Catherine Thompson

Catherine Thompson is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. Before joining TPM, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She is a graduate of New York University, where 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

Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken said Friday that it's neither President Barack Obama's "desire nor his intention" to strike Syria without Congressional approval.

Speaking on NPR's Morning Edition, Blinken said the president "has the authority to act, but it's neither his desire nor his intention to use that authority absent Congress backing him."

Obama said earlier this week at a press conference in Sweden that he believes he was not required to consult Congress on striking Syria, but predicted that Congress would pass a resolution authorizing the use of military force.

TPM is keeping track of where members of Congress stand on the Syrian intervention vote here.

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Thursday that if the United States does not act in Syria, extremists could hijack "moderate" opposition forces supported by the U.S and its allies.

In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, Kerry was asked if rebel soldiers shown in a video obtained by the New York Times, in which they allegedly prepare to execute seven captured Syrian soldiers, would be considered U.S. allies.

"No. In fact, I believe that those men in those videos are disadvantaged by an American response to the chemical weapons used because it, in fact, empowers the moderate opposition," Kerry responded.

The secretary said the administration is aware of close to a dozen "really bad" groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. But he said that U.S.-supported rebels go through a "vetting process," warning of "jihadists who have been attracted by the chaos of Syria."

"They are not part of the opposition that is being supported by our friends and ourselves," Kerry said of the rebel soldiers in the video. "That is a moderate opposition. They condemn what has happened today."

"I guarantee you if we turn our backs today, the picture we all saw in the paper today and the media of those people being shot, that will take place more because more extremists will be attracted to this, because they will be funded as the only alternative in order to take on Assad," he added.

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President Barack Obama is scheduled hold a press conference Friday at 9:50 a.m. ET from the G20 Leader's Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, according to the White House.

According to the White House schedule, Obama was also expected to hold bilateral meetings with President Xi Jinping of China and President Francois Hollande of France, as well as host a roundtable with members of Russian civil society later in the day.

A professor at Michigan State University has been relieved of his teaching duties after making anti-Republican comments in front of a college class, the Detroit News reported Thursday.

Writing professor William Penn said in videotaped remarks posted by CampusReform, an organization geared toward young conservative students, that Republicans "don't want to pay taxes because they have already raped this country and gotten everything out of it they possibly could." In a nod to his students, he added that GOP supporters don't want to pay for college students' tuition.

Penn went on to slam former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann.

"But Ann Romney a first lady? And remember this if you are just going to be a greedy bastard all your whole life," he said in the video, which was recorded by a student last week. "In order to be rich like Mitt Romney … you have to be, think about it, Mitt Romney."

"Anybody here want to be Mitt Romney? Him? Married to her?" he asked the class.

“The dean of the College of Arts and Letters and a representative from the provost’s office met with Penn, who acknowledged that some of his comments were inappropriate, disrespectful and offensive and may have negatively affected the learning environment,” the university said in a statement, as quoted by the Detroit News.

MSU spokesman Jason Cody told the newspaper that Penn will remain employed with the university, although his classes have been reassigned for at least the remainder of the fall semester.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Thursday that Russia is holding the U.N. Security Council "hostage," forcing the U.S. to act alone in response to a chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime.

"Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities, including as a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention," Power told reporters at the U.N. in New York, as quoted by Politico.

Power accused the council of protecting Russian interests at the expense of Middle East stability, calling Russia "the patron of a regime that would brazenly stage the world's largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter-century, while chemical weapons inspectors sent by the United Nations were just across town," according to Politico.

She added that the U.S. has attempted to address the Syrian conflict through the U.N.'s diplomatic channels for the past two and a half years, but said the country must resort to using force on its own due to Russia's position.

Attorneys for a Florida man who allegedly killed two people at a Labor Day barbecue filed a motion to have their client's murder charges dismissed under the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, Florida Today reported Wednesday.

Police said William T. Woodward "snuck up" on the barbecue and opened fire on three neighbors, killing two men and injuring one, according to the newspaper. In addition to the state's 'Stand Your Ground' law, Woodward's legal team also argued that the three men posed an imminent threat to Woodward because they had been threatening to "get him" in the hours prior to the shooting.

The motion argued that Woodward could have expected an attack based on those words alone. It cited the "Bush Doctrine" to justify Woodward's response to the perceived threats, referring to George W. Bush's concept of waging pre-emptive war against potential threats before they metastasize into imminent threats.

“I think legally that term has sort of been evolving especially given changes of our government’s definition of ‘imminent,’” Robert Berry, one of the attorneys representing Woodward, told Florida Today. “It’s become more expansive than someone putting a gun right to your head. It’s things that could become, you know, an immediate threat.”

[Image via Varlanov Anatoly / Shutterstock]

President Barack Obama called a bipartisan group of five senators on Wednesday as part of "continued engagement with members of Congress on Syria," according to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. 

Obama said Wednesday at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden that he believes lawmakers will ultimately approve a resolution allowing him to move forward with limited strikes against Syria, although he does not believe he was required to consult Congress on the matter.

TPM is keeping track of where members of Congress stand on the Syrian intervention vote.

The Louisiana National Guard plans to ignore a Pentagon order directing the military to process benefits for same-sex couples because the state Constitution does not recognize gay marriage, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Wednesday.

"The state of Louisiana does not recognize same-sex marriage, nor does it allow state officials to take part in an act that recognizes same-sex marriage. We would refer those individuals interested in applying for such benefits to seek guidance at a federal military installation," Lt. Col. Michael Kazmierzak, a spokesman for the state's National Guard, told the newspaper.

Gays in the military were able to begin applying for benefits on Tuesday, following the Pentagon's announcement that it would recognize same-sex marriages. Since that announcement, Texas and Mississippi appear to be the only other states with a ban on gay marriage that have also decided to limit benefit requests from same-sex military couples.


Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) on Wednesday criticized newly-elected Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)'s decision to vote "present" on a resolution to authorize military strikes in Syria.

Brown called Markey's vote "unreal" in a Facebook post, slamming him for not taking a side even though he has access to the information available to him as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Please let him know that the people of MA did not send him down there to vote 'present', they sent him down there to at least vote," Brown wrote. "He gets a check, he should vote."

After the committee's vote to pass the resolution, Markey explained “a 'no’ vote would have indicated I had sufficient information on which to base the decision. Which I did not," as quoted by the Boston Globe.

“I want to make sure I make an informed, correct vote,” he added. “The people of Massachusetts expect their senators to have analyzed all the facts, and I want to make sure I have all the facts before I cast that vote.”

The National Rifle Association on Wednesday weighed in on the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit to end the federal government's phone data dragnet.

The NRA filed a friend of court brief in federal district court that argued the government's interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act could lead to the creation of a "national gun registry."

"Under the government’s reading of Section 215, the government could simply demand the periodic submission of all firearms dealers’ transaction records, then centralize them in a database indexed by the buyers’ names for later searching," the brief read.

When that government-mandated data is combined with phone call logs obtained by the National Security Agency -- including gun owner's calls to shooting ranges, gun stores or the NRA -- the government could predict with "near certainty" who owns a firearm, the organization argued.

The NRA brief acknowledged Congress' legislative efforts, both before and after the authorization of the Patriot Act, to prevent the creation of a national firearms registry and respect gun owner's privacy.

But the organization argued it would be "absurd to think that the Congress would adopt and maintain a web of statutes intended to protect against the creation of a national gun registry, while simultaneously authorizing the FBI and the NSA to gather records that could effectively create just such a registry."

[h/t The Hill]