Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 2, 2014

August 28, 2014

Republicans Warn of ‘Dark and Dangerous’ Future if Putin Isn’t Confronted on Ukraine (Video)

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Ayotte, McCain and Graham (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama on Thursday dismissed any suggestion of military intervention to address Russia’s further incursion into Ukrainian territory, as Republican lawmakers renewed calls for stronger action.

“We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem. What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia,” Obama said. “But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.”

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned of a “dark and dangerous” future if Russia and President Vladimir Putin are not confronted about the action in Ukraine.

Full story

August 26, 2014

McConnell Wants Details From Obama on Plans for ISIS

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants President Barack Obama to present Congress with a plan to fight the Islamic State, including any potential needs for a new authorization for use of military force.

“The President needs to develop a regional strategy, working with our allies, to defeat ISIL, and to use the full extent of his authorities to attack this enemy force. The President needs to present this plan to the Congress and the American people. And where the President believes he lacks authority to execute such a strategy, he needs to explain to the Congress how additional authority for the use of force will protect America,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call. “The threat from ISIL can no longer be ignored, and it is time for President Obama to exercise some leadership in launching a response.”

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August 22, 2014

Schumer Praises New FitBit Privacy Policy

schumer 093 1119131 445x274 Schumer Praises New FitBit Privacy Policy

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Less than two weeks after criticizing the company at a Central Park press conference, Sen. Charles E. Schumer is lauding FitBit’s privacy policy.

“We are very glad that Fitbit is doing exactly the right thing. They will not sell personal information to third parties and will share it only when legally necessary or when the customer has opted-in – this is the best possible solution,” the New York Democrat said in statement Friday. “Fitbit customers can breathe a sigh of relief and should be aware that this company cares very much about their privacy and their security. We are urging all other fitness tracking companies to follow Fitbit’s lead and adopt similar privacy policies.”

Full story

August 21, 2014

Chambliss Wants Special Counsel to Investigate Obama on Bergdahl Swap

chambliss 196 031913 445x284 Chambliss Wants Special Counsel to Investigate Obama on Bergdahl Swap

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee wants a special counsel to investigate President Barack Obama’s swap of five Taliban members for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

An aide to Sen. Saxby Chambliss told CQ Roll Call in an email Thursday that the Georgia Republican wants the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate the prisoner swap, which the Government Accountability Office contended earlier Thursday violated federal law.

The GAO opinion said the administration violated the notice requirement for transfers out of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Antideficiency Act, which is the federal law barring spending without appropriated funds. The Defense Department has contended that the notice requirement is unconstitutional.

The aide’s email came after Chambliss sent out a statement Thursday pointing to the GAO opinion, which came at the request of Republicans.

“This legal decision further validates the argument I have been making with many of my colleagues against the administration’s release of the Taliban Five,” Chambliss said. “By failing to notify Congress 30 days in advance as required by the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act, the president completely disregarded laws duly passed by Congress and signed by his own hand.

“In addition to simply violating the notification requirement, the administration has violated the Antideficiency Act by obligating funds that were not legally available. While the president has a habit of ignoring laws relating to domestic policy, such as healthcare and immigration, this latest overreach regarding our national security has dangerous implications. The United States has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists for good reason, and these senior Taliban leaders will soon rejoin the fight, as they have stated publicly multiple times.”

Chambliss’ release notes federal employees who violate the Antideficiency Act can face administrative and criminal sanctions.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on the possibility of a grand jury in either Washington, D.C., or Alexandria, Va., pursuing the matter.

McCaskill to Hold Police Militarization Hearings

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McCaskill will hold hearings on the militarization of local police in wake of Ferguson events. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With lawmakers on the left and right questioning the militarization of law enforcement after two weeks of violence in Ferguson, Mo., Sen. Claire McCaskill announced she will hold hearings next month on the federal programs supplying local authorities with surplus military gear.

The Missouri Democrat, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, plans to take a broad look at programs like the Defense Department’s 1033 program that have steered surplus equipment to local police departments.

That DOD program has come under particular scrutiny from other lawmakers.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, last week said he would review the program, which is part of the defense authorization bill, before it gets to the Senate floor “to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.” Full story

GAO: Pentagon Broke Law in Bergdahl Case

The Defense Department violated the law when it didn’t tell Congress before transferring five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar in return for the Taliban’s release of captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Government Accountability Office said in a legal decision made public Thursday.

Pentagon officials “did not notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the transfer,” as required by law, GAO General Counsel Susan A. Poling said in a letter to nine Republican senators who had sought the analysis.

What’s more, Poling said, “because DOD used appropriated funds to carry out the transfer when no money was available for that purpose, DOD violated the Antideficiency Act,” which “prohibits federal agencies from incurring obligations exceeding an amount available in an appropriation.”

The GAO ruling provides legal backing for the position that the administration flouted the notification requirement — a view held by most Republicans and more than a few Democrats. The GAO does not address other issues that many lawmakers have raised about the merits of the exchange.

The requirement for a 30-day notice of transfers is part of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization law ( PL 113-66 ). Moreover, the fiscal 2014 Defense appropriations act ( PL 113-76 ) prohibits spending on any transfers that do not comply with the authorization law’s requirements.

Defense Department lawyers told the GAO that they believe the transfers were lawful regardless of the notification requirement, but Poling said the GAO did not accept that argument.

Pentagon officials also told the GAO that the notification requirement is unconstitutional. They argued that it “would have interfered with the Executive’s performance of two related functions that the Constitution assigns to the President: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. service members.”

The GAO did not assess the validity of that claim.

The GAO letter was addressed to Republicans Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Dan Coats of Indiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Related:

Where National Security Is (and Mainly, Isn’t) in 2014 Elections

Constitutionality Debate Over Guantanamo Provision Sets Up House-Senate Fight

Spending Bill Adds New Requirements on Guantanamo Transfer Notification

GOP Senators Ask If Bergdahl Swap Broke Spending Law

Did President Obama Break the Law in Prisoner Swap?

 

August 20, 2014

Vilsack, Shaheen Visit the Farm

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Vilsack joined Shaheen for Tuesday’s announcement in New Hampshire. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

LOUDON, N.H. | Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen at a hilltop farm here Tuesday to tout new federal grants.

RollCall On the Road Logo300x3008 240x234 Vilsack, Shaheen Visit the Farm“We have one of the highest percentages in the country of our farmers engaging directly with consumers who buy their products, and the whole farm-to-table movement has been very influential, I think, in encouraging people to … make sure that they buy much as they can directly from the farm,” Shaheen said.

Vilsack announced $25 million in grants to farmers who turn their raw goods into finished products.

In the case of this town’s Miles Smith Farm, that’s a new burger made of a mixture of pork and beef.

Full story

August 18, 2014

Jim Jeffords, Veteran of Three Decades in Congress, Dead at 80

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Jeffords served more than three decades in Congress. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, a longtime Republican who flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats after switching parties in 2001, has died.

Jeffords, who had been in declining health, was 80. The Burlington Free Press first reported his death.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was sad to hear of Jeffords’ passing and called him a man of conscience.

“Throughout Jim’s time in the Senate he left an important mark on the history of the institution,” Reid said. “He was a strong supporter of helping people with disabilities and always fought for the underdog. Jim was a model of a great legislator who avoided partisan politics and fought for what was best for the people of Vermont. In 2001 he changed the makeup of the Senate by switching from a Republican to an Independent and caucusing with the Democrats. History will remember Senator Jeffords as a courageous man who listened to his conscience, and I will always respect him for doing so.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., also lauded Jeffords’ career.

“He was a partner in our work for Vermont, and he was a friend,” Leahy said in release. “He was a Vermonter through and through, drawn to political life to make a difference for our state and nation. Part of his legacy will also stand as an enduring chapter of the Senate’s history.”

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who won the election to replace Jefford after he retired in 2006, praised his demeanor and his dedication to the state.

“Jane and I join all Vermonters in sending condolences to the family of Jim Jeffords,” Sanders said in a statement. “Jim was one of the most popular elected officials in the modern history of the state — serving at the local, state and federal levels. Vermonters admired him because of his low-key and down-to-earth qualities, and because of his obvious and strong love of the state and the Vermont way of life. He was an effective champion of education, disability rights, the environment and the arts — and millions of Americans have benefited from his efforts.”

Sanders acknowledged Jeffords’ strength when he changed the Senate in 2001 and became an independent. “He displayed enormous courage by leaving a party that, he often said, had left him because of its dramatic move to the right,” Sanders said. “Jim was a friend and he will be sorely missed.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said that Jeffords and his wife Liz Daley, who died in 2007 of ovarian cancer, were mentors during his early days as the state’s at-large House member.

“While Jim would certainly wave away the notion, he was indeed a legend in Vermont and the nation,” Welch said in a release. “With characteristic decency, humility and civility, and a dogged persistence, he made his mark in Congress.”

“Millions of children with disabilities are better off today because he lead the charge for their equal access to education,” Welch said. “Americans are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water because of his fierce advocacy for the environment and clean energy. And budding artists across the nation receive the boost of his encouragement every year thanks to his legacy as the founder of the annual Congressional Arts Competition.”

“And, in 2001, the world saw what his fellow Vermonters already knew: Jim Jeffords, above all, had the courage of his convictions,” Welch said.

Jeffords endorsed Welch in his 2006 campaign over GOP candidate Martha Rainville.

Education was a legislative passion for Jeffords and Republican leaders decision not to include a school funding provision in a $1.6 trillion tax cut bill led him down the path to renouncing his party affiliation.

At the time of his decision to become an independent who would caucus with Democrats, the Senate was split 50-50 with Vice President Dick Cheney the deciding vote giving Republicans control of the chamber.

Following Jeffords’ switch, the Democrats controlled the chamber, 51-49. Until 2001 he identified as a Republican his entire political career, including 14 years in the House of Representatives and all but the last six years of the 18 years he spent in the Senate.

“It was a unique time in history,” Jeffords once recalled. “It was the first time you had a situation of a 50-50 Senate. That opened up an opportunity for one individual, myself or any other Republicans that wanted to, within the rules, to change the whole thing. And then I got to thinking. … I said, ‘If you don’t do it, you’re going to be to blame for everything that happens from now on — Supreme Court appointments — all of that. Because you had the power to make that change, to stop the abuse of power.’ So that’s when I decided I had to do it.”

August 15, 2014

Senate Will Review Militarization of Police in Defense Bill, Levin Says

levin002 033114 445x295 Senate Will Review Militarization of Police in Defense Bill, Levin Says

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee will look into the program that provides Pentagon surplus to local police before the full Senate considers the next defense authorization.

The Armed Services panel has already approved the fiscal 2015 defense programs bill for Senate floor consideration, and staff for Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., are working over the August recess to try and develop a defined universal set of amendments to set up for floor consideration.

“Congress established this program out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals. We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents,” Levin said in a statement Friday. “Before the defense authorization bill comes to the Senate floor, we will review this program to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 3:19 p.m.
Policy

August 14, 2014

Booker Seeks DOJ Probe of Journalist Arrests in Ferguson

Sen. Cory Booker wants the Justice Department to specifically investigate the arrests and detentions of journalists and protesters Wednesday evening in Ferguson, Mo.

In a letter  to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the New Jersey Democrat joined calls for additional scrutiny of the actions of St. Louis County police during Wednesday’s evening protests.

“I respectfully request that the Department of Justice expand its probe to include a review of unnecessary infringement of the protected rights to peacefully protest and the right of a free press,” Booker wrote in his letter. “I am troubled by reports that two law-abiding journalists, Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, were arrested and detained while in Ferguson investigating the protests.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 6:48 p.m.
Policy

In Wake of Ferguson, New Focus on Civil Rights, Militarized Cops

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Ferguson could convince Reid to resurrect nomination of an Obama assistant attorney general nominee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The nation’s eyes were riveted on the searing images from Ferguson, Mo., Thursday, but the violent protests in that small St. Louis suburb have also unexpectedly pushed two policy debates closer to the front burner in Washington: Civil rights and the militarization of police.

President Barack Obama called for restraint from both police and protesters, who have clashed since the Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man.

Civil rights leaders have cited Ferguson as evidence of a need for a renewed focus on the part of Obama and Congress on addressing racial inequality, while others have seized on the use of military tactics and weaponry by police as a issue that Washington must tackle.

A senior Senate Democratic aide was deferential to the White House on strategies for possible legislative actions in the wake of Ferguson, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a former police officer, issued a statement signaling the Senate would be paying attention.

Full story

50 Senators Call for Moratorium on USPS Facility Closures (Updated)

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Baldwin joined Sanders and Tester in calling on the moratorium. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated: 5:05 p.m. | A bipartisan group of 50 senators urged appropriators Thursday to include a provision in year-end, catchall spending legislation that would prevent the U.S. Post Office from closing more mail-processing facilities in the next fiscal year.

“This one-year moratorium will give Congress the time it needs to enact the comprehensive postal reforms that are necessary for the Postal Service to function effectively into the future,” the group said in a letter to Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and ranking member Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala.

The letter — circulated by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. — was also sent to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., chairman of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the post office, and the panel’s ranking member Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

While Congress doesn’t provide funding for the post service, it does oversee the agency. Full story

August 13, 2014

Rand Paul Wants Obama to Seek Approval for Extended Iraq Effort (Video)

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Rand Paul has joined the calls for President Barack Obama to seek congressional approval for an extended military campaign to fight Islamic State forces in Iraq.

Full story

August 12, 2014

Tim Kaine: Obama Needs Congress to OK Iraq Air Strikes

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Kaine says the president needs congressional authorization for air strikes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine wants President Barack Obama to seek new approval from Congress for the current bombing campaign in Iraq.

“I support providing humanitarian relief to Iraqi civilians and measures to protect American personnel, but I am concerned about the timeline and scope of our renewed military efforts in Iraq,” the Virginia Democrat said in a statement. “Since the Administration has conceded that the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force is obsolete and should be repealed, it is now up to the Administration to receive Congressional authorization for the current air campaign against IS. This is especially the case since the President has indicated that our renewed military engagement in Iraq could be a long-term project.”

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 5:44 p.m.
Democrats, Iraq

Why Did DEA Pay an Amtrak Employee for Passenger Records?

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Report shows DEA paid almost $1 million for Amtrak passenger records. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A bizarre revelation contained in a routine Amtrak inspector general report has caught the attention of the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, is pressing the Drug Enforcement Administration about why the agency paid $854, 460 over the course of almost two decades to an Amtrak employee to get passenger name record (PNR) information. As a member of the joint drug enforcement task force, the Amtrak Police Department should have been able to give information about passengers to DEA upon request.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 1:21 p.m.
Policy

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