04/01/13: The Miami Herald reports optimistic lawmakers on Sunday cautioned they had not finished work on an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. The AFL-CIO and the pro-business US Chamber of Commerce reached a deal late Friday that would allow tens of thousands of low-skilled workers into the country to fill jobs in construction, restaurants, and hotels, but lawmakers from both parties conceded negotiations are not finished. The agreement hasn’t taken the form of a bill and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the “Gang of Eight” Senators searching for a compromise haven’t met about the potential breakthrough. “There are a few details yet. But conceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves that has to be drafted,” Graham said. Still, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a favorite of the Republican right-wing who functions the group’s emissary to hardcore conservatives, warned he was not ready to lend his name and political clout to a deal. Rubio called the agreement a starting point but pointed out ninety-two Senators from forty-three States haven’t yet been involved in the process.
04/01/13: The New York Times has a piece discussing the arduous task facing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in managing the US military budget. As President Obama – who has placed some of the military’s long-favored weapons programs in his sights – continues to negotiate with Congress over a spending and revenue deal, the Pentagon is bracing for a protracted period in which they may have to manage even larger budget reductions than anticipated. “There will be changes, some significant changes,” Secretary Hagel warned at a news conference last week, and he is expected to begin outlining those changes in a major speech this week. Already, Hagel has directed General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter to conduct a sweeping “Strategic Choices and Management Review” due by the end of May. Their challenge is to trim the Pentagon while also assuring that the military continues to attract high-quality personnel and can maintain American and allied security around the world.
03/23/13: The Hill reports in the last batch of amendment votes to the budget, the Senate voted on several foreign policy proposals. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment that would prevent the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty in order to uphold the Second Amendment. His amendment passed on a 53-46 vote. Republicans have been critical of President Obama’s decision to consider the treaty, although Obama has said he would not vote for anything that would violate the Second Amendment. The UN Arms Trade Treaty would regulate international arms sales. Negotiations end on March 28. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) offered an alternative amendment that clarified that under current US law, treaties don’t trump the Constitution and that the United States should not agree to any arms treaty that violates the Second Amendment rights. His amendment passed by voice vote.
03/22/13: The New York Times reports more than two years after Homeland Security officials told Congress that they would produce new, more accurate standards to assess security at the nation’s borders, senior officials from the department acknowledged this week that they had not completed the new measurements and were not likely to in coming months, as the debate proceeds about overhauling the immigration system. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers were taken aback at a hearing on Wednesday in the House of Representatives when Mark Borkowski, a senior Homeland Security official, said he had no progress to report on a broad measure of border conditions the department had been working on since 2010. The lawmakers warned that failure by the Obama administration to devise a reliable method of border evaluation could imperil passage of immigration legislation. Amid contentious discussions in Congress over immigration, one point of wide agreement is that an evaluation of border security will be a central piece of any comprehensive bill. A bipartisan group in the Senate is working to write legislation that includes a “trigger,” which would make the path to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the country contingent on measurable advances in security at the borders. Lawmakers have been pressing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to devise a measure they can use to judge if the Obama administration’s claims of significant progress in border enforcement are justified. Republican senators in the bipartisan group have said a border standard is pivotal to their efforts.
03/21/13: The New York Times reports making a case for the need to detect asteroids before they hit Earth, a former astronaut said Wednesday that the number of casualties would have been enormous had the space rock that exploded in Russia last month blown apart directly over New York City instead. About 1,500 people were injured when the roughly 60-foot-diameter meteor exploded high in the atmosphere near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Feb. 15. Most of the injuries were caused by flying glass from shattered windows when a shock wave from the explosion — estimated to have been about 30 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — hit the city a minute and a half later. The Chelyabinsk meteor was not detected by any of the ground-based telescopes, operated by NASA and others, that are surveying the sky for space rocks that are in orbits that could intersect with Earth’s. Those search programs are focused on larger asteroids, James Green, director of the planetary science division of NASA, told the Senate panel, the Science and Space Subcommittee. So far about 10,000 have been detected, including about 95 percent of the estimated 1,100 that are a kilometer (about 1,000 yards) or more in diameter and have the potential to end civilization. So far, Dr. Green said, no asteroid has been found that poses a threat to the planet.
03/10/13: The Hill reports House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Cal.) said Saturday that Secretary of State John Kerry had hoped to offer considerably more aid to Egypt than the $250 million he announced during his trip to Cairo but was blocked by Congress. “This is not the aid package that the administration wanted to announce,” Royce said. The Administration wanted to release a “larger sum,” but bowed to the wishes of Royce’s committee as well as congressional appropriators. Royce wouldn’t say how much Kerry had hoped to announce, but the State Department has been pressing Congress to greenlight $450 million in direct aid since last fall. Kerry announced the new aid package last Sunday during a stop in Cairo as part of his first trip overseas.
03/03/13: The blog Space War reports new Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Friday that new budget cuts will endanger the US military’s ability to conduct its missions. His comments came hours before President Obama authorized automatic “sequestered” cuts in domestic and defense spending, following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit. Hagel, whose budget at the Pentagon is set to be slashed by roughly $46 billion, said, “Let me make it clear that this uncertainty puts at risk our ability to effectively fulfill all of our missions.” In contrast with his predecessor Leon Panetta, who branded the cuts a “doomsday mechanism” and “fiscal castration,” Hagel was more measured, but he made his thoughts on the military consequences of the sequestration clear nevertheless.
03/03/13: The Hill reports the bipartisan Senate group working on immigration reform plans to set a timeline for unveiling legislation, as it feels subtle pressure from the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to act. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), a lead negotiator of the ad hoc group on immigration reform, says the clock is ticking, and the group hopes to soon have a timeline for unveiling legislation. “We know time is of the essence. Sometime in the next few weeks we will have a definite timeline. We got a couple of very big issues to resolve,” McCain said. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), McCain’s negotiating partner, said he expected to have a bipartisan bill sometime in March. There are only three weeks left until Congress leaves for a two-week Easter recess on March 22.
02/13/13: The Hill reports the Senate Select Intelligence Committee will decide on Thursday whether to approve White House nominee John Brennan to become the nation’s chief intelligence officer. Brennan is expected to clear the Committee and be confirmed by the Senate despite the controversy over the Obama Administration’s drone strikes on American terrorist suspects overseas. Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) said moves by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees to explore new court authorities to oversee the drone program will be on hold until her panel weighs in on Brennan. “We really haven’t put anything together [yet],” Feinstein said Tuesday when asked about the possible creation of a new federal court to oversee armed drone strikes. “We will look into it, [but] we are trying to get the Brennan nomination done first.”
02/13/13: The New York Times reports the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense on a sharply partisan vote after a combative two-hour debate that tested the bounds of Senate collegiality. The 14-11 vote to send the nomination to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation was the latest step in a process that has deepened festering hostilities between congressional Republicans and the White House and has exposed stark disagreements over wartime foreign policy. At times, the meeting slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) suggesting that Hagel had accepted money from North Korea and Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) saying he was “cozy” with Iran. These remarks were condemned by Democratic Senators such as Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.), as well as Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) a Republican Vietnam veteran like Hagel who opposes his nomination. The full Senate is likely to vote on the nomination before the end of the week.
02/11/13: The New York Times reports President Obama will use his State of the Union Address on Tuesday to reinvigorate one of his signature national security objectives, drastically reducing nuclear arsenals around the world, after securing agreement in recent months with the military that the American nuclear force can be cut in size by roughly a third. Obama is unlikely to discuss specific numbers in the address, but White House officials are looking at a cut that would take the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000. Currently there are about 1,700, and the recently ratified arms reduction treaty with Russia calls for a limit of roughly 1,550 by 2018. The big question is how to accomplish further reductions, given that Republicans oppose even the modest cuts in the treaty.
02/11/13: The Hill reports a cybersecurity bill that received pushback from privacy advocates and the White House last year will be re-introduced on Wednesday, setting up a potential battle between Congress and the Administration over cybersecurity legislation. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) will reintroduce the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) and hold a public hearing analyzing the current state of cyber threat information-sharing between the US Government and industry next week. The bill aims to thwart cyberattacks by making it easier for private companies to share information about threats and malicious source code with the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security. The privacy and civil liberties groups that fought CISPA last year plan to revive their efforts to oppose the bill.
02/10/13: The New York Times reports a proposal is gaining steam that would require court approval before targeting American citizens overseas for lethal force. The idea is to apply the model exemplified by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – created by Congress so that surveillance had to be justified to a federal judge – to the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, or at least of American suspects. A drone court would face constitutional, political and practical obstacles, and might well prove unworkable, according to several legal scholars and terrorism experts. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down, al-Qaeda fragmenting into hard-to-read offshoots, and the 2001 terrorist attacks receding into the past, they said, it is time to consider how to forge a new, trustworthy and transparent system to govern lethal counterterrorism operations.
02/06/13: The New York Times has this piece discussing yesterday’s big news revealing the “white paper” describing the Obama Administration’s legal justifications for the use of lethal force against American citizens suspected of being unlawful combatants abroad (the paper is here courtesy of NBC News). This piece discusses the Administration’s having kept its arguments secret, and the fact that its disclosure is fueling greater demand for information.
February 06, 2013 at 10:17 AM in Congress, Executive Branch, Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Intelligence, Military, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, Politics, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Constitutional Law, Secrecy / Transparency / FOIA, Middle East / Northern Africa, Analysis | Permalink
02/04/13: The Hill reports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Sunday said that immigration reform was “certainly going to pass” the upper chamber. “It has to get done. We have to work hard to get it done,” Reid said. “It’s really easy to write principles. To write legislation is much harder. And once we write the legislation, then you have to get it passed. But I think things are looking really good.” Last week a bipartisan group of senators introduced a framework for reform, which includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and calls for tighter border security. But the plan faces obstacles from GOP lawmakers who are opposed to measures granting illegal immigrants citizenship and want border-security issues addressed first.
02/04/13: CNN reports outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday his “biggest concern” is the uncertainty over budget issues on Capitol Hill. “If the sequester is allowed to go into effect, I think it could seriously impact … the readiness [of] the United States,” he said. The US military could face the start of $500 billion in budget cuts in about a month if Congress fails to come up with a budget plan that avoids the so-called sequester, a series of automatic, spending cuts spread out over the next decade. Panetta in January ordered the military to begin implementing cost-cutting measures aimed at mitigating the effects of significant budget cuts that would occur if Congress fails to reach a deal in coming months to avert or soften them.
02/02/13: Wired's Danger Room reports the US isn’t just shoveling cash to stem the tide of narcotics in Mexico and Colombia. Quietly, it’s built up its drug war in Central America, too — spending nearly $100 million over four years on advanced gear for local forces. Not that Washington has any idea what it’s gotten for its money. A new report from the Government Accountability Office provides a rare glimpse into the Central American war on drugs. Between 2008 and 2011, the report finds, the government spent $97 million for gear and training for its Central American partners. On the plus side, it’s laughably low compared to the more than $640 billion (and rising) the US has spent on the war in Afghanistan. Most of the drug war money is spent on equipment such as vehicles — like aircraft and patrol boats — night-vision goggles, body armor, radios and weapons, and X-ray equipment for scanning cargo containers.
01/30/13: The LA Times reports the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) as Secretary of State, filling a crucial national security spot in President Obama’s second-term Cabinet. Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, will replace Hillary Clinton, who will step down Friday. After the 94-3 vote, Kerry submitted a letter of resignation, effective Friday, to give up the Senate seat he has held since 1985. He will take the oath of office in a private ceremony. President Obama praised Kerry as “a champion of American global leadership” in a statement. “John has earned the respect of leaders around the world and the confidence of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and I am confident he will make an extraordinary secretary of State,” Obama said.
01/28/13: NPR reports a bipartisan group of leading senators has reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to retool the nation’s immigration laws. The deal covers border security, guest workers and employer verification, as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country. Although thorny details remain to be negotiated and success is far from certain, the development heralds the start of what could be the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation's inefficient patchwork of immigration laws. The eight senators expected to endorse the new principles Monday are Democrats Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.); and Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) Several of these lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn’t get enough GOP support. Comprehensive immigration reform has not been seriously attempted since.