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Where they stand on the Syria resolution

We reached out today to the Bay Area’s House delegation and California’s U.S. Senators to see where they stand on President Obama’s draft resolution to authorize U.S. military action against the Assad regime in Syria.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Tuesday she definitely intends to support military action against Syria. “I will vote to support the president. The final text of the resolution is, as of yet, unknown, so I reserve the right to amend — for example, language to respond to a Syrian reprisal if necessary.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, said at today’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing that she’ll support some sort of military-force resolution, but perhaps not the one Obama has proposed. “I believe America’s morality, America’s reputation and America’s credibility are on the line,” she said. “And I will support a targeted effort but not a blank check to respond to Syria’s unspeakable deeds to gas its own people to death.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, definitely will oppose an attack on Syria, because prolonged involvement in another nation’s civil war “would leave us weak strategically while simultaneously increasing the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said in a statement issued Saturday. “Without the full support of our allies and a firm case that our national security is at risk, I cannot in good conscience vote now to commit our troops to war.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also has made up her mind to oppose an attack. “We must respond to the heinous use of chemical weapons, but the danger of a military strike and its unintended consequences, including the possibility of further loss of life and the danger of escalated violence in the region, demand that we work with the international community and consider all the alternatives,” she said Tuesday.

Other local House members said it’s too early to decide.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, said Tuesday that Obama’s draft resolution “is overly broad and therefore unacceptable as a starting point in this important debate.” It must be rewritten so Congress can consider only “a narrow and effective military strike to degrade the ability of the Assad government to use chemical weapons against its own citizens and to send a message to all nations that the United States and other countries will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, also said Tuesday that the resolution is too broad for him to support as is. “I will consider a limited U.S. military response. However, I want to make clear that I stand in strong opposition to putting troops on the ground,” he said. “Any resolution to authorize force must have clear language limiting the scope and duration of American involvement.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, is still monitoring the situation, spokesman Austin Vevurka said Tuesday. “He does not take the decision to authorize the use military force lightly and will not commit to voting one way or the other until he knows exactly what the authorization bill will look like, and has reviewed all the intelligence,” Vevurka said, adding Thompson wants an international coalition as part of any military response.

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said Tuesday that she’s “skeptical but studying the question,” a day after she and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, jointly wrote a letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice seeking more information. They asked Rice to specify the exact goal of a U.S. attack; what the United States would do if Syria used such weapons again even after a U.S. attack, or if Syria retaliated against Israel, Turkey or Lebanon; which allies will join the U.S. in such an attack; and what an attack’s implications would be for U.S.-Russian relations.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he won’t “support any U.S. military action that is unilateral or largely unilateral or any actions that draws us into the complicated sectarian civil war in Syria. But if Assad is indeed responsible for these brutal chemical weapons attacks, I will support building a multilateral international coalition to hold him accountable and deter further chemical weapons attacks.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, wrote to her House colleagues Tuesday telling them it’s up to them to decide. “It is in our national interest to respond to the Syrian government’s unspeakable use of chemical weapons,” she wrote, but “the shape and content of the final resolution will depend on what (House) members can support.”

“I look forward to working together on this challenge in the coming days,” she wrote. “For many, ignoring Bashar Al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons is a luxury humanity simply cannot afford.”

I’d asked lawmakers to respond by 3 p.m. today. I’ve not yet received answers from Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

UPDATE @ 3:29 P.M.: Add Mike Honda to the list of those who apparently are leaning against a military strike on Syria. “There are many problems that could be exacerbated by an extended U.S. intervention, including the spread of violence to neighboring states, an increase in the al Qaeda presence in Syria, and the overwhelming impact refugees are having on their neighbors,” he said today. “I firmly believe that true stability in the region will only be achieved through long-term diplomatic commitment and broad international support.”

UPDATE @ 9:53 A.M. WEDNESDAY: McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith sent this statement this morning: “The Congressman continues to review the information and monitor the situation. The decision to use military force is a serious one. He will make a final decision after a House floor debate concludes and the details of the authorization bill are known. He believes that President made the right decision in seeking congressional approval.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
Under: Anna Eshoo, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Dianne Feinstein, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Jerry McNerney, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 10 Comments »

Senate to probe state-federal marijuana conflicts

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Monday he’ll hold a hearing Sept. 10 on the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws.

That’s big news for 20 states including California that have legalized medical marijuana, as well as for Colorado and Washington, which have legalized it for recreational use.

Leahy, D-Vt., has invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify. Perhaps someone will ask them why President Obama’s rhetoric and action haven’t matched up on this issue: Though he has said that federal law enforcement resources are better targeted toward violent elements of the drug trade, federal agents and prosecutors have continued to pursue dispensaries that are in compliance with California law.

Leahy wrote to White House “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske last December, asking how the federal government intended to deal with states like Colorado and Washington. In that letter, Leahy also suggested that federal legislation could be introduced to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana, at least in states that have legalized it; he also sought assurances that state employees would not be prosecuted for implementing state laws.

Congress’ efforts to address this haven’t advanced. H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, would protect those operating under medical-marijuana laws in 18 states including California plus the District of Columbia, or under the recreational legalization laws enacted last year in Colorado and Washington state. Introduced in April, the bill has 18 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle yet has never had a hearing.

“Ending marijuana prohibition not just in the states but also nationally is going to require the sort of leadership that Senator Leahy is now providing,” Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann said Monday. “Now is the time for his colleagues to stand up as well in defense of responsible state regulation of marijuana.”

Posted on Monday, August 26th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Obama presidency, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Barbara Boxer urges Bob Filner to resign, get help

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., just issued this open letter urging former congressman and current San Diego Mayor Bob Filner – besieged by accusations of sexual harassment – to resign.

Dear Bob,

We’ve known each other for a long time, and have worked together on many issues that are important to the people of San Diego – from creating jobs to protecting the environment to helping our veterans.

So I am speaking to you now on a personal and professional level, and asking you to step down as mayor and get the help you need as a private citizen.

I have already said publicly that you should resign your office as mayor because of the shocking revelations by many women about your behavior toward them.

But now I must say this directly to you: Bob, you must resign because you have betrayed the trust of the women you have victimized, the San Diegans you represent and the people you have worked with throughout your decades in public life.

I have worked for so many years to prevent and punish sexual violence and sexual harassment, wherever they occur. As we fight in the Senate to stand up for the men and women in our military who are survivors of sexual assault, I have heard their stories, seen the anguish in their faces, listened to them talk about the pain that will always be with them. Let me be clear: The latest revelations regarding your behavior toward women recovering from sexual assault – women who desperately need our help – have shaken me to my core.

Bob, you have already hurt so many people. To avoid hurting your victims and the people of San Diego more than you already have, you should step down immediately.

Sincerely,

Barbara

Posted on Friday, August 9th, 2013
Under: Barbara Boxer, U.S. Senate | 9 Comments »

Politicians take different tones on BART strike

It’s always interesting to compare the tones that various politicians take when weighing in on labor issues.

In this case, of course, it’s the still-threatened Bay Area Rapid Transit strike. California U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein today wrote to BART management and union leaders to urge a resolution to the standoff:

“We write to strongly encourage all parties involved in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) contract negotiations to use the seven-day ‘cooling off period’ declared by Governor Brown to end the labor dispute.

“The Bay Area relies on a safe, affordable, and reliable public transportation system, and any BART service disruption has significant impacts on our region’s economy and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use the system. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the four-day BART service disruption in July cost the Bay Area at least $73 million in lost productivity.

“We urge you to resume negotiations in good faith, end the dispute, and work together to avoid any further disruptions to BART service.”

That seems pretty even-handed. But yesterday, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, D-Oakland; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, issued a statement after the inquiry board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to review the dispute held a public hearing in Oakland:

“We’re pleased today’s meeting redirected focus on the ultimate goal of finalizing a fair contract that continues to ensure a safe, dependable public transit system. The panel asked important questions, obtaining documents and testimony that revealed the true financial picture of BART, the actual wages workers earn, and the significant safety issues confronted by employees every day.

“Testimony revealed inconsistencies in information BART management made public. For example, the figure given for average BART worker pay has been $79,500. But that figure includes management pay. BART’s own documents given to the panel show train operators earn less than $63,000 and station agents earn $64,000 on average. In addition, we learned that workers have offered to significantly increase contributions to pensions and employee medical.

“These are the type of facts that need to be the focus at the bargaining table. We believe that BART riders deserve good faith negotiations to resume so that rail service can continue uninterrupted.”

No question where they stand, huh?

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Boxer, Bill Quirk, Dianne Feinstein, Labor politics, Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »

Steve Westly: Don’t call it a comeback…

…because he’s been here for years.

Steve WestlyAfter parallel careers in the private sector – in telecommunications and investment banking, an early and lucrative role at eBay and now as a prominent venture capitalist – and Democratic politics – a congressional staffer, Carter Administration energy official, state Public Utilities Commission aide and state party officer before his four years as state controller and his defeat in a hotly contested gubernatorial primary – Steve Westly is preparing to emerge onto the public scene once more, but he’s never really gone away.

I had lunch with Westly today at the Menlo Park office of the Westly Group, the clean-technology-and-social-change-minded investment outfit he founded in 2008. His team had reached out to me last week saying he wanted to catch up, as he intends to step up his political activity in coming months.

His visible political activity, that is – he has been quite busy, mostly behind the scenes, in recent years as a top-level fundraiser for President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

In fact, Republicans last year made Westly a poster boy for their accusations of President Obama’s “crony capitalism,” noting that after he raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign and began serving on a special advisory panel to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, several companies in which the Westly Group had investments received more than half a billion in government support. The bulk of that sum was a $465 million Energy Department loan to electric-car manufacturer Tesla Motors, based in Palo Alto; Tesla announced in May that it had repaid the entire loan plus interest, nine years earlier than required.

Westly today repeated what he’d said last year: That he never talked to anyone at the Energy Department about any of his investments; that the advisory board held only public, videotaped meetings and never discussed investments; and that he never spoke with Chu or was even in his office.

He’s clearly proud of Tesla, and believes the company will set a new standard for U.S. and world auto manufacturing as the price of the cars’ high-performance batteries (the biggest cost in producing the cars, which now sell for at least around $60,000) continues to decline.

But although we talked about that and many other things – including his coaching of his kids’ athletic teams; the 17th Congressional District race, in which he’s supporting Democratic upstart Ro Khanna over incumbent Rep. Mike Honda; Lady Gaga; and immigration reform – that’s not really what we’d met to discuss.

Westly – now a few weeks shy of his 57th birthday – said he anticipates Gov. Jerry Brown easily will win re-election next year, but he’s looking further down the road to 2016 – when U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s current term will be up – and 2018, when Brown will be term-limited out and U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein’s term will expire.

“There will be opportunities,” he said, soon after discussing Khanna in terms that he might also apply to himself. “I think people more than ever want to see new blood, new ideas, and get away from partisanship.”

There will be rivals for those opportunites, for sure – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris are among the most prominent of a long list of names who undoubtedly are eyeing those races.

But Westly has national ties to the Obama fundraising network; close relationships with Silicon Valley’s most prominent business figures; experience in statewide office; and very, very deep pockets of his own – he put $35.2 million of his own money into his last campaign.

He also has an advantage that he lacked when the more liberal state Treasurer Phil Angelides beat him in that 2006 gubernatorial primary: California’s new top-two primary system. The socially liberal but relatively-fiscally-conservative Westly could have a leg up in attracting nonpartisans, who now make up almost 21 percent of the state’s registered voters.

Opportunities, indeed.

Posted on Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
Under: Democratic politics, U.S. Senate | 8 Comments »

Former Oaklander confirmed as Justice Dept.’s #3

The U.S. Senate today confirmed a former Oakland resident, and the brother-in-law of California’s attorney general, as third-in-command at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tony WestThe roll call on Tony West’s confirmation as associate attorney general was 98-1, with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the only dissenter; Jerry Moran, R-Kan., didn’t vote.

“As a key member of the department’s senior management team, he has led with integrity, acting always in the best interests of the American people and in accordance with the finest traditions of public service,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a news release. “I applaud his confirmation by the U.S. Senate today, and look forward to continuing to work with him as Associate Attorney General – a role in which he has excelled, in an acting capacity, for more than a year.”

President Obama nominated West to this post last September, but he has served as the acting associate attorney general since March 2012; before that he had been the assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s civil division since April 2009.

Earlier, he’d been a special assistant to the deputy attorney general from 1993 to 1994; a federal prosecutor in San Francisco from 1994 to 1999; a special assistant attorney general at the California Department of Justice from 1999 to 2001; and then a litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

I first met West when he was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and he later became a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s first presidential campaign. His wife, Maya Harris, is vice president for democracy, rights and justice at the Ford Foundation, and sister to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

West, 47, now oversees the department’s civil litigating sections (the Antitrust Division, Civil Division, Civil Rights Division, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Tax Division); grant-making components (the Office of Justice Programs, Office on Violence Against Women, and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services); and other sections including the Community Relations Service, Executive Office of U.S. Trustees, Office of Information Policy and Foreign Settlement Claims Commission. He’s also co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico; vice chair of the steering committee of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force; and the federal government’s chief Freedom of Information Act officer.

He’s a graduate of Harvard College, where he served as publisher of the Harvard Political Review, and of Stanford Law School, where he was president of the Stanford Law Review.

Posted on Thursday, July 25th, 2013
Under: Obama presidency, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Google takes heat for Inhofe fundraiser

Mountain View-based Google is taking some heat for hosting a fundraiser for a U.S. Senator who is an outspoken disbeliever in man-made climate change, despite the company’s green rhetoric.

Google’s Washington, D.C., office will host a lunch Thursday, at $250 to $2,500 per plate, to benefit U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., just a month after Google chairman Eric Schmidt said those who deny climate change and global warming are liars.

Climate-change activists plan to picket outside in order to “remind people of Google’s professed culture of ethics, environmental stewardship, and respect for scientific truth which help make Google products so popular,” according to a news release. “They’ll also remind people of Sen. Jim Inhofe’s long record of unethical environmental destruction and promotion of anti-scientific conspiracy theories on behalf of the likes of Koch Industries, his biggest corporate funder.”

The protestors say they’ll deliver 10,000 signatures of people from across the nation calling on Google CEO Larry Page to end his company’s support for politicians like Inhofe.

“We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn’t mean we endorse all of their positions,” a Google spokesperson replied to my email Wednesday. “And while we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
Under: Global warming, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Barbara Lee met with President Obama today

Congressional Black Caucus members including Rep. Barbara Lee met with President Obama today to discuss legislative priorities.

“I’m pleased that today I had the opportunity to discuss the goals of the CBC’s Poverty and the Economy Task Force, which I co-chair, during our meeting at the White House,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release issued after the meeting. “President Obama was receptive and positive about our work, and was very clear that addressing poverty and opportunity is a high priority for his administration.

“I’m looking forward to working with the President on a wide range of critical issues that touch all of us, regardless of region, race, or economic status; issues like immigration, voting rights, the protection of our environment, as well as poverty and creating good jobs,” Lee added.

Lee was an early and ardent supporter of Obama’s campaigns and sees eye-to-eye with him on most issues, but not all; she has criticized his stances on issues including drone warfare, the timeline for withdrawing from Afghanistan, and his inclusion of the chained CPI – a cost index used to help calculate cost-of-living adjustments for benefit levels – in his 2014 budget proposal.

Posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
Under: Barack Obama, Barbara Lee, Obama presidency, U.S. House | 10 Comments »

Politicos react to air crash at SFO

Here’s what some notable politicos had to say about yesterday’s crash of Asiana Flight 214 upon landing at San Francisco International Airport.

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

“I send my deepest sympathies to those who have lost loved ones in this tragic crash, and my thoughts and prayers are with those who are recovering from injuries.

“I have spoken to the Secretary of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board Chairman, and I am confident that this investigation will be complete and thorough to help prevent accidents like this from happening again.

“I want to commend all the first responders and medical personnel from across the Bay Area who have worked heroically to treat the injured and save lives.”

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

“Anne and I extend our deepest concerns and sympathy to the passengers who were aboard Asiana Flight 214 and to their families. We are grateful for the courage and swift response of the first responders whose actions surely prevented an even greater tragedy.”

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

“Today, our thoughts and prayers are with the passengers and crew who were on board Asiana Airlines Flight 214. No words can console those who lost loved ones in this terrible tragedy. All of San Francisco shares in their shock and grief. We will do everything we can to care for all those affected and their families.

“Our city is immeasurably grateful for the swift response of the flight crew who quickly evacuated passengers; for the air traffic controllers who effectively diverted traffic; for the brave first responders and the hospital staff who are ensuring the swift recovery of the injured. Their actions are a testament to the strength, courage, and selflessness that defines the Bay Area.

“Following the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, I will work with the Federal Aviation Administration and the San Francisco International Airport to ensure that our planes are secure, our passengers are safe, and U.S. aviation remains among the safest ways to travel.”

From Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo (via Facebook at 3:24 p.m. Saturday):

“We continue to learn details about Asiana flight 214 from Seoul, a Boeing 777 that crashed at SFO this morning. While many questions remain, we know for certain that the first responders and airport personnell did a superb job securing the scene. NTSB chair Deborah Hersman is on her way to San Francisco and I am confident her investigation will uncover what caused the crash. I witnessed first-hand what an outstanding and meticulous job she and her team did investigating the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010.

“We don’t know how many people were killed or injured. The media is reporting two fatalities and 61 injuries, but SFO officials have yet to confirm those numbers. Looking at the burned out, tailless wreckage of the plane that carried an estimated 300 passengers, It does appear that we miraculously escaped a mass fatality. My thoughts are with the families who still don’t know about the status of their loved ones and all the survivors of this plane crash.”

Posted on Sunday, July 7th, 2013
Under: Jackie Speier, Jerry Brown, Nancy Pelosi, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Politicians react to same-sex marriage rulings

EVERYBODY has something to say about today’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage. Here’s the latest from your Bay Area elected officials.

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

“As author of the bill to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, I am thrilled by today’s Supreme Court decision.

“Today’s ruling clearly establishes that the 14 senators who opposed DOMA in 1996 were correct. It also states that one class of legally married individuals cannot be denied rights under federal law accorded to all other married couples. Doing so denies ‘equal protection’ under the Constitution. This is an important and significant decision.

“Because of inequities in the administration of more than 1,100 federal laws affected by DOMA, it is still necessary to introduce legislation to repeal DOMA and strike this law once and for all. I will introduce that legislation today with 39 cosponsors in the Senate.

“As a Californian, I am thrilled by the Supreme Court’s decision on Proposition 8. The court’s ruling on technical grounds leaves in place former Chief Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

“I believe this decision means marriage equality will finally be restored in California.”

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

“Today my spirits are soaring because the Supreme Court reaffirmed the promise of America by rejecting two blatantly unconstitutional measures that discriminated against millions of our families.
“I was proud to have voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and it is so heartening to see that the federal government will now treat all marriages equally.

“Because of the Court’s ruling on Proposition 8, millions of Californians will be able to marry the person they love – with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with it.”

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

“Today, the Supreme Court bent the arc of history once again toward justice. The court placed itself on the right side of history by discarding Section 3 of the defenseless Defense of Marriage Act and by allowing marriage equality for all families in California. The highest court in the land reaffirmed the promise inscribed into its walls: ‘equal justice under law.’

“Soon, the federal government will no longer discriminate against any family legally married in the United States. California will join 12 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing the fundamental rights of all families. Our country will move one step closer to securing equal protection for all of our citizens.

“Nearly 44 years to the day after the Stonewall Riots turned the nation’s attention to discrimination against LGBT Americans, the fight for equal rights took a giant step forward. Yet even with today’s victory at the Supreme Court, the struggle for marriage equality is not over. Whether in the courts or in state legislatures, we will not rest until men and women in every state are granted equal rights. We will keep working to ensure that justice is done for every American, no matter who they love.”

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

Posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Boxer, Barbara Lee, Bob Wieckowski, California State Senate, Dianne Feinstein, Ellen Corbett, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, John Garamendi, Leland Yee, Mark DeSaulnier, Mark Leno, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Nancy Skinner, Nora Campos, Paul Fong, Rich Gordon, Rob Bonta, Tom Ammiano, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Zoe Lofgren | 40 Comments »