The vote in the House was largely along party lines, with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) being the only Democrat to vote for the bill, and Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.) the only Republicans to vote against it.
In response, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that although Congress passed the bill, it ultimately will have no effect on Obamacare.
“They’ve voted 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This is the first time that it has reached the president’s desk, but it has no impact,” Earnest said during a press conference Thursday.
HR 3762, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015, sought to repeal Obamacare provisions including the requirement for most people to obtain healthcare coverage, the expansion of Medicaid, and the taxes imposed on income, insurance policies and medical devices that were required to fund Obamacare.
The bill would have also put an end to the nearly $450 million given to Planned Parenthood for at least one year. While the Senate did vote on over a dozen amendments to the bill, they rejected two amendments that would have given money to Planned Parenthood.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) noted the significance of such a bill reaching the President’s desk after five years of being struck down by Democrats. While he did not say what the Republicans would replace it with, he claimed that a Republican president in 2017 would seek out “a truly patient-centered healthcare system.”
“This budget reconciliation bill, which would reduce the federal deficit by a half trillion dollars, forces the president to confront the failures of Obamacare head on,” Ryan said. “But most importantly, it clears the path to repealing this law with a Republican president in 2017 and replacing it with a truly patient-centered health care system. We will not back down from this fight to defend the sanctity of life and make quality health care coverage achievable for all Americans.”
The last-minute addition of the Cybersecurity Act of 2015to a massive Congressional spending bill has drawn criticism from Representatives who call the provisions unconstitutional, and say that they are an excuse for the U.S. government to expand warrantless domestic cyber surveillance.
In a statement to Truth In Media on Thursday, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said he does not support the bill, and he sees it as possibly the “worst anti-privacy vote” since the Patriot Act in 2001.
[pull_quote_center]A vote for the omnibus is a vote to support unconstitutional surveillance on all Americans. It’s probably the worst anti-privacy vote in Congress since the Patriot Act.[/pull_quote_center]
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) released a statement on his Facebook page on Wednesday, claiming that he learned of the addition of the “completely unrelated legislation to expand warrantless domestic cyber surveillance” on Tuesday night.
[pull_quote_center]We learned last night that in addition to unsustainable spending, the giant omnibus includes completely unrelated legislation to expand warrantless domestic cyber surveillance and to repeal country of origin labeling for meat sold in the U.S. I will be voting no on Thursday.[/pull_quote_center]
As previously reported, while “sharing of intelligence is supposed to be voluntary,” critics of the bill say the provisions “will only increase the indiscriminate monitoring of legal activity by giving companies immunity from lawsuits for sharing information with the government.”
Amash told Truth in Media he believes the surveillance provisions were “quietly slipped” into the massive spending bill in an attempt to “avoid full scrutiny.”
[pull_quote_center]These provisions were quietly slipped into the omnibus to avoid full scrutiny. We take an oath to defend the Constitution, and our Fourth Amendment privacy protections are as important as anything.[/pull_quote_center]
After approval from the United States House of Representatives, the Senate passed the Every Student Succeeds Act on Wednesday, a federal education bill that would replace No Child Left Behind. President Obama signed the bill Thursday.
The bill, which was introduced on April 30, is described as “an Act to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to ensure that every child achieves.”
The Department of Education presented the bill as one that in addition to providing “federal grants to state educational agencies to improve the quality of elementary and secondary education,” would also offer “grants to districts serving low-income students, federal grants for text and library books,” and would create special education centers and scholarships for low-income college students.
This bill, consisting of 1,061 pages, would replace “No Child Left Behind,” which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, and looked to close “achievement gaps” by mandating standardized testing.
ESSA is supposed to repeal annual federal progress reports, replacing them with a individual statewide accountability system that prohibits federal interference.
At the state level, ESSA will still require statewide assessments in reading and math for students in the 3rd to the 8th grades and once in high school, along with science tests given three times between the 3rd and the 12th grade.
In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan on Dec. 2, Republican Georgia State Sen. William Ligon questioned “why we need a 1061-page federal bill dealing with education policy.”
[pull_quote_center]I have been told by a member of our congressional delegation that bill’s length was needed to repeal many existing federal laws dealing with education. Unfortunately, a review of the bill reveals not much in the way of repeal but that once again the federal government is driving education policy in every State in the Union through grants and waivers.[/pull_quote_center]
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised the bill, calling it “another bipartisan achievement for our country.”
While he did not vote on Wednesday, GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) released a statement saying that he does not support the bill.
Cruz said the bill “unfortunately continues to propagate the large and ever-growing role of the federal government in our education system,” which is the “same federal government that sold us failed top-down standards like Common Core.”
[pull_quote_center]We should be empowering parents and local school districts instead of perpetuating the same tired approach that continues to fail our nation’s children. In many ways, the conference report was worse than the original Senate bill—removing the few good provisions from the House bill that would have allowed some Title I portability for low-income students as well as a parental opt-out from onerous federal accountability standards.[/pull_quote_center]
Presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also did not vote on the bill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted against it.
The United States Senate passed a budget bill on Thursday that aims to repeal several key provisions of the Affordable Care Act and seeks to halt funding to Planned Parenthood.
HR 3762, the “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015,” would overhaul Obamacare provisions such as the requirement for most people to obtain healthcare coverage, the expansion of Medicaid, and the taxes imposed on income, insurance policies and medical devices that were required to fund Obamacare.
The bill would also put an end to the nearly $450 million given to Planned Parenthood annually. While the Senate did vote on over a dozen amendments to the bill, they rejected two amendments that would have given money to Planned Parenthood.
The Senate also blocked proposals for increased gun control that were pushed after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, on Wednesday.
Although President Obama has promised to veto the bill, it marks the first time legislation of its kind could make it to the president’s desk without being prevented by Democrats in Congress.
Needing 51 votes to pass, the bill passed in the Senate 52-47, and will go on to the House of Representatives where it is expected to pass, as a similar bill was passed on Oct. 23.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bill presents Obama with a choice that could lead to “better care” for Americans with his consent.
“President Obama will have a choice,” McConnell said. “He can defend a status quo that’s failed the middle class by vetoing the bill, or he can work toward a new beginning and better care by signing it.”
Healthcare spending topped $3.03 trillion in 2014, up 5.3 percent from 2013, which marked the highest growth since 2007.
In terms of GOP presidential candidates, the bill received the approval of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.), Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did not vote.
CISA now heads to a conference committee to align the Senate bill with the House of Representatives version. If approved by the committee the bill would go to President Obama to be signed into law.
Last Thursday, with a vote of 83 to 14, the U.S. Senate approved a set of amendments related to CISA which is designed to allow private companies to easily share threat intelligence with government agencies. Critics of the bill say the provisions will only increase the indiscriminate monitoring of legal activity.
Before the vote, Senator Rand Paul introduced an amendment which would require companies to adhere to their own terms of service with customers. However, this amendment failed after only receiving 32 votes. Senator Paul’s presidential campaign website says that the bill “would transform websites into government spies.”
Following the vote, Senator Ron Wyden, a long-time opponent of CISA, told the Daily Dot, “We think that information sharing can be useful. But … information sharing without robust privacy protections—millions of Americans are going to say that’s a surveillance bill.”
“Number one, it’s not voluntary for their customers, millions and millions of customers,” Wyden explained. “And number two, to get the liability protection, the companies have got to say that they didn’t find anything personal and unrelated in a knowing fashion. And that’s going to be a pretty easy bar because they don’t have to do much to look!”
Attempting to pass surveillance measures veiled as “cybersecurity” bills is nothing new. In fact, CISA is seen as the “cousin” of another controversial cybersecurity bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which was defeated by mass opposition in 2012.
Privacy advocates and digital rights groups have been equally vocal in their opposition to CISA. Just days before the vote the Washington Post reported Apple and Dropbox said they did not support the bill. The two companies join Yelp, Reddit, Twitter and the Wikimedia Foundation in their fight against the surveillance bill.
Senator Wyden says the opposition from tech companies has the sponsors of the bill concerned. “I don’t know how many times they kept coming back to the fact that the technology companies really weren’t acting in the interests of the country,” Wyden said. “You saw some of their comments—’There’s no reason for them to be opposed.’ [That] was because they know that these companies are experts in both cyber and privacy. They’re ones that are really knowledgeable about it, and they were opposed to the bill.”
While the bill still has several hurdles to pass before it could become law, privacy advocates and lovers of liberty should keep an eye on the measure as it progresses. It’s time for the free people of the United States, and the world at large, to decide whether or not privacy means anything in 2015.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been issued a subpoena seeking the release of all “reports, recommendations, letters and comments received by the State Department from the advising agencies pursuant to Executive Order 13337 regarding the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent letters February 24th and June 15th attempting to get the same documents but the State Department has refused to release the reports.
In a statement accompanying the subpoena, Commitee Chairman Jason Chaffetz stated that the State Department has been “uncooperative” and “shown an unwillingness to recognize the Committee’s legitimate interest in obtaining information.”
“We will not be stymied in carrying out our responsibility to the American people to effectively oversee the Executive Branch.”
The controversial Keystone XL pipeline was dealt a blow earlier this year when President Obama vetoed legislation that had been approved by Congress. The Senate later failed to override the veto in March. The pipeline would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands to pipelines in refineries in Houston and other locations on the Gulf of Mexico.
Stay tuned to Truth In Media for more details on this developing situation.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has approved a new measure which would force social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to report content that is believed to be connected to “terrorist activity”.
The Washington Post reported that the measure will be included as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2016. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the measure in a closed session on Wednesday July 1st. The measure is supposed to help intelligence and law enforcement officials detect terror threats.
The Post reports:
“It would not require companies to monitor their sites if they do not already do so, said a committee aide, who requested anonymity because the bill has not yet been filed. The measure applies to “electronic communication service providers,” which includes e-mail services such as Google and Yahoo.”
The bill would require any online company that “obtains actual knowledge of any terrorist activity . . . shall provide to the appropriate authorities the facts or circumstances of the alleged terrorist activity.”
Google, Facebook and Twitter declined to comment to The Post, however, “anonymous industry officials” reportedly called the measure a bad idea.
Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, told The Post he believed the measure would erode privacy in the name of fighting terrorism.
“If it becomes law, their natural tendency will be to err on the side of reporting anything that might be characterized as ‘terrorist activity’ even if it is not. And their duty to report will chill speech on the Internet that relates to terrorism.”
The U.S. government already maintains a massive surveillance state, including a number of programs that gather internet user data. This latest measure would only further codify the government’s ability to force private companies to hand over sensitive information.
On Wednesday afternoon the U.S. Senate voted to approve “fast track” authority. The approval is a major victory for President Obama, Big Business, and corporations across the globe.
After voting to end debate on Tuesday, the Senate voted 60 to 38 to approve the controversial measure. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law immediately. The House has already passed the measure with support from Democrats and Republicans.
The approval for FTA by the Senate is related to the push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is one of the largest trade agreements in history, involving the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The nations have been negotiating the deal since 2005, with global resistance growing since 2012.
Supporters of the bill say it would mean more jobs and a stronger America. Critics say the bill will give corporations loopholes to escape accountability and empower international bodies, overriding national sovereignty of the signing nations.
Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, co-author of the bill, said it was a historic day and called the vote, “perhaps the most important bill we’ll pass in the Senate this year.”
On Tuesday, Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz both voted against ending the debate on the bill.
The trade agreement has been notoriously secret, with the public only viewing chapters of the text which have been leaked by WikiLeaks. U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), a supporter of the TPP, called for more transparency. In a letter sent to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Lance said that his constituents support the agreement but do not want secrecy.
“They, however, want trade agreements that are transparent and good for American workers and American taxpayers,” Lance wrote. “Yet the TPP negotiating text is currently classified, and only members of Congress and staffers with security clearance can access it. I believe declassifying and releasing the negotiating text online will bring much-needed transparency, accountability and public awareness to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement and its policy implications.”
The U.S. Senate has voted to outlaw a number of forms of torture, used by the CIA and U.S. military while interrogating suspects. Under the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2015, forms of torture, including waterboarding, “rectal feeding,” mock executions, hooding prisoners, and sexual humiliation would be illegal.
By a vote of 78 to 21, the Senate agreed on an amendment to the NDAA that limits the US government to interrogation and detention rules delineated in the US Army Field Manual. The amendment also requires that US officials immediately notify the International Red Cross in the event of an individual taken into US custody or control.
Based on twenty case studies examined in the report, investigators concluded that enhanced interrogation techniques were not as effective as less brutal methods when it came to providing useful information that could be used to stop a terror plot.
The NDAA amendment was introduced last week by Republican Sen. John McCain and is co-sponsored by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Below, Sen. McCain explains his reasoning behind the amendment in which he says, “Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”
The US House must now vote on the amendment within the larger defense authorization bill, which sets budget and expenditure limits for the US Department of Defense.
UPDATE: 10 p.m. Eastern – President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday evening.
A statement was released on Twitter, prior to the signing, in which Obama called the time between when the NSA surveillance powers under the Patriot Act expired, to the time when the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act, resurrecting those powers, a “needless delay and inexcusable lapse in national security authorities.”
In the statement, Obama also said he was “gratified Congress has finally moved forward” with what he called “sensible reform legislation.”
4:20 p.m. Eastern – On Tuesday afternoon, the United States Senate rejected any amendments to and ultimately passed the version of the USA Freedom Act passed by the House of Representatives. The USA Freedom Act, which revives some of the NSA surveillance powers that expired with Section 215 of the Patriot Act on June 1, was passed in the Senate with a final vote of 67-32.
The USA Freedom Act was created as a substitute for Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expired at 12:01 a.m. on June 1. The controversial Section 215 was used by the National Security Agency to justify its bulk collection of Americans’ data.
Advocates of the USA Freedom Act presented it as a way to curb the powers of the NSA by transferring the bulk collection Americans’ phone records to private companies. However, those in opposition noted that it wouldn’t end the government’s collection; it would only change the channels the government went through to collect Americans’ records.
The House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act with an overwhelming vote of 338-88, the bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate on May 22, with a 57-42, following a 10-hour and 30-minute speech from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has led the campaign against both the USA Freedom Act, and an extension of the Patriot Act.
Following a weeklong recess, in which many lawmakers vowed to lobby for the three votes needed to pass the USA Freedom Act, it was advanced in the Senate on Sunday, with a vote of 77-17.
The USA Freedom Act was advanced once again on Tuesday morning, with a vote of 83-14. A debate was held over amendments, and while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struck down the nine amendments presented by Senator Paul and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), he did bring up four amendments of his own, which were all rejected.
The bill will now be sent to President Obama, who strongly encouraged the Senate to approve the House-passed version of the USA Freedom Act, without adding any amendments and delaying the reinstatement of the NSA’s surveillance powers. According to the bill, the government will continue to collect Americans’ bulk data for the next six months. After that, phone companies will keep Americans’ phone records, and government officials will have to receive a warrant to gain access to the records.
On Tuesday, the United States Senate voted, 83-14, to advance the USA Freedom Act, opening it up to a series of amendments that will be voted on, before a final Senate vote on the bill on Tuesday afternoon.
The USA Freedom Act was created as a substitute for Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expired at 12:01 a.m. on June 1. The controversial Section 215 was used by the National Security Agency to justify its bulk collection of Americans’ data. The campaign against extending the Patriot Act was led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who hailed the expiration of Section 215 as a victory over NSA spying.
Advocates of the USA Freedom Act presented it as a way to curb the powers of the NSA by transferring the bulk collection Americans’ phone records to private companies. However, those in opposition noted that it wouldn’t end the government’s collection; it would only change the channels the government went through to collect Americans’ records.
While the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act with an overwhelming vote of 338-88, the bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate on May 22, with a 57-42, following Paul’s 10-hour and 30-minute speech against both the USA Freedom Act, and an extension of the Patriot Act, on May 20.
Following a weeklong recess, in which many lawmakers vowed to lobby for the three votes needed to pass the USA Freedom Act, it was advanced in the Senate on Sunday, with a vote of 77-17.
Now that the USA Freedom Act has advanced in the Senate, the debate on possible amendments to the bill will begin, and if any of those amendments are passed, the bill will then return to the House of Representatives for another vote.
The Guardian reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is presenting three amendments, which he called “common sense” safeguards for “fundamental and necessary counterterrorism tools.”
The first of McConnell’s proposed amendments would “allow for more time of the construction and testing of a system that does not yet exist,” the second would “ensure that the director of national intelligence is in charged with at least ensuring the readiness of the system,” and the third would require telecom companies to notify Congress when they “elect to change their data retention policies.”
While Paul has gained support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, one of his most prominent allies has been Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a strong opponent of NSA surveillance.
Bloomberg reported that Paul and Wyden will propose nine amendments to the USA Freedom Act that would aid in increasing the visibility and restricting the actions of the intelligence agencies:
Require the government to get a warrant before collecting personal information from third parties.
Raise the standard for government collection of call records under FISA from “reasonable grounds” to “probable cause.”
Limit the government’s ability to use information gathered under intelligence authorities in unrelated criminal cases.
Amendment 1443: Make it easier to challenge the use of illegally obtained surveillance information in criminal proceedings.
Prohibit the government from requiring hardware and software companies to deliberately weaken encryption and other security features.
Clarify the bill’s definition of “specific selection terms.”
Require court approval for National Security Letters.
Prohibit the government from conducting warrantless reviews of Americans’ email and other communications under section 702 of the Foreign intelligence Surveillance Act.
Strengthen the bill with additional provisions from previously introduced surveillance reform legislation.
UPDATE: June 1st 12:01 a.m. Eastern – Section 215 of the Patriot Act has expired.
UPDATE: 8 p.m. Eastern – The Senate voted, 77-17, to advance the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would change the channels through which the U.S. Government collects Americans’ data. Sunday’s vote sets up the bill for a final vote this week, and if passed, the bill would then be sent to President Obama to sign.
While the Senate waits for a final vote on the USA Freedom Act, three sections of the Patriot Act will expire on June 1, including the controversial Section 215, which is used by the National Security Agency to justify its collection of Americans’ phone records.
Following the vote to advance the USA Freedom Act, Sen. Rand Paul, who has led the campaign for abolishing the Patriot Act altogether, took to the Senate Floor, and said that although Section 215 will expire tonight, it will “only be temporary,” and those in favor of NSA surveillance will “ultimately get their way.”
“I think the majority of the American people do believe the government has gone too far,” Paul said. “In Washington, it’s the opposite, but I think Washington is out of touch. There will be 80 votes to say ‘continue the Patriot Act,’ maybe more, but if you go into the general public, if you get outside of the beltway and visit America, it’s completely the opposite.”
Paul also addressed comments from Senators such as Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who have equated a possible expiration of the Patriot Act to a “win” for terrorists around the world:
[pull_quote_center]The people who argue that the world will end, and we’ll be overrun by Jihadists tonight are trying to use fear. They want to take just a little bit of your liberty, and they get it by making you afraid. . . . They tell you if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. It’s a far cry from the standard we are founded upon: innocent until proven guilty.[/pull_quote_center]
6:20 p.m. Eastern – On Sunday, the United States Senate reconvened after a weeklong recess, for a last-minute debate on the future of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program.
With the possible expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act approaching on June 1, the USA Freedom Act was created, and presented as a way to curb Section 215 by transferring the bulk collection Americans’ phone records to private companies. While advocates for the USA Freedom Act claim that it will end the NSA’s bulk data collection, those in opposition say that it wouldn’t end the government’s collection; it would only change the channels the government went through to collect Americans’ records.
While the USA Freedom Act was passed in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming vote of 338-88, it failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate, with a 57-42 vote on Friday.
Click here to watch the live feed from the Senate floor.
GOP Presidential candidate and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who led the charge to block a direct extension of the Patriot Act, vowed to force the expiration of the NSA’s massive surveillance program altogether.
On the Senate floor on Sunday, Paul was noted that the NSA’s massive surveillance program has been ruled illegal by a federal appeals court.
“We’re not collecting the information of spies,” Paul said. “We’re not collecting the information of terrorists. We’re collecting the information of Americans, all of the time.”
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid endorsed New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to succeed him as Democratic leader Friday.
Reid announced earlier in the day he would not seek reelection in 2016 after 34 years in Congress. Schumer, who many believed would eventually step into the Reid’s position, is currently the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate.
The only real competition would likely come fromm Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin.
“I think Schumer should be able to succeed me,” Reid told a Washington Post reporter on Friday morning during an interview at his home in Washington. Reid believes that Durbin will step aside for Schumer.
The minority leader spoke with Durbin on Friday morning.
Some liberals wonder if Schumer should be leading the party given his connections to Wall Street, but Reid believes they should accept Schumer. He said that members like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would continue to represent the more populist part of the caucus.
Schumer, known to reporters on the Hill for often avoiding questions and slipping into elevators to avoid press gaggles, was described by Reid to the Post as “extremely smart” and would have a “different style” than the Nevadan’s soft-spoken delivery.
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 98-2 on a bill that would continue to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The bill, which comes three days before a partial DHS shutdown, has created controversy between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and was only agreed upon after Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, removed provisions added by the House that would have reversed President Obama’s executive immigration action.
The Hill reported that the two votes against the bill were from Republican Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Senate Minority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid, called the bill a “clean Homeland Security funding substitute,” and said that Democrats in the Senate would only support it on the condition that it did not reverse Obama’s immigration order.
According to the Huffington Post, under the agreement presented by McConnell, the Senate will “resolve the DHS funding issue and then vote on a separate bill” from Republican Senator Susan Collins “to block Obama’s executive actions.”
The Associated Press noted that the bill will now be sent to the House, where some conservatives called the new plan a “surrender to the White House.”
The Hill reported that several Republicans criticized this “clean” plan, and many of them vowed they would “not vote to fund agencies that would be carrying out Obama’s immigration order.”
As previously reported, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson addressed the possibility of a shutdown, while on Meet the Press on Sunday. While also commenting on threats made against the Mall of America by Islamist militants in Somalia, Johnson said it was “bizarre and absurd” that the U.S. government was having this discussion “in these challenging times.”
Following Johnson’s comments, DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron released a statement admitting that the department was not “aware of any specific, credible plot against the Mall of America or any other domestic commercial shopping center.”
WASHINGTON—February 15, 2015 – When Naghmeh Abedini married her husband Saeed in Iran, she never dreamed she would raise their future children as a single mother in Boise, Idaho, while her husband languished for years in an Iranian prison.
A native of Iran, Naghmeh and her family left when she was nine years old and spent a year in California before relocating to Boise. Her father was educated in the United States and obtained his master’s degree at Oregon State University prior to taking his family out of Iran. “He had a green card,” says Naghmeh, “We were not refugees.”
The real reason they left Iran, however, was due to the radicalization of their Muslim faith in the school system. “My brother was being brainwashed in elementary school,” says Naghmeh, “They started war recruiting for Jihad when he was eight years old.” Students were told that if they died for the cause they would “get to meet God.” They were forced to run through active mine fields as a school exercise. The land mines would occasionally detonate. “The government arrested any parents who complained,” says Naghmeh, “So our parents quietly packed up and left.”
Her parents were unhappy with the school system in California, also, and hoped a move to a smaller city would help preserve their culture and Muslim faith. Within ten years in Boise, however, both of Naghmeh’s parents, along with herself, her brother, and a sister had converted to Christianity.
In 2001, Naghmeh spent a year in Iran. Just before she returned to Boise, her cousin invited her to a government-approved Christian church service. She heard Saeed Abedini speak and was intrigued by his passion, so she introduced herself and asked him if he would watch out for her cousins. Later, she learned that Saeed was a pastor and a leader of the growing house church movement. He was also a former Muslim who once desired to kill Christians, but he converted in 2000. When she returned to Iran in 2003 for another visit, the sparks flew between them. He proposed marriage in June of that year, and they were married in Iran the following June in a government-sanctioned Christian church.
The Abedini’s life together in Iran was cut short when the country experienced a regime change in 2005 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to power. Known for his religious hardline stances, Ahmadinejad was a main figure in the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran party, usually shortened to Abadgaran and widely regarded as the political front for the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Revolutionary Guards.) The latter group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2007.
After Ahmadinejad was elected, the church the Abedinis married in was forced to close, as were other Christian churches in Iran, despite current law allowing the peaceful gathering of religious minorities. Overnight, Christians were seemingly not welcome or tolerated in the country, so the couple moved together to Boise. Their daughter Rebekka was born in 2006 and their son Jacob arrived in 2008, the same year Saeed became an ordained minister through the American Evangelistic Association.
In 2009, the entire family decided to visit Iran together and see Saeed’s family, as it had been four years since he had seen his parents who had yet to meet their grandchildren. When the Boise-based Abedini family arrived at the airport to fly home to Idaho, Saeed was arrested by Iranian intelligence police. “Please leave Iran,” Saeed told his wife and children, “It will make it easier on me.”
Saeed was placed on house arrest for a month in his parents’ home while investigators determined whether or not he was still establishing Christian church groups. Before he was released, the police advised him to focus on humanitarian efforts—a move that inspired Saeed to use his grandfather’s land and an existing building to open an orphanage in the Iranian city of Rasht.
Back in Idaho, Saeed began a three-year process riddled with paperwork hurdles and setbacks in an attempt to open the orphanage he envisioned. He visited Iran ten more times in an effort to complete the approval process for the orphanage. Naghmeh, Rebekah, and Jacob joined him in October 2011, as the Abedinis were convinced that the orphanage was close to being opened. “We really wanted our kids to be able to meet the orphans,” Naghmeh recalls. However, by February 2012, the approval was still pending. The Abedinis returned to Boise once more. Four months later, Saeed traveled to Iran to finish the orphanage once and for all. “That was the last time I saw him,” says Naghmeh.
He was due to return to Boise on July 29. However, on July 27, Saeed was arrested on a bus in Turkey after looking at land in Georgia. He was placed under house arrest once again. The Iranian government seized his U.S. Passport and he was questioned for months about his activities, without being charged with a crime.
He thought he would be able to resolve his detainment with one last interrogation, scheduled for September 26 at a location to be determined by a 9:00 a.m. phone call that same day. However, Revolutionary Guards forces raided his parents’ house in Tehran at 6:00 a.m. and took Saeed to an unknown location. Four days later, it was revealed that he was in solitary confinement at the notorious Evin Prison. Saeed was accused of “corrupting a whole generation against Islam,” a reference to his pre-Revolution house church activities.
Saeed was charged with undermining the national security of Iran. At his trial on January 21, 2013, Saeed and his attorney were only given one day to make their defense. He was convicted by Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, and sentenced a week later to eight years in prison. Revolutionary Court trials are not public, there is no jury, and a single judge decides the cases—which are final and not eligible for appeal. Details about court proceedings are revealed at the sole discretion of the court. The government says it will release Saeed if he converts back to Islam, but he refuses.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is representing Naghmeh and her children. “This is a real travesty—a mockery of justice,” said ACLJ’s Executive Director Jordan Sekulow. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights.”
Saeed Abedini has been reportedly beaten and tortured during his incarceration and is now housed in the Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj, his sudden move a possible indication of defiance toward President Hassan Rouhani by the Revolutionary Guard. Saeed is denied any electronic or voice communications with the outside world, but his parents visit him almost weekly, bring him letters from home, and send his letters out—including one to President Obama just before this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.
Naghmeh is hopeful due to extensive support from Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, as well as remarks made by President Obama, that her husband’s release will be secured during upcoming negotiations with Iran. “We’re in a good place,” she says, “If Iran wants to make a deal, I want to make sure Saeed is not left behind.”
After President Obama gave his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, Senator Rand Paul released his own State of the Union speech online.
Paul starts by saying, “All is not well in America,” and from here he outlines what he thinks is wrong in the country.
The first thing Paul says is needed in America is “new leadership.” He does not mean get rid of the president, rather this is a call for a limit to the number of terms congressmen and other high ranking officials can serve. Currently, the U.S. has 11 people in the House or Senate who have served 35+ years as political leaders. Paul says by eliminating the limitless number of terms these leaders can have, new blood will flow into Washington, bringing fresh and new ideas.
As the president took time in his speech to outline his plan to continue to fight the war on poverty, Paul says he believes the war on poverty has failed. “Income inequality has worsened under this administration, and tonight, President Obama offers more of the same policies,” said Paul. “Policies which allow the poor to get poorer, and the rich to get richer…[Americans] don’t want a handout but a hand-up.”
Then, Paul takes a jab at Congress for their failure to balance the national budget, asking how Congress cannot balance a budget like every other American household? Paul says if Congress cannot balance the budget for one reason or another, an amendment should be added to make balancing the budget a mandatory act of Congress.
After mentioning an increase in the national debt, Paul calls out Hillary Clinton and what he calls her war in Libya. “Libya is now a jihadist wonderland,” says Paul, who then says we are more at risk for terrorist attacks “than ever before,” because of the actions in Libya.
Shortly afterward this mention, he says we need to not worry about the Middle East since war has been in the region for thousands of years, and instead we should worry about our issues here in the U.S.
Then in an odd instance, Paul seems to advocate for universal healthcare, but not President Obama’s version of healthcare. “It is a noble aspiration and a moral obligation to make sure our fellow man is provided for, that medical treatment is made available to all.”
While President Obama may have limited the choice of doctors available to some citizens, Paul says we should have the option to choose which doctor we want within our healthcare plan. “Everyone knows our healthcare system needed reforming, but it was the wrong prescription to choose more government instead of more consumer choice and competition. Obamacare restriction freedom…” Paul’s answer to fix the president’s healthcare plan, “Let’s try freedom again, it worked for over 200 years.”
A moment was also taken to propose a flat tax, as well as a cut to national spending.
In the last minutes of his speech, Paul rehashes many of his main talking points which have been seen in the news and heard in his many speeches. He wants to hold political leaders accountable for their actions, he asks how we can trust members of Congress since they only have a 10 percent approval rating, and then says the government has no right to collect our phone data and he backs this up with a mention of the Constitution.
Before ending, Paul says he will propose an audit of the Pentagon to “seek ways to make our defense department more modern and efficient without breaking the bank.”
The speech does not seem to be a response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech, rather it appears to be a gathering of all of Paul’s talking points over the last few years, compiled into one consistent speech. He doesn’t offer many counterpoints to the president’s speech, or alternatives to what the president said. Instead, he tries to strengthen his political stance on a few issues, and he attempts to reach the moderates who are upset with the state of politics in Washington.
On Tuesday, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), an organization that examines human rights violations in the medical field, released a report that called for a federal investigation into the health professionals who were involved in the torture methods that were used on terror suspects.
The request was sparked by the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 500-page summary of its 6,7000-page report on the torture techniques used by the CIA on al-Qaeda hostages, following the terror attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
The report from PHR states that the health professionals who aided the CIA in carrying out certain techniques “betrayed the most fundamental duty of the healing professions” and should be investigated for committing war crimes:
“Health professionals, given their ethical and legal obligations to protect the health and welfare of all individuals, have historically represented one essential barrier to the inhumane treatment of detainees and prisoners,” stated the report. “The complicity of health professionals themselves in such abuse indicates that egregious violations of public trust, ethics, and law have taken place.”
The report went on to state that the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report summary “confirms that the United States systematically tortured” the terror suspects detained after 9/11, and shows that the “practices were far more brutal than previously acknowledged.”
The Executive Director of PHR, Donna McKay, said that after more than a decade of covering up the truth, the report finally shows the extent to which health professionals were involved in torturing detainees.
“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees,” said McKay. “Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability.”
PHR also states that not only did health professional play an essential role in carrying out the program, they were also the ones who “designed, supervised, and implemented” the techniques, they were “paid enormous sums for their efforts,” and they “monitored those being tortured and used their expertise to certify detainees’ fitness for torture and worked to enable and enhance the pain inflicted.”
One of the methods used on detainees by health professionals was the practice of forced rectal feeding. RT reported that this practice was used, despite “officials having not found any medical necessity” in the practice, and despite the fact that as a result, “detainees suffered from rectal prolapses and other after-effects.”
The report from PHR states that the Senate’s torture report shows that rectal feeding was used “without medical necessity” and to “control and/or punish the detainees,” and that according to PHR experts, “Insertion of any object into the rectum of an individual without his consent constitutes a form of sexual assault.”
Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor, called for the health professionals involved to be held accountable for their involvement in the torture program.
“Health professionals played a pivotal role in the abuse and brutality exposed in the CIA torture report and they must be held accountable,” said Iacopino. “They were complicit at every step, including designing the torture techniques, monitoring the infliction of severe physical and mental pain, and failing to document clear evidence of harm.”
PHR released a statement calling for an investigation of the professionals who betrayed their ethical duties, and inflicted harm on patients they were supposed to be protecting:
“PHR calls for the investigation and prosecution of all those complicit in the torture and ill-treatment of detainees and the revocation of licenses for any health professionals who participated. PHR also repeats its call for transparency, and for the U.S. government to clarify the extent to which U.S. officials and those acting at the government’s direction violated the U.N. Convention against Torture and the U.S. Constitution.”
To avoid a government shutdown, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have agreed on a $1.1 trillion spending bill.
The new bill was passed in part to avoid the looming political struggle surrounding President Obama’s new immigration policy. By agreeing on the new spending bill, this struggle will be delayed for at least another month.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told the AP, “The federal government’s going to run out of money in two days. … We’ve been trying to work with Republican leaders to avoid a shutdown.”
Republicans are responsible for negotiating the new spending bill which implements a number of new policy measures. Some of the new measures include, according to Reuters, the easing of environmental regulations as well as regulations aimed at financial derivative trading. The bill is also adding funds to fight the Islamic State militants as well as funds to help fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
According to Politico, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is receiving a $35 million budget increase from the new bill, bringing their total budget to $250 million. The Securities and Exchanges Commission is also receiving a budget increase of $150 million, putting their budget close to $1.5 billion.
While some measures are added or changed, many of the original policy measures from the fiscal 2015 domestic spending plan are not hampered or hindered. This means all government agencies are being funded through September 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security which is only funded to Feb. 27.
One measure which was excluded from the new bill was the federal terrorism insurance measure passed after 9/11. The insurance was up for a six-year extension, but instead of being included in the spending bill, the extension will be considered on its own at a later date.
On Tuesday, the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the torture methods, or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” used by the Central Intelligence Agency on al-Qaida hostages following the terror attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.
As previously reported, the committee’s Democrats were the only ones who approved this account, and the Republicans on the committee chose to follow-up the initial report with one of their own.
While the report from the Democrats accused the CIA of misleading White House officials about the effectiveness and the cruelty of the tactics being used on the hostages, the Republicans took a different angle.
The 100-page report from the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee claimed that the tactics used by the CIA weakened al-Qaida overall, and saved American lives:
“We have no doubt that the CIA’s detention program saved lives and played a vital role in weakening Al Qaeda while the program was in operation,” concluded the report.
The committee’s Republicans also alleged that Democrats had practiced “inadequate objectivity,” and had written their report with “political motivations” in mind.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, released a statement condemning the timing of the release, and saying that he believes the decision to release the report at this time was “politically motivated,” following the Democrats’ loss of control in the Senate.
“The timing of the release is problematic given the growing threats we face,” said Graham. “Terrorism is on the rise, and our enemies will seize upon this report at a critical time. Simply put, this is not the time to release the report.”
Some Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee viewed the release of the report as a way to degrade former President George W. Bush.
Richard Burr, a Senator from North Carolina, and the Committee’s incoming Chairman, insisted that “The only motive here could be to embarrass George W. Bush.”
According to USA Today, in the midst of the report’s release, Bush and his top aides have “remained low-key,” and have issued “few statements on the report’s claims that the agency exceeded its authority and lied about the results.”
Bill Harlow, the CIA’s Director of public affairs from 1997 to 2004, was in charge of the group that organized the website ciasavedlives.com, which was created shortly after the Democrats released their report.
“Our concern is that right now people are reporting the Feinstein report as if it’s true,” said Harlow. “We don’t think it’s true.”
In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal, three former CIA Directors and three former deputy directors, who were part of the group that created ciasavedlives.com, concluded that the Democrats’ report was merely a form of “politicization.”
“As lamentable as the inaccuracies of the majority document are — and the impact they will have on the public’s understanding of the program — some consequences are alarming,” the former Directors wrote.
House Democrats have reportedly reelected Rep. Nancy Pelosi to the position of minority leader for the next two years.
The election has been confirmed Tuesday by NBC News.
Sources told the Associated Press Pelosi, 74, was reelected in a closed-door meeting of House Democrats by a voice-vote. Pelosi ran unopposed for her reelection, despite Democrats saying their party needs new blood to be elected to leadership positions.
The unrest in the Democratic Party comes after the party lost the Senate in the midterm elections, and many Democrats are saying the unpopularity of President Obama has turned many voters away from the party.
However, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-NJ, said, “We need a full-blown discussion of who we are, where we’re going, what are our priorities. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority…It’s all of our faults, not just the leadership.”
Despite a call for new leadership, many Democrats still think Pelosi is a great leader and laud her for the financial assets she brings to the party. Over the past two years, aides for Pelosi say she has raised about $101 million for Democrats in the House, while she appeared in over 115 cities for about 750 campaign events.
Pelosi, after her reelection addressed her fellow Democrats, saying, according to Politico, house Democrats are the “strongest team on the field.” She also called for a refocusing of the party’s attention on “middle-class issues.”
Pelosi is not the only Democratic leader to retain their position. Many sources are saying the entire Democratic leadership team will be reelected, many of whom are running unopposed as well.