Category Archives: Congress

Many of the NSA’s Loudest Defenders Have Financial Ties to NSA Contractors

Lee Fang reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Many of the NSA’s Loudest Defenders Have Financial Ties to NSA ContractorsThe debate over the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records has reached a critical point after a federal appeals court last week ruled the practice illegal, dramatically raising the stakes for pending Congressional legislation that would fully or partially reinstate the program. An army of pundits promptly took to television screens, with many of them brushing off concerns about the surveillance.

The talking heads have been backstopping the NSA’s mass surveillance more or less continuously since it was revealed. They spoke out to support the agency when NSA contractor Edward Snowden released details of its programs in 2013, and they’ve kept up their advocacy ever since — on television news shows, newspaper op-ed pages, online, and at Congressional hearings. But it’s often unclear just how financially cozy these pundits are with the surveillance state they defend, since they’re typically identified with titles that give no clues about their conflicts of interest. Such conflicts have become particularly important, and worth pointing out, now that the debate about NSA surveillance has shifted from simple outrage to politically prominent legislative debates.’

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Obama’s plans for trade deals with Asia (TTP) and Europe (TTIP) in tatters after Senate vote

Dan Roberts, Sabrina Siddiqui and Dominic Rushe report for The Guardian:

US  President Barack Obama delivers remarks on trade at Nike's corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon May 8, 2015 (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)Barack Obama’s ambitions to pass sweeping new free trade agreements with Asia and Europe fell at the first hurdle on Tuesday as Senate Democrats put concerns about US manufacturing jobs ahead of arguments that the deals would boost global economic growth.

A vote to push through the bill failed as 45 senators voted against it, to 52 in favor. Obama needed 60 out of the 100 votes for it to pass.

Failure to secure so-called “fast track” negotiating authority from Congress leaves the president’s top legislative priority in tatters.

It may also prove the high-water mark in decades of steady trade liberalisation that has fuelled globalisation but is blamed for exacerbating economic inequality within many developed economies.’

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How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about

Michael Cohen reports for The Washington Post:

Several industries have become notorious for the millions they spend on influencing legislation and getting friendly candidates into office: Big Oil, Big Pharma and the gun lobby among them. But one has managed to quickly build influence with comparatively little scrutiny: Private prisons. The two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States – GEO and Corrections Corporation of America – and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar. They now rake in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute. Private companies house nearly half of the nation’s immigrant detainees, compared to about 25 percent a decade ago, a Huffington Post report found. In total, there are now about 130 private prisons in the country with about 157,000 beds.

Marco Rubio is one of the best examples of the private prison industry’s growing political influence, a connection that deserves far more attention now that he’s officially launched a presidential bid. The U.S. senator has a history of close ties to the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, GEO Group, stretching back to his days as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust. Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company. (Rubio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)’

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Court Rules NSA Bulk Spying Illegal: New Vindication for Snowden, and Uncertainty for PATRIOT Act

‘A federal appeals court has ruled the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal. The program was exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden; the ACLU filed its lawsuit based largely on Snowden’s revelations. In a unanimous decision Thursday, a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York called the bulk phone records collection “unprecedented and unwarranted.” The ruling comes as Congress faces a June 1st deadline to renew the part of the Patriot Act that authorizes the NSA’s bulk data surveillance. Another measure, the USA Freedom Act, would lead to limited reforms of some of the NSA’s programs. We are joined by Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, which filed the case challenging the NSA’s bulk collection of American’s phone records.’ (Democracy Now!)

Corruption is Legal in America

Millennials don’t trust anyone

Chris Cillizza reports for The Washington Post:

Of 10 major societal institutions, just two — the military and scientists — garnered majority support from millennials on the question of whom they trust to do the right thing most of the time. That’s according to new polling by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics of this most-written-and-talked-about generation, which encompasses those ranging in age from 18 to 29.

The lack of trust in longtime pillars of society among millennials is striking both for its depth and its breadth. No one is spared their side-eyed looks.

The media gets its worst — with 88 percent of millennials saying they only “sometimes” or “never” trust the press. Wall Street doesn’t fare much better, with 86 percent of millennials expressing distrust. Congress is at 82 percent. Three in four millennials (74 percent) sometimes or never trust the federal government to do the right thing, and two in three (63 percent) feel the same way about the president.  The Supreme Court, once a beacon of trust societywide, isn’t seen that way by millennials, with 58 percent saying they only sometimes or never trust the nation’s highest court to do the right thing. Heck, even local police aren’t spared; 50 percent say they trust the cops only sometimes or never to do the right thing, while 49 percent said they trust police “all” or “most” of the time.”

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Controversial MEK Leader Invited to Congress, Calls For Iran Overthrow to Fight ISIS

David Francis reports for Foreign Policy:

Featured photo - Long March of the Yellow Jackets: How a One-Time Terrorist Group Prevailed on Capitol HillThe controversial leader of an Iranian dissidents group was called to Capitol Hill to lend her expertise about the Islamic State lawmakers. Her testimony Wednesday showed she was only interested in talking about Iran.

Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Iranian dissidents organization Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a group that until 2012 was list on the State Department’s terror list, insisted Tehran was the root of the Islamic State’s power. In prepared testimony, she mentioned Iran 135 times. By comparison, the Islamic State, or ISIS, got 19 mentions; Iraq was mentioned 48 times. Nuclear, as in Iran’s nuclear program, got 31 mentions.

But lawmakers tolerated Rajavi’s notion that “terrorism and fundamentalism came from the mullahs’ regime in Iran. When that is overthrown [the Islamic State] will be destroyed.”’

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TPP “A Corporate Trojan Horse”: Interview with Lori Wallah & Rep. Alan Grayson

‘Senate Finance Committee leaders Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Ron Wyden are expected to introduce a “fast-track” trade promotion authority bill as early as this week that would give the president authority to negotiate the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and then present it to Congress for a yes-or-no vote, with no amendments allowed. On Wednesday, more than 1,000 labor union members rallied on Capitol Hill to call on Democrats to oppose “fast-track” authority. We speak with two people closely following the proposed legislation: Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida.’ (Democracy Now!)

The Lobbying World: Living the High Life After Congress

Michael Winship writes for Moyers & Company:

[…] This is what ex-members of Congress and their staffs do nowadays. Rarely do they follow the example of ancient Rome’s Cincinnatus and go back to the farm – or take that teaching job at the local university or join a hometown law practice. They stay in DC to reap the bountiful harvest that comes from Capitol Hill experience and good old fashioned cronyism.

As a result of November’s midterm elections and retirements, at the beginning of the year nearly 50 members of the House and a dozen senators got the old heave-ho but competition for their services within the Beltway was, as The National Law Journal reported, “hot.”

The legal newspaper observed, “Firms usually want big names from leadership of industry regulation-focused committees, but with collegial, bipartisan reputations.” Washington headhunter Ivan Adler told the paper that bidding starts at a million for a retired senator, $500,000 or more for a former House member. And three years ago, investigative journalist Lee Fang found that when they join the lobbying world, “Lawmakers increased their salary by 1,452 percent on average from the last year they were in office to the latest publicly available disclosure.”’

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U.S. Congress must end mass NSA surveillance with next Patriot Act vote

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

Will Congress put an end to the era of unfettered mass surveillance?In less than 60 days, Congress – whether they like it or not – will be forced to decide if the NSA’s most notorious mass surveillance program lives or dies. And today, over 30 civil liberties organizations launched a nationwide call-in campaign urging them to kill it.

Despite doing almost everything in their power to avoid voting for substantive NSA reform, Congress now has no choice: On 1 June, one of the most controversial parts of the Patriot Act – known as Section 215 – will expire unless both houses of Congress affirmatively vote for it to be reauthorized.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act was the subject of the very first Snowden story, when the Guardian reported that the US government had reinterpreted the law in complete secrecy, allowing the NSA to vacuum up every single American’s telephone records – who they called, who called them, when, and for how long – regardless of whether they had been accused of a crime or not. (The NSA’s warped interpretation of Section 215 was also the subject of John Oliver’s entire show on Sunday night. It is a must-watch.)’

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Republicans: The Cocaine Monkeys of Defense Spending

Veronique de Rugy writes for The Daily Beast:

Republicans claim that they, unlike Democrats, are the fiscally responsible party and often preach about the dangers of the growing national debt and the need to reduce the size of government. The reality is quite different, however. Apart from wanting to trim food stamps, foreign aid, and Medicaid, Republicans simply aren’t willing to specify the programs they are truly willing to ax—especially the Republicans now out on the campaign trail.

Exhibit A is defense spending. Republicans love it. In fact, they love it so much that they can’t get enough of it. Ever. For all their complaints about government inefficiency, many of them seem to think that it doesn’t apply to the Department of Defense, and that every additional dollar spent on projects like the F35—a supposedly nuclear-capable fighter jet that defense contractor Lockheed Martin has been working on since 2001 and is long overdue and over budget and still not fully operational—or the super-expensive and unnecessary Abrams Tank translates into increased national security.’

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Why John Oliver Can’t Find Americans Who Know Edward Snowden’s Name (It’s Not About Snowden)

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

On his HBO program last night, John Oliver devoted 30 minutes to a discussion of U.S. surveillance programs, advocating a much more substantive debate as the June 1 deadline for renewing the Patriot Act approaches (the full segment can be seen here). As part of that segment, Oliver broadcast an interview he conducted with Edward Snowden in Moscow, and to illustrate the point that an insufficient surveillance debate has been conducted, showed video of numerous people in Times Square saying they had no idea who Snowden is (or giving inaccurate answers about him). Oliver assured Snowden off-camera that they did not cherry-pick those “on the street” interviews but showed a representative sample.

Oliver’s overall discussion is good (and, naturally, quite funny), but the specific point he wants to make here is misguided. Contrary to what Oliver says, it’s actually not surprising at all that a large number of Americans are unaware of who Snowden is, nor does it say much at all about the surveillance debate. That’s because a large number of Americans, by choice, are remarkably unaware of virtually all political matters. The befuddled reactions of the Times Square interviewees when asked about Snowden illustrate little about the specific surveillance issue but a great deal about the full-scale political disengagement of a substantial chunk of the American population.’

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How Big Business Is Helping Expand NSA Surveillance, Snowden Be Damned

Lee Fang reports for The Intercept:

Since November 11, 2011, with the introduction of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, American spy agencies have been pushing laws to encourage corporations to share more customer information. They repeatedly failed, thanks in part to NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass government surveillance. Then came Republican victories in last year’s midterm Congressional elections and a major push by corporate interests in favor of the legislation.

Today, the bill is back, largely unchanged, and if congressional insiders and the bill’s sponsors are to believed, the legislation could end up on President Obama’s desk as soon as this month. In another boon to the legislation, Obama is expected to reverse his past opposition and sign it, albeit in an amended and renamed form (CISPA is now CISA, the “Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act”). The reversal comes in the wake of high-profile hacks on JPMorgan Chase and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The bill has also benefitted greatly from lobbying by big business, which sees it as a way to cut costs and to shift some anti-hacking defenses onto the government.’

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Why the GOP is Sabotaging the Iran Talks: Interview with Jamal Abdi and Gareth Porter

Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and Gareth Porter, author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, join Thom Hartmann. The deadline has come and gone for a preliminary nuclear deal with Iran – and talks will now stretch into Wednesday. What are the chances the US and its partners actually reach an agreement with Iran? And why are Republicans really so eager to sabotage any rapprochment with the Islamic Republic?’ (The Big Picture)

If this is what an anti-war presidency looks like to you, you’re detached from reality

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

obama clenched jawNothing sums up the warped foreign policy fantasy world in which Republicans live more than when House Speaker John Boehner recentlycalled Obama an “anti-war president” under which America “is sitting on the sidelines” in the increasingly chaotic Middle East.

If Obama is an anti-war president, he’s the worst anti-war president in history. In the last six years, the Obama administration has bombed seven countries in the Middle East alone and armed countless more with tens of billions in dollars in weapons. But that’s apparently not enough for Republicans. As the Isis war continues to expand and Yemen descends into civil war, everyone is still demanding more: If only we bombed the region a little bit harder, then they’ll submit.

In between publishing a new rash of overt sociopathic “Bomb Iran” op-eds, Republicans and neocons are circulating a new talking point: Obama doesn’t have a “coherent” or “unifying” strategy in the Middle East. But you can’t have a one-size-fits-all strategy in an entire region that is almost incomprehensibly complex – which is why no one, including the Republicans criticizing Obama, actually has an answer for what that strategy should be. It’s clear that this new talking point is little more than thinly veiled code for we’re not killing enough Muslims or invading enough countries.’

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In Washington, the Real Power Lies With the Spooks, Eavesdroppers and Assassins

Matthew Harwood reviews Michael Glennon’s “National Security and Double Government” for Medium:

[…] If you’ve noticed that the national security policies of Pres. Barack Obama’s administration are almost indistinguishable from those of the previous Republican administration and wondered why, Glennon has a “disquieting explanation” for you.

There are two governments — a double government — operating today in the realm of national security. There’s the one the voting public thinks they control when they go to the polls — what Glennon refers to as the “Madisonian institutions.” Congress, the courts and the presidency.

And there’s the “Trumanite network,” the labyrinthine national security apparatus that encompasses the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities that Pres. Harry Truman created when he signed the National Security Act of 1947.’

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Obama: I Should’ve Closed Gitmo on Day One

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

[…] Obama announced his intention to close the facility within a year, a non-controversial position at the time. Within a few months, however, Congressional hawks started opposing the move. Obama admitted the “path of least resistance was to just keep it open.

This admission is in stark contrast to what the White House has been saying all along, that the president had been working hard to close the facility and still intended to get it done.’

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‘Patriot Act 2.0’? Senate Cybersecurity Bill Seen as Trojan Horse for More Spying

Nadia Prupis reports for Common Dreams:

cisa.jpgThe U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee approved a cybersecurity bill during a secret session on Thursday, marking the next step in a process that critics warn will nefariously expand the government’s already substantial surveillance powers.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which passed by 14-1 vote, would ostensibly protect against large-scale data thefts of private consumer information, exemplified by recent hacks of Target, Sony, and Home Depot. But critics—including the lone dissenting voice on the committee Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Or.)—say it would open the door for continued invasive and unlawful government spying operations.

Although Wyden denounced the measure as “a surveillance bill by another name,” his opposition was unable to stop the proposal from being approved by the committee. The bill, which reportedly underwent a dozen changes during the meeting, will next go to the full Senate for debate. Its passage in committee, however, means it has already succeeded where other recent cybersecurity proposals have failed.’

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Major survey finds record low confidence in U.S. government, news media

Emily Swanson reports for the Associated Press:

‘Americans’ confidence in all three branches of government is at or near record lows, according to a major survey that has measured attitudes on the subject for 40 years.

The 2014 General Social Survey finds only 23 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the Supreme Court, 11 percent in the executive branch and 5 percent in Congress. By contrast, half have a great deal of confidence in the military.

The survey is conducted by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Because of its long-running and comprehensive set of questions about the public, it is a highly regarded source of data about social trends. Data from the 2014 survey was released last week, and an analysis of its findings on confidence in institutions was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the General Social Survey.’

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Meet the Family with a Megaphone in US and Israeli Politics

The long history of Israel gaming the ‘Iranian threat’

Gareth Porter, author of Manufactured Crisis, writes for Middle East Eye:

Western news media has feasted on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s talk and the reactions to it as a rare political spectacle rich in personalities in conflict. But the real story of Netanyahu’s speech is that he is continuing a long tradition in Israeli politics of demonising Iran to advance domestic and foreign policy interests.

The history of that practice, in which Netanyahu has played a central role going back nearly two decades, shows that it has been based on a conscious strategy of vastly exaggerating the threat from Iran.

In conjuring the spectre of Iranian genocide against Israelis, Netanyahu was playing two political games simultaneously. He was exploiting the fears of the Israeli population associated with the Holocaust to boost his electoral prospects while at the same time exploiting the readiness of most members of US Congress to support whatever Netanyahu orders on Iran policy.’

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The Inside Story Of How Citizens United Has Changed Washington Lawmaking

Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim report for The Huffington Post:

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote to gut a century of campaign finance law, he assured the public that the unlimited corporate spending he was ushering in would “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Because those authorized to give and spend unlimited amounts were legally required to remain independent of the politicians themselves, Kennedy reasoned, there was no cause for concern.

Just five years later, in a development that may be surprising only to Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision is reshaping how, how much and to whom money flows in Washington.

How the flood of money released by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has changed elections has been the subject of much discussion, but the decision’s role in allowing that same money to soak the legislative process has largely gone unreported. According to an extensive review of public documents held by the FEC, the U.S. Senate and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as interviews with lobbyists and policymakers, Kennedy’s allegedly independent spending has become increasingly intertwined with lobbying and legislation — the precise appearance of corruption campaign finance laws were meant to curb.’

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Thom Hartmann on Henry Wallace and American Fascists

Obama, Republicans and the media concur: It’s time for war with ISIS

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

After more than six months of virtually ignoring the fact that the war against Isis was illegal by almost anyone’s standards – given Congress’s cowardly refusal vote on it and the White House’s refusal to ask them first – the Obama administration has finally submitted a draft war authorization against Isis to Congress.

That means the media can go back to doing what it does best: creating a “debate” over how many countries we should invade, without any discussion of how our invasions created the very situation in which we feel we have to contemplate more invasions. It’s like the early Bush years all over again.’

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The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America: Interview with Yasmine Taeb

‘As a federal inquiry begins in the killing of three Muslim students in North Carolina and an Islamic center in Houston, Texas, was intentionally set on fire Friday, we look at a new report that exposes the people who fund and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. The investigation by the Center for American Progress is called “Fear, Inc. 2.0, The Islamophobia Network’s Efforts to Manufacture Hate in America,” an update of a 2011 report. We are joined by the report’s co-author, Yasmine Taeb, Islamophobia project manager at the Center for American Progress.’ (Democracy Now!)

Obama war request unites Congress: From either side, they hate it

William Douglas reports for McClatchy:

President Barack Obama has achieved something unexpected in Congress: a degree of bipartisanship. There’s enough in his proposal for war powers against the Islamic State for both Democrats and Republicans to hate.

Too restrictive on ground troops, hawkish Republicans say. Overly broad language with no endgame in sight, several war-weary Democrats and Republicans with libertarian streaks complain.

Obama’s authorization for use of military force request against the Islamic State faces a rough go in a skeptical Congress that appears in no hurry to act on it. While most members of the House of Representatives and the Senate say they have the will to address Islamic State activities, they have serious doubts about whether Obama’s authorization request is the way to do it.’

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John McCain’s Legacy of Bloodlust and Warmongering

Abby Martin talks about Arizona Senator, John McCain’s call to arm the Ukrainian army with lethal weapons, and how this is just the latest in his line of war hawk policies.’ (Breaking the Set)

U.S. Senator “Duped” Into Using Old Photos to Promote New War With Russia

Adam Weinstein reports for Gawker:

Senator "Duped" Into Using Old Photos to Promote New War With RussiaThis afternoon [Feb 12th], the Washington Free Beacon published EXCLUSIVE photos, obtained by Sen.Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), that purportedly showed new Russian aggression in Ukraine and vindicated Inhofe’s case for U.S. intervention. Apparently, neither Inhofe’s staff nor the Beacon bothered with a Google reverse image search.

[…] It’s not clear what Inhofe’s independent verification process involved, but it didn’t work. Several national security experts on Twitter immediately set about determining the provenance of the images and found that some of them were from as far back as 2008, and a few were traceable to the conflict in Georgia and Ossetia, rather than the current war in Ukraine.’

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Congressional Opposition Mobilizes Against Obama’s ISIS War Bill

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

After several months of escalating war, President Obama has finally gotten around to putting forward a draft version of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against ISIS.

The bill is facing growing opposition from both sides, with complaints not only that its vagueness amounts to no limitation at all, but from hawks that wanted the massiveness of the war more explicitly stated.

The White House was quick to try to quiet the hawks by bragging about how they left the language deliberately vague so the president could unilaterally escalate at will. That’s only adding to the problems.’

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Obama aide: ISIS war powers language ‘intentionally’ vague

Justin Sink reports for The Hill:

Language in President Obama’s proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF)against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “intentionally” fuzzy, the White House acknowledged on Wednesday.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said some of the language in the bill submitted to Congress on Wednesday was not specifically defined “because we believe it’s important that there aren’t overly burdensome constraints that are placed on the commander in chief.”

Obama “needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerge in a chaotic military conflict like this,” Earnest argued.

The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”’

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