congress

Can Congress End the Cuba Embargo? Many Republicans Want the Embargo to Fall

 A left-right coalition, supported by the president and public opinion, could successfully push Congress to end the Cuba embargo.

Can Republicans nostalgic for the Cold War block President Obama from taking executive actions to improve US diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba? Could a Republican-led Congress vote to end the US embargo? Some Republican leaders were quick to denounce President Obama's announcement that the United States was restoring ties with Cuba. But how many divisions do these Cold War dead-enders control?

On whether Republicans can follow through on threats to block the president, Associated Press is skeptical:

Torture Report: Mark Udall's World-Historical Moment to Rescue CIA Oversight

 "Time Is Running Out on the CIA Torture Report," the National Journal reports:

Sunset an Authorization for the Use of Force in Iraq

Judging from press reports, when Congress returns from its August recess in early September, the United States military will have been bombing "Islamic State" fighters in Iraq for a month, with a broader set of missions than originally advertised, and with plans to continue bombing for months.


The United States Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution require that such a war be authorized by Congress in order to continue. We cannot accept that such major decisions about the use of our power and resources, putting U.S. soldiers at risk and shaping the perceptions of the world about us by shedding the blood of foreigners that we don't know, be made indefinitely behind closed doors by executive fiat.

Extend Unemployment Assistance by Cutting the War Budget

 Just over a week ago, the Senate fell one vote short of overcoming a Republican filibuster to pass a three-month extension of assistance for the long-term unemployed.

The New York Times reported:

WikiLeaks and the Drone Strike Transparency Bill

by Robert Naiman

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently took an important step by passing an intelligence authorization which would require for the first time - if it became law - that the Administration publicly report on civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes.

Sarah Knuckey, Director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at New York University School of Law and a Special Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, calls this provision "an important step toward improving transparency," and notes that "Various U.N. officials, foreign governments, a broad range of civil society, and many others, including former U.S. Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh ... have called for the publication of such basic information."

This provision could be offered as an amendment in the Senate to the National Defense Authorization Act. It could be offered in the House as an amendment on the intelligence authorization, or as a freestanding bill. But it's not likely to become law unless there's some public agitation for it (you can participate in the public agitation here.)

Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan? Let Congress Vote!

In mid-November, the Christian Science Monitor reports, a loya jirga in Afghanistan - a national meeting of tribal leaders and other notable Afghans - will vote on whether to meet the Obama administration's terms for keeping U.S. troops in the country beyond the end of 2014.

If you care about democracy in Afghanistan, you should be happy for the Afghans. Whether or not - and if so, under what conditions - they want to have thousands of U.S. troops in their country after 2014 is obviously a very big deal for them. Why shouldn't they have full deliberation and debate?

But if you also care about democracy in the United States, you should be a bit troubled. Because Congress has never approved keeping thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.

The closest Congress has come to considering this question is in language passed by the House in June, 2013. Offered by Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, this language - which passed the House 305-121, with a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voting yes- said [my emphasis]:

This Week, Let's Help Burlington Kill the $1.5 Trillion F-35 Taxpayer Ripoff

We have just a week left to help Burlington, Vermont kill the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the biggest taxpayer ripoff in human history. On Monday, October 7, the Burlington City Council will vote on a binding resolution that would block F-35 warplanes from being based at Burlington International Airport, which is owned by the city.


If the Council votes to block the planes from being based in Burlington, that won't kill the $1.5 trillion F-35 taxpayer ripoff by itself. But it will set a crucial precedent. It will prove that the F-35 is politically vulnerable. It will mark a historic defeat of pork-barrel military Keynesianism by citizen engagement. It would help change the national posture of Democrats on unnecessary military spending. It would help abolish the dogma that Democrats have to support unnecessary military spending when it takes place in their districts.

President Obama: Don't Strike Syria Without Congressional Approval

On Sunday, Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Eliot Engel - a Democrat who voted for the Iraq war - told Fox News that President Obama should strike Syria first and get Congressional approval afterwards.

A Reformist Strategy to Downsize the Drone Strike Policy

This is slightly adapted from a presentation given at a Congressional briefing on drone strike policy on November 16, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

I want to talk about what Congress could do about drone strikes in the next 1-2 years.

To begin with, some political context, as I see it.

First, I don't think anyone will argue with me if I say that for the last ten years Congress has done very little.

Second, I think it would be extremely helpful if Congress would do something. I think Congress doing something is intrinsically important in itself, in addition to whatever the thing is. The reason is that the media, the public and the Administration take cues from what Congress is talking about. If Congress isn't talking about something, then it's perceived as not very controversial. More people would contact Congress if we had a vehicle for them to contact Congress about.

Third, I don't think it's as hard for Congress to do things on this as some people seem to think. There's a kind of conventional wisdom that Congress can't do anything because no-one cares because no U.S. soldiers are being killed by the policy. I think this conventional wisdom is completely wrong. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Honduras and yet a hundred Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Honduras, and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Bahrain but Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Bahrain and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. Conversely, plenty of U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan before 2009 and Congress didn't do much about that. So whether or not American soldiers are being killed is not as decisive as some people seem to think.

Congress Joins Bibi Assault on Obama's Iran 'Red Line'

Hey, remember a few weeks ago when our old friend Bibi Netanyahu came to town and made a hullabaloo over Iran and "red lines"? Admittedly, much of what the Bibster said to the US media was bluster, but the gist of the "red line" issue was that the "red line" President Obama has set for Iran—meaning, the point at which the military option would become a real option, which Obama set at developing a nuclear weapon—isn't motivation enough for Iran's leaders to bring about a resolution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program. Nevermind the fact that Netanyahu's analysis of the issue is incredibly flawed—why believe that "red lines" have any bearing on Iran's actions, or that they are what is preventing a diplomatic accord from being struck, when the West has yet to take diplomacy seriously? What the Israeli prime minister wants our president to do is shift his "red line" a bit further down in the timeline, to when Iran is nuclear capable, a term which the PM left conveniently vague. No matter the precise definition, though, under Bibi's "red line", Iran could be bombed even if it has no intention of actually building a nuclear weapon. And that's just plain stupid.