Posts Tagged Senate

Trump Dismisses Bush Attacks While Cruz Exposes Rubio in Exchange

Trump and BushWhile many viewers were fixed on the ongoing political spectacle that is Donald Trump during Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio only had eyes for each other.

The two first-term senators – one from Texas and the other from Florida, both the 44-year-old sons of Cuban fathers and both rising conservative stars in the party,  made it evidently clear that they see the other as the primary obstacle to securing the nomination if Trump, the current front-runner, falters.

As such, they engaged in an arm-wrestling contest for most of the evening, sparring on Middle Eastern policy, national security and immigration.

Both largely left Trump alone and in fact, when Cruz was invited by debate moderators to attack the real estate mogul, he demurred.

But Cruz had no such restraint when it came to Rubio. Among other criticisms, he accused him of being soft on immigration policy because he helped craft a comprehensive reform measure in the Senate.

“He was fighting to grant amnesty and not to secure the border. I was fighting to secure the border,” Cruz said.

For his part, Rubio charged that Cruz had helped make the United States more vulnerable to a terror attack by supporting a bill that scaled back the reach of U.S. surveillance programs.

“The next time there is attack on an attack on this country, the first thing people are going to want to know is, why didn’t we know about it and why didn’t we stop it?” Rubio said. “And the answer better not be because we didn’t have access to records or information that would have allowed us to identify these killers before they attacked.”

The public spat has been brewing for weeks, with each campaign regularly criticizing the other in the media as Cruz has surged. A recent opinion poll by the Des Moines Register had Cruz leading Trump in Iowa, which holds the nation’s first nominating contest on Feb. 1, 2016. Trump, however, still leads in national polls.

A win by Cruz in Iowa could severely damage Trump’s bid, as the real estate mogul’s political message is largely grounded in his current dominance of opinion polls. It could also hand Cruz the kind of momentum that could derail Rubio’s bid to be the candidate around whom anti-Trump voters rally.

In Las Vegas on Tuesday evening, Rubio articulated a muscular national security outlook, both abroad and at home, defending his support for U.S intervention in Libya in 2011, calling for an increase in the number of U.S. ground troops in Syria and Iraq in the struggle against Islamic State, ramping up military spending, and intensifying .

Cruz, conversely, advocated a more restrained foreign policy, arguing that a bombing campaign against Islamic State would suffice. He contended that the U.S. government had been allowed to collect too much data on Americans in the name of foiling terror attacks.

But both men’s gambits on Tuesday may have had an unintended consequence.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush went after each other again. After Bush called Trump a “Chaos candidate” earlier in the debate, another back-and-forth began with a question for Trump about his statement that he would go after the families of ISIS terrorists.

Trump reaffirmed his previous statement, saying: “I would be very, very firm with families, and frankly, that will make people think because they might not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

Bush then jumped in, saying: “This is another example of the lack of seriousness” of Trump’s candidacy.

He then said that ISIS has declared war on the US, emphasizing the need to have a “serious strategy” to destroy ISIS.

“The idea that that is a solution to this is just crazy,” Bush said. “It makes no sense to suggest this.”

Bush then pointed out that two months ago, Trump said that ISIS was “not our fight.” Trump then cut in to say he never said that.

“He gets his foreign policy experience from the shows,” Bush said.

“Aw, come on,” Trump responded, shaking his head.

Bush continued: “That’s not a serious kind of candidate. We need someone that thinks this through, that can lead our country.”

Trump then implied that Bush is weak.

“We need toughness,” Trump said. “I think that Jeb is a very nice person … but we need tough people. We need toughness.”

Bush cut back in, and then the two talked over each other.

“Am I talking or are you talking, Jeb?” Trump said, to which Bush replied, “I’m talking right now.”

“I know you’re trying to build up your energy, Jeb, but it’s not working very well,” Trump fired back.

“We need a toughness, we need strength,” Trump added. “We’re not respected as a nation anymore, we don’t have that level of respect that we need, and if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker, and just disintegrate. … We need strength; we don’t have it.”

But Bush didn’t back down.

“Donald, you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That’s not going to happen,” he said. “And I do have the strength. Leadership is not about attacking people and disparaging people.”

Trump closed the back-and-forth with this zinger: “With Jeb’s attitude, we will never be great again, that I can tell you. We will never be great again.”


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Former U.S. Senator Jim Webb Drops Out of Democratic Party Presidential Race

Jim  webb drops outFormer U.S. Senator Jim Webb said on Tuesday he intended to drop out of the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination and explore an independent run for the White House.

Webb, whose struggling campaign barely registered in opinion polls, said he would spend the next few weeks talking to people and groups who have urged him to mount an independent candidacy.

“I am not going away; I’m thinking about all my options,” Webb, 69, told a news conference, acknowledging that his more conservative political views were out of line with Democratic Party leaders and primary voters.

The former senator from Virginia said Americans were “disgusted” with the highly partisan nature of campaigns and he believed there was growing room for an “honest broker” who could bridge the political divide.

“Americans don’t like the extremes to which both parties have moved in recent years and, quite frankly, neither do I,” he said.

Webb’s departure will have no impact on the Democratic race by four active candidates, led by front-runner Hillary Clinton. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to decide soon whether he will jump into the primary contest preceding the November 2016 election.

Webb was not an active presence on the campaign trail, and his participation in the first Democratic debate last week was notable for his repeated complaints about his lack of air time more than for any policy statements.

The decorated war hero, who served in the Vietnam War and was secretary of the Navy under Republican President Ronald Reagan, is known for outspoken critiques of U.S. foreign policy and unswerving support for American troops serving overseas.

But his views on gun rights, taxes and other social issues were much more conservative than most Democratic contenders.

Webb said he was aware of the history of poor performance of other independent candidates in recent presidential races but thought 2016 could be different.

“Because of the paralysis in our two parties, there is a time when conceivably an independent candidacy actually could win. And those are the questions we’re going to be asking,” he said.

Webb was elected to the Senate in 2006 but left after one six-year term. He is the author of 10 books, and an Emmy award- winning journalist and filmmaker.

In early July, when W ebb announced his candidacy, he argued that fair debate is often drowned out by the huge sums of money funneled to candidates, both directly and indirectly.

“We need to shake the hold of these shadow elites on our political process,” he said at the time. “Our elected officials need to get back to the basics of good governance and to remember that their principal obligations are to protect our national interests abroad and to ensure a level playing field here at home, especially for those who otherwise have no voice in the corridors of power.”

This electoral ailment, to which Webb apparently hoped to be the antidote, appears to have been the death knell of his campaign.

He has had trouble raising enough money to pose a legitimate threat to either Clinton or Sanders. A recent filing, reported by Politico, revealed that Webb had raised only $696,972.18 and had $316,765.34 cash on hand. Contrast that with the $29,921,653.91 raised by Clinton or the $26,216,430.38 raised by Sanders.


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Latest Email Release Raises Yet More Questions Than Answers For Hillary

HillaryThe State Department released roughly 7,000 pages of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s emails Monday, the biggest release of emails to date. The emails were, as they have been in past releases, heavily redacted.

The 7,000 emails included about 150 that have been censored because they contain information now deemed classified.

Department officials said the redacted information was classified in preparation for the public release of the emails and not identified as classified at the time Clinton sent or received the messages. All the censored material in the latest group of emails is classified at the “confidential” level, not at higher “top secret” or compartmentalized levels, they said.

“It’s somewhere around 150 that have been subsequently upgraded” in classification, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

Still, the increasing amounts of blacked-out information from Clinton’s email history as secretary of state will surely prompt additional questions about her handling of government secrets while in office and that of her most trusted advisers.

The Democratic presidential front-runner now says her use of a home email server for government business was a mistake, and government inspectors have pointed to exchanges that never should have been sent via unsecured channels.

At one point recently, Clinton said, “It clearly wasn’t the best choice. I should have used two emails, one personal, one for work, and I’ve taken responsibility for that.”

Toner insisted that nothing encountered in the agency’s review of Clinton’s documents “was marked classified.”

Government employees are instructed not to paraphrase or repeat in any form classified material in unsecured email.

Monday evening’s release amounts to more pages of email than disclosed in the previous three months combined. Once public, it will mean roughly a quarter of all of the correspondence Clinton qualified as “work emails” has been published. Clinton provided the State Department some 30,000 pages of documents late last year, while deleting a similar amount from her server because she said they were personal in nature.

Some of the just-released missives deal with Iran, Israel and Russia, in one exchange in which Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan tells Clinton he can’t forward her a document she wants because it’s “on the classified system.”

Clinton writes back, “It’s a public statement! Just email it.”

Sullivan responds, “Trust me, I share your exasperation. But until ops converts it to the unclassified email system, there is no physical way for me to email it. I can’t even access it.”

Among other things that emerged in this round of emails:

More of Clinton’s technology challenges came to the fore – figuring out her new iPad, for instance. “I don’t know if I have wi-fi,” she wrote to adviser Philippe Reines on Jul. 24, 2010. “How do I find out?” And, “Do I need to charge it? If so, how? I have no cords.” Clinton’s correspondence with him was from the alias “Evergreen.”

Clinton is not a fan of snow days. She wrote to Cheryl Mills on Feb. 8, 2010, “I can’t believe the govt is closed again. I guess I will work from home again but think this is silly.”

For one set of emails sent to Mills and to the head of USAID, Rajiv Shah, there was a set of instructions her political enemies might seize on: she asked them not to forward and to delete as soon as they were read, on Jan. 2010. Clinton had sent the them information on a redacted topic and instructed them in an email, “Cheryl and Raj-I sent you emails [redacted] before removing their email info so pis do not forward to anyone and delete after reading. Thx.”

Sidney Blumenthal emailed Hillary Clinton very frequently while she was secretary of state, as noted in earlier email releases. He sent personnel advice, and even swiped at President Obama for implementing a rule against hiring any registered lobbyist.

After Obamacare passed, Clinton wrote to Maryland Sen. Barbara Milkulski, “Let’s wrap this up in the Senate and go drink something unhealthy!” She also asks her about their friend – and now her opponent in the Democratic primary campaign – Martin O’Malley, who was then the governor of Maryland.

A dispatch from Chelsea Clinton appears in this set of emails, too. She wrote to her mother, father and Clinton’s close confidants about a trip she took to Haiti. She lambasted the United Nations and non-governmental organizations, with her observations that, “The incompetence is mind numbing.”


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Former Senator Joe Lieberman Criticises Iran Deal

Joe LibermanFormer Sen. Joe Lieberman told House lawmakers on Tuesday that they should oppose the new Iran nuclear deal that President Obama announced just hours earlier.

“There is much more risk for America and reward for Iran than should be in this agreement. It is not the good deal for America that we all wanted,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “This is precisely the outcome that for years we in Congress fought to prevent.”

Lieberman has sided with congressional Republicans and Israel by opposing the direction of the Iran talks for the last few months. His remarks at the House Foreign Affairs Committee were made shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal is an “historic mistake.”

But Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, urged lawmakers to support the agreement. “I’m going to support it, because I think it’s the best alternative,” he said, even though it contains “very painful tradeoffs.”

The hearing showed immediately that the battle lines over the Iran deal are already evident. Supporters praised the agreement, which essentially freezes Iran’s nuclear program for 10 years in exchange for international legitimacy and relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy, as the best that could be reached at this point with Iran.

But opponents said the Obama administration and its international partners gave away too much to an outlaw regime, crossing even their own red lines in determination to get a deal.

“The essence of this agreement is permanent concessions in exchange for temporary benefits, and that’s only if Iran doesn’t cheat,” said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.

The hearing was scheduled last week before the deal was signed in anticipation that it would be concluded by then. It’s the first in what’s likely to be a long series of congressional hearings over the next month or more as lawmakers scrutinize the deal.

Obama’s attempts to shut Congress out of the talks provoked a bipartisan backlash which resulted in enactment in May of a law giving Congress a say in any agreement. The law gives Congress 60 days to review the agreement and decide whether to accept or reject it. Lawmakers also can allow it to take effect without acting.

During that 60-day period, Obama cannot exercise his authority under current law to waive existing U.S. sanctions enacted by Congress, though he retains full authority over any sanctions imposed by the executive branch. That limitation would become permanent only if Congress adopts a resolution of disapproval and is able to override the veto Obama promised Tuesday to wield against any attempt to impede implementation of the deal.


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President Obama Still Struggling To Win Over Democrats on TPP

Obama TPPPresident Barack Obama’s make-or-break push for expanded trade is meeting stiff resistance from fellow Democrats in the House, the very lawmakers who helped him claim crucial wins on health care and other issues.

With a House vote coming as early as next week, these Democrats note that labor unions are running hard-hitting ads against those supporting the president’s trade agenda. And many of their constituents, they say, harbor bitter memories of the 1995 North America Free Trade Agreement.

But other factors also are complicating Obama’s bid to round up 25 to 30 House Democrats from a total of 188 considered necessary to pass a bill that narrowly survived the Senate.

Some House Democrats cite tepid support from local business leaders. Others say the administration seems unwilling to modify the Senate-passed bill in ways to give them enough political cover to support it.

Lawmakers who wholeheartedly support Obama on most issues are accepting his phone calls and invitations to the White House, and still saying “no” on trade.

“My district took a severe beating as a result of NAFTA,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus. “We lost thousands of jobs that were exported to other countries. And my constituents still remember that.”

Butterfield said he spoke with Obama for 40 minutes in the Oval Office, mostly about trade, but he’s leaning against the president’s push for “fast track” negotiating authority. Butterfield said he doesn’t believe a proposed Pacific-rim trade deal would increase U.S. jobs, adding, “I hope I’m wrong.”

Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond is another Democrat who’s had long talks with Obama but still leans against the fast-track request.

The president “made an aggressive pitch,” Richmond said, and he emphasized the possible benefits of expanded trade to the New Orleans ports. But his district is plagued by poverty, Richmond said, and no one has shown how new trade deals with Japan, Vietnam and other countries will improve its plight.

Richmond said he was astonished that his district’s pro-trade business leaders didn’t contact him until a few days ago, months after he started receiving heavy phone traffic against fast track. It’s “borderline disgraceful” for these groups to wait so long to weigh in, he said.

Fast-track authority would let Obama present Congress with proposed trade agreements that it could ratify or reject, but not change. If he obtains it, Obama hopes to advance the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Mexico and Canada, parties to NAFTA, are among the 12 countries in the pending pact.

Obama says U.S. producers must gain better access to world markets. He told Public Media’s “Marketplace” radio show on Wednesday that complaints about NAFTA are outdated.

“You can’t fight the last war,” the president said, and nothing can stop low-wage jobs from continuing to migrate to poor countries. However, he said, “if we’ve got potentially hundreds of millions of workers who are now subject to international labor standards that weren’t there before, and now, when we’re working with them even if they’re not enforcing those standards 100 percent we’ve got enough leverage to start raising those standards, that is good for us.”

Such assurances haven’t persuaded House Democrats such as David Price of North Carolina. He said he’s frustrated that the administration seems reluctant to tweak the fast-track bill in ways that would help Democrats support it and defend their decision before labor unions, a crucial party constituency. “The administration and the Republican leadership need to listen to people like me,” Price said, because it could determine fast track’s fate.

Price said he has asked for language to deal with “currency manipulation” by China and other countries, “even if it’s aspirational” instead of detailed and immediate.

China is not a party to the TPP, but Obama says it might join later. Critics say China keeps its currency artificially low, which makes Chinese exports more affordable to foreign buyers.

Richmond said the AFL-CIO and other labor unions are going too far in threatening Democrats who back Obama on trade, and it might backfire. “I’m watching them do it, and it bothers me,” Richmond said.

Republicans historically support free trade. Some Democrats say the GOP alone should pass the fast-track bill. But House Republican leaders say they could lose as many as 55 of their 245 members on the issue. With about 18 House Democrats publicly favoring fast track, both parties need to twist more arms, advocates say.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade: “We’ve got some Republicans who don’t trust the president to do anything and don’t want to give him any authority at all for anything, and I understand their concerns. This isn’t about the president, frankly, it’s about the country.”

Butterfield predicts a nail-biting finish on fast track. “I think it will pass or fail by one or two votes,” he said.

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New Hampshire Key to Lindsey Graham Presidential Strategy

NELA3003.JPGNew presidential candidate Lindsey Graham may be flirting with invisibility in national opinion polls, but that won’t matter in New Hampshire, he said during his first campaign trip there.

Graham, visiting MaryAnn’s Diner in Derry, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, shared advice he got from Sen. John McCain his good friend and the 2008 GOP nominee about winning the New Hampshire primary.

“Get your butt up here. You know he was like at 1%. New Hampshire in his mind resurrected his political career, he won the state twice, to this day he talks about it glowingly,” Graham said of McCain.

“If you ask John McCain about New Hampshire, here’s what he would tell Lindsey Graham or anyone else: People are going to make up their own mind in New Hampshire,” said Graham. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what the polls say. If you got a message that resonates with people in New Hampshire, they’ll listen. All I can ask of anybody is just to listen to me.”

The South Carolinian is not currently on pace to make the first presidential debate, which will be hosted by Fox News and limited to the top 10 candidates national polls. And not surprisingly, he questioned how relevant those surveys should be.

“Brad Pitt would probably be in the debates. I’m sure he’s a fine fellow but at the end of the day what you’re testing is people who have run before or people who have certain celebrity status,” Graham said.

Graham’s trip to New Hampshire came as the U.S. Senate passed a measure that would reform the National Security Agency’s data collection powers. Graham opposed the measure because he supported full reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which allowed the NSA broad data collection authority. Graham missed Tuesday’s vote due to being on the campaign trail.

But his Senate colleague and now presidential political opponent, Rand Paul, had sought to derail both measures out of civil liberty concerns.

Graham reiterated to CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday on “The Lead” his support for the NSA controversial bulk collection of metadata that has drawn the ire of Paul.

“The metadata program has been undermined in terms of the USA Freedom Act, and quite frankly, we’ve told the enemies so much about it, I’m not sure it works anymore,” Graham said.

Those enemies such as the Islamic militant group, ISIS could launch a homegrown attack here in the United States, he said.

That’s a threat Paul fails to properly consider, Graham charged.

“At the end of the day, the average American sees radical Islam as a threat, much greater than the NSA,” he said.

If Paul managed to win the GOP nomination, Graham pledged to support him, though he argued likely Democratic presidential candidate would “tear him apart.”

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NSA bulk phone data collection program expires after Senate fails to make deal

NSA 2The legal authority for U.S. spy agencies’ collection of Americans’ phone records and other data expired at midnight on Sunday after the U.S. Senate failed to pass legislation extending the powers.

After debate pitting Americans’ distrust of intrusive government against fears of terrorist attacks, the Senate voted to advance reform legislation that would replace the bulk phone records program revealed two years ago by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Although the Senate did not act in time to keep the program from expiring, the vote was at least a partial victory for Democratic President Barack Obama, who had pushed for the reform measure as a compromise addressing privacy concerns while preserving a tool to help protect the country from attack.

But final Senate passage was delayed until at least Tuesday by objections from Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian Republican presidential hopeful who has railed against the NSA program as illegal and unconstitutional.

As a result, the government’s collection and search of phone records terminated at midnight when key provisions of a post-Sept. 11, 2001, law known as the USA Patriot Act expired.

In addition, U.S. law enforcement and security agencies will lose authority to conduct other programs.

Those allow for “roving wiretaps” aimed at terrorism suspects who use multiple disposable cell phones; permit authorities to target “lone wolf” suspects with no connection to specific terrorist groups, and make it easier to seize personal and business records of suspects and their associates.

Still, eventual resumption of the phone records program in another form, and the other government powers, appeared likely after the Senate voted 77-17 to take up the reform legislation, called the USA Freedom Act.

“This bill will ultimately pass,” Paul acknowledged after the procedural vote.

The Senate abruptly reversed course during a rare Sunday session to let the bill go ahead, after Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reluctantly acknowledged that Paul had stymied his efforts to extend the Patriot Act provisions.

Intelligence experts say a lapse of only a few days would have little immediate effect. The government is allowed to continue collecting information related to any foreign intelligence investigation that began before the deadline.

Obama strongly backed the Freedom Act, as have most Democrats. It passed the House of Representatives on May 13 by 338-88.

After the Senate adjourned, the White House issued a statement calling on the Senate to “put aside partisan motivations and act swiftly.”

The measure could face more debate in Congress. Republican Senator Richard Burr offered several amendments, including one to extend the existing program for 12 months to provide more time to adopt changes mandated by the Freedom Act.

That could be a problem for some House members, because it doubles the transition period in their version of the bill.

Republicans have been deeply divided on the issue. Security hawks wanted the NSA program to continue as is, and libertarians like Paul want to kill it altogether.

The Senate debate was angry.

Paul said the Patriot Act provisions wasted resources better spent targeting those planning attacks. He even accused some of his critics of wanting an attack on the United States “so they can blame it on me.”

McConnell accused Paul, his fellow Kentucky Republican, and other Patriot Act opponents of waging “a campaign of demagoguery and disinformation” based on revelations from Snowden “who was last seen in Russia.”

McConnell has endorsed Paul for president. But he wanted to extend the Patriot Act provisions, unchanged, for five years, and agreed only reluctantly to allow a vote on the Freedom Act despite what he called its “serious flaws.”

Several senators accused Paul of using the issue to raise money for his presidential campaign.

“He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation,” Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, told reporters.

The Senate resumed consideration of the legislation at 4 p.m. EDT, just as security officials said they had to begin shutting down the NSA program to meet the deadline.

The Freedom Act would end spy agencies’ bulk collection of domestic telephone “metadata” and replace it with a more targeted system.

The records would be held by telecommunications companies, not the government, and the NSA would have to get court approval to gain access to specific data. Neither the current nor proposed new system gives the government access to the content of phone conversations.

Many civil liberties groups feel the Freedom Act does not go far enough in protecting privacy.

A review panel Obama established in 2013 concluded that the metadata collection program had not been essential to preventing any terrorist attack. Security officials counter that it provides important data they can combine with other intelligence to help stop attacks.


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