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Jackie Speier gets new military oversight role

Rep. Jackie Speier, an outspoken critic of how the military handles sexual assaults, has been chosen as ranking member of the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Jackie Speier“The Department of Defense keeps us safe every day, but there has been a litany of projects exposing weaknesses in acquisition and procurement. I will use this position to root out waste, fraud, and inefficiency at the Pentagon, so that taxpayers can be sure they are getting the value they deserve for their money,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release.

“From the ill-conceived Littoral Combat Ship, to excessive prices for spare parts, to wasteful practices with ammunition, I have worked eliminate unnecessary military programs,” she added. “We have to make smart investments to keep our nation and our troops safe, not race to spend the most and get the least in return. We also need to be sure our military secrets, like plans for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, cannot be stolen by hackers and foreign governments.”

And last but most certainly not least, the appointment “will also be a powerful tool in our ongoing fight to protect whistleblowers and prevent sexual assault in the military,” she said. “I am eager to work with Chairman Thornberry and Chairwoman Hartzler on all of these issues.”

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California lawmakers’ State of the Union guests

Here’s a sampling of guests invited by California lawmakers to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight:

FloresRep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose: Honda is bringing Claudia Flores, an immigration rights activist who was allowed to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Flores and her family moved to San Jose from Honduras when she was a teenager; she became a leader at San Jose High School and in her community, eventually earning a full-ride scholarship to Santa Clara University. She was an intern in Honda’s office two summers ago and is now a public policy fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “This hard-working, bright woman, who has done so much in her young career, would have been deported if not for President Obama’s action in 2012,” Honda said. “She is exactly the type of person this policy was meant to encourage to stay in the United States.”

UsafiRep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin: Swalwell is bringing Mohammad Usafi, an Afghan interpreter who worked with U.S. Marines and after waiting nearly four years received a special immigrant visa to move to the Bay Area one year ago. The Taliban kidnapped Usafi’s young brother for ransom and killed his father because of the aid he had worked for American troops; after Swalwell and other House members helped friends and advocates petition the State Department, Usafi’s mother and seven siblings were granted humanitarian parole to join him here in December. “It’s a great relief that today Mohammad and his family live in the Bay Area, but more must be done and can be done in a bipartisan fashion to help interpreters like Mohammad,” Swalwell said.

ChristensenRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo: Speier is bringing retired U.S. Air Force Col. Don Christensen, that branch’s longest-serving chief prosecutor and a leading advocate of military sexual assault reform. Christensen is president of Protect Our Defenders, a group that’s leading efforts to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. “I invited Colonel Christensen with the hope that he could witness President Obama announce his support of fundamental reform of the military justice system,” Speier said. “A year after requesting a report from the Pentagon, the president now has the results on his desk. He has all the information he needs. Tonight would be a perfect time for him to lead on this issue by supporting taking sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.”

MartinezRep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara: Capps is bringing Richard Martinez, whose son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, was among those slain in last May’s rampage near UC-Santa Barbara. Martinez, of Los Osos, became a face of the tragedy as he urged lawmakers to pursue stricter gun-control measures; he since has joined the staff of Everytown for Gun Safety. “As the 114th Congress begins their tenure, it is time they put the public safety of their constituents first, and that means making gun safety a priority to help reduce gun violence in America,” Martinez said.

OliverRep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove: Bera is bringing Susan Oliver, widow of Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, who was shot to death in the line of duty in October by a gunman who also killed a Placer County deputy. Their lives “remind us that our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day for our safety,” Bera said. “They were true heroes and we are forever indebted to them and their loved ones. Let’s honor their memory by building understanding and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, just like Deputy Oliver did.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: Feinstein is bringing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He’s been mayor since 2013 and earlier was a councilman; Feinstein said they’ve worked together on issues such as funding for the Metro’s Purple Line extension and efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans.

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Swalwell & Speier named to House Intelligence

My, hasn’t Rep. Eric Swalwell seemed upwardly mobile recently?

Swalwell, D-Dublin, on Monday became the only Bay Area House member with the cojones (or hubris?) to announce he’s considering whether to run to succeed U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2016 – quite a goal for a guy starting only his second term in Congress.

On Tuesday, Swalwell was the only Californian that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, named to a new committee charged with shaping House Democrats’ message for the next two years.

And on Wednesday, Pelosi named Swalwell and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, to the House Intelligence Committee, a plum spot in these troubled times of foreign strife and domestic surveillance.

“As we face escalating threats to our security, I will work to make sure our government is vigilantly protecting Americans, while being true to our values around privacy and civil liberties,” Swalwell, a former Alameda County prosecutor, said in a news release. “With the rise of data breaches, a top priority of mine will be to increase our cybersecurity capabilities. National security should know no party, and I vow to carry out this work in a collaborative, bipartisan manner.”

Swalwell in his first term tried to make a name for himself on the Homeland Security Committee, where he took up issues including the Transportation Security Administration’s proposal to allow certain knives aboard planes as well as airport-perimeter safety. On Wednesday, Swalwell noted he was an Capitol Hill intern with Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, on Sept. 11, 2001.

“That experience led me to a career in public service and generated my interest in national security,” he said. “It’s a privilege to serve on this committee so I can continue to fulfill my highest responsibility as a lawmaker, keeping Americans safe.”

Speier issued a statement saying she looks forward “to working on one of our nation’s most pressing issues: protecting our economic and national security against terrorist threats abroad, domestic, and over the internet.

“The heinous attacks in Paris underscore the fact that a handful of home-grown terrorists can wreak havoc on a nation. Cyber threats run the spectrum, from consumer information stolen to intellectual property and proprietary emails hacked from corporations. We must take this 21st century threat more seriously to protect our nation’s most sensitive information, in the public and private sectors alike,” she said.

But “from the torture report to broad NSA surveillance, it is clear that increased Congressional oversight is needed,” Speier added. “I look forward to working with my colleague to ensure our rights and values are not compromised in the name of security.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, had been the Bay Area’s only presence on the Intelligence Committee in the last Congress, but a spokesman said Wednesday that Thompson won’t be on the panel in this new Congress.

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How Bay Area House members voted on CRomnibus

The House voted 219-206 Thursday night to pass the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill to avert a government shutdown and fund the federal government through next October.

Conservative Republicans opposed the measure because it doesn’t explicitly bar President Obama from implementing his executive actions on immigration; many Democrats opposed it because of non-budgetary policy riders attached to the bill, including one that to roll back a key provision of the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform act and another to raise the maximum amount contributors can give to political parties.

This made for some pretty weird bedfellows. President Barack Obama; Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, all urged its passage, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and conservatives like Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., opposed it.

In the end, 57 Democrats crossed the aisle to join 162 Republicans in supporting it, while 67 Republicans crossed the aisle to join 139 Democrats in opposing it. Ten members did not vote.

Here’s how the Bay Area delegation split:

YEA: George Miller, D-Martinez; Sam Farr, D-Carmel

NAY: Pelosi; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton

See what some had to say about it, after the jump…
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House members urge AG to nix hospital sale

Rep. Mike Honda and Rep. Zoe Lofgren led 16 other California House members Thursday in urging California Attorney General Kamala Harris to reject the sale of six Daughters of Charity Health System hospitals to a for-profit company they say has a history of unfair business practices.

Honda and Lofgren, both D-San Jose, cited concerns that under Prime Healthcare Services, “patient care and healthcare worker rights will suffer at these hospitals.”

Los Altos Hills-based Daughters of Charity, a Catholic system, wants to sell Daly City’s Seton Medical Center and Seton Coastside satellite campus, O’Conner Hospital in San Jose, Gilroy’s Saint Louise Regional Hospital and two Los Angeles-area medical centers to Ontario, Calif.-based Prime Healthcare, a $2.5 billion system with 29 hospitals and 4,700 beds in nine states.

Harris may reject the sale based on any factors found relevant, including: whether the sale is in the public interest; whether it would create significant effects on the availability of health care services in the community; or whether the proposed use of the proceeds from the transaction is consistent with the charitable trust under which the hospitals have operated.

“Our biggest concern is Prime’s history of unfair business practices that have resulted in civil and criminal investigations by government agencies for allegedly overbilling Medicare as well as violations of patient confidentiality,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Harris. “The National Labor Relations Board has issued charges against Prime for such illegal practices as unilaterally cutting employee health insurance plans, interrogating and intimidating employees who are supportive of their union, bad faith bargaining and bribing employees to vote to decertify the union. Class action and wage and hour violation lawsuits have been filed against Prime at 11 of their 15 California hospitals.”

That, combined with the mission of these hospitals to serve the most-needy residents raises substantial doubts as to the sensibility of this sale, they say.

Others House members signing the letter included Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; and George Miller, D-Martinez.

UPDATE @ 10:07 FRIDAY: It seems these House members have taken a side in a battle between two unions. SEIU-United Healthcare Workers opposes letting Daughters of Charity sell to Prime Healthcare, while the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United supports the deal.

CNA/NNU in October reached an agreement with Prime Healthcare including a pledge to keep open for at least five years O’Connor in San Jose, Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, Seton Medical Center in Daly City, and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles. Prime also promised it has no intention of reducing patient services or taking actions that would put the services at risk, as well as respecting collective bargaining rights, jobs, pension rights and existing labor standards at the hospitals covered by the pact.

Another potential buyer, private equity firm Blue Wolf Capital, refused to commit to keeping the hospitals open, protecting patient services, or honoring employee contracts or existing labor standards, CNA/NNU says.

And so CNA/NNU nurses, joined by nuns associated with Daughters of Charity, will hold a vigil Friday afternoon outside O’Connor Hospital “to urge state officials to take the steps needed to preserve the hospitals for public safety. CNA co-president Zenei Cortez said those opposing the sale “without offering an alternative that would protect our patients and our communities are putting everyone at risk. Nurses will not be silent in the face of this emergency.”

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Reactions to the CIA torture report

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Tuesday released the executive summary of the committee’s five-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

The study’s 20 findings and conclusions can be grouped into four central themes, each of which is supported extensively in the executive summary:

  • The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not effective.
  • The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.
  • The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed.
  • The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public.
  • From President Barack Obama:

    “Throughout our history, the United States of America has done more than any other nation to stand up for freedom, democracy, and the inherent dignity and human rights of people around the world. As Americans, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to our fellow citizens who serve to keep us safe, among them the dedicated men and women of our intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency. Since the horrific attacks of 9/11, these public servants have worked tirelessly to devastate core al Qaeda, deliver justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupt terrorist operations and thwart terrorist attacks. Solemn rows of stars on the Memorial Wall at the CIA honor those who have given their lives to protect ours. Our intelligence professionals are patriots, and we are safer because of their heroic service and sacrifices.

    “In the years after 9/11, with legitimate fears of further attacks and with the responsibility to prevent more catastrophic loss of life, the previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country. As I have said before, our nation did many things right in those difficult years. At the same time, some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values. That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad.

    “Today’s report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence details one element of our nation’s response to 9/11—the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which I formally ended on one of my first days in office. The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests. Moreover, these techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners. That is why I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again.

    “As Commander in Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the safety and security of the American people. We will therefore continue to be relentless in our fight against al Qaeda, its affiliates and other violent extremists. We will rely on all elements of our national power, including the power and example of our founding ideals. That is why I have consistently supported the declassification of today’s report. No nation is perfect. But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better. Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past. Today is also a reminder that upholding the values we profess doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us stronger and that the United States of America will remain the greatest force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.”

    From U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.:

    http://youtu.be/wR7qsQDWVPU

    “We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

    “Our enemies act without conscience. We must not. This executive summary of the Committee’s report makes clear that acting without conscience isn’t necessary, it isn’t even helpful, in winning this strange and long war we’re fighting. We should be grateful to have that truth affirmed.”

    From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

    “The report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released this morning confirms what I’ve long believed: the CIA not only embraced the widespread use of enhanced interrogation techniques, but also repeatedly misled Congress and the American people about their activities. Furthermore, the report found that the CIA exaggerated the usefulness of these methods in gaining reliable intelligence.

    “The use of torture is unacceptable and morally wrong. These practices undermine our values, endanger our national security interests and exacerbate anti-American sentiment abroad.

    “The release of this report is an important step towards providing the American people with the transparency they deserve. These atrocities are a national disgrace and Congress must work to ensure this never happens again.”

    More, after the jump…
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