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Boxer & Feinstein blast GOP senators’ Iran letter

California’s U.S. Senators say 47 Republicans led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., went out of bounds by sending an open letter to Iran’s leaders to undermine the State Department’s work to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal.

The letter notes any treaty the Obama administration might ink would require a two-thirds Senate vote for ratification, and another type of agreement would require two-thirds votes of the House and Senate. “Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” it says, before observing that Obama will leave office in 2017 “while most of us will remain in office well beyond then – perhaps decades.”

“What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei,” the letter says. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Before anyone goes saying, “Aw, gee, that’s just a ‘Schoolhouse Rock!‘ lesson in American government, no harm done,” consider how inane and condescending it would be to believe Iran’s government and negotiators don’t know how our government works.

Clearly it’s Republicans’ attempt to scuttle these negotiations without running afoul of the Logan Act – a federal law that makes it a felony for any American to attempt to negotiate with a foreign government or attempt to influence foreign policy without clear authority from the executive branch. By sticking to an explanation of how Congress and the executive branch work, the Republicans can say they’re just engaging in discussions with foreign officials in pursuance of their legislative duties under the Constitution – perfectly legal.

Of course, Cotton said plainly in January that he hoped to scuttle these negotiations. He also was ready to upend the Constitution in 2013, proposing to imprison the families of anyone who violates U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Democrats reacted to Cotton’s ploy angrily Monday.

From Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“This is a brazen attempt by Senate Republicans to sabotage negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world.”

From Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“I am appalled at the latest step of 47 Republicans to blow up a major effort by our country and the world powers to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program.

“This is a highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs and is not befitting this chamber. This letter only serves one purpose—to destroy an ongoing negotiation to reach a diplomatic agreement in its closing days.”

Posted on Monday, March 9th, 2015
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Iran, Obama presidency, U.S. Senate | 24 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 »

Pool report from President Obama at Stanford

Here are the pool reports I’ve filed today from President Obama’s visit to Stanford University for the White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection. Click here for our main story on the overall summit.

Stanford University President John L. Hennessy began speaking at11:31 a.m. to introduce the President. Hennessy said Obama understands the challenges of cybersecurity, as “an avid Blackberry user” and the first president to be electronically connected, he had to give that up upon taking office.

President Obama came to the podium at 11:33 a.m. to a standing ovation, with students in the balcony roaring.

“Yes we can,” he echoed a particularly enthusiastic audience member’s call.

The President praised the Stanford campus’ beauty. “I’ve got to admit, I kind of want to go here – I was trying to figure out why a really nice place like this is wasted on young people who don’t fully appreciate what you’ve got.” He also thanked the university for hosting this summit, and noted that members of his administration including Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Penny Pritzker and others are Stanford alumni who “bleed Cardinal red.”

“This is the place that made nerd cool,” he said. “I was thinking of wearing some black-rimmed glasses with some tape in the middle, but I guess that’s not what you do anymore.”

“But, I’m not just here to enjoy myself.”

The President said the economy continues to recover, with an unprecedented streak of job creation and middle-class earnings starting to rise. “More than any other nation on earth, the United States is positioned to lead in the 21st century,” he said, and that means leading in technological innovation.

The President noted Stanford and its environs were the birthplace of Hewlett-Packard, the mouse, and the internet itself, “innovations for cloud computing, student projects here became Yahoo! and Google. Those were pretty good student projects.”
He said if all companies traceable back to Stanford formed their own nation, “you’d have one of the largest economies in the world, and a pretty good football team as well.”

“Just as we’re all connected like never before, we have to work together like never before, both to seize opportunities and to meet the challenges of this information age,” he said.

LOTS more, after the jump…
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Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Homeland security, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

House reactions to Obama’s IS use-of-force plan

President Obama’s proposal for a new authorization for use of military force against the so-called Islamic State already is creating a stir in Congress, with some saying it goes too far and others saying it doesn’t go far enough.

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“As our nation confronts the ISIS threat, the President has worked diligently to engage Congress in determining the U.S. strategy to degrade and destroy these brutal terrorists. A key part of Congress’ responsibility is to debate and pass a new and narrowly-tailored Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

“Today, the President has submitted a serious and thoughtful draft for a new AUMF, one which ends the outdated 2002 AUMF that authorized the Iraq war, restricts the use of ground troops, and includes other important limiting provisions going forward.

“Congress should act judiciously and promptly to craft and pass an AUMF narrowly-tailored to the war against ISIS. I look forward to constructive bipartisan debate on this matter immediately.”

From House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield:

Kevin McCarthy“Radical Islamist terrorists, such as ISIL, pose a grave and growing threat to the United States. The number of terrorist groups and the volume of fighters have all dramatically increased in recent years.

“I have been supportive of efforts to give the Commander-in-Chief additional authorities to confront these growing challenges, but rather than expanding his legal authority to go after ISIL, the President seems determined to ask Congress to further restrict the authority of the U.S. military to confront this threat.

“The Speaker and I told the President we’d consider his request. I am prepared to support an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that provides new legal authorities to go after ISIL and other terrorist groups. However, I will not support efforts that impose undue restrictions on the U.S. military and make it harder to win.

“Congress will be conducting hearings to review both the President’s strategy to combat radical Islamist terrorists and the legal authorities that might be required to implement an effective and sufficiently robust strategy. At the end of this process, I hope Congress and the Administration can be united on how best to respond to the increasingly complex and dangerous challenge we face.”

More, after the jump…
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Posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Iraq, Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Obama to speak next Friday at Stanford, in SF

President Barack Obama will be in the Bay Area next week to speak at a Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University – an event that was scheduled a month ago but seems particularly timely given this week’s news of a massive hacking fiasco that compromised the personal data of up to 80 million Anthem insurance customers.

The president will arrive in San Francisco on Thursday night, a White House official said on background. He’ll speak Friday at the summit, which aims “to help shape public and private sector efforts to protect American consumers and companies from growing threats to consumers and commercial networks.”

“The summit will bring together major stakeholders on cybersecurity and consumer financial protection issues – including senior leaders from the White House and across the federal government; CEOs from a wide range of industries including the financial services industry, technology and communications companies; computer security companies and the retail industry; as well as law enforcement officials, consumer advocates, technical experts, and students,” the White House official said.

President Obama after his remarks will host a roundtable discussion with business leaders. On Friday evening, he’ll speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the San Francisco home of venture capitalist Sandy Robertson; tickets cost $10,000 for dinner and a photo, $32,400 to co-chair the event. On Saturday, Obama will head for Palm Springs.

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 5 Comments »

Obama’s AG nominee opposes pot legalization

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to become U.S. Attorney General, told senators at her confirmation hearing Wednesday that she opposes legalization of marijuana.

Questioned by U.S. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Lynch – currently the top federal prosecutor for part of New York City and all of Long Island – said she doesn’t agree with President Obama’s comments comparing marijuana to alcohol.

“I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I’m able to share,” she said. “But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization, nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general.”

The federal Controlled Substances Act deems marijuana to have no valid medical use and a high risk of addiction, and so bans its cultivation, sale, possession and use. Obama in early 2014 told the New Yorker that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in August 2013 told the governors of Washington and Colorado – states which had voted in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, in conflict with federal law – that the Justice Department will let them implement their laws. At the same time, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country outlining priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws – including those in the 20 states including California that have legalized marijuana for medical use. California activists hope to put a recreational legalization measure on the November 2016 ballot.

Legalization opponents hailed Lynch’s testimony Wednesday.

“Loretta Lynch could have skirted the issue of legalization by simply repeating DOJ’s policy of select intervention, but she tackled it head on. We are breathing a sigh of relief,” said Kevin Sabet, who used to work in the White House drug czar’s office and now is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Ms. Lynch is a knowledgeable, experienced, justice-minded individual, and for her to come out so adamantly against legalization is extremely encouraging. It will give our efforts a shot in the arm. We look forward to working with her on these important matters if she is confirmed by the Senate.”

Posted on Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
Under: Attorney General, marijuana, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

Reactions to Obama’s line in the (tar) sand

The White House says President Barack Obama would veto legislation approving construction of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline, the AP reports.

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“On a bipartisan basis, the American people overwhelmingly support building the Keystone XL pipeline. After years of manufacturing every possible excuse, today President Obama was finally straight with the them about where he truly stands. His answer is no to more American infrastructure, no to more American energy, and no to more American jobs. Fringe extremists in the president’s party are the only ones who oppose Keystone, but the president has chosen to side with them instead of the American people and the government’s own scientific evidence that this project is safe for the environment. This is simply another sign that President Obama is hopelessly out of touch and has no plans to listen to the American people or champion their priorities.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

Barbara Boxer“The President should only sign bills that are good for America, but the Keystone tar sands pipeline does nothing for our country and everything for Canada. In addition, reports show the pipeline project will increase the price of gas, while the tar sands flowing through the pipeline will result in pollution that causes serious illnesses like asthma and increases in carbon pollution – the main cause of climate change. It is a puzzle to me that after a deep recession, Republicans turn to legislation that according to the State Department will only create 35 permanent jobs. Instead, Republican leadership should immediately take up the highway bill which supports millions of jobs and will run out of funding in four short months.”

More, after the jump…
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Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2015
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, economy, energy, Environment, Global warming, John Boehner, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 5 Comments »

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.:

    “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…
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted on Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
    Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Swalwell, Jackie Speier, John McCain, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 6 Comments »

    Barbara Lee blasts Obama’s Afghanistan expansion

    President Obama has re-broadened U.S. troops’ combat role in Afghanistan.

    The decision made in recent weeks extends previous plans by authorizing U.S. troops to carry out combat operations against the Taliban to protect Americans and support Afghanistan’s security forces as part of the new ISAF Resolute Support mission next year, Reuters reports.

    Obama had announced in May that U.S. troop levels would be cut to 9,800 by the end of the year, by half again in 2015 and to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance office in Kabul by the end of 2016. Under that plan, only a small contingent of 1,800 U.S. troops was limited to counter terrorism operations against remnants of al Qaeda. The new orders will also allow operations against the Taliban.

    Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)And Rep. Barbara Lee – a staunch critic of the U.S. war in Afghanistan ever since being the lone vote against authorizing military force days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks – is not amused.

    “After more than a decade of open-ended war, I am deeply troubled to see the Administration expanding the role of U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement issued Sunday. “Many military and foreign policy experts agree that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people.

    “Our brave servicemen and women have performed their mission with courage, valor and commitment in an impossible situation,” she said. “It is time to stop endless war and bring our servicemen and women home to their families.”

    Posted on Monday, November 24th, 2014
    Under: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Barbara Lee, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

    Rep. Mike Honda schools Sen. Rand Paul

    U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Friday likened President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration to President Franklin Roosevelt’s action to put Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, who as a child was forced to live in such a camp, issued a statement Monday taking the presidential aspirant to task.

    honda.jpg“Rand Paul’s comments comparing President Obama’s executive order on Immigration with President Roosevelt’s executive order that imprisoned thousands of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II could not be more misguided. At best, he is confused. At worst, he is just wrong.

    “President Roosevelt’s action was based on racism, fear, hysteria, war, and the lack of real political leadership. He succumbed to political pressure to deny Constitutional protections to 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of who were US-born citizens.

    “President Obama, on the other hand, through his commitment to immigration reform and American values, is using his Executive Order to include, not exclude, people. He is working to keep intact immigrant families who play by the rules, not exclude undocumented parents and other DACA eligible individuals.

    “President Obama is showing true leadership by taking action when the Republican leadership of the House has failed to let Congress do so.

    “The incarceration of US citizens of Japanese origin, including me and my family, was a misuse of executive order. As someone who as victim of executive order 9066, I can say without hesitation that Roosevelt was wrong. It was a misuse of power. President Obama’s order is an appropriate use of executive order because Congress did not do its job.

    “Every President has the Constitutional right to use Executive Orders. What Senator Paul fails to say, recognize, or admit to, is the motive and outcome of the use of this power. President Obama is using this power correctly – President Roosevelt did not.”

    Posted on Monday, November 24th, 2014
    Under: Barack Obama, Immigration, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Rand Paul, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 15 Comments »