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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Unconscionable Smear: Israel, Race, and the American Left

If the steady, but manageable flow of ignorant commentary on Israel of late has turned into a flood, it’s because of a particular tactic of the left employed in abundance since the Israeli elections. A surefire way to misunderstand Israeli politics is to view it through the stable lens of America’s two-party system. And one meme that has gained traction on the left during Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership is the lazy, obtuse narrative that he acts as some sort of representative of the Republican Party rather than his own party and country. Such self-refuting nonsense doesn’t generally need to be dignified with attention. But the latest version represents a despicable smear that demands a response.
Juan Williams’s column in The Hill changes the attack in two ways. The first is that he joins some of his more doltish peers in the new belief that congressional Republicans are now responsible for Netanyahu’s words and actions. This is merely an escalation of the Democrats’ recent campaign to turn Israel into a partisan issue and demand the left break with Israel to show appropriate loyalty to Barack Obama. In doing so Williams and others are now pawning Israel off on the Republicans: they don’t even want to deal with the Jewish state except to periodically upbraid it.
This is toxic, but it pales in comparison to Williams’s next trick. Once he’s assigned Republicans blame for Bibi, he then transfers the left’s racial grievances to Netanyahu as well. And he thereby threatens not only to rewrite recent Israeli history but to do so in a way that attacks the history of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. and agitates for the crumbling of African-American support for Israel in the future, all in a deeply dishonest way.
It should be noted that while reasonable people can disagree about Netanyahu’s Facebook comments about Arabs voting “in droves,” it’s perfectly understandable to object to them. In truth, the comments, while inartful, were aimed more at the fact that foreign groups, including American-funded anti-Bibi efforts, were busing leftist voters in to improve turnout, thus raising the vote count a party like Likud would need in order to keep pace with its share of the overall vote.
That was lost on many, and that’s not a surprise. But Williams goes completely off the rails:
Obama’s spokesman condemned the use of such noxious rhetoric as a “cynical” tactic. But there 
has been no comment from Boehner or other top Republicans.
There is a terrible history of race-based political appeals in the United States. As a civil rights 
historian, I know the sharp edges of racial politics as revealed in coded campaign language, 
gerrymandering, voter suppression and even today’s strong black-white split when it comes to 
views of how police deal with poor black communities.
But both major American political parties reject having their candidates directly and openly play 
on racial tensions for short-term political gain.
It is dangerous politics, at odds with maintaining a socially and economically stable nation of 
many different races, as well as a rising number of immigrants. It is also not in keeping with 
America’s democratic values, specifically the Declaration of Independence’s promise that “All 
men are created equal.”
To overlook Netanyahu’s racial politics is to send a troubling message to Americans at a time 
when blacks and Hispanics are overwhelmingly Democrats and the Republican Party is almost 
all white.
And thus does Juan Williams, in a fit of rancid political sour grapes, connect Benjamin Netanyahu with America’s civil-rights era racial politics and voter suppression. When you are a liberal hammer, every problem is a nail with Bull Connor’s face on it.
First, some facts. There was no voter suppression of Arabs in Israel’s election. The joint Arab list won the third-most seats in the Knesset, behind the two major parties. Arab turnout was the highest it’s been since at least 1999, and among the highest it’s been in decades. Bibi did nothing to derail Arab voting, nor was he even trying to scare voters to the polls in a traditional sense. He wanted Israelis who were already planning on voting and who supported Israel’s right wing to vote Likud instead of a minor party further to the right, because the increased turnout on the left meant the right needed a stronger anchor party to be able to build a coalition around.
Additionally, as Evelyn Gordon wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, “Israel doesn’t have a law banning minarets, as Switzerland does, or a law barring civil servants from wearing headscarves, as France does; nor does it deny citizenship to Arabs just because they can’t speak the majority’s language, as Latvia does to some 300,000 ethnic Russians born and bred there. But over the past two decades, successive Israeli governments have invested heavily in trying to create de facto as well as de jure equality.”
Statistics on Arab education have improved dramatically. Employment in the high-tech sector “almost sextupled from 2009 to 2014”–and who was prime minister during that time? Arab consumption patterns are improving, integration is on the rise, and all without increasing anti-Arab prejudice, despite what some in the media would like to believe.
That’s not to solely credit Bibi or any one single politician, but Netanyahu’s time in office has undoubtedly been good for Israel’s Arabs. Even if you choose to believe the worst interpretation of Netanyahu’s Facebook comment (for which he apologized), the picture Williams paints of Likud’s relationship with Israeli Arabs is so distorted as to be unrecognizable as the reality of modern Israel.
But Williams has another purpose: not only to falsely explain the present and the past but also the future. The tension between the Jewish and black communities is a source of great tsuris to the Jews, who felt called by God to stand with African-Americans in their times of trouble and to march with them to assert their inalienable rights which were denied for so long. But too many influential black leaders–think Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton (who was at the forefront of the closest thing America ever had to a pogrom), and even Jeremiah Wright, whose church guided our current president for so long–have sought to discourage such solidarity, and resorted to anti-Semitism to do so.
I imagine this greatly pains Williams. He spends some time in his column recounting the lack of support for Israel among America’s minorities, principally African-Americans and Hispanics, and he seems fairly unhappy about it. But he notes, correctly, that the Democratic drift away from Israel threatens to be even more profound among these minority communities. And so he blames Bibi:
This disagreement among American racial groups is reflected in the split between Republicans 
and Democrats over Israel. …
These divisions are likely even deeper now, after Netanyahu’s racial political appeal.
Going forward, it will now be gentler on the consciences of Democrats like Williams if support for Israel deteriorates among minority communities. From here on out, they’ll say it was inevitable after this election. That’s much simpler than taking on the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the Wrights, and the president whose ear they have had.
And it’s much simpler than swimming against the tide of leftist hostility to Israel. It’s the easy way out, and there’s nothing principled or noble about it.

Obama wants to turn America against Israel

By Ed Lasky

Barack Obama wants to fundamentally transform something besides America.
As most informed Americans know by now, Barack Obama is a man with grandiose visions of himself.
According to Barack Obama, President Obama’s accomplishments have vaulted him into the pantheon of the greats: Lincoln, Roosevelt and Johnson. His nomination victory speech marked the moment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” according to, once again, Barack Obama. He was a better political director than his political director and a better speechwriter than his speechwriters, reported…Barack Obama. The sense of grandiosity is dangerous in any president as is the view that a president can do whatever he wants -- the conception of the presidency as held by …you guessed it…Barack Obama. When Barack Obama declared he yearned to go full Bulworth in his second term when he would no longer be on the ballot, pundits pondered how he would wield his power.
One primary goal has become increasingly apparent. He wants to fundamentally transform America’s feelings towards and support of Israel, one of our most reliable and key allies. He has been doing so in ways that should offend every America, because the methods he has used are contrary to our best and most honored traditions.
When questions first arose regarding his controversial relationship with the anti-American, anti-white, and anti-Semitic Jeremiah Wright (whom he called his “moral compass” and “political mentor”), the media were eager to dismiss allegations that he shared -- or even heard Wright express -- such beliefs. This was so despite Barack Obama having previously said he attended almost every sermon Wright gave; despite having his daughters baptized by Wright; despite giving the bulk of his charitable donations to Wright’s church; despite borrowing one of Wright’s favorite phrases, (not “God Damn America” and not any of the many anti-Israel tropes) “Audacity of Hope,” for the title of one of his books; and despite approvingly quoting Wright’s “white man’s greed runs a world in need” in the same book.  (A sampling of Wright’s  anti-Israel hits be found in Barack Obama and Israel.)  Among a raft of other screeds, Wright complained that America was too close to Israel.  Later, Wright’s anti-Semitism became clearer when he blasted “them Jews” for keeping him from talking with Obama once he became president.  The New York Times quoted Wright as predicting that if more people knew about his closeness to Barack Obama and his own views, "a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell." 
Now why would that be?  Perhaps he thought the media might pick up on Wright’s close friendship with Louis Farrakhan, who said Hitler was a great man and Judaism was a gutter religion. Or the fact that the two of them went on a fundraising mission to seek money from Libyan dictator, terror-supporting Muammar Gaddafi.  Or that Wright decided to bestow an award on Farrakhan. His church’s magazine also published anti-Semitic screeds from Hamas leadership. Perhaps that was the reason that Barack Obama told a Palestinian activist in Chicago that he had to tone down his views towards Israel for campaign reasons and his campaign joined with a compliant media to obscure this history and his relationship with Wright and to attack the messengers who wanted to make these facts more transparent.
His plan to pursue policies inimical to the America-Israel relationship was clear form the earliest days of his presidency. In July, 2009, he had Jewish leaders at the White House, reportedly telling them that he sought to put “daylight” between America and Israel. There has been a lot of coverage over his treatment of Israel over the last few years (a chronology of those actions can be found here and another treatment can be found here).
The Democratic Party has been moving away from support for Israel for years. This has been proven by poll after poll regarding the party affiliation of those who sympathize and support Israel. There was a visual manifestation of this reality three years ago.  During the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama had maneuvered through his minions to remove from the plank longstanding support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Reacting to criticism from the Republican Party, efforts were made to restore the language. Pandemonium ensued, since many delegates objected to the restoration, and made their anger known. Other changes were made that escaped the radar screen but signaled diminished support for Israel by Democrats. However, Obama is acting as an accelerant; as president he has demanded all Democrats support his anti-Israel policies, pulling them farther away from supporting America’s one true ally in the region as he has led the liberal breakup with Israel. Will Democrats continue to be AWOL when it comes to defending Israel from their president?
However his plan to turn other Americans against Israel has received scant attention. His agenda is to permanently drive a wedge between Israel and Americans that will last many years after he has left the Oval Office.
He chose as an early adviser Daniel Kurtzer, who had co-written a book advocating that the way to weaken and pressure Israel was to take steps to weaken its support among Americans.  A similar course of action was seemingly advocated by Samantha Power, also a key foreign policy adviser during his campaign (she complained about criticism of Obama being all about “what was good for the Jews”) is and now America’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
So how has he sought to turn Americans against Israel?  Barack Obama seems determined to portray Israel as a racist nation.
In 2006 when “flying over the Palestinian territories” he used the term “separation barrier” when describing the security fence that was erected to stop the massive number of suicide attacks that were killing so many Israelis.  Separation barrier is redolent of racism -- as in “keeping the races separate,” as in “separate but equal.”  Most people refer to it as a security fence or, in some areas, a wall. His comment elicited little response at the time but given what followed maybe more people should have been alerted to the use of such loaded words.
What followed? John Kerry’s description of an Israel he said was at risk of becoming an “apartheid nation.”  Administration spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that President Obama shared John Kerry’s views.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress, Barack Obama worked to ensure that many members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) would boycott the speech. Obama and company created a racial controversy over a petulant political spat. Obama is a master of manufacturing outrage.
According to Newsweek’s Jonathan Broder, South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn, a powerful Congressman and a long-time member of the CBC, Netanyahu’s speech was an "affront to America's first black president.” A Democratic Congressional aide says “the Congressional Black Caucus is gone” [for Israel].
When, during the closing days of Netanyahu’s campaign, a Facebook posting on his campaign website tried to motivate his supporters to vote by conveying the message that Arab citizens of Israel were coming out in “droves” (helped along by Obama’s machinations within Israel to bring down Netanyahu, including the use of taxpayer money to do so). The language may not be the most felicitous, but similar rhetoric warning of massive turnout in support of opponents is a common practice during campaigns -- certainly Barack Obama himself has done the same during his campaigns-without eliciting charges of racism. As Jeff Jacoby wrote in Obama’s Hypocrisy with Netanyahu:
The candidate who captivated America with his promise to transcend partisan and racial rancor turned out to be the most consistently polarizing president in modern history. He hasn’t scrupled to inject barbed racial comments into the nation’s political discourse, but if he has ever candidly apologized for doing so, it must have been on deep background. Obama’s contempt for Netanyahu is nothing new, but before he lambastes other political leaders for their “divisive rhetoric,” the president really ought to take a good look in the mirror.
But Barack Obama has pounced on this posting and has refused to listen to Netanyahu’s repeated apologies and clarifications.  Obama, who focuses on polls, surely knows that African-American support for Israel is declining.  Is he trying accelerate that downward trend? Was Obama playing the race card?
He also wants to portray Israelis as opponents of a two-state solution with the Palestinians by seizing on a mistaken media report that seemed to indicate Netanyahu was backtracking on his previous support of a two-state solution. He was not; Netanyahu merely stated that given the chaos that rages across the region and the repeated Palestinian rejection of peace deals, he could not see the conditions as being ripe “today” for a Palestinian state. But the facts did not matter, nor did repeated clarifications and corrections of that mistaken report. The White House did not even reach out to the Israelis to confirm the report. Obama saw an opportunity to tar all Israelis as rejecting the possibility of a Palestinian state and willfully promoted this distortion. As Edward-Isaac Dovere of Politico wrote:
Obama went further than he or anyone around him had before. Then just when he seemed to be wrapping up, he dug in some more.
“I took him at his word that that’s what he meant, and I think that a lot of voters inside of Israel understood him to be saying that fairly unequivocally,” Obama said.
Therefore, from his bully pulpit (and bully is the right word) he castigates Israelis as being opposed to a Palestinian state.
Polls have shown for many years that Israelis want a two-state solution but they have learned through the bitter experience  (and many wounded and killed) of giving up Gaza to the Palestinians that, given current reality, Palestine is likely to become another terror state.
There are certainly signs that he sees Israelis as being oppressors, colonialists and imperialists and now he wants to use his powers of persuasion to promote those views to other Americans. He may use proxies to do so. A recent example was his Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough telling J Street (an anti-Israel group posing as a pro-Israel group) that Israel’s “occupation that has lasted for 50 years must end.”
Barack Obama’s relationship with J Street shows his desire to conquer and divide the Jewish community and turn American Jews against Israel. He has actively courted and promoted J Street and close allies were among its founders. George Soros, an early and generous supporter of Obama’s nascent political career, hid his pivotal funding of J Street at its inception from prying eyes (and J Street lied about Soros’s funding when asked) until the disclosure of his support was unwittingly disclosed. Obama has given respectability and influence to J Street that it had previously lacked; sending top officials to address their conferences and inviting its leadership into the inner sanctum of the White House.
There are more problematic aspects of Barack Obama’s campaign to turn Americans against Israel. He and his proxies have indulged in tropes that have a doleful history. For hundreds of years Jews have been accused of being warmongers, leading the nations they reside in to war. When Congressional opponents of Obama’s appeasement of Iran suggested his “negotiations” were heading in the direction of arming the mullahs with nuclear weapons, the White House dared them to admit they want war:
"If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so," Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement. "Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed”.
Of course, they do not want war, they want a tougher agreement that may prevent war.  But Obama laid down the gauntlet and accused them of wanting to wage war on Iran. Given Obama’s history of eagerly surrendering to tyrants (Assad, Castro, Putin) people are fearful he will do so with the number one terror-sponsoring nation on earth, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans.
Jews are often the first target in such campaigns. Obama gave a speech in 2006 against the Iraq War and pointed fingers at who was responsible:
"Opposed to the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in the administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throat…."
This is disturbing. Obama ignored the role of Colin Powell, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice and other movers and shakers in the Administration. But Perle (who never even served in the Administration) and Wolfowitz (who was a Deputy Secretary) have been lumped together by many anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists as Jews who led us into the Iraq War to serve the interests of Israel. Why make 2 Jews, one of whom had zero role in the government, as the “culprits” behind the war?
Recently, Barack Obama gave us further insight into his views when he publicly lashed out at Senator Robert Menendez for supporting a tougher approach towards Iran by accusing him of acting at the behest of “donors.”
Barack Obama is trafficking in tropes and canards -- dog whistling to the anti-Semitically inclined -- that he (as a self-declared “student of history”) should know have a tragic history. Casting aspersions such as these canards has, finally, raised concerns “about the intentions being signaled by the language the White House is using” While some have questioned whether Barack Obama is anti-Semitic and others declare him to be, as has Mark Levin, one should recall that during the campaign in 2008, when controversy arose over his views towards Israel, he boasted “nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti- Semitism than I have."  He was ridiculed by Jake Tapper of ABC News for the claim. But he does have a funny way of showing his bona fides as the world’s greatest fighter against anti-Semitism.
Why welcome of Al Sharpton, with a long history of anti-Semitism and with an American-style pogrom to his credit, to the White House as his point man on race? One of his favorite bloggers is Andrew Sullivan, who traffics in anti-Semitic tropes. Why call Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan among his closest friends among world leaders when Erdogan has been on a non-stop campaign to spread anti-Semitism throughout the region?
Furthermore, the White House leaked to the media a story that Israel was “spying” on America and “stealing our secrets” during the “negotiations” with Iran. Israel denied the allegations. Information gleaned from the Iran talks likely came from eavesdropping on the Iranians and disclosures from the French -- who have serious problems with the weak approach Obama has taken with the Iranians. Allies, by the way, spy on one another all the time. America spied on Angela Merkel and the story the White House leaked about “Israel spying on America” came from American spying on Israel. But the image of the perfidious Israelis spying on America is indelible -- and shameful. There are reasons people feel that “the claims of Israeli spying are part of an intentional American campaign toundermine Israel's standing among the American public and their elected officials.” Investors Business Daily titled an editorial against this outrage “Libel is Obama’s Latest Weapon in his War on Israel” for a good reason.
Earlier in his presidency, when there were future campaigns to come, Barack Obama agreed that policy differences with Israel were to be dealt with diplomatically and privately, free from the glare of klieg lights. Now that he is no longer on the ballot he has been shining a bright line on them and focused his ire and anger not just on Netanyahu and not just on Israel but on American supporters of Israel. He has been portraying Israel in a way that he has not portrayed Putin’s Russia, the mullahs of Iran, and radical Islamic terrorists. Why the disparate treatment?
His goal is to undermine support for Israel among Americans, and he intends to carry on not just until the end of his presidency but, taking a leaf from former President Jimmy Carter, will do so for many years after he leaves office as part of his Grand Plan to continue to fundamentally transform America and Americans’ views of Israel.

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President Obama vetoed a resolution that would have protected employers from proposed regulations speeding up union elections on Tuesday.
The Republican-controlled House and Senate approved resolutions in March to prevent the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the nation’s top labor arbiter, from implementing new union election rules, which would have eliminated a 25-day waiting period in the union election process. Obama said on Tuesday that the GOP resolution undermined the NLRB’s attempt to “streamline a democratic process that allows American workers to freely choose to make their voices heard.”
Congressional Republicans say that the ambush election rule does more to undermine the democratic process.
Unions and labor organizers spend months and sometimes years to get workers to sign petition cards to organize an election. Employers, meanwhile, are forced to play catch-up, educating workers on the potential downsides of union membership in the small window between the NLRB election petition and the election itself.
Rep. Phil Roe (R., Tenn.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, said the administration’s actions are rooted in rewarding political allies, rather than protecting workers.
“It is extremely disappointing the administration is moving forward with this misguided rule,” Roe said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. “I have been an outspoken opponent of the ambush election rule and remain concerned that President Obama is putting the interests of labor unions ahead of workers and employers. It is completely unacceptable and beyond frustrating.”
Business groups are equally vexed by the veto. The National Restaurant Associations said that Obama’s action tilts the scales in union elections, rather than producing the “level playing field” he called for on Tuesday.
“NLRB’s unnecessary overreach has already placed significant burdens on the restaurant industry and our nation’s employer community by narrowing the length of time between the filing of a union petition and an employee vote on unionization,” said Angelo Amador, who is regulatory counsel to the group and its senior vice president of labor and workforce policy. “This rule denies employees full and proper access to information, restricts employers’ rights to due process and proper time to address employee concerns and the ability to raise substantive issues and concerns.”
The NLRB is pushing ahead with the implementation of the regulations set to debut in April. The agency conducted training seminars on implementing the new rules at the headquarters of SEIU Local 32BJ in Manhattan on Thursday.
The NLRB has been criticized for not appreciating the hardships it is placing on small businesses.
Rep. Andy Harris (R., Md.) challenged Richard Griffin, the NLRB‘s general counsel and a longtime union lawyer, to justify the hastened union election process at a March 25 hearing for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
When Griffin forgot his own agency’s recommended timeline for conducting union elections, Harris said that the agency should grant leeway to small businesses that may lack legal resources.
“The General Counsel of the NLRB got that critical question wrong. You had to turn around and get—I’m amazed,” Harris said. “I now understand why it’s called an ambush election.”
The National Restaurant Association’s Amador said in a statement that the White House has misplaced its priorities.
“The Administration should recognize that this is a hard day for America’s small businesses community as employers will have a difficult time responding and employees will have decreased access to education during union election campaigns,” he said.
The veto does not mean that the new regulations will necessarily survive. Two different lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the legality of the NLRB’s actions.
The regulations will go into effect on April 14.

Iran nuke negotiators look to extend talks past deadline

International negotiators plan to extend talks over Iran's nuclear program past a midnight deadline into Wednesday, a State Department official said. 
‎"We've made enough progress in the last days to merit staying until Wednesday. There are several difficult issues still remaining," spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. 
An Iranian negotiator, meanwhile, said his team could stay "as long as necessary" to clear the remaining hurdles. 
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested that talks meant to produce an outline that would allow the sides to continue negotiations until the June 30 final deadline had not bridged all gaps. But he said that the sides were working to produce a text with few specifics, accompanied by documents outlining areas where further talks were needed.
Such a development could risk the ire of Congress, which had agreed to hold off on pursuing new sanctions while negotiations were underway. 
The Associated Press reported earlier that, according to officials, the U.S., Iran and five world powers were preparing to issue a general statement agreeing to continue talks in a new phase aimed at reaching a final agreement to control Iran's nuclear ambitions by the end of June. 
Originally, international negotiators were working against a Tuesday at midnight (6 p.m. Eastern Time) deadline to reach the framework for a deal. But the negotiators later softened that, so they were aiming for a mere framework understanding, between Iran and the so-called P5+1 nations -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. 
After intense negotiations, obstacles remained on uranium enrichment, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, limits on Iran's nuclear research and development and the timing and scope of sanctions relief among other issues. 
The joint statement would be accompanied by additional documents that outline more detailed understandings, allowing the sides to claim enough progress has been made thus far to merit a new round, the officials told the AP. Iran has not yet signed off on the documents, one official said, meaning any understanding remains unclear. 
Without a clear framework, however, the Obama administration could face rising pressure from Capitol Hill -- which, in turn, could create turbulence in the talks themselves. 
The talks have already been extended twice as part of more than a decade of diplomatic attempts to curb Tehran's nuclear advance. 
The softening of the language from a framework "agreement" to a framework "understanding" appeared due in part to opposition to a two-stage agreement from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Earlier this year, he demanded only one deal that nails down specifics and does not permit the other side to "make things difficult" by giving it wiggle room on interpretations. 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in the Swiss town of Lausanne since Thursday in an intense effort to reach a political understanding on the issue. 
Kerry and others at the table said the sides have made some progress, with Iran considering demands for further cuts to its uranium enrichment program but pushing back on how long it must limit technology it could use to make atomic arms. In addition to sticking points on research and development, differences remain on the timing and scope of sanctions removal, officials told the Associated Press. 
Adding another layer of complexity to the difficult negotiations, The Wall Street Journal, citing Western officials, reported late Monday that there are signs that Khamenei has not granted his negotiators the power to budge from their positions on certain critical issues. 
In particular, the Journal reported that Khamenei has repeatedly insisted that U.N. sanctions be lifted immediately once any deal takes effect. By contrast, the U.S. and the other nations involved have proposed that sanctions would only be lifted gradually and be tied to Iran living up to promises it has made in any agreement. 
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday that Iran's expectations from the talks are "very ambitious" and not yet acceptable to his country or the other five negotiating. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov left the talks on Monday and planned to return only if the prospects for a deal looked good. 
The Obama administration says any deal will stretch the time Iran needs to make a nuclear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year. But critics object that it would keep Tehran's nuclear technology intact. 
Tehran has said it is willing to address concerns about its stockpiles of enriched uranium, although it has denied that will involve shipping it out of the country, as some Western officials have said. One official said on Monday that Iran might deal with the issue by diluting its stocks to a level that would not be weapons grade. 
Over the past weeks, Iran has moved from demanding that it be allowed to keep nearly 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, to agreeing to 6,000. The officials said Tehran now may be ready to accept even fewer. 
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Justice Dept. appeals federal judge's hold on Obama's immigration action

The Justice Department urged a federal appeals court Monday to reverse a hold a judge placed on President Barack Obama's immigration executive action.
The 69-page brief was filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ahead of arguments scheduled for next month.
Lawyers for the federal government are challenging a preliminary injunction issued in February by a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas. That decision placed on hold an executive action that could spare from deportation as many as 5 million people who are in the U.S. illegally.
Justice Department lawyers say in the new court filing that the federal government has unique authority to enforce the nation's immigration laws and to use its limited resources to exercise discretion during the deportation process, including by deferring removal of certain groups of immigrants, such as those who do not pose a public safety threat.
The executive action was challenged by a coalition of 26 states, led by Texas, who argued that the move was unconstitutional. The states have said they will suffer irreversible economic harm if the injunction is lifted. But the Justice Department says the states have failed to show exactly how they would be negatively affected by the executive action.
A court hearing has been set for April 17.
The other states seeking to block Obama's orders are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers crumble

Hillary Rodham Clinton, former US Secretary of State, speaks during her keynote remarks at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves summit, Friday Nov. 21, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)Hillary Clinton speaks at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves summit last year in New York. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

By Jennifer Rubin

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s margins are down in matchups with possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates in three critical swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and in no state do voters say she’s honest and trustworthy, but she still runs best overall of any candidate, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released today.
The closest contests are in Florida, where former Gov. Jeb Bush gets 45 percent to Clinton’s 42 percent, and Pennsylvania, where U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky gets 45 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent. . . . Clinton’s favorability rating is down in each state, but she still does better than Republican contenders, except for Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida.
The poll comes as Clinton’s e-mail scandal continues to dog her. The House Select Committee on Benghazi today sent her lawyer a letter informing him that “this Committee is left with no alternative but to request Secretary Clinton appear before this Committee for a transcribed interview to better understand decisions the Secretary made relevant to the creation, maintenance, retention, and ultimately deletion of public records. The Committee is willing to schedule the interview at a time convenient for Secretary Clinton, but no later than May 1, 2015.” But the e-mails are only one problem, maybe the least of her worries. Three issues at this point are far more acute.
First, with each new GOP candidate’s announcement, the public and press will be treated to a newer face, someone who is not drearily familiar and has not been part of a soap opera on the national stage for decades. Whether or not the GOP candidates mention Clinton, the voters are beckoned to move on and to witness a fresher candidate. The lack of any Democratic contest to speak of and the lack of an official campaign for an inevitable nominee who hides from the press stand in sharp contrast to a boisterous GOP filled with interesting characters.
Second, the foreign policy Clinton helped put in place is inextricably linked to the multiple disasters on the international front. Given her association with them and her fear of crossing the president and left-wing base, she remains both responsible for and awkwardly silent on the bevy of crises playing out. She won’t come out and decry the embarrassing mound of concessions to Iran piling up in Lausanne, Switzerland. She can’t join the bipartisan backlash against the president’s threats to stop blocking anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. So she is mute, largely absent and yet partly responsible for the chaos that has ensued.
Third, we still don’t know what her campaign would be about. It certainly is not going to be about extending the Obama foreign policy legacy. Beyond that, Clinton has given bland generalizations. The void is filled with scandal, not only the e-mails but also the receipt of millions by her foundation from Arab governments and her insatiable greed. What is there to like? The Clinton spinners insist the problem is that she is not yet officially in the race. But perhaps that is the only thing preventing a complete meltdown in her ratings. Once she is out and about, she’ll have a host of nettlesome questions to fend off and her mediocre political skills will be on full display. The real question is not why her poll numbers are descending but rather whether this is as high as they will ever be.