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Entries in Lawmakers (9)

Thursday
May052011

Lawmakers Respond to Obama’s Decision to Hold Bin Laden Photos

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The reaction on Capitol Hill to President Obama’s decision not to release any photographic evidence of Osama bin Laden’s death has been met mostly with agreement, with top lawmakers in the House of Representatives from both parties deferring to the president’s discretion.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, personally opposed releasing the photos and called Obama’s verdict “a great decision.” 

“I came out early and said that I didn’t think that they should be released.  Imagine if we had one of our general officers who were killed by the Taliban or al Qaeda and they put them up on display and spread out the pictures like they were a trophy.  It would inflame the U.S. population, and rightly so,” Rogers, R-Michigan, said Wednesday afternoon.  “This is the right decision.  We have soldiers at risk in combat areas.  We want their job to be easier, not harder.  I think releasing the photos would have made it harder.  He’s dead.  The Taliban may or may not believe it.  We’ve got other actions that I’m sure they’ll believe coming to a town near them real soon.”

Rep. Peter King, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told reporters Tuesday that he believed the photos should be released to end any speculation from conspiracy theorists that Bin Laden was not really killed.  But on Wednesday, King said he will “certainly support the president’s decision.”

And Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said on Wednesday that she “supports the president’s decision.”

However, not everyone agreed with the administration’s decision not to release the photos.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a former Air Force lawyer, said he believes President Obama’s decision not to release the images is “a mistake” that will “unnecessarily prolong this debate” over the death of the al Qaeda leader.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is considering mounting a challenge to President Obama in 2012, said that although she agrees with the decision not to release the photos, it is “important for the administration to release definitive proof that identifies Osama bin Laden.”

“The world and the American people need to know that we got our man.  I believe the best evidence would be a DNA match,” Bachmann, R-Minn., said.  “If the administration can release that information, without compromising intelligence, that would be the best proof, and would be better than a photo.  My concern with a photo is that it could incite violence and put U.S. troops in harm’s way.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May042011

Bin Laden's Death Spurs Debate Over Troops' Future in Afghanistan

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte, 300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment(WASHINGTON) -- Osama bin Laden's death has given new urgency to the voices calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

The goal of the war in Afghanistan, the longest in U.S. history, has often been said by President Obama to be to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda."

Now that the organization's leader is dead, some argue that the United States should withdraw from a war that costs billions of dollars every year and has led to the deaths of more than 1,500 U.S. troops and more than 8,000 Afghan civilians.  Citing cost concerns, some lawmakers argue that the country should instead turn its attention more closely to domestic budget and economic issues.

"Most people I talk to say that we need to address our nation's budget deficit, and we are spending a lot of money in Afghanistan," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.  "Now that bin Laden has been executed, we must go home."

Opponents of the war also point to the fact that bin Laden was captured in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, through years of intelligence gathering and counter terrorism operations, not military might and the counter insurgency strategy employed in Afghanistan.

The United States is scheduled to draw down its troops in the country in July, but there is no definitive timeframe for a complete pullout.

Two members of the House plan to unveil a bipartisan bill this week that would require the president to submit a withdrawal plan with specific dates.

"The Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act," co-authored by Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass., also calls on Obama to identify when and how the United States will hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan people.

But so far, there is little indication from the administration that it plans a shift in its strategy in Afghanistan.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar102011

Lawmakers Call For Administration To Stop Picking On Oil Industry

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With Americans feeling pain at the pump due to soaring gas prices, House Republicans Thursday announced a plan to try to expand American energy production and end Obama administration policies that they contend are harmful both to prices and job growth.

The GOP's effort, dubbed the American Energy Initiative, was unveiled Thursday by House Speaker John Boehner.

“Just as with jobs, the American people recognize that Washington has been a big part of the problem when it comes to the price of energy," Boehner said at his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.

"If you watch what this administration has done for the last two years in their regulatory process, they've stopped drilling in the Gulf, they've slowed the number of leases coming out of the government, and they're imposing these EPA regulations on American businesses that are going to sharply increase the cost of energy in America," he added.

Across the Hill the Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell argued that the Obama administration is "actively working to prevent us from increasing our own oil production here at home."

"Now is the time to be asking what we can do to increase domestic energy production, not proposing ways to squeeze American families even more," he said. "And that's why all of these actions by the administration, along with a tax hike on energy production some have proposed that will only be passed on to consumers in the form of even higher gas prices, is the last thing Americans need right now."

Republicans are not alone in their arguments that the White House should do more to help boost domestic energy production. Some Democrats such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu have voiced frustration with the administration's treatment of the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

On Wednesday Landrieu beat back questions about why Congress continues to grant billions of dollars in tax subsidies to oil companies that are currently raking in massive profits, all at a time when Americans are spending more at the pump and the government is running up record deficits.

"Every time the companies start making money people want to tax what they get, but when they're losing money no one wants to help them because of this sort of bias against oil and gas companies which comes from some sector, you know, of our democracy," Landrieu said.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, echoed that argument.

"In a bad economic climate with the thousands of jobs that are supported by the oil industry, it's not the time to raise prices on the consumer and certainly not to penalize oil companies in a different way from every other industry if we hope to promote job growth," Hutchison said.

"It's the turmoil in the Middle East that has driven up the cost. The answer to that is more supply -- it is to get these rigs drilling, get these rigs producing, have more capability for refinery capacity and then the price will come down."

Hutchison and Landrieu have introduced a bill that would extend the time lost on oil leases due to the administration's drilling moratorium in the Gulf.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb242011

Top Military Officer Accused of Deploying Psy-Ops Against Lawmakers

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan is under scrutiny for allegedly ordering the illegal use of "psychological operations" against American dignitaries during official visits to the country last year.

Among the visiting officials who may have been targeted by "psy-ops" was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen.

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who heads the effort to train Afghan forces, instructed subordinates to use tactics reserved exclusively to target the enemy, sources familiar with the situation told Rolling Stone magazine.

Caldwell reportedly sought to pressure U.S. senators and congressmen and other VIPs to provide more troops and funding for the war. Gen. David Petraeus, commader of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said he was preparing to open an investigation "to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue."

Caldwell "categorically denies" the allegations, a spokesman told Rolling Stone.

The magazine report is based largely on the account of a reservist with the Texas National Guard, Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, who lead the information operations unit in Kabul.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people's heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," Holmes is quoted as saying. "I'm prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressmen, you're crossing a line."

Holmes said he was told to focus exclusively on a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds."

The so-called "IO" unit compiled detailed research on the backgrounds of visiting dignitaries and honed Caldwell's presentations to be as compelling as possible, according to Holmes, who says he tried to resist Caldwell's orders and later reported them to superiors.

Federal law prohibits government use of propaganda techniques, including psychological tactics, on U.S. citizens.

The lawmakers allegedly targeted by the campaign include Arizona Sen. John McCain, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

The psy-ops team also may have targeted the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan and the German interior minister, according to documents obtained by the magazine.

"Charges of this nature are very serious and disturbing and have to be fully investigated," Reed said in an interview on MSNBC.

But he and other senators mentioned in the article insisted they were not swayed by any single briefing or encounter during a visit to Afghanistan.

"I try to get a broad view and not to put too much stake in any one position while I travel," said Reed, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam and who's been to Afghanistan 11 times.

"For years, I have strongly and repeatedly advocated for building up Afghan military capability because I believe only the Afghans can truly secure their nation's future. I have never needed any convincing on this point," said Levin. "I am confident that the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have been improperly used in Afghanistan."

The latest Rolling Stone article, entitled "Another Runaway General," follows a June expose by the magazine that resulted in the resignation of the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Feb172011

Lawmakers Stuck on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Fixes

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With all the finger-pointing in Washington this week over the need to reform Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, one thing is clear: it might just be Americans' very sense of entitlement to those programs that's the biggest barrier to getting something done.

The three programs have ballooned to 57 percent of the government budget this year and are widely cited as the most significant contributors to the federal deficit, something nearly all Americans want to see aggressively brought under control.

But while lawmakers from both parties agree on curbing the skyrocketing costs of the programs, few have endorsed a specific way to get that done.

President Obama, who's come under fire for not offering a detailed vision for fixing entitlement spending in his 2012 budget, said Tuesday that he's prepared to work with both parties to "start dealing with that in a serious way."

Republicans, meanwhile, who also haven't united around their own path to reform but promised their forthcoming budget would include a step forward, said they are "waiting for presidential leadership."

Washington's pundits say both sides could come together this year and work something out.  But the "adult conversation" Republicans and Democrats say they're ready to have on entitlements only gets more politically perilous as it gets more specific -- particularly ahead of a looming election battle in 2012.

Fifty-six percent of Americans oppose changes to Medicare benefits and 64 percent oppose changes to Social Security benefits, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health.

At the same time, a majority of Americans oppose tax increases to pay to keep the programs operating at their current levels.

Moreover, heading into a presidential election season, no party or politician wants to be perceived as altering a benefit program that affects some of the most reliable and active American voters -- senior citizens.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb092011

Lawmakers Criticize US Policy On Egypt, Urge Using Aid As Leverage

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle Wednesday criticized longstanding U.S. policy over successive American presidents who have stood by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for three decades, despite evidence he suppressed political opposition and was behind numerous human rights abuses in his country. They also criticized the Obama administration for being too slow to embrace the aspirations of the protestors who have called for Mubarak’s ouster.

“In both Egypt and Lebanon we have failed to effectively leverage U.S. assistance in support of peaceful pro-democracy forces and to help build strong accountable, independent and democratic institutions as a bulwark against the instability which is now spreading throughout much of the region. Instead of being proactive we have been obsessed with maintaining short term personality-based stability; stability that was never really all that stable as the events of recent weeks demonstrate,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said at the beginning of a hearing Wednesday on the recent instability in those countries.

At least two Democrats also suggested leveraging America’s $1.5 billion aid package to Mubarak to enact reforms the U.S. has called for.

“While we can’t determine Egypt’s future leader, we should use our influence to encourage a process of change that is orderly and a government whose foreign and security policies support our interests,” Ranking Member Howard Berman, D-Calif., said.

Congressman Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., even called for the Obama administration to cut off aid to Egypt.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Nov142010

Freshman Class of Congress Begins Orientation

Image Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers return to Washington this week to begin a lame duck session of Congress, but before they convene, the new freshman class will have already met for their orientation.

Some freshmen entering the House and Senate will replace members of Congress with a wealth of experience, but many eager newcomers believe they will bring a fresh outlook that will help them make decisions on how to legislate.

The freshman class is one of the largest Washington has seen in years, with at least 85 new members joining the GOP in the House.

Nearly half of the new Republicans have never served in government. Among them there are six doctors, three car dealers, two funeral directors, an airline pilot and a pizza restaurant owner.

There will be seven new women in the House when Congress convenes next year. Also, joining the GOP ranks will be two blacks, including Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct202010

Top Federal Prosecutor Vows Crackdown On Corrupt State Legislators

Five student journalists conducted an investigation of America's state legislatures for ABC News, and found that at least 80 state lawmakers had been indicted or convicted in the past five years. Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- One of the nation's top criminal prosecutors said this week that the U.S. Department of Justice is aggressively pursuing cases against corrupt state legislators in several states on the heels of recent arrests in Alabama, where lawmakers have been accused of accepting bribes from gambling lobbyists in exchange for their votes.

"State officials are absolutely in our sights," said Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, in an exclusive interview with ABC News. "Even at the most local county level.  If we hear about corruption we're going to pursue it -- whether you're the city commissioner, the county person, the state person, or the highest person in the federal government."

Breuer's comments came at the conclusion of an ABC News investigation airing Wednesday night on World News and Nightline which found that more than half of the states in the nation have had to contend with sordid or illegal behavior by their state representatives in the past five years, including the indictment or conviction of at least 80 state legislators during that period.  The ABC investigation, which was conducted by five student journalists, also documented boorish or unprofessional conduct by state politicians attending an annual gathering of prominent state legislators this summer.

One elected official attempted to grope and kiss a student journalist attending the event.  Another lawmaker physically threatened a student journalist with a raised golf club when cameras caught the legislator skipping a good government seminar at the conference in favor of a private golf outing with a lobbyist.

America's state capitals have played an increasingly important role in recent years as state politicians have been asked to make critical decisions on everything from insurance and banking regulation to gun possession and tobacco use.  Though they operate in relative obscurity, state legislators control more than a trillion dollars in taxes and spending, and laws that affect everyone.

As spending from lobbyists and interest groups has increased, trouble has followed.  Federal agents have conducted stings in Alaska, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and New Jersey, where one lawmaker was captured on hidden cameras pocketing cash outside an Atlantic City steakhouse.  In Massachusetts, a female lawmaker was photographed stuffing a payoff into her bra.

Among the most recent indictments are those of four lawmakers in Alabama, where federal prosecutors have alleged the politicians accepted bribes from lobbyists seeking to loosen restrictions on electronic bingo -- a contentious issue in the state.  All 11 defendants in the Alabama investigation have pled not guilty.

"There is so much money involved," Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told ABC News.  "And there were so many people that had been hired -- all of the lobbyists here....A lobbyist really can perform a useful function [and] if you're going to be in politics you're going to have to raise money.  It's when you get to the point that you offer a cash reward for any particular vote, then there's no one who can defend that."

These scandals have blossomed during a time when state-level politicians are receiving less attention from watchdog groups and journalists than ever.  When more than 4,000 lawmakers, vendors, lobbyists, and legislative staff gathered for the annual convention of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) this summer, only 26 journalists – most of them local media -- registered to attend.

Many lawmakers participated in 40-plus hours of programs and sessions designed to address important issues such as education, health care, transportation, public pensions, and energy inside the convention hall.  In the evenings, hundreds of state lawmakers attended lavish parties sponsored by lobbyists and corporate interests.

Over the course of four days, influential leaders from 50 states and Puerto Rico allowed themselves to be wined and dined and entertained by big corporations, labor unions and lobbyists.  Corporate sponsors and lobbyists helped foot the bill for an extravagant riverfront party featuring Kentucky barbecue, private dancing on the deck of the steamer Belle of Louisville, and live music by Wynonna Judd, Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless – all invitation only.  Later in the week, lawmakers were invited to Churchill Downs, where they were treated to private thoroughbred races, barrels of free bourbon, platters of tenderloin and prime rib, and the chance to win free access to a 2011 Kentucky Derby box.

"There's one thing you can say about Louisville, Kentucky," said the state's House Speaker, Rep. Gregory D. Stumbo.  "They know how to party."

Blowout parties for the state lawmakers may be a convention staple, but what was different this year was the presence of five university graduate school journalists on assignment for ABC News, with cameras and questions.  The five journalism graduate students took on the project of investigating America's state houses after being selected as fellows with the Carnegie Corporation for the summer.

"Do you think taxpayers back home would like to see their legislators partying it up at Churchill Downs?" one of the fellows asked North Carolina Rep. Martha Alexander.

"Well, I don't know, I've never really asked them to be honest with you," Alexander replied.  "They probably wouldn't like it, but they don't like most of the things we do."

Reporter Cornered, Groped By Lawmaker

The students' footage provides a rare glimpse of what watchdog groups say is an unholy alliance that has been forged between lawmakers and lobbyists in the country's state capitals.  Ellen Miller is the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan watchdog group that has long tracked money and in influence in Washington and is now also focusing on the state houses, where lobbyists vastly outnumber lawmakers, spending millions to gain influence.

She says she believes state lawmakers -- many of whom work part time and are paid only stipends -- are no match for the full-time lobbyists who are armed with big budgets to entertain and attempt to curry favor.

That's a formula, she said, "by which the lobbyists, usually [working] for corporations, are represented far better than ordinary citizens."

It is a dynamic that many lawmakers attending the conference in Louisville did not want to see on ABC News.  The five students were repeatedly asked to put away their cameras at parties and dinners being thrown for state lawmakers.  One lobbyist explained,  "We normally don't allow media at these events because elected officials get worried and they are all running campaigns and I know you probably have that [camera] on."

Lawmakers being escorted on a private "VIP tour" of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat museum became alarmed when they discovered an ABC News reporter was tagging along.  An NCSL staffer demanded that ABC News hand over the tapes.

An NCSL spokesman later objected to the students' reporting in an e-mail sent this week.  Gene Rose, the organization's communications director, characterized the group as "extremely transparent."

He also wrote that NCSL "does not sponsor, endorse or otherwise encourage participation in events outside of our schedule.  This distinction is very important if you are going to incorporate video taken outside of our scheduled events."

Student journalist Nadia Sussman of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism asked the organization's current president, Massachusetts Sen. Richard Moore whether he had any concerns about appearances, holding lavish events at a time when people are facing furloughs in their states.

"I will tell you absolutely not," Moore said.  "When you go to a conference, for four days, no one expects me to be 24 hour a day, all four days, in a meeting room."

It was at one of the outside events -- a late-night party for lawmakers at a downtown Louisville bar -- that student journalists Alyssa Newcomb from Arizona State found herself cornered and kissed by a legislator from Puerto Rico, Jorge Navarro Suarez.  He later said that because he has difficulty understanding English he was just trying to get close so he could hear her better over the noise of the party.

Reporter Threatened With Golf Club

Another event not on the NCSL schedule was a golf outing for Alabama lawmakers hosted by a top state lobbyist.  When student journalist Dan Lieberman, of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, approached state Rep. Artis J. McCampbell, he clearly did not want the attention.

"And you are out here golfing instead of attending the conference or…" Lieberman asked.

"No, I'm out here, I have nothing to say," McCampbell replied.

When Lieberman restated the question, the Alabama lawmaker pulled out an iron from his golf bag.

"Look," he said, "if you don't want me to take this to you, then leave, leave, leave, leave."

Miller, of the Sunlight Foundation, was alarmed when she heard about the Suarez incident.

"When public officials act in this kind of way it really raises the question of whether they're fit to serve and represent the public," she said.

The 2010 Carnegie Fellows:

Kevin Morris is a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and formerly worked as a translator and journalist in China.

Dan Lieberman completed his master's degree at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in May 2010 and now works at ABC News in New York.

Nadia Sussman is completing her master's degree in journalism at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Alyssa Newcomb is completing her Master's degree at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication and will graduate in December 2010.

Liz Day is continuing her master's in broadcast journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism part-time while also freelancing and chasing investigative stories. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Monday
Oct182010

Caught On Tape: State House Scoundrels

A Puerto Rico legislator gets too close for comfort with a student journalist. Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- An ABC News investigation has found that lobbyists for corporate interests are increasingly turning to state legislatures for lucrative contracts and favorable regulations -- a dynamic that has bred a string of unsavory political scandals in state capitals around the nation.  At least 80 state legislators have been indicted or convicted in the last five years.

The state house remains an often-overlooked arm of American government, even as state legislators exercise control over more than a trillion dollars in taxes and spending, and enact laws that affect everyone.  As a project to study an important institution that receives little scrutiny from the national media, five graduate school journalists selected as Carnegie Fellows, working with the ABC News investigative unit, examined the ethics and behavior of state legislators, and found conduct that could be best described as unbecoming.

At a national convention of state legislators in Louisville, Kentucky over the summer, more than 1,300 politicians and staffers fanned out across Louisville to a series of corporate and lobbyist-sponsored dinners and parties, including a lavish reception at the world-famous horse racing venue Churchill Downs sponsored by Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo and Sprint, among others, and a massive waterfront concert.  Lawmakers devoured prime rib and tenderloin, and consumed bourbon by the barrel.

One legislator from Puerto Rico took advantage of the festive environment by making unwanted advances on a female student journalist, groping and kissing her –- all as the cameras rolled. In a statement to ABC News, Rep. Jorge Navarro Suarez denied any misconduct, and said he only got close to the student to understand what she was saying, since the music was loud and he doesn't speak English well.

Another lawmaker threatened a student journalist with a raised golf club when cameras caught the legislator skipping a good government seminar at the conference in favor of a private golf outing with a lobbyist.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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