Syria Negotiations Continue - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Geneva on Thursday to hear Russia's plans to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons and avert U.S.-led military strikes, an initiative that has transformed diplomacy in the two-and-a-half year old civil war.
Kerry would insist any deal must force Syria to take rapid steps to show it is serious about abandoning its chemical arsenal, senior U.S. officials said ahead of Kerry's talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Among the first steps Washington wants, one U.S. official said, is for the government of Bashar al-Assad to make a complete, public declaration of its chemical weapons stockpiles quickly as a prelude to allowing them to be inspected and neutralized.
This week's eleventh-hour Russian initiative interrupted a Western march to war, persuading President Barack Obama to put on hold a plan for military strikes to punish Assad for a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians on Aug 21. Reuters.com has more here.
The agency has also arranged for the Syrian opposition to receive anti-tank weaponry like rocket-propelled grenades through a third party, presumably one of the Gulf countries that has been arming the rebels, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official and two former intelligence officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the classified program publicly.
The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal first reported the lethal aid.
Top rebel commander Gen. Salim Idris told NPR on Thursday that rebels had received no such aid from the U.S. The CIA declined to comment. TPM.com has more here.
Government Shutdown Nears - With a government shutdown looming in less than three weeks, Republican House leaders conceded Wednesday that they have yet to muster enough votes to approve a plan to keep federal agencies open.
A vote on the measure, set for Thursday, was postponed until at least next week after conservatives balked, demanding that any deal to fund the government include a provision to cut off funding for President Obama’s signature health-care initiative.
Unless Congress acts, the government will shut down Oct. 1. The Treasury also faces a potential default as soon as Oct. 18, according to independent estimates. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he wants to avoid a shutdown and a default. But deep divisions within Republican ranks have left Boehner scrambling for a strategy that the vast majority of his caucus would embrace. The Washington Post has more here.
AFL-CIO Outlines Deficiencies in Affordable Care Act - On Wednesday afternoon, the nation’s largest labor federation adopted a resolution outlining serious flaws in the Affordable Care Act that could potentially hurt union members’ health plans. The move by the AFL-CIO sets unions up for a clash with a president that was re-elected with labor’s funds and ground troops during the 2012 campaign.
The resolution also threatened to divide the labor group as some unions vocally lobbied for fixes while others were more circumspect, wondering what could be accomplished in Washington dominated by a Republican-controlled House.
But unions were able to coalesce around one resolution that took aim at the ACA’s impact on multi-employer health plans, undermining the 40-hour work week and its series of taxes and fees that will hit collectively-bargained coverage particularly hard. TheHill.com has more here.
DCCC Taking Sides in 2014 Democratic Primaries - House Democrats are taking a calculated risk to help some candidates in contested, open primaries this cycle — despite the potential blowback that could come down the line.
The minority party faces one of the smallest House playing fields in a decade, so the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hopes that extra support for its top-tier recruits in primaries will yield the best odds of picking up the relatively few competitive seats attainable in 2014.
“Our mission is to help elect the candidate who can win, so when we see a potential candidate who can [win] when other candidates can’t win, we want to help to do what we can,” DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward said in a Wednesday phone interview.
The DCCC’s strategy marks the first time a House campaign committee has publicly helped candidates in contested primaries since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ran the DCCC in 2006. Then an Illinois congressman, Emanuel handpicked his recruits — often angering his party’s base in the process.
This cycle, the DCCC has selected 16 recruits for its new Jumpstart program, which provides financial, communications and strategic support to candidates in top races. The program acts as a seal of approval from the committee that the candidate has the tools and background to win in a specific district, while other candidates may not. RollCall.com has more here.
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