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Jun 232013
 

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — An immigration reform bill in the Senate now has crucial Republican support after senators struck a deal centered on border security last week.

But whether the sweeping legislative package can pass the more conservative House of Representatives is another question.

Democrats insist that the bill include a path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, something that will be hard to swallow for the border hawks in the House.

But if conservatives oppose citizenship, the coalition supporting reform will push back, according to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the legislators that drafted the bill. The senator spoke to Univision’s Jorge Ramos in an interview that aired Sunday on the news show Al Punto.

“If the House resists, I think we’ll see a day like we did in the civil rights movement,” Schumer said. “I think we’ll see two million people on the mall in Washington, D.C., and on the stage will not just be liberal Democrats, they will be the business leaders, the agricultural leaders, the cardinals from the Catholic Church, the leaders of the evangelical churches, all saying this is the right thing to do.”

“And they will have to pass it,” Schumer continued.

The fate of the bill in the House largely depends on Republican leadership, notably Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The Speaker typically will only bring a bill to the floor of the House if it has the majority support of his party, and that’s unlikely to happen with this immigration package.

So he would have to break his own informal rule to let the House consider the Senate plan. Comments he made this week indicated he doesn’t seem likely to do that.

“I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have the majority support of Republicans,” Boehner told reporters at a press conference on Capitol Hill.

But as Schumer pointed out in his interview with Univision, Boehner has bluffed before, saying he wouldn’t allow a bill to reach the floor of the House but then reversing his position.

“He’s said that in the past on other bills and then when he felt the pressure, he changed his mind,” Schumer said.

Schumer cited an aide package for Tropical Storm Sandy, which Boehner brought to the floor for a vote without support from the majority of Republicans. The aid package passed in the House with backing from most Democrats but less than a quarter of Republicans.

Still, that was enough Republican backing to get the bill passed, and the same thing could be possible with immigration reform.

Of course, the immigration package still needs to get through the Senate. But the odds of passing that House look promising after more Republicans joined the effort this past week.

In addition to Schumer, Univision’s Jorge Ramos spoke with five members of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that sponsored the immigration legislation, including one of the Republicans in the group, Sen. Jeff Flake (Arizona).

Flake has recently been under scrutiny after his son was found to have posted racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic message on websites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. In addition to using the N-word and a homophobic slur, he referred to Mexicans as “scum of the Earth.”

The senator has since apologized for his son, but he answered more questions about his son’s attitudes in his interview with Jorge Ramos.

“Unfortunately, when kids talk on the Internet sometimes they say things that they wouldn’t otherwise,” Flake said. “But I can assure you that those words have never been uttered around our house.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jun 092013
 

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence committees defended the National Security Agency’s phone and internet surveillance programs revealed last week, saying that the programs are “within the law” and have been critical in thwarting potential terrorist attacks.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said on This Week Sunday that the NSA phone surveillance program revealed in reports last week is limited in scope to viewing phone records, not listening to private conversations, while reiterating that court orders are required for further information.

“The program is essentially walled off within the NSA. There are limited numbers of people who have access to it,” Feinstein said on This Week. “The only thing taken, as has been correctly expressed, is not content of a conversation, but the information that is generally on your telephone bill, which has been held not to be private personal property by the Supreme Court. If there is strong suspicion that a terrorist outside of the country is trying to reach someone on the inside of the country, those numbers then can be obtained. If you want to collect content on the American, then a court order is issued.”

“The National Security Agency does not listen to Americans’ phone calls and it is not reading Americans’ e-mails. None of these programs allow that,” added Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Both Feinstein and Rogers said that the phone and internet surveillance programs has been instrumental in stopping terrorist attacks, citing the 2009 terror plot by Najibullah Zazi, the Colorado resident who was arrested in Sept. 2009 after plotting to bomb the New York subway system. Feinstein said the program also helped to track the case of David Headley, a Pakistani-American who traveled to Mumbai to scope the Taj Mahal Hotel for an attack.

“I can tell you, in the Zazi case in New York, it’s exactly the program that was used,” Rogers said, later adding, “I think the Zazi case is so important, because that’s one you can specifically show that this was the key piece that allowed us to stop a bombing in the New York subway system.”

Feinstein said the shadow of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks still loom in her mind, and that strong intelligence from the type of surveillance conducted by the NSA is needed to prevent future attacks.

“I flew over World Trade Center going to Senator [Frank] Lautenberg’s funeral, and in the distance was the Statue of Liberty. And I thought of those bodies jumping out of that building, hitting the canopy,” Feinstein said. “Part of our obligation is keeping Americans safe. Human intelligence isn’t going to do it, because you can’t – it’s a different culture. It is a fanaticism that isn’t going to come forward.”

Feinstein said she would be open to public hearings on the surveillance programs, and said that the Senate Intelligence Committee has made information on the programs available to all senators. But she noted the difficulty of being fully public without disclosing classified information.

“The instances where this has produced good – has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks – is all classified, that’s what’s so hard about this,” Feinstein said. “So that we can’t actually go in there and, other than the two that have been released, give the public an actual idea of people that have been saved, attacks that have been prevented, that kind of thing.”

“If you tell our adversaries and enemies in the counterterrorism fight exactly how we conduct business, they are not going to do business the same ever again,” Rogers added. “It makes it more difficult.”

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who has raised warnings about the domestic surveillance methods in recent years, said he hopes the released information will spark debate over the NSA’s methods, and will lead to re-opening the Patriot Act to limit the NSA’s abilities.

“I think it’s an opportunity now to have a discussion about the limits of surveillance, how we create transparency, and above all, how we protect Americans’ privacy,” Udall said this morning on This Week. “My main concern is Americans don’t know the extent to which they are being surveilled… I think we ought to reopen the Patriot Act and put some limits on the amount of data that the National Security Administration is collecting.”

Udall said he did not believe the right balance is being struck currently between privacy and security.

“We do need to remember, we’re in a war against terrorists, and terrorism remains a real threat, but I also think we have to cue to the Bill of Rights, and the Fourth Amendment, which prevents unlawful searches and seizures, ought to be important to us,” Udall said. “It ought to remain sacred, and there’s got to be a balance here. That is what I’m aiming for.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jun 012013
 

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Rep. John Dingell, who is serving his 30th term in the House of Representatives, is poised to break the record next week as the longest-serving member in the history of the U.S. Congress.

Next Friday, June 7, Dingell will eclipse the late Sen. Robert Byrd, having served 57 years, 177 days.

That’s 20,996 days, to be exact.

Throughout his career, Dingell has served with 22 percent of all members who have ever served in the lower chamber — 2,419 of 10,989 lawmakers — casting more than 25,000 votes through 11 presidential administrations while attending 50 State of the Union addresses.

Dingell, 86, first took office on Dec. 13, 1955 at the age of 29 after winning a special election to replace his late father, John Dingell Sr., as the representative for Michigan’s 15th Congressional District.

Dwight Eisenhower was serving his first term as president and had not yet signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. John F. Kennedy was still a U.S. senator and had not yet published his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage.” Barack Obama would not be born in Hawaii for almost six more years.

Dingell, who can be seen leisurely walking throughout the Capitol with the help of a wooden cane, often drives a motorized scooter with a vanity license plate that reads, “The Dean” to commute between the Capitol and his congressional office across the street.

Dingell has owned the title of Dean of the House of Representatives since 1995, given for the longest continuous service of a current member.

The Michigan Democrat, born July 8, 1926, is not the oldest member of Congress. That honor goes to Rep. Ralph Hall, who is about three years older than Dingell.

Rep. John Conyers, a fellow Michigan Democrat who has served alongside Dingell since his own election to the House in 1965, previously worked for Dingell as a legislative aide, crediting him as his mentor.

“It has been a privilege to serve alongside Congressman Dingell in representing Michigan, and I congratulate him on this momentous milestone,” said Conyers, the second-longest current serving member of Congress. “Congressman Dingell’s dedication to public service is unmatched, and he has had a distinguished career leading the fight to advance health care reforms and increase environmental protections. Both my father and Congressman Dingell’s father were friends many years ago, and it has been an honor to call Congressman Dingell my friend over our time in Congress together.”

Since the House is not in session next Friday, lawmakers will regroup June 13 for a bicameral, bipartisan celebration of Dingell in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

May 292013
 

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican and Tea Party supporter, will not seek re-election to the House of Representatives in 2014, the congresswoman announced in a video posted to YouTube.

In the video, Bachmann, a four-term member of the House of Representatives, said that the decision not to run for re-election had nothing to do with the recent investigation of her campaign finances during the 2013 Presidential campaign.

“Looking forward after the completion of my term — my future is full, limitless and my passions for American remains,” Bachmann said, before adding that she would consider a number of future opportunities that might allow her to help “save and protect our great nation for future generations.”

Specifically, Bachmann explained that she believes “eight years is long enough for an individual to serve as representative for a specific congressional district.”

What is clear is that Bachmann’s decision not to run is not related to an inability to raise campaign funds. Her campaign fund had nearly $2 million as of this March, according to Federal Election Commission filings. By comparison, her would-be challenger, Democrat Jim Graves, has just $36,000 cash on hand at this point.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

May 152013
 

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — This week’s Republican House meeting was a little more exciting than weeks past, and it wasn’t just because of what was on the agenda.

At the request of the GOP, Google representatives held Google Glass demonstrations at the beginning and the end of the meeting, allowing Congressional members to try on the sought-after technology. A Google spokesperson told ABC News that the company offered the same demonstration sessions to Democrats, but have yet to schedule any official group presentations.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was among those who tried on a pair of the new glasses. In an email, a representative for Bachmann told ABC News that the congresswoman enjoyed trying on Google Glass because she “likes being ahead of the curve when it comes to innovative technology” and believes “it is a testament to just how much the industry has evolved.”

Bachmann’s first query when trying on the glasses? The Drudge Report.

Earlier this year, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won a Twitter contest to be one of the first to try out the technology as a Google Glass explorer. His winning Tweet mentioned plans of zoo and museum visits.

ABC News has been unable to confirm whether Gingrich has received his pair of Google Glass, but a Google representative confirmed that contest winners were notified of how they could claim their prizes over the span of the past few weeks.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio