The outgoing head of the IRS disputed Republicans’ suspicions that the tax-collecting agency’s targeting of conservatives was motivated by partisanship at the first congressional hearing on the scandal.
IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who submitted his resignation earlier this week, faced lawmakers at a House hearing on the IRS targeting, insisting that he had not mislead Congress or the American people. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.
Steven Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS who submitted his resignation from that role earlier this week, appeared on Friday to face lawmakers’ pointed questions about the revelations that IRS officials had inappropriately singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny.
But he and J. Russell George, the IRS inspector general whose report unearthed the controversy that has dominated Washington this week, testified that there was no evidence of political motivations among IRS employees who targeted conservative advocacy groups applying for nonprofit status. They instead blamed incompetence.
“I do not believe that partisanship motivated the practices of the people described in the IG report,” Miller said. “I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people who were trying to be efficient in their work.”
GOP lawmakers also repeatedly sought to ferret out any information as to whether Miller had talked with White House officials about the targeting of conservatives, or – more ominously – had shared confidential tax information with the administration. (The implication of that line of questioning involved last year’s presidential election, when Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s own tax practices became an issue in the election.)
Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steve Miller, testified at a House hearing on IRS screening and defended his actions before Rep. Boustany, R-La., saying, "I did not mislead Congress or the American people. I answered the questions as they were asked."
To that end, George testified that he told the Treasury Department's general counsel and deputy secretary Neal Wolin of the investigation before the 2012 election.
In the week following the first revelations of the inspector general report, conservatives have seized upon the scandal to ding President Barack Obama, demanding criminal prosecutions of IRS officials, and accusing the president (as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., did Thursday) of a “culture of intimidation.” GOP members of the committee spent much of the hearing trying to advance that narrative
But Miller repeatedly – and, at times, tersely – disputed speculation that IRS officials were deliberately targeting ideological opponents of the Obama administration, and denied that he had misled Congress in previous testimony about the IRS’s actions. When asked sharply by Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., how he would characterize his previous, inaccurate testimony to Congress, Miller shot back: "I always answer questions truthfully, Mr. Camp."
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, criticizes the actions of the Internal Revenue Service at a House hearing on IRS screening, telling IRS head Steve Miller, "Is this government so drunk on power that it would turn its full force, its full might to harass and intimidate and threaten an average American?"
Miller, the ousted acting commissioner of the IRS, was the primary object of lawmakers’ scrutiny at Friday’s hearing, particularly Republicans who expressed incredulity and outrage at the IRS fiasco.
“Is this still America?” asked Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who said the IRS controversy were evidence of a government “drunk on power.”
Republicans came to the hearing armed with plenty of outrage and examples of Tea Party groups from their home districts running into red tape in their nonprofit applications, which they used to pummel Miller throughout the hearing. The outgoing commissioner parried their attacks by responding that he was not permitted to comment on specific cases.
Democrats spent the bulk of the committee’s hearing, though, warning their GOP colleagues against cultivating evidence of a scandal where there is none. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., asked both Miller and George, the inspector general, whether they had unearthed any evidence of political motivation in IRS officials’ scrutiny of conservatives.
They replied identically: “We did not, sir.”
Those answers scarcely satisfied Republicans, who have sensed a major opportunity – combined with simultaneous controversies this week involving the Obama administration’s handling of last year’s terror attack in Benghazi, and the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press journalists’ phone records – to play offense against the White House.
For their part, Democrats have largely tried to match Republicans in their outrage at the IRS controversy, led by the president himself. Obama said this week that he was “angry” at the IRS for its actions, and asked for Miller’s resignation. Obama named Daniel Werfel, who currently serves as controller of the Office of Management and Budget, as the new acting IRS commissioner on Thursday.
Jason Reed / Reuters
Outgoing acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller listens at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups on Capitol Hill, May 17, 2013.
The president has said he didn’t learn about the actions taken by the IRS to target conservative and Tea Party groups until details of the inspector general report leaked to the media last Friday.
But while the controversy will likely spur plenty of future hearings into the IRS wrongdoing, Friday’s testimony – for now – could help limit the political fallout to the IRS itself.
“As acting commissioner I want to apologize on behalf of the IRS for the mistakes that we made and the poor service that we provided,” Miller said in his opening statement. He said later in the hearing that he should ultimately be held accountable for IRS employees’ missteps, but denied that meant he was personally involved in directing political targeting.
This story was originally published on Fri May 17, 2013 7:43 AM EDT
IRS scandal takes center stage on Capitol Hill. What new comes out? … The White House is in damage-control mode – how they’re managing the three controversies … GOP tries to tie IRS to health care … Obama needs to fix IRS because credibility of government and his second-term agenda is at stake … From New York to L.A., two mayor’s races will be a focus next week – one because another scandal-ridden ex-congressman tries to make a comeback. … Bloomberg group goes after AZ Sen. Flake (R).
Charles Dharapak / AP
Ousted IRS chief Steve Miller arrives on Capitol Hill, Friday, May 17, 2013, to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) practice of targeting applicants for tax-exempt status based on political leanings.
*** And the venting begins: One thing is fairly certain: there will be fireworks today on Capitol Hill when ex-IRS Commissioner Steve Miller and Treasury Inspector General Russell George testify before the House Ways and Means Committee beginning at 9:00 am ET. But the question is what new information comes from the hearing? There will be plenty of bloviating, but it could also clarify what we don’t know, like: (1) The missing why? Was there political motivation on any level, and (2) What took so long for this to come out? Was this really simply a sloppy shortcut? It was clear in timeline that this was all discovered to be a problem early in 2012 and perhaps as far back as 2011, so what took so long for the IRS to admit it? Expect these to be among the most intriguing questions that get asked but dodged. And, of course, this is only the beginning of what’s going to be a busy season of IRS hearings.
*** The White House reboot: Damage-control mode continues for the White House. Today, it’s trying to stay the course and make that pivot back to jobs with another leg of the president’s Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour. Today, the president heads to Baltimore, where he stops by an elementary school at 11:35 am ET, then makes remarks at 1:20 pm ET at Ellicott Dredges. At 2:15 pm ET, he’ll head to a community center that works with families on job training. They’ve been trying to make this pivot for a while. The first event last week in Austin was overshadowed by the Benghazi hearing. Today, it’ll be overshadowed by the IRS hearing. After sitting on its hands for a few days, the White House is now in overdrive when it comes to damage control. Not just announcing new actions on IRS and on diplomatic security, but it was hard to watch TV after 3 p.m. yesterday and not see a key White House political aide on the tube: Carney, Palmieri and Pfeiffer all blitzing the airwaves.
*** How the White House is trying to fix the three fronts: On Benghazi, the White House is pushing that it’s all political and the president will talk about security at embassies. That was the point he attempted to drive home yesterday. Of course, his pronouncement regarding diplomatic security begs the question, where was this response last week, last month, last year. Clearly, the White House wants to put the issue of funding diplomatic security (something that’s been cut) back in Congress lap. It was a fairly transparent rhetorical move by the White House yesterday. On the IRS, they’re trying to show they’re on top of it…now. Naming Daniel Werfel is putting someone there who seems to have a non-partisan resume. He worked for George W. Bush, for example. But he’s no household name. Werfel’s appointment won’t have the impact on the public psyche that a more high-profile nominee would have had. But he checks the boxes of competency, bipartisanship, and he can vet. On the AP, it’s striking how much Obama went out of his way to stand by Attorney General Eric Holder. There’s no wiggle room there, and it’s because the Holder issue has been personal to him. The president has always felt that Holder’s unpopularity on the hill was a proxy for the president himself. The president believes Republicans on the hill have used Holder as a punching bag, believing they can attack Holder in ways they can’t with Obama. That’s why Obama’s been more sympathetic to Holder -- even though many White House aides, past and present, believe Holder’s been very politically naïve in how he’s run the Justice Department and has made himself an easy target.
*** GOP tries to tie IRS scandal to health care: It’s been a tough week for the White House, perhaps the worst of Obama’s second term. And we know exactly where GOP’s headed to try and advance the story more broadly. They’re headed to health care. Two IRS officials are already exiting the IRS, and now a third person has become a target. NBC’s Lisa Myers confirms this story that Sarah Hall Ingram, who was in charge of the tax exempt office from 2009 to 2012, is now in charge of the IRS’s Affordable Care Act office. The blaring headline Republicans want out of this is the person involved in targeting the Tea Party at the IRS is now in charge of running health care (!!!). That’s not exactly the case, however, as the IRS has a relatively small role in implementing health care as compared to Health and Human Services, which is the agency setting up the exchanges to be rolled out this fall. But why let an inconvenient reality get in the way of a good political talking point.
*** Bigger picture – the IRS scandal is important because it’s all about the credibility of government: At the heart of this IRS scandal and why it matters is how important the credibility of government is to Obama second-term agenda. Democrats want to show government run correctly can make your life better; Republicans want to say government stands in the way. The IRS scandal cuts right to that argument and extends out to health care (as noted above) and immigration. The IRS, on a good day, isn’t well liked by the public. It’s feared. But if it’s proven to be inept or corrupt, it will only harm the public trust even more than Washington’s done for so long as it is. And it’ll be easy to sell a swing voter on the idea that while, say, immigration reform is a good idea, do you have confidence Washington can make it work? Ditto with health care? That’s why it is so important for Obama to be on top of the IRS from here on out and restore credibility to the agency. Whatever comes out on IRS, with reporters turning up every stone and Republicans picking at every piece of carcass, the White House and Treasury better be first or it will undermine even further credibility.
*** New York to L.A.: Two mayors races in the two biggest cities in the country will be big next week – one because there will be a result (in L.A.) and second because of Anthony Weiner. In Los Angeles, voters head to the polls Tuesday to pick between two Democrats to be the next mayor – Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel. Garcetti continues to be the slight favorite and Greuel appears to be running out of money. She had to loan herself $100,000. Meanwhile, Weiner might jump into the mayor’s race next week. WNBC reported spotting Weiner shooting a campaign-style video at his childhood home in Brooklyn. And Weiner’s entry will transform the race into a circus, at least next week, and who knows, maybe for the rest of the campaign. By the way, with Weiner’s wife as close to Hillary Clinton as anyone, how do the Clintons keep their distance from Weiner, or do they? Either way, nobody benefits more from Weiner’s entry than the headline writers at the Daily News and the Post.
*** Bloomberg gun group targets AZ senator: Mayors Against Illegal Guns is going up with an ad campaign hitting Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports. It features an Arizona couple, whose son was killed in the Aurora, CO, theatre shooting, who say Flake didn’t keep his word to them that he would vote in favor of tougher background checks. Republicans, though, believe that by voting for the Lindsey Graham (R-SC) alternative bill, they did vote for some background-check strengthening. The group has gone up against New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and has also pledged – though notably they have not yet -- to go up against Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, and North Dakota, despite Democrats urging them not to.
*** 2016 roundup – Going after Hillary: Republicans tried to pin Benghazi on Hillary Clinton (here, for example). Democrats see 2016 politics at play. Opponents are readying a scandal-filled movie about her life. She still leads by a lot in a New Hampshire poll. … Vice President Joe Biden appears to be continuing preparations for a run in 2016, but he not only trails Clinton by a lot in early polling, he also remains a punch line for late-night comics. … Rand Paul heads to New Hampshire Monday … Bobby Jindal was in New Hampshire over the weekend … Marco Rubio accused the White House of creating a “culture of intimidation” on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, yet some conservatives are still hammering him for his pursuit of comprehensive immigration. … Chris Christie was showing Prince Harry around the Jersey Shore. He also went negative despite huge leads in his bid for reelection this year. … Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed one of the toughest gun laws in the country.
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*** Friday's "The Daily Rundown" line-up: live coverage of the Ways and Means Committee's IRS hearing... Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)... TIME's Michael Scherer, former DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell and Mattie Duppler of Americans for Tax Reform join the Gaggle.
*** Friday's "Jansing & Co." line-up: Chris Jansing interviews Rep. Joseph Crowley, Economic Analysts Jared Bernstein and Doug Holtz-Eakin, The Washington Post's Jackie Kucinich, Politico's Patrick Gavin, Medal of Honor recipient Jack Jacobs, MSNBC's Karen Finney, and Republican strategist Chip Saltsman.
*** Friday's “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-Up: MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts interviews Fmr. IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, Democratic Strategist Chris Lehane, and Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) on the controversies plaguing the white house. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards will discuss new web ads going up against VA gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. Today’s Agenda Panel includes: New Yorker Senior Editor Amy Davidson, The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel and Mother Jones’ David Corn.
*** Friday's Now with Alex Wagner’s line-up: Sam Stein, Political Editor and White House Correspondent, The Huffington Post/msnbc contributor (@samsteinhp), Elizabeth Dwoskin, Staff Writer, Bloomberg Businessweek (@lizzadwoskin), Melissa Harris Perry, msnbc Host, “Melissa Harris Perry” (@mharrisperry), Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed (@buzzfeedben), Scott Nova, Executive Director, Worker Rights Consortium, Nicholas Confessore, Political Reporter, The New York Times (@nickconfessore).
*** Friday's Andrea Mitchell Reports line-up: The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Kelly O'Donnell for the Daily Fix, Mark Landler from the New York Times, former special assistant to the Defense Secretary Monica Klain on sexual assault in the military, David Rohde on Syria, Karen Tumulty and Susan Page, Sloan Kettering's Dr. Larry Norton.
*** Friday's News Nation line-up: Joining Craig Melvin who is in for Tamron today: Rep. Bill Flores, USA Today columnist Raul Reyes, Politico’s Lois Romano, Sirius XM’s Michael Smerconish, and Las Vegas attorney Michael Cristalli.
*** This weekend’s Office Politics with Alex Witt: NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel.
Who is Daniel Werfel? First, he’s not the former Florida quarterback, although he does keep a picture of him in his office as something of a joke. In addition to his duties in the Obama administration, Werfel, Obama’s pick to be the acting IRS commissioner, worked in a senior position on the George W. Bush budget team. He’s not the high-profile, tough-cop person many thought was necessary, but the Wall Street Journal quotes Kenneth Baer, who worked with Werfel in the White House, calling Werfel “the green eyeshade.” Werfel “might be suited to the moment having spent much of his career in the budget weeds of Washington,” the Journal adds.
One area that might be a bone for Republicans to pick at is Werfel has been charged with the implementation of the sequester. Republicans also didn’t exactly take to Werfel immediately but didn’t blast him either. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Washington Post he didn’t know him. “If I was the president I would find the very best business man I possibly could who’d be willing to take it over and have the authority to be able to straighten the mess out.” By the way, naming a permanent commissioner would require Senate confirmation.
Greg Sargent looks at the “Beltway narrative schizophrenia” when it comes to the trio of controversies this week.
A bipartisan House group says it has reached a deal in principle on its version of comprehensive immigration reform.
"The bipartisan group working on #immigration in House has made a deal in principle" Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tweeted late Thursday after the eight members met.
That's good news for immigration advocates, who feared that the years-long work of the House group would break apart over disputes involving the parameters of a mandatory E-Verify system and other issues. While the Senate Gang of Eight bill remains the more high-profile template for final immigration legislation, a breakdown in House negotiations wouldn't have been a positive sign for the progress of compromise immigration measures in the House.
Things didn't look good earlier this week, with one Republican in the group saying he was likely to leave if a resolution wasn't reached.
House Speaker John Boehner said earlier Thursday that he was "concerned" that the group - which includes four Republicans and four Democrats - was still hung up without a deal.
"I am concerned that the bipartisan group has been unable to wrap up their work, there are very difficult issues they're working on," he said. "But I continue believe the House needs to do something and I believe works it will, how we get there, we'll see."
This story was originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 7:36 PM EDT
The Internal Revenue Service doesn't want to play ball with Republican senators these days -- at least not softball.
The tax agency's softball team, called the Cheetahs, has canceled its scheduled game with the team from Republican Sen. John Cornyn's office.
"We contacted them to confirm our game which was scheduled for tomorrow [Friday] night and they said they needed to reschedule," said Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie.
The matchup was supposed to be the first game of the season for Cornyn's office team.
Cornyn and other GOP senators have hammered the IRS in recent days for targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny. The acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, resigned Wednesday at President Barack Obama's request.
The IRS did not immediately return a request for comment.
So far, the game hasn't been rescheduled.
"Guess they needed an extension," Brandewie said.
President Barack Obama will appoint a White House budget officer to the be the new acting Internal Revenue Service commissioner, an announcement made following a fresh declaration from the president that he knew nothing about the inspector general’s report detailing improper IRS actions until it was leaked.
After announcing the resignation of acting IRS Director Steven Miller on Wednesday evening, the president emerged Thursday afternoon to answer questions from the press about actions taken by IRS employees to single out conservative and Tea Party advocacy groups for extra scrutiny in their applications for nonprofit status.
"I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the I.G. report before the I.G. report had been leaked ... through the press," said Obama. "Typically, the I.G. reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared. They tend to be, you know, a process that everybody's trying to protect the integrity of. But, what I'm absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that I.G. report are unacceptable."
After what's arguably been the president's toughest political week since winning reelection to a second term, Obama named a new head of the IRS and announced a new push for increased security for diplomats abroad. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
The president declined to endorse appointing an independent counsel to investigate the controversy -- an idea that some Republicans have demanded. The criminal investigation initiated by the Justice Department, combined with the administration's efforts to cooperate with lawmakers in their investigations, Obama argued, should be sufficient.
"I think it's going to be sufficient for us to be working with Congress," he said.
Just hours after that event, the White House said that Daniel Werfel, current controller of the Office of Management and Budget, would be named acting IRS chief, effective May 22.
In a press release, Obama said, "The American people deserve to have the utmost confidence and trust in their government, and as we work to get to the bottom of what happened and restore confidence in the IRS, Danny has the experience and management ability necessary to lead the agency at this important time."
Later Thursday, NBC News confirmed that a second top Internal Revenue Service official has announced plans to leave the agency. An internal IRS memo says that Joseph Grant, commissioner of the agency's tax exempt and government entities division, will retire June 3.
Of the three controversies that dominated Washington this week, the IRS issue has proven the most politically noxious for Obama.
The White House has also been besieged by new questions about its response to last year's terrorist attack against a diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya, along with revelations that the Justice Department had monitored Associated Press journalists' phone records.
The IRS and AP cases have been particularly thorny politically for one of Obama's top allies in the cabinet, Attorney General Eric Holder, who on Wednesday faced grilling on Capitol Hill for his role in both controversies. Republicans renewed some of their longstanding demands that Holder resign his position, demands which the president rejected on Thursday.
"I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general," Obama said.
President Barack Obama talks about the inspector general's report relating to alleged targeting of political groups by the IRS.
After weathering blistering criticism from Republicans, the administration has begun trying to craft its response to all three issues.
To that end, Obama on Thursday announced new measures meant to enhance security for U.S. diplomatic postings abroad as part of the administration's continued reaction to the Benghazi incident.
"I am intent on making sure we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening again," Obama said at the White House.
His remarks come amid intensified efforts by Republican members of Congress to probe the Obama administration's reaction to the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The administration has sought to turn the narrative on that matter in its favor beginning Wednesday, when it released emails documenting how the administration crafted its first public responses to the attack.
Obama called on members of Congress in both parties to "come together" and work to authorize legislation to help fortify embassies and other diplomatic installations as a tribute to the deceased in Benghazi.
Jason Reed / Reuters
President Barack Obamaand Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013.
Still, the controversy involving the AP helped prompt the administration to renew its efforts to have Congress authorize a federal shield law that would protect journalists from having to disclose confidential details of their work in court.
"To the extent that this case has prompted renewed interest with respect to how do we strike that balance properly, I think that now's the time for us to revisit that legislation," Obama said. "I think that's a worthy conversation to have."
Whether any of Obama's actions will placate Republicans, who are eager to use these controversies to gain political traction and slow or halt the president's second-term agenda, remains to be seen.
Lawmakers in both parties plan a series of high-profile hearings, beginning on Friday, on each of the controversies. And Republicans in particular have been eager to make political hay of the administration's recent missteps.
Speaking before the president this morning on Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the controversies were a mark of “remarkable arrogance” by the president and his administration, though Boehner said that the Republican-controlled House was still primarily focused on the business of legislating.
NBC's Peter Alexander and Kelly O'Donnell contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 12:06 PM EDT
Lawmakers joined with Tea Party leaders on Thursday to warn that revelations that the IRS had targeted conservative groups could portend further abuses of government power, specifically in the way in which President Barack Obama's health care reform law is implemented.
The Capitol Hill press conference, which featured frequent references to Obamacare, happened hours before House Republicans were to hold their 37th vote to repeal or replace part of the law.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party figurehead, argued that the IRS's efforts to single out conservative advocacy groups for additional scrutiny could lead to similar profiling in implementing health care reform.
"Could there potentially be political implications regarding health care, access to health care, denial of health care - will that happen based upon a person's political beliefs or their religiously held beliefs?" she asked, saying that asking such a question before the IRS scandal would not have been “reasonable," but that now it was.
"Will our most personal information be used to deny or delay access to health care? Or could it be possible that our sensitive information could be used to blackmail Americans or even potentially to embarrass Americans?" she continued.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a Tea Party darling with presidential ambitions (and himself a physician) added: "I'm quite worried that your medical records now will be evaluated by the IRS that seems to have the ability and seems to have the penchant to use political persuasion and political oppo to search out political opponents."
He also said that while acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller’s resignation was a "step in the right direction," more heads needed to roll.
"Someone needs to be held responsible, someone needs to be imprisoned," he said.
Jenny Beth Martin, of the group Tea Party Patriots, suggested the IRS had political motivations for targeting groups like hers, despite the recently-released inspector general’s report which concluded no agents were driven by politics.
"Government agents have used the IRS as a weapon to silence speech, harass innocent Americans and perhaps sway elections," she said.
But despite the strong words against the IRS and the Obama administration, Bachmann and others shied from calling for Obama’s impeachment, as Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., did over the administration’s handling of the attack on the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
"We also don't want to jump to conclusions. We want to go where the facts lead us and we aren't interested in creating our own facts contrary to some of our federal agencies," Bachmann said, though she added many of her constituents in Minnesota ask her, "Why aren’t you impeaching the president? He has been making unconstitutional actions since he came into office."
"So I will tell you what I’m hearing from people back home," Bachmann said.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Thursday proposed major changes to military laws for sexual assault cases, backing a bill to prevent military commanders from handling sexual assault cases that involve their subordinates.
"We believe enough is enough. It is time to change this system that has been held over since George Washington that is simply not working today for the men and women who are serving," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Services Committee who is spearheading the legislation.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is joined by a group of colleagues on Capitol Hill while introducing sexual assault legislation that would reform the military justice system.
"What does it say about us as a people, as a nation, as the foremost military in the world, when some of our servicemembers both men and women have more to fear from their fellow soldiers than from the enemy?" asked Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The bill would take serious sexual assault cases completely out of the military's chain of command if the potential sentence amounts to more than a year in prison -- the equivalent of a felony in a civilian court.
"When any single victim of sexual assault is forced to salute her attacker, clearly our system is broken," Gillibrand said.
The military has resisted such sweeping changes in the past, but a recent string of incidents has increased pressure on Defense Department leaders to change the policy. The top Air Force officer charged with preventing sexual assault was accused of attacking a woman in a Virginia parking lot, and a soldier at Fort Hood tasked with sexual assault prevention is under investigation for sexual abuse.
Collins and Gillibrand spoke at a press conference Thursday morning, where she was joined by an array of colleagues from both house of Congress and from both parties, including Collins, and Reps. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., and Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Gillibrand's bill also requires that a decision about how a sexual assault case is handled -- whether it goes to trial and how the court-martial proceeds -- is made by someone who holds a rank equivalent to colonel.
It would also allow each military service's chief of staff to establish courts, empanel juries and pick judges to hear sexual assault cases, and write into law a proposal from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that prevents commanders from overturning sexual assault convictions or reducing guilty findings to lesser offenses.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
Senate subcommittee on Personnel Chair Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. addresses the third panel on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, during the subcommittee's hearing on sexual assault in the military.
The event was held in advance of a planned meeting at the White House on the issue. President Barack Obama was to meet with Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, the military service chiefs, military service secretaries, and the senior enlisted advisers.
Gillibrand and other lawmakers met earlier this month with top White House advisers -- the meeting was led by Valerie Jarrett, who is personally close to the president -- to discuss the problem.
This story was originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 11:25 AM EDT
Four of President Barack Obama's nominees moved forward Thursday with one, MIT physics professor Ernest Moniz, being unanimously confirmed by the Senate to be secretary of energy.
Another nominee -- Sri Srinivasan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit -- was OK'd by the Senate Judiciary Committee and seems certain of confirmation by the full Senate.
But two other nominees -- Thomas Perez to head the Department of Labor and Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency -- face an uncertain future on the Senate floor.
In a party-line vote, a Senate committee Thursday approved the Perez nomination.
A group of senators recommends that a Senate vote should now take place on the nomination of Thomas Perez to become the next U.S. secretary of labor.
But Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, strongly opposes Perez, who is now the assistant attorney general for civil rights.
The Iowa Republican accuses Perez of improperly arranging a swap. If the city of St. Paul, Minn., would withdraw a major fair housing case which was about to be argued before the Supreme Court, then the Justice Department would agree to not go to court in support of a whistleblower suing the city.
In his confirmation hearing last month before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Perez said a career Justice Department attorney had decided that the whistleblower had a weak case that didn’t merit intervention by the Justice Department on his side.
Led by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., House Republicans have also crusaded against Perez. Issa got into an angry confrontation with Attorney General Eric Holder over the Perez nomination at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday.
Another key Obama nominee, McCarthy, won approval Thursday on a party line vote by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Last week Republicans on the panel boycotted a meeting of the committee to underscore their demand for greater openness from the EPA on how it reaches its decisions and how it strikes deals with environmental groups to settle lawsuits.
Ranking Republican member, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said Thursday Republicans were now willing to move ahead on McCarthy because “we’re finally making real progress on the five key transparency requests that have been the focus of all the Republican members’ concerns about this nomination process.”
Vitter said the EPA had agreed to give GOP senators significantly more information on how it reaches its decisions. He said if the EPA provides more transparency, he would support handling the nomination on the Senate floor without a cloture vote, which would require 60 votes. If all of the Republican’ request for EPA transparency in five areas are met, Vitter said he would vote for McCarthy’s nomination on the Senate floor.
But referring to the Republican opposition, committee chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., said, “I have never seen a nomination handled this way ... . I’m stunned at this. It’s kind of holding somebody hostage until you get an answer you want to have.”
Even if Vitter relents, the McCarthy nomination still faces a hold from Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is protesting what he calls “bureaucratic infighting” among federal agencies which have delayed an environmental impact statement on the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project in his state.
Obama got a significant victory Thursday when the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved his nomination of Deputy Solicitor General Srinivasan to serve on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the nation’s most powerful appeals court.
So far in his presidency Obama hasn’t gotten any nominee confirmed by the Senate to the D.C. circuit appeals court. That court is now divided between four judges appointed by Republican presidents and three judges appointed by Bill Clinton. (There are also six senior judges with a reduced workload who take part in some cases.) The court has four vacancies.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has called that court “more important than the Supreme Court because on so many of the issues that go there, they will have the final word.” It’s the end of the road for most cases since the Supreme Court accepts only a fraction of the requests for appeals. The court hears most of the challenges to decisions of regulatory agencies such as the EPA.
This story was originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 10:22 AM EDT