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Catherine Thompson

Catherine Thompson is a news writer for Talking Points Memo. Before joining TPM, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett and interned at The L Magazine. At New York University she served as the deputy managing editor of NYU's student newspaper, The Washington Square News. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Catherine

The United Nations is expected to release an inspectors' report Monday addressing the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Syria.

The U.N. announced Sunday that its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had received the inspectors' report. Two diplomats told CNN that the report will likely be released to the public after Ban briefs the U.N. Security Council on the report Monday morning.

The report is expected to confirm whether or not a chemical attack occurred and identify which chemical agent was used, according to ABC News. Determining exactly who carried out the attack, however, was not one of the U.N. inspectors' goals.

Former National Security Agency and CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden declared Gmail the preferred email service of terrorists Sunday.

In a speech defending the legal basis for the NSA's PRISM surveillance program at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, Hayden said "Gmail is the preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide," as quoted by the Washington Post. The retired general likely meant to say email service provider rather than Internet service provider.

"I don't think you're going to see that in a Google commercial, but it's free, it's ubiquitous, so of course it is," he added.

Hayden also implied that NSA surveillance was justified by the United States' particular history with the Internet.

"We built it here, and it was quintessentially American," he continued. For that reason, according to the Post, Hayden said a large volume of Internet traffic goes through American servers where the government "takes a picture of it for intelligence purposes."

Vice President Joe Biden warned donors and activists of a fundamental shift in the Republican party at an Iowa fundraiser Sunday, calling today's GOP a "different breed of cat" and taking a shot at the leadership of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” he told a crowd just before Sen. Tom Harkin's (D-IA) annual steak fry, according to a pool report. “We’re dealing with a different breed of cat as my uncle used to say. These guys aren’t bad. I’m not making moral judgments, but they have a fundamentally different view of America than we do – a fundamentally different view.”

Biden said it was crucial to support Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), the only Democrat who has declared his candidacy for outgoing Sen. Harkin's seat, in order to hold on to the party's Senate majority.

“Unless we can maintain this seat, unless we can begin to break down the majority in the House of Representatives, everything you have fought for for the last six years and beyond is in jeopardy,” Biden continued, according to the pool report. “This is now a party where the tail is wagging the dog, where Ted Cruz is running the show, a freshman, in terms of the ideas of the party.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) launched her campaign for governor of the state on Monday.

A campaign source told the Boston Herald on Sunday that Coakley was expected to kick off her bid with a video on her website, followed by six campaign stops on Monday. 

Coakley lost a special Senate election to fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D) seat to former Sen. Scott Brown (R) in 2010. She is the most widely recognized candidate in a Democratic field that includes former Homeland Security advisor Juliette Kayyem. On the Republican side, only former gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker has announced a run for the governor's office.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) on Friday sent a letter to the Senate Ethics Committee requesting an investigation of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) for what he calls "attempted bribery."

The letter responded to reports that Senate Democrats were shopping around a plan to deny government contributions to lawmakers' health care plans if there is "probable cause" they solicited prostitutes. The proposal would effectively dredge up Vitter's 2007 prostitution scandal unless he stopped pressuring the Senate to vote on an amendment repealing federal contributions to legislators' health plans.

The Democrats' proposal was first reported by Politico.

From the letter:

In response to my proposal and call for a vote on my amendment to reverse the Office of Personnel Management’s Congressional exemption from the Affordable Care Act, Senator Reid and Boxer have apparently lead an effort to employ political scare tactics, personal attacks, and threats that would affect each Senator’s personal finances (i.e. bribery). News reports indicate that one of these proposals would prohibit the employer contribution to any “Member of Congress who has offered an amendment in the House of Representatives or the Senate that would prohibit such contributions on behalf of other individuals, or who has voted for the adoption of such an amendment.” Such an arrangement, whereby the Senate Majority Leader and the Chair of this Committee are threatening to take away their colleagues’ healthcare coverage subsidy if they do not vote a certain way, at worst constitutes bribery and a quid pro quo arrangement, and at best amounts to improper conduct reflecting discreditably on the Senate. 

Update: Reid's office responded in a statement late Friday:

"Senator Vitter's charges are absurd and baseless," spokeswoman Kristen Orthman told TPM. "This is nothing more than Senator Vitter's desperate attempt to change the subject from his previous ethics issues."

The Pennsylvania police chief who recorded viral YouTube videos in which he fires guns and refers to Democrats as "libtards" has declared himself a write-in candidate for the Schuylkill County sheriff's office, the Pottsville Republican-Herald reported Friday.

Mark Kessler, the police chief in Gilberton, Pa., announced the write-in campaign on his website and Facebook page this week. 

"I've been kicking it around for a long time," Kessler told the newspaper of his plans to run for the office, adding that he had switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent despite pressure from "Republican elites."

"It's going to be a tough run," he added. "I probably have a popularity vote, but since my name isn't on the ballot, it's going to be tough. It will be a miracle if I win, but I'll give it a shot. It will let me get my message out. Maybe the people of Schuylkill County will elect me as sheriff, but I'll throw my name into the ring and see what happens. I'll try my best."

Kessler was suspended from his post for 30 days for using Gilberton Borough's guns in the YouTube videos, and town officials plan to hold another disciplinary hearing on Sept. 19, according to the newspaper. The police chief recently told TPM that he's been teaching people how to shoot guns in the interim and befriended James Yeager, a fellow gun rights activist.

President Barack Obama is expected to sit down with host of ABC's "This Week" George Stephanopoulos at the White House for an interview airing Sunday at 10 a.m. ET, the network announced. It will be the president's first interview since his Tuesday address to the nation regarding the situation in Syria.

The mother of Trayvon Martin is expected to testify at a Senate judiciary subcommittee hearing on "stand your ground" laws, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced Thursday.

Sybrina Fulton is among the list of witnesses to testify at the hearing, scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows an individual to use deadly force in response to a perceived threat, was an issue in the shooting death of her son.

Senate Democrats are deciding whether to resurface Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) past prostitution scandal if he continues to press for a vote on his Obamacare amendment, Politico reported Friday. 

Democrats are considering bringing to a vote a plan denying government contributions to lawmakers' health care plans if there is "probable cause" they solicited prostitutes, according to draft legislation obtained by Politico. That plan echoes Vitter's amendment, which would repeal federal contributions to legislators' health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Vitter was caught up in the so-called "D.C. Madam" scandal in 2007. His telephone number appeared in the phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates, an escort service accused of running a prostitution ring. Since the records were dated before he ran for the Senate, the Louisiana Republican was not found guilty of ethics violations.

Sources told Politico that the plan was discussed at a Senate Democratic lunch Thursday, but it is unclear which senator would propose the plan or if it would ever come to a vote.

In a statement to Politico, Vitter said the plan shows Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his caucus are doing anything it takes to protect the federal subsidies for their health care.

“Harry Reid is acting like an old-time Vegas mafia thug, and a desperate one at that,” Vitter said. “This just shows how far Washington insiders will go to protect their special Obamacare exemption.”

Update:

Below is an excerpt of the proposal, obtained by the Huffington Post:

(iv) LIMITATION. -- No employee contribution payable under section 8906 of title 5, United States Code, with respect to health insurance coverage under this subparagraph, may be provided on behalf of an individual who the relevant congressional ethics panel has probable cause to determine has engaged in the solicitation of prostitution.

Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday commemorated the 19th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, taking a moment to chide "this sort of Neanderthal crowd" in the House for stalling the legislation's reauthorization.

Biden said that it has been "absolutely fascinating to see the ripple effect of this little old Act we passed 19 years ago," adding that he was "stunned" when House Republicans fought for over a year to stall the reauthorization of the bill, according to a pool report. A bill to reauthorize the act ultimately passed the House in February.

"I'm going to say something outrageous,"  Biden continued, per the pool report. "I think I understand the Senate better than any man or women who's ever served in there, and I think I understand the House ... I was surprised this last time ... The idea we still had to fight? We had to fight to reauthorize?" 

The vice president held "this sort of neanderthal crowd" responsible for the delay, and credited women in the Senate for pressuring members of the House to accept expanded protections for gay, Native American and illegal immigrant women.

"It makes a difference with women in the Senate," Biden said. "It does. It does, man ... Because they go and look all the rest of those guys in the eye and say, 'Look. This is important to me.'"

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