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Play of the Day: Same-Sex Marriage Makes Monumental Strides, Some Backwards

Same-sex marriage is now being challenged in North Dakota, the last state without a legal challenge to its same-sex marriage ban. However, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the great state of Texas are making sure that things don't get out of hand.

Plus: The U.S. defeated Ghana in the World Cup opening round, but late-night hosts are willing to bet that most Americans can't identify Ghana on a map. Or even know that much about the players on the U.S. team.

(Image via Amy Walters/Shutterstock.com)

Senate, House Expected to Name Conferees for VA Legislation Wednesday

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders made a plea Tuesday for continued support for legislation intended to stop a rash of preventable deaths of veterans waiting for health care.

Taking to the Senate floor, the Vermont independent parroted comments from Republican Sen. John McCain earlier in the day that if ever there was an emergency, the Veterans Affairs Department mess is it, and therefore is deserving of emergency funds to address it.

The House and Senate have each made the issue a priority and passed legislation last week intended to make it easier to fire incompetent leaders at the VA and expand health care services to vets beyond the VA, among other reforms. The chambers now need to work out differences to get a bill to President Obama and into law.

Sanders said he expects both chambers to appoint conferees Wednesday to serve on a conference committee to negotiate a compromise bill and said his staff has already begun preliminary conversations with staff for Republican House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller.

But one wrinkle is a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report. The CBO estimated that the Senate bill—which would skip budget offsetting, pay-as-you-go rules—could add as...

'This is a Kick:' Biden Visits U.S. World Cup Team

After the U.S. Men's National Team won its first 2014 World Cup match Monday evening, Vice President Joe Biden visited the team in the locker room at Estadio das Dunas in Natal, Brazil. The United States beat Ghana 2-1, with a goal in the first minute and the 86th minute of the game. The White House posted a video Monday night of Biden meeting with the team and congratulating individual players. After players thanked him for making the trip and meeting with them, Biden punned, "Are you kidding me? This is a kick, man."

Biden's Instragram account posted a photo of the event Monday. Last Thursday, the account posted a Throwback Thursday photo of the vice president meeting soccer legend Pele at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Biden has been Barack Obama's main sporting ambassador for large international competitions. In addition to the previous World Cup in 2010, Biden traveled to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies. First Lady Michelle Obama was the star of the delegation to the 2012 London Summer Olympics. In response to recent Russian antigay laws and cooling diplomatic relations, Obama did not send any major members of his...

How Obama Lost the War in Iraq Before Taking Office

As militants move throughout Iraq, some blaming the White House for losing the war in Iraq. Only someone as nefarious as President Obama could have lost the war before taking office.

Plus: Obama gets his annual physical, but the pain in his foot isn't covered under Obamacare. And private citizen Mitt Romney called Hillary Clinton's political career a "monumental bust."

Whistleblower Advocates Praise Senate-Passed Intel Reforms

The Senate’s vote last week to approve a package of intelligence community whistleblower protections was welcomed on Monday by whistleblower advocacy groups.

The fiscal 2015 Intelligence Authorization bill the chamber passed June 12 would expand and codify available rights for whistleblowers that President Obama laid out in the October 2012 presidential policy directive 19, which had not provided intelligence employees all of the same protections enjoyed elsewhere in government.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee who has been highly critical of intelligence community secrecy following the revelations of domestic surveillance made by then-contractor Edward Snowden, gave a floor speech explaining his support for the new reforms.

“Existing laws and regulations say employees of American intelligence agencies who are concerned about possible misconduct, such as waste and fraud and illegal activity, are allowed to report that, and these laws and regulations lay out channels for doing it,” he said. “The idea is that if there is misconduct reported to one of these entities, the oversight entity would have some opportunity to do something about it. Unfortunately, reporting misconduct by your colleagues or by your agency does not always work out so well. That is...

Did the IRS Really Lose Lois Lerner's Emails? Let a Special Prosecutor Find Them.

A sloppy mistake, the government calls it, but you couldn't blame a person for suspecting a cover-up—the loss of an untold number of emails to and from the central figure in the IRS tea-party controversy. And because the public's trust is a fragile gift that the White House has frittered away in a series of second-term missteps, President Obama needs to act.

If the IRS can't find the emails, maybe a special prosecutor can.

The announcement came late Friday, a too-cute-by-half cliche of a PR strategy to mitigate backlash. "The IRS told Congress it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner's emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year," the Associated Press reported.

Lerner headed the IRS division that processed applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status by tea-party and other conservative groups.

At issue is whether the IRS probes were politically motivated and directed by the White House. Congressional investigators were hoping for answers in Lerner's emails.

The IRS also screened liberal groups, which Democrats claim as proof that there was no abuse of power. That's...

Lawmakers Vow Not to Miss 'Opportunity of a Lifetime' to Reform the VA

Lawmakers with oversight of the Veterans Affairs Department voiced at a House hearing on Thursday their desire to use the recent scandal as an opportunity to overhaul the agency.

Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee heard from private-sector medical experts, as well as a top-level VA executive, to reflect on proposals and solicit suggestions on how to improve the reeling agency. Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said the current appetite for change presents the “opportunity of a lifetime” to institute reforms.

“It will take more than the Band-Aid fixes that VA has proposed so far,” Miller said. VA needs a “wholesale systematic overhaul,” to include holding senior management accountable. Miller sponsored the House-backed VA Management Accountability Act, which would make it easier for VA to fire its Senior Executive Service employees.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, the committee’s ranking member, echoed Miller’s tone.

“The bureaucracy has lost its way and its focus,” he said. “The time might be now to effect big changes that would put the focus back on veterans and away from a culture of complacency.”

Many committee members, Michaud included, took pains to praise the “vast majority of VA employees.” Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., said...

Republicans Would be Better Off Dropping the Idea That All Government Is Bad

Before nonagenarian Representative Ralph Hall lost his seat in a Republican primary in Texas, no incumbent had been defeated in primaries this year, leading to the dominant press and pundit narrative: The Republican Empire Strikes Back. Oops. Now with the stunning defeat of Eric Cantor, we have narrative whiplash: The Return of the Tea Party.

Narratives are nice, clean, and easy, but the world is far messier. Cantor's defeat is huge, but it does not reflect a universal trend; after all, South Carolina's Republicans—who threw out free-marketer Bob Inglis because he was not conservative enough, who gave us Jim DeMint, and who made sure that many local GOP chapters denounced Lindsey Graham as a socialist—also gave Graham a comfortable margin as he cruised to renomination.

Senator Thad Cochran may well lose his renomination in Mississippi, but the batting average for "establishment" Republicans this year will still be over .900. And yet, there are serious and real reverberations here. For one thing, politicians are more moved by vivid example than overall statistics. All it took was one Bob Bennett in Utah to move Senate Republicans significantly to the right in attitude, agenda, and rhetoric. The assault on...

Congress Could Almost Be Done With VA Reform for the Year

The Senate's passage Wednesday of legislation intended to stop veterans from dying waiting for health care is likely to be Congress's last major reform bill for the year to address failings in veterans' services or clean up the embattled Veterans Affairs Department.

The bill, which makes it easier to fire incompetent VA officials and expands veterans' access to health care, passed the Senate 93-3. The legislation still needs to be reconciled with similar legislation passed by the House before it can be sent to President Obama and implemented into law.

The reforms are being heralded on Capitol Hill as a significant step toward trying to cut down the long wait times for health care that have left veterans languishing in need of medical service for months on end—or unable to even get onto wait lists at all. But it doesn't come close to solving all of the problems facing veterans or the VA, such as the disability-claims backlog which has roughly 300,000 claims pending for 125 days or more and the total inventory of claims hovering just under 1.3 million. It also fails to address several shortcomings in benefits, planning for future veteran needs...

One Chart Tracking the Many Ways Congress Wants to Fix VA

The Veterans Affairs Department is, by many accounts, broken, and Congress has a lot of ideas to fix it.

The Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to pass the McCain-Sanders VA bill, the most comprehensive attempt at finding solutions to the agency’s recent and systemic issues. The bill addresses concerns relating to current and future employees, and accounts for care access shortfalls for current and future veterans.

Is this latest development too much to keep track of? We’ve got you covered!

So far, no legislation has been sent to President Obama to sign into law. Below is a (nearly) comprehensive chart that shows a brief summary and the current status of the major VA bills Congress has considered in recent weeks and months. Stay tuned, as we’ll keep it updated as the various bills move through the legislative process.