January 31, 2014

Mitch McConnell: Obama, IRS Fight to Keep Conservative Nonprofits from Forming

James Madison had it exactly right.

Referring to infringements on our freedoms, the Father of the Bill of Rights once wrote that such encroachments were more often “gradual and silent” than “violent and sudden.”

That’s exactly what we’re seeing with President Obama’s proposed regulation on so-called 501(c)(4) groups: a stealth attempt to stifle the ability of ordinary Americans to participate in the political process.

The administration’s proposal, quietly floated over Thanksgiving, is just the latest in a long line of attempts to skirt the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United, which basically said that businesses and independent groups have the same right to free speech under the First Amendment as anybody else.

Liberals hated Citizens United because it helped level the political playing field for conservatives. In their view, corporations that own liberal media outlets like The New York Times and MSNBC should have an absolute right to free speech, but independent groups and other grassroots organizations that seek to promote Madisonian ideals like limited government and greater liberty need to be kept in check.

They tried this a few years ago with the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have forced grassroots groups to disclose their donor lists. The goal was as obvious as it was anti-democratic: expose the names of those who support unfashionable causes or candidates in the hope of scaring them right off the political playing field.

And we all know what happened after Republicans blocked the DISCLOSE Act. The President and his top campaign aides made the names of conservative donors famous on their own, signaling to top officials at the IRS that they shouldn’t think twice about giving extra scrutiny to anybody on the conservative team.

In the end, an independent Inspector General found that IRS officials abused their authority by singling out scores of conservative grassroots groups for audits and delayed approval for tax-exempt status.

But this latest effort is the most audacious yet. Rather than reforming the IRS and doing whatever it took to assure Americans that the agency would no longer target individuals or groups that oppose the President, the administration has decided to double down by attempting to block these groups from forming in the first place.

Under the new regulation, groups that already exist could have to shut down altogether.

For some, it may be hard to imagine that the Obama administration would even think of touching an issue this radioactive after last year’s scandal stunned the nation. They underestimate the extent to which this administration and its allies are willing to go to shut down — and shut up — their ideological opponents.

They also underestimate the extent to which these folks are willing to go to hold onto power, and they forget how speech is usually stifled. As Madison knew, most encroachments on free speech and other constitutionally-protected freedoms are backdoor efforts like this one.

For us, the goal now should be to get as many Americans as we can engaged in this fight and beat back this latest assault on political speech. I’m convinced that once people realize what’s happening, the administration will feel the heat and back off. It may not be easy, but preserving our constitutional rights never has been.

And it’s a fight we have to win.

I know from personal experience that the Constitution and tenacity are the two greatest weapons we have in battles like this one. It's a lesson I learned from a long fight I've waged against campaign finance laws that struck a serious blow to the right of free speech. The low point for me was when I watched a Republican President sign into law a bill that I’d been fighting for years.

I never give up, though. Instead, I sued the government. And we’ve made real progress over the years, including the Citizens United decision. But the fight continues. As this latest proposal from the Obama administration makes clear, assaults on our constitutionally-protected liberties never stop.

That’s why I’ve launched another campaign this week to make more Americans aware of this latest liberal assault. It’s also why I’ve called on the new IRS commissioner to follow the example of Donald Alexander, the IRS commissioner who famously opposed President Nixon’s attempts to use the IRS to go after his own political opponents.

The Obama administration’s arrogance here is breathtaking. But if the American people get engaged and fight back, we will win this fight. I'm sure of it.

January 30, 2014


This could get ugly.

Thursday at 4:30pm in Cambridge, Maryland, Speaker John Boehner will unveil an outline of the party's immigration stance to rank-and-file members that includes “legal status” for millions of illegal immigrants.
Boehner hand-selected members to help lead the discussion, including California Rep. Jeff Denham, the first Republican to endorse the House Democrats' immigration bill.
But as much as Boehner is dreaming of a big, bipartisan immigration deal – senior GOP officials say they are surprised just how much the Ohio Republican is “leaning in” on the issue – top immigration hawks are themselves ready to raise hell. 
“We’re going to have a very heavy discussion on illegal immigration,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told Breitbart News, adding that Boehner's critics have organized a plan to “speak as aggressively and loudly and articulately as we can in opposing this nonsense of amnesty for 10-20 million illegals which would cause great harm to the country and destroy the Republican Party.”
The meeting is momentous enough that Senator Jeff Sessions flouted congressional protocol, hand-delivering anti-amnesty talking points to members ahead of the closed-door session.
Boehner has been carefully working on the issue with the help of a new top immigration aide, Rebecca Tallent, who was formerly Senator John McCain's top amnesty lieutenant.
The surprise hire came in December, when immigration reform was widely considered on life support. Now insiders mark the move as the beginning of Boehner's renewed push.
“He wouldn't have brought her on – he didn't do this for like, a PR thing. Whose he getting good PR from? He wouldn't have brought her on unless he really thought that this was a problem that we need to deal with. And she wouldn't have come on board unless she thought that this was real,” Rep. Mario Diaz Balart told Breitbart News.
Tallent has been helping craft immigration “principles” to be unveiled today in secret.
“I haven’t seen the principles at all,” said Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma. Lankford, as House Policy Committee Chair, is the fifth highest-ranking member of the House.
Today, after weeks of anticipation, all will be out in the open – at least inside the immigration showdown at Cambridge.  

January 29, 2014

Obama offers his policies as the cure for the Obama economy

President Barack Obama is offering himself as the miracle cure for his own failed policies, even though his polls remain at dangerously low levels, the economy has stalled, and the public’s 2008 hopes have changed into near-80 percent pessimism.

“Average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled,” he declared.

“The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all. Our job is to reverse these trends,” he declared.

“Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations,” he declared.

Obama’s political chutzpah is both rational and a good bet.

It’s rational because it is the only way he can motivate his liberal coalition to rally in November to preserve his endangered Democratic majority in the Senate.

And it’s a good bet because the established media and chattering class won’t notice the ridiculousness of Obama’s pitch.

But the public has noticed, according to many recent polls that show Obama’s approval in the mid-40s and the public’s pessimism up near 80 percent.

His speech included a few new proposals — more payments to poor working people, reduced tax benefits for wealthy savers, a raised minimum wage and increased legal immigration so that cost-conscious companies can hire minimum-wage foreigners instead of aspiring Americans.

These big goals were accompanies by the progressives’ version of more cowbell — more K-12 spending, more college degrees, universal preschool so that unionized teachers can supplant parents, more promises of beneficial regulation of the oil-and-gas sector, and cheaper mortgages for poor people.

The speech listed items intended to spur turnout by the Democrats’ constituency groups — teachers, women, Latinos, environmentalists, gays and opponents of the Guantanamo prison for jihadis.

The speech was filled out with a series of additional mini-proposals designed to boost the number of opportunities for Democrats to applaud the leader on TV.

The speech also included Obama’s familiar condescension toward Republicans’ opposition to Obamacare.

“There are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments,” he said. “The first forty [votes against Obamacare] were plenty. We got it,” he said.

But Obama has a long 10 months ahead of him before the November election.

A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News shows that Americans trust Republicans more than Democrats on managing handling the economy by seven points, or 44 percent to 37 percent.

The poll shows that Obama’s long-enduring personal characteristics advantage has faded — 52 percent of people think Obama does not understand their problems, and only 49 percent think he is honest and trustworthy.

Those numbers, combined with Obama’s 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval rating, can drag several Democratic senators to defeat in November, leaving Obama facing a GOP House and Senate in the two years leading up to 2016.

The GOP threw their javelins even before Obama began his speech.

“Throughout the last five years, President Obama has promised an economy for the middle class; but all he’s delivered is an economy for the middle-men,” Utah Sen. Mike Lee will say in his rebuttal.

“The president’s image is upside down,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview with Fusion, a Latino-focused network created by ABC and Univision. “I think he is acting like a child and I think the American people see it. I don’t think it’s going to fly,” Priebus said.


January 28, 2014

Obama will violate budget deadline laws for 18th time with latest filing

President Obama will miss a budgetary deadline set by law for the 18th time in his presidency, according to a summary of his record provided by Senate Republicans.

"The Office of Management and Budget recently announced that President Obama's FY 2015 budget would be delivered to Congress on March 4, just over one month past the statutory deadline (which requires the President's budget to be submitted by the first Monday in February)," explains a news release from Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "This will be the 18th occasion that the Administration has missed an in-law budget deadline."

The announcement came on Friday. “Now that Congress has finished its work on this year's appropriations, the administration is able to finalize next year's budget,” the Washington Examiner's Brian Hughes quoted OMB spokesman Steve Posner as saying. “We are moving to complete the budget as quickly as possible to help Congress return to regular order in the annual budget process.”

The history provided by Sessions' staff notes that Obama will have missed every deadline to submit a budget in his presidency (with respect to 2009, though, the staffers note that "it is common for the incoming administration to miss the deadline for submitting a budget").

Obama has never submitted a plan to control Medicare spending following a Medicare funding warning, though the law states that “if there is a Medicare funding warning … made in a year, the president shall submit to Congress, within the 15-day period beginning on the date of the budget submission to Congress under subsection (a) for the succeeding year, proposed legislation to respond to such warning.”

Such warnings have were issued and ignored in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Obama's team has not submitted a final sequestration transparency report, which was due Jan. 21 of this year. They were late submitting the earlier installation of the report.

Obama's team was also late filing mid-session reviews in 2010, 2011, and 2011. The financial reports on the United States were filed late in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

January 27, 2014

Obama to use State of the Union as opening salvo in 2014 midterms

President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night is shaping up as an election-year rallying cry to his Democratic base to fight for income equality in America, even as the gap between rich and poor grows during his presidency.

Mr. Obama’s nationally televised speech to a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. will strike themes intended to fire up Democratic voters for the midterm elections, including proposals for a nearly 40 percent hike in the federal minimum wage and an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.

Aides say Mr. Obama also will remind lawmakers that he intends to issue more executive orders in this “year of action” after criticizing the 2013 Congress as one of the most unproductive in history. He is expected to announce executive actions on job training and retirement security.

Mr. Obama also will renew the call for comprehensive immigration reform, one of the few legislative issues on which there still appears to be room for compromise between the president and House Republicans.

Lawmakers in both parties are intent to learn whether Mr. Obama will call for fast-track authority to complete trade deals in Asia and Europe, although a majority of House Democrats oppose the move in allegiance with their labor base. Tea party conservatives also oppose the move.

But the president is expected to focus on economic “fairness” issues, such as the minimum wage, as part of his push to reverse increasing income disparity in America, which he calls “the defining issue of our time.”

Rich man, poor man

That income gap also has helped define Mr. Obama’s presidency. After-tax corporate profits in America are at their highest levels since World War II, while workers are receiving a smaller share of economic output than at any other time since 1952.

In 2012, the richest 10 percent of Americans earned their largest share of income since 1917, said Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. Meanwhile, Census Bureau statistics showed that real average income among the poorest 20 percent of families continued to fall each year from 2009 to 2011.

Lance Roberts, a Houston economist, said policies during Mr. Obama’s presidency have exacerbated the gap between rich and poor. He cited the Federal Reserve’s rounds of “quantitative easing,” which have pumped trillions of dollars into Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities as economic stimulus. The pumping, he said, resulted in higher stock prices as investors were forced out of the bond markets.

“Seventy-six percent of people in this country live paycheck to paycheck,” said Mr. Roberts, CEO of STA Wealth Management. “They don’t have any money in the market. So you’ve had this massive surge in profits and this massive surge in asset prices, but none of that has filtered down to Main Street America. They don’t see the economy being a lot better.”

The debt ceiling deal that Mr. Obama struck with congressional Republicans in 2011, which set into motion the sequestration budget cuts last year, also tended to hurt lower-income people, Mr. Roberts said.

“It didn’t affect the top 10 percent of the population at all,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s aides say he has promoted policies such as expanded child tax credits that have lifted millions of people out of poverty. One of the president’s first acts in office was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which made it easier for workers to file lawsuits alleging paycheck discrimination.

But as the president has tried to strengthen the recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, evidence suggests his policies are not closing the gap. A record 23 million households received food stamps last year, a jump of 51 percent since 2009. The Agriculture Department said a total of 47.6 million people were on food stamps last year, an increase of 1 million from 2012.

January 24, 2014

House Conservatives Plot Takedown of GOP Leaders' Amnesty Plans

As House Republican leaders prepare an immigration proposal that could go much further towards amnesty than their prior public stances, conservative lawmakers are quietly plotting to push back.

Aides from over a dozen House offices secretly convened today on the Senate side of the Capitol at a meeting organized by Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a top immigration hawk who has recently involved himself more aggressively in the affairs of the lower chamber.

“Over here in the Senate working for Senator Sessions, we learned a lot last year about the strategies employed by the powerful forces pushing bad immigration policies--and how to counter them,” reads a copy of the invitation to the meeting provided to Breitbart News by a House staffer.

Officials close to the matter say conservative critics of Speaker John Boehner's planned immigration push are working to issue their own rival immigration principles to vie with the document Boehner is drafting.

“There is definitely a growing mood of confusion and aggravation among conservatives in the House over the immigration issue right now,” one House GOP aide said in an email to Breitbart News, adding that many on the right find the “political logic” of riling up the party's base so close to a low-turnout midterm election baffling.

“Do we really want to just give up the midterms like this?” the aide asked.

The building backlash could create for a tumultuous three-day retreat next week as Republicans gather in Maryland to plan the party's future. Upping the pressure, a key outside conservative today requested access to the retreat to brief lawmakers on the issue.

Top GOP officials, meanwhile, are becoming bolder in their embrace of immigration reform. House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) emerged Thursday to discuss how House GOP leadership plans to bring immigration legislation to the floor, while on House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)--the third highest House GOP leadership official--endorsed "legal status" for illegal aliens on Wednesday.

At a recent Tea Party convention in South Carolina, conservative lawmakers expressed anger at Boehner's plan to push immigration reform after opponents seemed to stave off the effort last year.
“I don't know why in the world House Republicans would move on immigration legislation in 2014,” said Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina.

Representative Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma said securing the border is a far more urgent priority than discussing the citizenship of illegal aliens in the U.S. because of the savage violence at the border.
“We have on the border of the United States 100,000 dead bodies just south of our border,” Bridenstine said. “We focus on Syria because that’s where the president wants to focus, while we have a crisis on our own southern border. And it’s because we have an insecure border.”

In a Thursday letter to House GOP conference chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) requesting access to the retreat, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member Peter Kirsanow said he would like to educate GOP lawmakers on how amnesty could hurt low-income workers disproportionately.

“President Obama’s new hobbyhorse is income inequality.' Ironically, one of the most effective ways to increase income inequality is increasing the number of interchangeable workers in a labor pool. That is exactly what encouraging illegal immigration and granting legal status to illegal immigrants does,” Kirsanow wrote.

Boehner's strong desire to push immigration reform in 2014 has become clearer in recent weeks after he hired a former top aide to Senator John McCain to work on immigration issues and began drafting a set of immigration “principles” to unveil as the GOP's position on the issue in coming days.

The Ohio Speaker is also riding a wave of momentum stemming from the government shutdown episode in October, when conservatives forced Boehner to take a hard line with President Obama but suffered standing in the GOP conference after the effort was perceived by many as unsuccessful. In the weeks that followed, Boehner easily rolled conservatives on the Ryan-Murray budget deal and, in 2014, on the recent omnibus spending bill.  

January 23, 2014

Deposition: EPA plotted to alter ‘the DNA of of the capitalist system’

The Environmental Protection Agency is out to change the very foundations of capitalism, according to sworn testimony from a former agency official.

The EPA had been working on a project to make capitalism more conducive to environmentalism.

Former EPA official John Beale told House investigators in his sworn deposition that while at the agency he worked on a project meant to find ways the government could “kind of modify the DNA of the capitalist system.”

“This is the smoking gun,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president with the free-market Institute for Energy Research. “For years, we have been saying the real agenda behind this administration’s energy and environmental policies is the just what President Obama has said it is: to fundamentally transform America.”

Beale was sentenced to 32 months in prison last year for defrauding the EPA out of nearly $900,000 while pretending to be working for the Central Intelligence Agency. He convinced co-workers, friends and even his wife that he worked as a CIA agent, but his deception was discovered 18 months after his retirement when he continued to get paid.

“I own this. This is on me,” Beale told Judge Ellen S. Huvelle last December, expressing regret for the shame he brought upon himself and other public officials.

Beale’s fraud brought a political firestorm to the doors of the EPA. Republicans took aim at Beale as an example of the agency’s lack of oversight and accountability.

“The case this morning highlights a massive problem with the EPA, and figuring out why this corruption occurred with apparently no one the wiser needs to remain a priority of our Committee,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter last month. “This sentencing and the recent reports release begin to shed light on something perhaps far larger than even the initial investigations indicated. At minimum, $900,000 of the taxpayers’ money was stolen right under Administrator Gina McCarthy’s nose. We need to know just how vulnerable is this Agency.”

According to one of the EPA’s internal reports, Beale’s fraudulent activity was discovered as early as June 2010 and as early as January 17, 2011 current EPA administrator Gina McCarthy was aware of the excessive payments. McCarthy was then head of the EPA’s air and radiation office, which she was brought on to lead in 2009. She told investigators that she suspected Beale in March 2012.

“In his testimony under oath, Beale, perhaps unwittingly, has laid bare the administration’s end goal,” Kish said. “The President’s policies are not about carbon, they are not about coal, they are not even about energy and the environment. They are about fundamentally altering the DNA of the capitalist system. These policies are not about energy, but power.”

Here is what Beale said in his deposition:
Beale: “I’d been working in the environmental business for a long time, and although generally the western world has made good progress, and the United States has been particularly successful in improving the environment in terms of things like water quality and air quality, we’re reaching the limits of the traditional regulatory process to do that, largely because the fundamental dynamic of the capitalistic system is for businesses and individuals to externalize all costs. That’s the way the system and individuals can maximize profits and minimize costs.” 
“In addition to that, pollution is being transported globally around the planet, and we’re reaching the limits of what we can do technologically to protect our citizens without having more impact on other countries. In other words, we need to get reductions from some of these other countries. This is the type of project I wanted to work on. That’s what [Beale and McCarthy] talk about.” 
Investigator: “Did you ever indeed work on that project?” 
B: “I certainly did.”
I: “Did any work product ever get produced as a result of that work, any tangible –”
B: “It depends on how one defines work projects. There were several phases of this project as we had outlined it. There’s an enormous body of literature on the subject. Sometimes it’s referred to as sustainability literature, sometimes it’s referred to as green economics. And so phase 1 of the project was for me to become very familiar and transversant with that literature. Phase 2 would have been going out and interviewing academic experts, business experts, people in other countries that are doing things.” 
“And then phase 3 have been coming up with specific proposals that could be — could have been proposed either legislatively or things which could have been done administratively to kind of modify the DNA of the capitalist system, which is not new. It’s happened tens of times through the history of the capitalist system being there. It’s not a God-given system that was created once and never changes. It changes all the time.” 
“So I had repeated meetings and discussions about the progress with various of the AA’s who were involved in this. If you’re asking if there was ever a set of proposals developed, no, because the project was scrapped before we got to that point.” 
I: “So you were really just in the planning phases of the project the whole time.”
B: “Oh, planning, and then in the execution of the first phase.”
I: “Okay, and so Ms. McCarthy was aware of this project?”
B: “Yes.”
I: “Did she ask for status updates on the project?”
B: “We met frequently to talk about it and had actually quite deep discussions. She had good insights into it, but the other thing you need to know is this project began under Jeff Holmstead, so this began in a Republican administration.”
Former EPA assistant administrator Jeff Holmstead, however, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that he had no idea what project Beale was referring to, let alone one to change the DNA of capitalism.

“He never told me about any project about changing the DNA of the capitalist system,” Holmstead told TheDCNF. “I don’t know what he means by that or what he thought he was doing. It was certainly nothing that I approved.”

Beale was one of three deputies Holmstead inherited from the Clinton administration. Since he was a senior employee, he couldn’t easily be moved around.

“When I was there, he only worked on the international, non-regulatory stuff,” Holmstead said. “He was expected to be gone and had very little oversight because he was a senior career guy.”


January 22, 2014

Harry Reid on the hot seat: Ethics probe demanded by watchdog group

A conservative-leaning watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, accusing him of violating the chamber’s code of conduct by pushing to help a politically connected Las Vegas casino project get visas for foreign investors.

The complaint, filed with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics by Cause of Action, is based in part on a Washington Times investigation last year. That investigation found that after pressure from Mr. Reid and his staff, the Obama administration overruled career Homeland Security officials and expedited visa applications for about two dozen foreign investors for the casino.

D.C.-based Cause of Action argues in a letter to the Senate ethics panel that by urging expedited approval of a specific set of visa applications, the Nevada Democrat may have run afoul of the Senate’s Code of Official Conduct. The complaint also notes that Mr. Reid’s son, Rory Reid, and his law firm are legal counsel to the SLS Hotel & Casino.

“The American people deserve better,” wrote Daniel Z. Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action. “It is unfair for politicians to attempt to influence the enforcement of our laws, especially when they — or their close family members — stand to benefit.”

The complaint also reignites the debate over the EB-5 investor program, which has been under an internal department investigation. Auditors are looking into whether the former head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Alejandro Mayorkas, put undue pressure on subordinates to approve visa applications being sought by a clean-energy company called GreenTech co-founded by Terry McAuliffe, who is now Virginia’s governor.

The EB-5 program allows foreign investors to obtain legal status in exchange for pledges to invest $500,000 to $1 million in job-creating U.S. companies. It has come under fire from critics who argue that it isn’t selective enough and allows wealthy foreigners a leg up in the immigration system.

In the case of Mr. Reid, The Times reported that despite early pressure from Mr. Reid’s staff, career officials inside the Department of Homeland Security initially turned down the SLS Hotel application on the grounds that it failed to meet the criteria for expedited review. The decision, dated Dec. 17, 2012, stated flatly that “there is no appeal or reconsideration of this decision.”

That simply prompted Mr. Reid to reach out directly to Mr. Mayorkas to overturn the ruling, setting into motion a process that consumed top political officials inside the Homeland Security and Commerce departments and ultimately resulted in a ruling that granted expedited status to the hotel over the objections of career officials.

Questions of access

A spokeswoman for Mr. Reid told The Times in December that the senator “has supported and will support the SLS Las Vegas in any way he can.”

“Sen. Reid believes it is his job to do all he can to promote economic growth and development in the state, and he makes no apologies for helping to bring jobs to Nevada,” spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said.
A spokesman for the ethics committee and Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said they couldn’t comment on the details of any investigation. The complaint, dated Dec. 16, was reported Tuesday morning by Watchdog.org.

In it, Cause of Action questions senators’ access to decision-makers.

“Career employees at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for example, have claimed that ‘top managers have given … politically connected applicants special treatment,’” Mr. Epstein wrote. “Senator Reid’s full and honest disclosure will help to maintain public faith in the integrity of our political and legal institutions, avoid suspicion of the politicization of the executive branch, and dispel any appearance of impropriety amongst members of the Senate.”

Matter of security

USCIS has said it takes seriously the responsibility to safeguard national security and public safety while deciding requests for immigration benefits.

“USCIS subjects all benefit requests to a background check process which includes coordinating with law enforcement agencies where applicable,” the agency said in a statement. “USCIS does not proceed to a final decision regarding any benefit requests until concerns identified during the background check process are sufficiently resolved.”

Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Mayorkas have denied that any untoward influence was used in their case, but Mr. McAuliffe did divest from GreenTech after being elected governor in November. He reported earning more than $10,000 in wages from GreenTech and holding more than $250,000 in stock in the company in 2012.
He resigned from the company on Dec. 1, 2012, though the news wasn’t publicly reported for months.

The Homeland Security inspector general’s office has been investigating that issue. The man nominated to lead that office, John Roth, told senators this month that completing that review will be a high priority for him.


January 21, 2014

The Coming GOP Amnesty Sellout Push

Lobbyists, on the march! The coming weeks will see the formal start of the GOP House leadership’s attempt to sneak an immigration amnesty through the Republican caucus and into law. We don’t know the exact details of the proposals, but we know enough:

1) There will be some form of legalization (conditional amnesty) for the 11 million illegal immigrants already here. It won’t give them a “special” path to citizenship, but they will likely be able to pursue citizenship through regular old channels. Either way, the message sent to potential future immigrants will be, “If you come here illegally, you’ll get to stay legally.” Plus, once the bill has passed the Democratic campaign to paint the GOP as racist for not granting general citizenship to the whole group will begin.

2) There will be an attempt to describe Speaker Boehner’s “piecemeal” collection of immigration bills as an “enforcement first” arrangement that will prevent another, future illegal wave despite the incentive created by what will be two successive amnesties. Since Democrats and Latino groups would never go for an actual “enforcement first” approach–e.g., enacting universal E-verify, an exit-entry system, building a fence and waiting a few years for legal challenges to peter out**–this claim will necessarily be a fraud, the framing of which will be a key challenge for Boehner & Co.. Presumably just saying “Hey we passed the enforcement part of the bill a week before we passed the amnesty part” won’t do, nor will letting President Obama decide when the enforcement mechanisms are sufficiently “in place.” That means a convoluted debate over “triggers,”  the traditional playground for legislative legerdemain.***  Legalizers will try to make the prequisites look tough when they aren’t — certainly nothing that can’t be easily dismantled once the undocumented get their documents. Do not count on the press to correct this misimpression. They’re in the “fool the rubes” camp too.

It takes some chutzpah for Boehner to make his amnesty push now, given the sour jobs news, falling measured support for amnesty, and the need for party unity in the coming midterm elections. You’d think the employment news alone–almost 3 unemployed Americans for every available job–would cause savvy lobbyists to postpone any attempt to push for a massive addition to the unskilled and skilled workforce. (The Senate’s bill would add about 6 million extra immigrant workers by 2023 – in addition to the current illegals who’d be legalized.) Maybe that could fly in a boom.  But now?

Democrats used to push for tighter labor markets–they’re the best proven way to lower poverty, boost wages and curb income inequality. Today, the job of pointing that out has fallen to Republican Jeff Sessions, who has been fighting the battle Democras like Byron Dorgan and Barbara Jordan used to fight.   Do we want to give less skilled Americans millions of new competitors, inevitably bidding down wages at the bottom? (“Did they repeal the law of supply and demand and not tell me about it?” asks Jim Cramer.) The groups most marginally connected to the labor market–e.g,  teenage African Americans–would be the biggest losers. Democrats used to understand this.

It’s a sellout. That’s a term I don’t use lightly. Certainly there are plenty of idealistic, principled advocates of “comprehensive immigration reform” — including true believers in open borders, advocates of immigrants’ rights, and ethnic champions. Even the employers who are providing the financial muscle behind the amnesty push may sincerely think spoiled American workers just aren’t cutting it anymore, that the economy needs better, cheaper, hungrier immigrants — heaven forbid responsible corporatist roundtablers should have to actually train those spoiled Americans.

But why are the politicians abandoning the economic interests of the country’s basic laborers, and the strong anti-amnesty convictions of their own constituents (in the case of most Republicans), and doing it at such an objectively inauspicious time?  It’s hard to deny that cash is doing much of the swaying here. “[A]ll the money is on the side of pushing it,” one pro-amnesty Democratic Congressman boasted–money in the form not only of direct campaign contributions, as promised by Mark Zuckerberg ($50 million) and the Chamber of Commerce, but also future consulting contracts and lobbying positions for those who echo the line that Republicans just have to do this to remain viable. In any case, that latter argument–’We’re not doing it for the money. We’re doing it to save our political hides!’–isn’t exactly an appeal to principle either, is it?

The only thing stopping them, at this point, is fervent opposition from the Republican base in a majority of House districts. It would be nice if a few Democrats like Joe Manchin (or independent man-of-the-left Bernie Sanders) had second thoughts, but don’t count  on it. Sanders talks a good game, but where is he when the votes are counted?

If strong voter opposition makes itself heard again, as it has in the past, the majority of the GOP caucus that Boehner says he needs probably won’t go along with his pro- amnesty “principles.” If that opposition doesn’t materialize, some form of legalization-before-enforcement becomes an inevitability. The coming weeks will tell.

If you care, get your dialing finger ready.


January 20, 2014

Congress split over NSA’s domestic spying program, could just let laws expire

President Obama says the NSA’s snooping programs need changes — but he tossed the biggest decisions to Congress, where the tide appears to be running against letting the government continue to scoop and hold Americans’ phone data.

However, the intelligence community does have some important defenders, both on the key oversight committees and within the leadership ranks of Senate Democrats and House Republicans. Their support of continued snooping — and the lack of an easy alternative to the government holding on to Americans’ data — could leave the program intact.

“We have carefully reviewed this program and have found it to be legal and effective,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said in a joint statement after Mr. Obama’s speech. They chair the intelligence committees in their respective chambers.

Mr. Obama on Friday announced a few immediate changes to the National Security Agency’s program that grabs the phone numbers, times and durations of every phone call made in the U.S. and stores that data for five years.

Under the changes, analysts must submit to court reviews before they are permitted to go through the data, and they will be more limited in how far they can snoop beyond the initial phone number they suspect belongs to someone involved in terrorism.

But the president said more changes are needed to re-establish Americans’ faith in the system.

All sides in the debate are now on the clock.

Mr. Obama gave the Justice Department two months to come back with a proposal for how to shift the phone records so they are no longer held by the government.

Congress, facing November elections, will have to act by late summer or leave the issue for the Congress convening in 2015. But that puts them against another deadline: The section of the Patriot Act that the NSA uses to grab the phone data expires next year.

Opponents of the NSA program said that’s their trump.

“Next year, these authorities expire. And I believe without real reform — not a veneer of reform, but the reform that the president’s panel proposed and that in many ways, the president proposed on Friday — these laws will expire,” Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, said Sunday on CBS“Face the Nation.”

The sides are also dividing up.

Mrs. Feinstein has pushed through her committee a bill that would officially approve NSA snooping and let the program continue with some additional reporting requirements.

On the other side is an emerging coalition of liberals and conservatives, who are backing a bill that would go the other way and completely outlaw bulk collection of records. That legislation is sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who was chief author of the Patriot Act.

“There’s a concern that we have gone too much into Americans’ privacy,” Mr. Leahy said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s still going to be legislation on this.”

White House officials specifically raised the possibility of telephone companies or other third parties keeping the information but made clear that “those options also present themselves other complications and other issues, some of them related to privacy concerns.”

Still, Mr. Obama’s speech last week shows how far the balance has shifted.

“The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe,” Mr. Obama said.

“I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate. I am open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a consensus for how to move forward, and am confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every American.”

The changes are a direct result of the leaks from former government contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed that the National Security Agency was gathering and storing the numbers, lengths and dates of most calls made inside the U.S. The leaks set off a firestorm of criticism and led the White House to appoint a panel to review U.S. surveillance and data-collection practices and offer recommendations on how to change and improve them.

Effective immediately, analysts at the NSA cannot query phone-record databases and other pools of information without specific judicial review of each individual case, senior White House officials said.

There is, however, a loophole.

In his remarks, Mr. Obama said the database “can be queried only after a judicial finding, or in a true emergency.” It’s unclear what will constitute a “true emergency.”

Privacy advocates hoped Mr. Obama would go further and implement more changes himself. They argue that the government cannot be trusted with data.

The intelligence community and its defenders said Mr. Obama is going too far, and some defenders, including House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Mr. Obama is losing the debate because he mishandled it.

“Because the president has failed to adequately explain the necessity of these programs, the privacy concerns of some Americans are understandable,” said Mr. Boehner. “When considering any reforms, however, keeping Americans safe must remain our top priority. When lives are stake, the president must not allow politics to cloud his judgment.”

Beyond the NSA program, Mr. Obama is calling for other changes.

He said Friday that national security letters, used by the FBI and other government arms to order companies to turn over records in terrorism investigations, should not “remain secret indefinitely.” He told the Justice Department to look into when and how the letters could be released publicly.

He is not, however, calling for judicial review of those letters.

Mr. Obama also directed his administration to “review for declassification purposes” all future opinions within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.

The president also has called on Congress to establish a “panel of advocates” from the privacy and civil liberties realm, along with technology specialists, to add perspective to the legal review process of all data queries.

Mr. Obama said such a move will provide “an independent voice in significant cases before” the court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.


January 17, 2014

States revolt against EPA’s global warming agenda

Nebraska filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency over the agency’s proposed carbon dioxide emissions limits for new power plants.

The Cornhusker State is the latest to push back against the Obama administration’s effort to fight global warming.

State Attorney General Jon Bruning says that the EPA’s carbon emissions limits would effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants because it requires they adopt carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology — which is not commercially proven.

Bruning argues that the CCS requirement violates federal law as the EPA only cites projects that are federally-funded — which is prohibited under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The EPA justifies its CCS requirement by citing three inoperable projects in the U.S. that have received $2.5 billion in federal funds., as well as one Canadian government-backed project.

“The impossible standards imposed by the EPA will ensure no new power plants are built in Nebraska,” Bruning said in a statement. “This federal agency continues to overstep its authority at the detriment of Nebraska businesses.”

Nebraska is the most recent state to challenge the EPA’s attempts to regulate carbon emissions and fight global warming. Late last year, Texas and twelve other states challenged the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other stationary sources.

The states, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argued that the EPA did not have the authority to require power plants and other facilities to get permits for emitting greenhouse gases. The EPA argued that its “tailpipe” rule for vehicles triggered permitting for stationary sources as well.

The major problem with the EPA’s attempt to require permitting for greenhouse gases from stationary sources was that the Clean Air Act’s permitting requirements were configured for emissions levels that only a few industrial facilities met. But carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas emitted by human activity, is emitted by nearly every facility, and in amounts that would have required more than six million buildings to get EPA permits.

“Smart, necessary regulation by the EPA makes sense, but once again the EPA – under President Obama’s tenure – has stretched the boundary of its authority. The Clean Air Act was never designed to regulate greenhouse gases,” said Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce joined with 74 other state and local business groups from 33 different states to oppose the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations.

Despite pushback from states and businesses, the Obama administration is still moving forward with its climate agenda. Earlier this month, the EPA published its proposed carbon emissions limits for new power plants.

“Provided that Congress does not prevent EPA and other agencies from doing their jobs, and provided that those agencies are ambitious in implementing the President’s Climate Action Plan,” Natural Resources Defense Council climate expert Dan Lashof testified to the Senate on Thursday, “we can build on the progress to date and achieve this goal through cost effective standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and vehicles, methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and HFC emissions from the chemical and consumer products industries.

“Doing so will create new markets for technological ingenuity and will put the United States on track to the much deeper emission reductions needed to forestall out-of-control climate disruption and protect our health and the future our children inherit,” Lashof added.


January 16, 2014

Jim Moran Third Democrat in Three Days to Announce Retirement from Congress

On Wednesday, Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) became the third Democratic member of the House of Representatives in the last three days to announce that he will retire and not run for re-election in 2014. 

On Tuesday, Congressman Bill Owens (D-NY) announced his retirement. On Monday, prominent Nancy Pelosi ally George Miller (D-CA) announced his retirement.

Though Moran's retirement is not expected to give Republicans a significant chance of wresting control of the Northern Virginia district he has represented in Congress for twelve terms away from the Democrats, it is a clear signal that the ranking Democrat on the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee believes there is little likelihood his party will win the House back in 2014. 

The unattractive prospect of serving in a third consecutive Congress without the subcommittee chairmanship, relegated to having little power as the minority party's ranking member, likely figured in Moran's decision to retire.

Like his retiring Democratic colleague Owens on Tuesday, Moran offered little insight into the real reason for his resignation, saying only, "it's time to close this chapter of my life and move on to the next challenge." Many expect that "next challenge" to be a highly lucrative job as a lobbyist on K Street.

Moran has a reputation as one of the most partisan and unpleasant members of Congress. As Roll Call reported Wednesday, "his professional accomplishments were sometimes overshadowed by personal scandals. Brash and occasionally outspoken to a fault, he has shoved members leaving the House floor, suggested that the Jewish community pushed for the U.S. invasion in Iraq in 2003 and possibly squandered a small fortune in the stock market."

As Breitbart News editor Joel Pollak pointed out Monday, Moran's retirement is yet another sign that Democrats know the 2014 midterm elections are not likely to go their way.

January 15, 2014

House to Consider 1,582-Page Omnibus Spending Bill Less than Two Days, Then Vote

The omnibus spending bill that House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced with Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is more than 1,500 pages long – and House lawmakers are expected to vote on it less than two days after it was introduced.

More specifically, the bill is 1,582 pages long. It is the second part of the budget deal that House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) cut with Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). The Ryan-Murray deal set broad outlays, while the Rogers-Mikulski omnibus spending bill offers specific funding directed at various programs and agencies as part of a reflection of the guidelines of the Ryan-Murray deal.

Via Twitter, the Senate Budget Committee GOP staff who work for ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) sent out a photo of the omnibus bill with a question for their Twitter followers: “The House will vote on the omnibus as little as 46 hours after receiving it. Could you read this thing that quickly?”

Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, says there is no way lawmakers can read that large bill before voting on it.

“While Americans suffer the consequences of Obamacare, Congress is trying to rush through another massive bill before reading it,” Martin said in a statement Tuesday. 
The Omnibus bill, a 1,582-page monstrosity with a price tag of $1.1 trillion, was quietly introduced under the cover of darkness on Monday night, and is being rushed to a vote before Congress can read it. Has Congress learned nothing from the Obamacare disaster? We need members in the House and the Senate who are willing to keep their campaign promises, stand up for the people, and protect Americans from Washington's tax, borrow, spend and spend and spend mentality.
Martin further called the omnibus spending package “unacceptable” and something that “sets the stage for another debt increase in February.” Martin argued that Congress is spending money that the government does not have.

“The mindset of ‘who cares about the future’ is a travesty and completely irresponsible,” Martin said. “One trillion dollars does not appear magically out of thin air. The only way to pay for such a mess is to borrow, and borrow some more. Congress may be deluding themselves, but the American people will hold them responsible for this fiscal irresponsibility.”

Read the entire article

January 14, 2014

U.S. issues first challenge to WTO over Chinese compliance claim

The United States on Monday challenged China’s claim that it has complied with World Trade Organization rules regarding duties on certain US steel products.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman announced that the United States was requesting that China enter into consultations over Beijing’s claim that it has brought its duties on US exports of grain oriented flat-rolled electrical steel (GOES) into compliance with WTO rules.

The request marks the first time the United States has launched a proceeding in the Geneva-based international trade body to challenge a claim by China that it has complied in a WTO dispute, the USTR said.

“The WTO found that China’s duties are inconsistent with WTO rules. We were right, and China was wrong. Unfortunately, it appears that China has not corrected those inconsistencies,” Froman said in a statement.

According to the USTR, China’s actions cut off more than $250 million in US exports of the high-tech steel product used primarily in the power-generating industry.

The magnetic US rolled steel is made by AK Steel Corporation, based in Ohio, and Allegheny Ludlum, based in Pennsylvania.

The dispute dates back to September 2010 when Washington accused China of breaching trade rules by not providing sufficient evidence that antidumping duties were needed on US imports of the specialist steel.

In June 2012 the WTO ruled in favor of the United States complaint. China, after losing an appeal of the decision, pledged in November that year to change its restrictive policy to comply with the ruling.