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Posts by Niels Lesniewski
August 22, 2014
Updated 3:15 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner said Friday that the news the Obama administration ignored the power of the purse in a national security matter should be no surprise.
The Ohio Republican was responding to a Government Accountability Office finding, issued a day earlier, that the Obama administration acted outside federal law in the swap of five Taliban members for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
August 8, 2014
Updated 11:22 a.m. | Congressional leaders are backing President Barack Obama’s decision to authorize air strikes in Iraq as the first bombs began falling, although hawks are pushing for a far broader military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also knowns as ISIS.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, announced Friday morning that the U.S. had dropped bombs on assets of the group.
“Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located,” Kirby said. “The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief.”
June 3, 2014
Updated 4:11 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner charged the Obama administration with intentially keeping the swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban officials from Congress ahead of time and backed a push for hearings by Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon Tuesday.
The Taliban officials were transferred to Qatar from the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, without the legally required 30 days Congressional notification.
The Ohio Republican acknowledged Tuesday that an exchange like the one that took place Saturday had been previously discussed years ago.
But he said that while Congress kept the idea secret despite concerns about the wisdom of a transfer, the administration intentionally kept them in the dark.
“There was every expectation that the administration would re-engage with Congress, as it did before, and the only reason it did not is because the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition,” Boehner charged.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel also pointed to a statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on June 21, 2013 when asked about the possibility of exchanging five Guantanamo prisoners for Bergdahl.
“We would not make any decisions about transfer of any detainees without consulting with Congress,” Carney said, per the White House transcript.
The White House and President Barack Obama have contended the lack of notice was due to the desire to complete the deal and get Bergdahl home safely, and the White House has contended the lack of notice was lawful.
May 3, 2014
Former Rep. James L. Oberstar, a fixture on Capitol Hill for decades, has died, according to local media reports and members of the Minnesota delegation. He was 79.
WDIO-TV reported that Oberstar died in his sleep sometime Friday night.
A Democrat from Minnesota, he rose to serve as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, having previously been a House staffer and the staff administrator for the predecessor Committee on Public Works prior to winning election to his seat in 1974.
Oberstar was defeated for re-election by Republican Chip Cravaack during the 2010 tea party wave.
March 5, 2014
The House will vote Thursday on legislation extending financial aid to Ukraine, while a vote on a resolution supporting sanctions on Russia could follow next week.
Members and aides told CQ Roll Call there is little to no pushback against voting on the loan legislation and they expect it to pass easily.
“Clearly there is a dire situation unfolding, so the House is moving as quickly as possible to provide the administration with authority to issue loan guarantees for Ukraine,” said Rory Cooper, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
The bill would come up under suspension of the rules, meaning it would need a two-thirds majority of the House.
Action in the Senate won’t be quite so swift, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday. Full story
December 5, 2013
The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee reiterated Thursday that it would be correct to say he doesn’t want to see a one-month extension of existing farm programs, but he stopped well short of saying House and Senate conferees had an agreement.
“I think it’s fair to say in a number of areas we are moving towards consensus. I’m not comfortable enough yet just to say what those consensus points are,” Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., told reporters.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said earlier in the day that he had ”not seen any real progress,” and the House would be prepared to move forward with a one-month stopgap farm bill.
November 20, 2013
Senate Democrats have floated the idea that the House-Senate Budget conference could reach an agreement if just one House Republican switched sides and signed off on a conference report, but don’t expect that to happen — the likeliest candidate, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, has no plans to do so.
Cole, the newly anointed chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, would be the obvious choice as a member of the Appropriations Committee who wants to get to work on the nuts-and-bolts of a fiscal 2014 spending package.
He joined the other House cardinals in a Monday letter to the bipartisan leadership of the conference committee seeking two years of top-line spending levels to allow the appropriators and their staffs to get to work on a funding package for the rest of the fiscal year. The appropriators want their numbers by no later than the beginning of December.
The self-imposed “deadline” for the conference is not until Dec. 13. Because there are only seven House conferees, a single member could tip the scale in either direction.
October 30, 2013
The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee pledged Wednesday to seek to derail any effort to package a five-year farm bill conference agreement into an omnibus budget deal.
“I will fight that tooth and nail,” Rep. Collin C. Peterson told reporters outside the conference meeting. “Even if they get a budget deal, if they put the farm bill in there, I will do everything I can to kill it, and it probably won’t take much to kill the budget deal.”
The Minnesota Democrat said such a move could further undermine the autonomy of the Agriculture panel within the House.
“I might as well just retire and go home,” Peterson said. “If we’re going to get a position where they’re going to put the farm bill into some other bill, then what are we doing? You know, I mean that’s a very dangerous precedent to start and to accept. That’s my problem. It might be a great bill, but it’s just the wrong thing to do because then the next thing you know, next time that’s going to be what they’re going to start out working on.
“The trouble with this place is the committees are not allowed to operate. Everything is driven from the top, and this is what’s wrong with Congress,” Peterson added, reminiscing about the way the House operated before a series of changes in 1974, which included internal caucus rule changes and the Budget Act that now governs operations. Full story
October 10, 2013
Updated 3:42 p.m. | House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Thursday morning that he intends to go to conference on the budget, signaling the end to one of the year’s greatest impasses between the two parties and chambers.
“We’re gonna start negotiations,” Ryan said. “I intend to go to conference.
“I think when Leader Pelosi said that they would remove all the motions to instruct, that was a good-faith effort to get serious negotiations going,” he continued. “We intend to go to conference on that. As you know, a budget resolution is not sufficient to do all that we need to do, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., flanked by other members of Democratic leadership, announced Oct. 5 that her party was prepared to forfeit its right to offer “motions to instruct” should Republicans name conferees to merge the House and Senate budgets. That removed the threat of forcing Republicans having to take numerous politically difficult but nonbinding votes.
October 4, 2013
Updated 1:27 p.m. | The White House on Friday backed a bipartisan House bill to to make sure furloughed federal workers get back pay.
The bill stands out on a long list of measures the House plans to take up that would reopen the government.
“Federal workers keep the Nation safe and secure and provide vital services that support the economic security of American families. The Administration appreciates that the Congress is acting promptly to move this bipartisan legislation and looks forward to the bill’s swift passage,” said a Statement of Administration Policy. “This bill alone, however, will not address the serious consequences of the funding lapse, nor will a piecemeal approach to appropriations bills.”
The support from the White House should also clear the way for Senate passage. A senior Senate Democratic aide said that Democrats were discussing the matter with the White House and would likely take it up if the White House is on board.
September 6, 2013
In what could be an exercise in futility, two top Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee sent a letter to their GOP counterparts Friday to schedule consideration of the fiscal 2014 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill.
Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., and subcommittee ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., sent the letter to House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston, R-Ga.
In response, Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for the Republican majority, said: “The Committee has not yet scheduled the mark up of the LHHS bill. Committee mark ups are scheduled three days in advance.”
The post-sequester budget levels used by the House in drafting the fiscal 2014 spending bills are at a lower level than the Senate bills, with the House proposing spending levels for security and defense that still exceed the budget caps.
As such, the Labor-HHS-Education measure would absorb many cuts that Democrats may want a venue to highlight.
September 5, 2013
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, told reporters Thursday that House leaders expect the Senate to vote on the Syria resolution on Sept. 11.
Reading an email off his phone from his chief of staff, Culberson indicated that Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., thinks the Senate will vote on the Syria resolution next Wednesday.
While the House may not always have the best idea of what is going on in the Senate, “Cantor expects the Senate to vote on 9/11,” Culberson said, parroting the guidance email. Full story
August 31, 2013
Rep. Peter T. King accused President Barack Obama of “undermining the authority of future presidents” to engage in military action in a scathing statement issued following Obama’s Rose Garden speech Saturday.
Obama said he would seek an authorization for the use of military force against the Syrian regime in response to the widely-reported use of chemical weapons, but King, a New York Republican and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, blasted that move.
“President Obama is abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents. The President does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria. If Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians deserves a military response, and I believe it does, and if the President is seeking congressional approval, then he should call Congress back into a special session at the earliest date,” King said in a statement. “The President doesn’t need 535 Members of Congress to enforce his own redline.”
August 29, 2013
Updated 9:51 p.m. | The White House told Capitol Hill leaders Thursday night that more congressional consultation on Syria would be needed — particularly when it comes to paying for what now seems to be an imminent operation.
In a 90-minute phone call between various administration officials and House and Senate leaders, as well as relevant committee chairmen and ranking members, 15 members of Congress asked questions of the assembled White House officials.
“The views of Congress are important to the president’s decision-making process, and we will continue to engage with members as the president reaches a decision on the appropriate U.S. response to the Syrian government’s violation of international norms against the use of chemical weapons,” a readout of the call from the White House said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Sandy Winnefeld, and White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice were all on the call.
As the White House attempts to dampen criticism over its lack of congressional consultation for a potential conflict in Syria, the unclassified briefing for House and Senate leaders was intended to update congressional leaders on the latest deliberations on Syria.
Eliot Engel, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the president’s national security team said Obama was “still weighing his options and will continue to consult with Congress.”
“The White House made very clear that it is beyond a doubt that chemical weapons were used, and used intentionally by the Assad regime,” the New York Democrat said. “The president’s team agrees that this type of action cannot go without consequences.”
A major takeaway Thursday night seemed to be that this was the start of congressional consultations.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she “agreed with Speaker Boehner and other members who stated that there needs to be more consultation with all members of Congress and additional transparency into the decision making process and timing, and that the case needs to be made to the American people.”
“We were assured during the call there would be ongoing consultation with Congress,” Pelosi said in a statement.
A House Armed Services aide said Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., believed the call was a “nice beginning of consultations but cannot be the end.”
The aide also said administration officials acknowledged they would have to come to the Hill to work out how to pay for the operation.
McKeon couldn’t clearly decipher during the call what the military objective would be and how it would connect to the policy objective of deterring the future use of chemical weapons, the aide said, also noting that McKeon was “disappointed” the president was not on the call and felt Obama “should have been making the case on this.”
The chairmen of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees also offered comments after the call Thursday evening.
“Tonight’s briefing reaffirmed for me that a decisive and consequential U.S. response is justified and warranted to protect Syrians, as well as to send a global message that chemical weapons attacks in violation of international law will not stand,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Menendez called for a “decisive response.”
“Our national security interests, those of our allies, and regional stability are at risk as Syria is disintegrating into a failed state,” Menendez said. “This is not a moment to look the other way, to blind ourselves to the horrifying images in Syria, and to send the dangerous message to the global community that we would allow the use of a chemical weapons attack to take place with impunity.”
For his part, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said in a statement that he called for greater international support while UN inspectors “complete their work and while we seek international support for limited, targeted strikes in response to the Assad regime’s large-scale use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.”
Other lawmakers were more critical.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, issued a statement late Thursday night that said the administration “failed to explain how they intend to effectively respond to the situation in Syria. The lack of a strategic plan and failure of leadership is evident in our country, Syria and across the globe.”
On Thursday night, British lawmakers turned back a proposal from Prime Minister David Cameron to possibly strike Syria.
It is improbable that President Barack Obama will call Congress back to authorize action in Syria, likely looking to avoid a vote that could also end in embarrassment, but more than 140 lawmakers sent Obama a letter Thursday demanding that he receive authorization before striking Syria.
The briefing Thursday night was supposed to connect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military to the use of chemical weapons and update congressional leaders on potential options.
Megan Scully and Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.
August 26, 2013
Updated 6:02 p.m. | The White House reached out to Speaker John A. Boehner on Monday afternoon regarding the situation in Syria, the Ohio Republican’s office said.
“This afternoon, the Speaker had preliminary communication with the White House about the situation in Syria and any potential U.S. response. The Speaker made clear that before any action is taken there must be meaningful consultation with members of Congress, as well as clearly defined objectives and a broader strategy to achieve stability,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement.
The White House had previously announced that President Barack Obama called multiple foreign leaders over the weekend to discuss a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, but he apparently had not called Boehner.
“The president is the commander-in-chief, but the first step is for him and his team to consult with Congress on what he considers viable options. That has not yet taken place,” Buck said earlier. He declined to speculate on whether Congress could be called back for a vote authorizing military action.
A White House aide on Saturday said Congress would be consulted on Syria.
Because the House and Senate agreed to an adjournment resolution, any move to bring Congress back from August recess early would require joint action by Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.