With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Corey Mitchell, Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

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Franken, Klobuchar back Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: September 18, 2014 - 7:13 PM

With support from Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, the U.S. Senate approved President Obama’s plan to train and equip Syrian rebels Thursday, backing his strategy to confront the Islamic State militants.

The legislation, drafted as an amendment to a routine bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30, grants the president authority to train foreign forces to confront the Islamic State.

Opponents in both parties framed the vote as a precarious step toward a wider conflict in a region where American troops have been fighting for more than a decade.

Less than 24 hours before the vote, Franken told the Star Tribune he was unsure if he would support the measure.

“While I do have real concerns about this strategy, I believe that training and arming the Syrian rebels is our best available option,” Franken said in a statement after the vote.

The U.S. House approved the measure Wednesday.

The authorization expires in mid-December with the spending bill it is attached to, ensuring lawmakers will revisit the issue before the end of the year. The bill language specifies that the measure is not a broad authorization of force against the Islamic State.

“There needs to be a full debate in Congress on an authorization to use military force,” Franken said. “What I don’t want is for this to be a slippery slope that leads to another protracted ground war in the region.”

The debate over how to respond to the Islamic State has emerged a flashpoint in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race. Federal authorities suspect that at least a dozen men and women have left the state to join the terrorist group.

Seizing on the potential threat to Minnesotans as a key campaign issue, Republican nominee Mike McFadden has criticized Franken’s, accusing the senator of blindly supporting Obama’s foreign policy.

Party line splits on House approval to arm Syrian rebels

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: September 18, 2014 - 12:42 PM

WASHINGTON -- It's not often that Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan join together to support the same amendment.

On Thursday, an odd blend of bedfellows voted against a $5 billion measure to arm Syrian rebels in the fight to combat the terror group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which passed 273 to 156.

Bachmann, Nolan and Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum voted against the proposal. Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Collin Peterson and Keith Ellison joined Republican Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen in support.

Bachmann tweeted after the vote: "Many of the so-called "moderate" rebels have already joined the cause of Islamic jihad. Concerned U.S. weapons could fall into enemy hands."

Nolan uttered a similar sentiment on the House floor Tuesday. His impassioned speech earned him exposure on the CBS morning news.

"Remember, last year at this time we were ready to attack (Syrian President) al-Assad and Syria. Now we appear in a tacit alliance with Assad and his allies to defeat ISIL," he said. "Today we appear ready to send $5 billion to the FSA ... The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result."

Paulsen said, in a statement, he supported the measure with reservations.

"I remain concerned about the administration's ability to effectively and appropriately vet Syrian opposition forces to ensure we are training groups aligned with our interest in defeating ISIL," he said, noting he found it "necessary to provide the president with this limited and short-term authority."

McCollum, in a statement, called the debate "rushed."

"The CIA is already training and arming Syrian fighters in Jordan, without congressional approval. How well has that worked? We are not discussing that as a body," she said.

The Senate takes this up Thursday. Sen. Al Franken in an interview on Wednesday said he had concerns about arming Syria and was still undecided.

McFadden blasts MNsure insurer pullout as Franken, Obama failure

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: September 17, 2014 - 12:16 PM

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden said the withdrawal of the largest insurer from MNsure, the state’s health care exchange, is evidence of the Affordable Care Act’s failure, blaming President Obama and his opponent, Sen. Al Franken, for enacting what he called a broken system.

PreferredOne was the top-selling insurer on MNsure, but its CEO said they’d be pulling out of the exchange, saying their participation was “not sustainable.” PreferredOne insured six out of 10 MNsure consumers who now will have to seek out other providers and may result in higher healthcare premiums.

“I’m a businessman, and as a businessman I know that when someone provides 60 percent of the market and is the low-cost provider drops out of the program, you’re going to see a significant increase in premiums. This doesn’t work.” McFadden said, pointing to a chart from the Hoover Institution that illustrated the tangle of functions that make up the ACA. “I’m very disappointed in President Obama and Sen. Franken because this program has been based on lies.”

The biggest of all, he said, is that Obama care decreased the cost of insurance in the country. PreferredOne’s withdrawal is proof of that, he argued. However, he said he does not believe the insurance company should be held responsible for leaving MNsure. He remained focused on a system he said could be fixed by a “state-based, market-based, patient-centered” system that allows consumers to buy their insurance across state lines.

Franken spokeswoman Alexandra Fetissoff said that because of the ACA, 95 percent of Minnesotans are now insured, while the state’s uninsured rate has been halved.

“Mike McFadden would repeal the health law and take us back to a time when women were charged more for health coverage simply because they were women, people with preexisting conditions were denied coverage, half the bankruptcies in this country were connected with health care emergencies and young adults couldn't get covered under their parents' plan,” she said in a statement. “Once again, Mike McFadden has proven that he would rather jump at the opportunity to play politics than actually solve problems.”

McFadden made his statements on the day the Franken campaign launched another ad claiming McFadden’s investment firm, Lazard Middle Market, was involved in a merger that moved an American pharmaceutical company to Ireland to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

McFadden called the ad “patently false,” saying his firm did not represent the company that made the inversion, and that Franken praised a similar move by Medtronic to new headquarters in Ireland. However, while Franken praised the move as a potential job-creator, he also said the it "needs careful scrutiny."

McFadden said he said companies leave the country because they lack the tax incentives to stay.

“What this is evidence of is you have a president and a Democratic senator and a Democratic Senate that don’t understand tax policy and haven’t done anything over the last six years to make the United States have a competitive tax climate.” he said.

Johnson blasts Dayton as "incompetent" as top-selling insurer exits MNsure

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: September 16, 2014 - 5:46 PM

Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson blasted Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday for what he called "breathtaking incompetence," after it was revealed that the insurance company that sold more policies on MNsure than any other is pulling out of the exchange. 

MNsure officials confirmed Tuesday that PreferredOne, the choice of nearly six in 10 consumers who have bought plans on the exchange, would no longer participate. Insurers are expected to release their 2015 MNsure rates in early October. 

"Mark Dayton was desperate to be the first governor in the country to implement Obamacare in Minnesota through MNsure," Johnson said at a Capitol news conference. "He got to handpick his board and handpick his staff and it has been an unmitigated disaster since day one." 

Johnson suggested that PreferredOne pulled out because it was offering artificially low rates on its plans under pressure from Dayton's administration. Jeremy Drucker, spokesman for Dayton's re-election campaign, called that ridiculous. 

"Of course, administration officials encouraged insurers on MNsure to provide the lowest rates possible to the people of Minnesota," Drucker said. "However, the companies were solely responsible for the rates they decided to offer." 

Dayton has owned up to MNsure's struggles. He apologized to consumers who struggled to buy coverage through the glitch-ridden website, and earlier this month he called MNsure's troubled launch the single biggest disappointment of his first term as governor. 

Johnson said if elected, his first goal would be winning a federal waiver that would allow Minnesota to pull out of conforming to the Affordable Care Act. If that's not successful, Johnson said, he would seek to replace MNsure's board of directors and its leadership staff. He also said he'd try to increase competition among those companies selling plans on the site. 

Drucker predicted that if Johnson is elected, he would seek changes that undermine MNsure's mission of boosting insurance coverage rates. 

"This would be devastating to Minnesotans," Drucker said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar heading to Iowa to talk to Dems

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: September 16, 2014 - 3:34 PM

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Amy Klobuchar is heading to Iowa to headline Iowa's Jefferson Jackson dinner -- an annual fundraising gathering for Democrats.

Klobuchar is no stranger to the state crucial to presidential hopefuls. She frequently darts down there for fundraisers and was there last month campaigning for Rep. Bruce Braley, a U.S. Senate candidate.

Klobuchar aide Justin Buoen said in a statement, “Minnesota and Iowa have a lot in common--from our strong farm economies to our shared belief in education for all.  With her work on the farm bill and middle class issues, Sen. Klobuchar is a great choice for the Iowa Democratic dinner.“

Iowa Democratic party chair Scott Brennan said in a release, according to the Des Moines Register: "We invited Sen. Klobuchar because she's a great speaker and a strong advocate for our candidates and we're pleased she's joining us to support our Iowa Democrats at this year's Jefferson Jackson Dinner."

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