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Senator Whitehouse Rejects Comey Offer of Private Briefing on Trump Wiretapping Claims

When Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey on March 8 demanding answers on “… possible wiretapping of President Trump, the Trump campaign, or Trump Tower” they were promised a response by today.

At the opening of a Judiciary Subcommittee meeting this afternoon, Graham announced that Comey had responded to his office today and that the FBI Director committed to providing an answer — but only via a classified, private briefing in the near future.

While Graham did not comment on Comey’s offer of only private information, Whitehouse, the committee’s ranking Democrat, was quick to say it is unacceptable under the circumstances.

“I think one of the things we have tried to do here is to proceed outside of a classified setting,” said Whitehouse. “The Intelligence committees are working in a classified setting and I think the added value this subcommittee provides is to be able to have a public discussion.”

“We are entitled to investigate under the Constitution. They have Executive responsibilities and if we are only connecting with one another in a classified fashion, I don’t think that serves the public interest. So we will pursue this further.”

While not addressing Whitehouse’s belief that Comey should provide answers in a non-classified setting, Graham has been working closely with Whitehouse and has stuck with the Rhode Island Democrat in trying to get answers.

“A lot of Americans are wondering what is going on here,” said Graham. “What I’m trying to do is get answers to the questions raised by President Trump. He’s asked us to investigate and we will.”

“And to me it’s very reasonable to ask the FBI and the Department of Justice, did you ever seek a warrant, was a warrant obtained from any court anywhere about the Trump campaign? And if the answer is no, we’ll know it didn’t happen. If the answer is yes, that would be pretty stunning to me because they would have to have probable cause. I don’t know what the answer is but I know it’s the right question to ask.”

Here’s more of Whitehouse in the committee meeting today:

Congress Passes Law to Drug-Test More Unemployment Recipients

Well, at least the GOP isn’t only trying to mess with women’s bodies on this one.

In yet another action that should scare the hell out of Americans, the Republican-controlled Senate yesterday passed H.J. Res. 42, which abolishes a Labor Department regulation from the Obama administration which severely restricted a state’s authority to require drug testing on recipients of unemployment benefits.

It was passed by a 51-48 party line vote, with no members of the Democratic caucus voting in favor. It passed the House on February 15 and is expectedly to go swiftly to Trump’s desk for his signature.

The repealed 2012 law restricted who could be compelled to take a drug test to people who had been terminated from previous employment for drug use or those at high-risk occupations where the testing requirement could be argued on safety grounds. As they so often do, Republicans argued that this was federal overreach and said the decision on who to drug test should be left to the states.

“Congress specifically intended to provide states the ability to determine which applicants for unemployment insurance should be drug-tested,” said Ted Cruz (R-TX) “The Obama Department of Labor substantially narrowed the law to circumstances where testing is legally required, not merely allowed.”

Democrats contend that such testing is a clear Fourth Amendment violation and that it would allow states to order drug tests arbitrarily and with uneven standards.

“This measure before us is simply bizarre,” said Ron Wyden (D-OR), debating the bill on the Senate floor. “If, like me, you believe that drug testing can in instances be ineffective and mean spirited, you ought to oppose this measure because it simply vilifies unemployed workers who are actually less likely to use drugs than the general population.”

“The fact is the courts have ruled that suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Wyden also made the case that drug-testing programs do not yield results commensurate with their costs and that this money might be better used helping Americans addicted to opioids or other harder drugs.

“For states that have implemented drug testing policies, there’s evidence that the costs dwarf the potential savings.  The costs of operating drug testing programs are charged to state health and human services accounts and I think we all understand those have been squeezed mightily by the effort to treat opioid addiction.

“Instead of wasting money by drug testing Americans who are looking for jobs, the states ought to be putting those very same dollars towards substance abuse treatment given the fact that opioid addiction has hit our country like a wrecking ball.”

Finally, Wyden argued that allowing this testing is especially unfair given that Americans pay for unemployment insurance out of every paycheck and said that benefit ought to be there when needed with no rights-violating strings attached.

“Just like social security, unemployment insurance is an earned benefit. It is an earned benefit that ought to be there for workers who fall on the hard times.”

Text and Video of Schumer, Pelosi Slamming TrumpCare

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave a short news conference yesterday to discuss the damning report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which revealed that the new GOP  health-care bill would leave 24 million Americans with no health insurance whatsoever.

Republicans have wasted no time trashing the CBO over this report and the Democratic leaders gave their talk to explain exactly what the numbers mean and the impact on so many Americans. It was really chock-full of good information that will give you what you need to know about this disastrous Republican proposal.

Here’s some key statements made by both Pelosi and Schumer along with video of the first seven minutes of the news conference below.

Nancy Pelosi

“Well the accounting is in. The CBO has reported that the Republican bill pushes 24 million people out of health care – off of health coverage. This is a remarkable figure. It speaks so eloquently to the cruelty of the bill that the Speaker calls ‘an act of mercy.’ I don’t know if he thinks it’s an act of mercy to all the people who will lose coverage, to people who will lose jobs or to the hospitals they will have to close down, especially in rural areas. I don’t know if he thinks this is an act of mercy to people on opioid addiction and other addictions who are looking to Medicaid as an answer, as many Republican Governors have spoken to.

“So they’re taking 24 million people and pushing them off their coverage, and as they do so, they are implementing the biggest transfer of wealth in our history – $600 billion dollars going from working families to the richest people and corporations in our country. In terms of insurance coverage, it’s immoral. In terms of giving money to the rich at the expense of working families, it is indecent and it is wrong.

“The Republicans are confused right now. Some of them are discrediting the CBO and others are glorifying pushing 24 million people off of coverage. So I would hope that they pull the bill, it’s really the only decent thing to do.

“Numbers are important. They see the numbers. They should know how that transfers into peoples’ lives. They are finding that out from their constituents. How can they look their constituents in the eyes, when they say to them, ‘24 million of you will no longer have health insurance, and those of you that do have it will have less in terms of coverage at more cost to you?’”

Chuck Schumer

“The Republican hand-picked head of CBO has confirmed what we democrats have been saying all along. TrumpCare would be a nightmare for the American people, causing tens of millions to lose coverage and millions more seeing the cost of their health care going up.

“That is un-American. That’s wrong. Premiums for seniors will rise a whopping 20 to 25 percent and co-payments and deductibles for millions more. If there was ever a war on seniors, this bill, TrumpCare, is it.

“So when Speaker Ryan says it is an act of mercy, yeah, for those who make over $250,000 a year, because they get big tax cuts. The only winners in this CBO report are the Health insurance executives and the wealthy Americans. Everyone else gets a cold shoulder from the Republicans in Congress and from President Trump.

“You remember when President Trump was a candidate? He said everybody will be covered and costs will go down. We now know he had no intention of keeping either promise. Today, the nonpartisan scorekeepers have spoken clearly. TrumpCare means higher costs, for less coverage. The CBO report should be a knockout blow for Republicans in Congress. They should heed this warning and turn back from their plan, which would be a disaster for the country.”

Pelosi on the raiding of Medicare

“At the same time, you’re seeing in the report that they are taking $170 billion dollars from Medicare , shortening the solvency of Medicare by three years. So, again, seniors have a lot to lose as do all of America’s families.”

Schumer on how the Republicans call everything they don’t agree with a lie

“It’s a pattern that is a disturbing, even alarming in this administration. When they hear something they don’t like, they label it a lie. CBO is virtually unassailable. Everyone, Democrats and Republicans, whether it be George Bush, Barack Obama, or anyone else has gone along with CBO. They appointed this person. He was supposed to be a conservative person. Unfortunately, for the Republicans, he is an honest person and they won’t be able to discredit this. This report is going to resound from one end of America to the other.”

Pelosi responding to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price trying to discredit the CBO report

“And of course he has no facts to back it up. Numbers are quite eloquent things and they speak very clearly. And we all respect and have acknowledged that we need to know the numbers — the number of people affected, the amount of money that it will cost and who wins and who loses in this equation.

“In Congress, they still haven’t come to terms with criticizing the CBO because 24 million people losing health insurance is not a problem for them. It’s an ‘act of mercy.'”

Schumer with the quip of the news conference

“I am sure that the Republicans regret that they can’t fire the CBO Director as easily as they fired the 46 U.S. attorneys.”

Pelosi on the irony of Trump voters being the hardest hit by this plan

“It is really a sad thing because in addition to what the senator said about those who are in red states and rural America who have largely benefitted from the Affordable Care Act and who will be pushed off, a lot of the benefit of the $600 billion will go to blue areas. And that’s just not right.

“But think of yourself as a Trump voter from West Virginia or Kentucky, which has really done a good job with the Affordable Care Act, and thinking ‘I’m going to lose my coverage and they’re going to give $7 million to each of the richest families in America every year, instead of giving me health care. Is that what I voted for? I don’t think so.'”

Gillibrand Rips GOP For “Fixation” on Taking Americans’ Health Care

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) went to the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday to talk about the new Republican health care measure but also took the time to question why the GOP always seem to be against the elderly and low-income Americans and why their default posture is always to deny health care.

“I’m struggling to understand why amid all of the problems we seem to have and all the problems we need to solve in this chamber, why this congress seems to have a singular fixation on taking away access to health care from some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Gillibrand. “I continue to be amazed by how little empathy there seems to be in this chamber for the millions of women, older Americans, lower income Americans who don’t have the incredible resources that we have here in congress and desperately need the federal programs that this bill will cut.”

Here’s the full video of Senator Gillibrand’s comments:

Senators Graham and Whitehouse Demand Proof of Trump’s Wiretapping Claim

I’m sure by this point Donald Trump has started to believe that he can just accuse former President Obama of committing the felony of wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election and walk away from that outrageous action unscathed.

But now, Republic and Democratic Senators, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are throwing a wrench into those works by formally asking the Justice Department to prove Trump’s claims.

Graham and Whitehouse sent a letter yesterday to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente requesting copies of warrants and court orders “… related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.”

The letter was sent to Boente, who will conduct any such investigations, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from any probes that involve Russia or the Trump campaign.

“As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, we would take any abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously,” wrote Whitehouse and Graham in the letter. “We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.”

Whitehouse and Graham are really only doing what Trump asked when he requested that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees look into his fabricated claims against Obama. And Trump was clearly comforted by the fact that the chairs of those committees, Republicans Richard Burr (Senate) and Devin Nunes (House) don’t seem inclined to do anything to rock the Trump-Putin boat.

But then Graham screwed that up for Trump by asserting jurisdiction for his committee, the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, saying that because his group has purview over “… the Department of Justice’s criminal division that obtains warrants for wiretaps” he has authority to make the request.

While it appears that, so far, Trump has managed to escape consequences for all of his words and deeds, this may end up being a good example of that old saying “be careful what you wish for.”

Schumer Slams Trumpcare on Senate Floor

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took to the Senate floor a few minutes ago to blast the new Republican health care proposal, Trumpcare. According to Schumer, the plan will cut services, give massive tax breaks to the wealthy and, not surprisingly, screw the middle-class.

“Donald Trump has talked about helping working America. The plan he has embraced, Trumpcare, helps the rich, hurts the average American, and that is not surprising given all the other things that they’re doing the same way,” said Schumer. “This administration continues — and health care is part of that — to talk like populists but act like those helping the wealthy special interests time after time after time.”

“Under Trumpcare, if you make over $250,000 a year, you will get a tax break on average of $200,000 a year. But if you’re in the middle class, the costs will increase by about $1,500 annually, and after 2020, by $2,000 a year. So Trumpcare is a health care handout for the wealthiest Americans and fake health care for everybody else.”

Here’s the full video:

Democrats, Sanders Blast Trump on Claims Against Obama

Democrats in the United States Senate came out strong today after Donald Trump’s weekend Twitter meltdown in which he accused President Obama of personally ordering wire-tapping against him last year. Trump’s charges were made all the more ridiculous, given that the U.S. president does not have the authority to make such a unilateral request.

“The White House has offered no clear evidence or facts to support this claim,” said Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), in a statement. “The President should stop these absurd attempts to distract from the real oversight needed on Russian interference.”

“The President’s repeated practice of making bizarre and unsubstantiated statements undermines the truth and tarnishes the integrity of our democratic institutions. It is patently clear that and independent special prosecutor is needed to fully investigate Trump Administration and campaign connections to Russia and Russian interference so the American people can learn the truth and regain confidence in our democracy.”

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) echoed Bennet’s belief that Trump is simply trying to distract the American people from larger issues involving Russia, saying on Twitter “Trump’s tweets are designed to distract from Russian election, possible collusion with Trump officials and potential cover-up.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said that the latest Twitter tantrum only perpetuates the much larger issue of Trump’s inability to tell the truth and to distinguish reality from fantasy.

“President Trump cannot continue to lie, lie, lie. It diminishes the office of the president and our standing in the world,” said Sanders. “Mr. Trump claimed without any evidence that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower last year — a claim which the FBI and intelligence officials have rejected as false.”

Here’s more from Sanders:

“He said that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. Another lie. He said ‘it looked like a million and a half people’ at his inauguration. Not even close. He said his 2016 victory ‘was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.’ Also a lie.

“And Mr. Trump has been lying long before he was president when he started the ‘birther’ conspiracy against President Obama in an attempt to delegitimize our country’s first black president. The United States will not be respected or taken seriously around the world if Donald Trump continues to shamelessly lie.”

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) agreed that Trump is using his ludicrous allegations against Obama to derail the news cycle from the issue of his administration’s close ties to Russia and the extent to which he now occupies the White House based on that interference.

“I’ll remind you that the big issue here that I think President Trump is trying to distract us from is whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and our last presidential election, and the larger issue that faces all of us is whether we’re going to defend our democracy against Russian aggression,” said Coons.

And, like Sanders, Coons reinforced the notion that Trump wouldn’t recognize the truth if it was as sexy to him as Vladimir Putin praising his intellect.

“Let’s remember the record here. Donald Trump dedicated years of his life to running around our country claiming that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States without a shred of evidence, and immediately after his election claimed millions of people voted illegally and demanded an investigation, which even in this investigation-prone Republican Congress they haven’t taken him up on it because there’s no evidence of that either.”

Senate Democrats Quickly Assail Muslim Ban 2.0

Senate Democrats have been quick to react to the Trump Administration’s second kick at the can on banning Muslims from the U.S. after Trump signed his latest executive order this morning. It is essentially the same racist, xenophobic decree Trump issued in January — to disastrous results and legal rebukes — and he’s introduced it again with the main modification being that it now only discriminates against people from six countries instead of seven.

Here are some responses from Democrats in the U.S. Senate over the last couple of hours:

Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)

“Today’s order is just a second version of Trump’s previous Muslim-ban – equally immoral and un-American. The intent is the same and sends the same discriminatory message that Muslim immigrants are not welcome. Despite what Trump claims, this ban will not make our country safer – the Department of Homeland Security, intelligence agency and national security officials, and officials abroad have stated that it will in fact, do the opposite. The ban will threaten and undermine our relationships with allies abroad, and serve as a valuable recruiting tool for ISIS. This is not who we are and it needs to be repealed.”

Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

“Just like the old ban, the new ban makes our country less safe. Giving ISIS propaganda while ‘solving’ a problem that the Department of Homeland Security itself says doesn’t exist is, to put it diplomatically, unwise.”

Cory Booker (D-NJ)

“A rebranded Muslim ban is still a Muslim ban. Plain and simple.”

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

“President Trump is recklessly pursuing a campaign promise at the expense of fundamental American values and our safety. The Trump administration’s decision to delay this revised ban in order to maximize positive press coverage sends a clear message that this directive is about politics, not national security.

“Arbitrarily imposing travel restrictions on certain Muslim-majority countries only makes us less safe by reinforcing terrorist propaganda and recruitment. It’s shameful that this administration would needlessly separate families and single out refugees who are fleeing violence and seeking a better life. Immigrants make up the fabric of this country, and they continue to enrich our communities and strengthen our economy. America is better than this.”

Ed Markey (D-MA)

“If at first you don’t succeed on a travel ban, fail, fail, again. President Trump’s two travel ban executive orders are a bad movie with a bad sequel. The executive order remains blatantly discriminatory and still encourages the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to engage in religious-based questioning. We cannot allow the Trump administration to write bigotry into U.S. immigration policy.

“This new travel ban will not make our nation safer and only serves as a recruitment tool for ISIS and other terrorists. The courts blocked Donald Trump’s first Muslim ban because it trampled on Constitutional rights, and I anticipate this new attempt to repackage it will meet the same fate.”Markey

Sasse Statement on Trump’s Wiretapping Allegations

Conservative Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) made a damning statement on Donald Trump’s ridiculous assertion that President Obama personally ordered wire-tapping of Trump in the closing months of the 2016 presidential election. Sasse says that Trump should provide further information if he is going to level such a charge.

Here is the full statement:

“The president today made some very serious allegations, and the informed citizens that a republic requires deserve more information. If there were wiretaps of then-candidate Trump’s organization or campaign, then it was either with FISA Court authorization or without such authorization. If without, the President should explain what sort of wiretap it was and how he knows this. It is possible he was illegally tapped.

“On the other hand, if it was with a legal FISA court order, then an application for surveillance exists that the Court found credible. The President should ask that this full application regarding surveillance of foreign operatives or operations be made available, ideally to the full public, and at a bare minimum to the US Senate.

“We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the President’s allegations today demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots. A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health.”

And here Sasse points out the can of worms that Trump unwittingly opened on himself: either he is lying in his statement about Obama’s actions or there truly was a FISA court ordered issued — which Obama could not have requested — which means the subject of the investigation about Trump will eventually come to light.  In other words, what probable cause did the FISA court find to even issue the court order?

Either way, it doesn’t turn out well for Trump and this all illustrates again what we’ve already known, which is that Trump has a toddler’s impulse control in making such serious accusations.  But it also shows that he simply is not very bright.

Rick Perry Confirmed to Lead Energy Department

Cue the resume-writing frenzy in Energy Department cubicles.

By a vote of 62-37, former Texas Governor Rick Perry was just confirmed as Trump’s Energy Secretary. Eleven Democratic caucus members voted to confirm Perry — Carper, Cortez Masto, Donnelly, Heitkamp, King, Manchin, McCaskill, Stabenow, Tester, Udall and Warner.

Perry’s confirmation truly becomes the icing on the cake in Trump’s selection of totally unqualified cabinet nominees by producing someone who has previously said he would abolish the very agency he will now lead.

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