Russia ignores Obama plea to maintain Syria ceasefire, shifts forces north for Aleppo offensive, officials

By Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News

Despite a call from President Obama to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday urging him to maintain a fragile cease-fire in Syria, Russia has shown no signs of complying.  Russia continues to ignore repeated requests from the administration to stop backing the Syrian regime after five-years of civil war that have killed a quarter of a million people.

A U.S. defense official tells Fox News Russian-backed Syrian forces have shifted the bulk of their fire power, including rocket propelled artillery north to areas outside Aleppo, where a new offensive to recapture Syria’s largest city is poised to take place in the near future.

“They have shifted everything from Palmyra up north,” the official told Fox News.

Russian-backed Syrian forces recently recaptured the historic city of Palmyra from ISIS in central Syria.  Russian and Syrian jets have also been striking rebel held towns around Damascus and Homs, despite a cease-fire agreement agreed to in late November.   The cease-fire does not apply to ISIS and an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Earlier this week, the main Syrian opposition group walked out of peace talks held in Geneva, brokered by the United States and Russia.  UN envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters Monday that the humanitarian situation around Aleppo had deteriorated, where fighting has resumed in the past few days.

The State Department said Monday the cease-fire in Syria had been largely successful, despite reports of resumed Russian and Syrian bombing of rebel held areas.

“More Syrian people are living better lives as a result of the cessation than they were before,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that President Obama did not raise the issue of Russia’s provocative dangerous close range ‘flybys’ of a US Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea and later conduced an “unsafe” barrel roll over a US Air Force spy plane also in the Baltic. 

The incidents “while provocative and concerning, are not particularly unusual,” said Earnest

Wall Street Journal first to report movement of artillery to northern Syria. 

Reports: Obama to Nominate Carter as Next Secretary of Defense

By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate

Senior White House officials say President Obama has decided to nominate Ashton Carter as the next Secretary of Defense, a number of news outlets are reporting. The New York Times reports that the administration will hold off on making the official announcement until at least the end of the week, as the vetting process is still underway.

Though a Yale and Oxford trained physicist by trade, Carter has previously worked the number 2 and 3 positions in the Pentagon after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

Before serving as both Leon Panetta’s and Chuck Hagel’s deputy, he was the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. The role placed Carter at the helm of, among other things, managing the DOD’s stock of weaponry.  

Carter also has significant fiscal management experience within the DOD, as he was tasked with carrying out the 2012 $500 billion sequester cuts within the department.

Republican Senator Jim Inhoffe, a member of the Committee on Armed Services, today spoke of his support for Carter as the nominee.

“I’m very pleased he is going to be our Secretary of Defense,” Sen. Inhoffe told the AP, “I can’t imagine that he’s going to have opposition to his confirmation.”

The move comes as the President’s short list for the potential nominees got even shorter in recent days—top candidates including Michelle Flournoy, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), and current Homeland Security Jeh Johnson all removed themselves from consideration.

Many defense analysts say the White House’s tendency to micromanage DOD initiatives as well as a breadth of immediate foreign policy issues to face leaves the position largely undesirable.

“It’s very unlikely you will get political visibility or credit for being the secretary,” Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the AP, “There are just too many problems and uncertainties.”

Carter would become the administration’s 4th Secretary of Defense in 6 years. 

Washington Reacts to Ferguson Decision

By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate

“There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it will make for good TV,” President Obama said minutes after the Ferguson grand jury decision was announced, “But what we want to do is to make sure that we’re also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible . . . and we need to lift up that kind of constructive dialogue that’s taking place. . . I join Michael's parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully." 

But viewers tuning into the President’s call for calm simultaneously saw the heart-wrenching images of scores of violent protesters silencing any “constructive dialogue” in the town of Ferguson, Missouri.

By shortly after midnight, at least 2 police cars and over 2 dozen business buildings in the area had burst into flames. Countless businesses were vandalized. Many of them were looted—including the very same store 18 year old Michael Brown stole cigars from moments before his death.

Those on the scene heard over a hundred rounds of shots fired throughout the night. Reports indicated that firefighters couldn’t rush to quench the flames after they themselves were the targets of several of those gun shots.

Many of the incidents occurred underneath a large banner that read, “Seasons Greetings.”

The decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of 18 year old African-American Michael Brown refueled already heighted racial tensions following Brown’s death on August 9th.

“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation,” the President said, “The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. . . I’ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement.”

Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement late Monday emphasizing an ongoing, independent federal investigation into both the incident as well as regular practices of the Ferguson police force. He also went on to caution against violence, which wouldn't "honor the memory" of Brown. 

On Capitol Hill, the Congressional Black Caucus deplored the grand jury’s decision as a “miscarriage of justice” and a “slap in the face.”

“This decision seems to underscore an unwritten rule that Black lives hold no value; that you may kill Black men in this country without consequences or repercussions,” CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Oh) indicated in a statement before the violent clashes broke out, “This is a frightening narrative for every parent and guardian of Black and brown children, and another setback for race relations in America.”  

Other CBC members took to twitter to call for more meaningful roads to healing and change.

“I know this hard. I know this is difficult. Do not succumb to the temptation of violence. There is a more powerful way,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga).

“This fight for justice, in Ferguson and all over, demands far more firmness of purpose than a fight in the street,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D- Mo), adding in another tweet, “It will take a coalition, not a confrontation. “

Both Missouri US Senators also weighed in.  

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt called Brown’s death a tragedy and said that “the right of Americans to exercise their free speech must be balanced with the rights of people to live peacefully and safely in their communities.”

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill indicated that she’s “praying that the good people of St. Louis and local law enforcement will remain peaceful and respectful of one another” while the DOJ looks into “solutions to systematic issues highlighted by this tragedy.”

President Obama to Bypass Congress and Grant Legal Status to 5 million

By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate

President Obama tonight will announce his plans to bypass Congress and issue an executive action to shield over 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation. And while the President’s legal path appears to be clearing, the door is closing on the GOP’s first funding plan to block Obama’s action.

Though White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest refused to divulge into specifics, White House officials and briefed Democratic lawmakers have disclosed significant details of the plan.

The bulk of the effected illegal immigrants, about 3.7 million, would be permitted to stay in the U.S. through a provision granting temporary legal status to parents of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents.  

An additional 1.5 million illegal immigrants would be granted legal status through the removal of the age limit found in the Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The 2012 memorandum previously permitted those under 30 years of age, illegally brought to the U.S. by their parents, employment authorization and temporary legal status. The parents of these 1.5 million, however, are not expected to be eligible for legal status.

The plan will also reportedly contain added visas for those pursuing STEM fields

White House officials claim that the plan won’t include a path to citizenship or eligibility for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D- NM) also indicated that those affected must undergo a background check and pay any taxes they may owe.

Unspecified border buffers will be part of the plan, as Homeland Security Secretary Jay Johnson told reporters last week.

The executive action comes as President Obama repeatedly indicated that bypassing Congress would be illegal, previously stating “that’s not how our constitution is written,” later adding, “I’m the President of the United States, not the Emperor of the United States.”

After saying Sunday that his position “hasn’t changed,” the Washington Post Fact Checker awarded the President an “Upside-Down Pinocchio”--   the most grave of The Post Fact Checker’s ratings.  

“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority,” Speaker John Boehner stated through his spokesman, “he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for Congressional action on this issue—and many others.”

As the GOP furiously cautions the powerful precedent that the executive action may set, strategies to counteract the plan vary.

Perhaps the most discussed mechanism was to defund the executive action in the spending bill to be voted on December 11th. But that path appears to be crumbling.

The House Appropriations Committee today put out a statement saying, “The primary agency for implementing the President’s new immigration executive order [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)] . . . is entirely self-funded through fees it collects on various immigration applications. Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its appropriations . . . Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to ‘defund’ the agency.”

“We’re considering a variety of options,” Senator Mitch McConnell said today on the Senate floor, “but make no mistake—make no mistake—when the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) called for blocking President Obama’s nominees (except those relating to national security) until the President reverses his action.

Others, like current Texas Governor Rick Perry and Texas Governor-elect Greg Abbot, say they will almost immediately file a lawsuit protesting the constitutionality of the President’s actions.  

President Obama himself told Telemundo in 2013 that executive actions on immigration would be “very difficult to defend, legally.”

But because tonight’s executive action would not grant a path to citizenship, just “deferred action”, 136 law professors sent a letter to the White House justifying the President’s actions under “prosecutorial discretion.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler also points out that there is some level of presidential precedent, though not to this extent. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush granted up to 1.5 million work permits to spouses and children of illegal immigrants who gained legal status through a law passed 4 years earlier. The 1986 law placed numerical limits on permits, which President George H.W. Bush later expanded through executive authority.

GOP aides say there would be no public, official response to the President’s remarks slotted for 8 pm tonight.

Banking on the plurality of Americans who disapprove of the President acting alone on immigration, one GOP lawmaker told Fox News, “Let him self-immolate, we don’t want our reaction to become the news” 

Senate to Vote on Keystone XL Pipeline

By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate

Senate supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline’s construction are today jostling to lock up the 60 votes needed to pass the bill ahead of the vote slotted for around 6 pm this eveining.

The House on Friday passed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bill Cassidy, approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline with 31 Democrats voting yes. It marked the 9th time the House approved the construction.

Lame duck Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid is finally allowing a vote on the Senate floor today, with the runoff between incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and Rep. Bill Cassidy less than 3 weeks away.

The votes come as both candidates aim to bolster their commitment to the booming oil and gas industry in the state of Louisiana, though the proposed pipeline won’t cross the state.

Sen. Mary Landrieu’s chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has long been a major talking point in her campaign. But Bloomberg today reported that Landrieu stood silent at about 70% of committee hearings since January 2009.

All 45 GOP Senators are expected to support the bill’s passage, and 14 Democrats have previously expressed approval.

With the unofficial tally at 59, Sen. Landrieu, who introduced the bill in the Senate, voiced confidence that Keystone XL will get at least 60 supporters in the Senate tonight, but refused to disclose who the 60th vote might be.

But even if the Keystone XL vote clears Senate, because the proposed pipeline would cross international borders, a Presidential permit is required.

The White House continues to indicate that the President isn’t on board.

At least not yet.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest today brushed off questions regarding a Presidential veto should the bill pass. Instead, Earnest emphasized holding off until the Nebraska Supreme Court rules on the path of the pipeline in the state, a position the administration has held since April of this year. The court decision is expected anytime from late November to early February.

Earnest also continued to stress the State Department’s ongoing inquiry into Keystone XL’s national interest, involving the conjunction of eight other federal agencies announced in April.

But in what was thought to be the State Department’s final review back in January, they concluded that there would be no significant environmental harms. Additionally, they predicted the project would generate 42,100 jobs and about $3.4 billion to US GDP.

Still, President Obama continues to express his skepticism, arguing that it wouldn’t “have an impact on U.S. gas prices” and that the pipeline’s effect on global climate change is still in question.

Tune into Special Report tonight as we report live on air as the Senate’s votes are tallied. 

Reporters Barred from Obama Fundraisers Because of Quantum Physics, WH Says

By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate

When pressed for access to Q&A's with high-dollar donors, the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration in history” says reporters can’t attend because of a quantum physics theory known as the Heisenberg principle.

The theory, for which Werner Heisenberg won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics, explains that the exact position and momentum of a particle and cannot simultaneously be known.

Given in jest, Real Clear Politics notes that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was likely referring to the Hawthorne effect, in which individuals modify their behavior in awareness of being observed by others.

“That the fact of someone observing something necessarily changes what is actually being observed. And I think that’s at play in a dynamic like this when you have a relatively small group of individuals who are seeking to have a conversation with the president of the United States,” Earnest said on Wednesday.

President Obama’s closed door fundraiser Thursday will be at the home of Senator Jay Rockefeller. One DNC official indicated that the approximately 25 attendees contributed up to $32,400 each for a seat at the roundtable discussion in Washington.

According to Mark Knoller of CBS, that brings the tally up to 62 fundraisers this year, only half of which have been open to the press. The White House this year opened only 3 donor Q&A sessions to reporters.

Earlier this year, former editor of the New York Times, Jill Abramson, said the Obama White House “is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering,” adding, and “I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now.”

Most reporters would agree. Back in March, Politico conducted a non-scientific poll of White House correspondents. One question asked which White House was “more forthcoming” with reporters, Bush’s or Obama’s. 41% chose the Bush administration, while only 5% chose the Obama administration.

Reporters on Wednesday further pressed Earnest on a question that’s gone unanswered for 6 years: how much money have taxpayers coughed up for the President’s political travel? Earnest again refused to disclose the answer.

In 6 years, President Obama has already appeared at over 100 more fundraisers than Bush had in his 8 years in office.

According to Federal Election Commission rules, “when travel is for political purposes, the President, Vice President, and First Lady, and any assistants accompanying them, are required to reimburse the government the comparable airfare they would have paid had they traveled by commercial airline. On such trips, they pay for their own food, lodging, and other incidental expenses.”

However, if the travel includes official, nonpolitical duties as well, the President is only to reimburse half the amount. 

Though previous administrations have also withheld the amount of travel billed to taxpayers, the concealment challenges the White House hiding behind the “unprecedented level of transparency” it claims to offer. 

Poll: Millenials now trust GOP would handle health care better than Obama

By: Special Report Intern Gabriella Morrongiello

Five Senate Democrats have proposed rewriting the Affordable Care Act to end insurance policy cancellations, former President Bill Clinton critiqued the President for not delivering on his 'keep your insurance' promise, and Liberal policy-blogger Ezra Klein has been fairly critical of Obamacare's roll-out in his Washington Post column.

Unfortunately for the President, faith in his competence has diminished among more groups than just pundits and politicians.

A new Quinnipiac National Poll published recently shows a shocking shift with regards to Obamacare in the attitudes among Millenials-- who voted for President Obama by an overwhelming 66-32 percent margin in 2008.

The numbers include a 54 percent disapproval rating of President Obama's job performance by poll participants ages 18-29, and a 6 point spread favoring "Republicans in Congress" over the President in terms of who Millenials trust to do "a better job at handling health care."

The latter results reflect how significantly the disastrous Obamacare rollout has impacted Millenials' perception of the President. When the same poll was published on October 1 - the day the health insurance marketplace launched – Republicans in Congress trailed President Obama by 20 percent.

"If Obamacare never gets fixed, it might just sour the single best relationship the Democratic Party has: its love affair with the young," wrote Peter Beinart, a Liberal political pundit and senior political writer for The Daily Beast.

The recent poll also shows a downward spiral in the approval numbers for the President’s handling of the economy, immigration, foreign policy and the federal budget.

60 percent of poll participants ages 18-29 disapprove of how President Obama has handled the economy, 49 percent disapprove of his handling of immigration issues, 53 percent disapprove of his foreign policy, and 59 percent disapprove of how he has dealt with the federal budget. The President's response to terrorism was the only instance where Millenials awarded him an approval rating higher than the disapproval percentage.

If Millenials’ advocacy for big government continues to drop precipitously, Obamacare participation may be even less than anticipated.

"Are you 30 years old or younger and in good health? If you answered yes, congratulations, the future of Obamacare depends on you," wrote Matthew O'Brien, senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

What O'Brien and the Administration realize is that to prevent a "death spiral" and the skyrocketing premiums that would result, young healthy individuals need to enroll in the exchanges to shore up the subsidized system.

However, according to Sally Pipes, President of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, "the stats are showing that the young are not signing up."

When poll participants expressed in large number that they do not see the President as “honest and trustworthy” it spoke to a recent comment by  Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post, “Obama may have run his last campaign, but there is still a lot riding for his agenda on the way he is perceived. And right now, the way he is perceived isn’t good.”

Chattanooga Times Editor Fired Over Anti-Obama Headline

By Howard Kurtz, Fox News Analyst 

The editorial page editor of a Chattanooga newspaper has become, as he tweeted today, “the first person in the history of newspapers to be fired for writing a paper’s most-read article.”

The problem was not the anti-Obama editorial itself. It was the headline: “Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President: Your policies have harmed Chattanooga enough.”

Is that, in this age of vigorous media debate, really a firing offense?

The Chattanooga Times Free Press says that Drew Johnson got the boot, after just 14 months on the job, for adding the headline “outside of normal editing procedures.” The editorial appeared on Tuesday, the day that Obama visited the Tennessee town.

The Times Free Press says that “the headline was inappropriate for this newspaper. It was not the original headline approved for publication, and Johnson violated the normal editing process when he changed the headline. The newspaper’s decision to terminate Johnson had nothing to do with the content of the editorial, which criticized the president’s job creation ideas and Chattanooga’s Smart Grid. The Free Press page has often printed editorials critical of the president and his policies.”

The paper, oddly enough, has two editorial pages: the conservative Free Press (which Johnson ran and where the piece appeared) and the liberal Times.

On his Twitter feed, Johnson said that “any time the paper wanted to change the headline online (which is how most people read the editorial), they could've.” He added: “We change headlines all the time at the last minute. I had a filler headline in that stunk and thought of that Johnny Paycheck song.”

General Petraeus' Resignation

News of CIA Director David Petraeus resignation came as a shock today as rumors spread on Twitter and across the internet that the four-star general had an extramarital affair. General Petraeus, serving more than 35 years in the United States Army, submitted his letter of resignation to President Obama just days before he was set to testify in the Benghazi hearings on Capitol Hill. The Senate Intelligence Committee says he will no longer testify--


President Obama accepted the resignation and said his “thoughts and prayers” were with General Petraeus and his wife.


Do you believe that the Benghazi attack played any role in General Petreaus’ resignation? Let us know your thoughts here on the blog and on Twitter @BretBaier.

What will President Obama's second term look like?

More on this tonight on Special Report including the President Obama's cabinet-- who will stay and who will go? And what challenges lie ahead for the president and his administration? 


Also, the latest news on a breaking story--a US military drone fired upon last week by Iran over international waters-- why are we just learning about this now? And Catherine Herridge with a Benghazi update for us all at 6pm ET on Special Report!


Please follow Bret on Twitter @BretBaier-- we are so close to 300,000 followers!



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