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Senate panel vote opposes troop buildup
Law & Politics | 2007/01/25 17:01

A day after President Bush pleaded with Congress to give his Iraq policy one last chance, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rebuffed him by approving a nonbinding resolution declaring his troop increase in Iraq to be against "the national interest."

The committee voted 12 to 9 yesterday to send a resolution of disapproval of the president's Iraq policy to the Senate floor next week, setting up what could be the most dramatic confrontation between Congress and the Bush administration since the war was launched four years ago. Many Republicans voiced anguish over the president's policy, but only one, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a co sponsor, voted in support of the resolution.

While some lawmakers and anti war activists have dismissed the resolution as largely meaningless, senior Republicans and White House officials have worked furiously to minimize GOP defections, worried that a large, bipartisan vote would have significant political repercussions.

"In an open democracy, we voice our agreements and disagreements in public, and we should not be reticent to do so. But official roll call votes carry a unique message," said Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee's senior Republican. A vote for the resolution "will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray," he said.

But Hagel implored his colleagues to take a stand after four years of docile acquiescence.

"What do you believe? What are you willing to support? . . . Why were you elected?" he asked. "If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes. This is a tough business."

But the committee's partisan divide belied the deep undercurrent of GOP misgivings, as one Republican after another spoke out against the deployment of 21,500 additional troops to bolster the faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Lugar called the Bush strategy "dubious" even as he denounced the resolution as "the legislative equivalent of a sound bite." Senator John Sununu, Republican of New Hampshire, said additional troops should not be deployed until the Iraqi government showed more resolve. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said she opposed the president and was not afraid to tell him so. And Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, said he had delivered a tough message to the White House personally: "You are not listening."

"Congress has allowed this war to go on without anyone having a stake," said an exasperated Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. "We passed the debt on to future generations. Nobody has sacrificed but the military men and women and the families."

Hillary Clinton to run for president
Law & Politics | 2007/01/22 20:54

New York senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton has thrown her hat into the presidential ring. In her first public appearance since joining the 2008 White House race Clinton said Sunday she wants to become president because she is "worried about the future of our country."

Hillary Clinton thinks that in the increasingly crowded field of potential presidential candidates, she's the one who can best confront the nation's challenges.

"I am worried about the future of our country and I want to help put it back on the right course, and I believe that I am best positioned to be able to do that," Clinton said.

Bush backing off no-warrant spying
Law & Politics | 2007/01/18 06:35

The Bush administration changed course and agreed Wednesday to let a secret but independent panel of federal judges oversee the government's controversial domestic spying program.

Officials say the secret court has already approved at least one request for monitoring.

The shift will probably end a court fight over whether the warrantless surveillance program was legal.

The program, which was secretly authorized by President Bush shortly after 9/11, was disclosed a little more than a year ago, resulting in widespread criticism from lawmakers and civil libertarians questioning its legality.

The program allowed the National Security Agency – without approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – to monitor phone calls and e-mails between the U.S. and other countries when a link to terrorism is suspected.

In a letter to senators Wednesday, Attorney General Al Gonzales said "any electronic surveillance that was occurring as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."

Mr. Gonzales said Mr. Bush won't reauthorize the program once it expires.

Bush Shifts Nominee for Appeals Court
Law & Politics | 2007/01/16 20:58

President Bush on Tuesday shifted a controversial federal appeals court nominee from one opening to another to satisfy Senate Democrats.

In a nod to the Senate's new Democratic leadership, Bush withdrew the nomination of Norman Randy Smith of Idaho for one seat on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and nominated him for a different seat.

Federal appeals court seats traditionally stay in the hands of judges from the same states. Bush nominated Smith to a 9th Circuit seat held by a judge who lived in Idaho but previously had lived in California.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a Judiciary Committee member, threatened to block the Smith nomination, contending the seat was a California seat. She argued that if Smith were confirmed, California would be underrepresented on the nation's largest federal appeals court.

Only last week Bush resubmitted Smith's name to the Senate for the California seat, which had been held by Judge Stephen Trott, On Tuesday he withdrew that nomination and nominated Smith to replace Thomas G. Nelson of Idaho.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., welcomed the move, saying that Bush had "avoided a needless fight over a judicial nominee."

Bush signs legislation to protect phone records
Law & Politics | 2007/01/13 08:48

President Bush Friday signed into law new federal legislation seeking to protect traditional, wireless, and internet phone calling consumers by preventing phone companies from selling their private phone records without customer authorization and criminalizing attempts to obtain those fraudulently. The Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006 passed the Senate in December in response to the Hewlett-Packard corporate spying scandal that broke this past summer.

The Act prohibits "making false or fraudulent statements" to phone company employees in an effort to obtain confidential phone records. It also forbids "accessing customer accounts through the Internet" without authorization. Those who contravene the Act can face up to 10 years in prison.

Bush sending more troops to Iraq
Law & Politics | 2007/01/11 16:36

President Bush laid out his "New Way Forward" in Iraq on Wednesday night, saying the United States should beef up its forces there by 21,500 troops, add $1.2 billion in reconstruction aid, and let Iraqi forces take the lead in joint combat operations.

"The changes I have outlined tonight are aimed at ensuring the survival of a young democracy that is fighting for its life in a part of the world of enormous importance to American security," Bush said in a nationally televised address. "The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will."

Bush's optimism was immediately challenged by Democratic leaders, who repeated their opposition to increasing troop levels. Even some Republicans criticized the plan.

The president acknowledged previous failures.

"Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me," he said. Past efforts to quell violence in Baghdad failed, he said, because "there were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods" and "there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have."

He said his plan would remedy such flaws.

In earlier operations, the president said, "political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence."

"This time, Iraqi and American forces will have a green light to enter those neighborhoods," Bush said.

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