Patriot Act drama comes to an end – for now
The battle over the Patriot Act and the powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) is over – for now at least.
Despite the efforts of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the Senate agreed by an overwhelming 83-14 margin to formally end debate on the USA Freedom Act. The bill restores the three provisions of the Patriot Act that expired on June 1 while ushering in a number of changes designed to better protect privacy and increase transparency.
The bill also ends the NSA's controversial bulk collection of U.S. call metadata, a program secretly justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act until it was exposed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden two years ago. The measure will transition within six months to a system where phone companies provide records to government spies on an as-needed basis after a warrant is obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The bill's passage amounts to the first major loss of Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) six-month stewardship over the Senate as majority leader. Not only did McConnell oppose the NSA reforms, but his efforts to amend the House-passed legislation were also shot down.
While some in Washington are hopeful that the bill’s passage and its signature into law by President Barack Obama ended the battle, privacy advocates say the fight is just starting.
"What you are seeing on the floor of the Senate is just the beginning," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a civil-liberties stalwart in the Senate who serves on the intelligence committee and has worked for more than a decade to reform government surveillance. "There is a lot more to do when – in effect – you can ensure you protect the country's safety without sacrificing our liberty."
Wyden used the Freedom Act's passage to call for additional intelligence-gathering reforms that he has long advocated, such as closing the so-called "backdoor search loophole" that allows U.S. spies to "incidentally" and warrantlessly sweep up the email and phone communications, including some content, of Americans who correspond with foreigners. He added he plans to move quickly on reworking Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before its renewal deadline in 2017.
Wyden also supports tech companies in their ongoing fight with the administration over smartphone encryption. While Google and Apple have begun to build their phones with "too-tough-to-crack" encryption standards, the FBI has warned that the technology locks out the bad guys and the good, and can impede law-enforcement investigations.
Many of the same players who were engaged in defeating metadata reform warn that it would only take one terrorist attack to completely reverse their reform momentum.
Complicating matters for reformers is that the next set of reforms are likely to be tougher to get through Congress. One program that is a target for such reform is an Internet surveillance program known as PRISM. U.S. tech companies subject to the program, including Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, have called for changes, but PRISM is considered to be useful and focuses primarily on surveillance of foreigners.
While PRISM may prove difficult to reign in, other efforts, such as a broadly supported push to update the decades-old Electronic Privacy Communications Act, may prove more doable. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), the lead authors of the Freedom Act in the upper chamber, indicated their desire to move quickly on passing legislation that would update the law to require law enforcement obtain warrants before accessing the content of Americans' old emails.
The latest on Export-Import Bank
Traditional business groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers can usually count on Republicans to support their agenda on the Hill. However, that's not the case at all when it comes to reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.
While almost every Democrat in the House and Senate support reauthorizing the bank, the vast majority of Republicans oppose it, including many in leadership roles.
In an effort to show that Democrats aren’t alone in their support for the bank, a group of Republicans in the House joined ia news conference organized by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to make the Republican case for the bank.
The five House GOPers in attendance urged reauthorization of the Export-Import bank at the news conference, which was held on the same day that the House Financial Services Committee convened a hearing on the bank’s future. The Export-Import bank is something that was once an overwhelmingly bipartisan and completely non-controversial event in Congress.
The bank is set to expire on June 30 unless the House and Senate act. The Senate has promised a vote this month – a concession Democrats managed in their negotiations over fast-track trade authority. In the House, however, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has only promised to “let the House work its will” in the event reauthorization passes in the Senate. A plan to move on reauthorization was conspicuously absent when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) released his schedule for June.
The exact number of House Republicans who can be counted on to support reauthorization is unknown. Last summer, 41 House Republicans signed a letter urging Boehner to reauthorize the bank. Nine of those members have since retired or resigned from Congress, making the number of actual GOP supporters unclear.
Boehner is in a tough spot, with the vast majority of his conference opposing reauthorization, including McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
EPA carbon rule set for release
The Obama administration’s full court press on climate change continues as the Environmental Protection Agency sends its rules on carbon emissions for existing power plants to the White House Office of Management and Budget for a final review, according to a website that tracks federal rulemaking. The rule is set to be finalized in August.
Last Jun the EPA proposed cutting carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, targeting one of the nation's largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions. The proposal sets specific targets for each state, allowing them to craft their own plans through measures like energy efficiency, upgrading power plants, and shifting away from coal power.
The regulatory move tees up the final steps in the rulemaking process for the long-awaited rule. Stakeholder groups, including industry representatives, utilities, and environmental groups, will head to the OMB to meet with White House aides and take their last stabs at the rule.
It's unclear what changes the EPA will make to the final rule, although officials have said they are incorporating input from all sides. There have been reports that EPA is considering dropping a requirement that coal plants install technology that would capture carbon dioxide and store it because the technology is not yet viable.
Congressional Republicans promise to continue to fight the new rules, which they say would essentially kill the coal industry without providing environmental benefits. The House is set to vote the week of June 23 on a bill from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) that would give states the option to opt out of the rule and put it on hold until judicial review is completed. A similar Senate bill is expected to move through the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also continuing to press state governors to opt out of the rule. Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) has said her state won't comply, and Wisconsin governor and Republican presidential contender Scott Walker (R-Wis.) has hinted he will follow suit.
States and industry groups are also sure to set up legal challenges to the rule. One lawsuit against the rule went to the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in April, charging that EPA could not regulate carbon pollution from power plants because it was already regulating other emissions. Although no ruling has yet been issued, justices indicated that the challenge was premature because the rule was not yet final.
Watch this week's Washington Business Brief video, LaTourette Talks Patriot Act, Export-Import Bank and 2016.
Something Democrats and Republicans can agree on: Beer
In the middle of the nasty and divisive fight over the Patriot Act, the Senate found something that could unite the entire body from doves to hawks – craft beer.
The Senate passed a resolution to recognize American Craft Beer Week, which occurs every year in May, by unanimous consent Sunday night just before the chamber adjourned at 10 p.m. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the resolution on Sunday to acknowledge "the small and independent craft brewers of the United States."
Cardin has pushed for the American craft-beer industry, which in 2014 comprised more than 3,000 breweries, before. Earlier this year, he and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Small BREW Act, which would reduce the federal excise tax for small craft brewers. Both Cardin and Collins represent states with a large craft beer industry.
In 2014, the craft beer market represented an almost $20 billion industry. The craft beer industry is also growing at a much larger pace than traditional large breweries: while overall beer sales rose only 0.5 percent in 2014, craft beer sales rose by 17.6 percent.
According to a 2012 study, the craft beer industry also provided more than 360,000 jobs in the United States, with 108,440 jobs directly at breweries and brewpubs, including serving staff at brewpubs.
VP Biden’s son passes away of brain cancer
Over the weekend, the family of Beau Biden (D-Del.), son of Vice President Joe Biden, announced that he had died after a battle with brain cancer. Biden, who was 46, served as the Attorney General of Delaware from 2007 until early this year.
Biden was a major in the Delaware National Guard, served in the Iraq War, and last year announced his intention to run for governor in Delaware.
As attorney general, Beau Biden was known for prosecuting child abusers. In 2010, he abstained from running for his father's old Senate seat because, at the time, he was handling what he called "a case of great consequence" involving an abusive pediatrician.
In a statement released by the White House Saturday night, President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama were "grieving tonight" for their deceased friend, who "made a difference in the lives of all he touched – and he lives on in their hearts."
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Beau Biden a "wonderful, strong and courageous man," and said "it is unspeakably sad to see him leave us far too soon."
"I know Joe is very proud and he should be proud because Beau was simply a joy to know," Reid said.
According to a report in Politico, the Biden family, including the vice president, was with him when he died.
Little information about Beau Biden's health had been made public in recent years. Three years after suffering a stroke, he was treated at a cancer center in August 2013 for a brain lesion. A few months later, he was said to be healthy. Last month, the Office of the Vice President told ABC News that he was being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Biden, along with his brother, Hunter, survived a 1972 car crash that killed their baby sister, Naomi, and mother Neilia, Joe Biden's first wife. At the time, Joe Biden was the senator-elect from Delaware, and he was sworn in at Beau's hospital bedside weeks after the crash.
Transportation in Focus
Amtrak Faces Congress
On Tuesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing that gave members of Congress their first opportunity to grill officials over the May 12 Amtrak derailment that killed eight and injured more than 200 people.
Committee members were given the opportunity to ask question of officials from Amtrak, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Federal Railroad Administration. Much of the questioning swirled around whether or not technology – known as positive train control (PTC) – could have prevented the accident.
PTC technology is designed to prevent collisions between trains and mitigate speed-induced derailments.
"I still believe the single greatest contribution that my generation of railroaders can make to this industry is to implement PTC as rapidly as possible," said Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman. "And I promise you that by the end of this year this system, which will dramatically enhance safety, will be complete and operational on the NEC." The NEC, or Northeast Corridor, is the nation's busiest rail line.
Boardman was citing the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline Congress gave several of the nation's rail operators to implement PTC. Boardman said the technology would've been implemented sooner throughout Amtrak's rail lines if the company had more federal funds several years ago.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) said PTC technology could've prevented accidents on commuter rail lines like Metro North, where a 2013 derailment killed four people. In an exchange with Feinberg, he pointed the finger at Congress for insufficiently funding those commuter lines.
Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said that although insufficient funding can't be directly linked to the derailment, reducing Amtrak's budget jeopardizes operations and in the future could, "even worse, cause an accident directly" due to old infrastructure.
"We can't ignore we're running trains over 100-year-old bridges of dubious stability," DeFazio said. "We can't ignore that we're running trains through 140-year-old tunnels that need total rehabilitation."
Amtrak's funding has been a contentious issue between congressional Democrats and Republicans for years now, with Democrats wanting more money appropriated to the rail line and Republicans wary of how the company spends public money. After the May derailment, several Democrats blamed their Republican colleagues for the rail system's financial woes; Republicans shot back by saying Democrats were politicizing the accident.
A day after last month's derailment, a House committee voted to cut Amtrak's annual budget to $1.13 billion, from $1.4 billion. But as the debate continues in Washington – and as Amtrak continues to operate at a deficit – riders are seemingly undeterred from using the rail service. Last year, ridership on the Northeast Corridor was at its highest level ever.
California 7th Congressional District: Former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.) said he would not rule out another challenge to incumbent Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), who Ose narrowly lost to in 2014.
Illinois 10th Congressional District: The DCCC is making an exception to its rule of staying out of primaries and backing former Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) over Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering (D-Ill.).
Maryland 8th Congressional District: Former Marriott executive and TV news anchor Kathleen Matthews (D-Md.), the wife of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, launched her campaign for Rep. Chris Van Hollen's (D-Md.) seat, describing herself as a "working mom" and "progressive business leader."
Mississippi 1st Congressional District Special: Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) unsurprisingly and easily won the special election for the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee's (R-Miss.) seat, beating attorney Walter Zinn (D-Miss.) by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin.
New Hampshire 1st Congressional District: Hotelier and 2014 candidate Dan Innis (R-N.H.) said he's considering running for embattled Rep. Frank Guinta's (R-N.H.) seat, regardless of whether Guinta runs for reelection.
North Carolina 3rd Congressional District: State Transportation Secretary Anthony Tata (R-N.C.) is preparing to run in a primary against Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.). Tata's candidacy would be the latest Republican effort to defeat Jones, a controversial figure within the GOP, who has spoken out forcefully against the Iraq War and foreign aid to Israel. Former George W. Bush aide and 2014 challenger Taylor Griffin (R-N.C.), who held Jones to 51 percent in the last GOP primary, is also expected to run.
Colorado: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) announced he will not run for Senate, "setting in motion a wild scramble to find a Republican challenger" against Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn (R-Colo.) has said he will run, but is considered a longshot. Other possibilities include Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), state Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colo.), state Senate President pro tem Ellen Roberts (R-Colo.), state Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colo.), Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler (R-Colo.), and Coffman's wife, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (R-Colo.).
Florida: Former Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) took his name out of consideration for a return to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday of this week, saying he wanted to spend time with his young family.
Indiana: Former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) announced he would run for Senate in 2016.
North Carolina: A new poll out this week shows incumbent Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) leading former Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), 49-40 percent, in a hypothetical 2016 match. National Democrats are trying heavily to recruit Hagan, who lost a nail-biter in 2014.
Indiana: Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz (D-Ind.) essentially announced her campaign for governor, tweeting a message printed on "Glenda Ritz for Governor" stationary welcoming people to the Indy Pride 2015 Festival.
Montana: Billionaire tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) said Tuesday he is considering running for governor in 2016, confirming for the first time widespread speculation that he is mounting a challenge to Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.).
North Carolina: A poll released by Public Policy Polling on Wednesday shows North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D-N.C.) is statistically tied with Gov. Pat McCrory (R-N.C.), 44-41 percent. The survey also shows McCrory's approval rating at 38 percent.
Vermont: Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-Vt.) may face a Democratic primary opponent as well as a potentially formidable Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (R-Vt.), if he seeks reelection in 2016. Rumors have abounded for months that former state Sen. Matt Dunne (D-VT), who ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and for governor in 2010, may make a third statewide run whether or not Shumlin seeks reelection.
West Virginia: Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) announced will not run for governor, seeking reelection in the House instead.
Martin O’Malley (D-Md.): Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.) announced his presidential campaign in Baltimore, casting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as a corporate, dynastic insider, saying, "I've got news for the bullies of Wall Street: The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families."
Lincoln Chafee (D-R.I.): Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced his presidential campaign Wednesday at the George Mason Center for Politics & Foreign Relations in Arlington, Va.
Bobby Jindal (R-La.): Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal will likely announce his GOP Presidential bid on June 24th.
Lindsey Graham (R-SC): Senator Lindsey Graham launched his bid for the Republican nomination in his hometown in South Carolina. Graham, considered a long-shot to become the GOP standard bearer, focused his launch on foreign policy.
Jeb Bush (R-Fla.): Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will officially enter the race June 15 in Miami.
Rick Perry (R-Texas): Former Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he is – once again – seeking the GOP nomination for President. Perry ran last cycle and was considered a top tier candidate. His campaign struggled to gain traction, however, and he flamed out early in the nominating process.
A LOOK AHEAD
Wednesday, June 10
10 a.m. House Agriculture Committee – Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Past, Present, and Future of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: The Means to Climbing the Economic Ladder."
10 a.m. House Homeland Security Committee – Hearing. Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee hearing on "Defense Support of Civil Authorities: A Vital Resource in the Nation's Homeland Security Missions."
10 a.m. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – Hearing. Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hearing on "One Year Anniversary after Enactment: Implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014."
10:30 a.m. House Education and the Workforce Committee – Hearing. Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing on "Reviewing the Rules and Regulations Implementing Federal Wage and Hour Standards."
10:30 a.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee – Hearing. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on "Prescription Mismanagement and the Risk of Veteran Suicide."
11 a.m. House Natural Resources Committee – Hearing. Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee hearing on H.R.487, to allow the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to lease or transfer certain lands; H.R.2212, to take certain federal lands located in Lassen County, California into trust for the benefit of the Susanville Indian Rancheria, and for other purposes; and H.R.2387, to amend the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to provide for equitable allotment of land to Alaska Native veterans.
Thursday, June 11
10 a.m. House Agriculture Committee – Hearing. Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee hearing on "Implementing the Agricultural Act of 2014: Conservation Programs."
10 a.m. House Energy and Commerce Committee – Hearing. Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on "Oversight of FCC Field Offices."
10:15 a.m. House Energy and Commerce Committee – Hearing. Health Subcommittee hearing on H.R.1786, the "James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act," to reauthorize the World Trade Center Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001.
2 p.m. House Veterans' Affairs Committee – Hearing. Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee hearing on "Exploring Veterans Benefits Administration's Fiduciary Program."
Tuesday, June 9
9:30 a.m. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – Hearing. Full committee hearing.
10:30 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Oversight of the Transportation Security Administration: First-Hand and Government Watchdog Accounts of Agency Challenges."
Wednesday, June 10
10 a.m. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – Hearing. Full committee hearing on improving the quality and value of health care for patients.
10 a.m. Senate Judiciary Committee – Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Examining the Federal Regulatory System to Improve Accountability, Transparency and Integrity."
10 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – Hearing. Full committee hearing on the nomination of Peter Neffenger to be an assistant secretary of Homeland Security (Transportation Security Administration).
2:15 p.m. Senate Indian Affairs Committee – Markup. Full committee markup of S.248, the "Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act of 2015," to clarify the rights of Indians and Indian tribes on Indian lands under the National Labor Relations Act.
2:15 p.m. Senate Indian Affairs Committee – Hearing. Full committee hearing on addressing victim services in Indian County.
2:30 p.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – Hearing. Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee hearing on "Wasteful Spending in the Federal Government: An Outside Perspective."
2:30 p.m. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – Hearing. National Parks Subcommittee hearing on S.145, the "National Park Access Act"; S.146, the "Public Access to Public Land Guarantee Act"; S.319, to designate a mountain in the State of Alaska as Mount Denali; S.329, the "Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River Act"; S.403, the "North Country National Scenic Trail Route Adjustment Act"; S.521, the "President Street Station Study Act"; S.610, the "Thurgood Marshall's Elementary School Study Act"; S.782, the "Grand Canyon Bison Management Act"; and S.873, the "Jay S. Hammond Wilderness Act."
2:30 p.m. Senate (Special Committee on) Aging – Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Ringing Off the Hook: Examining the Proliferation of Unwanted Calls."
Thursday, June 11
10:30 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee - Hearing. Full committee hearing on "Blowing the Whistle on Retaliation: Accounts of Current and Former Federal Agency Whistleblowers."
WASHINGTON BY THE NUMBERS
$59 million – GOP Presidential hopeful and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina’s net worth, according to recently released financial disclosures.
51 percent – The percentage of Iowa Republicans who believe it is important for a candidate to participate in the Iowa Straw Poll, according to a new poll. Several top tier candidates have already said they plan on passing on the event.
527 – The number of days until the 2016 Presidential election.
THEY SAID WHAT?
"I'm the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Nobody's ever been more successful than me. I'm the most successful person ever to run. Ross Perot isn't successful like me. Romney – I have a Gucci store that's worth more than Romney." — Donald Trump (R-N.Y.) (Des Moines Register)
"Here's a bold embrace of internationalism: Let's join the rest of the world and go metric. I happened to live in Canada. And they've completed the process. Believe me, it's easy. It doesn't take long before 34 degrees is hot. Only Myanmar, Liberia and the United States aren't metric, and it will help our economy." — former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (D-R.I.) during his Presidential announcement this week.
Steven C. LaTourette, President | 202.559.2600
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