Posted on March 12, 2014 in Countdown

Sen. Feinstein Takes on the CIA

Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), won’t bash the National Security Agency (NSA) for spying on everyday Americans - in fact she stood by the NSA after the Snowden revelations - but if you spy on her Senate staff, she’s coming after you. That’s the lesson CIA Director John Brennan is learning right now after Senator Feinstein’s heated speech on the Senate floor yesterday. The Chairwoman accused the CIA of hacking into Committee computers that Senate aides used to study a sensitive review commissioned by former Director Leon Panetta about the CIA’s interrogation tactics of suspected terrorists post 9/11. Feinstein maintains that the documents were given to the Committee by the CIA itself and said in addition to looking at those documents, the CIA’s activities were “also a search of the standalone and walled-off committee network drive containing the committee's own internal work product and communications.” As a result, Feinstein says the CIA may have “violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution,” which gives Congress the power to oversee the CIA. The response from her Senate colleagues varied slightly, but by and large Feinstein was praised for her speech. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “I admire what she’s done;” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took it one step further saying "Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it's true;" and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested that we invade Kazakhstan. (That last bit about Sen. McCain was a joke, by the way).

Debo Adegbile is a victim of his own competence

Last week, several Senate Democrats bucked their own Party and voted against confirming Debo Adegbile, the President’s nominee to become head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The dissenting Democrats were shook over the political implications of confirming Adegbile, formerly of the NAACP, who played an instrumental role in getting a reduced sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the man convicted in a controversial court case of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. In short, vulnerable Senate Democrats are scared of being associated with Adegbile. One Senate aide described backing Adegbile as “a 30-second ad that writes itself.” Political talk is rife with discussion that Democrats may lose senate seats this year and potentially vulnerable incumbent lawmakers are not keen on being associated with any amount of controversy in an election year. But if you strip away all the semantics and personal opinions, here is what this episode amounts to: a politically charged rebuke of a good lawyer. Therefore, it seems, Debo Adegbile is a victim of his own competence. President Obama responded harshly to critics of Adegbile’s record, calling them “wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”

#up4climate: Dr. Seuss Returns to the Senate Floor

More than two dozen Democratic Senators sure missed the extra hour of sleep we all lost with the onset of Daylight Savings Time after they pulled an all-nighter on the Senate floor talking about climate change that went into the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Now you might be thinking that all-night discussions on climate change only occur on college campuses, but not anymore. Comprehensive climate change legislation started as one of President Obama’s three main goals in office, but has fallen to a back burner issue in Congress. The Senators’ all-nighter was designed to rekindle the debate. The night was live-tweeted using the #up4climate hashtag and was strangely reminiscent of Senator Ted Cruz’s filibuster against funding the Affordable Care Act last Fall, with a Dr. Seuss reading on “The Lorax” to cap it all off as well. Ok, now that sounds even more like something that would happen on a college campus. What’s with these guys and Dr. Seuss anyways? Considering that climate change deniers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have continually disregarded climate scientists and published studies proving climate change exists, maybe it’s time for some unorthodox campaigning for climate change.

Little Qatar Shaking Up the Gulf in Big Ways

Last week, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, claiming the Gulf country was violating the sovereignty of neighboring states and meddling in affairs of other countries in the region through its support for extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its media channel Al Jazeera. Even broadcasters and columnists from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have resigned from posts in Qatar. The move extends far beyond Egypt, where Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have sided with the military-led government, and has implications for Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, all countries where Saudi Arabia has significant influence and where undermining extremist elements could have varying impact. In fact, while the joint decision marks one of the biggest attempts to change Qatar’s political behavior, the move could be targeted toward Iran, which also supports competing regional groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and has bolstered the Assad regime in Syria. Experts debate whether Saudi Arabia’s decision to designate extremist groups as terrorist organizations may undermine opposition forces in Syria. They also debate whether Qatar’s recent diplomatic role in freeing nuns held hostage in Syria by coordinating with Lebanon will impact Saudi Arabia’s role in Lebanon.

Special Election in Florida: A Window into November?

Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly competed in a special election in Florida’s 13th congressional district. Deemed by one Christian Science Monitor reporter as “tossup district in the swingiest region of the nation’s biggest battleground state,” the election has been billed a “test run” for both Democrats and Republicans ahead of 2014. Outside groups on both sides spent around $9 million in mostly negative ads bashing the candidates.  Around 200 political commercials aired on TV. Talk about clutter… For Republicans, this was a test of how effective GOP attacks on Obamacare will prove to be, and the prospect for gaining seats in the Senate this fall. For Democrats, the election would serve as an indication of just how toxic Obamacare could be for candidates facing races in swing states. It isn’t over yet. Either way, the win could be short-lived – the winner has to stand for reelection in November.