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Honda, Lee, Farr vote against Visa Waiver reform

The House voted 407-19 Tuesday to tighten the Visa Waiver Program that lets people from certain countries travel to the United States without first obtaining a visa – a reaction to fear of terrorism, particularly given the roles of French and Belgian nationals in last month’s Paris attacks.

But three Northern California members – Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel – were among the few who voted against HR 158.

The bill would require visas for anyone who’s been in Iraq or Syria in the previous five years; exceptions are made for official government visits and military service. Countries in the visa waiver program would also be required to share counterterror information with the U.S. or face expulsion from the program. All travelers would be checked against Interpol databases, and visa waiver countries would be required to issue “e-passports” with biometric information.

Sam FarrFarr this evening said the bill “casts too wide a net to be effective. Throwing anyone who travels to Syria or Iraq into the same category as suspected terrorists won’t help us catch the bad guys but it will harm humanitarian efforts there. Investing in better human intel is how we will stop them, not by disrupting tourist travel to the United States.”

Honda went into more detail, noting that although he strongly supports the need for increased security in the Visa Waiver Program, he voted against this bill “because it unjustly targets individuals based on their nationality.”

He said the program, used by 20 million people per year from 38 countries, is far less secure than the two-year screening process to which refugees are subjected, and needs to be improved. He said he supports some parts of this bill, including requiring all travelers to be checked against INTERPOL databases, using fraud-resistant e-passports with biometric information to protect against false identities, and strengthening background check procedures and information-sharing.

honda.jpg“I cannot, however, vote for a bill that categorically bars access to the Visa Waiver Program for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Iran and people who have traveled in the last 5 years to Iraq and Syria, including humanitarian workers,” Honda said. “Under this bill, a French citizen of Syrian descent who has never been to Syria would still fall into this blanket category. Since the Visa Waiver Program functions on reciprocity, I am also concerned that this bill will trigger restrictions from other countries on travel for Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese, and Iranian Americans.”

“I reject the stereotype that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists and I strongly oppose the targeting of people from these specific countries,” he continued. “I know what it is be singled out as a threat and potential enemy due to nationality, despite a lack of evidence and despite being an American citizen. We can and must protect Americans without compromising American values. It is time to refuse wartime hysteria and prejudice based on nationality, and instead show true political leadership.”

UPDATE @ 12:14 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Lee said she shares “the concerns of the ACLU, AILA, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and others that this bill would allow for the discrimination of individuals based on their nationality. We cannot let fear drive us to create bad policies. Congress can and should carefully examine the visa waiver program and I will work to support changes which do not open the door for blanket discrimination.”

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Rep. Eric Swalwell visited troops, officials in Iraq

Rep. Eric Swalwell returned Wednesday from a bipartisan congressional trip to Iraq.

Swalwell, D-Dublin, is a House Intelligence Committee member and was briefed in Iraq by senior military officials involved with Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He also met with Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, and he attended Easter Sunday service and brunch with enlisted troops.

Swalwell Easter brunch with troops in Iraq

“This trip gave me the opportunity to see up close the damage the Iraqi-led, U.S.-supported coalition is having on ISIL,” Swalwell said in a news release. “Because of the enduring work of our troops and intelligence community, we have ISIL on the ropes and are well-positioned to deliver a knockout blow. The real challenge, however, is what does Iraq look like post-ISIL? The United States can provide limited, short-term military aid to Iraq, but a longstanding peaceful future requires Iraqi leadership that puts an end to sectarian violence.”

“It was an honor to spend Easter Sunday in Iraq with my heroes, the brave men and women of our Armed Services and intelligence community,” he added. “I was moved by the commitment of our troops, who were spending Easter away from their loved ones, to serve our country.”

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Barbara Lee blasts ‘demagoguing’ on NYPD slayings

Those blaming President Obama, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or protesters for the shooting deaths of two New York City police officers Saturday are “demagoguing the issues” and doing the nation a disservice, Rep. Barbara Lee said Tuesday.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“As someone who supports nonviolence and gun safety and gun control and peaceful resolutions in Congress, I don’t think there’s any way any of us in the protest movement, in the progressive movement, would condone that” kind of violence, said Lee, D-Oakland, whose own East Bay district has seen clashes between protesters and police in recent weeks.

Everyone should mourn for victims of violence including the slain officers, she said, but protesters should continue calling attention to instances of misconduct.

As with changes that followed the civil rights movement, she said, “it’s not going to come from within, it’s not going to come from (former New York Mayor Rudy) Giuliani and all the powers that be that believe all is well in America. It’s going to come from the people who see the injustice.”

Lee made the comments during a telephone interview in which she laid out her legislative priorities for 2015, which might be summed up as “Back to the Future.”

First and foremost Lee hopes to get Congress to “do our job” and vote on setting parameters for U.S. military involvement in the fight against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The old, post- 9/11 authorization to use military force – which she famously was the only House member to oppose – should be repealed and replaced with something more focused and timely, she said.

“We all know that ISIS poses a threat and we must address it, but we’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t create more danger, hostility and anger,” she said.

Asked about a German human-rights group filing war-crime complaints last week against former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and others based on recent reports about the CIA torture program, Lee replied, “I think the international community should deal with it in the way they see fit. … I’m sure people abroad are saying, ‘Wait a minute, the United States must comply with international law.’”

Lee said she’ll redouble her efforts next year to create “pathways out of poverty” and reduce income inequality, reintroducing bills she has carried in past sessions including a plan to halve U.S. poverty in a decade. She authored similar bills in 2011 and 2013.

“We’ve got to help people into the middle class,” she said. “We’ve got to eliminate poverty in the richest country in the world.”

She said she’ll also work to maintain funding for the nation’s HIV/AIDS programs – “We can’t forget that the global and domestic pandemic is still upon us” – and reintroduce her bill from July to create a tax credit for people who are in-home caregivers for their own family members. “I think I’ll get bipartisan support for that.”

She also expects some help from across the aisle in trying to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba, now that the Obama administration has announced plans to start normalizing relations. She was returning home from her 21st trip to Cuba when that announcement came last week, part of a group of House members and other delegates who went to study that nation’s public-health system.

“I take people down there, particularly members of Congress, so they can make their own decisions … They should be able to see the realities of Cuba,” Lee said, adding she knows many Republicans will see the wisdom in lifting the 50-year old embargo. “I’ve been working on this since ’77 and never gave up home, so I’m not going to give up hope now.”

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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….
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Lawmakers urge Obama to consult them on Iraq

Rep. Barbara Lee and a Virginia Republican have lead 78 other House members in urging President Obama to seek Congressional approval before taking any military action in Iraq.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee, D-Oakland, and Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., last summer led independent letters calling on Obama to consult Congress before taking military action in Syria. Now they’ve joined together on a letter sent to the president Thursday.

“We do not believe intervention could be either quick or easy,” they wrote. “And we doubt it would be effective in meeting either humanitarian or strategic goals, and that it could very well be counter-productive.”

The lawmakers called for a political settlement involving all segments of the Iraqi population.

“As you consider options for U.S. intervention, we write to urge respect for the constitutional requirements for using force abroad,” they wrote. “The Constitution vests in Congress the power and responsibility to authorize offensive military action abroad. The use of military force in Iraq is something the Congress should fully debate and authorize.”

Besides Rigell, other Republicans signing the letter included Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; John Duncan Jr., R-Tenn.; Walter Jones, R-N.C.; Reid Ribble, R-Wisc.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.;

Besides Lee, other Bay Area members signing the letter included Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

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House rejects Lee’s Iraq/Afghanistan amendments

Rep. Barbara Lee is among lawmakers moving to ensure America doesn’t get sucked back into war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but all of her proposals were rejected Thursday and Friday.

Lee, D-Oakland, on Thursday introduced four amendments to the 2015 Pentagon budget bill. One would specify that no money in the bill can be used for deploying troops on the ground in Iraq; this failed on a 165-250 vote late Thursday.

Another prohibits funding for use of force under the 2002 authorization that Congress gave for military action in Iraq; this failed on a 182-231 vote late Thursday.

The third prohibits funding for combat operations in Afghanistan after December, the time at which President Obama said the U.S. combat mission there would end. This failed Friday on a 153-260 vote.

And the fourth prohibits funding under the use of force Congress approved in September 2001; this failed on a 157-260 vote late Thursday. Lee famously was the sole vote against the 2001 authorization for use of military force.

“We must not let history repeat itself in Iraq,” Lee had said on the House floor Thursday. “Because the reality is there is no military solution in Iraq.