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House members weigh in on NSA abuses report

Capitol Hill and the American public are going bananas today over a Washington Post report that National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008.

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

Nancy Pelosi“Press reports that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules thousands of times per year and reportedly sought to shield required disclosure of privacy violations are extremely disturbing.

“Current laws governing NSA’s collection activities contain safeguards to ensure the protection of privacy and civil liberties including provisions that require that incidents of non-compliance be reported to Congress and the FISA Court. Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that all incidents of non-compliance are reported to the oversight committees and the FISA court in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to ensure violations are not repeated.”

From Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa:

Mike Thompson“Reports that the NSA repeatedly overstepped its legal boundaries, broke privacy regulations, and attempted to shield required disclosure of violations are outrageous, inappropriate and must be addressed. These reports, if accurate, highlight the need for aggressive oversight of the NSA’s intelligence gathering activities. This is exactly why I worked to establish an independent Inspector General for the intelligence community that will detect and deter abuse and misconduct within intelligence programs. Now we must act to make sure the abuses are not repeated.

“Congress and the Intelligence Committees can and should do more to ensure the NSA’s operations respect Americans’ civil liberties, that all incidents of non-compliance, if substantiated, are reported in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to make sure the incidents are not repeated.

“I do not believe protecting our citizens’ lives and civil liberties are mutually exclusive pursuits. Through aggressive oversight we can ensure our intelligence community can continue working to keep our country safe while respecting our citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Less than a month ago, Pelosi and Thompson both voted against an amendment put forth by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., which would’ve banned the NSA’s bulk, indiscriminate collection of phone records; the amendment failed on a 205-217 vote.

Among those who voted for the Amash amendment was Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, who today said:

Jackie Speier“It’s clear that oversight of the NSA and the broader intelligence community is failing. I fear the NSA has abused its power and lost the trust of many Americans. Congress needs to re-examine its relationship to the intelligence community if we are going to restore confidence that privacy rights are protected in this country.

“First, the internal audit released today needs to be held as a model practice for transparency. Audits such as this one should be done more frequently and comprehensively. The findings of these audits must be delivered to Congress. Second, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must be privy to the NSA’s actions and no longer reliant on the NSA’s self-reporting. Third, there need to be stronger protections for whistleblowers. Intelligence community employees and contractors must feel safe to report wrongdoing and be protected from retribution.

“Congress cannot allow such sweeping violations of privacy to continue.”

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Jackie Speier makes abortion debate personal

Hours after Rep. Jackie Speier joined some of her California Democratic House peers yesterday to voice concern over Republicans’ efforts to cut Title X family planning funding, she made national news by revealing on the House floor that she herself has had an abortion:

Speier, D-Hillsborough, spoke in response to the ardently anti-abortion-rights Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who had just read aloud graphic descriptions of abortion from a book. This all happened during debate over an amendment by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Speier moments ago Tweeted: “I’m overwhelmed by the warm comments I’ve received from across the U.S. I will always stand up for women’s health and reproductive rights.”

UPDATE @ 3:09 P.M.: Speier issued this statement today after the House voted 240-185 to pass Pence’s amendment:

“Last night, I spoke on the House floor about a painful time in my life when the pregnancy that my husband and I prayed for was unsuccessful. I had what’s called dilation and evacuation or d & e. The fetus slipped from my uterus into my vagina and could not survive. Today some news reports are implying that I wanted my pregnancy to end, but that is simply not true. I lost my baby.

“It is time to stop politicizing women’s health. For some, describing a procedure like the one I endured is nothing more than talking points. But for millions of women like me it’s much more—it’s something that will always be a part of us.

“Planned Parenthood provides vital services to women including family planning and cervical cancer screenings. I am disappointed that the House passed the Pence amendment to defund it. These sorts of policies would turn back the clock on women’s health and reproductive rights. I urge the Senate to defeat it. It is time to stop playing politics with our lives.”

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Barbara Lee, Ron Paul aim to end Afghanistan war

Rep. Barbara Lee joined with two House Republicans this morning to introduce a bill that they say would end the war in Afghanistan.

The bill that Lee, D-Oakland, co-authored with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, would require that any money appropriated for the war in Afghanistan “shall be obligated and expended only for purposes of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel.”

“It sends, really, a strong message that we’ve come together today to speak with one voice on this issue,” Lee said on a teleconference with reporters.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee noted her lone vote against authorizing the use of force after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and said her concern that it was a blank check for war hasn’t abated since. Had Americans known we’d still be in Afghanistan almost a decade later, she said, perhaps there would’ve been a more robust debate. “It’s costing us $100 billion a year and countless American lives.”

Lee said the bill already has about 46 co-sponsors, on both sides of the aisle.

Jones, whose district is home to military installations including the Marine Corps’ Camp LeJeune, has seen service members deployed repeatedly to Afghanistan, to little avail. He said he has been in touch with a retired general – whom he declined to name, although he said reporters would recognize the name if he did – who has advised him that the situation in Afghanistan is untenable, and won’t lead to a stable, democratic government there.

“It’s time to bring them home, the American people are fed up and tired of seeking the broken bodies,” he said.

Paul thanked Lee for “leading the charge” and said the war is a consequence of policy dating back at least to the Persian Gulf War, an American interventionist attitude intent on remaking the Middle East and South Asia. We should persuade and lead by example, not by gunpoint, he said.

Asked whether yesterday’s vote on defunding the development of an alternative engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter indicated House members are becoming more willing to cross party lines, Paul replied he found it “a bit encouraging” but said it wasn’t a great test vote because there were “a lot of parochial interests involved.” Although the new crop of GOP freshmen seem more inclined to vote independently, he said, “we still have a way to go.”