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With an Eye on the Clock, Obama Works to Tie Up Loose Ends

Image: President Obama Meets With Students Participating In An Hour Of Code Event

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 8: U.S. President Barack Obama talks to middle-school students who are participating in an "Hour of Code" event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House on December 8, 2014 in Washington, DC. The event is in honor of Computer Science Education Week. (Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images) Pool / Getty Images

There’s a way to look at President Obama’s recent actions as he heads into his final two years in office -- tying up some of the loose ends of promises he hadn’t completely fulfilled. You have the executive action on immigration after Congress was unable to pass comprehensive reform. There was the release of additional Guantanamo Bay prisoners as Obama has still been unable to officially close the Gitmo prison. And today comes the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture committed during the Bush years -- after Obama had promised accountability on this issue. But as Politico suggests, the report is due more to Senate Democrats than to the president himself. “Despite the White House’s claim that Obama “strongly supports” making the report public, the CIA and Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough have been wrangling for months with Intelligence Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to limit disclosure of details that Democratic senators say are crucial to understanding the narrative of the program. Some of those lawmakers say Obama’s commitment to ending torture has been crystal clear, but his commitment to exposing the history was never as strong.”

Trying to finish what he started

Still, as our colleague John Harwood recently wrote, Obama’s recent moves have been motivated by advancing the policy goals he espoused as a presidential candidate in 2008 -- rather than by trying to raise his approval ratings or reaching consensus with congressional Republicans. “His Environmental Protection Agency is devising rules to curb carbon emissions. He invoked prosecutorial discretion to shield some five million illegal immigrants from deportation,” Harwood says. “Neither executive move accomplished as much as Mr. Obama could have through legislation, but may have been the only realistic routes forward that a polarized political system allowed him.”

Previewing what’s in the Senate Intelligence report

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell previewed on “Nightly News” what’s expected in the Senate Intelligence Committee report when it’s released today. Per Mitchell, “Those who've read the report say it is graphic -- similar to the interrogation in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and devastating to the CIA. It accuses three CIA directors and their deputies of lying to Congress, the White House, and the American people -- and cites 20 cases where investigators say the torture produced no useful intelligence. It describes the waterboarding of three detainees in 2002 and 2003, including bin Laden's right hand man, Khalid Sheik Mohammed… Other harsh techniques continued for years: slamming detainees into walls, sleep deprivation, dousing them with cold water.” Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee have already slammed the report. “We are concerned that this release could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies. Simply put, this release is reckless and irresponsible. We have written to the administration reminding them of these concerns,” Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jim Risch (R-ID) said in a statement.

White House: Expect 'Painful Details' in CIA Torture Report 0:50

“CROminbus” hits a snag

Well, the government-funding legislation that Congress is attempting to pass before it adjourns has hit a snag. The question is whether this snag is your run-of-the-mill legislating that always gets a little harder at the end – or whether it signals something much more. Here’s NBC’s Luke Russert: “Aides say that House and Senate negotiators are still haggling over a few policy riders (things stuck in the bill that have nothing to do with overall bill and can be controversial) specifically ones regarding the EPA and some other government agencies. Aides say that there are ‘five to six policy riders that require some member input.’ Since members were home this past weekend, they'll be getting the most up to date briefing tonight.” Nevertheless, Russert adds, aides from both sides say that things are on track for Thursday House passage and their tying up loose ends and running it by members to make sure it all checks out.

GOP establishment trying to clear the presidential field?

On Monday, the New York Times reported that establishment GOP donors are privately discussing “how to clear the field for a single establishment candidate to carry the party’s banner in 2016, fearing that a prolonged primary would bolster Hillary Rodham Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate.” The three potential presidential contenders these deep-pocketed establishment types are eyeing: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Mitt Romney. But to us, it’s striking how:

  • Jeb, Christie, and Romney all have subpar fav/unfavs in our most recent NBC/WSJ polls;
  • Marco Rubio wasn’t mentioned in the article, and Rand Paul didn’t come up until the 23rd paragraph;
  • And that these GOP donors tend to equate fundraising prowess with being the best general-election candidate, when that’s not always the case.

Bridge-gate indictments coming in January?

Speaking of Christie, just as a Democratic-led investigation in New Jersey couldn’t find evidence that Christie had direct involvement in the lane closures that turned into a scandal in his state comes the report by WNBC’s Brian Thompson that the scandal could produce multiple indictments by next month. Thompson’s story: “One of the targets associated with this lane shutdown at the GW Bridge is now saying they expect to be indicted, soon after the first of the year. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman's probe of what happened at the bridge is not quite a year old, and our report Friday suggested as many as six indictments could come in January. Now, this one person, who does not want to be identified, is telling friends of the expected indictment -- a more definitive statement than we have had before.” Folks, if indictments are coming in January, that is VERY bad timing as it relates to 2016. And as we’ve said before, Bridge-gate lately has become the least of Christie’s worries (see New Jersey’s credit downgrades).

MoveOn mulling whether to launch effort to draft Warren for ’16

Meanwhile, the liberal group MoveOn is holding a vote -- which concludes tomorrow at 10:30 am ET -- on whether to launch an effort to persuade Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to run for president in 2016. Warren has continually said she isn’t running, and she even joined the Senate Democratic leadership after the party’s losses in the midterm election. If the MoveOn vote is successful, the organization says it will spend $1 million to:

  • open offices and deploy office staff in early primary and caucus states like Iowa and New Hampshire;
  • assemble a national volunteer army ready to go to work if Sen. Warren enters the race;
  • recruit small-dollar donors who pledge their support;
  • and place ads and media products that call attention to how Sen. Warren has stood up and fought for the middle class.

Gruber testifies on Capitol Hill

Lastly, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about his controversial comments about the health-care law. The hearing begins at 9:30 am ET.

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