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Boxer, DiFi oppose fast-track trade authority

Senate Democrats derailed one of President Obama’s major second-term priorities Tuesday, voting to hold up consideration of “fast track” trade authority unless related measures are guaranteed to proceed alongside it, the Washington Post reports.

Sixty votes were needed to begin formal debate of measures that would pave the way for approval of a complex Pacific trade accord and provide relief to unemployed workers affected by trade deals. The vote was 52-45, with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the only Democrat voting aye.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had said last week she would vote for trade promotion authority only if it was accompanied by other bills providing income support and retraining funds for workers displaced by international trade; more power to enforce trade agreements and punish violations; and a trade-preferences package for developing nations in Africa.

“Whether or not Congress should grant the president fast-track trade authority is important, but I believe the debate shouldn’t occur in isolation from these related issues,” she said at the time. “If this larger package of bills comes before the Senate, I look forward to its consideration.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., spoke against fast-track authority before Tuesday’s vote.

Barbara Boxer“The last major deal Congress approved cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs, lowered the wages of American workers, and increased income inequality. And we are still dealing with the legacy of NAFTA,” she said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement that took effect in 1994. (Boxer and Feinstein both voted against NAFTA in late 1993, too.)

“They say timing is everything in life. Well, if that’s true, the timing of this free-trade agreement could not be worse for the middle-class families who we are supposed to be fighting for,” Boxer said. “We should immediately put this legislation aside and take up legislation that will help the middle class.”

But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, issued a statement after the Senate vote saying “free and open trade means a stronger America with more jobs and opportunity.

“This is something that both Republicans and Democrats support, including the President,” McCarthy said. “History has shown that in times of divided government, positive changes can be made on behalf of the American people. Unfortunately, it is the President’s own party stopping progress. The decision by Senate Democrats to block this bipartisan bill from moving forward is disappointing and a step backwards for our already beleaguered economic recovery. The House will continue to work towards passage of free and open trade.”

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Reactions to Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as AG

The U.S. Senate voted 56-43 Thursday to confirm federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch as the next U.S. Attorney General, ending one of the longest cabinet confirmation delays in the nation’s history.

Ten Republicans joined with all Democrats to confirm Lynch, 55, whom President Obama nominated in early November. The only Senator not voting was presidential candidate Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“Loretta Lynch is one of the best I’ve seen in my 22 years in the Senate and I’m confident that she will be a stellar Attorney General. Her record as U.S. attorney is impeccable, and she’s proven herself as a tough but fair prosecutor and effective leader.

“As Attorney General, she will focus on a range of important issues including our national security, improving community policing and combatting human trafficking.

“I regret that this confirmation vote was delayed by months. No one questions Loretta Lynch’s qualifications for this position and she did not deserve this unnecessary delay. Nonetheless, I know that she will hit the ground running and continue to serve this country with distinction.”

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

“After an inexcusable delay by Senate Republicans, history has been made today with the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as our next Attorney General. When this country lives up to its promise as the land of opportunity for all, it is a moment to be celebrated.

“Loretta Lynch is an extraordinary nominee with an extraordinary record, and she is just the Attorney General we need during these challenging times.”

From U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:

“Loretta Lynch is a gifted attorney, a consummate professional, and a dedicated public servant. I am pleased that the United States Senate has recognized her clear qualifications and the need for her confirmation as Attorney General of the United States.

“At every stage of her career, Loretta has earned the trust and high regard of allies and adversaries alike, both in Washington and throughout the country. She is respected by law enforcement officers, civil rights leaders, and criminal justice officials of all political stripes. In every case and every circumstance, she has demonstrated an unfailing commitment to the rule of law and a steadfast fidelity to the pursuit to justice.

“I have known and worked closely with Loretta for many years, and I know that she will continue the vital work that this Administration has set in motion and leave her own innovative mark on the Department in which we have both been privileged to serve. I am confident that Loretta will be an outstanding Attorney General, a dedicated guardian of the Constitution, and a devoted champion of all those whom the law protects and empowers. I congratulate her on her confirmation, and I look forward to all that the Department of Justice will do and achieve under her exemplary leadership.”

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

“Today, the Senate has finally confirmed Loretta Lynch as the first-ever African American woman Attorney General of the United States. As the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement official, Attorney General Lynch will continue to be a resolute, tenacious advocate for justice.

“As the daughter of a North Carolina preacher active in the civil rights movement, Attorney General Lynch has dedicated her career to promoting civil rights and ensuring that equality, dignity, and justice belong to all Americans. In the Eastern District of New York, she has already shown her resolve in fighting for survivors of human trafficking, and prosecuting terrorism and corruption.

“We have full faith that Attorney General Lynch will continue the incredible legacy of progress left by Attorney General Eric Holder. His bold vision and resolve to protect access to the ballot box, ensure that law enforcement practices are consistent with the Constitution, and end the epidemic of incarceration are vital to improving America’s future. It is with great pride that we congratulate Attorney General Lynch as she continues to reaffirm the bedrock American principle of equal justice under law.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“Today’s vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as our nation’s next Attorney General is historic. It is not only historic because she is the first woman of color to hold the nation’s highest law enforcement post but also because of her excellent qualifications for the role.

“I was proud to join many women of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Senate floor for this historic vote.
However, it is shameful that she had to wait more than 160 days for her confirmation vote, longer than the wait for the last seven Attorneys General combined.

“It’s past time to stop playing political games with qualified nominees and start working to address the critical issues facing our nation.”

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Reactions for and against the Iran nuclear deal

Members of Congress are weighing in for or against the framework for a final agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, reached by a group of world powers including the United States and announced today by the White House.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a Foreign Relations Committee member:

Barbara Boxer“Now that all parties have agreed to a framework, Congress has a choice: support these negotiations or disrupt them and potentially jeopardize this historic opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“We don’t yet know the details of a final deal, but initial reports are promising, and if the U.S. had prematurely ended talks on nuclear issues in the past, we would never have had historic and critical international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the New START Treaty.

“The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to reach this point and I will work to ensure that Congress has the patience to support this diplomatic effort because the risks of walking away from the table are simply too high.”

From U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who led 46 other senators in writing to Iran to undermine the negotiations:

Tom Cotton“There is no nuclear deal or framework with Iran; there is only a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons. Iran will keep a stockpile of enriched uranium and thousands of centrifuges—including centrifuges at a fortified, underground military bunker at Fordow. Iran will also modernize its plutonium reactor at Arak. Iran won’t have to disclose the past military dimensions of its nuclear program, despite longstanding UN demands. In addition, Iran will get massive sanctions relief up front, making potential “snap-back” sanctions for inevitable Iranian violations virtually impossible.

“Contrary to President Obama’s insistence, the former deputy director of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has said terms such as these will allow Iran to achieve nuclear breakout in just a few months, if not weeks. But in any case, even these dangerous terms will expire in just 10-15 years, even though it only took North Korea 12 years to get the bomb after it signed a similar agreement in 1994.

“These concessions also do nothing to stop or challenge Iran’s outlaw behavior. Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. Iranian aggression is destabilizing the Middle East. And Iran continues to hold multiple Americans hostage.

“I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to protect America from this very dangerous proposal and to stop a nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“If fully implemented, today’s framework agreement would prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, enhance our national security and show that diplomacy works.

“This is a major step forward for diplomacy, national security and global peace. This type of smart, strategic diplomacy brings us closer to a more peaceful and secure world while promoting U.S. national security.

“I applaud President Obama, Secretary Kerry and his diplomatic team for negotiating this framework agreement that promotes regional and global security.

“Today’s announcement is an important achievement for diplomacy, non-proliferation and President Obama.”

From House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:

John Boehner“The president says negotiators have cleared the basic threshold needed to continue talks, but the parameters for a final deal represent an alarming departure from the White House’s initial goals. My longtime concerns about the parameters of this potential agreement remain, but my immediate concern is the administration signaling it will provide near-term sanctions relief. Congress must be allowed to fully review the details of any agreement before any sanctions are lifted.

“After visiting with our partners on the ground in the Middle East this week, my concerns about Iran’s efforts to foment unrest, brutal violence and terror have only grown. It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region.

“In the weeks ahead, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will continue to press this administration on the details of these parameters and the tough questions that remain unanswered. We will stand strong on behalf of the American people and everyone in the Middle East who values freedom, security, and peace.”

More, after the jump…
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California politicos praise Harry Reid

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Friday he won’t seek re-election in 2016.

As jockeying begins to see who’ll replace him as Senate Democrats’ leader (Chuck Schumer? Dick Durbin? Elizabeth Warren?) and as Nevada’s senator (Brian Sandoval? Joe Heck? Ross Miller?), California Democrats were effusive in their praise of Reid.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“There’s no one I’d rather have on my side in a legislative battle than Harry Reid. His leadership, friendship and passion will be missed when he leaves the Senate.

“I’ve known Harry and Landra for more than 20 years and have enjoyed their friendship. Together, Harry and I have taken on a host of issues on behalf of our neighboring states. It’s especially been a pleasure working with Harry on the preservation of Lake Tahoe and other issues that bring out the best in us.

“I’m particularly thankful for Harry’s support during the process of releasing the CIA torture report. Harry knows what it’s like to be in a dogfight. He knows what it’s like to be attacked from all sides. I always knew that after a particularly bad week I’d get a call from Harry offering his support, telling me he was behind me all the way.

“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish together, and I look forward to two more years of working side-by-side to do even more. The nation is better off because of Harry Reid.”

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

Barbara Boxer“I have known Harry Reid for more than thirty years and since the day I met him, Harry has given every bit of his energy and every bit of his devotion to his job and his loving family. Harry is a fearless leader who listens to all sides before taking a stand. He has known heartache in many forms, but he never let it get in the way of his hopes and dreams and dedication to every family in America. Harry is one of a kind and I am grateful that we worked together for so many years for the good of Nevada, California and the country we love.”

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

Nancy Pelosi“With Harry Reid’s decision to retire, Congress and our country will lose a patriot, pioneer, and one of the greatest leaders the Senate has ever known. Senator Reid is a master of the Senate, a reliable fighter for America’s hard-working families, a legislator whose leadership stretches back more than three decades.

“From his earliest days in the House to his tenure as Democratic Leader in the Senate, Harry Reid never forgot the hard-working families of Nevada he is so proud to represent. He has brought their values, their pioneer spirit and their determination to the Congress, and he has been an unsurpassed champion for the rights and opportunities of every American.

“It has been my great honor to call Senator Reid a dear and trusted friend for so many years. More so, I have been privileged to work with him in enacting historic and consequential legislation for our country.

“In the darkest days of the financial calamity, we worked together to pass the legislation that rescued our economy. We worked to pass the landmark Dodd-Frank consumer Wall Street reform bill, the most significant consumer financial reforms in a generation. We passed the Affordable Care Act and ensured that, in the United States of America, affordable, quality health care is the right of every American, not the privilege of the few.

“Senator Reid leaves a historic legacy of strength and achievement on behalf of the American people. He has helped to dramatically expand American investments in clean energy, passed bold and comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, championed the Violence Against Women Act, and welcomed a record-breaking generation of new women Senators.

“His leadership and ability command respect on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress. Without question, Senator Reid’s departure is an irreplaceable loss for our entire country. But as he announces his hard-earned, well-deserved retirement, I wish him, his wife Landra, and the entire Reid family all the best in happy years ahead.”

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Shocker: Ernie Konnyu won’t run for U.S. Senate

Attention, all 13 of you who knew that former congressman Ernie Konnyu was considering a U.S. Senate run in 2016: He’s out.

Ernie KonnyuKonnyu, 77, of San Jose, wrote an open letter to California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte on Wednesday saying the past week had been “brutal” to his hopes of running against Democrat Kamala Harris for the senate seat that Barbara Boxer will vacate next year.

Konnyu wrote that his longtime strategist, Tea Party Express mastermind Sal Russo, told him over “a great steak dinner smothered with onions at Frank Fats in Sac” that a run was inadvisable. Though he’s a longtime California Republican Assembly member, nobody deigned to introduce him at the group’s banquet Saturday. On Sunday, the president of the Bay Area Hungarian Freedom Fighters Association “pulled me aside and in a loving way chewed me out for even thinking about making ‘an unwinnable Senate run’.” And on Tuesday, his dinner conversation with his own wife and daughter “turned bitter as they could not see a chance to win the fight.”

“I know that I do have a responsibility to the Republican party in this Senate race which I take very seriously,” Konnyu wrote, outlining a long-shot scenario pipe dream in which enough Democrats would split that party’s vote to let him and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez – who declared candidacy March 5 – finish first and second in the top-two primary.

Riiight. Konnyu’s tenure in Congress might be remembered mostly for the sexual harassment claims he faced, which were part of the reason members of his own party ensured he served only one term. His letter Tuesday would be sort of funny, if not for the fact that Konnyu actually did slightly better than Chavez in a January-February Field Poll measuring the popularity (read as: “name recognition”) of 18 possible senate contenders.

“So Chairman Brulte, since I am now OUT, you would do well to find another strong Ernie Konnyu for the Senate race to increase the R win chances,” Konnyu wrote. “I state that as it would be a crying shame to simply waste Assemblyman Chavez on just improving future Republican support among Hispanics, as good as that is.”

Dry your tears. Konnyu promised he’ll “still still write a few checks to the G.O.P. and I’ll still help make the good fight on behalf of worthy Republican candidates.” He also promised to help “a brilliant Demo, Ro Khanna, who is willing to work with the Republican congressional majority, finally oust another Demo, the atrocious and uncooperative liberal, Congressman Mike Honda in the 17th C.D. (I hope the GOP will stay out this time in that unwinnable for a Republican district.)”

Yikes. With friends like these…

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Barbara Boxer cosponsors medical marijuana bill

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer on Tuesday became an early cosponsor of a bipartisan bill to end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana.

Perhaps she was feeling particularly green for St. Patrick’s Day.

Barbara BoxerSenators Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Rand Paul, R-Kent.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., last week introduced S.683, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015. The bill would move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act – a list of drugs not recognized to have any valid medical use – to the less-restrictive Schedule II.

States would be freer to enact and implement medical marijuana laws without federal interference; veterans’ doctors could recommend the drug; research would speed up; and bankers could breathe easier when dealing with the industry if this bill became law.

Some advocates say having Boxer, D-Calif., sign onto the bill is a big deal.

“Sen. Boxer represents the state that led the way on medical marijuana, and it’s about time she took some action to defend the will of California’s voters from federal interference,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

“We would have expected her to do something on this years ago, but better late than never,” he said. “A new generation of senators like Cory Booker, Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand are leading the way on this issue, and it’s nice to see that even some lawmakers who have been around for awhile are starting to notice which way the political winds are blowing. This is a sign that the dam is about to break. Expect more old-school politicians to get on board soon.”

Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile said the senator “is a strong supporter of California’s medical marijuana law and she believes that patients, doctors and caregivers in states like California should be able to follow state law without fear of federal prosecution.”