Showing posts with label Congress. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Congress. Show all posts

February 18, 2017

Chairman Rep.Chaffetz is Going Back to Investigate Clinton Emails







(CNN)House Oversight Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz is asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into the staffer who helped set up former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server.

In a letter sent Thursday evening, Chaffetz recommends former Clinton IT aide Bryan Pagliano for prosecution over failure to show up in person to his committee in compliance with a subpoena. Pagliano became a key player during the investigation into Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state.

“If left unaddressed, Pagliano's conduct in ignoring a lawful congressional subpoena could gravely impair Congress's ability to exercise its core constitutional authorities of oversight and legislation," Chaffetz wrote.

The law Chaffetz accused Pagliano of violating is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine between $100 and $1,000 as well as between a month and a year in jail.
CNN has reached out to Pagliano for comment.

The Utah Republican said the committee requested Pagliano's testimony at a September 2016 hearing and that Pagliano's lawyer told the committee he would "not appear voluntarily" and if he did appear, he would plead the Fifth -- the right to not answer questions to avoid potentially incriminating oneself.
The letter to Sessions said Chaffetz issued a subpoena served electronically to Pagliano. The original hearing was recessed and a back and forth ensued between Chaffetz and Pagliano’s attorneys, according to the letter.

Pagliano never showed, and the committee voted on party lines to hold him in contempt.
At the time, Pagliano’s lawyers said Chaffetz's demand "betrays a naked political agenda," saying the subpoena served no valid legislative purpose.

Chaffetz, however, argued otherwise at the time and in his letter on Thursday.
“There is no legal basis for Pagliano's refusal to appear before the committee," the letter read.

At a deposition with the conservative group Judicial Watch earlier in 2016, a spokeswoman from the group said Pagliano invoked the Fifth about 125 times. He also invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in a closed door session with the House Select Committee on Benghazi in 2015.

As part of the Justice Department investigation into Clinton's email practices, Pagliano accepted an immunity deal. The FBI never pursued criminal charges against Clinton or others over the arrangement. But the FBI closing its investigation and the end of the election hasn't stopped Chaffetz's dogged pursuit of the Clinton email saga. On Inauguration Day, he shook her hand and later wrote, “The investigation continues."


February 17, 2017

This is How Congress is Dealing with The Russian Investigations



                                 

    

NBC:

Drama is building on Capitol Hill over current and potential investigations into Russia's alleged interference in last year's election and the pre-inauguration contacts between President Donald Trump's national security adviser and Russia's ambassador.

At the end of a week's worth of new revelations and a resignation, FBI Director James Comey held a closed-door meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee Friday.

No member entering or leaving the afternoon briefing would say what the meeting was about or whether it was requested by the senators or the FBI.

It was a case of deafening silence from members who emerged refusing to even acknowledge that a meeting was happening — even though reporters saw Comey enter the same room as the senators. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did send out a tweet that hinted at Russia:


The busy week began with the resignation of Trump's national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, over phone calls with Russia's ambassador to the United States, communications that reportedly involved discussions of sanctions leveled against the Russia during the Obama administration.

It ended with several committees in Congress, some of which were already investigating alleged Russian cyber-attacks and interference in the U.S. election, either broadening their scope or contemplating new inquiries.

But not every committee is created equal. Some committees have more authority on the issue and some have more incentive to investigate.

So, amid the flurry of investigations and calls for investigations, here's a breakdown of how Congress is responding to Flynn and Russia.

Senate Intelligence Committee
The Senate Intelligence Committee has the the most cohesive and robust of an investigation going so far, with both the Republican chairman and the Democratic ranking member similarly minded about its purpose and scope.

The committee opened their probe in early January into alleged Russian interference in U.S. election. At the time, the committee said that part of the investigation would include any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Committee members have acknowledged that the controversy surrounding Flynn's transition contacts would be a natural extension of the investigation.
 
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and ranking member of the committee, has said he wants Flynn to testify before the committee, a move that Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the top Republican, said could happen "eventually."

Both members have said they would like to see the transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The House Intelligence Committee
The House Intelligence Committee is less bullish about its investigation than its counterpart in the Senate.

While it is investigating Russian interference in the election, Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is a close ally of Trump's and has been lukewarm about an aggressive probe into Flynn. Nunes said that the ongoing investigation could be expanded to include Flynn if "it all falls under the umbrella."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is skeptical of House Republican commitment to investigate.

"They are stonewalling this," Pelosi said. "The speaker is saying it's up to the Intelligence Committee — the chairman of the Intelligence Committee is saying don't look at me, I'm not doing any of this. the American people deserve better."

The Leaks
Like President Trump, congressional Republicans have expressed concerns about the leaks of intelligence to the media regarding Flynn and his phone call with Kislyak. While Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has said that those who leak "belong in jail," he has not yet committed to investigating them.
 
 Chaffetz on Calls for Russia Investigation: 'That Situation Has Taken Care of Itself' 1:01
House Speaker Paul Ryan, however, said the House Intelligence Committee should look into it.

"What I do worry about, though, is if classified information is being leaked. That is criminal," Ryan said. And so I think there should be an investigation as to the leaks of information leaving, wherever they're coming from."

Trump has focused on the leaks, saying that the leaks are more scandalous than the Flynn controversy.

The top Republicans of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the Department of Justice inspector general regarding "potential inadequate protection of classified information."

"We request that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here," the letter said.

And the Senate Intelligence Committee is reluctant to open a probe into leaks. Burr said that leaking should be investigating by the FBI because of the criminal component to it, adding that the Intelligence committee doesn't have prosecutorial authority.

Russian Payment to Flynn
In the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Democrat Elijah Cummings sent a joint letter to the Department of Defense asking about payments Flynn received from the Russian government for a trip in 2015.
 
"We are attempting to determine the amount Lieutenant General Flynn received for his appearance, the source of the funding, and whether he may have received payments from any other foreign sources for additional engagements," they wrote.

Bipartisan Briefing
The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee have jointly written a letter asking that the FBI brief them on the circumstances leading up to Flynn's resignation.

While the Judiciary Committee does not deal with classified material, both Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are interested in preservation of documents and to be able to see unclassified version of related materials, potentially opening another investigation from this committee.

While it's not bipartisan, in the House, Democrats are also calling on the Director of National Intelligence to brief them. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schif, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a letter that they’d like an “immediate briefing on the counterintelligence implications of these alarming actions." 

A Bipartisan Commission
While most Republicans are opposed to either a select committee created specifically to investigate the Russia issue or an independent commission, at least one Republican has come out in support of the Democratic idea of a bipartisan commission.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., has signed on to a Democratic bill creating a 12-member bipartisan commission. Without the blessing of the Speaker Ryan, however, the bill will likely go nowhere.

by 

December 2, 2016

Congress Killed Anti Gay Legislation Permitting Gays to be Fired





A provision that would have allowed LGBT people to be fired from their jobs has been struck from a defense spending bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which got a thumbs up from the Republican-controlled House in May, until recently included an amendment that would have given federal contractors the right to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Known as the Russell Amendment, the bill has been stalled in committee for months after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a final draft of the legislation. On Tuesday the Washington Blade reported that the provision had been killed.

The Russell Amendment, which was named for its sponsor, Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., was drafted in response to an executive order passed in 2014 by President Barack Obama. Executive Order 13672, which prohibited the firing of federal employees because of their LGBT identity, reportedly affected 28 million Americans. By effectively repealing those protections, those workers would have been at risk if the bill were passed.

This victory would be a proper cause for celebration if the incoming administration wasn’t already emboldening the forces of intolerance across the country, a message of anti-LGBT hate that’s especially potent during a time of enormous backlash to recent civil rights gains.

The provision is notably similar to bills passed in Mississippi and Indiana that let businesses and employers discriminate on the basis of “sincerely held religious belief.”


The Magnolia State passed House Bill 1523 in March, a “religious liberty” bill that would have affected a number of disparate groups. The legislation would have allowed medics to deny services to a transgender person who had experienced a heart attack and was in need of treatment. A landlord could deny the housing application of an unmarried couple. An employer could even terminate a female worker for having short hair or wearing pants in the office, as hypothesized by ThinkProgress.

These scenarios might seem absurd but are not out without precedent: A bartender was fired in Nevada in 2004 for not wearing makeup during her shift.

This opportunity for broad-based discrimination in Mississippi was struck down by a federal court in June, when HB 1523 was blocked by a federal ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves. Reeves claimed that the law failed to “honor [America’s] tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens.”

A similar law in Indiana, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was amended after passage last year. The law led to more than $70 million in economic losses following a nationwide corporate boycott of the state.

Despite these bills’ defeat, Russell maintained that pushing a nearly identical law at the federal level was necessary to protect “the free exercise of religion.”

“More than 2000 federal government contracts a year are awarded to religious organizations and contractors that provide essential services in many vital programs,” the Oklahoma lawmaker claimed in a May speech delivered on the floor of the House. “Now many of these services are being impacted due to conflicting and ambiguous executive guidance. The groups under assault are often the best, if not the only, organizations able to offer the assistance they perform.”

The Russell Amendment would have expanded the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the race, color, religion, sex or national origin, to offer protections for religiously affiliated groups that do business with the government. Because sexual orientation and gender identity are not yet protected under the landmark bill, such a law could technically be enacted.

Congressional Democrats fought the provision, warning that the definition of what comprises a faith-based organization is so broad that any number of groups could claim religious affiliation to exploit the legislation.

A group of 40 Senate Democrats, joined by two independents, penned a letter in October voicing opposition to the Russell Amendment’s passage.

“This discrimination erodes the freedoms that our military has fought for generations to protect,” the letter read. “It would particularly harm women, as religiously-affiliated contractors and grantees would be able to discriminate against individuals based on their personal reproductive health care decisions, including using birth control, becoming pregnant while unmarried, using in vitro fertilization to conceive a child, and accessing other reproductive health care that otherwise violate particular religious tenets.”
 
A coalition of political lobby groups opposed to the bill, including the Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for American Progress Action Fund, American Military Partner Association and Americans United for Separation of Church and State collected signatures against it. More than 320,000 people signed the petition.

The organizations, though, particularly placed pressure on Sen. John McCain to block the Russell Amendment. McCain, who serves as the chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, had been instrumental in preventing the passage of a similar “religious liberty” bill in Arizona two years ago: State Bill 1062 faced a backlash from corporate leaders, including the National Football League, that would have led to an estimated $140 million blow to the state’s economy.

After McCain urged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto SB 1062, which had passed the state’s House and Senate, she did just that.

The lobbying efforts appear to have been successful once again. A congressional aide told the Blade that Republicans had backed off the Russell Amendment, claiming that the provision was “always an imperfect remedy” to the nationwide battle over religious protections. The anonymous source did add, however, that the fight isn’t over. “Subsequent to the election, new paths have opened up to address those issues,” he said.

While LGBT rights advocates might claim the failure of the Russell Amendment a victory, that last sentence is an

On his first day in office, the president-elect has vowed to do the very same thing that the Russell Amendment authorizes: overturn of protections for federal LGBT contractors. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump vowed to overturn Obama’s executive orders. The president-elect has yet to back off that pledge (unlike his recent flip-flops on an Affordable Care Act repeal, which had been central tenet of his campaign, and assigning a federal prosecutor to imprison his former challenger Hillary Clinton).

In allowing for discrimination against LGBT workers, Trump will likely have the support of his vice president, Mike Pence. As the governor of Indiana, Pence personally signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In a 2015 interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week,” Pence defended the law, claiming that it was “absolutely not” a mistake.

Aside from his running mate, Trump’s White House appears to be stacked with figures who have made a name for themselves by opposing equal rights for LGBT people.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a front-runner to helm the Department of Homeland Security, has claimed that trans people “suffer from mental disorders” and live a “freakish lifestyle.” Betsy DeVos, tapped to head up the Department of Education, donated $200,000 to a 2004 effort to add an amendment to Michigan’s constitution defining marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman. Tom Price, who could become the new health and human services secretary, co-sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act, yet another bill allowing anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religion.

The latter bill, co-authored by Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was introduced in 2015 and some form of it stands a decent shot at passage under a Congress soon to be controlled by Republicans in both houses. Trump has previously stated his support for the First Amendment Defense Act.

The Russell Amendment may be DOA for now, but the threat of anti-LGBT discrimination under Trump is here to stay.

A provision that would have allowed LGBT people to be fired from their jobs has been struck from a defense spending bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which got a thumbs up from the Republican-controlled House in May, until recently included an amendment that would have given federal contractors the right to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Known as the Russell Amendment, the bill has been stalled in committee for months after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a final draft of the legislation. On Tuesday the Washington Blade reported that the provision had been killed.

The Russell Amendment, which was named for its sponsor, Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., was drafted in response to an executive order passed in 2014 by President Barack Obama. Executive Order 13672, which prohibited the firing of federal employees because of their LGBT identity, reportedly affected 28 million Americans. By effectively repealing those protections, those workers would have been at risk if the bill were passed.

This victory would be a proper cause for celebration if the incoming administration wasn’t already emboldening the forces of intolerance across the country, a message of anti-LGBT hate that’s especially potent during a time of enormous backlash to recent civil rights gains.

The provision is notably similar to bills passed in Mississippi and Indiana that let businesses and employers discriminate on the basis of “sincerely held religious belief.”


The Magnolia State passed House Bill 1523 in March, a “religious liberty” bill that would have affected a number of disparate groups. The legislation would have allowed medics to deny services to a transgender person who had experienced a heart attack and was in need of treatment. A landlord could deny the housing application of an unmarried couple. An employer could even terminate a female worker for having short hair or wearing pants in the office, as hypothesized by ThinkProgress.

These scenarios might seem absurd but are not out without precedent: A bartender was fired in Nevada in 2004 for not wearing makeup during her shift.

This opportunity for broad-based discrimination in Mississippi was struck down by a federal court in June, when HB 1523 was blocked by a federal ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves. Reeves claimed that the law failed to “honor [America’s] tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens.”

A similar law in Indiana, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was amended after passage last year. The law led to more than $70 million in economic losses following a nationwide corporate boycott of the state.

Despite these bills’ defeat, Russell maintained that pushing a nearly identical law at the federal level was necessary to protect “the free exercise of religion.”

“More than 2000 federal government contracts a year are awarded to religious organizations and contractors that provide essential services in many vital programs,” the Oklahoma lawmaker claimed in a May speech delivered on the floor of the House. “Now many of these services are being impacted due to conflicting and ambiguous executive guidance. The groups under assault are often the best, if not the only, organizations able to offer the assistance they perform.”

The Russell Amendment would have expanded the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the race, color, religion, sex or national origin, to offer protections for religiously affiliated groups that do business with the government. Because sexual orientation and gender identity are not yet protected under the landmark bill, such a law could technically be enacted.

Congressional Democrats fought the provision, warning that the definition of what comprises a faith-based organization is so broad that any number of groups could claim religious affiliation to exploit the legislation.

A group of 40 Senate Democrats, joined by two independents, penned a letter in October voicing opposition to the Russell Amendment’s passage.

“This discrimination erodes the freedoms that our military has fought for generations to protect,” the letter read. “It would particularly harm women, as religiously-affiliated contractors and grantees would be able to discriminate against individuals based on their personal reproductive health care decisions, including using birth control, becoming pregnant while unmarried, using in vitro fertilization to conceive a child, and accessing other reproductive health care that otherwise violate particular religious tenets.”
 
A coalition of political lobby groups opposed to the bill, including the Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for American Progress Action Fund, American Military Partner Association and Americans United for Separation of Church and State collected signatures against it. More than 320,000 people signed the petition.

The organizations, though, particularly placed pressure on Sen. John McCain to block the Russell Amendment. McCain, who serves as the chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, had been instrumental in preventing the passage of a similar “religious liberty” bill in Arizona two years ago: State Bill 1062 faced a backlash from corporate leaders, including the National Football League, that would have led to an estimated $140 million blow to the state’s economy.

After McCain urged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto SB 1062, which had passed the state’s House and Senate, she did just that.

The lobbying efforts appear to have been successful once again. A congressional aide told the Blade that Republicans had backed off the Russell Amendment, claiming that the provision was “always an imperfect remedy” to the nationwide battle over religious protections. The anonymous source did add, however, that the fight isn’t over. “Subsequent to the election, new paths have opened up to address those issues,” he said.

While LGBT rights advocates might claim the failure of the Russell Amendment a victory, that last sentence is an eerie reminder of the challenges that queer people will face under a Donald Trump presidency. 

On his first day in office, the president-elect has vowed to do the very same thing that the Russell Amendment authorizes: overturn of protections for federal LGBT contractors. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump vowed to overturn Obama’s executive orders. The president-elect has yet to back off that pledge (unlike his recent flip-flops on an Affordable Care Act repeal, which had been central tenet of his campaign, and assigning a federal prosecutor to imprison his former challenger Hillary Clinton).

In allowing for discrimination against LGBT workers, Trump will likely have the support of his vice president, Mike Pence. As the governor of Indiana, Pence personally signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In a 2015 interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week,” Pence defended the law, claiming that it was “absolutely not” a mistake.

Aside from his running mate, Trump’s White House appears to be stacked with figures who have made a name for themselves by opposing equal rights for LGBT people.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a front-runner to helm the Department of Homeland Security, has claimed that trans people “suffer from mental disorders” and live a “freakish lifestyle.” Betsy DeVos, tapped to head up the Department of Education, donated $200,000 to a 2004 effort to add an amendment to Michigan’s constitution defining marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman. Tom Price, who could become the new health and human services secretary, co-sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act, yet another bill allowing anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religion.

The latter bill, co-authored by Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was introduced in 2015 and some form of it stands a decent shot at passage under a Congress soon to be controlled by Republicans in both houses. Trump has previously stated his support for the First Amendment Defense Act.

The Russell Amendment may be DOA for now, but the threat of anti-LGBT discrimination under Trump is here to stay.

November 11, 2016

Gay Rights and the Impasse to Passing Defense Bill





  
Congressional Republicans and Democrats will have to bridge a vast cultural divide over an issue that has nothing to do with bullets and bombs to complete a must-pass defense policy bill.

A key sticking point in the negotiations during the upcoming lame-duck session is a House-passed provision that Senate Democrats say would undercut protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual or gender orientation. They've called the measure dangerous and are demanding it be removed from the $602 billion measure. 
Many House Republicans, however, view the provision as a bulwark for religious liberty and just as adamantly want it kept in the final package. Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election has strengthened their hand should the contentious debate begin anew next year. 
"It's going to be a tough one for them to figure out," said Justin Johnson, a senior defense policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Drop the amendment and risk a backlash from rank-and-file Republicans, he said. Keep it in and Democrats could mobilize to block the defense bill, which authorizes spending for military programs that range from jet fighters to a pay raise for the troops. 
A filibuster carries risks for Democrats. They could be hammered by the GOP for stymieing legislation important to U.S. service members and their families. And even if the provision is dropped to avoid a veto by President Barack Obama, Republicans — who control both houses of Congress — could wait until Trump is in the White House and attach the provision to a different bill. 
"I think the election gives congressional Republicans a lot more leverage on this issue," Johnson said. "They don't have to be too worried about a veto threat because the situation only improves next year." 
Although much of Trump's agenda on social issues remains opaque, he assured conservatives during the campaign that he would place a high priority on religious liberty. 
The tenure of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, was punctuated by his steadfast support for conservative social issues that at times drew unwanted attention to the state, most notably when a religious objections law he signed provoked a national backlash from critics who said it could sanction discrimination against gay people. 
David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign, acknowledged that the long-term prospects for barring the amendment from passing are challenging. But he said he's bullish about the short term. Congress has little incentive to drag out a lame-duck session and that means passing a defense bill unburdened by a provision that has no bearing on the Pentagon's core missions, according to Stacy. 
"The blame could fall either way," said Stacy, suggesting Republicans could be seen as obstructionists for insisting the amendment be preserved at the expense of speedy passage of the defense bill. 
The provision is brief and requires any U.S. government office to provide protections and exemptions "to any religious corporation, religious association, religious educational institution, or religious society that is a recipient of or offeror" for a federal contract. 
Forty Senate Democrats plus two independents wrote in a letter last month that the provision would amount to government-sponsored discrimination by permitting religiously affiliated federal contractors to refuse to interview a job candidate whose faith differs from theirs and to fire employees who marry their same-sex partners or use birth control. 
The provision would "vastly expand religious exemptions" under the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to allow contractors "to harm hardworking Americans who deserve to be protected from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religious identity, or reproductive and other health care decisions," they said in the letter. 
Republicans argued the measure merely builds on existing law by ensuring that faith-based organizations that perform work for the U.S. government aren't forced to act against their beliefs. The measure is known as the Russell amendment, named after its sponsor, Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla. 
Paradoxically, opponents of the Russell amendment may find support from Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who plays a central role in determining the contents of the defense policy bill. 
The Arizona legislature passed a religious freedom bill in 2014 designed to give more legal protections to people who might be accused of discrimination for actions they took in accordance with religious beliefs. A frequently cited example is a business that denies service to gay or lesbian customers. 
With the state facing a national backlash from business leaders, including the National Football League, McCain urged then-Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the legislation. She did. 
“We’re hoping he sees this the same way,” said Maggie Garrett, legislative director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

NBC

October 1, 2016

How The Saudis Can Hit back on 9/11 Suit legislation and They Will




 

Saudi Arabia and its allies are warning that US legislation allowing the kingdom to be sued for the 9/11 attacks will have negative repercussions.

The kingdom maintains an arsenal of tools to retaliate with, including curtailing official contacts, pulling billions of dollars from the US economy, and persuading its close allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council to scale back counterterrorism cooperation, investments and US access to important regional air bases.

"This should be clear to America and to the rest of the world: When one GCC state is targeted unfairly, the others stand around it," said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, an Emirati Gulf specialist and professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University.

"All the states will stand by Saudi Arabia in every way possible," he said.

When Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom strongly criticized Saudi Arabia last year, the kingdom unleashed a fierce diplomatic salvo that jolted Stockholm's standing in the Arab world and threatened Swedish business interests in the Gulf. Sweden eventually backpedaled.

On Wednesday, the bill became a law after the Senate voted to override President Barack Obama's veto of the Sept. 11 legislation.

Chas Freeman, former US assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and ambassador to Saudi Arabia during operation Desert Storm, said the Saudis could respond to this bill in ways that risk US strategic interests, like permissive rules for overflight between Europe and Asia and the Qatari air base from which US military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are directed and supported.

"The souring of relations and curtailing of official contacts that this legislation would inevitably produce could also jeopardize Saudi cooperation against anti-American terrorism," he said.

Still, relations with Washington had already cooled well before the 9/11 bill sailed through both chambers of Congress.

The Saudis perceived the Obama Administration's securing of a nuclear deal with Iran as a pivot toward its regional nemesis. There was also Obama's criticism of Gulf countries in an interview earlier this year, despite their support for the US-led fight against the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria.

Obama had vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, arguing that allowing US courts to waive foreign sovereign immunity could lead other foreign governments to act "reciprocally" by giving their courts the right to exercise jurisdiction over the US and its employees for overseas actions. These could include deadly US drone strikes and abuses committed by US-trained police units or US-backed militias.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in June that the US has the most to lose if JASTA is enacted. Despite reports that Riyadh threatened to pull billions of dollars from the US economy if the bill becomes law, al-Jubeir says Saudi Arabia has only warned that investor confidence in the US could decline.

Joseph Gagnon, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said estimates put the figure of official Saudi assets in the government at somewhere between $500 billion and $1 trillion when considering potential foreign bank deposits and offshore accounts.

The kingdom had $96.5 billion in holdings of Treasury securities in August, according to the most recent number released by the Treasury Department. Saudi Arabia ranked 15th in its holdings of US Treasury debt.

The US-Saudi Business Council's CEO and Chairman Ed Burton says business between the two countries will continue, though potential deals could be jeopardized by JASTA.

"No business community likes to see their sovereign nation basically assailed by another nation," Burton said.

As one of the world's largest oil exporters with the biggest economy in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia also has other business partners to choose from in Europe and Asia, said President and CEO of the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce David Hamod.

"America is no longer the only game in town," he said. "No one knows how Saudi Arabia might respond to an override of President Obama's veto?"

The CEOs of DOW and GE sent letters to Congress warning of the bill's potentially destabilizing impact on American interests abroad. Defense Secretary Ash Carter this week sent a letter to Congress saying "important counterterrorism efforts abroad" could be harmed and US foreign bases and facilities could be vulnerable to monetary damage awards in reciprocal cases.

Such reactions may not come directly from Riyadh but countries connected to Saudi Arabia, said Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

He said the eight-decade-long US-Saudi relationship is "entering into a new phase," in which ties will be mostly underpinned by arms sales, unlike during the era of warm relations under President George W. Bush.

Abdullah, the Gulf analyst at UAE University, said he expects to see a GCC that acts more assertively and independently of the US in places like Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt.

"This is not just a threat. This is a reality,” he said.

The Associated Press, Dubai

May 20, 2016

Rubio Slams GOP For Obstructing Obama on Zika


Image result for zika

                                                                         
                                                                         






 
On Tuesday, the Senate and House of Representatives voted on bills to combat the Zika virus. Of course, as usual, it turned into an “Us against Obama” fight; however, one Republican was super pissed off about it and slammed his own party for playing games with people’s health: Senator Marco Rubio.

The Zika virus is a huge threat for the United States, but Congress hadn’t bothered to address it until this week. The illness is passed by mosquitos and if it infects a pregnant woman it could cause the fetus to develop severe abnormalities. President Obama has asked Congress to allocate $1.9 billion to fight the virus. The House of Representatives did what they always do and gave the president a fraction of what he asked for — $622 million.

The House’s refusal to fully fund the bill really, really pissed Marco Rubio off and he blasted them, as well as Senate Republicans, during his speech:

“I support fully funding the requests made, people say the president’s request. Fine, it came from the White House. But it’s really the scientists’ requests, the doctors’ requests, the public health sector’s requests for how to address this issue.”

Oh shit! Rubio said something has been backed by science. He must have forgotten how much his Republican colleagues hate science.

The senator went on to say that 112 people have already been infected in Florida, Puerto Rico is being ravaged by it and the Senate needs to take it seriously:

“Why take the chance that at some point this summer we could have a significant and serious outbreak in the United States of America, and everybody here is going to be back in their home state doing their campaign stuff or whatever you’re doing this summer, and you’re going to have to come back here and either deal with it and explain to people why, when doctors and medical experts were warning us that this was a significant risk, we decided to lowball it….”

Again, Little Marco seems to have forgotten who he is speaking to. Republicans do not care if something will hurt the people (HELLO government shutdown of 2013!), the only thing they care about is the fact that the Obama administration asked for the funding. The GOP Congress has one mode: Obstruct. That’s it. That is basically what they do from the beginning of their terms to the end of their terms. Hell, they refuse to even hold Supreme Court nomination hearings because they are politicking so hard.

Finally, Rubio called out the House for their dangerously underfunded bill:

“Why are we taking this chance? It makes absolutely no sense. I would also say that while I am happy that today, hopefully, the Senate is about to take action on this issue, I’m concerned about what I hear coming from the House…their funding measure isn’t even $1.1 billion. It’s $622 million. Quite frankly, that’s just not going to cut it.”

The Senate ended up passing a $1.1 billion package to combat Zika but that is not enough. It should have been fully funded. Unfortunately, the Republican Congress does not take the health of Americans seriously. If there happens to be a huge breakout, I guarantee we will hear these very same members of the GOP blame it on Obama. Because if there is one thing stronger than their obstructionism, it is their Obama Derangement Syndrome.

It was nice to see Marco Rubio actually show up for work for once and do his job. Maybe if he’d done that more often he wouldn’t be leaving the Senate at the end of his term with his tail between his legs.

GOP Votes Down the LGBT Anti discrimination bill-Shouts of Shame were Audible


                                                                 

It was a chaotic scene on the House floor Thursday morning after an amendment to help protect LGBT people from discrimination failed by just one vote as Republicans succeeded in convincing a few members of their own party to switch their votes to help ensure the measure would not pass.

House Democrats could be heard chanting "shame, shame, shame" on the floor as the measure went from garnering up to 217 votes at one point down to just 212 when the vote was gaveled. Boos erupted from the House floor as the measure failed.

Republican leaders kept the vote open longer allowing members to switch their votes.

The vote was originally scheduled to only last two minutes but was held open for eight minutes.


The amendment — sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-New York, — would have prevented federal contractors from receiving government work if they discriminate against members of the LGBT community.

"Kevin McCarthy was personally twisting arms on the floor," Maloney, who is openly gay, said about the House majority leader. He went on to say, "I don't think I've ever seen anything that craven and that ugly in my time in Congress."


McCarthy's office did not respond for comment.

Twenty nine Republicans kept their votes and remained supportive of the amendment along with every voting House Democrat.

Democratic Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, told reporters Republican Rep. Bob Dold, R-Illinois — who supported the amendment — approached Maloney following the vote to say what happened on the floor was "bullsh*t."

A spokesman for Dold didn't refute Takano's account of the conversation.

"I am certainly crestfallen and disappointed that the result changed," Takano said.

House Democratic leadership even tweeted out names of Republican members whom they believe switched their votes.
"House Republicans are so committed to discriminating against LGBT Americans, that they broke regular order to force their Members to reverse their votes and support Republicans' bigotry," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland released a video that was an homage to Star Wars and called Republicans the "Empire" after the vote.

House Speaker Paul Ryan was holding his weekly press conference while this amendment vote was being held on the floor. When asked about Republicans switching votes so the measure would fail, Ryan told reporters he was unaware of what was going on since he was not in the chamber.

The speaker typically does not vote but Ryan made clear he opposed the amendment.

"This is federalism. The states should do this. The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business," Ryan said.

ALEX MOE
NBC News

April 29, 2016

GOP Sub Committee Votes to Gut Obama’s LGBT’s Exec Orders



Breaking Late last night, story might change, This report comes from  
Image result for breaking news
                                                                            

                                                                      




The Republican-majority House Armed Services Committee on Thursday voted to gut President Barack Obama's executive orders that ban discrimination against LGBT people by all federal contractors. The Russell Amendment, sponsored by Oklahoma anti-gay Republican Steve Russell (photo), passed 33-29.

The Human Rights Campaign says "the amendment would dismantle President Obama’s executive order prohibiting discrimination in federal contracting based on sexual orientation or gender identity, under the guise of religious liberty."

HRC adds that the amendment, which is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, "would allow sweeping, taxpayer-funded discrimination in an attempt to promote anti-LGBT religious-based discrimination in the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. With far-reaching intended and unintended consequences, the vague amendment could even undermine existing nondiscrimination provisions that protect workers, and perhaps even beneficiaries, against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more."

The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, a coalition including 42 secular and religious organizations, sent a letter to the Committee to oppose the Russell Amendment, warning it "would authorize taxpayer-funded discrimination in each and every federal contract and grant. The government should never fund discrimination and no taxpayer should be disqualified from a job under a federal contract or grant because he or she is the 'wrong' religion."

September 24, 2015

The pope Will be Talking to Congress about Something They would Rather not hear



                                                           


This story appeared on Mother Jones and I think this is history being made at its best with the Pope telling Congress something they would rather not hear particularly from a religious entity that have never bothered with them before. Who would have thought that a Pope would be telling to those who pay lip service to god that they are on the wrong road to god and the problems that the Globe faces. Every time that honesty, intelligence and the heart get together in front of politicians, particularly Americans in Washington the globe shakes. Watch out for some knees shaking somewhere’s well.

Pope Francis is scheduled to address Congress on Thursday. There's a good chance he'll dwell on two of his signature issues: global poverty and climate change. These issues are not especially popular with congressional Republicans. So perhaps it’s a bit surprising that, so far, only one of them has publicly expressed trepidation about the speech.

 
Of course, no one knows exactly what the Holy Father will say. But here are few of his key ideas, quoted from his climate encyclical this summer, that will be hard for GOP legislators to brush off:

1. Climate change is real and caused by people. Here's a line from the statement that will play pretty poorly in a room where huge numbers of lawmakers dispute the science behind climate change:

It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth's orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.

The pontiff also isn't shy about pointing a finger directly at the deniers:

Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.

2. We have to stop burning fossil fuels, and the government should crack down on emissions. Again, from the encyclical:

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

Conservatives have slammed President Barack Obama for giving too much support to renewable energy, even though the United States became the world's No. 1 producer of oil and gas for the first time ever under Obama. So the idea that we should cut back on fossil fuels probably won't get much support from congressional Republicans. Meanwhile, Obama's Clean Power Plan, which is precisely the kind of carbon-cutting policy the pope is advocating, has been the target of numerous Republican attacks since it was proposed:

3. Capitalism is at the root of the problem. The pope has been broadly critical of global consumer culture and has linked it to environmental degradation:

These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish... We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them.

He also takes issue with the idea (which some environmentalists embrace, as do many conservatives) that private-sector innovation can and/or should play a prominent role in adapting to climate change. According to the pope, the environment cannot be "safeguarded or promoted by market forces."

But there could be one topic on which the pope agrees with Republicans, if not for the same reasons: He is opposed to cap-and-trade policies that would set up a carbon-trading market, which many environmental economists say is the most efficient way to cut emissions. To the pope, "carbon credits" are just another financial market to be exploited by the rich to the detriment of the poor; to Republicans, they're job-killing government overreach.

In any case, it’s sure to be an awkward afternoon for Republicans on Capitol Hill.

March 1, 2015

Never has an Israeli PM Create Such Controversy on a Visit to Congress


                                                                             

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is just days away from landing in Washington, where a storm is raging over his plans to address a joint session of Congress.
A few dozen Democrats plan to skip the speech, the White House isn't done blasting the prime minister and Republicans -- especially presidential hopefuls -- are using it all as red meat.
In Israel, meanwhile, Netanyahu's visit has added an extra layer to an already contentious election season.
Why has this become such a massive fiasco? And what does this mean for the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship?
Let's dive in.
1. Isn't support for Israel rock solid in Congress? Why has an Israeli prime minister's visit become so controversial?
The controversy first started because of two words: protocol and snub.
    House Speaker John Boehner's announcement that Netanyahu would be addressing Congress took the White House by surprise.
    Boehner barely gave the White House any heads up and neither did Netanyahu.
    U.S.-Israeli relations strained by Netanyahu speech  02:09
    PLAY VIDEO
    That's despite several high-level interactions between U.S. and Israeli officials in the lead-up to the announcement, interactions that included a phone callbetween Netanyahu and President Barack Obama and a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and the Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. 
    That last meeting took place for several hours, the day before Boehner announced the visit.
    It didn't take long for White House officials to call the move a breach of protocol and a snub by Israelis who were enjoying the backing of U.S. officials as Palestinians pressed their case through international institutions.
    And then there was the politics of it. Boehner made the invitation soon after Republicans assumed control of both Houses of Congress — and the day after Obama announced in his State of the Union that he would veto the Iran sanctions Republican members are seeking. The invitation had the appearance of scoring partisan political points.
    2. Okay, so White House officials felt like Netanyahu and Boehner plotted behind Obama's back. But this has got to be about more than a snub, right?
    Well, Netanyahu won't be lecturing Congress on any old topic.
    Instead, he'll stake out a hardline position on Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, warning lawmakers that ongoing negotiations with Tehran are moving in a dangerous direction -- a lobbying push that Obama implored Netanyahu not to make in the phone call that came just over a week before the visit was announced. 
    In the process, Netanyahu is expected to stake out a position that undercuts almost every aspect of Obama's approach to dealing with Iran.
    That's provoked a strong reaction from many Democrats, who say it's inappropriate for a foreign leader to counter the President's foreign policy in such a high-profile forum.
    3. So why is Netanyahu insistent on coming to Congress now?
    For starters, it's for the same reason he's facing so much pushback from the White House.
    The United States and five other world powers negotiating with Iranian diplomats in Geneva have a late March deadline to reach a framework agreement on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. 
    The Obama administration has invested massive amounts of political capital into negotiations even the president concedes have just about a 50-50 chance of success.
    Frayed edges showing in U.S.- Israel relationship  02:26
    PLAY VIDEO
    But Netanyahu is convinced the Obama administration would accept a bad deal rather than come away empty-handed, warning recently that the agreement in the works would allow Iran to preserve far too many centrifuges. Netanyahu would like to see Iran give up all its nuclear enrichment capacity, a demand no one considers realistic.
    "I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but because I must fulfill my obligation to speak up on a matter that affects the very survival of my country," Netanyahu said recently in a televised statement, explaining that he needs to lay out his "profound disagreement" with the U.S. and its negotiating partners over the nuclear talks. 
    Netanyahu added that he needs to address lawmakers before the March deadline "because Congress might have a role with an important nuclear deal with Iran." Specifically, there are two bills in the works that could gum up a deal — one on more sanctions and the other demanding congressional approval of any agreement. 
    4. It's not the first time Netanyahu and Obama have been at odds over Iran, is it?
    Nope. Obama has repeatedly insisted he would rather take no deal than a bad deal with Iran. But Netanyahu, Republicans and some Democratic lawmakers have claimed Obama is going too soft, too soon.
    With the help of a dozen Democrats, Republicans unsuccessfully tried to push a bill through Congress last year that would have hit Iran with additional sanctions in the midst of negotiations.
    With a new majority in their hands, Republicans renewed that push in January with a watered-down bill that casts the specter of additional sanctions over Iran if it failed to come to the table.
    Netanyahu has supported ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, but Obama and his State Department negotiators have insisted it could bolster hardliners in Iran and push Iran away -- rather than closer to -- a peaceful end to Iran's nuclear program.
    5. What else is driving Netanyahu?
    Elections.
    Israelis will head to the polls just two weeks after Netanyahu addresses Congress and Netanyahu is leaning heavily on a strong national security platform to remain prime minister and keep his party in power.
    Netanyahu has been active on Twitter in the last month, posting about the existential threat a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel and playing up his defiant stance in heading to Congress to defend Israel in the face of opposition from even the President of the United States.
    Speaking of which, the White House announced that Obama will not meet with Netanyahu during his trip to Washington due to the proximity of the Israeli elections.
    While Netanyahu's circle has denied that the elections play a role in his decision to make the controversial visit, there's no doubt the prime minister will be able to play up his address to Congress in the home stretch of the campaign season.
    6. Will there be lasting damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship?
    Probably not.
    The question on everyone's minds in Washington is whether U.S. support for Israel is now becoming a partisan issue. 
    While several Democrats will be skipping Netanyahu's speech and National Security Adviser Susan Rice recently called Netanyahu's address "destructive" to the U.S.-Israel relationship, widespread support for Israel is unlikely to wane anytime soon.
    Opposition to certain policies -- like settlement building in the West Bank -- may be gaining strength, but shifting Democratic views and the recent tensions provoked by Netanyahu's impending visit haven't affected U.S. military assistance and diplomatic support for Israel (and aren't likely to).
    Despite the personal tensions, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel has remained close throughout Obama's tenure -- and Israeli officials like to emphasize that ties between the two countries have never been stronger.
    However, the deep disagreements on Iran mean that there could be a divergence on a significant policy issue. There have been reports of some breaks in what has traditionally been intensive consultations on the matter.
    And though the U.S. has showed no sign of backing away from its defense of Israel in places like the U.N. where the Palestinians enjoy wide support, a nasty, politicized spat between Israeli and American leaders doesn’t exactly boost Israel's standing.

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