Congress

10 things you need to know today: December 10, 2014

Senate Intelligence Committee head Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) called the torture report's findings a "stain on the nation's history."

Senate Intelligence Committee head Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) called the torture report’s findings a “stain on the nation’s history.” | (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Week

A Senate report says CIA torture was ineffective, Congress reaches a spending deal to avert a shutdown, and more

1. Torture report slams the CIA
The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released a highly critical report on the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The five-year investigation found that agency medical personnel warned of “a series of near drowning by waterboarding.” The report also rejected claims that torturing detainees helped find Osama bin Laden. The CIA pushed back, saying that so-called enhanced interrogations were effective in foiling al Qaeda plots. [The Washington Post, ABC News]

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2. Congress strikes a $1.1 trillion spending deal to avoid a government shutdown
Republicans and Democrats in Congress reached an agreement Tuesday on a $1.1 trillion spending bill that would delay a fight over funding President Obama’s executive order on immigration and avoid a government shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner said he hoped to bring the deal to a vote on Thursday, when the federal government is due to run short of money. The bill gives most of the government money for the next fiscal year, but only funds the Homeland Security Department, which will carry out Obama’s immigration policies, into early next year. [The Associated Press]

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3. World Food Program raises money to resume aid to Syrian refugees
The United Nations’ World Food Program announced Tuesday that it has raised more than enough money through a social media campaign to resume a food voucher program for 1.7 million refugees from Syria’s civil war. WFP officials had said they needed $64 million to get the program back on track, and the 72-hour Dollar for Syrian Refugees campaign last week raised $80 million. The agency will now be able to give about $30 to average families for use in local shops. [United Nations]

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4. Gruber apologizes for “insulting” remarks on ObamaCare passage
MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped shape the Affordable Care Act, apologized Tuesday for what he called his “glib, thoughtless, and sometimes downright insulting comments” about how supporters got the law passed. In a recently surfaced video, Gruber said supporters relied on the “stupidity of the American voter” to mask the penalty for failing to obtain health insurance as something other than a tax. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Gruber’s initial comments inadvertently revealed how Democrats pushed ObamaCare through Congress. [The Washington Times]

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5. California DAs accuse Uber of misleading customers
District attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles are suing ride-sharing service Uber for allegedly misleading customers and charging bogus fees. The DAs say Uber misleads customers about the quality of its background checks on drivers, and operates out of airports without proper authorization. Uber said it was cooperating with authorities and was “an integral, safe, and established part of the transportation ecosystem in the Golden State.” Uber competitor Lyft settled a similar case, agreeing to pay $250,000 and be more open with passengers. [San Jose Mercury News]

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6. Korean Air Lines executive resigns after delaying flight over bag of nuts
A top Korean Air Lines official resigned Tuesday after facing intense criticism for delaying the departure of a flight from New York to South Korea because she was served macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of on a plate. The official, Cho Hyun-ah, is the eldest daughter of the company’s chairman, Cho Yang-ho. The younger Cho served as the airline’s executive vice president of cabin service, and she had ordered a senior crew member off the plane, forcing it to return to the gate. [The Associated Press]

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7. Projected gas prices drop
The Energy Department on Tuesday lowered the projected average gasoline price by 35 cents to $2.60 per gallon, 23 percent below this year’s average. The decline would amount to a $100 billion savings for drivers in 2015 based on current levels of consumption. It comes as crude oil prices have fallen to $66 per barrel from $115 in June due to a glut in global supply. Next year’s predicted gas price would be the lowest yearly average since 2009. [USA Today]

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8. Freed hostage returns to France
The last French hostage held by Islamists, Serge Lazarevic, returned home Wednesday after being held for three years by al Qaeda’s North African branch. Lazarevic was released days after the release of two al Qaeda fighters from a prison in Mali. He thanked French President Francois Hollande “for having done everything to free me.” The deal revived debate over negotiating with hostage takers. Hollande said France did not pay ransoms or exchange prisoners, but that other countries have, “to help us.” [BBC News, The Associated Press]

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9. Former Miss America and actress Mary Ann Mobley dies at 75
Mary Ann Mobley Collins, a former Miss America who appeared in movies with Elvis Presley, died Tuesday in Beverly Hills. She was 75. Collins won the Miss America crown in 1958, and moved on to acting a few years later. Her credits included TV shows, including General Hospital and Perry Mason. She appeared with Elvis in Girl Happy, and with Jerry Lewis in Three on a Couch, the job during which she met her late husband, Gary Collins, who died two years ago. [The Associated Press]

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10. Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi in Oslo to accept Nobel Peace Prize
Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot by a Taliban gunman, and fellow education advocate Kailash Satyarthi are in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Wednesday. Malala, 17, will be the youngest person ever to receive the award. “We are not here just to accept our award, get this medal, and go back home,” the Pakistani teen said at a press conference before the ceremony. “We are here to tell children especially that you need to stand up, you need to speak up for your rights … It is you who can change the world.” [Agence France Presse]

Congressmen Blasting Obama For Special Immigration Exceptions Have Made Special Immigration Exceptions

Tom Cotton (R-AR) | CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DANNY JOHNSTON

Think Progress

On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearingwith the less-than-impartial title, “President Obama’s Executive Overreach on Immigration.” But many of the same members of Congress who are decrying the president’s unilateral decision to halt the deportations of some undocumented immigrants are using their own unilateral power to effectively halt deportation of individuals of their own choosing.

Sunday, Senator-Elect and current Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), sharply criticized last month’s executive action. “The president just lost an election, in no small measure because wages for working families are declining and unemployment is still too high in too many places, and the first big action he took after the election was to make it easier for illegal immigrants to get jobs, not for working families to get jobs,” he told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd. In earlier interviews, he threatened to defund such action and suggested the possibility of blocking judicial nominees to retaliate for what he termed “President Obama’s lawless actions.”

But a little-noticed bill filed by Cotton in June would grant similar protections to a trio of non-citizens, “Notwithstanding subsections (a) and (b) of section 201 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” His bill would have allowed Meriam Yahya Ibrahim (a Sudanese woman later granted asylum after being sentenced to death for apostasy after converting to Christianity) and her children eligibility “for issuance of an immigrant visa or for adjustment of status to that of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence upon filing an application for issuance of an immigrant visa.” While the House never acted on Cotton’s bill, it was not necessary.

Here’s why: any individual U.S. senator or representative can file a “private bill,” proposing relief for a person who has not been granted asylum or citizenship, but still wants to live in the United States. The bill gets assigned to a committee, but almost never comes up for a vote. While in committee, the administration is asked to weigh in on the merits of the person in question. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) almost always allows the individual to stay in the country under “deferred action,” as long as the bill is technically pending in Congress. The end result is that sponsor is unilaterally able to do much the same thing as the “deferred action” granted by President Obama and his predecessors in both parties. At the start of the next Congress, the bill’s sponsor simply re-files the bill, restarting the process.

Similarly, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) filed a private bill in 2012 to grant relief to Dr. Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. capture Osama Bin Laden. But after President Obama’s executive action, Rohrabacher decried it as “autocratic contempt for our democratic governing system” a “naked power grab,” and and a “lawless action.” A spokesman for Rohrabacher told ThinkProgress that he sees “no contradiction” between the positions as the “executive action was an attempt to defy the will of Congress,” while the private bill effort “defines congressional will.”

Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) has also been a vocal critic of the executive action, likening his bypassing of Congress to a “grenade” from the president. A private bill he filed in January to grant relief to John Cheruiyot Kemboi and Winnie Njeri Kemboi, a married Kenyan couple who had sought asylum. A Tiberi spokeswoman told ThinkProgress that one of their children, a U.S. citizen, has health problems and the Kembois want to stay in the country to care for him. “If anything the Kemboi family situation is yet another example of our broken immigration system,” she explained, and “Congressman Tiberi believes that the president should work with Congress to fix the nation’s immigration problems, not just issue mandates from the Oval Office.”

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) blasted President Obama’s executive action as “unconstitutional” and designed to divide the GOP. His own “private bills” have spared Alemseghed Mussie Tesfamical from deportaiton back to Eritrea for the past several Congresses. And Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who opined that “the President’s ‘go it alone’ approach drives a political wedge into ongoing reform efforts and recklessly disregards our nation’s lawmaking process,” filed a private bill last year to assist Ibrahim Parlak, a controversialKurdish immigrant.

While most of the critics have been Republicans, a handful of Democrats have also objected to the executive action. One, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) warned that executive action would “cause more problems” than it it would solve. But he filed a private bill to help Corina de Chalup Turcinovic, a French-born widow.

The offices of Reps. Cotton, King, Lipinski, and Upton did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about the bills and the apparent contradiction.

Seen on the Interent – 11-8-2014

This will be just the beginning of the Idiocracy Nightmare Reign of the GOP in both houses from 2015 to 2017 for Congress and 2021 for Senators elected in this past election.

Prepare for a two year setback on vital measures that will come before Congress such as immigration, Gay rights, civil rights, climate change and more. The goodness is that President Obama, although a “lame duck” in political term, still has the power of the veto pen…for now.

 

 

 

Jon Stewart slams Congress for cravenly ducking debate on ISIS

Jon Stewart | The Daily Show

The Week

Maybe you’re not surprised that Congress is ducking a debate on the war against ISIS for what appears to be purely political reasons, and at this point, maybe you’re not even taken aback. Jon Stewart wants you to be taken aback. On Monday night’s Daily Show, he unfavorably compared Congress to Britain’s Parliament, which was called back into session by Prime Minister David Cameron last week to have a vigorous debate over whether the UK should join America’s ISIS bombing campaign.

Stewart doesn’t go into the differences between Britain’s parliamentary system and America’s separately elected legislative and executive branches — this is a comedy TV show, after all, not a seminar on comparative politics — but his point largely stands: America’s “legislators refuse to debate publicly one of the most crucial issues of our time, for fear that we will hear them.” He singles out House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who warns about President Obama’s handling of the imminent threat of ISIS “barbarians” but won’t call the House back to tackle that threat.

Congress’ excuse is that Obama didn’t ask them to debate the ISIS battle — Stewart isn’t buying it (as he mockingly notes in his Lindsey Graham voice, for some reason, before breaking out a pink magic wand). And the only person in Congress willing to explain the real, brazenly political motives is Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who lost a GOP primary and won’t be returning to Congress next year. “You know what, the rest of you motherf—kers either get back to Washington and debate and vote on this thing, or maybe it’s time to tell ‘mom’ we’re coming home,” Stewart concluded, pointing to a photo of Queen Elizabeth II.

Watch the episode here…

Gun nuts meet their match: Why Gabby Giffords isn’t playing nice anymore

Gun nuts meet their match: Why Gabby Giffords isn't playing nice anymore

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords | (Credit: Reuters/Samantha Sais)

Salon

A few years back someone walked up to then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona, and shot her in the head. The shooter, Jared Loughner, killed six and injured a dozen or so others. In 2012, another nut shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Illinois. Later that year, a shooter walked into a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and murdered 20 children. These are only a few high-profile examples of the dozens of mass shootings that have taken place in the last several years.

After Newtown, President Obama and many members of Congress finally felt compelled to make the first serious push for gun control legislation in decades. Their demands were eventually whittled down to some modest measures, such as expanding background checks for gun buyers. But even that effort, pushed hard by then-former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and backed by vast majorities of the American people, failed to overcome a Republican Senate filibuster.

Oddly enough, it strains certain imaginations that the above sequence of events is something that people could get really, really angry about it. That masses of people, including members of Congress, movie-theater patrons, and children could get shot, and that members of Congress — mostly Republicans, with a handful of conservative Democrats — wouldn’t even accede a minimal piece of legislation shoring up the country’s porous background check laws. It’s horrifying and enraging, and those public figures who work to maintain or even loosen what we might generously called the “loopholed” status quo of American gun law should expect to be treated as accomplices to this farce.

As Giffords herself recovered, retired from Congress and became an ardent advocate for stricter background checks, she first tried to play nice. She implored members of both parties to work together to pass common-sense gun regulations, like those closing background check loopholes for private sales on the Internet and at gun shows. The advocacy commercials she and/or her husband appeared in were mostly to urge action, not to attack. As we know, that didn’t work very well.

So this cycle, Giffords’ super PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, is getting “mean.” That’s how Politico describes the group’s tactics this cycle.

Continue reading here…

Rachel Maddow Is Repulsed At Congress For Taking A Bajillion Days Off While New War Is Launched

MSNBC Screenshot 9-18-2014

All the more reason the leaders (and party) of this fiasco should be voted out of office…

The Huffington Post

Rachel Maddow has already teared into Congress over its handling of the conflict in Iraq and Syria, but a new move by the House and Senate has pushed the MSNBC host over the edge.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama made a speech praising Congress for quickly passing new legislation that will support his plan to arm and train Syrian rebels. That very same day, the House announced that members of Congress would be taking their five-week recess a week early, and would most likely not return until after congressional elections in November.

Maddow was visibly appalled by this, calling it the reason Americans find Congress so repulsive and “repellent.”

“Sixteen-hundred US military families have gotten the call that they’ve had their loved ones deployed to Iraq, they’re flying those missions right now,” Maddow said. “But Congress? Heading home for another seven week break, because they can’t be bothered to think about that right now. They’ve got more important business to tend to they’ve gotta get re-elected. Because that’s the most important thing they do, right?”

Watch the video for the full clip on MSNBC.

(h/t: Raw Story)

Congressman Suggests Obama ‘Signaled’ To Terrorists That It Was Okay To Capture Foley

Trent Franks

Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) | Screenshot

“Franks is just throwing red meat to his base of Obama-haters. This has nothing to do with logic, sense, or critical thinking skills.” ~ Comment section of TP

Think Progress

On Friday, a Republican congressman implied that the Obama administration’s decision to swap five Taliban officials for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl without notifying Congress in May emboldened terrorist organizations and may have contributed to the beheading of journalist James Foley.

Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) comments, delivered on Fox News, come a day after the Government Accountability Office concluded that Obama violated the law when he failed to give Congress 30 days notice that he had secured Bergdahl’s release in exchange for the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

“[T]o somehow signal to terrorists that all they have to do to bring America to its knees is to kidnap one of our own, and hold them for ransom, it is a signal to the whole jihadist world, to go out and do it again and it is extremely dangerous,” Franks said, responding to the report. He added, “I don’t want to say anything politically to exacerbate the tragedy with the James Foley but I’m afraid James Foley is an example of that in his family and friends are feeling the tragedy more than anybody else could possibly imagine.” Foley, who had gone missing more than a year before Bergdahl was released, was beheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) earlier this week.

The Pentagon defended the transfer on Thursday, insisting the prisoner swap to recover Bergdahl was conducted lawfully after consultations with the Justice Department.

“The administration had a fleeting opportunity to protect the life of a U.S. service member held captive and in danger for almost five years,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. The Defense Department insists that the prisoner exchange was authorized under a section of the law that “allows transfers of Guantanamo prisoners if actions are being taken to reduce the risk that they will re-engage in hostile activity.” Under the terms of the agreement, the Taliban prisoners will remain in to Qatari custody for at least a year.

ISIS had demanded $100 million for Foley’s release but the United States refused, citing a longstanding policy of not negotiation with terrorists. This policy is what makes Frank’s comments all the more confused, as the Berghdal swap was the transfer of military prisoners, while Foley was a civilian hostage kidnapped while reporting in Syria. Earlier this week, the administration disclosed that it had launched a secret mission to attempt to rescue Foley and other American hostages, but they had been moved to another location.

Since August 8, the military has carried out at least 90 airstrikes against the organization and may soon expand its operations. During a press conference on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey characterized the ISIS threat as greater than anything America has faced in the past and admitted that the nation must do more to contain it. “We’re looking at all options,” Hagel said. Earlier this week, President Obama vowed that the United States “will continue to do what we must do to protect our people.” “We will be vigilant and we will be relentless,” he said.

But Franks rejected this policy on Friday. “I’m afraid we sent the message to the terrorists, again, that this president will vacillate and not do what is necessary in times of crisis,” he said. “It just brings a smell of fear to their nostrils and they are, are supercharged in this terrorist mindset and it is something that we have to get ahold of as a people.”

 

Republicans Condemn Bergdahl Swap

Bergdahl was released by the Taliban in May.(Photo by U.S. Army via Getty Images)

It’s all about politics and going against anything the POTUS is for…

National Journal

House Republicans condemned President Obama for failing to notify Congress in advance of the May swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban members.

But with the House expected to vote this week to allow a lawsuit against the president, multiple Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday that the resolution was nothing more than “political theater.”

The resolution, introduced by Republican Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, says Obama failed to follow the law by not notifying Congress 30 days ahead of the swap earlier this year, as required under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014.

Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 from his base in Afghanistan. He was held by the Taliban and was freed in May in exchange for the release of five Taliban members who were being detained at Guantanamo Bay. The prisoners, who were transferred to Qatar, are not allowed to leave the Middle Eastern country for a year.

“Congress was not able to consider the risk to the American people or our troops in harms way,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon said regarding the swap.

Rigell and other lawmakers said they have concerns about the national security implications of the Bergdahl exchange because it suggests the United States will negotiate with terrorists, but added they are also “relieved” that Bergdahl is back in the United States.

Rigell said he believes Obama’s decision to not notify Congress before the swap was “unnecessary” and “harmed our relationship with the administration.”

Administration officials told lawmakers earlier this year that after consulting with the Justice Department, they concluded they did not have to notify Congress 30 days in advance because of a legal loophole.

Officials also suggested that notifying Congress would have put the swap, and Bergdahl’s life, at unnecessary risk.

Asked if the administration would follow the 30-day requirement in the future, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagelsaid the administration would follow the requirement “unless there is an extraordinary set of circumstances.”

Committee Democrats largely agreed that the administration should have given prior notification, but they felt the Republican-backed legislation went too far. Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii were the only Democrats to support Rigell’s proposal.

Committee ranking member Adam Smith of Washington state offered an amendment to the resolution, which was ultimately rejected. He and other Democrats on the panel suggested that Rigell’s resolution could appear partisan, because it contends the administration knowingly violated the law.

“[Prisoner swaps] are very, very difficult decisions to make,” Smith said. “I do not think it is appropriate for this Congress to condemn the president for making that decision.”

Smith’s amendment instead would have noted that the administration and lawmakers had a disagreement on how to interpret the law.

And Tuesday’s hearing comes at a potentially precarious time for lawmakers, with the House expected to authorize a lawsuit against Obama this week.

“This is happening in the context of a vote tomorrow to authorize a lawsuit against the president of the United States,” said Democratic Rep. Joe Courtney, calling the larger argument a “600-pound gorilla.”

White House Asks Congress for $3.7 Billion for Border Crisis

NBC News screenshot from video

NBC News

The Obama administration is formally asking for $3.7 billion in emergency funds from Congress to address the flood of unaccompanied minor children coming illegally into the United States — more than the White House previously signaled it would request.

The funds include $1.1 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, $433 million to Customs and Border Protection, $64 million for the Department of Justice, $300 million to the State Department and $1.8 billion to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration previously indicated that it would request about $2 billion but would wait to release the details until Congress returned from a week-long break.

The White House says the money is necessary to cover costs like increased man-hours for border patrol agents and aerial surveillance teams, legal services for children in immigration proceedings, the hiring of 40 additional teams of immigration judges, and care for unaccompanied children while they are in the country. Almost $300 million would go towards efforts to “repatriate and reintegrate migrants to Central America” and address the underlying economic and security causes of the spike in child migrants.

It’s not clear how the GOP-led House will approach the funding request, which must pass both Houses of Congress.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said: “The Appropriations Committee and other Members, including the working group on the border crisis led by Rep. Kay Granger, will review the White House proposal. The Speaker still supports deploying the National Guard to provide humanitarian support in the affected areas – which this proposal does not address.”

See video report from NBC News here…

MCCAIN CALLS FOR EMERGENCY BLAME GAME ON IRAQ (Humor)

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Sen. John McCain |No attribution listed

The New Yorker

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Citing the deteriorating situation in the war-torn nation, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) on Saturday called for Congress to convene an emergency blame game on Iraq.

“This is a dire crisis,” McCain said. “It’s time to roll up our sleeves and do some serious finger-pointing.”

McCain said that he hoped Congress would act swiftly to assign blame to a long list of culprits he identified, including President Obama, the Joint Chiefs, the media, and everyone who did not vote for him in the 2008 election.

The Arizona senator stressed that the blame game must be “rigorous and far-reaching,” but said that it would exempt those in the Senate who voted to invade Iraq in 2003. “That’s ancient history,” he said.

Concluding his remarks, he offered these words of reassurance to the Iraqi people: “As long as I have breath, I will use it to find fault with others.”