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Dems urge Obama to act on immigration

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer added her voice Monday to the chorus of Democrats urging President Obama to move forward with immigration reform by executive action.

Barbara Boxer“For 17 months, you have been very patient with House Republican leaders, encouraging them to either take up and pass the bipartisan Senate bill or work with you to craft a different bill,” Boxer, D-Calif., wrote in her letter to the president.

“Mr. President, I don’t remember hearing one Republican in Congress complain when Republican presidents took executive action on immigration,” she continued. “I urge you to ignore the angry voices of the do-nothing crowd in Congress who have repeatedly blocked progress on immigration reform. If they really cared about fixing our broken immigration system, they would not be threatening to shut down the government or file wasteful lawsuits – they would just do their job and pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Last week, 117 House Democrats – including all Bay Area members except House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco – sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take executive action.

“As you have said, it is ultimately the job of Congress to reform our broken immigration system by enacting legislation,” the lawmakers wrote. “But by failing to do their job – and repeatedly interfering with your efforts to do your job – congressional Republicans threaten to take our immigration system hostage and preserve a status quo that everyone agrees is unacceptable. Their failure to act must not inhibit your commitment to governing.”

“We will stand with you as you take bold and meaningful action, consistent with existing law and historical precedent, to protect American families, strengthen local communities and grow the economy,” they wrote.

At House Democrats news conference Thursday, Pelosi urged the president to act as well. “I don’t think there’s any question that the President can act administratively, take executive action.”

That same day, Rep. Jeff Denham – one of only three House Republicans to co-sponsor the House version of a bipartisan immigration bill that the Senate approved June 2013 – told Al Jazeera America that executive action is the wrong answer.

“It is hard to pass legislation of any kind without being able to trust the Commander in Chief on whether he’s going to implement the will of Congress and ultimately the will of the American people,” said Denham, R-Turlock, adding immigration is a complex issue that will require a package of bills brought forth at the same time. “This is a long term-problem that we’ve got to fix in Congress.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, are mulling how best to stymie any executive action Obama might take, but without giving in to calls from their party’s conservative wing to return to the kind of brinksmanship that led to last year’s government shutdown.

Posted on Monday, November 17th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Boxer, Immigration, Jeff Denham, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 14 Comments »

Musings on the state GOP, Congress, pot & Kansas

A few observations on Tuesday’s elections, with a hat tip to my colleagues Paul Rogers and Ken McLaughlin for their thoughts:

CALIFORNIA GOP: Tuesday’s results seem to be a vindication and victory for the “Brulte Doctrine,” spelled out by the state GOP chairman at his party’s convention in March: Don’t waste much effort trying to win unwinnable statewide races, but instead rebuild the party by “grinding it out on the ground” in local races – a strategy that will take several election cycles to bear larger fruit.

Despite their buzz, Ashley Swearengin and Pete Peterson couldn’t make it happen statewide: as it stands now, it looks like a 5.6-point loss for Swearengin in the controller’s race and a 5-point loss for Peterson in the secretary of state’s race. Those are respectable losses but losses nonetheless, and I submit that the GOP putting more money and party resources behind them might actually have resulted in wider margins of loss – I think they did this well in part by distancing themselves from partisanship.

Instead, Brulte’s GOP concentrated on denying Democrats their legislative supermajorities – and now it’s “mission accomplished” in the state Senate while the Assembly still hangs by a thread as vote-by-mail ballots are counted.

In doing so, the GOP is hatching a new generation of up-and-comers. Exhibit A: Catharine Baker, who at this hour is up 3.8 points over Democrat Tim Sbranti in the East Bay’s 16th Assembly District race. Baker, an attorney hailed as a cream-of-the-crop “California Trailblazer” at her party’s convention in March, was far outspent by Sbranti, who already had some name recognition among the electorate as Dublin’s mayor. But GOP officials and activists came from around the state to pound the pavement for her, and it looks like it could pay off with the first Bay Area Republican sent to Sacramento since Guy Houston was term-limited out (in the same part of the East Bay) in 2008.

CONGRESS: Anyone who’s surprised that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and gained seats in the House isn’t very well-versed in history. A two-term president’s party almost always loses ground in his sixth-year midterm.

Sure, President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating stood at 42 percent (per Gallup) on Tuesday. And President George W. Bush’s job approval was at 38 percent in November 2006 as Democrats picked up five Senate seats and 31 House seats, making Harry Reid the new Senate Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi the new House Speaker. And President Ronald Reagan was riding high with a 63 percent job-approval rating in November 1986 (although he was about to take a precipitous dive as details of the Iran-Contra scandal came to light) as Democrats picked up eight Senate seats, putting Robert Byrd in the driver’s seat, and five House seats to cement the majority they already had.

The exception was President Bill Clinton, who saw his party pick up five House seats in 1998 – a stinging defeat that left Republicans in control but forced Newt Gingrich to resign as Speaker – while the Senate was a zero-sum game. Clinton, under fire for the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, still was at a 66 percent job-approval rating at the time.

But Bubba always had a way of defying the odds.

MARIJUANA: If Oregon and Alaska got enough younger voters out to the polls in this midterm election to approve marijuana legalization, just imagine what California can do in 2016’s presidential election with an initiative forged in the trial-and-error of four other states’ experiences.

KANSAS: Kansas has had private-sector job growth that lags the rest of the country, and adopted tax cuts big enough to blow a still-widening hole in the state budget requiring school closings, teacher layoffs and increased class sizes – but doubled down with its Republican governor and Republican U.S. Senator. I guess you can lead a Jayhawk to water, but you can’t make it drink…

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Assembly, California State Senate, marijuana, Republican Party, Republican politics, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

Today’s congressional odds and ends

IMMIGRANT FAMILY DETENTION – Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, led 32 House Democrats in writing to President Obama about how the Homeland Security Department is detaining immigrant families, and its plan to significantly expand family detention in the months ahead. “At the current rates, within one year this Administration will have increased capacity to detain immigrant women and children by more than 4,000 percent” Lofgren said. “As the law requires, there needs to be a better assessment in place to appropriately screen and assess these women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence, torture or persecution in Central America.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

BIO-DEFENSE FUNDING – Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, joined with Rep. Mike Rogers, R-M ich., in calling for additional funding for the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and related bio-defense programs amid the ongoing Ebola epidemic. “BARDA is now leading the federal government’s efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics against Ebola,” they wrote. “While ongoing programs at the National Institutes of Health are essential for early-stage Ebola research, only BARDA has the infrastructure to actually get a vaccine or drug prepared for use in this outbreak.” Eshoo and Rogers authored the 2006 law creating BARDA; their letter went to House Appropriations Committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking members; Speaker John Bohener; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chair and ranking member; and White House Ebola “czar” Ron Klain.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)SURGEON GENERAL – Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; and Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, got 88 of their House colleagues to sign a letter calling for the confirmation of Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy, as the nation worries about Ebola. Obama nominated Murthy almost a year ago, but conservatives have blocked his confirmation mainly because he sees gun control as a public health issue. “As our nation faces public health concerns, the Senate needs to stop playing politics with Presidential nominees and confirm a Surgeon General to assist in disseminating information and to amplify the work being done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Lee said. “Dr. Murthy is an eminently qualified physician and has the support of our nation’s preeminent health and physicians groups. It’s time to confirm him.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

Mike ThompsonNAPA QUAKE DISASTER FUNDS – The Obama administration has approved individual-assistance Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds for areas in Napa and Solano counties hurt by Aug. 24’s 6.0-magnitude earthquake, senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Thompson announced Tuesday. The administration also approved Small Business Administration loans for homeowners, businesses, and nonprofit organizations; until now, only public assistance FEMA disaster funds had been approved. “The approval of this much needed assistance is an important step in our region’s recovery, and it will finally allow us to start helping folks get back on their feet,” said Thompson, D-Napa. “Individuals and families will be able to use these funds to begin the process of rebuilding and repairing homes and other personal property. And, local businesses will be able to apply for low-interest SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory and supplies.” Individuals in Napa and Solano Counties can register with FEMA online, via smartphone, or by calling 800-621-3362.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28th, 2014
Under: Ami Bera, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Mike Thompson, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Inside President Obama’s San Francisco fundraiser

Here’s the complete pool report I’ve just filed via the White House for tonight’s Democratic National Convention fundraiser at the W Hotel in San Francisco, for which tickets went for from $500 to $32,400 each:

Press pool was ushered into event room at 7:07 p.m., where well-heeled Democrats mixed and mingled with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Spotted in the crowd: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

President Obama entered the room at 7:15 p.m. to wild cheers, with a hearty “Hello, San Francisco!”

Obama recognized the presence of Congresswoman Lee and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. “No relation,” he quipped. He also thanked Maxwell for having performed, said the First Lady is a fan.

“Obviously the news lately has been dominated by what’s taking place overseas, and a lot of the news has been scary to people, and rightfully so,” he said – ISIL, Ebola, Russian aggression in Ukraine. On each of these issues, amid efforts at international response, “at the center of it, leading it, is the United States” – not just because of our capacity, but because of our values.

“That kind of leadership depends on us also showing leadership here at home,” he said, and over past six years we’ve made “real, genuine, documentable progress” at recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Much more, after the jump…
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Posted on Friday, October 10th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

Obama returns to Bay Area on Oct. 10

President Barack Obama will visit the Bay Area on Friday, Oct. 10 for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, a White House official said Friday.

More details will be made available in the coming days, the official said.

An invitation indicates Obama will attend a DNC reception that day at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel (though earlier invites had said it would be at San Francisco City Hall) with tickets ranging from $500 to $32,400 each. But Obama typically does several fundraising events on such visit, often a mix of larger receptions like this one and smaller, more expensive gatherings.

Another invitation shows Obama will be in Los Angeles the day before for a DNC reception hosted by actress Gwyneth Paltrow; tickets for that one range from $1,000 to $32,400.

Obama last visited the Bay Area in July, for a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at the Los Altos Hills home of real estate mogul George Marcus.

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 8 Comments »

California Dems respond to Obama’s ISIL speech

In a nutshell: Supportive, with a few sounding cautionary tones.

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“Today, the President laid out his comprehensive strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS and his case for the expansion of military action in Iraq and Syria.

“The Constitution requires Congress to vote on the use of military force. This is not about this President. This is about any President and any Congress.

“We must re-establish the checks and balances laid out by the Constitution.

“The facts are clear. We are no longer talking about limited strikes to prevent genocide and protect U.S. personnel. We are talking about sustained bombing and the use of military force.

“The threat from ISIS is serious. But before we take any further military action, Congress must debate the threats to our national security, the risks to American servicemen and women and the financial costs of waging another war in the Middle East.

“As the President said “we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together,” that is why I believe the President’s plan requires a thoughtful debate and vote by Congress.”

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

“I fully support President Obama’s decision to utilize his authority to begin a counterterrorism effort against the terrorist army ISIL. I applaud him for recognizing the seriousness of the threat and for going on the offense against this threat.

“As the president said, the United States will lead a coalition of nations against ISIL to include Gulf states and other countries throughout the Middle East, Europe and around the world.

“Now that a strategy has been outlined, it is critical that Congress and the American people come together in solidarity to support the president and our armed forces. On such an important matter of national security, we must show ISIL we have the political will, the military might and the strength of a united country.

“In my 14 years on the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have not seen a terrorist organization with the brutality and capabilities of ISIL. The group already occupies large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and poses a direct threat to the entire Middle East. ISIL has also repeatedly expressed its intent to attack the United States, most recently during the beheadings of two American journalists.

“Anyone with a sense of humanity cannot be passive in the face of this organization. It has killed, tortured and kidnapped thousands, beheaded children, raped women, crucified those it considers apostates and aspires to commit widespread genocide.

“ISIL is pure evil, and the time has come to end its reign of terror.”

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

Barbara Boxer“Tonight, the President showed what a real leader is-a President who understands the threats we face and that America must not face those threats alone.

“ISIS is a threat to the world and that is why I am so proud that President Obama has put together a broad-based coalition so that civilized nations can work together to degrade and defeat these terrorists.

“President Obama recognizes that in order to do this, we must remember the tragic mistakes of the past and conduct this operation without American combat boots on the ground. Instead, we will rely on trained and vetted forces in the region that have the most at stake from the ISIS threat.

“ISIS has already murdered two innocent Americans and has vowed that there will be more American bloodshed. These terrorists have threatened our embassies across the globe and said that ‘every American citizen is a legitimate target.’ They have also threatened our allies and all those who disagree with their demented ideology.

“There is no way the international community can stand by in the face of the beheading, crucifixion, and stoning of innocent men, women, and children by a terrorist group that numbers in the tens of thousands and has the finances to continue their campaign of carnage until they are stopped.

“Congress must stand behind the President in this effort by acting swiftly to provide funds so that the vetted Syrian rebels can take the fight to ISIS in Syria.”

Lots more, after the jump….
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Swalwell, Iraq, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, War on Terror | 3 Comments »

Feinstein calls for quake early-warning system

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issued this statement Monday:

“With more than 100 injured and estimates of damage approaching $1 billion, the Napa earthquake reminds us how incredibly dangerous these temblors can be. There’s no doubt a major earthquake will hit California, the only questions are when and where.

“I believe an integrated earthquake early-warning system is essential to save lives and property. Two bills from the Senate Appropriations Committee move us toward that goal. The bill to fund the Department of the Interior includes $5 million to begin work on an early-warning system, while the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security urges FEMA to prioritize grant funds for such a system. These bills will advance this fall and I will continue to prioritize funding for this system.

“An earthquake early-warning system would provide crucial time to carry out lifesaving actions. A warning of even a handful of seconds would allow for emergency notifications to be sent; trains and traffic to be slowed or stopped; supplies of oil, gas and chemicals to be turned off; nuclear plants to be safeguarded; even elevators to be safely emptied.

“What we need is the political resolve to deploy such a system. Officials in Washington and along the West Coast should partner with the private sector to make an interoperable earthquake early-warning system a reality, and we should do so as soon as possible before a much larger earthquake strikes.”

California already has a demonstration early-warning system called the California Integrated Seismic Network, which did provide its test users in some parts of the Bay Area with up to about 10 seconds of warning before Sunday morning’s temblor hit.

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed into law SB 135 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, which requires the Office of Emergency Services to work with other agencies to expand this into a comprehensive statewide earthquake early warning system. But the bill didn’t appropriate any of the $80 million it’s estimated such a system would cost; instead, it gave the OES until Jan. 1, 2016 to find funding for the project.

Posted on Monday, August 25th, 2014
Under: Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate | 3 Comments »

Pols mourn Robin Williams

Politicians joined in the nation’s grief over the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams, who was found dead in his Tiburon home Monday at age 63.

From President Barack Obama:

“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.”

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

“I send the heartfelt condolences of my entire family to Robin Williams’ family as our entire country mourns the loss of this remarkable genius who made us smile, laugh uncontrollably or cry.

“His ability to connect with everyone was a rare gift indeed. We will always remember Robin and we must also rededicate ourselves to helping each other through the dark times.”

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

“Today, the world has lost a great genius and San Francisco has lost a loyal friend. The news of Robin Williams’ passing brought deep sadness to a universe that he had filled with laughter. Robin Williams was a brilliant comedian – one of the funniest of them all because he was one of the most brilliant of them all. The spontaneity of his humor always took us by surprise; the seriousness of his acting did not. I hope it is a comfort to his family that the world mourns their loss and are praying for them at this time.”

From San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee:

“San Francisco mourns the profound loss of Robin Williams who inspired us with his comedy and art. His legacy has had a deep and inspiring impact on our City and on our residents.

“His ties to San Francisco were deep, having found early success in our City’s comedy clubs with his popular stand-up routines and where he was destined to launch a successful career that included starring roles in classic television shows and big screen success including an Academy Award.

“Despite his success, he has never forgotten San Francisco. He was a philanthropist who gave generously, and he was a friend of the City.

“San Francisco is heartbroken by the tragic loss of Robin Williams who forever changed the world with laughter and joy. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time of mourning.”

For my own part, I’ll just offer this clip – one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, “The Fisher King,” for which Williams was nominated for an Oscar. He doesn’t say a word in this scene. He didn’t need to.

Posted on Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Barbara Boxer moves to beef up U.S.-Israel ties

As strife continues in the Gaza Strip, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has introduced a beefed up version of her bill to strengthen U.S. economic and security ties with Israel.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., on Tuesday introduced S.2673, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, an updated version of a bill they first offered in March 2013. It’s co-sponsored by 77 Senators.

The bill would, among other things, spend $200 million more (to a new total of $1.8 billion) to stockpile U.S. weapons in Israel intended for use by U.S. forces in a crisis, but available to Israeli forces in emergencies.

It also requires the administration to take steps toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain U.S. technologies and products; authorizes the president to cooperate with Israel in policy areas including energy, water, homeland security, and alternative fuel technologies; and requires the president to study the feasibility of expanding U.S.-Israel cooperation on cyber security.

The bill encourages the administration to work with Israel to help the country gain entry into the Visa Waiver Program, which would make it easier for Israeli citizens to travel to the United States without first having to obtain a visa. And it requires the administration to provide more frequent and more detailed assessments on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

“While we work toward a just peace in the Middle East and an end to the tragedy of war, it is critical that we reaffirm our enduring commitment to Israel’s security and the historic ties between our two nations,” Boxer said in a news release.“This legislation sends a clear message that America’s bond with Israel remains unbreakable, and I am proud that it has the support of more than three-quarters of the Senate.”

Posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Israel, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Obama honors local author, singer at White House

A famed author from Oakland and a famed singer from San Francisco were among those honored with the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama on Monday at the White House.

Author Maxine Hong Kingston, 73, of Oakland, was honored “for her contributions as a writer,” according to a statement read at the ceremony by a military aide. “Her novels and non-fiction have examined how the past influences our present, and her voice has strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender and race.”

And singer Linda Ronstadt, 68, of San Francisco, was honored “for her one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music. Drawing from a broad range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for generations of women artists.”

The president told these and other honorees:

“Like most creative and brainy people, you did not cultivate your song for accolades or applause. If there were no medal for your work, I expect you’d still be out there designing buildings and making movies and digging through archives and asking tough questions in interviews.

“But we do honor you today — because your accomplishments have enriched our lives and reveal something about ourselves and about our country. And we can never take for granted the flash of insight that comes from watching a great documentary or reading a great memoir or novel, or seeing an extraordinary piece of architecture. We can’t forget the wonder we feel when we stand before an incredible work of art, or the world of memories we find unlocked with a simple movement or a single note.

“The moments you help create -– moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow -– they add texture to our lives. They are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it — they are essential to it. So we not only congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement.”

Both the Bay Area honorees also got special shout-outs from the president. “I was mentioning to Maxine that when I was first writing my first book and trying to teach myself how to write, “The Woman Warrior” was one of the books I read. … I told Linda Ronstadt I had a little crush on her back in the day.”

http://youtu.be/vs2l5GY_k4E?t=14m

Posted on Monday, July 28th, 2014
Under: Barack Obama, Obama presidency | 22 Comments »