Ted Cruz Questions Chuck Hagel’s Patriotism

After hours of debate yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmed former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, along strict party lines, with a 14-11 vote.  Hagel is expected to narrowly be confirmed by a full vote in the Senate as soon as Minority Ranking Member Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) says all holds placed on the nomination are cleared.   While reasons such as financial disclosure and – in the case of Senator Graham - information on Benghazi have been given for holding Hagel’s nomination, such holds are essentially due to Hagel’s heterodoxy on foreign policy.

The Inexcusable Brennan Hearing

In light of a Department of Justice memo laying out the general rules for assassinating American citizens with drones via a presidential “kill list” - and consequently, without Due Process - it was believed yesterday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan as Central Intelligence Agency Director, the architect of these strikes, would be contentious.  It sadly was not, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s failure to press him on the assassinations of American citizens is nothing short of inexcusable.

As I stated in a post earlier this week, I did not expect the U.S. Senate to check the power it collectively usurped with the CIA; after all, they had a hand in constructing the legal framework for the extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens.  The precedence set by this policy endangers the checks-and-balances inherent within a typical constitutional republic.

Senate Confirmations: An Opportunity Squandered

President Obama’s foreign policy team is undergoing a makeover, with the nominations of Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State, former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, and the Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan as CIA Director.  All three gentlemen are expected to be confirmed; Kerry already has, Hagel will likely be confirmed (following an abysmal hearing) later this week, and Brennan faces his confirmation hearing this Thursday, which will essentially be the GOP’s final chance to hold Obama accountable for broken national security policies.

The GOP squandered two opportunities to ask proper questions of Kerry and Hagel.  The Kerry confirmation hearing was a jovial affair for one of the first advocates on intervention in the Libyan civil war in 2011, which, by the way, received no congressional authorization.  When Kerry was questioned about congressional authorization, he essentially bragged about his history of support for unilateral Executive action in Grenada, Panama, Kosovo, Bosnia, and yes, Libya.

Well…bye: Eric Holder reportedly leaving the Obama administration

There’s some big news, though not entirely unsurprising news developing this morning. The Associated Press is reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation today and leave Obama administration once his successor has been confirmed by the Senate:

Two sources familiar with the decision tell NPR that Holder, 63, intends to leave the Justice Department as soon as his successor is confirmed, a process that could run through 2014 and even into next year. A former U.S. government official says Holder has been increasingly “adamant” about his desire to leave soon for fear he otherwise could be locked in to stay for much of the rest of President Obama’s second term.

Holder already is one of the longest serving members of the Obama cabinet and ranks as the fourth longest tenured AG in history. Hundreds of employees waited in lines, stacked three rows deep, for his return in early February 2009 to the Justice Department, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general — the second in command — during the Clinton administration.

It had been rumored for some time that Holder, who has earned the ire of congressional Republicans over Operation Fast and Furious and other issues, wanted out of the administration. Holder telegraphed this to The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Tobin back in February, saying that he planned to stick around “well into” 2014. The Justice Department, however, denied that the Attorney General indicated he would resign.

Ted Cruz demands access to memo outlining how Obama can kill Americans

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) move last fall to go nuclear on the filibuster didn’t just undermine the rights of the minority in the chamber, it has also helped the Obama administration continue its pernicious habit of keeping members of Congress and the American people in the dark.

President Barack Obama nominated David Barron in September 2013 to fill a seat on the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Barron briefly served in the administration, from January 2009 to July 2010, as acting assistant attorney general.

During his stint at the Justice Department, Barron, a critic of President George W. Bush’s use of executive power, wrote a memo outlining the legal case for the targeted drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen accused of terrorist activity. The drones memo, which has been used to assassinate other Americans, is now at the center of his confirmation to a lifetime seat on the federal bench.

Cruz backs Paul on Audit the Fed vote

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced on Wednesday that he is backing Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as he tries to leverage his hold on the nomination of Janet Yellen to serve as the next chair of the Federal Reserve for a vote on legislation that would require an audit of the nation’s central bank.

“I agree with Rand Paul: before the Senate votes on whether to confirm Janet Yellen, we should at the very least allow a vote on the Audit the Fed bill,” said Cruz in a statement from his office. “The Federal Reserve has expanded our money supply by trillions, benefitting Wall Street but making life harder for millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet.”

“Never-ending quantitative easing threatens to undermine the dollar and to drive up prices on everyday goods from food to gasoline to the basic necessities of life. We need to bring transparency to the Fed, so the American people can understand the scope and consequences of its policies,” he added.

Paul announced his intention last month to place a hold on Yellen’s confirmation until Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) allowed the Federal Reserve Transparency Act to come to the floor for a vote.

“I will object to any unanimous consent agreement or the waiver of any rule with respect to the nomination of Dr. Yellen without a vote on S. 209,” Paul told Reid in a letter. “I know you have been a support of similar legislation in the past, and I hope that we can work together to pass this important legislation.”

Legislation filed to make NSA Inspector General post subject to confirmation

The controversy surrounding the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection of innocent Americans phone and Internet record has led to a tremendous backlash in Congress. Not only have there been several pieces of legislation filed to end the agency’s spying, Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has introduced a measure — H.R. 3436, The National Security Agency Inspector General Act of 2013 — that would subject the NSA’s inspector general to Senate confirmation.

“With information continuing to drip out regarding activities at the NSA that at best raise questions about the legality of their conduct and at worst are in direct violation of the Constitution, [last Wednesday] I introduced legislation to help correct this behavior, by making the NSA Inspector General (IG) position a presidential appointment, to be confirmed by the Senate,” said Sanford in a press statement from his office.

Inspectors general have a duty of reporting rule violations and transparency issues to senior officials and/or members of Congress. For example, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) confirmed that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has wittingly targeted conservative and Tea Party groups attempting to apply for tax-exempt status.

Though the TIGTA isn’t subject to Senate confirmation, inspectors general at the CIA, Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security are, Sanford noted, and with the controversy surrounding the NSA, a measure of independence from high-level officials is needed.

Harry Reid attempting to push through unnecessary court nominees

An important battle is brewing in the Senate that could send shockwaves through the United States’ judicial system. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is trying to push through three of President Barack Obama’s nominees to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While this issue hasn’t received a lot of attention as other political fights over Obamacare and NSA spying are currently raging in Washington, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is one of the most influential courts in the country, holding the responsibility of reviewing regulations and rules written by federal agencies.

Some Senate Republicans unhappy about filibuster deal

The deal worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and a handful of Senate Republicans to allow votes on President Barack Obama’s nominees has sparked some backlash.

Roll Call reported on Wednesday that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell felt that Republicans could have received more in a deal to avert the “nuclear option,” which would have taken away the option to filibuster cabinet-level appointments:

A meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday grew tense as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told his members he could have gotten a better deal on nominations than the one negotiated by rank-and-file Republicans.

McConnell’s tone, according to multiple sources, implied that he had been kept in the dark about the talks between some in his own ranks and Democrats. However, those same Republicans say they kept McConnell updated throughout their negotiating process.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., got so frustrated with McConnell’s presentation of events, that he called “bullshit” loud enough for the room to hear, nearly a half-dozen sources said. The heated exchange underscored the “buyer’s remorse” among some Republicans, especially leaders, one senior Republican said on background.

Another court strikes down Obama’s NLRB appointments


President Barack Obama’s controversial, pro-union recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) have been struck down by a third appellate court.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the appointments were unconstitutional because the Senate had not adjourned for recess when President Obama made the appointments in January 2012.

“In this case, the President’s three January 4, 2012 appointments to the Board were not made during an intersession recess because Congress began a new session on January 3, 2012. Consequently, ‘these appointments were invalid from their inception,’” wrote Judge Clyde Hamilton, citing the case pending before the Supreme Court. “Because the [NLRB] lacked a quorum of three members when it issued its 2012 unfair labor practices decisions in both the Enterprise and Huntington cases, its decisions must be vacated.”

The Constitution, in Article II, Section 2, provides the president with the power to submit nominations for various offices, including ambassadors, judges, and cabinet-level posts. In a crucial check on executive power, these nominations are reviewed by the Senate and must be approved by 2/3 of that chamber.

Article II, Section 3 notes that when the Senate is not in session, the president can use his power to “fill up all Vacancies that may happen.” But the Senate would still need to approve the nomination during their next session, otherwise the commission expires upon adjournment. And therein lies the problem with the moves made by President Obama — the Senate was in pro forma session, meaning that it had not adjourned.

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