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Ex-White House Cabinet Secretary visits Bay Area

Chris Lu this week might face a task more daunting than his four years as President Obama’s Cabinet Secretary: convincing college students of the value of public service, even as a federal shutdown sends public distrust of government skyrocketing.

Chris LuLu, 47, from January 2009 through this past February was the main liaison between the president and his executive departments and agencies; Obama called him “one of my longest-serving and closest advisors.”
He’s speaking Tuesday evening at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, and then again at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in at San Jose State University’s Morris Dailey Auditorium.

And with Obama and House Republicans in stalemate, large swaths of the federal government shut down, and an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the nation’s debt limit and staving off economic chaos, Lu might be glad he’s 2,400 miles away from Washington.

“I’m optimistic that cooler heads will prevail… but candidly I can’t see the path forward at this point,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It is hard for me to see what the exit strategy is, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

He said House Republicans first wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act, then to delay it, and now might be making demands about other spending instead, he said.

“It’s hard to negotiate when the other side’s demands keep changing,” he said, noting the shutdown in 1995-96 was over budget issues on which it was easier to settle by splitting the difference. “Here there is obviously some money involved, but the president has made clear he’s not negotiating over defunding Obamacare … or on the debt limit, either.”

Lu defended the glitchy rollout of enrollment in health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. It’s an extremely complex system in which more than half the states have refused to cooperate, leaving the federal government to do it for them, he said.

“This was always going to be challenging, but what I am optimistic about is – to the extent that there were glitches in the first week – the glitches were a result of too many people going online,” he said, which is a far better problem than having too few people interested. “The president made clear this was not going to be a smooth rollout, that there would be glitches along the way, but we’ve got multiple months to work it out.”

“Even in the best of times, encouraging people to go into public service and work in the government is a tall order,” he said, but it’s moreso when a shutdown situation like this breeds rampant distrust of government. People outside of Washington aren’t immersed in partisan bickering and “they don’t understand why the government isn’t running, why people can’t sit down and talk these things out and reach some kind of compromise.”

But college campuses still offer some hope, he said. “I still think young people get the value of service… of thinking beyond themselves and looking to help others.”

Lu and Obama attended Harvard Law School at the same time and became good friends when Lu joined Obama’s U.S. Senate staff. He was Obama’s legislative director in the Senate, and was named executive director of Obama’s transition team after his election in 2008. As Cabinet Secretary, he was one of the administration’s highest-ranking Asian-Americans and also co-chaired the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since leaving the White House, Lu has been a fellow at the University of Chicago and at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

Posted on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
Under: Obama presidency | 5 Comments »

Three locals to advise Obama on manufacturing

Several Bay Area people will serve on the new steering committee for President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, the White House announced Thursday.

The president created the partnership in 2011 to bring industry, academia and government together to revitalize the manufacturing sector and boost the nation’s global competitiveness.

Among those on the new committee are University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks; Ajit Manocha, CEO of Milpitas-based semiconductor manufacturer GLOBALFOUNDRIES; and Mike Splinter, executive board chairman of Santa Clara-based Applied Materials Inc.

The original steering committee issued a report last year, “Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing,” that called for sustaining U.S. investments in science, technology, and innovation; establishing a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, a set of public-private partnerships to build shared high-tech facilities and advance U.S. leadership in emerging technologies; upgrading community-college workforce training programs and deploying the talent of returning veterans to meet critical manufacturing skills needs; and improving the business climate for manufacturing investment through tax, regulatory, energy, and trade reform.

The new steering committee will build on that work, functioning as a working group of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and in partnership with the National Economic Council, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Commerce Department. It’s also going to hold regional working sessions and forums designed to find examples of innovative strategies to build manufacturing competitiveness.

Posted on Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Under: economy, Obama presidency | 4 Comments »

Obama extends terrorism ‘national emergency’

While we debate the extent and invasiveness of our surveillance society and the wisdom (or lack thereof) of U.S. military action in Syria, President Barack Obama on Tuesday extended – again – the official national emergency that began a dozen years ago this week with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Here’s the official notice issued by the president:

CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO CERTAIN TERRORIST ATTACKS

Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency previously declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.

Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2013. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency that was declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.

BARACK OBAMA

Posted on Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Under: Obama presidency, War on Terror | 22 Comments »

Obama cancels trip to California

President Barack Obama won’t be coming to California next week as planned.

The White House announced Thursday that the president – now in Russia for the G20 Summit – will remain in Washington next week to work on getting a resolution from Congress to authorize use of military force in Syria.

President Obama had been scheduled to address the quadrennial AFL-CIO convention Monday in Los Angeles. U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., still are scheduled to address the convention.

Posted on Thursday, September 5th, 2013
Under: Obama presidency | 1 Comment »

Bera probes Hagel on Syria; Boxer votes to attack

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made the Obama administration’s case for bombing Syria to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The committee has no Bay Area members; Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, is the only member from Northern California, and here’s how he began questioning Hagel:

“It is of critical importance that we are having this discussion. I applaud the President for including Congress in this debate. I agree that we have to show resolve and we have to show that we are committed to our allies, but my constituents and I still need to be convinced, not that atrocities occurred — we all are unanimous in our condemnation of what Assad has done — but we need to know exactly what our goals are and our objectives, because this is increasingly a complex situation.

“And to that extent, let me ask Secretary Hagel a question. When I was home in Sacramento County this past weekend people were stopping me in the grocery store, my neighbors were pulling me aside on the street. I think all of my colleagues have been inundated with phone calls, emails, and almost unanimously, people don’t want us to strike Syria. They’re fatigued. And I answer to these people. These are the people that I represent. My question, Secretary Hagel, is what can I tell my constituents about why these strikes are in our national security interest, why these strikes matter to these folks that are struggling every day? How do I effectively communicate what the plan is?”

Watch their full exchange here:

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 – and not along party lines – on Wednesday to approve a resolution authorizing limited military force against Syria. The resolution is significantly narrow than that which the president had proposed: It would limit hostilities to 90 days, allow military action only within Syria’s borders and prohibit putting any U.S. troops on Syrian soil.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – who had said Tuesday that she would “support a targeted effort but not a blank check to respond to Syria’s unspeakable deeds to gas its own people to death” – voted for the resolution by proxy today; she was absent due to the imminent start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, at sundown tonight.

Posted on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
Under: Ami Bera, Barbara Boxer, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 5 Comments »

Obama issues new gun-control executive actions

The Obama administration announced two more gun-control executive actions Thursday that it says will help keep some of the most dangerous firearms out of the wrong hands.

Current law puts heavy restrictions on certain weapons such as machine guns and short-barreled shotguns including registration and a fingerprint-based background check, but some have sought to evade these requirements by registering such weapons to a trust or corporation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports it received more than 39,000 requests for transfers of these restricted firearms to trusts or corporations in 2012 alone.

The administration announced Thursday that ATF is issuing a new proposed regulation requiring that individuals associated with trusts or corporations acquiring such weapons must undergo background checks.

The other action deals with surplus military weapons. When the United States provides military firearms to its allies, either as direct commercial sales or through the foreign military sales or military assistance programs, those weapons can’t be imported back into the United States without federal approval. Since 2005, the government has authorized requests to re-import more than 250,000 of these firearms.

The administration said it will start denying all such requests by private entities, with only a few exceptions such as for museums.

Thursday’s actions follow almost two dozen other gun-control actions the Obama administration implemented in January.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, who is House Democrats’ gun-policy point man and co-author of a bipartisan background-check bill that’s still pending in the House, issued a statement saying the White House “has once again taken important steps that will help reduce and prevent gun violence. Now, Congress needs to act.

“Congress cannot continue standing by and doing nothing when more than 30 people are killed every day by someone using a gun,” Thompson said. “The most important thing we can do is pass my bipartisan bill requiring that anyone who buys a gun at a gun show or over the Internet get a background check. This is a commonsense step that will help keep guns from criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally. The American people deserve for Congress to step up and vote on this bill.”

Thompson’s bill has 184 co-sponsors, including every member of the Bay Area’s House delegation.

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: gun control, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Feds to let WA, CO implement marijuana laws

In what could be a sea change for federal marijuana policy, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has told the governors of Washington and Colorado – which recently legalized recreational use, in conflict with federal law – that the Justice Department will let them implement their laws.

In addition to Holder’s joint phone call with the two governors Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole has 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.

The memo says federal law enforcement will still prioritize targeting distribution of marijuana to minors; revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states; use of state-authorized activity as a smokescreen for other illegal activity; violence and use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; drugged driving and other adverse public health consequences; growing marijuana on public lands; and preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

But “in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana, conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities set forth above,” Cole wrote in the memo.

The memo also says federal prosecutors “should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department’s enforcement priorities listed above.” Instead, it says, prosecutors should make case-by-case judgments as to whether operations are complying with a state’s regulations.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said in a news release. “I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped. The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, issued a statement saying his group is encouraged by the memo.

“At the heart of the guidance is a willingness to respect the voters who have decided a regulated marijuana market is preferable to a criminal market in their states. Cannabis-related businesses in these states are creating thousands of jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. These are clear public benefits,” Smith said. “Now is not the time to push marijuana sales back under ground. The new voter-approved, regulated systems in Colorado and Washington should be allowed to proceed. We have full confidence the businesses in these states will comply with any requirements put forth by the Department of Justice.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Obama presidency | No Comments »

More calls for Obama to consult Congress on Syria

Rep. Barbara Lee has gotten 53 other lawmakers to sign her letter urging President Barack Obama to consult Congress before taking any military action against Syria.

Much like the bipartisan letter by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., on which I reported yesterday, Lee’s letter notes Congress bears the constitutional obligation and power to approve or reject military force.

“As such, we strongly urge you to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis,” the letter says, also calling for allowing United Nations inspectors to complete their and denouncing human-rights violations.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)In a news release, Lee, D-Oakland, said the nation must learn from its experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.

“We must recognize that what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria; the implications for the region are dire,” she said. “This letter is calling for a specific action: debate. Congress has a vital role this in this process and constitutional power that must be respected. The American people are demanding this debate before we commit our military, our money, or our forces to Syria.”

Among those who’ve signed Lee’s letter are Reps. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; and George Miller, D-Martinez.

I’ve not seen the signatures of Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton; or Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, on any of the letters so far.

But Thompson spokesman Austin Vevurka said Thursday that his boss “believes the use of chemical weapons is appalling and he believes Congress should reconvene so there can be a full and vigorous debate on the use of military force. He also believes any military action must involve an international collation and is continuing to closely monitor the evolving situation.”

UPDATE @ 12:14 P.M.: McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith said her boss believes “we need to find a balanced policy that is based on sound and thorough intelligence, and he believes the president should be consulting leaders from both parties in the House and Senate.” Note: McNerney’s call to consult leadership stops short of Lee’s letter, which urges Obama “to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”

UPDATE @ 1:33 P.M.: “Right now the President is still reviewing his options as Commander in Chief,” Swalwell spokeswoman Allison Bormel says. “Should he choose to take action that requires congressional approval, Rep. Swalwell believes the Administration should consult Congress.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 6 Comments »

Lawmakers demand Obama consult them on Syria

Three Northern California House Democrats have signed onto a bipartisan letter urging President Obama to seek Congressional authorization for any military strike against Syria.

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, are among 18 Democrats and 98 Republicans who’ve signed onto the letter drafted and circulated by Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.

“While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate – and the active engagement of Congress – prior to committing U.S. military assets,” the letter says. “Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.”

Other California members who’ve signed Rigell’s letter include Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville; and John Campbell, R-Irvine.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., sent their own letter to the president today urging that he consult Congress.

And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Obama today urging the president to “personally make the case to the American people and Congress for how potential military action will secure American national security interests, preserve America’s credibility, deter the future use of chemical weapons, and, critically, be a part of our broader policy and strategy.”

UPDATE @ 11:54 A.M. THURSDAY: More Bay Area House members have signed onto Rep. Barbara Lee’s similar letter.

Posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, John Boehner, John Garamendi, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 17 Comments »

What’s Congress’ role in Obama’s call on Syria?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, issued this statement today on the Syrian government’s used of chemical weapons:

Nancy Pelosi“The Syrian government’s horrific, wanton, and undeniable use of chemical weapons against its own people is a clear violation of any moral standard and places the Assad regime well outside the circle of respect for basic human rights. President Assad’s partnership with Iran and designated terrorist organization Hezbollah to perpetrate such violence only further threatens the safety of the Syrian people and the stability of the region.

“This regime’s indiscriminate actions have claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people, internally displaced 4.25 million people, and forced 1.7 million men, women, and children to flee. We appreciate the response taken by neighboring countries to receive and address the needs of Syrian refugees.

“We join President Obama and the international community in strongly condemning the senseless violence of the Assad regime. Moving forward, Members of Congress stand ready to consult with President Obama to consider the appropriate course of action in response to these acts of brutality.”

Ah, but there’s the rub, right? Will President Obama consult Congress in a meaningful way before taking action? Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, said if he doesn’t do so, any action he takes will be illegal.

Tom McClintock“I am deeply concerned about reports that the President is preparing to order acts of war against the government of Syria without congressional authorization.

“The Constitution clearly and unmistakably vests Congress with the sole prerogative ‘to declare war.’ The President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief to order a military attack on a foreign government is implicitly limited by the Constitution to repelling an attack and explicitly limited under the War Powers Resolution to: ‘(1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.’ Unless one of these conditions is present, the decision must be made by Congress and not by the President.

“Nor does our participation in NATO allow the President to order an unprovoked act of war. The North Atlantic Treaty clearly requires troops under NATO command to be deployed in accordance with their country’s constitutional provisions. The War Powers Resolution clearly states that the President’s power to engage United States Armed Forces in hostilities ‘shall not be inferred …from any treaty heretofore or hereafter ratified unless such treaty is implemented by legislation specifically authorizing the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities…’

“Nor does the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 authorize the President to commit U.S. Armed Forces to combat in pursuit of United Nations directives without congressional approval.

“The authors of the Constitution were explicit on this point. Madison said, ‘In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department … Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges whether a war ought to be commenced, continued, or concluded.’

“In Federalist 69, Alexander Hamilton drew a sharp distinction between the American President’s authority as Commander in Chief, which he said ‘would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces’ and that of the British king who could actually declare war.

“Indeed, it is reported that the British Prime Minister has called Parliament into special session to consider the question. How ironic it would be if the British government were to act with the authorization of Parliament but the American government acted on the unilateral decision of one man.

“War is not a one-sided act that can be turned on and off with Congressional funding. Once any nation commits an act of war against another, from that moment it is at war – inextricably embroiled and entangled with an aggrieved and belligerent government and its allies that have casus belli to prosecute hostilities regardless of what Congress then decides.

“If there are facts that compel us to take such a course, let those facts be laid before Congress and let Congress fulfill its rightful constitutional role on the most momentous decision any government can make.

“I believe that absent an attack or imminent threat to the United States or a specific authorization by Congress, the order of a military attack on the government of Syria would be illegal and unconstitutional.”

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Under: Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 10 Comments »