian Tribe and, from 2002 to 2007, was an Appellate Court Judge for the Hopi Tribe Appellate Court.”



Obama takes on coal with first-ever carbon limits


Coal power plant
Photo source: Wiki

September 19, 2013

By DINA CAPPIELLO — Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Linking global warming to public health, disease and extreme weather, the Obama administration pressed ahead Friday with tough requirements to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, despite protests from industry and from Republicans that it would mean a dim future for coal.

The proposal, which sets the first national limits on heat-trapping pollution from future power plants, would help reshape where Americans get electricity, moving from a coal-dependent past into a future fired by cleaner sources of energy. It’s also a key step in President Barack Obama’s global warming plans, because it would help end what he called “the limitless dumping of carbon pollution” from power plants.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said in a speech Friday morning to announce the proposal that, rather than damage an industry, the proposed regulations would help the industry to grow.

McCarthy pressed her case by linking global warming to a suite of environmental problems, from severe weather to disease to worsening other types of air pollution.

“We know this is not just about melting glaciers,” McCarthy said. “Climate change – caused by carbon pollution – is one of the most significant public health threats of our time. That’s why EPA has been called to action.”

However, since the proposal deals with only new power plants it will have a limited effect on global emissions of heat-trapping pollution. A separate standard for the existing fleet of power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution, is due next summer.

Despite some tweaks, the rule packs the same punch as one announced last year, which was widely criticized by industry and by Republicans as effectively banning any new coal-fired power plants.

That’s because to meet the standard, new coal-fired power plants would need to install expensive technology to capture carbon dioxide and bury it underground. No coal-fired power plant has done that yet, in large part because of the cost.

Coal, which is already struggling to compete with cheap natural gas, accounts for 40 percent of U.S. electricity, a share that was already shrinking. And natural gas would need no additional pollution controls to comply.

“It is clear that the EPA is continuing to move forward with a strategy that will write off our huge, secure, affordable coal resources by essentially outlawing the construction of new coal plants,” said Bruce Josten, the vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Follow Dina Cappiello on Twitter at

Obama gives Syria one diplomatic option

 REUTERSPresident Barack Obama addresses the nation about the situation in Syria from the East Room at the White House in Washington on Tuesday night.
President Barack Obama addresses the nation about the situation in Syria from the East Room at the White House in Washington on Tuesday night.

By David Nakamura and Zachary A. Goldfarb, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he will seize one last diplomatic opening to avoid military strikes on Syria but made a forceful case for why the United States must retaliate for that nation’s alleged use of chemical weapons if the effort fails.

In a nationally televised address, Obama cautiously welcomed a Russian proposal that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad give up its stockpile of chemical weapons, signaling that he would drop his call for a military assault on the regime if Assad complies.

But with little guarantee that diplomacy would prevail, Obama argued that the nation must be prepared to strike Syria. Facing a skeptical public and Congress, the war-weary president said the United States carries the burden of using its military power to punish regimes that would flout long-held conventions banning the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” Obama said. “The purpose of a strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons and make clear to the world we will not tolerate their use.” But he added that he has “a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions” as he pledged to work with international partners to negotiate with Russia over a United Nations resolution on a Syria solution.

The speech was a plea from a president who, defying public opinion, has pushed the United States toward using force in Syria — and staked his and the nation’s credibility on whether he can get Congress to support him. But it also followed two days of intense political and diplomatic negotiations on Capitol Hill and abroad that appear to have shifted his calculus for how quickly to move forward with direct intervention.

Obama pledged that before pursuing military options, his administration would explore a surprise offer from Russia on Monday to persuade Assad to surrender his chemical weapons to United Nations inspectors.


The president had visited Congress in the afternoon, asking senators in both parties to delay a vote on a resolution that would authorize him to order strikes on Syrian government targets in retaliation for the alleged chemical attack on Aug. 21 that reportedly killed more than 1,400 Syrians near Damascus.

A White House official said Obama spent an hour apiece with the Democratic and Republican caucuses, reviewing evidence of the attack and reiterating his decision to pursue a “limited, targeted” military strike that would not involve U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.

But the president also told lawmakers that he would “spend the days ahead pursuing this diplomatic option with the Russians and our allies at the United Nations,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

The proposal appeared to be gaining traction Tuesday, as Syria embraced it and China and Iran voiced support. But a telephone conversation between French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, revealed a deep divide over their visions of the U.N. Security Council’s role and particularly over the prospect of military action to ensure that an agreement would be honored.

There also were doubts about how Syria’s stockpiles could be transferred to international monitors amid a protracted civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

The call took place after France said it would draft a Security Council resolution to put the Russian proposal into effect.

The Russian offer could serve as a potential escape hatch for a president who has at times appeared reluctant to pursue military force, even after saying he believed it was the right course to reinforce a “red line” against chemical weapons. Obama has struggled to build an international coalition for such action.

And with congressional and public support for a U.S. strike dwindling rapidly over the past week, Obama’s request to delay the Senate vote bought him time to try to convince the public that the White House is pursuing a viable and coherent strategy despite a muddled message since the alleged chemical attack.

“Bottom line is we’re all going to try to work together,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., after the lunch with Obama. “There is hope, but not yet trust in what the Russians are doing. But I think there’s a general view, whether people are for it or against it, there’s an overwhelming view that it would be preferable if international law and the family of nations could strip Syria of the chemical weapons. And there’s a large view we should let that process play out for a little while.”

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, a key GOP proponent of a military strike in Syria, emphasized that the option of U.S. force remained viable, but he added that “it’s probably good for us just to take a pause.”

At the same time, administration officials made clear that they will not accept the Russian offer at face value or engage in protracted negotiations that indefinitely delay its response to Assad. Russia has consistently blocked U.N. action against Syria, its geopolitical ally, frustrating the Obama administration and leading the president to announce that he would pursue military strikes independent of that international body.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the United States would demand a Security Council resolution authorizing a strike if Syria refused to turn over its chemical stockpile, a provision the Russians promptly rejected.

Kerry told a House committee that the proposal “is the ideal way” to take chemical weapons away from Assad’s forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin countered that the disarmament plan could succeed only if the United States and its allies renounced the use of force against Syria.

Kerry will travel to Europe this week to discuss the proposal with Lavrov, a senior administration official said later Tuesday. The meeting will be held Thursday in Geneva, where the United States and Russia hope to convene a separate peace conference on Syria, the official said.

“We need a full resolution from the Security Council,” Kerry said Tuesday during an online forum held by Google. “There have to be consequences if games are played.”

The stakes were high for Obama’s address to the nation. He has delivered just nine White House speeches in prime time, according to CBS Radio correspondent Mark Knoller, who keeps tallies on presidential appearances. Obama chose the grand East Room over the more intimate Oval Office, which is the traditional location for commanders in chief to talk to the country about war.

Experts said it made sense for Obama to delay the congressional vote because his hand would be strengthened even if the Russia proposal fails.

“It gets him out of his disastrous political mess,” said Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official. Obama will be able to say he made every effort to avoid a military conflict, making it “a lot easier for him to make the case for force.”

But other analysts were more circumspect, fearing that stalling on the part of Russia and Syria could give Assad time to hide his stockpile.

“The most dangerous downside,” said Jon Alterman, a former State Department official now at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, “is you get absorbed in endless processes which take you back to the status quo ante and you neither removed the weapons and you lost the momentum when there was support for action.”

– – –

Washington Post staff writers Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Keystone XL decision likely delayed until 2014

CUSHING, OK - MARCH 22: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
CUSHING, OK – MARCH 22: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. Obama is pressing federal agencies to expedite the section of the Keystone XL pipeline between Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Kate Sheppard, Huffington Post

A decision on the fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will likely be delayed until after the release of an inspector general investigation into conflict of interest complaints, a process that will take at least until early 2014, The Hill reported Friday., env

The Office of Inspector General is looking into complaints that Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the contractor that prepared the most recent environmental impact statement on Keystone XL, failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest. ERM had previously done work for TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, and other oil companies that could stand to benefit from it. The connections prompted environmental groups to call for an IG investigation.

A State Department official did not directly respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment about whether and for how long the IG report may delay a final decision on Keystone XL. The official, who would only comment on background, said that the IG’s review “will provide independent and impartial assessment” of the Keystone XL review process. The department is cooperating fully, the official said, and is “committed to a rigorous, transparent, and efficient federal review of the Keystone XL application.”

But given the attention that the Keystone pipeline has attracted, it is unlikely that the State Department will make a decision on the pipeline before the IG report is finalized. Because the proposed pipeline would cross an international border, the State Department is the agency with the authority to approve or reject Keystone XL.

Before this latest news, the State Department had been expected to issue a final environmental impact analysis on the pipeline sometime this fall. The environmental assessment will inform the State Department’s decision on whether to approve permits for the construction of the pipeline.

Environmental groups cheered the delay, but said they want the Obama administration to reject the pipeline right away. “President Obama doesn’t need to wait for the results of the investigation into Environmental Resources Management,” said Ross Hammond, a senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “He has all the evidence he needs to deny the permit right now.”

The IG’s office previously evaluated the department’s handling of Keystone XL in 2011, after environmental groups and some members of Congress raised conflict-of-interest concerns about another contractor working on the project. That evaluationdid not find any significant problems with the State Department’s process.