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Final Day for Brown to Sign or Veto Bills

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Ro Khanna: Candidate for Congressional District 17

As part of our on-going election coverage, Ro Khanna joins us in the studio. The Fremont attorney and former Obama administration official is challenging seven-term Congressman Mike Honda for the district at the heart of Silicon Valley.

PBS NewsHour

Armed man allowed to ride in an elevator with Obama

Secret Service agents unknowingly let a man with a gun ride in an elevator with President Barack Obama. President Aug.
         7 file photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Secret Service agents unknowingly let a man with a gun ride in an elevator with President Barack Obama. File photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

On a day when the Secret Service is being scrutinized for allowing a man with a knife to breach White House security, The Washington Post has reported that the agency allowed an armed man with a criminal record to ride in an elevator with President Barack Obama when he was in Atlanta on Sept. 16.

According to the newspaper, the security contractor did not comply when Secret Service agents asked him to stop filming the president with his cell phone. Agents then performed a background check on the man and found out that he had a criminal history that included three convictions for assault and battery.

Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, whose report over the weekend detailed how the Secret Service botched a response to a man who fired an assault rifle at the White House in 2011, wrote that the agents were surprised to find out that the man was even carrying a gun:

Agents questioned him, and used a database check to learn of his criminal history.

When a supervisor from the private security firm approached and learned of the agents’ concern, the contractor was fired on the spot and agreed to turn over his gun — surprising agents, who had not realized he was armed during his encounter with Obama.

Leonnig’s report states that a Secret Service spokesman will provide a response soon.

Leonnig also reported today that the Secret Service agent who finally tackled the intruder who penetrated the White House on Sept. 19 was off-duty at the time.

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Tea party Senate challenge in Mississippi shows rift in the GOP

Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel greets supporters on the campaign trail. Photo by Paul Boger/Mississippi
         Public Broadcasting

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JUDY WOODRUFF: In the battle for control of the United States Senate, this summer’s primary contest in Mississippi exposed deep divisions in the Republican Party that still haven’t been reconciled.

Jeffrey Hess of Mississippi Public Broadcasting has our report.

CHRIS MCDANIEL, (R) Mississippi State Senator:  The Republican primary was won very Republican voters.


JEFFREY HESS: Forty-two-year-old state Senator Chris McDaniel is the energetic young face of Mississippi’s Tea Party. The Sarah Palin-backed McDaniel came within a few thousand votes of beating six-term incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Thad Cochran in a June primary and subsequent run-off by riding a wave of anti-Washington, anti-incumbent anger.

McDaniel claims election fraud helped Cochran win and is challenging the results in court. According to McDaniel, Democrats voted in their own primary and then illegally crossed over and voted in the Republican run-off, which is a violation of state law.

McDaniel blames the state’s Republican establishment and the Cochran campaign for attempting to stop the Tea Party in its tracks.

CHRIS MCDANIEL: They were willing to sacrifice a friend for power. And they would say and do anything they had to do to do that. And they did. That’s problematic, but not just for me, because when they called me those nasty names, when they called me a racist, which is not true, when they said I was going to cut off funding for historically black colleges and universities, which is not true, when they said I was going to end welfare and suppress voting rights, which is all not true, they were likewise saying it about 187,000 conservatives.

JEFFREY HESS: The contentious primary here in Mississippi was the most high-profile example of the primary battles that have taken place across the country between the Tea Party and establishment wings of the Republican Party. In 2010, the Republicans rode a wave of Tea Party support to retake the House. But many Republicans with ties in Washington believed that the Tea Party cost them seats in the Senate.

And the Senate up for grabs again this year, they were determined not to let that happen again, and they spent millions to make sure of it. But staunch McDaniel and Tea Party supporters aren’t giving up the fight.

DON HARTNESS: It split — this race split the Republican Party in half basically is what it did. So, you have got — basically, I told a guy the other day — there’s a McDaniel sticker still on my car. I said, pretend that’s my name on there and everything that happened to Chris happened to me.

JEFFREY HESS: Mississippi Tea Party chair Laura Van Overschelde says they are unlikely to endorse or campaign for Senator Cochran in the general election against his Democratic opponent.

LAURA VAN OVERSCHELDE, Chair, Mississippi Tea Party: We endorsed Chris McDaniel because he has — he holds those truths that we should have a limited government, we should have fiscal responsibility and we should have free markets in this country. And Thad Cochran has not shown us by his voting record that he endorses any of those.

JEFFREY HESS: Repairing the rift between active Tea Party supporters and more mainstream Republicans is the challenge facing Mississippi’s GOP chair, Joe Nosef, who says it is time to move into general election mode.

JOE NOSEF, Chair, Mississippi Republican Party: You can’t continue to move the bar every time a different election comes up and create a litmus test for what you call a real Republican. I asked somebody the other day, I just said, my only — as we were parting, I just said to him, my only hope is that you wouldn’t vote against your own best interest in an effort to try to get somebody back that ran an ad you didn’t like.

JEFFREY HESS: The Republican nominee will face off against Democrat Travis Childers, a former congressman from the state’s First District.

Polls in the state have repeatedly shown Cochran with roughly a 15-point lead. Cochran won by almost 25 points in his reelection six years ago.

D’Andra Orey, a political science professor at Jackson State University, says it would be a long shot for Childers to beat either Republican, but that Tea Party supporters do have a choice to make.

D’ANDRA OREY, Jackson State University: The Tea Party electorate can do one of two things. They can get out their vote, so that the Democrat doesn’t win, because that is a very, very plausible case if they don’t get out the vote. Or they can stay home and show, in their opinion, how much power they have. And so the question is one of those two being the answers. I just don’t know because I don’t know what they will do.

JEFFREY HESS: Cochran would be a strong favorite to retain his seat in November, in part because of his broad appeal. In fact, in his primary, he was able to turn out black voters by reminding them of his record of bringing back funding to the state and warning about what McDaniel would cut.

Former Governor Haley Barbour’s nephew was one of the orchestrators of that strategy, which enraged Tea Party activists. Barbour himself, who is often cited with creating the Republican infrastructure in the state, feels confident that Tea Party supporters will remember that they are Republicans at heart.

FORMER GOV. HALEY BARBOUR, R-Miss.: Anytime you have a vigorously contested primary, some people are going to get their feelings hurt. Some people are going to pick up their marbles and go home. But most people come back because of what they believe in. The Obama administration has followed policies so far to the left and so antagonistic to what Republicans, whether they are Tea Party Republicans or been Republicans for 50 years, those Obama policies are so bad, that people are not going to stay home.

JEFFREY HESS: Democratic candidate Childers says he doesn’t think that the intense Republican primary will have an effect on the November general election. He says he is not concerned that his affiliation with the Democratic Party will drag him down.

FORMER REP. TRAVIS CHILDERS, D-Miss.: People are far less concerned about party, Jeffrey, in the state of Mississippi. They are more concerned about who is going to work for them and who is going to stand up for them, who is going to stand up for Mississippi and who is going to stand up to Washington, D.C.

JEFFREY HESS: But time is running out. The party and the Cochran campaign need to shift into general election mode to remind their voters that there is still a race to be run in November. Cochran campaign spokesman Jordan Russell says they are moving on, confident that their primary run-off victory will stand.

JORDAN RUSSELL, Thad Cochran Campaign Spokesman: No. I mean, we are campaigning. We’re out there. I think we have been in 42 counties over the past couple of weeks. We are moving forward. The campaign itself and Senator Cochran are not focused on the challenge, the legal challenge. We are focused on November, focused on making sure people understand the difference between Senator Cochran and his challenger. And the court case will play out as it plays out.

JEFFREY HESS: The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear McDaniel’s appeal to a lower court’s decision to throw out his challenge to the run-off results. In the meantime, ballots are being printed that list Senator Thad Cochran as the Republican nominee to be the U.S. senator from Mississippi.


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Report: White House intruder tackled by off-duty agent

infographicThe Washington Post reports that the man who jumped the fence and ran through the White House on Sept. 19 was tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent.

The agent had been on security detail for President Barack Obama’s daughters and had just seen the family off minutes before on the president’s helicopter, reports Carol Leonnig, who has been following the story. She wrote: “He happened to be walking through the house when chaos broke out and the intruder dashed through the main foyer, according to two people familiar with the incident.”

Facing blistering criticism from Congress, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson acknowledged that her agency failed in executing its plan to protect the White House when Omar Gonzalez, who had a knife, ran through half the ground floor before being subdued. Pierson testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Tuesday.

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Secret Service chief takes responsibility for White House breach

PBS NewsHour will live stream today’s House hearing on the Secret Service’s handling of a White House intruder. The hearing begins at begins 10 a.m. EDT.

WASHINGTON — Facing blistering criticism from Congress, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson acknowledged on Tuesday that her agency failed in executing its plan to protect the White House when a man with a knife entered the mansion and ran through half the ground floor before being subdued.

“It’s unacceptable,” Pierson told lawmakers. But her promised review of how the storied but blemished agency carries out its mission of protecting the president — and how it failed to intercept the intruder much earlier — left lawmakers from both parties cold.

“I wish to God you protected the White House like you protected your reputation here today,” Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch told her at a hearing.

Calm but defensive in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Pierson disclosed that shortly before the intruder jumped the fence Sept. 19, at least two of her uniformed officers recognized him from an earlier troubling encounter but did not approach him or report his presence to superiors.

Members of the Secret Service stand guard on the roof of White House on Tuesday. White House intruder Omar Gonzalez,
         the man arrested last week after jumping the White House fence, went deeper into the building than what was previously reported.
         Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Members of the Secret Service stand guard on the roof of White House on Tuesday. White House intruder Omar Gonzalez, the man arrested last week after jumping the White House fence, went deeper into the building than what was previously reported. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Aug. 25, Army veteran Omar J. Gonzalez was stopped while carrying a small hatchet near the fence south of the White House, Pierson said. Weeks later, the same officers observed him “for some time” but never intervened. Gonzalez later went over the fence and broke inside the White House.

President Barack Obama and his daughters had left for Camp David shortly before the intrusion; Michelle Obama had gone to the retreat earlier in the day.

“The fact is the system broke down,” declared committee chairman Darrell Issa. “An intruder walked in the front door of the White House, and that is unacceptable.”

Not only that, he said, but the intruder penetrated at least five rings of security protecting what is supposed to be one of the world’s most secure properties.

“How on earth did it happen?” he asked. “This failure … has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service, a trust we clearly depend on to protect the president.”

Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania called the intrusion: “Stunning, outrageous, disgraceful.”

Pierson said she took full responsibility for the failures and “I’ll make sure that it does not happen again.”

That was clearly insufficient assurance for lawmakers from both parties, who were aghast, too, about a four-day delay in 2011 before the Secret Service realized a man had fired a high-powered rifle at the White House.

The Washington Post reported on the weekend that some Secret Service officers believed immediately that shots had been fired into the mansion but they were “largely ignored” or afraid to challenge their bosses’ conclusions that the shooting was not directed at the White House.

Such breaches, combined with recurring reports of misbehavior within the agency, cause “many people to ask whether there is a much broader problem with the Secret Service,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the committee.

Lynch told the agency’s chief at the hearing he had “very low confidence in the Secret Service under your leadership. Based on the evidence, that’s how we have to call it.”

Members of Congress briefed by the agency apparently weren’t told of the full extent of the breaches.

Details emerged only later. Among them: The recent intruder ran through the White House, into the East Room and near the doors to the Green Room before being apprehended. This, after he made it past a guard stationed inside the White House,.

On the way to the East Room, the intruder would have passed a stairwell that leads to the first family’s residence. It was unclear what security would have been in place to prevent Gonzalez from attempting to go up to the family quarters.

Pierson said Tuesday that the front door to the White House now locks automatically in a security breach. She said that on Sept. 19 a Secret Service guard was attempting to lock one of the doors manually when the intruder knocked the agent down.

In the hours after the Sept. 19 fence-jumper incident, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that Gonzalez had been apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House. The agency also said that night the Army veteran had been unarmed — an assertion that was revealed to be false the next day, when officials acknowledged Gonzalez had a knife with him when he was apprehended.

Senate Judiciary Committee staffers who were briefed about the investigation by the administration a week after the incident were never told how far Gonzalez made it into the building, according to a congressional official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation and requested anonymity. The official said the committee later was told that the suspect had, indeed, made it far beyond the front door.

Pierson said there have been six fence-jumpers this year alone, including one just eight days before Gonzalez went over.

Pierson’s predecessor, Mark J. Sullivan, apologized to lawmakers in 2012 after details emerged of a night of debauchery involving 13 Secret Service agents and officers in advance of the president’s arrival at a summit in Colombia. Sullivan retired about 10 months later.

Since the incident, the White House has treaded carefully. Although White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged the president was “obviously concerned” about the intrusion, he expressed confidence in the Secret Service as recently as Monday.

It would be untenable for any president, not just Obama, to pointedly criticize the men and women who put themselves at risk to protect his life and family. That inherent conflict of interest means Congress, not the executive branch, is the most effective oversight authority for the Secret Service, its agents and officers.

“The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job,” Earnest said.

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