Posts Tagged Capitol Hill

Paul Seizes Senate Floor To Deliver Over Ten Hour Filibuster Against Patriot Act

Filibuster PaulRepublican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul Seized the Senate floor Wednesday to deliver an almost 11 hour-long protest against renewal of the Patriot Act, calling the post-Sept. 11 law government intrusion on Americans’ privacy.

Congress faces a June 1 deadline for the law’s expiration, and Paul’s speech underscored the deep divisions over the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, which was revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” the Kentucky senator said at 1:18 p.m. EDT when he took to the Senate floor. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”

He finished at 11:49 p.m., having not sat for more than 10 hours.

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill to end the bulk collection and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said the Senate will act on the issue before beginning a Memorial Day recess scheduled for week’s end.

But McConnell, along with presidential hopefuls Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., favors extending the law and final congressional approval of the bill before the deadline is no certainty.

Paul plunged into a lengthy speech declaring the Patriot Act unconstitutional and opposing renewal of the program. With a hefty binder at his desk, he spelled out his objections, occasionally allowing Republican and Democratic senators to pose questions and getting support from a handful of House members seated at the back of the chamber.

“I don’t think we’re any safer looking at every American’s records,” Paul said.

Paul’s campaign sent out a fundraising appeal while his longstanding opposition to bulk collection, a pillar of his campaign, stirred social media.

Throughout the night, several Democratic senators and a few Republicans gave his voice occasional breaks by speaking several minutes to ostensibly ask him questions. Paul kept control by yielding for questions without “yielding the floor,” and by not sitting.

The surveillance issue has divided Republicans and Democrats, cutting across party lines and pitting civil libertarians concerned about privacy against more hawkish lawmakers fearful about losing tools to combat terrorism.

As Paul made his case, a Justice Department memo circulated on Capitol Hill warning lawmakers that the NSA will have to begin winding down its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the end of the week if Congress fails to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

“After May 22, 2015, the National Security Agency will need to begin taking steps to wind down the bulk telephone metadata program in anticipation of a possible sunset in order to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection or use of the metadata,” the department said.

If Congress fails to act, several key provisions of the law would expire, including the bulk collection; a provision allowing so-called roving wiretaps, which the FBI uses for criminals who frequently switch cellphones; and a third that makes it easier to obtain a warrant to target a “lone wolf” terror suspect who has no provable links to a terrorist organization.

Last week, the House backed the USA Freedom Act, which would replace bulk collection with a system to search the data held by telephone companies on a case-by-case basis. The vote was 338-88, and House Republican and Democratic leaders have insisted the Senate act on their bill.

But McConnell and several other top Republicans prefer to simply reauthorize the post-Sept. 11 law. McConnell has agreed to allow a vote on the House bill, but has indicated there may not be enough votes to pass it in the Senate.

The Justice Department also said that if Congress allows the law to expire and then passes legislation to reauthorize it when lawmakers return to Washington the week of June 1, it would “be effective in making the authorities operative again, but may expose the government to some litigation risk in the event of legal challenge.”

The White House backs the House bill and has pressed for the Senate to approve the legislation and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The House bill is the result of outrage among Republicans and Democrats after Snowden’s revelations about the NSA program.

Although Paul called his action a filibuster, it technically fell short of Senate rules since the bill the Senate was considering was trade, not the Patriot Act.



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Gowdy Grants Hillary Subpoena Extension While Hillary Goes On Attack Over Women’s Issues

HIllary and GowdyThe House committee investigating Benghazi has given former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton two additional weeks to respond to a subpoena for all her communications related to Libya.

Clinton requested an extension until March 27 and Chairman Trey Gowdy granted it. The subpoenas were sent March 4 and were due back March 13.

“Chairman ‎Gowdy granted a reasonable extension because for him this is not about politics, it is about getting all relevant documents for the committee, a spokesman said.

House Republicans are moving forward with two probes into Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct official government business.

Gowdy will take the lead on gathering emails that relate to his investigation into the attack on the U.S. mission in Libya that killed four Americans.

Meanwhile, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz will continue his work to determine whether Clinton violated the law that requires official records to be preserved.

“The select committee will continue to take the lead in the effort to secure official records and emails from Secretary Clinton as it relates to [the] Benghazi investigation and [the House] Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue to review the executive branch’s compliance with the Federal Records Act,” a Boehner spokesman said.

The comments came after Chaffetz, Gowdy and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce met with Boehner in the speaker’s office Monday afternoon.

The Republicans are demanding that Clinton “turn over her server to a neutral, third-party arbiter who can make an impartial determination of which emails are official and the property of the federal government.”

Clinton said last week that she will not turn over the server that housed her personal email. And she defended doing government business on a personal email account, saying it was more convenient.

Elsewhere Clinton criticized the Republican-led U.S. Congress on Monday in a pair of tweets, calling Capitol Hill fights over a key Obama administration nominee and a human trafficking bill a “trifecta against women.”

Clinton, who has not announced her candidacy for president in 2016 but is nonetheless seen as the Democratic front-runner, has made it clear that if she does run, women’s issues will be a central part of her campaign message.

She has highlighted the fact that women frequently get paid less than men for similar work, an issue that already appears to resonate with voters.

On Monday, she knocked Republican senators for failing to quickly confirm Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama’s choice for the next attorney general.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday that he would hold up Lynch’s nomination until Democrats stop blocking an unrelated anti-human trafficking bill. The bill is popular, but it includes anti-abortion provisions that Democrats say they cannot support.

In two Twitter posts, Clinton criticized the delay in confirming Lynch, who would be the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general, and said Congress was “playing politics with trafficking victims” and “threatening women’s health & rights.”

Congressional Republicans are already attacking Clinton under the assumption that she will be the Democrats’ nominee in 2016. Lawmakers want her to testify this spring about her email practices while she served as U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.


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Boehner Rebuffs Obama’s Veto Threat With Invite To PM Netanyahu To Address Congress

Boehner and NetanyahuHouse Speaker John Boehner announced Wednesday he is inviting  to address Congress next month about the threat from Iran, in a sharp rebuke to President Obama.

Such invitations typically are coordinated with the White House and State Department, but this one was not. The House speaker’s office said Netanyahu will be invited to speak Feb. 11 before a joint session of Congress. The invitation comes as lawmakers weigh legislation, supported by Republicans and some Democrats, to tee up more sanctions against Iran in case negotiations fail to curtail the country’s nuclear enrichment program.

Obama vowed Tuesday during his State of the Union address to veto any such legislation. But Boehner signaled he wants Netanyahu to explain the stakes of the debate, as he pledged to press ahead with the legislation.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people,” Boehner said in a statement. “In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life.”

Asked about the invite, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest described it as a breach of typical protocol since the White House wasn’t involved. But he said the administration would reserve judgment until they speak with the Israelis.

Critics of Obama and his foreign policy say the president has failed to keep close ties to Israel, a long-time U.S. ally and a key country in providing Middle East stability. Among their concerns is that the Obama administration has not done enough to curb Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails, alienating America from its allies, and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” Obama said Tuesday night. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.”

Boehner told members of the GOP House Conference on Wednesday morning: “The president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror. His exact message to us was: ‘Hold your fire.’ He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran. Two words: ‘Hell no’.” He said: “Let’s send a clear message to the White House and the world about our commitment to Israel and our allies.”

Aside from the sanctions bill, a Senate committee was considering a separate bill on Wednesday that would give Congress a vote on any nuclear deal.

Far from holding their fire, Democrats who support a sanctions bill, like Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, have increased their criticism of the White House.

“The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran,” railed Menendez at a hearing with administration officials on Capitol Hill.

Boehner told reporters he did not consult with the White House about the invitation to Netanyahu, saying “the Congress can make this decision on its own.”

The United States and five other world powers have reached a tentative deal with Iran. The countries are trying to reach a final deal by June 15.

If Netanyahu accepts the invitation, it would be his third appearance before a joint session of Congress and his second during Boehner’s speakership.

His previous addresses were in July 1996 and May 2011. Other Israeli prime ministers to address Congress include Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, according to Boehner’s office.

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President Obama appoints Ron Klain as Ebola Czar

Ron KlainUS President Barack Obama on Friday named attorney Ron Klain to coordinate the US response to the Ebola outbreak, amid growing anxiety over its spread beyond West Africa.

A White House official said the longtime Democratic aide would ensure that “efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at the source in West Africa.”

The new “Ebola czar” will report directly to Obama’s Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

“Monaco, Rice and others have done outstanding work in confronting this challenge so far, but given their management of other national and homeland security priorities, additional bandwidth will further enhance the government’s Ebola response,” the White House official said.

Klain, a former senior White House aide to Obama and chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden and former vice president Al Gore, currently heads Case Holdings, a holding company founded by former AOL chief executive Steve Case, and is general counsel at technology-oriented venture capital firm Revolution LLC.

The administration has been criticized for its response to the incidents of Ebola in the United States, in terms of how prepared hospitals have been for potential Ebola patients and also how prepared healthcare workers were in terms of their personal protective gear. Some lawmakers have called for a travel ban on individuals coming from West Africa where the outbreak is most serious but the administration has so far not embraced that idea.

Klain is highly regarded at the White House as a good manager with excellent relationships both in the administration and on Capitol Hill. His supervision of the allocation of funds in the stimulus act,  at the time and incredible and complicated government undertaking, is respected in Washington. He does not have any extensive background in health care but the job is regarded as a managerial challenge.

A Liberian man died from the disease in Texas on October 8 and two American nurses who treated him have also tested positive for a disease that had already killed nearly 4,500 people as of Sunday, most of them in hard-hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The nurses’ infection embarrassed US health authorities, who faced questioning about how the disease, which kills around 70 percent of those it infects in West Africa, had spread.

U.S. lawmakers held a congressional hearing on Thursday about the administration’s handling of the outbreak and some called for a ban on travel from West Africa. Rising public anxiety over the disease prompted Obama to cancel two days of political events weeks before Nov. 4 congressional elections.



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Hillary Clinton Returns To Iowa Ahead of Likely 2016 Run

Hillary ClintonThe eyes of the political world turned to Iowa on Sunday as Hillary Clinton took the stage at the 37th-and-final Harkin Steak Fry, a political cattle-call and Democratic fundraiser spearheaded by longtime Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Clinton, joined onstage by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, began her speech with an ebullient, “I’m baaaack!”

If those watching were hoping that Clinton would take a step closer to confirming a 2016 presidential bid, though, they were likely disappointed. But that didn’t stop the former secretary of state from teasing the audience with the possibility.

“When Tom Harkin called and asked me to come, I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve got a few things on my mind these days,” she said with a knowing grin as the audience laughed and applauded. She mentioned the imminent arrival of her grandchild, and then clearly nodded at the 2016 buzz.

“Then of course there’s that other thing,” she said. “It is true, I am thinking about it. But for today, that is not why I’m here. I’m here for the steak.”

Clinton offered ample praise for President Obama during her speech, dashing speculation that she might use the opportunity to distance herself from the relatively unpopular president.

“When it comes to moving America forward, we know what it takes,” she said. “We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it in Tom Harkin, we’ve seen it in Bill Clinton, and we have seen it in Barack Obama.”

“Under President Obama’s leadership, our country is on the road to recovery,” she continued. “Here in Iowa, for example, exports are up. For farmers, they are way up. Unemployment is down….renewable energy production has quadrupled in Iowa, which means more jobs and a cleaner environment.”

She even bear-hugged President Obama’s signature health-care reform legislation, which remains controversial among Republicans. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies have been forced to refund more than $1.7 million to Iowan families,” she said.

But for all the “progress we’ve made,” Clinton said, “President Obama and the rest of us would be quick to say we still have a lot of work to do.”

She cited the rising gap between economic growth and wage growth, saying that for too many families, “maintaining a middle class life feels like pushing a boulder uphill every single day. That is not how it’s supposed to be in America.”

And she exhorted the Democrats in attendance to turn out for November’s midterm elections, saying much is riding on the outcome.

“In just 50 days, Iowans have a choice to make…between the guardians of gridlock and the champions of shared opportunity and shared prosperity,” she said. “We Democrats are for raising the minimum wage, for equal pay for equal work, for making college and technical training affordable, for growing the economy to benefit everyone, and our opponents are not.”

She said she understands the impulse to tune in during presidential cycles, but she urged the audience to participate in the midterms as well.

“Too many people only get excited about presidential campaigns. Look, I get excited about presidential campaigns too,” she said, again winking at her potential bid.

And she closed her speech with a barely-veiled promise that she’d be back in the Hawkeye State before too long. “It’s really great to be back,” she said. “Let’s not let another 7 years go by.”

Clinton was introduced at the event by her Harkin, who said she did a “great job” as secretary of state, and predicted there are “many more chapters to be written in the amazing life of Hillary Clinton.”

And after she spoke, Bill Clinton seized the podium, praising Harkin’s leadership in the Senate and excoriating tea party Republicans for fleeing compromise and sowing gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Several Democratic congressional candidates who spoke at the top of the event also rallied the crowd on Clinton’s behalf.

“Are you ready for Hillary?” roared Pat Murphy, who’s running in Iowa’s first district.

The speech at the steak fry marked Clinton’s first return to Iowa since the 2008 presidential campaign, and she certainly arrived at the event with plenty to prove. After all, it was her disappointing third-place finish in the 2008 Iowa caucuses that began the slow unraveling of her presidential campaign as she watched then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, vault past her to win the caucuses and eventually secure the nomination.

Many even credited Mr. Obama’s strong performance at the steak fry in 2006 for lighting a fire under his candidacy, turning a freshman senator into a genuine contender and exposing the first cracks in the vaunted Clinton machine.

Clinton nodded at Obama’s steak fry performance in her speech. ” It does really feel just like yesterday when I was last here at the Harkin Steak Fry,” she said. “As I recall, there was a young Senator from Illinois there at the same time. And I wonder whatever happened to him?”

This time around, if she runs, Clinton will begin the primary in an even more commanding position than she did in 2008. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released this week showed her with a commanding 38 point lead in the 2016 Iowa caucuses, securing 53 percent support to Vice President Biden’s 15 percent, and national polls similarly show Clinton all but running away with the nomination.

She’s also received an early assist from an outside Super PAC, “Ready for Hillary,” that has already raised millions of dollars to support her potential candidacy. That group was out in force at the steak fry, distributing swag, gathering supporters, and providing an early sign of grassroots enthusiasm behind Clinton’s prospective bid.

Clinton has said she’s unlikely to make an announcement about a run this year, saying she’s focused on helping Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections and she’ll decide on 2016 early next year.

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Obama Ducking Border Crisis but Attending Political Fundraiser in Texas

Border crisisFor President Barack Obama, the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border is increasingly becoming a political liability, giving Republicans a fresh opportunity to question his administration’s competence and complicating the debate over the nation’s fractured immigration laws.

Still, Obama is resisting calls to visit the border during his two-day fundraising trip to Texas, where he arrives late Wednesday afternoon. Instead, Obama will hold a meeting hundreds of miles away in Dallas to discuss the crisis with faith leaders and Texas officials, including Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Obama’s trip comes one day after he asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending to get more resources to the border.

The roundtable discussion in Dallas is seen by the White House as a way to address the immigration issue while avoiding awkward optics at the border. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have arrived there in recent months, many fleeing violence in Central America, but also drawn by rumors that they can stay in the U.S. White House officials say most are unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief and will be sent back to their home countries.

Obama’s decision to skip a border visit is likely to provide more fodder for the Republicans and the handful of Democrats who say the president hasn’t responded quickly and forcefully enough to the mounting crisis.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, raised the prospect that Obama’s failure to take a firsthand look at the border crisis could be akin to former President George W. Bush viewing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina from the air instead of on the ground.

“I’m sure that President Bush thought the same thing, that he could just look at everything from up in the sky, and then he owned it after a long time,” Cuellar said on Fox News. “So I hope this doesn’t become the Katrina moment for President Obama, saying that he doesn’t need to come to the border. He should come down.”

Perry, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, has been scathing in his criticism of Obama, saying the White House has failed to respond to his repeated warnings about a flood of minors at the border.

“I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept, or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from,” Perry said Sunday.

The president was traveling to Texas from Denver, where he also raised money for Democratic candidates.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House wasn’t worried about the optics of the president traveling to Texas without visiting the border. Officials also pointed to Obama’s request to Congress on Tuesday for additional resources at the border as a sign of the president’s engagement in the crisis.

If approved by Congress, the funding would go to increase detention, care and transportation of unaccompanied children, help speed the removal of adults with children by increasing the capacity of immigration courts, and increase prosecution of smuggling networks. The money also would help increase surveillance at the border and help Central American countries repatriate border-crossers sent back from the United States.

Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill seemed open to the emergency spending request. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would act on it this month.

But Republicans criticized Obama for pulling back on plans to pursue legal changes that would allow the administration to send the minors back to Central America more quickly. The proposals had infuriated immigrant advocates, who say the changes could result in harsh treatment of kids and eliminate their legal protections.

“He just decided not to do that because of the pushback he got from some in his own political base,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “We need to solve the problem, but you don’t need to just ignore the cause of the current crisis. And that requires more than just appropriating $3.7 billion for additional judges and the like.”

The border crisis has added a new wrinkle to the stalled immigration debate in Washington. With no sign that House Republicans planned to move forward on a comprehensive overhaul bill passed by the Senate last year, Obama announced that he would seek to address the matter through executive actions.

Republicans say it’s that same approach that has led to the current crisis. The GOP argues that Obama’s 2012 decision to allow some young people brought to the U.S. illegally to stay in the country has fueled the rumors in Central America that all of the minors crossing the border can stay.

But Democrats argue that the GOP is simply trying to shift attention away from the party’s inability to act on a politically potent issue for Hispanics, a key voting bloc Republicans have failed to attract in the past two presidential elections.

“The Republicans don’t have any credibility on this issue,” said Jim Manley, a former top adviser to Reid, the Senate majority leader. “This is coming from the same crowd that refused to vote on the bipartisan bill. This is the same group that failed to act.”


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Obama Fails To Act Yet Again – This Time Over Deportation of Thousands

ObamaPresident Barack Obama is preparing to ask Congress for emergency spending of more than $2 billion to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied kids at the Southern border, but for now he won’t seek legal changes to send the children back home more quickly.

That decision comes after immigration advocates objected strongly to administration proposals to speed thousands of unaccompanied minors back home to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, where many face gang violence.

The White House insists the kids must be returned. Administration officials say they are still working on ways to do it faster, but say that the request for specific legislative changes will move on a separate track than the emergency spending request Obama is sending to Congress on Tuesday.

Decoupling the spending request from the contentious policy changes, which faced pushback from Obama’s own political party, may give the emergency money a better chance of getting through Congress.

The decision to submit the spending request apart from the policy changes was confirmed Monday by two Capitol Hill aides who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan by name ahead of the formal announcement.

An administration official said the White House has already advised the congressional leadership that it wants expanded authority and said it is still seeking those policy changes. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the request before it is announced, said the administration always intended to send the request for money separately.

The developments underscore the delicate position the administration finds itself in as it risks alienating allies by pursuing changes to turn the migrant kids around more quickly. More than 50,000 have arrived since October, in many cases fleeing violence at home, but also drawn by rumors that they can stay in the U.S.

Congressional Republicans blame Obama policies for the confusion; Obama administration officials dispute that.

The money Obama is seeking would be for immigration judges, detention facilities, legal aid and other items that could address the situation on the border, which the administration has termed a humanitarian crisis.

As lawmakers return to Washington this week from a weeklong July 4th recess, Obama’s spending request is set to be a focus, with the Senate Appropriations Committee scheduling a hearing to examine it. It’s not yet clear how lawmakers will react to the request, although aides seem optimistic it will get through the Democratic-controlled Senate in the coming weeks.

The issue has become a political problem for Obama that looks likely to follow him this week to Texas, where he is traveling primarily to raise money for congressional Democrats. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated Monday that Obama had no plans to visit the border, but Obama faced renewed criticism from Republicans over that decision.

“President Obama needs a wakeup call — and visiting the border and seeing first-hand the severity of this ongoing crisis is that wakeup call,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in remarks prepared for delivery on the Senate floor.

The developments all come as Obama has declared comprehensive immigration legislation dead in Congress and announced plans to proceed on his own by executive action to make whatever fixes he can to the nation’s dysfunctional immigration system. That could put Obama in the seemingly contradictory position of shielding millions of people from deportation while at the same time trying to hurry deportations for the unaccompanied children.

The White House told Congress last week that it would seek “additional authority” for the Homeland Security secretary to quickly return the minors back home. Immigration advocates understood this to mean that the children, who currently have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge, would lose that right and instead would have to make it through an initial screening with a Border Patrol agent.

The immigrant advocacy community responded angrily, with more than 200 groups signing onto a letter last week calling on Obama to reconsider the changes.

The White House says the plan is to speed up the processing of Central American border crossers without taking away their due process.

“The president believes it’s important for those due process rights to be respected; at the same time we should have a process that is efficient and that reflects the state of U.S. law,” Earnest said Monday.

Now the White House and the Homeland Security Department will spend more time developing the proposals, along with plans to increase penalties on smugglers.

What a mess America is finding itself in at home and abroad under this administration.

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