Hagel honors 24

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and top Army leaders held their own ceremony Wednesday at the Pentagon honoring the 24 soldiers who were just awarded the Medal of Honor, including 1st Lt. Donald Schwab of Hooper, Neb.

The medals were awarded after Congress ordered a review to ensure eligible recipients had not been overlooked due to prejudice. That review turned up others eligible for the award, including Schwab.

“We are here this morning to celebrate the heroism of twenty-four selfless individuals, twenty-four soldiers whose acts of gallantry in battle merit our highest recognition,” Hagel said at the start of Wednesday’s ceremony. “We’re also here to correct an injustice of history, to help right twenty-four wrongs that should never have occurred.”

The Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes induction ceremony came a day after President Barack Obama presented the medals at the White House. Only three of the recipients are still alive, so most of the medals were accepted by family members.

Terry Schwab accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of his father, who died in 2005 at the age of 86. At the Pentagon ceremony, he accepted the Medal of Honor flag.

Hagel is a former Republican senator from Nebraska and himself a decorated army veteran of the Vietnam War.

During his remarks Wednesday, the old infantry sergeant lauded the sacrifice of those who served.

“The names that grace the walls of the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes belong to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who represent the essence, the finest, the best of military service, the essence, the willingness to sacrifice your life for the lives of those around you,” Hagel said.

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Ashford has support of national Dems

Brad Ashford might have been a little late to the party, but national Democrats are welcoming him to the contest for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Steve Israel told the World-Herald on Wednesday.

The New York congressman and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee previously had talked up the prospects of Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, a Democrat, defeating incumbent GOP Rep. Lee Terry.

Festersen jumped into the race, but quickly jumped back out.

Israel said that he’s excited about Ashford’s candidacy and reiterated that Terry’s role in last year’s government shutdown should make him vulnerable this November.

But Israel said it’s up to Ashford to put in the effort.

“His work is what counts,” he said. “As long as he’s reaching out to his community and doing what’s required to do to raise a profile and satisfy his constituents, we’ll be with him.”

Israel downplayed any concerns about Ashford’s past registration as a Republican and as a non-partisan.

“There’s an unquenchable thirst for people who are not ideological but are independent,” Israel said.

So is Ashford as good a candidate as Festersen?

“Better, because he’s running,” Israel said.

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Return of the Nebraska Breakfast

Another year of Nebraska fellowship, hot coffee and recycled jokes kicked off Wednesday morning with the first Nebraska Breakfast of 2014.

Both of Nebraska’s U.S. senators and all three of its House members can be found most Wednesdays when Congress is in session in the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Attendance is free, with the program starting at 8 a.m. and running about an hour. The audience typically includes Nebraska business and community leaders out to lobby Capitol Hill and attend conferences.

Depending on the time of year, plenty of tourists on vacation and visiting school groups also stop by the breakfast.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., assumes the role of host for this year’s sessions.

Each member of the delegation has a turn at the microphone. Some of the jokes have been used and re-used for years to produce laughter, and just as often groans.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., introduced the Geographic educators of Nebraska during Wednesday’s breakfast.

Randy Bertolas from Wayne State College spoke for the group and noted that it was not his first Nebraska breakfast.

He said the gathering represents a remarkable accessibility by the Nebraska lawmakers.

“This kind of intimacy doesn’t exist in other states,” Bertolas said.

“We don’t say ‘intimacy’ in D.C.,” Terry quipped.

Dates for Nebraska Breakfasts in the coming year are: March 5, 12, and 26; April 2, 9, and 30; May 7 and 21; June 11, 18, and 25; July 9, 16, 23, and 30; and September 10 and 17.

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Democrats say they’re not frustrated – yet

The World-Herald’s Robynn Tysver reports today that Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., has more than $800,000 in campaign funds squirreled away for his re-election fight.

National Democrats thought they had recruited a top-tier challenger in Pete Festersen last fall, but the Omaha City Councilman opted against a bid.

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is holding out hope that someone else will step forward for his party and run against Terry.

“We’re looking at lots of options right now,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., recently told the World-Herald.

Democrats have insisted that Terry is a vulnerable incumbent in a swing district, so it must be frustrating that they can’t find a candidate to take him on, right?

“Not frustrating, because we’re not at the filing deadline yet,” Israel said. “I think there will be opportunities . . . If somebody doesn’t emerge by the filing deadline you can quote me as frustrated.”

For the record, the filing deadline for incumbents is Feb. 18 and March 3 for non-incumbents.

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Johanns chides Bob Gates over book

Don’t hold your breath for any tell-all memoirs by Sen. Mike Johanns after he leaves office next year.

The Nebraska Republican criticized the practice of writing about private conversations with the president on Thursday and took some specific shots at his former fellow Cabinet member Bob Gates.

During his weekly conference call with reporters, Johanns was asked about the book Gates has written about his time as Defense Secretary under both President George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Johanns served alongside Gates in Bush’s Cabinet as the Secretary of Agriculture.

He said Gates has a great reputation, but that disclosing private conversations with the commander-in-chief is not right.

“I like Secretary Gates. I thank him for his service, but I must admit this one’s got me feeling very, very uncomfortable,” Johanns said.

Johanns noted that as Agriculture Secretary he had “the unbelievable experience of sitting alone in the Oval Office with the President of the United States” but didn’t write a book about their discussions.

“There’s a tremendous reward for writing these books, I understand that, but I hope when George Bush asked me to be his Secretary of Agriculture that he did so with an understanding that what he said to me was going to be held in confidence,” Johanns said.

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A new year on Capitol Hill

Lawmakers returned from their holiday recess this week with a full agenda ahead – farm bill, immigration and unemployment benefits are just a few of the pressing issues before them.

In case you missed them, here was our look back at 2013 and a run-down of the ongoing debate over unemployment benefits, which is likely to dominate the political discussion on the hill in the near future.

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A different kind of blackshirt

In the middle of a joint press conference Monday, the New Zealand Minister of Defense Jonathan Coleman presented Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel with a jersey for the All Blacks rugby team on Monday.

The Pentagon posted a photo of the moment here.

“When Secretary Hagel and all those free Sundays in Nebraska is out mowing his lawns, I hope he’ll spare a thought for New Zealand and be able to wear this in some of his copious leisure time,” Coleman said.

Coleman and Hagel discussed various national and regional security matters. The U.S. military’s ongoing pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region has been at the top of Hagel’s agenda since he took over the post early this year.

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Husker Hagel

As a Republican senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel would make predictions about the next Husker game at the end of his weekly conference calls with reporters.

Unsurprisingly, he would predict a Nebraska victory, even when the team was a serious underdog.

Now the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Hagel continues to tout his love for Big Red.

On a trip to South Korea earlier this year, Hagel took questions from some troops and a First Sergeant wanted to get his thoughts on the gridiron.

From the Pentagon transcript (guessing Hagel actually said “re-building year” at the end there):

Q: We are very well aware of what’s happening in the States right now. The question on everyone’s mind — and mine especially — is, who is your college football team?
HAGEL: (Laughter.) Well, I can see why you’re a first sergeant. (Laughter.) Well, born and raised in Nebraska, I don’t have any choice. And I’m sorry if that offends you. But where are you from?
Q: I’m from Ohio, sir.
HAGEL: Ah. Ohio State?
Q: Roger.
HAGEL: Where’s Lippert? Mark Lippert, my chief of staff, who is the assistant secretary for Asia and the Pacific, is back there hiding somewhere. He probably put you up to this. He’s an Ohio State man through and through.
I — I acknowledge you have a fairly decent team, yeah, this year. Fortunately for you, you don’t have to play us this year.
Q: Roger, sir.
HAGEL: I think it’s the other way around, actually, but — I think we — the Huskers are in another building here. But I’m a strong Nebraska Cornhusker fan.
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Fortenberry recalls own furlough

There’s at least one member of Congress who has some familiarity with the experience of furloughed federal workers – Jeff Fortenberry was once in their position.

As a 23-year-old graduate student at Georgetown University in the mid-80′s, Fortenberry landed a paid internship at the now-defunct USDA Farmers Home Administration.

“Someone came in at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and said you’ve got to go home, the government’s shut down,” the Nebraska Republican recalled this week. “You shrug your shoulders and go home and I think they paid us when we came back for the work we didn’t do.”

That was one of several one-day federal government shutdowns that happened in the 1980′s. Fortenberry said he used the extra time to hit the books.

“It was a very peculiar thing to be told ‘You’ve got to go home, the government can’t pay you,’” Fortenberry said.

While Fortenberry said his own furlough lasted only a few hours, it remains to be seen when this shutdown will end and federal workers will be able to go back to work.

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Nebraska delegation avoids taking position on Pelini

Members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation were determined to steer clear of the controversy over Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini’s two-year-old, profane tirade about the team’s fans.

The senators and House members offered neither support nor condemnation for the coach.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said he has always taken the position that he wouldn’t weigh in on the performance of the Nebraska coach if the coach stayed out of his business as a politician.

“Football coaches are going to go through good times and bad times and times of plenty and times of drought,” Johanns said. “I just long ago decided I wouldn’t comment on their fortunes or misfortunes.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said it was up to the university to decide Pelini’s fate but that she was surprised to hear the coach had complained about Husker fans.

“That’s not good if he’s going after Nebraska fans,” Fischer said. “Nebraska fans are the best in the nation.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., declined the opportunity to opine on the situation.

“I’m a politician, not a play-by-play analyst,” Fortenberry said.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said the situation is up to the university to handle.

“It’s their baby,” Smith said.

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., told a gathering of Nebraskans Wednesday morning that Pelini was the hot topic of conversation among his colleagues on the House floor the night before.

In an interview with the World-Herald Terry simply said of the leaked audio recording:

“Something like that doesn’t surprise me about Bo.”

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