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September 2, 2014

Posts in "Policy"

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.

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

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 12, 2014

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

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

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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August 5, 2014

Feinstein Withholds Report on CIA Torture, Writes Letter to Obama

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Brennan and Feinstein (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein isn’t happy with the redactions being demanded by the administration to her committee’s report on torture by the CIA, and she wants the president to intervene.

The California Democrat said she will seek a series of changes to mitigate redactions to the report’s summary made by the White House that have made the document essentially unreadable.

“I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.” Full story

August 4, 2014

Leahy: Reported USAID HIV Ruse in Cuba ‘Worse Than Irresponsible’

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s top appropriator is not amused with a new Associated Press report about the agency’s activities in Cuba.

Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee warned of the consequences of the effort to the reputation of USAID.

“It is one thing to support nascent Cuban civil society organizations, if USAID’s role is disclosed in advance to participants and beneficiaries. It is quite another to concoct an HIV/AIDS workshop to promote a political agenda,” Leahy said in a statement. “If that is what happened here it is worse than irresponsible. It may have been good business for USAID’s contractor, but it tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.” Full story

July 31, 2014

Reid Warns of Weekend Work in September (Video)

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Reid warned senators to prepare for weekend work. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is warning of a whirlwind September schedule that will feature a slew of do-over votes on Democratic campaign priorities.

“I want everyone to know what’s going to happen when we come back. Following the August recess, we’re going to convene on Sept. 8, and we’re going to be here for one week, two weeks and two days. Sept. 23 is our target date to adjourn until after the election,” the Nevada Democrat said when opening the Senate floor Thursday for the last expected session day before the August break.

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