Category - USA: Congress

Senate Gives Approval for Defense Secretary, if Not His Boss’s Policies

Ashton B. Carter Is Confirmed as Defense Chief, Replacing Chuck Hagel

New York Times, By Emmarie Huetteman, February 12

Washington — The Senate on Thursday confirmed Ashton B. Carter [wikipedia] to be the next defense secretary, installing a new Pentagon chief as the United States increases military action against the Islamic State.

Mr. Carter, a former deputy defense secretary who is President Obama’s choice to replace Chuck Hagel, was approved by a vote of 93 to 5, a striking scene of accord as tensions mount over the wait to confirm Loretta E. Lynch as the next attorney general. Five Republicans opposed Mr. Carter’s confirmation.

[…]

But as one confirmation moved forward, another stalled. Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee decided on Thursday to delay a committee vote to confirm Ms. Lynch, the president’s nominee to replace Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Though several Republicans praised Ms. Lynch as her confirmation hearings ended last month, the hearings featured a heavy dose of harsh criticism of Mr. Holder’s Justice Department.

Obama to Seek War Power Bill From Congress, to Fight ISIS

New York Times, By Jeremy W. Peters, February 11

Washington – The Obama administration has informed lawmakers that the president will seek a formal authorization to fight the Islamic State that would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces” and limit engagement to three years. The approach offers what the White House hopes is a middle way on Capitol Hill for those on the right and left who remain deeply skeptical of its plans to thwart extremist groups.

The request, which could come in writing as early as Wednesday morning, would open what is expected to be a monthslong debate over presidential war powers and the wisdom of committing to another unpredictable mission in the Middle East while the nation is still struggling with the consequences of two prolonged wars.

Congress has not voted to give a president formal authority for a military operation since 2002 when it backed George W. Bush in his campaign to strike Iraq after his administration promoted evidence, since discredited, that Saddam Hussein’s government possessed unconventional weapons.

Biden to skip Netanyahu’s speech before Congress

A statement released by Biden’s office indicated that the vice president will be abroad on the day that Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress.

Jerusalem Post, By Michael Wilner, February 6

Vice President Joe Biden will not be attending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress next month.

A statement released by aides to Biden, who is usually in his seat whenever a foreign leader addresses the legislature by dint of his position as president of the Senate, indicated that the vice president will be traveling abroad during the speech.

“We are not ready to announce details of his trip yet, and normally our office wouldn’t announce this early, but the planning process has been underway for a while,” an official in the vice president’s office told The Jerusalem Post, suggesting planning for the trip began before Netanyahu’s visit was announced.

“We will announce additional information as soon as we are able,” the official said.

CIA board clears staff of snooping Senate computers

A CIA internal watchdog has cleared agency officers of improperly accessing the computers of members of the US Senate intelligence committee.

BBC, January 15

It said CIA officers acted reasonably in searching computers after concerns they contained classified material.

The finding contradicts allegations from lawmakers and an admission from the agency’s own inspector general.

The allegations came during the intelligence committee’s investigation into claims of torture by the CIA.

Round Goes the Revolving Door: Black Water Lobbyist to Run House Intel Committee

The revolving door between government and private industry is quite scary.

Alternet, By Lee Fang, December 16

After lobbyist-run SuperPACs and big money efforts dominated the last election, legislators are now appointing lobbyists to literally manage the day-to-day affairs of Congress. For the House Intelligence Committee, which oversees government intelligence operations and agencies, the changing of the guard means a lobbyist for Academi, the defense contractor formerly known as Blackwater, is now in charge.

Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), the incoming chairman of the Intelligence Committee when the House reconvenes in January, announced that Jeff Shockey will be the new Staff Director of the committee. As a paid representative of Academi, Shockey and his firm have earned $80,000 this year peddling influence on behalf of Academi.

In previous years, the House Intelligence Committee has investigated Blackwater over secret contracts with the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. As Staff Director, the highest position on a committee for a staff member, Shockey will oversee the agencies that do business with his former employer.

Shockey also represents a number of other companies with business before defense agencies: General Dynamics, Koch Industries, Northrop Grumman, United Launch Alliance, Innovative Defense Technologies and Boeing.

Three Members of Congress Just Reignited the Cold War While No One Was Looking by

TruthDig/Common Dreams, By Dennis Kucinich, December 16

Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a far-reaching Russia sanctions bill, a hydra-headed incubator of poisonous conflict. The second provocative anti-Russian legislation in a week, it further polarizes our relations with Russia, helping to cement a Russia-China alliance against Western hegemony, and undermines long-term America’s financial and physical security by handing the national treasury over to war profiteers.

Here’s how the House’s touted “unanimity” was achieved: Under a parliamentary motion termed “unanimous consent,” legislative rules can be suspended and any bill can be called up. If any member of Congress objects, the motion is blocked and the bill dies.

At 10:23:54 p.m. on Thursday, a member rose to ask “unanimous consent” for four committees to be relieved of a Russia sanctions bill. At this point the motion, and the legislation, could have been blocked by a single member who would say “I object.” No one objected, because no one was watching for last-minute bills to be slipped through.

Most of the House and the media had emptied out of the chambers after passage of the $1.1 trillion government spending package.

The Congressional Record will show only three of 425 members were present on the floor to consider the sanctions bill. Two of the three feigned objection, creating the legislative equivalent of a ‘time out.’ They entered a few words of support, withdrew their “objections” and the clock resumed.
According to the clerk’s records, once the bill was considered under unanimous consent, it was passed, at 10:23:55 p.m., without objection, in one recorded, time-stamped second, unanimously.

No mention of the Senate…

US Senate Torture Report publication countdown

12/8/2014 (originally posted Dec 8th, 10:37 pm)

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said that the release of a Senate report examining the use of torture by the CIA a decade ago will cause violence and deaths abroad.


12/9/2014 (originally posted Dec 9th,13:37 pm)

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, defended her push to release the report on the interrogation program, saying that though she was concerned that the new information could draw violent reactions around the world, it was a necessary step for the United States to move beyond a dark period in its past.

Update: (via EmptyWheel). Reports released include:

The SSCI Torture Report
The Minority Response to SSCI Torture Report
Dianne Feinstein’s Statement

Rockefeller under fire for blocking FOIA bill

The Hill, By Julian Hattem, December 5

Retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is being blamed for placing a secret hold on a bipartisan bill to update the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The bill, which the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved last month, has broad support among transparency advocates who have begun vocally criticizing Rockefeller for holding the bill up on his way out the door.

“If we can get the agreement of such a wide range of characters, why be the holdout?” said Amy Bennett, the assistant director of the Open the Government coalition, noting the support among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“This is how Congress is supposed to work. Not through last second holds.”

Via: E Pluribus Unum: Threatening legacy, Senator Jay Rockefeller stands alone holding back historic FOIA reform in the USA
Via: Boing Boing: Senator Jay Rockefeller singlehandedly kills Freedom of Information Act reform

Sen. Mary Landrieu loses runoff in Louisiana to Rep. Bill Cassidy

Washington Post, By Sean Sullivan, December 6

Republicans put the finishing touches on a triumphant midterm election by picking up a ninth Senate seat Saturday when Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) defeated Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in a runoff election.

Landrieu’s loss means there will be no Democratic senators from the Deep South when the new Congress is sworn in early next year. It will end Landrieu’s tenure in the Senate after three terms and deprives Democrats of holding a single statewide elected office in Louisiana.

With most precincts reporting, Cassidy led Landrieu by about 14 percentage points. The Associated Press called the race for Cassidy shortly after polls closed in the evening.

Cassidy’s win comes after Republicans swept into power in the Senate on Nov. 4, picking up eight Democratic-held seats without surrendering any of their own. In Louisiana’s all-party Senate primary that day, no candidate received a majority of the vote, triggering the runoff.


Republican challenger wins Louisiana Senate race

Reuters, By Jonathan Kaminsky, December 7

New Orleans – Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy handily won a Louisiana U.S. Senate runoff election on Saturday, capping big wins for his party in the Nov. 4 midterms at the expense of one of the chamber’s last remaining southern Democrats.

Cassidy, whose victory swells the ranks of Republicans in the Senate to 54, defeated Mary Landrieu, a three-term incumbent who last month pushed hard for a Senate vote on approving the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast that came up just short.

[…]

“This victory happened because people in Louisiana voted for a government which serves us but does not tell us what to do,” Cassidy told a jubilant crowd in Baton Rouge.

Cassidy becomes the ninth Republican to capture a previously Democratic seat this year in a runoff held because no candidate secured a majority in the Nov. 4 open primary.

Congress gives Native American lands to foreign mining company with new NDAA

RT, December 04

Congress is poised to give a foreign mining company 2,400 acres of national forest in Arizona that is cherished ancestral homeland to Apache natives. Controversially, the measure is attached to annual legislation that funds the US Defense Department.

This week, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees quietly attached a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would mandate the handover of a large tract of Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of the Australian-English mining company Rio Tinto, which co-owns with Iran a uranium mine in Africa and which is 10-percent-owned by China.

The “Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015” – named after the retiring chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services panels – includes the giveaway of Apache burial, medicinal, and ceremonial grounds currently within the bounds of Tonto. News of the land provision was kept under wraps until late Tuesday, when the bill was finally posted online.

The land proposed to be given to Resolution Copper, in exchange for other lands, includes prime territory Apaches have used for centuries to gather medicinal plants and acorns, and it is near a spot known as Apache Leap, a summit that Apaches jumped from to avoid being killed by settlers in the late 19th century.

21st Century Cold War Has Began; US House Of Reps Passes Resolution 758 Even As US Tells Russia To Stop Self-isolation

IBT Australia, By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 5, 2014

The United States has effectively pushed the button of the 21st century Cold War era. On Thursday, its House of Representatives passed Resolution 758, a decree telling the U.S., Europe and its’ allies to “aggressively keep the pressure” on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin until such measures “change his behaviour.”

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama claimed Mr Putin is “isolating Russia completely internationally” and knows the Russian leader is not going to “suddenly change his mind-set … which is part of the reason why we’re going to continue to maintain that pressure.” As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia not to isolate itself during a meeting of the 57 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the northern Swiss city of Basel, Resolution 758 had called for the reinforcement of NATO and the sale of U.S. natural gas to Europe, alluding away from Russian energy exports.

The resolution has likewise effectively given the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko the go signal to launch military actions against the “separatists” in Eastern Ukraine. Resolution 758 has called on the U.S. President to “provide the Government of Ukraine with defense articles, services and training required to effectively defend its territory and sovereignty.”

“It is not only a declaration of a U.S. Cold War against Russia but it is a declaration of war for Kiev against Donetsk and Lugansk,” Daniel McAdams, executive director at the Ron Paul Institute, told RT News. Resolution 758, described as a decree that strongly condemns Moscow’s aggressive actions against its neighbours, was a document that had opened Pandora’s box of global military conflicts.

Press TV: Dennis Kucinich: Let’s get ready for US-Russia war
Press TV: US provoking war with Russia that could result in total destruction: Ron Paul

Bernie Sanders Speaks Truth. Sort Of.

I love Bernie Sanders. I want to have his babby.

However, I think he needs to step back from this. His agenda is too easily co-opted by moderates and conservatives. It’s a nice counterculture statement of values, to be sure, but in the current environment completely unworkable. 

I’ve been thinking about Ferguson and the rioting and protests across the country.  

And then I found this quote from MLK, Jr: 

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than justice

When people riot for politics, when people organize for politics, they inevitably have either been subdued (Occupy) or placated (the Rodney King outrage) by some sop tossed towards them to make it a little less painful to be subdued.  

And then I remember that the Boston Tea Party was not regarded highly by colonial Americans. Indeed, until we achieved independence, the entire Revolution dangled on a thread in terms of public support. But it succeeded because it was outrageous to think it would.  

I love Bernie Sanders. I don’t think he’s right on this, at least with this current nation.

Louisiana Senate Candidates Race to Hold Lame Duck Votes On Keystone XL Pipeline

ABC News, By Arlette Saenz, November 12

After two years of inaction on the Keystone XL pipeline, it could be a Louisiana Senate run-off that finally forces Congress to vote on the measure.

The so-called Bayou Brawl was on full display on Capitol Hill Wednesday as the two candidates – Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy – raced to be first to hold a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Fresh off the campaign trail, Landrieu, D-La., implored Senate Republicans Wednesday to allow a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline in the lame duck session, saying it would be a good moment for future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to work in a bipartisan manner.

“I believe it is time to act. I believe that we should take the new majority leader at his word and stop blocking legislation that is broadly supported by the American public and has been for quite some time,” Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, said on the Senate floor. “I want to say yes to majority leader, to new majority leader Mitch McConnell. The time to start is now.”

But Republicans on the other side of the Capitol are working swiftly to hold a vote of their own on the pipeline, a measure that is sponsored by Landrieu’s opponent Cassidy. The House Rules Committee announced it was holding a meeting Wednesday night to consider the Keystone XL pipeline bill, described as an “emergency measure,” and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the measure would be considered on the House floor Thursday.

The Senate agreed to hold a vote on Keystone XL as early as Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported that Senate Democrats were considering holding a vote on Keystone XL to help Landrieu in her December 6 run-off in Louisiana. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the idea a “bad joke.”

Politico: Democrats could allow Keystone vote before Landrieu runoff
AP: Immigration, Keystone XL dominate first day of lame duck session
Washington Post: House, Senate to vote on Keystone XL pipeline
Washington Post: Landrieu throws Hail Mary, GOP may score
Update: Rosebud Sioux Tribe: House Vote in Favor of the Keystone XL an Act of War, November 14

Why Dems Lose Midterms

The preliminary numbers are in, and voter turnout was at a record low nationwide.

Conventional wisdom says that each party, Republican and Democrat, can count on roughly 45% of the vote, no matter what. The last ten percent is what you need to win an election.

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