Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 1, 2014

Posts by Niels Lesniewski

740 Posts

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.

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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

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(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.”

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August 21, 2014

Chambliss Wants Special Counsel to Investigate Obama on Bergdahl Swap

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(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.

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.

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August 15, 2014

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

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(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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

August 11, 2014

Chuck Schumer’s FitBit Privacy Warning (Video)

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Schumer is concerned about privacy and FitBit step trackers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s newest privacy concern is about the popular FitBit.

The devices, which track steps and help users monitor other health-related information, are a potential privacy nightmare to the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate.

The New Yorker took his Sunday news conference routine to Central Park, calling on the Federal Trade Commission to enhance privacy rules by requiring a mandatory “opt-out” option for the sale of the data. Newsday said Schumer’s appearance came with joggers passing through the background.

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Mikulski Plots One More Push at Omnibus

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Mikulski details her plans about transportation funding issues at Baltimore’s Penn Station. (Niels Lesniewski/CQ Roll Call)

BALTIMORE, Md. — When the Senate returns next month, the chamber’s top appropriator is planning one more push at an omnibus, even if it’s a serious long shot.

Speaking at an event to laud the enactment of a stopgap measure to provide about $11 billion to replenish the Highway Trust Fund and avert construction layoffs, Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., outlined an effort to use the fiscal 2015 Military Construction-VA spending bill as the vehicle for a catchall package, rather than a continuing resolution.

RollCall On the Road Logo300x300 Mikulski Plots One More Push at Omnibus“When we come back in September, I’m going to make another effort to get us to an omnibus. I believe, now that we’ve passed the groundbreaking bill to look out for veterans’ health care, that’s a long range bill, but right now we have money for fiscal ’15 that would enable us to move VA medical care,” Mikulski said at Baltimore’s Penn Station. “And that would be the little engine that could that would help me move to an omnibus.”

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August 8, 2014

Feinstein Warns of Risk of ISIL Attack on America, Says Must Be Confronted

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned Friday of the risk that the insurgent group ISIL could be preparing fighters to attack American and European targets.

“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard,” the California Democrat said in a statement backing military action authorized by President Barack Obama. “We simply cannot allow this to happen.”

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Senators Watching as Kerry Visits Myanmar

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McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, met with Suu Kyi during a 2012 visit to the Capitol. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Myanmar Saturday to meet with government officials there along with ASEAN Regional Forum and other meetings, the Senate will be watching.

The week before the chamber left for August recess, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell provided one of his periodic updates on the current political climate in the country, formerly known as Burma. The Kentucky Republican has long been one of the Senate’s leading voices, along with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, against a repressive military junta that long ruled the country with an iron fist.

Recent democratic changes have led to easing of U.S. economic sanctions against the country, but McConnell had a warning for the country’s rulers that more must be done. In a July 24 floor speech, he cited specifically a constitutional provision that has the effect of barring Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

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