JANUARY 31, 2014
State of the Union? Code Red!
Judicial Watch Challenges Obama Administration’s Attack on Religious Freedom with High Court Brief
Judicial Watch Fights Cover-Up of “Air Obama” Taxpayer-Funded Vacations
On Tuesday night, January 28, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. After experiencing the shenanigans over the last five years, nothing said in the speech surprised me. I saw the same defiance and arrogance – the same disregard for the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution – that have characterized the Obama years from day one.
But when I read through the media’s post-game analysis, I could not help but think: What speech were they watching!?
Consider The Hill newspaper, which commended the president for his “genial tone” and for “praising” some of his “long-time foes.” The speech was “less partisan and pointed than many expected,” The Hill reported.
Yes, Obama tossed out a few bones to the Republican leadership. But does this indicate a policy shift toward reason and respect for the rule of law? No, it does not.
And does it really matter if the president uses his polite words when he describes how he is going to continue to completely undermine the U.S. Constitution? Not to most Americans.
As The Hill described: “Obama promised to unleash a torrent of new executive actions.” In the president’s own words [Emphasis added]:
“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.”
“But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
“Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations.”
All this follows President Obama’s thinly veiled threat issued earlier this month prior to a cabinet meeting: “I have a pen and I have a phone,” the president said, noting that he would not wait for Congress to act.
(By the way, that “year of action” sounds like a Marxist revolutionary dog whistle to me.)
Perhaps the best spin on the president’s imperialistic speech came from Politico: “Obama didn’t entirely ignore Congress.” [Emphasis added.]
Oh, well that’s a comfort.
Folks, do you see the emptiness in President Obama’s expressed willingness to “work with Congress?” What kind of negotiation can there be when the president has stated that he will act unilaterally if he doesn’t get his way?
And “genial tone” notwithstanding, we don’t have to pay much attention to what Barack Obama says anymore, except to ascertain threats to the Constitution and the rule of law. After an endless stream of broken promises, he has no credibility left. We simply must look at what Barack Obama has done.
Let’s take just one example: Congress, with the full support of the American people, rebuffed the president’s illegal alien amnesty legislative initiatives. After attempts to “work with Congress” failed, Obama implemented amnesty via executive fiat. Sure, he dressed it up in bureaucratic-speak, “selective deportation,” “deferred action,” etc., but at the end of the day, illegal aliens were allowed to stay in the country despite living here in defiance of the law, some of them dangerous criminals.
Then stealth amnesty became official Obama policy. And now it might just become the law of the land, if press reports about the Republican Party’s plans to cave on the issue are to be believed.
Here’s another example: On January 16 alone, President Obama signed 23 executive orders designed, as Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), stated to “poke holes in the Second Amendment.” Reuter’s called it the “biggest gun control push in generations.” And Congress had no say in the matter.
This is the “Chicago Way.” And we are about to see it run rampant in Washington over the next three years on every issue under the sun. That’s the message I get from the president’s speech and the president’s “executive actions.”
When it comes to encapsulating the danger Barack Obama and the Chicago Way represents to our country and our way of life, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) put it best in an opinion column he penned for The Wall Street Journal: “Of all the troubling aspects of the Obama presidency, none is more dangerous than the president’s persistent pattern of lawlessness, his willingness to disregard the written law and instead enforce his own policies via executive fiat.” (This is a worthwhile read, so take a look if you have the time.)
Let me close with this. The president has called for a “year of action.” So let’s give him what he’s asking for. Let’s not simply complain about the corruption and lawlessness. Let’s take every single action we can to confront the Obama threat to our Constitution. You see, this is what I love so much about the work we do at Judicial Watch. We refuse to serve as spectators to the country’s demise under this president, or any president. We take action. We file lawsuits. We investigate. We publicize the results of our work. In a word, we are relentless.
Will you join us in our pursuit of justice against Obama corruption? Please click here if that’s a yes!
The monstrosity that is Obamacare is offensive for too many reasons to count. I’ve detailed many of them in this space. From the mandate to purchase insurance, to the taxpayer dollars used to fund Obamacare propaganda, to the numerous times the president has rewritten his own law in furtherance of his political interests – and in defiance, I might add, of the limits to his power as articulated in the U.S. Constitution.
But among all of these offenses, one that many Americans find most objectionable is the provision of the law that requires employers to provide contraceptive and abortifacient services for women – a provision that is now under consideration by the nation’s High Court. Judicial Watch jumped into the legal fray this week by filing a Supreme Court amicus curiae brief.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled just days ago that a group of Colorado nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, could have a temporary reprieve from the contraception mandate while they fight the law in court. But what if you are a for-profit company that also objects to contraception due to religious beliefs? No such luck. This administration thinks business owners aren’t protected by the First Amendment.
And that’s what happened to Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain with 588 stores nationwide as well as an online presence. The beliefs of this company are clear: life begins at conception. And yet, under Obamacare, this company would be forced to provide contraception and abortifacients in violation of these religious beliefs.
This flagrant violation of religious freedom is the reason the company is fighting the law in court, reaching all the way to the Supreme Court. (Fox News reports that there are at least 40 other lawsuits from other companies challenging the law.)
And it’s the reason why we are right there with them.
As JW makes clear in its Supreme Court brief, the Obama administration is in clear violation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which, in accordance with the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion, prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religious exercise without compelling justification.
Terming the Department of Health & Human Service’s (HHS) mandate an “unprecedented grab for power,” the Judicial Watch’s amicus brief argues:
The challenged regulation … is not simply the consequence of poor political choices; it is the product of a dangerous entanglement of Congress and an Executive agency that ultimately tramples on religious liberties.
In an unprecedented grab for power, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has not only unilaterally authored, enacted, and changed the contraceptive mandate, but it now seeks to redefine a separate act of Congress – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act – to preserve its power grab. This simply cannot stand.
We also argue that the owners of Hobby Lobby and other businesses should not have to choose between “fidelity to [their] faith or the imposition of unimaginable fines.” The brief also reminds the Court of James Madison’s words in the Federalist Papers: “an elective despotism was not the government we fought for.”
JW hopes the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling in this case. In June 2013, Hobby Lobby won a victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, resulting in the Obama administration petitioning the Supreme Court to review the case. The Supreme Court agreed to review the Hobby Lobby case in November, and is expected to begin hearing oral arguments in March with a ruling by late June.
Here’s a statement I offered to the press in connection with the filing of our brief:
What is at stake in this case is the First Amendment right to religious freedom. It is a pivotal battle in the Obama administration’s War on Religion. This Obama assault, through Obamacare, on the Christian Church is without modern precedent. To force Americans to violate their consciences or lose their livelihoods must be met with strenuous resistance by the Supreme Court. James Madison’s warning against “elective despotism” could not be more apt in describing the crisis caused by this Obama administration anti-Christian policy.
Now as this case works towards ultimate resolution in June, members of Congress are also weighing in with dueling briefs. This week 19 Democratic Senators filed a brief “arguing that ‘secular’ businesses should not be exempt from the mandate,” reports Fox News. (We’ve already countered that argument.)
Some Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have a different view: “The ability to practice the faith we choose is one of our great constitutional rights. The Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate stomps on that right,” Sen. David Vitter said in a statement as he joined Ted Cruz, R-Texas; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Mike Lee, R-Utah in filing a brief of their own.
Folks, this threat to our God-given liberties is happening because lawless leftists in the Obama administration have seized control of our healthcare, leaving personal health decisions in the hands of Washington politicians and bureaucratic committees.
The Supreme Court should rule by June.
I close this week with more news from Judicial Watch’s investigation of “Air Obama.”
Many Americans have been forced to put their own vacation plans on hold due to a sputtering economy. A recent Harris poll indicated that 34% of Americans have held back on travel because they are worried about the bleak economic outlook.
But the sacrifices of the American people notwithstanding, the First Family seems to have no trouble asking taxpayers to foot the bill for their lavish vacations. I’ve documented some of these trips in previous Weekly Updates, most recently just last week, when I reported that a JW investigation showed that Obama/Biden President’s Day vacations cost taxpayers $295,437.
This week, I report to you that JW has amped up its investigations of “Air Obama,” filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Defense to obtain records detailing the amount of government funds spent on seven separate lavish trips taken by Barack Obama and the Obama family throughout 2013.
The Secret Service Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, pursuant to a series of FOIA requests from June to August 2013, seeks information from the Secret Service about “the use of U.S. Government funds to provide security and other services” to:
- “First Lady Michelle Obama, Malia Obama, Sasha Obama, and any companions on a June 2013 trip to Ireland.”
- “President Barack Obama and any companions on a June – July 2013 trip to Africa.”
- “First Lady Michelle Obama and any companions on a Summer 2012 trip to London, England for the Olympics.”
- “President Barack Obama and any companions on a December 2012 trip to Honolulu, Hawaii.”
- “President Barack Obama and any companions on an August 2013 trip to California.”
- “President Barack Obama and any companions on an August 2013 trip to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.”
The Secret Service failed to substantively respond to these FOIA requests, and has effectively shut down Judicial Watch’s inquiries about First Family travel.
On January 13, Judicial Watch filed a separate FOIA lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense seeking further “records concerning First Lady Michelle Obama’s June 2013 trip to Ireland.”
Let’s take these trips one by one to cover what we know so far according to press reports.
- With the Ireland trip, after a brief stop in Belfast, where the President was taking part in a G-8 summit, the First Lady departed on her own, apparently aboard Air Force Two, for her side trip to Dublin. According to WashingtonDossier.com, though the White House claimed the trip was for diplomatic purposes the itinerary showed, “She and her daughters will visit the Trinity College library to explore President Obama’s Irish family roots, attend a performance by the world-famous Riverdance troupe, and visit the Wicklow Mountains national forest.”
- In a June, 2013, article, on Michelle Obama’s trip to Ireland, the Washington Timesreported, “The cost of the two-day trip in Ireland and Northern Ireland has been estimated at around $5 million. U.S. taxpayers pay the cost of the first family’s travel.” The Times reported that the First Lady stayed at a $3,300-per-night hotel suite in Dublin and enjoyed a “typical Irish lunch” with U2 frontman Bono.”
- In June, 2013 Fox News reportedthat the President Obama’s July trip to Africa “with the first family tagging along,” was projected to cost taxpayers an estimated $100 million. According to a confidential planning document obtained by the Washington Post, “Military cargo planes will airlift in 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines and three trucks loaded with sheets of bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the first family will stay. Fighter jets will fly in shifts, giving 24-hour coverage over the president’s airspace, so they can intervene quickly if an errant plane gets too close.”
- According to Examiner.com, on First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2012 trip to the London Olympics, she “was seen taking shopping sprees through London and sporting a $6,800 jacket to a reception, on a trip paid with taxpayer funds.” In January, 2012, Judicial Watch obtained records from the Department of Defense revealing that the Obama’s 2009 trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, in a failed effort to secure the 2016 Olympics for the city of Chicago, cost in excess of $467,175.
- Barack Obama’s vacations to Honolulu, Hawaii, have been estimated by the Hawaii Reporterto cost the taxpayers an annual average of $4 million. But, according to WashingtonDossier.com, the 2012 Hawaii vacation may have cost even more: “This year, Obama returned from Hawaii to complete a deal on the Fiscal Cliff and then jetted back to Honolulu, where he is now engaged in Part 2 of his vacation. The second roundtrip flight added about $3.24 million to the tab this time, bringing the cost of the 2012-1013 vacation to well over $7 million.” The White House has failed to provide exact figures.
- While the total cost of Barack Obama’s August, 2013 trip to California, where he appeared on The Tonight Show, is still being withheld, the Washington Timesreported, “At $180,000 per flight hour to operate the presidential aircraft, the trip cost taxpayers more than $1.8 million just for the flying time to California and back. That doesn’t include two 50-minute flights in California on Marine One, the presidential helicopter; or the cost of lodging dozens of White House staffers and Secret Service agents overnight, or the cost of 20-vehicle motorcades at the various stops.”
- In August, 2013, the Obama family vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where, according to U.S. News & World Report,“At a time when many more cash-strapped Americans are stuck at home instead of vacationing at the beach, President Obama next week will lead an entourage of several dozens to exclusive Martha’s Vineyard island at a cost of millions to taxpayers.”
No wonder these records have been so difficult to come by! These trips are an utter embarrassment for certain, but this is no reason to withhold information from the American people. Quite the contrary. The more shameful the behavior the greater the need for transparency. But that’s not what we’re seeing out of this administration.
The Obama administration is in cover-up mode on the costs of the Obamas’ travel. The Secret Service has, in contemptuous violation of law, simply stopped answering our FOIA inquiries. It seems that our “king” does not want taxpayers to know how much he’s spending on his unnecessary travel.
It’s been this way from the very beginning. JW began investigating these Obama trips dating back to the newly minted First Couple’s “date night” in New York. We’ve had to scratch and claw to get the records. And thanks to the diligence of our investigation and legal teams, we’ve been more successful than anyone else exposing these trip costs.
Click here to see for yourself all that we’ve uncovered.
But now the Obama administration, evidently tired of being called out on the Obamas’ excesses, is trying to shut down our inquiries by violating the Freedom of Information Act.
Now the Obama gang is going to have to answer to the courts.
Until next week…
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