WASHINGTON — House Republicans have rebuffed President Obama’s request for explicit approval to train and equip Syrian rebels battling forces seeking creation of an Islamic State and to spend up to $2 billion stabilizing the situation in Ukraine, Iraq and other hotspots, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Despite the setback, administration officials worked to win the support of reluctant lawmakers in the hours before Obama was delivering a nationally television speech to the nation laying out his strategy for combating militants with Islamic State group.
Officials said Obama made two specific requests of lawmakers as they drafted a sweeping spending bill to keep the government open past the end of the Sept. 30 budget year. Neither was included in the bill that the House is scheduled to vote on Thursday, but the situation remained fluid.
The White House request asks for “authority to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Syrian regime” as well as stabilize areas in Syria under rebel control.
The 205-to-217 vote was far closer than expected and came after a brief but impassioned debate over citizens’ right to privacy and the steps the government must take to protect national security. It was a rare instance in which a classified intelligence program was openly discussed on the House floor, and disagreements over the program led to some unusual coalitions.
111 Democrats — a majority of the Democratic caucus — defied their president.
But the final tally in the House suggested the tide was shifting on the issue. In the weeks after the Snowden leaks, the united voices of Congressional leaders and administration officials in support of the N.S.A. programs seemed to squelch the outrage Mr. Snowden had hoped for. Anger seemed to be trained more on Mr. Snowden than on the programs he revealed.
At the very least, the section of the Patriot Act in question will be allowed to expire in 2015, he said. “It’s going to end — now or later,” Mr. Nadler said. “The only question is when and on what terms.”
While administration officials defended the surveillance during the hearing, several lawmakers said that the data collection was unsustainable, and that Congress would move to either revoke the legislative authorization for the bulk collection now or at least refuse to renew it when it expires in 2015.
The Obama administration faced a growing Congressional backlash against the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance operations on Wednesday, as lawmakers from both parties called for the vast collection of private data on millions of Americans to be scaled back.
During a sometimes contentious hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans and Democrats told administration officials that they believed the government had exceeded the surveillance authorities granted by Congress, and warned that they were unlikely to be reauthorized in the future.
“The government is stockpiling sensitive personal data on a grand scale,” said Representative Ted Deutch, Democrat of Florida. “Intelligence officers, contractors and personnel only need a rubber-stamp warrant from the FISA court to then learn virtually everything there is to know about an American citizen,” he said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
President Obama plans to fill out his economic team on Thursday, nominating a long-time supporter and a top aide for the jobs of Commerce Secretary and U.S. Trade Representative.
Obama will nominate Chicago business executive and fundraiser Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary, and economic adviser Mike Froman for trade representative, administration officials said.
The Senate must confirm both nominees.
Two administration officials confirmed the Pritzker and Froman nominations, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to preempt Obama’s formal announcement on Thursday morning.
Obama will announce the nominations before departing on a three-day business trip to Mexico and Costa Rica.
According to The Washington Post, the Obama administration is reconsidering its opposition to a new Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, the foundational legal basis of the so-called war on terrorism. That short document, passed overwhelmingly by Congress days after the 9/11 attacks, tethered a U.S. military response to anyone who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” Nearly all of those people are dead or detained.
There are two ways to view that circumstance. One is to say the United States won the war on terrorism. The other is to expand the definition of the adversary to what an ex-official quoted by the Post called “associates of associates” of al-Qaida.
And that’s the one the administration is mooting. “Administration officials acknowledged that they could be forced to seek new legal cover if the president decides that strikes are necessary against nascent groups that don’t have direct al-Qaeda links,” the Post reports. Examples of the targets under consideration include the extreme Islamist faction of the Syrian rebellion; the Ansar al-Sharia organization suspected of involvement in September’s Benghazi assault; and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed terrorist who broke with al-Qaida but is believed to be behind the January seizure of an Algerian oil field.
The Obama administration is formulating a broader strategy for gun control as it looks to reduce U.S. gun violence, those privy to the discussions say.
Rather than just pursuing the reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a White House working group led by Vice President Joe Biden is looking at a multi-prong approach that would include universal background checks for gun purchasers, creation of a national database to track guns, strengthening of mental health checks, and tougher penalties for carrying guns near schools or giving them to minors, sources told The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported Saturday the administration also is coming up with a battle plan to defuse the National Rifle Association’s expected counter-attack. One source told the Post that could include recruiting Walmart and other gun retailers to support measures that would benefit their businesses.
“They are very clearly committed to looking at this issue comprehensively,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who has been in on discussions where there has been “a deeper exploration than just the assault-weapons ban.”
President Obama created the working group last month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, mostly young children.
The Post said leaders of various interest groups have discussed options for a wider approach with Biden and other top administration officials.
“Simply coming up with one or two aspects of it really falls short of the magnitude of the gun issue in the country,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum who was among the law enforcement leaders who met with the White House group.
Read more: upi.com
President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner moved close to agreement Monday on a plan to avert the year-end “fiscal cliff,” but they had yet to clear several critical hurdles, including winning the support of wary House Republicans.
Obama and Boehner (R-Ohio) huddled at the White House for 45 minutes Monday morning for their third conversation in the past five days. Later, Boehner met for an hour at the Capitol with his leadership team in advance of a briefing Tuesday morning for the entire House GOP that could be a crucial test of Boehner’s ability to sell the deal.
Administration officials and aides to Boehner declined to comment publicly on the talks. But people in both parties said they continued to make progress as Obama laid out a counteroffer that reduces the amount of new taxes he is demanding to $1.2 trillion over the next decade and concedes a key Republican demand: applying a less-generous measure of inflation to several government programs, including Social Security.
President Obama plans to ask Congress for about $50 billion in emergency spending to help rebuild the states ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, according to administration and Congressional officials briefed on the discussions.
The White House is assembling a spending request to send to Capitol Hill as early as this week, and while the final sum is still in flux, it should fall between $45 billion and $55 billion. That represents an enormous sum at a time when Mr. Obama is locked in a titanic struggle with Republicans over the federal deficit, but is significantly less than the states sought.
Unless an austerity-minded Congress adds to the president’s plan, state leaders would have to figure out other ways to finance tens of billions of dollars of storm-related expenses or do without them. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were seeking a combined $82 billion in federal help both to clean up and restore damage from Hurricane Sandy as well as to upgrade and harden infrastructure to prepare for future storms.
Administration officials would not say which specific spending items were being excluded, but other officials monitoring the issue identified several that the White House seemed cool to. New York, for instance, sought reimbursement for business owners for money lost while they were closed as well as for privately held utilities like Consolidated Edison.
Another proposal that may not make the cut was fully reimbursing homeowners for the costs they incur bringing damaged and destroyed homes to their condition prior to the storm; typically, the federal government covers the cost of bringing homes to a lower “livable” standard after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Friday he would not support an expansion of Chick-fil-A in the District, referring to it as “hate chicken.”
The signs of a Chick-fil-A are seen July 26, 2012 in Springfield, Va. (Alex Wong - Getty Images) Gray issued his statement on Twitter after mayors in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco also stated that the company was not welcome due to president Dan Cathy’s outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage.
“Given my long standing strong support for LGBT rights and marriage equality, I would not support #hatechicken,” Gray wrote.
Earlier Friday, Gray declined to take a stand on the company, saying he needed more time to review its position on gay rights. But administration officials noted Gray has been a strong supporter of gay rights.
The Obama administration moved Friday to further insulate religiously affiliated hospitals and universities from paying for birth control for their female employees if they object to providing the coverage on moral grounds.
The new proposal, which follows a compromise announced by President Obama last month, seeks to quell lingering objections from religious groups about a provision in the new healthcare law requiring employers to offer women contraceptive coverage without co-pays or other cost-sharing.
Under fire from leading Roman Catholic hospitals and other institutions, the administration has proposed shifting the cost of providing birth control coverage onto insurance companies, while prohibiting those insurers from passing on the additional cost to employers.
But it was unclear what this would mean for large, religiously affiliated employers that self-insure rather than hire insurance companies to assume the risk of providing health benefits to their employees.
In a notice released Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services suggested these self-insured employers could pass the cost of contraceptive coverage to whomever administers their health benefits. Large employers typically contract with insurance companies to handle billing and other administrative tasks associated with providing health benefits.
These administrators would then use funds from other sources, such as rebates they might receive from drug makers, to offset the cost of the contraceptive benefit, according to administration officials.
The Obama administration also suggested that new national health plans to be set up under the law could be required to offer supplemental contraceptive coverage to employees of religiously affiliated institutions.