Wednesday, May 16, 2012

President Obama issued an executive order Wednesday allowing the Treasury Department to freeze the U.S.-based assets of anyone obstructing the administration-backed political transition in Yemen.

The order could be used against U.S. citizens or residents found trying to interfere with the government transition of power agreed to last fall after an uprising forced then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

“The president took this step because he believes that the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people, along with the urgent humanitarian and security challenges, cannot be addressed if political progress stalls,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

The presidential action is unusual because it’s designed to act as a deterrent and the administration has not determined specific names or organizations it’s trying to target.

With news earlier this month that authorities had thwarted a second attempt by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to strike the U.S. with a sophisticated underwear bomb, the Obama administration wants to ensure that political chaos in Yemen does not disrupt international counterterrorism efforts and continued cooperation with the government there.

Even though Mr. Saleh resigned after several attempts to remain in power, a number of relatives and supporters tried to hang onto their offices, only leaving when the new president issued a decree forcing them out last month. Mr. Obama’s executive order is aimed at trying to keep them permanently on the sidelines.


Lawmakers consider threats from airport employees

Congress is examining the security risks to passenger planes from the so-called insider threat, terrorists who quietly get jobs at airports so they can attack from within sensitive areas. There has never been such an instance, but a security supervisor at Newark Liberty Airport is facing criminal charges that nearly 20 years ago he assumed the identity of a New York man who later was murdered.

The House Homeland Security Committee conducted an oversight hearing Wednesday.

The acting inspector general, Charles Edwards, told lawmakers in prepared testimony that people who pose a threat can obtain government security badges for U.S. airports because the Transportation Security Administration inadequately investigates the backgrounds of badge applicants. He said this includes missing signs they might be dangerous or not confirming they are American citizens.


Sebelius to address Georgetown despite flap

A planned graduation speech by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Georgetown University is going forward, despite criticism from the archdiocese of Washington that Mrs. Sebelius is an inappropriate choice for the Jesuit school.

The archdiocese on Tuesday said in a statement that Mrs. Sebelius’ actions as a public official “present the most direct challenge to religious liberty in recent history.” Mrs. Sebelius helped shape President Obama’s 2010 health care law, which includes a mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control for workers. Catholic bishops have led opposition to the mandate.

Mrs. Sebelius, a former Kansas governor, is scheduled to speak Friday at a ceremony for graduates of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute. A Georgetown spokeswoman said Wednesday that the plans have not changed.


RFK Jr.’s estranged wife found dead, cause unknown

BEDFORD | Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s estranged wife, Mary Richardson Kennedy, who had fought drug and alcohol problems, was found dead at the family property Wednesday.

An autopsy for the 52-year-old was scheduled for Thursday, and no cause of death had been released.

In a statement issued by Robert Kennedy Jr.’s chief of staff, the family said Mrs. Kennedy “inspired our family with her kindness, her love, her gentle soul and generous spirit.

“Mary was a genius at friendship, a tremendously gifted architect and a pioneer and relentless advocate of green design who enhanced her cutting edge, energy efficient creations with exquisite taste and style,” the family said.

The former Mary Richardson married Mr. Kennedy, a prominent environmental lawyer and the son of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, in 1994. The couple had four children, the youngest born in July 2001. Her husband also has two children from a previous marriage.

Mrs. Kennedy was an architect and designer and had overseen the renovation of the couple’s home into an environmentally advanced showpiece. Her family cited her devotion to her children in remembering her.

“We deeply regret the death of our beloved sister Mary, whose radiant and creative spirit will be sorely missed by those who loved her,” the family said. “Our heart goes out to her children who she loved without reservation.”


Biden attacks Romney’s time as venture capitalist

YOUNGSTOWN | Vice President Joseph R. Biden, campaigning in Democratic territory with high unemployment, went after Republican Mitt Romney’s business background Wednesday and cast him as a corporate raider more interested in profits than people.

Mr. Biden said the former businessman favors policies that benefit the well-to-do over the average people. He said Mr. Obama wants to give everyone a fair shake and make sure everyone plays by the same rules.

“These guys don’t get it,” Mr. Biden said, his voice rising as he addressed supporters on a factory floor in Youngstown, where the unemployment rate is 10.4 percent, more than 2 points above the national average.

“As long as the government helps the guys at the top, workers and small businesses and communities, they can fend for themselves,” Mr. Biden said. At the same time, “the big guy is doing well.”

The speech in Ohio, an economically battered state that will help decide the November presidential election, continued the effort by President Obama’s campaign to portray Mr. Romney as more in tune with rich people like himself.


Romney moves closer to clinching nomination

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won most of the delegates in the Oregon primary, leaving him 153 delegates shy of the number of delegates needed to win the Republican nomination for president.

He should get those by the end of the month.

Mr. Romney won at least 18 of the 25 delegates at stake in Oregon, with one delegate undecided as the vote count extended into Wednesday. Mr. Romney has a total of 991 convention delegates. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the GOP nomination.

All of Mr. Romney’s challengers have stopped campaigning. However, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas won at least three delegates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum won at least two and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won at least one. Oregon awarded delegates in proportion to the statewide vote.

Mr. Romney also won the Nebraska presidential primary but no delegates were at stake.

Mr. Romney will have another chance to add to his delegate count Tuesday, when a total of 75 delegates are at stake in primaries in Arkansas and Kentucky. If Mr. Romney continues to dominate the remaining contests, he is on pace to clinch the nomination May 29, when 152 delegates will be at stake in the Texas primary.

From wire dispatches and staff reports