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Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

President Obama called Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on Friday to offer his condolences for those killed Thursday night and to offer his support for efforts to track down the Boston bombing suspect at large.

The dispatch provided by a White House official:

The President continues to be briefed on the investigation by his national security team. The most recent briefing, provided in the Oval Office by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, concluded shortly after 4 p.m. Following that briefing the President placed calls to Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, to express his condolences for the MIT police officer who was killed overnight.  The President said that the entire country is behind the people of Boston as well as Massachusetts, and that the full force of the Federal Government will continue to be made available until those responsible are brought to justice.

The aunt of the suspected Boston bomber claimed Friday afternoon on CNN that her nephew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was framed for the attack.

"I'm suspicious that this was staged," Maret Tsarnaev said from Toronto, Canada.

Asked who she believes framed them and why, she responded, "Whoever needs this. Whoever is looking for those who need to be blamed for these attacks."

"Who is interested in this case? When you are blowing up people, and you want to bring attention to something, for some purpose, you know, you do that math," she said. "I'm used to being set up. Before I left former Soviet Union country, that's how I lived. Always."

The aunt said she found the FBI footage of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan walking yards apart to be "strange."

"They are normal young men," she insisted.

Maret Tsarnaev earlier spoke to Jenny Yuen of the Toronto Sun and voiced skepticism that her two nephews were responsible for the bombings this week during the Boston Marathon.

A man who said he was an uncle of the two suspects in the Boston bombings, spoke to CNN on Friday morning. He said the brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev grew up in Kyrgyzstan and have been in the U.S. for about 7 or 8 years. He said he was told by his sister-in-law in the morning that Tamerlan was shot and killed.

Dzhokhara Tsarnaev is reportedly still at large and believed to be armed and dangerous. Boston is on lockdown in search for him.

"I'm sorry too -- if he did this, I'm sorry," the uncle told CNN. "It's crazy. It's not possible. I can't believe it."

He said he was in disbelief when he found out they were suspects while watching the news.

Bloomberg News also reported that the FBI was in Maryland at the uncle's house to question him.

 

Correction: This post incorrectly identified the suspects' uncle as Ruslan Tsarni, which happens to be the name of a second uncle who lives in Maryland. The identity of the uncle quoted above is not yet known.

An expansion of background checks for gun purchases fell prey to a Senate filibuster on Wednesday afternoon, with four Democrats siding with 41 Republicans to block it.

The reasons the Democrats gave about why they crossed the aisle varied, but they all came from red states and three of them face potentially tough reelection battles next year. On top of it, the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby that spends heavily during election season, threatened to target lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill.

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Fifty-seven senators voted Wednesday to dramatically expand gun rights after the background check legislation was scuttled, a sign that even amid the most concerted gun control push in two decades, there remains more Senate support for loosening gun laws than tightening them.

The National Rifle Association-backed measure, brought by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) as an amendment to gun legislation, would have made a concealed carry permit in one state valid in other states. In other words, if it passed, California would be forced to let someone carry a concealed weapon in public if they were permitted to do so, say, by the state of Kansas.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced Thursday that he will freeze consideration of gun legislation until expanded background checks find 60 votes.

"This debate is not over. In fact, this fight is just beginning," Reid said on the floor. "I've spoken with the president. He and I agree that the best way to keep working towards passing a background check bill is to hit a pause and freeze the background check bill where it is. ... This will allow senators to keep negotiating."

The Manchin-Toomey to expand mandatory background checks to firearm purchases at gun shows and Internet sales fell five votes short Wednesday of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. It was the centerpiece of Democrats' efforts to tighten gun laws in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shootings.

"We're going to come back to this bill," Reid said. "I'm committed to ensuring that any bill we pass include an expansion of background checks, close the gun show loophole and cover private sales."

In seeking to halt the legislation, Reid was resisting a push by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to bring up a further watered-down background check measure, which could threaten efforts to achieve more substantial reforms. The Coburn measure may also give Republicans political cover to say they voted for an expansion of background checks, which 90 percent of Americans support, without doing much or anything to upset the gun lobby.

"He's disappointed," said a Coburn aide. "[H]e's trying to help his colleagues choose incremental progress over magnificent failure."

This post has been updated for clarity.

One day after gun background check legislation failed in the Senate, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said House committees are continuing to examine practical solutions to "the issue of mental health and violence."

"Our committees continue to work at this," Boehner said. "No decisions have been made beyond that."

Asked again if he'll commit to advancing any legislation on guns, he resisted.

"When we have a decision to announce, we'll announce it," he said.

The Senate voted 54-46 on Wednesday afternoon for bipartisan legislation to expand background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, falling short of the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. Families of the Newtown, Conn. shooting victims were present in the chamber and looked on as senators cast their votes.

The Republicans who voted for the bill were Sens. Pat Toomey (PA), Mark Kirk (IL), Susan Collins (ME) and John McCain (AZ). Democrats who voted against it were Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Max Baucus (MT), Mark Begich (AK) and Mark Pryor (AR) -- the latter three are up for reelection in 2014. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) changed his vote to no in the last minute to reserve the right to bring up the bill again.

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Justice Antonin Scalia this week escalated his criticism of the Voting Rights Act ahead of a Supreme Court decision expected within the next two months -- raising the likelihood that he and perhaps a majority of justices will overturn the landmark law.

Speaking on Monday night at the University of California's Washington Center, in D.C, Scalia described a centerpiece of the 1965 law as an "embedded" form of "racial preferment," in remarks captured by the Wall Street Journal. He reportedly warned that the law would be reauthorized into perpetuity unless the courts invalidate it.

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