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Posts in "Terrorism"
July 14, 2014
Whatever happened to that summer blockbuster, the one about terrorism and scandal that would be must-see congressional TV?
Don’t expect to be able to tune in to the Benghazi hearings anytime soon. No air date for the premiere has been announced, because the pre-production work is off to a deliberately slow start.
The reason is that the impresario, Rep. Trey Gowdy, is much more experienced as a prosecutor than as an executive producer. And district attorneys, at least as much as studio moguls, are trained to refrain from going public if they have any doubt about their work being ready for prime time.
For reasons both procedural and political, Gowdy has reached a conclusion 10 weeks after he was handed the gavel of a newly created select House committee: The moment is not nearly ripe for the panel to convene in the open to talk about any events before, during or after Sept. 11, 2012, the night when terrorists overran the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Libya’s second biggest city and four Americans were killed, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
During his first two terms, Gowdy has gained notoriety as one of Republicans’ most tenacious inquisitors of administration officials, a skill honed during his previous 16 years busting bad guys in South Carolina. His reputation for public zealotry aside, Gowdy understands how caution behind the scenes is the prosecutorial standard.
Many more criminal cases are settled with tidy plea bargains than with of roll-of-the-dice jury trials, and dozens of depositions are taken behind closed doors for every witness cross-examined in open court. The analogue on Capitol Hill is that a whole lot more fact-finding gets done by professional committee investigators away from cameras than by lawmakers posturing in front of them.
Besides, pursuing the inquiry for a while longer before any hearings works to the Republicans’ strategic advantage in several ways.
March 25, 2014
Eight months ago, in one of its most important and fascinatingly nonpartisan votes of recent memory, the House came up just seven members short of eviscerating the government’s vast effort to keep tabs on American phone habits.
The roll call revealed a profound divide in Congress on how assertively the intelligence community should be allowed to probe into the personal lives of private citizens in the cause of thwarting terrorism. It is a split that has stymied legislative efforts to revamp the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection programs.
Until now, maybe. Senior members with jurisdiction over the surveillance efforts, in both parties and on both sides of the Hill, are signaling generalized and tentative but nonetheless clear support for the central elements of a proposed compromise that President Barack Obama previewed Tuesday and will formally unveil by week’s end.
The president, in other words, may be close to finding the congressional sweet spot on one of the most vexing problems he’s faced — an issue that surged onto Washington’s agenda after the secret phone records collection efforts were disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
If Obama can seal the deal, which he’s pledged to push for by the end of June, it would almost surely rank among his most important second-term victories at the Capitol. It also would create an exception that proves the rule about the improbability of bipartisan agreement on hot-button issues in an election season. Full story
March 12, 2014
Few senators wait until their 80s, or the start of their third decade in office, to have their breakout moment. But that’s what this past year has been for Dianne Feinstein.
At the end of last winter, the California Democrat surged to national renown as the most passionately vocal and dogged lawmaker in the uphill pursuit of the strictest new gun controls in more than a generation. The attention, both laudatory and condemning, was more than what most members receive in any one Congress. But now Feinstein is on course to outdo herself, with her blockbuster accusation that the CIA spied on Congress and intimidated her staff in an effort to hobble an oversight investigation into the agency’s former detention and interrogation program.
The twin crusades, which now stand to define the pinnacle of her prominence, are closely allied in one important way: Both have Feinstein playing against type, deploying blistering rhetoric and challenging hidebound practices in sharp contrast to her reputation, which is for level-headedness and deliberation.
At the same time, the two causes are polar opposites: Gun control has been a priority for the senator since 1978, when she ascended to the mayoralty of San Francisco after the incumbent, George Moscone, was assassinated. But becoming an outspoken critic of the clandestine community is an entirely new role for Feinstein; as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for more than five years, she has positioned herself as one of the CIA’s most loyal defenders at the Capitol.
It’s that forceful reversal that may prove more lastingly important. Full story
September 17, 2013
As Capitol Hill returned to its usual levels of edginess and partisanship Tuesday, there was general thankfulness that the boots on the ground — the men and women of the Capitol Police — had provided the requisite competence and comprehensive calm during the mayhem down the street at the Navy Yard.
Everybody else who sought to put the congressional community at ease? Not so much.
The rhetorical questions with the sharpest edge that took hold most quickly on Monday afternoon were still being bandied about more than 24 hours later:
- If the people in charge in the House and Senate can’t even agree how to handle the fading possibility of a gunman on the loose in the neighborhood, why should we expect they’ll speak with one voice when there’s an obvious and imminent threat?
- And if the law enforcement professionals can’t cut a quick, bicameral deal on a straightforward matter of security, is there any hope Republican and Democratic politicians will ever find agreement on a matter of policy consequence — on, say, flaws in the security clearance system and how to limit gun violence?
September 10, 2013
A dozen years on, it remains the biggest unsolved mystery connecting the congressional community to the defining moment in 21st-century American history: Were the United 93 hijackers aiming for the Dome when the passengers revolted and forced the plane to crash into a bucolic southwestern Pennsylvania field?
Most people who will go to work on Capitol Hill this Sept. 11 presume there’s no dispute, that the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” I confess I can’t share that certainty and have always wondered why it took such hold.
June 21, 2013
Relatively quick Senate endorsement awaits James B. Comey, who’s being formally introduced this afternoon as President Barack Obama’s choice to take over the FBI. But not before senators on both sides rehearse what they don’t like about the current state of federal law enforcement.
The top Republicans and Democrats on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees have already signaled their support for Comey, whose selection was leaked three weeks ago in an effort to unearth any unexpected senatorial resistance. None has surfaced.
That’s a sign that, while Obama’s choices of Thomas E. Perez for Labor secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA director remain stalled, Obama has avoided at least one potential summertime hassle in Congress by choosing a topflight nominee with a GOP pedigree. After serving as the top federal prosecutor in New York, Comey was deputy attorney general for two years of the Bush administration. Full story
June 5, 2013
Republicans have already started bellyaching about the president canceling his charm offensive and sticking a thumb in their eye by promoting the person they view as the main face of the Benghazi mess. But there’s absolutely nothing they can do to stop Barack Obama from installing Susan Rice as his top national security adviser.
The job is the most important post in the entire executive branch (other than White House chief of staff) that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. So Rice’s move — a sooner-or-later sure thing ever since her secretary of State ambitions were quashed this winter — can be carried out whenever Obama decides it’s OK for her to leave the United Nations.
That probably won’t be until her successor as U.N. envoy is confirmed. And it may take some time, and at least one contentious hearing, before Samantha Power gets to return to government service and move to New York. A fight over her confirmation looks to be a proxy for what irks the GOP about administration foreign policy. Full story
April 29, 2013
It’s becoming an annual pattern: Congress starts moving legislation that would boost federal powers in the digital world without generating much attention around the metaphorical Capitol Hill water cooler, only to find out that the proposal is gaining outsized notice — and outrage — in the real world.
Such was the case last year with legislation that aimed to crack down on Internet piracy, known as SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate. Public anger blossomed so quickly and furiously that both bills were shelved without a vote.
This year’s bill has a different aim — to help federal intelligence agencies and businesses share information about threats to their computer networks — and goes by a different acronym, CISPA. And, so far, it’s fared better, getting through the House on a wave of bipartisan support almost big enough to override a potential presidential veto.
But that was 10 days ago, and members back home for this week’s recess are already reporting that constituents are raising a fuss about the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. It sometimes even exceeds their interest in talking about immigration, gun control or the sequester. Once again, tea party conservatives and ACLU liberals are united in their shared libertarian anxieties about a big-brother government getting too easy access to personal and financial information.
One of the bill’s authors is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose sprawling Maryland district meanders into the outer-D.C. suburbs. He says he’s been threatened with retaliation by the hacking group “Anonymous.” That’s why the prospects for the legislation were the topic of my most recent conversation with WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington. You can read about the discussion or listen to it here.
April 22, 2013
Senators pushing for an immigration overhaul are going on offense against the intensifying effort to leverage anxiety about the marathon bombing to derail momentum for the legislation.
“We’re not going to let them use what happened in Boston as an excuse,” Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the “gang of eight” senators who wrote the bipartisan bill, said Sunday on CNN.
Several lawmakers and conservative advocates in recent days have suggested that it’s wrong to begin the immigration debate so soon after the Boston bombings. Without explicitly saying so, these critics have suggested that an overhaul they already view as too permissive would allow unsavory potential terrorists even easier entry into the United States.
But if that’s so, what’s known so far about the brothers who allegedly carried out the attack doesn’t seem to support such an argument. They arrived in the United States a decade ago, when Tamerlan Tsarnaev was the age of a sophomore in high school and Dzhokar Tsarnaev was a fourth-grader, almost certainly too young for them to have immigrated with actionable terrorist thoughts about their new home on their minds. The boys and two sisters emigrated from Russia, where they had arrived as refugees from Kyrgyzstan. They followed their parents, ethnic Chechens who had been granted political asylum in the United States.
Dzhokar, who’s now 19 and remains hospitalized and in serious condition after his capture on April 19, became an American citizen in September. Tamerlan, 26, who died in a shootout on April 19, was a legal resident. How they were radicalized, the circumstances of Tamerlan’s travels in Russia for six months last year and the nature of the FBI’s earlier interviews with him at the Russian government’s request will be the subject of intense congressional and public interest in coming days. But, at least on the surface, their known path through the immigration system sounds more like an ushering through the proverbial golden door than a slipping through the cracks.
“Refugees and asylum seekers have enriched the fabric of this country from our founding,” Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said in convening a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill this morning. “Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people.”
Leahy and Schumer both used the same argument at the hearing that was used over the weekend by two “gang of eight” Republicans, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They all say the Boston bombing is a reason to accelerate the debate on legislation, not delay it, because of its exit visa requirements and other provisions designed to bolster immigration security.
More than anything else, they say, abandoning deportations and putting 11 million undocumented people on a pathway to citizenship would allow law enforcement to spend more time on border security and investigating immigrants’ terrorist threats.
The slow-walking-because-of-Boston call from the immigration overhaul’s critics may not get all that many adherents in the Senate. It was unveiled on April 19 by Judiciary’s top Republican, Charles E. Grassley, and espoused yesterday by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., but so far there has not been any additional groundswell. The chances for that are likely to dim as the public comes to understand more of the facts about both the suspects and the bill.
But even a slight delay works to the advantage of opponents, who continue to assume a bill like the one from the “gang of eight” will win a solid majority in the Senate. They are already focusing almost as much lobbying attention on the more skittish, and more Republican, House.
April 16, 2013
The Boston Marathon bombings exposed not only the vulnerabilities of one of the nation’s iconic sporting events, but also the new limitations of one of its most iconic political institutions: the Massachusetts congressional delegation.
That much was clear when the state’s leading political and law enforcement figures assembled for Tuesday’s morning-after news conference. Speaking for the largest all-Democratic delegation at the Capitol was the state’s senior senator, Elizabeth Warren, who hasn’t been in office for even 15 weeks. She felt compelled to use her moment at the podium to assert that no clout was needed from her at a time like this.
“We did not have to reach out to the president,” she volunteered. “The president reached out to us.”
None of Tuesday’s climactic events in Congress will be happening as scheduled. Instead, the pace of Capitol Hill has been slowed considerably by enhanced security, and lawmakers are spending some of their extra time speculating — without many facts to go on — whether the Boston Marathon bombing was an act of domestic or international terror.
The central provisions of the bipartisan Senate immigration package were released overnight. But a triumphant news conference with 16 business and labor leaders was put on hold in deference to the bombings, and the first hearing on the bill was put off until Friday. The Senate vote on expanding background checks for gun purchasers has also been postponed, in part because sponsors concluded it would be unseemly to have that roll call a day after the bombings, but mainly because they have not found the 60 votes they need to win.
The casualty count now stands at three dead and 176 injured by the two bombs that detonated near the finish line, a dozen seconds apart, the first multi-victim bombing on American soil since 9/11. Full story