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Josh Earnest’s Guide to Softening 'Hard-Bitten' Reporters

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Josh Earnest stepped up to the podium as the new White House press secretary just weeks ago, but already he’s figured out a few ways to butter up “hard-bitten” White House reporters.

Principle among his methods, the father-to-be revealed to ABC News, is to discuss parenthood.

“It’s something that so many people can relate to and hearing the experience of even some hard-bitten White House reporters…talking to them about the birth of their first child, they routinely describe it as the greatest day of their life,” said Earnest, whose wife is due later this summer.

“I think, like all parents who are about to have their first child, we are feeling a lot of trepidation about this experience that we're preparing for, but also incredibly excited,” he said.

The trepidation of first-time parenthood aside, Earnest admits he’s still getting settled into his new job as press secretary -- a role he assumed following Jay Carney’s departure last month.

But playing the role of mediator between the White House and the press corps is nothing new to Earnest. He has worked for President Obama since the Iowa caucus in 2007 and went on to assume a principal role in the White House press office following the president’s election in 2008.

“Having [had] that office right through that door,” Earnest said while gesturing toward his old office that sits directly behind the White House press briefing room. “I often described myself as the option of first resort for a lot of reporters.”

Over his six and a half years working in the White House, the Missouri native has developed a reputation among the press corps as the “Midwestern nice guy.” And now that he’s fielding reporters’ tough questions in the daily press briefings -- exchanges which can sometimes be combative -- Earnest said he hopes he’ll continue to be thought of as the nice guy.

“I would like it to be,” Earnest said. “I like reporters. Reporters that are working here at the White House have really difficult jobs…One of the things that's old-fashioned about working at the White House is that even in the age of email and Twitter and even telephones, a lot of the interactions that I have with reporters on a daily basis are in person, are face-to-face.”

Though he now has the challenging task of going head-to-head with reporters on a daily basis, there are some definite perks to the new job. For one, Earnest has an unusual level of access to Obama.

In addition to having a seat at the table for the president’s meetings with senior advisers, Obama has given Earnest rights to come by the Oval Office whenever he needs to -- no appointment necessary.

“The president mentioned to me when he offered me this job…that if I was ever in a circumstance where I needed to speak with him about something, either in advance of a briefing or related to something else that we were handling, that I should come stand outside the Oval Office, and I could walk in and talk to him as necessary,” he said.

It’s a perk that Earnest said he’s only taken advantage of once so far, following some comments the president made alluding to additional financial market regulations.

“Knowing of the market sensitivity of that answer, and knowing that it was only the president himself who knew exactly what he was alluding to, I wanted to make sure that he was comfortable with the answer to that I was prepared to give,” Earnest said.

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GOP, Dems Butt Heads over Bill to Help Vets

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Once more gridlock in Washington may waylay an important bill, this time to aid veterans.

Republicans and Democrats have been working on a measure that would provide funds for doctors and facilities to care for vets, many of whom have waited endlessly for treatment at Veterans Affairs facilities.

Although they agree on the urgency to treat veterans, House Republicans and Senate lawmakers disagree on just how much money is needed and how to offset costs.

House Speaker John Boehner complained Thursday, "The White House rolls in with a request for 13.6 billion dollars of new money, not very clearly outlined. No hearings, no nothing and expect us to just add it to this conference report. We're not going to do that."

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, alleged that this was another example of Republican stonewalling in an election year.

After six weeks of negotiations, Sanders lamented, "I am sad to say that at this point I can only conclude with great reluctance that the good faith we have shown is simply not being reciprocated by the other side."

With lawmakers heading out for a long summer recess after next week, Sanders said he was pessimistic that any deal can be worked out by the end of July.

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Christie, Haley Challenge White House Handling of Illegal Migrant Children

Chris Keane/Getty Images(ASPEN, Colo.) -- Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Chris Christie of New Jersey had harsh words for the White House’s handling of the border crisis during a Republican governors’ panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Thursday night.

Haley worried about the potential costs of temporarily sheltering migrant children in states across the country, despite assurances that the federal government would foot the bill.

“We do care about these children…but we also have our own children to take care of,” Haley said.

Christie questioned the system in place that allows children to be released into the custody of  “possibly illegal” relatives ahead of their court dates. “It’s completely illogical and it’s why folks get so frustrated with the government,” he said.

Of the panel’s participants, Haley, Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Rick Scott of Florida all face re-election in November.

Yet the evening’s two only electoral comments came from Christie. The first, regarding social welfare and the economy, bashed Mitt Romney’s infamous 47-percent comment.

“One of the biggest mistakes of the 47-percent comment was…the vast majority of people don’t want to be on public assistance,” Christie said. “That wasn’t the American dream, at least when I grew up.”

Christie later refuted an audience member’s assertion that the GOP needs to reevaluate its social platform to attract female and minority voters in the future.

“We’re getting pounded because of the way we present ourselves,” said Christie, who pointed to his success in New Jersey despite being pro-life. “People want folks who are authentic…but are also tolerant and willing to listen.”

Democratic governors will take part in their own Aspen Institute panel on Aug. 2.

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Obamacare “Creepy Care-nival" Opens on the National Mall

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Some people have a fear of clowns, particularly creepy ones. Polls show millions of people still feel the same way about Obamacare. A cheeky “Creepy Care-nival” held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. this week was intended to combine the two to show some of the aspects of the health care law that its critics find frightening.

The Creepy Care-nival featured knife-throwing jugglers, a house call from Dr. Grim Reaper, and a virtual death panel.

The ghoulish displays were created by Generation Opportunity, the Koch brothers-affiliated group that also produced the controversial “Creepy Uncle Sam” ads.

Tightrope walkers, acrobats, and clowns mingled with elected officials like Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

Activities and refreshments had an Obamacare spin, and were “rigged against young people,” said Generation Opportunity president Evan Feinberg. The youngish crowd of tourists, Washington types, and curious joggers enjoyed ominous palm readings, an impossible coin toss, and basketball with a ball too big for the hoop. There were even Obamacare palm readings.

The event’s main attraction, a “creepy hospital,” took participants through a hospital run by “Dr. Grim Reaper.”

The tour ended in a room filled with signs listing infamous episodes in American public health history, including the forced lobotomization of World War II veterans recently detailed in the Wall Street Journal, and a mass sterilization program whose victims were awarded compensation in 2012.

Generation Opportunity spokesperson Corie Whalen Stephens denied that the exhibit implied a connection between Obamacare and the episodes.

Like Generation Opportunity’s campus tailgate tour last fall, the carnival will head across the country. It’s expected to stop in states like Colorado and Louisiana, where Democratic senators who voted for Obamacare are up for re-election.

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Obama Blasts Some US Companies as 'Corporate Deserters'

White House(LOS ANGELES) -- At a campaign-style event in Los Angeles, President Obama delivered an unusually blistering indictment Thursday of American businesses that have reincorporated overseas to avoid some U.S. taxes -- calling them “corporate deserters” who are “cherry picking the rules.”

While not singling out any by name, Obama said they had tapped into the, “holy grail of tax avoidance schemes” by exploiting a legal “loophole” in the tax code.

“My attitude is, I don’t care if it’s legal, it’s wrong,” he said.

The president said it's a “small but growing group” of companies taking advantage of the provision – keeping a headquarters and most operations here in the U.S. but establishing corporate citizenship elsewhere.

“Technically they’re renouncing their U.S. citizenship,” he claimed.

Obama explained that the issue is easily fixable through corporate tax reform. He called on Congress to close the loophole, part of a new line of populist messaging that comes as the president returns to active campaign mode ahead of the November elections.

Republicans have expressed some openness to addressing the so-called “inversion” issue Obama raised Thursday, but only as part of broader corporate tax reform.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said: “until the White House endorses our tax reform plan or convinces Senate Democrats to act, every pink slip from companies moving overseas may as well be signed, ‘President Barack H. Obama.’”

“I’m not interested in punishing these companies, but I am interested in economic patriotism,” Obama said, invoking a line that has become something of a slogan for the Democrats’ 2014 campaign.

“We rise and fall together as one nation and one people,” he said.

The president’s appearance was interrupted however, by a man screaming about “God almighty, Jesus Christ” and how Obama “will be destroyed.”

“You will be destroyed. You will be destroyed. You will be destroyed,” the man kept yelling. He was eventually drowned out by the crowd.

“I actually met that guy before. He used the same line,” Obama quipped. “He needs to update his material.”

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Lawsuit Against Obama One Step Closer to Courthouse Door

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The House cleared a procedural hurdle on Thursday to set up a showdown between House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama next week.

The House Rules Committee voted 7-4 to approve a markup of H. Res. 676, which provides authority to initiate litigation for actions by the president or other executive branch officials inconsistent with their duties under the Constitution of the United States.

Next week, the measure will require a rule before floor consideration by the full House. A vote on the bill is likely to be among the final acts the House takes before lawmakers enjoy a five-week break for the August recess.

Even after the House approves the resolution, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, known as BLAG, would have to meet to vote on the matter. Republicans enjoy a three to two edge on the panel.

BLAG is comprised of the speaker, minority and majority leader, and minority and majority whip. If it happens after July 31, Majority Leader Eric Cantor will not be among the Republicans voting. Instead, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., would slide into the mix after Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., ascends to majority leader.

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Former Olympic Skater Michelle Kwan Stars in Political Ad for Hubby

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan is pirouetting into the Rhode Island gubernatorial race. Kwan is featured in a new ad supporting her husband, Clay Pell, in the state’s Democratic primary.

The 30-second ad titled “Equality” is Kwan’s attempt to appeal to the state’s female voters.

“One of the reasons I’m so excited about my husband, Clay Pell’s candidacy is because Clay is committed to a women’s-equality agenda that strengthens protection for women in areas like pay equity, sexual harassment and domestic violence,” Kwan says in the ad. “Clay knows Rhode Island can be ready for tomorrow by making it one of the best places for women to live and work. Clay believes what I believe: We need equality for all women.”

In a May WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll, Pell placed third among the four Democrats vying for the nomination. Pell trailed behind Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimond with only 12 percent of respondents supporting his candidacy -- though 22 percent had yet to make up their minds.

“Throughout her career as an Olympic figure skater, and her time as a public policy envoy with the U.S. Department of State (where she’s served since 2006), Michelle has been a strong advocate for the empowerment of girls through sports, and for women’s rights,” the Pell campaign wrote in a press release Thursday.

The primary election will be held on Sept. 9.

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Obama Talks Basketball During Surprise Lunch Stop in LA

Official White House photo by Pete Souza(LOS ANGELES) -- President Obama's basketball game isn't what it used to be, he revealed during a surprise stop for lunch at Canter's Deli in Los Angeles Thursday.

After shaking hands with the people behind the counter at this family-owned landmark, the president talked a little basketball with two older gentleman sitting in a booth.

Asked about his game, Obama told them, "My shot's broken... My elbow keeps going out."

Rubbing his shoulder, he told them he probably makes about 80 percent of his shots (free throws, not in a game).

"I get that chicken wing," Obama said, motioning with his elbow. "I'm just getting old."

The president then made his way to a booth in the back where he sat with four Americans who wrote him letters, part of his ongoing effort to "meet with folks from across the country to listen to their stories, struggles, and successes, as well as the issues in their lives that matter most," according to the White House.

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Five Ways Paul Ryan Thinks He Can End Poverty

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Paul Ryan thinks the federal government should stop its habit of treating poverty as a series of isolated problems and start listening to the “boots on the ground,” local community leaders fighting for different results.

On Thursday, Ryan, R-Wis., released an anti-poverty proposal he coined an “Opportunity Grant” that concentrates 11 safety-net programs -- food stamps, housing assistance, child care and cash welfare, among them -- into a single stream of funding offered to states that agree to the program.

The proposal is budget neutral, meaning states would receive the exact same amount of money for safety-net expenditures as they currently do under law, he told those gathered at the American Enterprise Institute. He believes the grant addresses poverty in a more holistic, “collaborative” way.

“This isn’t your garden variety block grant,” he said.

The speech and a short panel that followed were pitched as a call for economic solidarity.

Arthur Brooks, AEI’s president, told the crowd, “Patriots fight for America, no matter how they vote.”

Here are five ways Ryan believes he can help end poverty:

1. Establish a new spirit of togetherness.

Ryan framed the problem in a language normally unfamiliar to Republicans, incorporating individual enterprise into a group-oriented, populist vocabulary: “The secret of our country’s success is collaboration: people working together, learning together, building together. …The fact is, each person’s needs fit into a coherent whole: a career. And each person fits into a coherent whole: a community.” He told the audience after his speech, “We have a lot of silos that are isolating the poor from our communities,” adding that most people expect their tax money and the federal government to take care of the problem. Ryan’s support for local service providers is supposed to encourage the poor to develop short-, medium-, and long-term plans with help from the providers, using contracts, timelines and rewards for meeting different “benchmarks of success.”

2. Turn anti-poverty measures into a grassroots, bottom-up operation.

Ryan believes his proposal is “reconceiving the federal government’s role” in anti-poverty programs: “No longer will it try to supplant our communities but to support them…the people on the ground. They’re the vanguard. They fight poverty on the front lines. They have to lead this effort and Washington should follow their lead.” He called for an end to the red tape he thinks is holding back low-income families, suggesting that if federal agencies propose any kind of regulation that would negatively affect the poor, they have to see it approved by Congress. A more localized anti-poverty strategy can present a more “personalized, customized form of aid.”

3. Don’t just counsel low-income people and families. Counsel convicts, too.

Instead of punishing non-violent, low-risk criminals with harsh sentences, offer them counseling, job training, and the opportunity to trade prison time for pre-release custody, “as long as they complete a program with a proven track record.” Ryan pointed to the recent Public Safety Enhancement Act, which looks to get ex-cons at risk of re-incarceration out of a life of crime. Those who aren’t crowding the criminal justice system are more likely to contribute to the work force in ways that help combat poverty, he argued.

4. Start accrediting more colleges.

Ryan cited legislation supported by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., which seeks fewer constraints on accrediting universities, vocational schools, and even curricula and individual courses, as a major influence on the Opportunity Grant plan. Ryan’s plan looks to let more schools in on federal oversight normally reserved for four-year institutions. On a panel after his speech, he praised the vocational schools near him in Wisconsin, indicating their stature as in keeping with many four-year institutions that don’t offer formal job-training programs.

5. Use the Earned Income Tax Credit to the advantage of childless workers.

The Earned Income Tax Credit has become a hot issue for reform-minded conservatives looking to appeal to a wider swath of working-class Americans. Ryan suggested doubling the maximum credit for childless workers to $1,005 and lowering the minimum eligibility age from 25 to 21. “This is one of the few programs that have shown results,” he noted. Ryan believes President Obama has wrongly proposed raising taxes to pay for the credit, and Ryan wants to pay for it by “eliminating ineffective programs and corporate welfare, like subsidies to energy companies.” For Ryan, the tax credit is a way to ensure that “it always pays to work.”

On a panel after the speech, Ryan was praised by Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who co-directs the Brookings Center on Children and Families, and who was a longtime congressional adviser on welfare reform. Haskins believes that almost everything in Ryan’s proposal could garner bipartisan agreement.

“This is a sweeping proposal. It’s worthy of a think tank,” he said. “It’s a spectacular document. I have not seen anything like this from an individual member in Congress for many years.”

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The One Issue Bob Dole Is Still Fighting For

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole is making the rounds -- everywhere from the plains of Kansas to the marbled halls of Capitol Hill.

Dole, who celebrated his 91st birthday this week, returned to Capitol Hill for what could be his final legislative push -- ratifying an international treaty for people with disabilities.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat treaty. It’s not liberal or conservative,” Dole said at a news conference Wednesday. “As a Republican, I don’t want to see a headline saying ‘Republicans vote against disabled Americans and disabled veterans.’”

In 2012, Dole sat on the Senate floor as he watched a vote to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities fail by just five votes. Dole recounted that moment in an interview with ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny.

“We knew we had an uphill battle, and when my Kansas senators voted against it I knew we were in trouble because one had been a co-sponsor and the other had been for it,” Dole explained. “But again the home-schoolers flooded their phones for days and I can understand why it might have altered their judgment. I don’t agree but that’s their right.”

The home-schooling movement, which helped derail the treaty two years ago, is pushing back against the measure again this year, saying it would impede their ability to home school their children.

In recent months, Dole has embarked on a thank you tour of his home state of Kansas, trying to stop in all 105 counties one last time.

“We’ve been in 63 counties. We have 42 left and I’ve had a lot of cookies and brownies and a lot of lemon bars and a lot of fun,” Dole told Zeleny.

“What are you campaigning for?” Zeleny asked.

“Nothing. That’s what I tell them, I’m just here to thank you,” Dole said.

Dole reflected on the state of the Republican Party, saying there’s a need for greater compromise between Republicans and Democrats.

“You need to compromise sometimes. You need to work across the aisle. We don’t have all the wisdom in our party and they don’t have it all in the Democratic party,” Dole said. “We just need a nominee in 2016 that has an agenda that attracts and resonates with people and that will be a big help.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen the Republican candidate yet. A lot of people want to be president. So did I, think of it!” he added.

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Republican Governors Split with Chris Christie over NY Candidate

Andrew Burton/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Once upon a time, the Republican governors in the country were unified behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Not anymore.

The unity was fractured this week over Christie’s decision to withhold Republican Governors Association support from New York gubernatorial contender Rob Astorino.

Instead of backing Christie’s decision on the basis that Astorino is lagging in the polls behind incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo, three high-profile GOP governors are breaking with Christie to promote the New Yorker.

News of the split came Thursday morning after Astorino, the county executive in suburban Westchester County, confronted Christie at the RGA summer meeting in Aspen, Colorado. An Astorino aide confirmed that Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence -- all possible Christie rivals for the GOP presidential nomination in  2016 -- have decided to help Astorino by either campaigning or fundraising or both.

Another possible Christie opponent in 2016, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, already held a fundraiser for Astorino last month in New York City. And South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has also pledged to help the man looking to make Cuomo a one-term governor in the Empire State.

“Glad to be with my buddy @RobAstorino in Aspen,” Perry, former head of the RGA, even tweeted, showing off a photo of him with Astorino.

Astorino was confident on Wednesday that once he met with Christie out West he would be able to convince the RGA chairman to support his candidacy. On Thursday, an Astorino aide confirmed the two met last night “very briefly,” revealing the session did not go very well.

“The Aspen trip made it clear that governors from around the nation will be helping County Executive Astorino become Governor Astorino,” spokeswoman Jessica Proud said. “It also made it clear that RGA Chairman Chris Christie will not be among them. We can live with that and we will move on.”

Earlier in the week while campaigning in Connecticut for GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, Christie was asked whether he would hit the campaign trail for Astorino and he answered that he “will spend time in places where we have a chance to win, I said that right from the beginning.”

“We don’t pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes,” Christie continued. “If the New York race becomes competitive, I’ll consider campaigning in the New York race, but right now, by the public polls, there’s a lot more competitive races like this one in Connecticut.”

It set off both Astorino and the New York GOP, with Astorino holding a press conference Tuesday saying if Christie is “unable to help a Republican candidate for governor, then maybe he should consider stepping down as chairman of the RGA. That’s his job,” according to the New York Daily News.

In the same press conference, Astorino even speculated that Cuomo and Christie were scheming over the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal that has engulfed Christie’s administration in New Jersey.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Astorino stressed he did not believe he burned any bridges with Christie and instead was confident he could “change his mind.”

New York GOP Chairman Ed Cox is also in Aspen and did not shy away from his anger earlier this week when in a statement he said Christie’s comments indicated he “seems to have forgotten from whence he came,” noting Christie’s successful “underdog challenge” against Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009.

The situation is different. A Wall Street Journal/Marist/NBC Four New York poll from earlier this month put Cuomo up 35 points against Astorino. A Quinnipiac University poll from the July before Christie’s election in November 2009 had Christie up 12.

An aide to Cox says he has not yet met with Christie in Aspen, but he did meet with executive director Phil Cox (no relation) and described the meeting as “positive and productive.”

Christie’s office declined to comment.

Word of the internecine turmoil comes the same day as Christie’s hometown newspaper called out the New Jersey governor for being hypocritical in making campaign decisions based on polls. The Star-Ledger of Newark pointed out that Christie has no problem campaigning with New Hampshire’s Walt Havenstein despite his own steep deficit in the polls, considering that the Granite State hosts the first presidential primary in the nation.

“Gov. Chris Christie says he won’t campaign for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York because the cause is hopeless: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ahead by more than 30 points. But he will campaign in New Hampshire, over and over, where the Republican is also trailing by more than 30 points. What’s the reason? It may be that New Hampshire holds the nation’s first presidential primary. It may be that he doesn’t want to mess with Cuomo, who knows where the skeletons are buried,” the editorial reads.

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How Congress Saved the Baseball Hall of Fame

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A two-time MVP outfielder and a United States senator say the congressional hearings on steroids in baseball nearly a decade ago had a direct impact on preventing players tainted by the baseball’s steroids era from being considered for the Hall of Fame.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., told the ESPN’s Perspectives podcast “Capital Games” that while he thought at the time the hearings shouldn’t have been a congressional priority, they doomed the candidacies of high-profile players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa. That, in part, paved the way for this weekend’s crop of three clean players from the same era gaining induction in the Hall.

“What I think the hearing helped do was, that the American people looked up and said, ‘You know, it’s maybe the first time that it really hit us between the eyes that we have a real problem here.’ And I think it helped to change things,” said Donnelly.

Former Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy wasn’t a fan of the 2005 hearings, either, and wanted the commissioner to do more and to push for “amnesty” so former players could come clean about past steroid use. Still, he said, the hearings were effective, and helped baseball move beyond a dark period.

“I reluctantly have to say I think they made a difference,” said Murphy. He added that Hall voters are ”going to remember what you did or what you didn’t say and hold you accountable. ...I think it directly affects them.”

Murphy, who fell short in being elected to the Hall in his final year of voting eligibility last year, added that he would be upset if players who were proven to be cheats from that era were admitted into the Hall of Fame.

“That is a concern for guys that, you know, played in the ’70′s and ’80′s most of the time,” Murphy said during the podcast. “I guess the best way to say it, is that right now they’re not letting the guys in that are associated with those huge inflated numbers and steroids. If it comes to the point eventually -- which some people speculate will happen with the turnover of the voters and the age of the voters, which will take a long time -- if it does happen eventually where they get in, then I got a real beef. ...I got a problem with that.”

Murphy doesn’t anticipate any of those candidates getting in soon.

“It’s going to take such a long time, I think, and I really think the lack of honesty and openness has hurt the guys,” said Murphy. “I think eventually it’s going to happen, but I think it’s going to be decades.”

The Baseball Hall of Fame will add six new members to its ranks at this weekend’s ceremony in Cooperstown, New York. Three players and three managers -- all of whom were active and clean of drug allegations during some of baseball’s darkest days -- will get their plaques.

Though the now-famous congressional hearings drew criticism at the time, it’s quite possible baseball wouldn’t see a moment like this if not for Congress. The March 2005 session on steroids in baseball served as a wake-up call for baseball to clean itself up, ultimately opening the doors for the players who were clean during a tainted era to gain election to the Hall, according to ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian.

“It was really important at the time, and looking back it’s probably even more important today,” Kurkjian said.

“It showed that baseball needed congressional help to get to the bottom of this. We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it,” said Kurkjian. “It was the start of cleaning up the game -- which still isn’t completely clean I’m sure. But it was a giant step in the right direction.”

This year’s Hall of Fame class includes pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, slugger Frank Thomas, plus managers Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. The star-studded class comes a year after no former player won election to the Hall. All three of 2013′s inductees, in fact, died before the U.S. entered World War II.

The Hall notably still doesn’t include players implicated for using performance-enhancing drugs -- men including McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Clemens and Palmeiro -- whose conduct received the now-famous congressional scrutiny nine years ago.

Donnelly, a Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees fan, said he was skeptical of Congress’ involvement in a baseball matter. But time has proven the value of that scrutiny, culminating with his son’s childhood hero, Frank Thomas, gaining entry on Sunday -- an important moment for fans of his generation, he said.

“Frank [Thomas] was doing it the right way. Frank’s kind of numbers were the numbers that people who just work hard every day would be able to achieve. And so, I think we’re in a different place now. I think the game is better for having that passed. And I think as we look, baseball is in a good place right now,” he added.

Murphy was a seven-time all-star who was a teammate of Glavine’s and played for Cox and Torre with the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s a good time for baseball,” Murphy said of the current Hall of Fame class. “I think we can maybe have an opportunity to show what guys can do, that you don’t really need that stuff… You need to have some talent, you need to have some brains, and you need to work hard.”

Murphy said the steroids era also had an impact on some of the players -- including himself -- who preceded it, since their statistics aren’t as gaudy as those who dominated the late 1990s and early 2000s.

He said he’d like to see an “adjustment” in statistics to take that into consideration. But for now, Murphy said he’s satisfied that players with tainted numbers aren’t getting in.

Kurkjian, who is among the writers who vote for the Hall every year, said he and other voters need more clarity on how to handle the steroids era. He suggested a commission made of representatives of Major League Baseball, baseball writers, Hall officials and even Hall-of-Famers themselves to chart a path forward.

“I still don’t know what the right answer is any more with all the steroid people. I think we need a nationwide discussion over what we’re supposed to do here. Should we be voting for steroid guys or not?” he said.

“The responsibility is enormous. It should be taken seriously, and yet at the same time I think we need somebody to clarify what we should be doing here. Because I, for one, am not sure what to do anymore,” he added.

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Nominee for Veteran Affairs Secretary Passes Big Test

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald is one important step closer to becoming the next secretary of Veteran Affairs, after a Senate panel Wednesday unanimously backed his nomination. The vote was 14-0.

The agreement by both Democrats and Republicans that McDonald is qualified to take over the embattled agency should mean he'll face little resistance when the full Senate votes to confirm, most likely this week.

McDonald, a former military man as well, told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that, "Veterans are in need. There is much to do. I can think of no higher calling than to serve our veterans who have so selflessly served our country."

If confirmed, he promised better communications with VA offices and more transparency with Congress over funding needs.

Meanwhile, members of the House and Senate are working hard to reach a compromise bill that would give the next VA secretary more power to fire subordinates for mismanagement as well as allow vets to seek private care if they can't get the attention they need from VA clinics.

Although hired for his management skills, P&G had financial problems during McDonald's tenure as CEO from 2009 through 2013, and he was eventually replaced by the former P&G executive who held the position before him.

McDonald was a West Point graduate, serving five years in the Army, earning the rank of captain, before joining P&G. Recent VA secretaries have been generals and colonels.

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Report: Montana Senator Walsh Accused of Plagiarism

US Senate(NEW YORK) -- Democrats' chances of retaining the Senate may have taken a major hit Wednesday after allegations of plagiarism were leveled at Montana Senator John Walsh.

As reported by The New York Times, Walsh, who is running for re-election in November, apparently lifted major portions of his thesis to graduate from the United States Army War College in 2007 from other sources available on the Internet.

The Iraq war vet and one-time National Guard adjunct general's paper on American Middle East policy also lists no attributions.

Although Walsh said he believes he did nothing wrong, an aide to the senator did not dispute the charges of plagiarism, but said it should be taken in the context of his military career, according to the Times.

Walsh spoke later about the brewing scandal, explaining that he committed an unintentional mistake due to post-traumatic stress resulting from his service in Iraq and medication he was taking at the time. He said a fellow veteran's suicide added to the stress.

Johnson was tapped to replace Montana Senator Max Baucus earlier this year, who became ambassador to China.

However, even before the charges of plagiarism surfaced, polls showed Walsh running behind his Republican opponent, as Democrats try desperately to keep control of the Senate.
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House Republicans Announce Recommendations to Address Border Crisis

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans unveiled a plan Wednesday to address the southern border crisis, recommending that the National Guard assist in humanitarian care of the influx of minors entering the country.

House Speaker John Boehner has already called on President Obama to implement the reserve military force, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry already made the decision on his own.

Both Boehner and Perry have not been shy about blaming the president's policies for inviting the influx of illegal immigrants, and both have stressed how the crisis has taxed both the U.S. Border Patrol and local municipalities that have been dealing with the tens of thousands of people coming across the border.

Following prompting, the president sent a team to Texas to evaluate whether deploying the National Guard would tackle the immigration issues, White House officials confirmed.

Congresswoman Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Working Group, announced the committee's solutions Wednesday.

"Our focus has been to ensure the safety of the children and it has remained a top priority throughout this process,” Granger said in a statement. “In our personal meetings with the Presidents of Honduras and Guatemala they both stated that they wanted their children back, and we believe that is in the best interest of all the countries involved in this crisis. We look forward to working with these countries as they prepare to receive their children back.”

In addition to deploying the National Guard, the group suggested establishing an independent third-party commission to develop border security metrics, along with the creation of repatriation centers in other countries to secure the return of families and unaccompanied minors. Lawmakers also called for tougher penalties for individuals participating in the smuggling of children.

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