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Posts by David Eldridge
September 24, 2014
Congressional pressure for the NFL and other major sports leagues to get a handle on domestic violence continues to ratchet up.
A week after one senator proposed stripping the National Football League of its antitrust exemptions, a bipartisan quartet of House members is circulating a petition calling for football, baseball, hockey, soccer and basketball executives to review policies and take “the strongest possible stance” against violence directed at women and children.
The group — Jim Costa, D-Calif.; Ted Poe, R-Texas; Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y.; and Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo. — is asking colleagues to sign the petition by Friday. Full story
September 22, 2014
Say this about the 113th Congress: It’s managed to live down to low expectations.
With only a lame-duck, post-Election Day mop-up session left before a new Congress takes office in January, the 113th is on track to be one of the least productive congresses — in terms of laws passed and signed by the president — in 60 years.
The 113th Congress, which passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through Dec. 11 before heading out of town, has seen just 165 pieces of legislation enacted.
The total from the House Clerk tracks only through August and lists 164 measures — more than 100 pieces of legislation below the 283 measures enacted in the 112th Congress and well below the 383 in the 111th Congress.
Another handful of bills have been sent to the president, but unless the 113th has an unprecedented burst of productivity when members return for the lame duck, the die is cast.
As Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson told CQ Roll Call last week, “This has been the most do-nothingest Congress.”
It’s a distinction Democrats insist is a disgrace and an abdication of the responsibility of governing. Full story
September 18, 2014
It’s official: The House is closing up shop until after the midterm elections.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office announced Thursday there will be no votes on Friday and said the four-day session originally scheduled to begin on Sept. 29 has been canceled, pending Senate approval of the continuing resolution that passed the House Wednesday.
That means lawmakers will be sprinting to the exits — and the quick trip to the airport — after the close of business Thursday. Full story
Is it “ISIS,” “ISIL,” or something else entirely? On Capitol Hill, the answer depends on whom you ask — and neither party labels nor ideological leanings seem to have any bearing on the answer.
For many lawmakers, broadcasters and the reprehensible group itself, the term of choice is clearly ISIS, which stands for the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The terrorists rebranded themselves as the “Islamic State” in July, and the acronym ISIS has grown exponentially in notoriety and infamy in the wake of the brutal videotaped beheadings of three Westerners, including two Americans. Full story
September 17, 2014
The House Select Committee on Benghazi got off to a relatively subdued start Wednesday, though the panel’s Republican chairman and ranking Democrat managed to take a few veiled jabs at each other in their opening statements.
Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., pushed back at Democrats who have argued the hearing is just a rehash of questions about the 2012 terror attack that killed four Americans.
“Some question the need for this committee,” he said. “I respect your right to disagree, but the mark of a professional, indeed the mark of character, is to do a good job even if you do not think the task should have been assigned in the first place.”
Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat who has been at the forefront of those questioning the need for another round of hearings, responded a few minutes later.
“Too often over the past two years, the congressional investigation into what happened in Benghazi has devolved into unseemly partisanship. Today, we have an opportunity to focus on reform,” he said, reading from prepared remarks.
Here is Cummings’ complete statement as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing. I know every Member of this panel is dedicated to ensuring that our work honors the memories of the four Americans who were killed in Benghazi—Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty.
I want to thank our colleague, Representative Schiff, for proposing the topic of today’s hearing. Too often over the past two years, the congressional investigation into what happened in Benghazi has devolved into unseemly partisanship. Today, we have an opportunity to focus on reform. How can we learn from the past to make things better in the future? This kind of oversight can be productive, it can be critical, and it can sometimes even be tedious, but it can also save people’s lives.
I sincerely hope the Select Committee will stay on the course of constructive reform and keep this goal as our North Star. It would be a disservice to everyone involved to be lured off this path by partisan politics.
Today, we will review the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board, which was chaired by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During our previous investigation in the House Oversight Committee, Chairman Gowdy and I heard directly from both men about how seriously they took their roles. Ambassador Pickering called it a “debt of honor.”
Their report was independent, it was adopted unanimously by all Board members, and it was a blistering examination of what went wrong at the State Department. They made 29 recommendations, and Secretary Clinton accepted all of them.
After they issued their report, the State Department Inspector General issued his own report finding that “the Department wasted no time addressing the recommendations.” The Department has been working on implementing these recommendations for the past year and a half, and Congress should ensure that it finishes the job.
Today, I would like our witnesses to provide an update on the status of several of the Board’s recommendations.
First, the Board found that the Department’s response to the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi was “inadequate.” It was inadequate at the post in Benghazi, at the Embassy in Tripoli, and here in Washington. Ambassador Pickering explained that the post did not take action despite crossing several “tripwires” that should have caused officials to review security more closely and develop a stronger response. The Board recommended that the Department change its procedures to make sure that security breaches are reviewed immediately.
Today, the Department reports that it has created a new process that requires posts to report “tripwires” as soon as they are crossed so security officials can review them immediately and take action if necessary. I want to know if this process is now fully operational, and, if so, how it has been working so far.
The Board also found that we should not have relied so heavily on local militia groups, like the February 17 militia, to protect our post. The Board called this reliance “misplaced,” and it found that these security forces were “poorly skilled.” The Board recommended that the Department strengthen security “beyond the traditional reliance on host government security support in high risk, high threat posts.”
Today, the Department reports that it has 17 new Marine Security Guard Detachments and another new Marine unit to enhance security in changing threat environments. In addition, the State Department is now using new funding from Congress to hire 151 new personnel in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, or DS. I want to hear from our witnesses about whether these actions are sufficient, or whether we need to do more.
The Board also found fault with a Deputy Assistant Secretary within DS who denied repeated requests for additional security in Benghazi. At the time, this official oversaw the security of all 275 diplomatic posts around the world.
To address this problem, the Department created a new position to focus exclusively on the security needs of roughly 30 posts experiencing the highest threats. The Board praised this action, stating that it could be “a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.” Today, I want to hear from the State Department specifically about how this new position is working and whether they believe we should make additional changes.
Everyone understands that diplomacy, by its nature, sometimes requires us to be in very dangerous places. Our diplomats work in high-threat environments, and although we cannot eliminate every risk, we must do everything we can to keep Americans as safe as possible when they are serving overseas.
With that, I want to conclude by recognizing the tremendous sacrifices that are made every single day around the world by our diplomatic corps, the intelligence community, and our military servicemembers on behalf of the American people.
Here is Gowdy’s complete statement, as prepared for delivery:
A little over two years ago, four Americans were killed serving our country in Benghazi, Libya. Two were killed when a facility emblematic of our country was set on fire. Two were killed because they dared to fight back and defend themselves and others. Sean Smith, Chris Stevens, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty represented us. They represented our country and our values. We sent them to do that. They were killed in an attack rooted in the animus some people hold toward us, simply because we are us.
To the family, friends, and loved ones of those killed, we can never adequately express our condolences and gratitude. As you have helped us understand, the four killed were more than just pictures on a TV screen. They were sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends. And they were our fellow Americans.
I remain hopeful there are still things left in our country that can transcend politics. I remain convinced our fellow citizens deserve all of the facts of what happened before, during, and after the attacks in Benghazi and they deserve an investigative process worthy of the memory of those who died and worthy of the trust of our fellow citizens.
Some question the need for this committee. I respect your right to disagree, but the mark of a professional, indeed the mark of character, is to do a good job even if you do not think the task should have been assigned in the first place. Given the gravity of the issues at hand, I am willing to risk answering the same question twice rather than risk not answering it once. I am willing to reconsider previously held beliefs in light of new, additional, complimentary or contradictory evidence. I am willing to approach anew witnesses previously interviewed in light of the real possibility that additional questions may be warranted.
As we are keenly aware, all documents responsive to congressional requests have not been produced. Moreover, there are witnesses with information or access to information with whom no committee of Congress has spoken. I am optimistic the vast and varied backgrounds of our colleagues can be put to great use on behalf of our fellow citizens. The House of Representatives constituted this committee to find all of the facts, and I intend to do so fully and in a manner worthy of the people we serve.
Our fellow citizens have legitimate and high expectations:
(1) They expect us to protect and defend those we send to represent us,
(2) They expect us to move heaven and earth to help those representing us who are in harm’s way;
(3) They expect government to tell the truth in the aftermath of a tragedy;
(4) They expect we will not continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Which leads to this hearing.
Benghazi was not the first time our diplomatic facilities and people have been attacked. The barracks in Beirut, our facilities in Tanzania and Kenya are a few that come to mind amid too many others. And after those attacks, groups came together and made recommendations on how to prevent future attacks. That is the process seemingly followed. An attack takes place, we commission a group to study how to make sure it doesn’t happen again, we pronounce it is time to move on and yet it happens again. So to those who believe it is time to move on, that there is nothing left to discover, that all questions have been asked and answered, that we have learned the lessons to be learned— we have heard that before. And yet the attacks and the tragedies keep coming.
It is stunning to see the similarities in the recommendations made decades ago and the recommendations made after Benghazi. If you doubt that, compare the recommendations made nearly 25 years ago with those made after Benghazi. We do not suffer from a lack of recommendations. We do not suffer from a lack of boards, commissions and blue ribbon panels. We suffer from a lack of implementing and enacting those recommendations. That must end.
So it is appropriate to review the recommendations of the most recent ARB and Rep. Adam Schiff is to be credited for suggesting we do so. It is also fair for us to ask why have we not done a better job implementing recommendations made decades ago. Why does it take an attack on our people and facilities for us to make recommendations? Why not evaluate the threat before the attack? Why not anticipate rather than react?
The people we work for yearn to see the right thing done, for the right reasons, and in the right way. They want to know that something can rise above the din of politics. They want to trust the institutions of government. So to fulfill the duties owed to those we serve and in honor of those who were killed perhaps we can be what those four brave men were: neither Republican nor Democrat. We can just be Americans in pursuit of the facts, the truth, and justice no matter where that journey takes us.
September 15, 2014
Updated 12:16 p.m. | After months of behind-the-scenes work that saw the House Benghazi Select Committee virtually disappear from the media landscape, the much-hyped investigatory panel returns to the spotlight this week with its first public hearing.
The 10 a.m. Wednesday hearing comes less than a week after the two-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Libya that killed four Americans and at a time when the rise of ISIS has refocused much of the country’s attention on terror and the Middle East.
The Benghazi committee, announced with great fanfare in May by House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and immediately dismissed as a political stunt by Democrats, has spent the summer hiring staff and reviewing evidence.
There was — and still is — an expectation among Republicans that Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former prosecutor, will go after top administration officials involved in the handling of the incident and its aftermath, including former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and current Secretary John Kerry.
But neither of those two political heavyweights will appear this week, and Wednesday’s hearing looks to be more deliberative than explosive — which may be a sign that Gowdy is determined to deliver on promises to the Democrats on the committee that he would not politicize the investigation.
Wednesday’s hearing focuses on the implementation of recommendations from an independent review board and recommendations from the Benghazi Independent Panel on Best Practices.
The committee will hear from Greg Starr, the assistant secretary of State for diplomatic security, Mark Sullivan, the former director of the Secret Service, and Todd Keil, the former assistant secretary of infrastructure protection for the Department of Homeland Security.
Sullivan and Keil served on the Independent Panel of Best Practices, which issued 40 recommendations for increased diplomatic security a little over a year ago — chief among them being the creation of Starr’s job.
The hearing, based on the prospective agenda, seems less focused on Benghazi and more focused on a forward-looking approach to security management practices — a topic that has taken on new importance with the emergence of ISIS, the jihadist insurgents who control parts of Syria and Iraq.
Congress will also weigh a request this week from President Barack Obama to authorize broader military action against the group, which has captured the ire of the American public by posting videos of the beheadings of two U.S. journalists.
The Benghazi attack, of course, will be a topic of discussion Wednesday, and the public will get its first look at whether Gowdy, a prosecutor for 16 years before coming to Congress, can keep the hearing from bogging down in the partisan bickering that plagued the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which had been conducting its own Benghazi probe.
Amanda Duvall, the new committee’s deputy communications director, told CQ Roll Call that Gowdy has long said there would be public hearings. “But the work of an investigation involves depositions and witness interviews that, by nature of what those are, are not public,” Duvall said.
Gowdy announced last month that retired three-star general Lt. Gen. Dana K. Chipman would serve as chief counsel for the panel.
Chipman was the senior military lawyer for the Army for four years as judge advocate general at the Pentagon before he retired last November after 33 years on active duty.
CQ Roll Call reported in July that security clearance backlogs had slowed hiring for the panel.
Republicans provided $3.3 million for the 12-member committee to spend by the end of the year, more than the budgets of at least two House standing committees. The panel can keep working in 2015 with a renewed budget.
The other Republicans on the panel are Reps. Martha Roby of Alabama, Susan Brooks of Indiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Peter Roskam of Illinois, Mike Pompeo of Kansas and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.
The Democrats are Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, Adam Smith of Washington, Adam Schiff of California, Linda T. Sánchez of California, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
Correction 12:30 p.m.
An earlier version of the post incorrectly identified Amanda Duvall. She’s the deputy communications director.
September 11, 2014
Reaction to the president’s prime-time speech on ramping up efforts to take on the terror group ISIS ranged, not surprisingly, from very supportive — loyal huzzahs from Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Richard J. Durbin — to openly dismissive: Sen. Ted Cruz called the president “unserious.”
“Tonight’s speech was disappointing, but not surprising. The President’s approach to ISIS has been – and remains – fundamentally unserious,” the Texas Republican said in a statement.
An even more withering assessment of President Barack Obama’s address came from Oklahoma Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe.
“Tonight, the President’s strategy re-plowed the ground of what he has already done and requested what Congressional leaders have already offered. At ISIL headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, you can hear a sigh of relief.” Full story
September 9, 2014
Another press release announcing another longtime former lawmaker taking another high-profile lobbying gig.
Just another day in Washington, D.C.
The Credit Union National Association, the nation’s largest trade group for credit unions, says former Iowa congressman Jim Nussle, who served eight terms and also worked in the second Bush White House as director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been named president and CEO.
“After an exhaustive search, in which nearly 100 highly qualified candidates were considered, the CUNA Board has unanimously accepted and certified the executive search committee’s recommendation of Jim as the next chief executive of our association,” said CUNA Chairman Dennis Pierce.
Nussle, 54, served in the House from 1991-2007 as a Republican from Iowa’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts. From 2001-06, he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
He joined the Bush White House after an unsuccessful bid for the Iowa governorship.
Since then, he’s helped found Growth Energy, a pro-ethanol trade association and The Nussle Group, a public affairs consulting firm.
This YouTube clip captures one of his most memorable moments on the floor of Congress.
September 4, 2014
Congress is working on legislation that would authorize more aggressive military action against terror group ISIS — but President Barack Obama has to step up and take the lead in the fight, said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
The California Republican, in a Tuesday interview on conservative talker Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, said he supports efforts to give the president authority to pursue Islamic extremists across borders. But he cautioned against Congress conducting foreign policy.
“We don’t need 535 foreign policy experts trying to run the military,” McCarthy told guest host Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif. “First and foremost, this president has to have a strategy. I mean, what is our foreign policy? I mean, I don’t know what it is. And if we don’t know what it is, our allies don’t know, and our enemies don’t know, so they’re pushing the envelope. Full story
September 3, 2014
As President Barack Obama weighs U.S. options for confronting ISIS, the insurgent group in control of parts of Iraq and Syria, lawmakers in both the House and Senate are moving to ensure that the administration has the authority to take military action if necessary.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., said in a statement Wednesday he will introduce legislation when Congress reconvenes next week that would authorize the use of military force against ISIS and other terror groups around the world, including al Nusra, Ansar al Sharia, al Shabaab and Boko Haram.
Separately, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday in Virginia that Congress should not leave town in September without considering an authorization to use force against ISIS. Full story
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez and a group of immigrant-rights activists urged President Barack Obama Wednesday to unilaterally reduce deportations before the November elections, despite concerns such action could hurt vulnerable Democrats at the polls.
“Why wait until after the election?” the Illinois Democrat asked on a conference call with reporters, one day after White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest ducked questions on whether the president, who had promised action by summer’s end, is now considering waiting until after Nov. 4.
The Illinois Democrat and representatives from several activist groups said the political pluses for the Democratic Party far outweigh the minuses.
“We may lose seats in the House, we may lose seats in the Senate. Then they will simply say, ‘Oh, there they go, protecting those immigrants afterwards why didn’t they do it before? Because they were afraid.’ Let’s not be afraid of standing for our values, of standing for what we believe in as Democrats.”
He said Democrats who are publicly and privately urging caution from the White House have the political calculus wrong.
“I think I know what is in the president’s heart. So I say to the Democrats, stand aside, let the president make the decision, let him announce it. Stop this stopping the progress of our community toward justice.”
Gutierrez’s comments also came one day after Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said on conservative radio talker Hugh Hewitt’s show that bipartisan immigration efforts, which died earlier this summer after the issue played a role in the primary defeat of former majority leader Eric Cantor, could resurface next year in the 114th Congress — if Obama doesn’t blow it.
“I’ve outlined to the president in July that the House, the Congress, ought to be dealing with immigration reform,” Boehner said. “It wasn’t likely to happen this year because of the flood on the border, and the president’s own pounding his chest about using his phone and his pen. But I did outline that, you know, there’s a possibility that Congress could take this issue up next year.”
Gutiérrez, the leading proponent of immigrant rights on Capitol Hill, was joined on the press call by Lorella Praeli of United We Dream and Frank Sharry of America’s Voice.
August 26, 2014
With the White House weighing more air strikes against jihadists in northern Iraq and possibly Syria, Rep. John B. Larson said Congress needs to cancel its August recess and get back to work in Washington.
The Connecticut Democrat said in a statement Tuesday that there are still open questions about whether President Barack Obama has the authority to take military action against the Islamic State, as the jihadists have named the region of Iraq and Syria under their control.
Congress isn’t scheduled to return to Washington until Sept. 8. Full story
August 25, 2014
D.C. law firm BakerHostetler will handle the House Republicans’ lawsuit against President Barack Obama.
House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said the firm has been contracted to represent the House in the district court civil suit.
According to the contract, the lawsuit will cost the House up to $350,000, billed at a rate of $500/hour.
“The president must be held accountable, and the House will continue to act in an open and transparent manner to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” Miller said in a Monday statement.
The lawsuit, authorized on July 30 by the House, calls for the courts to rein in a president who, Republicans contend, has overstepped his authority by unilaterally changing federal law in his implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Many legal experts say the lawsuit faces long odds in the courts, but one of the highest-profile constitutional scholars in the country, former Reagan and George Bush lawyer David Rivkin, has said the case has merit — and he’s a partner at the firm the Republicans hired.
Democrats immediately weighed in on the announcement, sharply criticizing the $500 per hour contract as wasteful spending.
“This outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars is yet another reminder of House Republicans’ misguided priorities,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., in a statement. “Only in John Boehner’s world does it make sense to pay lawyers $500 per hour to work on a partisan lawsuit while refusing to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for hardworking Americans trying to feed their families.”
Reacting to a report that President Barack Obama is mulling unilateral action that could impact almost half the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez said Monday, “It’s music to my ears.”
The Illinois Democrat, one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, said in an appearance on MSNBC that Obama has been forced to take action because of gridlock in the House.
“We want to get as many as we can out of the vicious cycle of deportation,” Gutiérrez said. “But I think if the president takes such a move … I think it would be a huge move.”
His comments came after reporter Chris Jansing told MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart that administration sources have said the White House is weighing executive action that would impact up to 5 million illegal immigrants. Full story
August 21, 2014
A leading House Republican says the Obama administration needs to plug the leaks that led to revelations of an unsuccessful covert mission earlier this summer to rescue journalist James Foley and other hostages from jihadist captors in Syria.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, commended the U.S. forces involved, but he criticized the Obama administration for confirming the operation after news organizations, citing unnamed sources, reported on the mission.
McKeon, in a statement issued Thursday, said:
“Successful or not, such operations are incredibly sensitive, even after they have concluded. Disclosure of these missions puts our troops at risk, reduces the likelihood that future missions will succeed, and risks the lives of hostages and informants alike. While I believe it was unwise for the White House and Department of Defense to formally acknowledge this operation; it is outrageous that someone would be so selfish and short sighted to leak it to the media.”
He called on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to investigate and determine the source of the leak.
ABC News, citing “senior administration sources,” reported Wednesday that U.S. special operations members engaged in a firefight with jihadists at a site in Syria where Foley and the others were believed to be held, but withdrew when it became apparent the hostages were not there.
The administration has said it only acknowledged the operation because media organizations were going public with the news anyway.
The Islamic State insurgents who control parts of Syria and northern Iraq released a video this week showing the brutal beheading of Foley and vowed more executions if the U.S. continues its ramped-up campaign of airstrikes in the region.