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Lawmakers urge $$$ disclosure, LGBT protection

Bay Area House Democrats are demanding action on disclosure of government contractors’ political contributions and on protecting LGBT people from assault in immigration detention centers.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, led 104 House members while U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., let 26 senators in urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring companies that do business with the federal government to fully disclose their political contributions.

“Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is spent and you have the power to ensure that the American people can obtain this information,” the House members wrote. “With public funds come public responsibilities, and any company receiving federal tax dollars should be required by executive order to fully disclose their political spending in a timely and accessible manner.”

Among the top 15 recipients of federal contracting dollars, a recent analysis by Public Citizen found that only 47 percent fully disclose their contributions to non-disclosing 501(c)(4) organizations. This is the fourth time since 2011 that Eshoo has led her colleagues in calling on President Obama to issue such an executive order. All Bay Area House members signed the letter except Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., signed the senate version, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., did not.

honda.jpgAlso Tuesday, Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., led 33 House members in writing a letter to the Department of Homeland Security to express concerns over the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

“Detention should almost never be used for vulnerable groups such as LGBT immigrants facing immigration proceedings,” they wrote. “Recent surveys of jails and prisons by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that non-heterosexual detainees experience sexual assault at up to 10 times the rate of heterosexual men. The situation is starker for transgender detainees. According to the BJS survey, one in three will be sexually abused within 12 months in custody.”

The lawmakers asked that DHS and ICE consider an LGBT person’s detention to be “not in the public interest” per the department’s November 2014 enforcement memo, and that they work with LGBT and civil rights groups “to develop additional community-based alternatives to detention.”

Bay Area Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were among those signing the letter.

Posted on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, campaign finance, Immigration, Mike Honda, U.S. House | No Comments »

CA17: Playing it cagey on trade authority debate

In reporting my story today on Rep. Mike Honda’s declaration of candidacy for a ninth term, I tried to contrast his position on the trade package that House Democrats sank last week with that of Ro Khanna, his Democratic challenger.

But Khanna – a former Obama administration Commerce Department official – isn’t making that easy.

honda.jpgHonda last Friday joined most Democrats in voting against the trade package for which President Obama and Republican leaders had pushed hard. The “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority bill “did not include a voice for working families” and limits Congress’ power to represent labor, business and environmental interests, he said in a statement issued Friday, while the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill was underfunded, “ignores public sector workers, and is propped up on the back of continued cuts to Medicare.”

Khanna was out of town Tuesday, but I asked him and his acting campaign manager, Brian Parvizshahi, to provide me a succinct summation of how he would’ve voted on the bills.

Ro Khanna“Ro agrees with Secretary Hillary Clinton’s recent, thoughtful comments on the issue,” Parvizshahi replied by email. “He agrees with her that we need to increase TAA funding and fight for a fully funded highway bill to find a way forward.”

Yet Clinton – who supported TPA while serving as Secretary of State – has been very cagey in what she says about it now, as frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

At a campaign rally Sunday in Iowa, Clinton spoke more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim nations – than about the TPA and TAA bills that would let the Obama Administration finish negotiating it. She urged President Obama to listen to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and make changes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that reflect their concerns about protecting American jobs and wages.

“She declined to take sides on the Friday vote itself but instead allied herself with Democratic critics of the deal — without actually opposing it,” the New York Times reported.

And CNN reported Monday that Clinton in New Hampshire had once again declined to say whether she thinks Obama should have authority to fast-track the Pacific trade deal through Congress without amendments. She dismissed the fight over that legislation, known as trade promotion authority, as “a process issue.”

Of course, as president Clinton would stand in Obama’s shoes, not those of Congress. But Khanna wants to fill congressional shoes, and only 3.6 percentage points in November prevented him from being part of Friday’s roll calls. It would be nice to know, definitively, how he would have voted.

Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University professor emeritus and political expert who closely watched the 2014 Honda-Khanna showdown, said Honda seems to be poised to make a case to voters for why the trade package would have cost jobs in the 17th Congressional District. For Khanna to make a different case “would be a large contrast,” Gerston said.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

CA17: Mike Honda touts budget bill victories

Rep. Mike Honda, facing a second consecutive challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, wants his Silicon Valley district to know it was front and center in his mind as he pursued certain funding in the Commerce, Justice and Science budget bill that the House passed Wednesday.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, issued a news release Thursday saying he used “his senior position on the Appropriations Committee and long-standing relationships” to ensure that the bill prevented NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – which includes researchers at Ames Research Center in Mountain View – from being prematurely terminated; directed the FBI to explore using outside labs for DNA testing, to end the backlog of untested rape kits across the country; and called for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program to focus on plastic marine debris, one of the main types of waste harming fish and other wildlife.

“I will always work to bring Silicon Valley’s unique voice to Congress,” Honda said in the release. “We represent the very best of America – a diverse population made up of forward thinkers and innovators who have a deep understanding and respect of our history. Serving as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee has allowed me to champion initiatives critical to the continued success and growth of our region.”

Khanna, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official who lost last year’s race to Honda by 3.6 percentage points, launched his 2016 campaign this past Saturday and announced this week his lead campaign strategist will be netroots guru Joe Trippi. One of Khanna’s key criticisms of Honda has been that the eight-term congressman is ineffective, authoring too few successful bills and accomplishing too little.

Posted on Thursday, June 4th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

CA17: Honda attacks Khanna’s ‘usual suspects’

With Ro Khanna about to launch his second campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda on Saturday, Honda’s campaign has fired a shot across his bow – a website taking potshots at Khanna’s deep-pocketed campaign contributors, including some of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors and executives.

The RosUsualSuspects.com page seems to revive many of the attacks that Honda, D-San Jose, leveled last year against his Democratic challenger during the ugly 17th Congressional District race. Honda won an eighth term by 3.6 percentage points.

honda.jpg“The Honda campaign will be aggressively reminding voters who is behind the obscene amounts of money that the challenger will raise and spend in his continued pursuit of power,” Adam Alberti, a spokesperson for Honda’s campaign, said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

“Ro Khanna’s style-over-substance brand of politics combined with the backing of big money is a threat to the democratic process, and if successful will come at a cost to the great many members of our community who have been excluded from the tech boom and are struggling to provide for their families,” Alberti continued. “Congressman Honda believes in representing the entire district, not just the top 1 percent who have benefited most from our economy.”

But Khanna issued a statement later Thursday afternoon saying “attacks like this are precisely why we need new ideas in Washington.”

“This is what people do in Washington – they try to score political points with dubious guilt-by-association tactics, rather than working together to get things done,” he said. “I prefer to spend my time fighting for good paying local jobs and trying to make our community a better place, rather than engaging in political bickering.”

Khanna vowed to “campaign on ideas to elevate the debate. I hope Mike Honda will offer more than the same tired old Washington attacks.”

Much of what’s on the page is similar to a Honda campaign television ad we dissected last October, and merits explanation and/or refutation.

John Arnold, the “Power Broker” who used to work at Enron, and his wife gave $350,000 last year to Californians for Innovation, a super PAC that spent almost $776,000 on Khanna’s behalf. Arnold also has contributed to the campaigns of President Barack Obama; U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; and dozens of other Democratic candidates and committees.

Republican ex-Congressman Ernie Konnyu did try to get the Tea Party Express to spend $50,000 to support Khanna, but he was unsuccessful in convincing it to do so – so calling Khanna “their candidate” seems disingenuous at best.

Marc Leder – the Florida hedge fund executive who hosted the fundraiser at which Mitt Romney made his infamous “47 percent” comment, and who gave Romney and affiliated groups more than a half-million dollars – did contribute $5,200 to Khanna’s campaign last year and has given $5,400 this year. But if that makes Khanna less of a Democrat, you’d have to say the same about U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.; and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. – all of whom have accepted Leder’s contributions.

And although Khanna’s donor list does include some executives “who would profit by cutting wages and outsourcing U.S. jobs” and “strongly opposed increasing the minimum wage to ensure fair pay for families in our region,” Khanna – a former Obama Commerce Department appointee – repeatedly has spoken against offshoring jobs and in favor of raising the minimum wage. Likewise, Peter Thiel supports Social Security privatization but Khanna does not.

Khanna raised $801,000 in the first quarter of this year, mostly after C-SPAN aired footage of Honda seeming to doze off during a Feb. 27 House floor debate on homeland security funding. Honda raised $258,000 in the first quarter.

Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

CA17: Gentlemen, start your engines…

It seems Ro Khanna will announce his widely expected 2016 rematch challenge to Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District at the end of this month.

Khanna supporters received an email Tuesday inviting them “to hear his special announcement in person on May 30th! As a supporter of change and fresh thinking in Washington, you won’t want to miss it!”

The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, May 30 at the Santa Clara Civic Center, 1500 Warburton Ave. An RSVP form has been added to Khanna’s campaign website.

Khanna, 38, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official who lives in Fremont, finished 3.6 percentage points behind Honda in November’s election after one of the nation’s costliest House showdowns of 2014. As I reported last month, Khanna raised about $800,000 in this year’s first quarter – or more precisely, in March, after CSPAN’s video of Honda, 73, dozing on the House floor Feb. 27 as his colleagues debated the Homeland Security Department’s funding.

Posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

House passes bill on NSA phone records program

The House voted 338-88 Wednesday to pass a bill that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, the Washington Post reports.

Supporters say the USA Freedom Act would keep phone “metadata” out of government hands and make other changes to surveillance practices; some critics say that it goes too far, others that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The Senate still must take up the bill amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which without congressional action will expire June 1.

Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, voted against the bill Wednesday, while the rest of the Bay Area’s all-Democrat delegation supported it.

“Congress may have changed the name but the USA Freedom Act is just a watered-down version of the Patriot Act,” Farr said in a news release. “I commend the bipartisan effort to adhere to the 2nd Circuit Court’s ruling and to develop more safeguards to protect our civil liberties. Unfortunately, this bill still contains too many provisions that threaten the privacy of American citizens.

“I cannot vote for a bill that does not protect the privacy rights enshrined in the 4th Amendment,” Farr added. “The risk of faulty information collection is not a risk I am willing to take with any American’s privacy. Upholding the Constitution is non-negotiable.”

But Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, issued a statement saying “our government has a responsibility to respect people’s civil liberties and protect our national security. This legislation does both.

“It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe,” Thompson said.

Records of phone numbers, call dates, times and durations would be kept by telecommunications companies under this bill, not by the government. Company employees could still search such records under a court order specifying a particular person, account or address, but not an entire phone or Internet company or a broad geographic region, such as a state, city or Zip code.

The bill has the rare combined support of House Republican leaders and President Obama.

“In order to stay secure in these dangerous times, we must have the tools to track terrorists and spies. But the American people have strong concerns about a big government watching over our phone calls, collecting our metadata, and possibly invading our privacy,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in a news release.

“So the House has looked at the facts on the ground and recalibrated our approach to keep America safe while protecting civil liberties,” he said. “The USA FREEDOM Act stops bulk data collection while still making sure those fighting terrorism have access to what they need so they can do their job and prevent future terror attacks. That’s what makes it a good, bipartisan bill.”

But in the wake of last week’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the NSA’s phone-records collection program as illegal, civil libertarians aren’t happy with this bill.

“Last week’s historic court decision makes clear that this bill must be strengthened to protect privacy rights,” Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, had said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Following the court’s ruling, the House should have amended the bill to prevent the government from amassing and keeping the information of innocent Americans. The Senate should not make the same mistake and instead remedy the bill’s many deficiencies, which have been criticized on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Letting Section 215 expire would be preferable to passing the current version of this bill, which fails to adequately protect Americans’ information from unwarranted government intrusion.”

Posted on Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, Civil liberties, Kevin McCarthy, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House | No Comments »

Rep. Mike Honda blasts Japanese prime minister

Rep. Mike Honda harshly criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, for not explicitly addressing the “comfort women” who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Army during World War II.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, had invited Yong-Soo Lee, 87 – one of only a few dozen victims of Japanese sexual abuse still surviving in Korea – to be his guest in the House Gallery during Abe’s speech. “My heart breaks for Ms. Lee and her sisters, as she must now return to Korea without having received an apology from Prime Minister Abe,” he said on a conference call with reporters later Wednesday.

“It is utterly shocking and shameful that Prime Minister Abe continues to evade his government’s responsibility for the systematic atrocity that was perpetrated the Japanese Imperial Army against the so-called ‘comfort women’ during World War II,” Honda said. “I heard no apology today.”

Honda called that lack of an apology “an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women” who suffered at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Abe said in his speech that “we must realize the kind of world where finally women are free from human rights abuses,” but Honda said that “without acknowledging the sins of the past, history will repeat itself.”

Asked why Americans should care about something that happened 70 years ago between Japan and other Asian nations, Honda replied that terrible abuses continue unabated around the world today; he cited the radical Islamic group Boko Haram’s abductions of women and girls in Africa. “We call that today human trafficking, we call it sexual slavery, we call it violence against women,” he said.

“Prime Minister Abe wants to be seen as a leader of a democratic country, he also stated he wants to be a leader on women’s issues,” Honda said, but given the opportunity to make a clear statement against such practices Wednesday, Abe “blew it. He could have established a moral platform for himself.”

Posted on Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Mike Honda introduces the ACRONYM Act

Rep. Mike Honda, annoyed by what he calls “an avalanche of verbiage in the name of every bill,” announced his introduction Wednesday, April 1 of the Accountability and Congressional Responsibility On Naming Your Motions (ACRONYM) Act of 2015.

The bill will prohibit the addition of words to the title of any bill just to create an acronym.

Sing it, Mike!“It’s gotten ridiculous,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in a news release. “We’re getting bills that have over 10 words in the title just so they can spell something that’s supposed to be clever. The last straw was The Pension And Social Security Measuring Equivalence Permanent Linking of Everyone’s Actual Savings Environment (PASS ME PLEASE) Act, which only corrected a typo on Page 346 of the tax code.” The bill failed along party lines.

The ACRONYM Act was immediately endorsed by the Association of House Reading Clerks, the House Transcription Guild, the Association of Print Journalists, and the Teachers and Educators Resource Society of Editing (TERSE). The bill was condemned, however, by the Venerable Enclave of Repetitive But Official Stylistic Engineers (VERBOSE).

“My goal is to rid this Congress, and all those after it, of bills with names like the Utility and Nuclear Defensive Energy Rehabilitated Facility Upkeep and Notification Determination for Every Democracy (UNDERFUNDED) Act; the National Environmental Versus Economy, Reflection, and OUTcome OF Congressional Outlays, Minus Military Information Technology Terminology, Electricity Enhancement (NEVER OUT OF COMMITTEE) Act, and the People Are Ready To Inhabit Saturn And Neptune (PARTISAN) Act,” Honda added.

Honda said that as an educator for more than 30 years, it offends him to see the language so brutally abused. “And I was a science teacher! We wrote the book on adding unnecessary words and phrases to make things sound more important. But this has gotten out of hand.”

Honda has high hopes for the bill passing out of the Nation’s Operational and Clerical Habits Application and Notification for Congressional Excellence (NO CHANCE) House subcommittee.

(Yes, we get it. And a very happy April Fool’s Day to you too, congressman.)

Posted on Wednesday, April 1st, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Obama cites Fremont firm at trade roundtable

President Obama singled out the CEO of a Fremont company during a trade roundtable Wednesday at the White House.

The meeting – with seven small-business executives from around the nation plus the mayors of Philadelphia and Tampa – was to discuss “the opportunities and benefits of trade as well as the challenges that small business exporters face,” the White House said.

U.S. businesses are selling more made-in-America goods and services around the world than ever before, which builds job growth. But the President wants Congress to give him trade promotion authority to finalize new trade deals that will build on the momentum, while progressives argue U.S. workers will get a raw deal under these expanded trade agreements.

Barack Obama“The perception sometimes is … that the trade agenda is only important for big companies, big corporations, big Fortune 500 or 100 companies,” Obama said at the meeting. “Well, the group that’s sitting around here is made up of small business people or medium-sized business people who are seeing their businesses directly benefit from exports — as well as a couple mayors … who can account for hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars of sales coming out of their region as a consequence of exports.”

Among the executives at the table was Steve Basta, CEO of Fremont-based AlterG, which makes “anti-gravity” treadmills and a bionic leg – products aimed at shortening recovery times, reducing injury, and improving mobility for patients.

“Steve Basta with AlterG has created — or has a company that’s created, new technologies for medical rehabilitation,” Obama said. “He’s able to sell his products overseas, but what he’s finding is in some countries you’ve got tariffs that make his products more expensive and that means fewer sales.”

“And so this is not just the Boeings and the General Electrics that benefit” from trade promotion authority, Obama said “It’s also small businesses and medium-sized businesses directly benefit.”

AlterG is in Rep. Mike Honda’s 17th Congressional District. Honda, D-San Jose, in 2013 joined most House Democrats in signing a letter opposing fast-track trade promotion authority – which they said usurps Congress’ authority over trade matters – both for the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact Obama is trying to seal and for any future trade agreements.

“Twentieth Century ‘Fast Track’ is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced. The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better,” that letter said. “We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 25th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Who will skip Netanyahu’s speech to Congress?

The Bay Area delegation is split over attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday, March 3.

Democrats and the White House remain miffed that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu unilaterally. The Israeli leader is expected to speak against the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, instead urging Congress to impose further sanctions; also, the address comes two weeks before Israel’s legislative election. For these reasons, and as some pro-Palestinian groups urge a boycott, some Democrats are choosing to skip the speech.

Here’s how the Bay Area delegation shakes out:

Skipping the speech: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose

Attending the speech: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz

Undecided: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa

Didn’t respond to inquiries: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo

A few of them offered explanations, or at least, comments:

Lofgren: “I am disappointed Speaker Boehner chose to irresponsibly interject politics into what has long been a strong and bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel. As President Obama has noted, it is inappropriate for a Head of State to address Congress just two weeks ahead of their election. I agree that Congress should not be used as a prop in Israeli election campaigns, so I intend to watch the speech on TV in my office.”

Huffman: “I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress.”

Boxer: “Whether I wind up going or not, it was a terrible mistake by the Republican majority to play politics with this enduring relationship.”

McNerney, via spokesman Michael Cavaiola: “Rep. McNerney is not planning to attend the speech. He’s got several previously planned commitments for that day.”

DeSaulnier, via spokeswoman Betsy Arnold Marr: “Congressman DeSaulnier has not made a final decision as he hopes the Prime Minister will reconsider his plans particularly in light of the upcoming election.”

Honda, via spokesman Ken Scudder: “Congressman Honda regrets that Speaker Boehner ignored protocol in making this invitation. The speaker turned what should have been an important visit of one of our closest allies into a political stunt. Congressman Honda also has concerns about the potential political nature of this speech given Israel’s elections are less than two weeks away. Despite this, and the congressman’s disagreement with the Prime Minister’s opposition to the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, Congressman Honda is going to attend the address on March 3. The United States and Israel share strong cultural, economic and security partnerships, and he will attend the speech to hear firsthand what the Prime Minister has to say on these serious and complicated issues.”

Thompson, via spokesman Austin Vevurka: “We still don’t know what the Congressman’s schedule will be that week, but I will of course keep you posted as we know more. That being said, Congressman Thompson understands the importance of hearing from international leaders, but he is concerned that the speech has become overtly political. He hopes the speech is rescheduled and Netanyahu is invited back at a later date in a manner that respects long-established diplomatic protocol.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Swalwell, Iran, Israel, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 24 Comments »