Presidential sweepstates: Who will challenge Hillary?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

For Democrats and Republicans, the early stages of the 2016 presidential contest are worlds apart.

Many Democrats already view Hillary Rodham Clinton as a quasi-incumbent, someone who could take the reins from President Barack Obama. The former secretary of state has made no decisions about her political future but has done little to dampen enthusiasm about another presidential campaign, traveling the country making speeches and preparing to release another book.

Republicans have no clear front-runner and expect a crowded primary field that could include fresh-faced candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. For a party that typically backs established politicians, 2016 could be the most jumbled GOP White House campaign in a generation.

As the Obama era nears its final midterm elections, the campaign to succeed him has already begun: Prospective candidates on both sides have been quietly courting donors, taking steps to build an organization and making scouting trips to early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The official starting line, however, is likely a year away.

The coming year will be about building the foundations of a campaign, compiling a policy agenda and raising money for House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates who could become future allies.

And each side faces its own intra-party divisions.

Republicans are in the middle of a feud that pits establishment figures against tea party adherents. Democrats run the risk of souring on Obama’s brand — polls have shown a decline in his popularity since his re-election — and face a brewing split between liberals and centrists.

For Democrats, the presidential race hinges on whether Clinton runs again.

The former New York senator and first lady to President Bill Clinton has dominated early polls among Democrats, with Vice President Joe Biden a distant second. There is no obvious challenger from the left, considering Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s vow to serve her full six-year term.

Potential candidates like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana have visited early voting states but remain largely unknown to most voters. Some liberals might encourage former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean to run again, but Clinton has the potential to unite the party.

Clinton’s movements will be closely watched this year. She avoided most political activity in 2013 but is expected to be a top draw at Democratic fundraisers. The spring release of her memoir about her State Department years will include a national book tour, allowing her to discuss themes that might precede a presidential campaign. Until she announces her decision, every word will be parsed for clues.

“It’s maybe an unprecedented situation, with Hillary Rodham Clinton being as strong as an incumbent president running for re-election,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. “I really see her in a unique situation.”

If Clinton decides not to run, the Democratic primary could turn into a free-for-all.

Biden could inherit many Obama and Clinton supporters, but a Clinton-free race would open the door to candidates like O’Malley, who has assembled a record admired by many liberals, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fundraising powerhouse, and Warren, who would be pressured by progressives to run. Other potential candidates could include New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

Republicans face much different terrain.

During the past half-century, the GOP has rarely nominated a candidate who has not previously run for president — the exceptions are Gerald Ford in 1976 and George W. Bush in 2000.

That could change in 2016. “More than any other time in my lifetime, things are wide open,” said Republican strategist Ron Kaufman, who noted that Republicans are also weighing significant changes to their nominating calendar and debate schedule.

Christie, the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, boosted his national profile in November by easily winning a second term. Christie’s team contends he wrote the playbook for GOP success in 2016 by appealing to strong percentages of women and minorities.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who left office in 2007, commands attention from donors and party leaders as the brother and son of presidents. His presidential ambitions are unclear, however, and this year could offer a better indication of his intentions.

Bush’s decision could weigh heavily on his protégé, Rubio, who tried but failed to get congressional Republicans to support sweeping immigration reforms. Few expect Rubio to challenge Bush in a presidential primary, but the Cuban-American senator is expected to travel the country in 2014 in support of House and Senate candidates.

Paul has been among the most active Republicans exploring a presidential campaign, and he could inherit the loyal supporters of his father, libertarian hero and former Texas congressman Ron Paul. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in office just a year, has built a strong following in conservative circles.

Many Republicans are watching Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who impressed as Mitt Romney’s youthful running mate in 2012 and recently negotiated a budget deal with Democrats.

Beyond Christie, a large group of Republican governors may join the field, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who both face re-election in 2014. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal may also run and has urged Republicans to develop a strong policy agenda as an alternative to Democrats.

Veterans of past presidential campaigns like former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee could compete for social conservatives if they run again. Texas Gov. Rick Perry chose not to seek re-election, giving him ample time to prepare for another presidential race.

Kaufman suggested Republicans could be helped by a contested primary, something that helped Democrats in 2008.

“Running for president is like nothing else you do in your life,” he said. “Mrs. Clinton has an advantage of having gone through the process — once for herself and twice with her husband. She doesn’t need to go through the gantlet. All the folks on our side, they need the gantlet. We need a primary.”

___

Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas and Steve Peoples at https://twitter.com/sppeoples
_______________________________________________________

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Right wing looking for new hot-button issues to attract followers

Sen. Ted Cruz R-Texas pauses while speaking at the Values Voter Summit. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Sen. Ted Cruz R-Texas pauses while speaking at the Values Voter Summit. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Seeking a new generation of leaders, social conservatives are looking for a lot more than opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

An annual summit of faith leaders and conservative activists gave a platform to a new wave of Republican leaders, who derided President Barack Obama’s health care law, his steering of the economy and foreign policy along with a more traditional litany of social issues.

In what amounted to an audition, Senate Republicans like Ted Cruz of Texas described a nation teetering on “the edge of a cliff” while Rand Paul of Kentucky said U.S. foreign policy needed to stop a “war on Christianity.” Mike Lee of Utah said the nation’s economic problems represented “moral threats” to the stability of families.

“We can’t stop talking about the importance of our values and our culture,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who joined a parade of prominent GOP leaders at the Values Voter Summit on Friday. “We can’t stop talking about them because the moral well-being of our people is directly linked to their economic well-being.”

Organizers said Saturday that Cruz won the event’s straw poll of possible 2016 presidential candidates with 42 percent, followed by Dr. Ben Carson and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum with 13 percent. Paul and Rubio placed fourth and fifth, respectively, offering an informal popularity contest among the roughly 2,000 attendees.

Social conservatives gathered at the summit as congressional Republicans sought agreement with Obama on a way to end the government shutdown, now in its 12th day, and avoid an economic default. Few in the audience expressed interest in backing down from efforts to defund or delay the nation’s health care law, a primary driver of the impasse, and said they wanted congressional Republicans to bring down the nation’s debt.

Marlene Kellett of Columbia, Md., said Republicans needed to hold firm in their opposition to the so-called Obamacare law. But she expressed pessimism that Republicans would make progress.

“I’m very opposed to Obamacare — it’s a disaster,” Kellett said. “But I’m not feeling very positive about (the impasse). So often the Republicans cave, and they can’t seem to get what they want.”

Adrienne Grizzell of Lexington, Ky., said the accumulation of nearly $17 trillion in debt — the source of a debate over whether to raise the nation’s borrowing limit — is too often shrugged off. “It’s as if, ‘No, it’s not a problem, let’s keep spending,'” she said. “Nobody is saying, ‘OK, we’ve going to start spending less.'”

While social issues touched the hearts and minds here, speaker after speaker stressed pocketbook issues a year after Democrats vilified GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney as being oblivious to the needs of middle-class families during tough economic times.

Cruz, whose speech was interrupted several times by immigration reform advocates, said Friday the health care law and Obama’s spending priorities had put the nation on the wrong track. “We have a couple of years to turn this country around, or we go off the cliff into oblivion,” he said.

Lee said economic issues such as a lack of economic opportunity, stagnant wages and spiraling housing costs represented “moral threats to families’ stability.”

Rubio said too many families are struggling to pay for child care and grappling with student loan debts. Paul devoted his remarks to foreign policy, describing attacks on Christianity in the Muslim world.

Santorum, who chased Romney for the GOP nomination during the 2012 primaries, previewed an upcoming holiday film, “The Christmas Candle,” released by his film company. Santorum recalled the early days of his presidential campaign, something he said, “that comes to mind every now and then, even today.”

To be certain, gay marriage and abortion got plenty of attention. Carson, a Maryland physician popular with conservatives, rejected the notion of a “war on women,” raised by Democrats, saying, “The war is on their babies.” He said marriage was a “sacred institution” that did not need a new definition.

Along the sidelines, conservatives said they were actively seeking a new group of conservatives to rally behind — and made clear that they don’t want capitulation.

“We don’t have enough Ted Cruzes and Marco Rubios,” said Jerry Skirvin, who runs a marketing firm in Lynchburg, Va. “We have too many John McCains and Lindsey Grahams,” he said, identifying two GOP senators often accused of seeking conciliation with Democrats.

The search also took place in private. Before the summit, Cruz and Paul sat down for separate closed-door meetings with a group of evangelical leaders, including Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, which sponsored the event, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Robert Fischer, a South Dakota businessman. The senators were joined by their wives during the session and discussed their faith and views on issues.

___

Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas
___

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Enhanced by Zemanta

GOP Presidential wannabes look for good political angles in shutdown

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

With no end in sight to the federal government shutdown, Republican governors eyeing the 2016 presidential race are pitching themselves as can-do politicians and highlighting records of achievement.

Although unstated, their goal is clear — draw a contrast with their prospective presidential challengers on Capitol Hill aligned with a vocal band of Republicans whose demands that Congress defund the health care law helped trigger the shutdown.

“Republican governors are not going to take it anymore,” says Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, among those state leaders and potential presidential candidates using the shutdown to try to position themselves as outsiders at a time of voter disgust with Congress and anyone connected with Washington.

Writing this week in an opinion piece, Jindal added: “We are not going to allow the Republican Party to be defined by the dysfunction in Washington.”

From New Jersey to Wisconsin to Michigan, governors with national aspirations are sounding similar tones. Their potential 2016 competitors now in Congress — including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — have been relatively silent about a government shutdown that has closed national parks and forced hundreds of thousands of employees out of work and threatens to further damage the Republican Party’s image.

The fissures within the ranks of the likely GOP presidential candidates illustrate a broader party split as it starts looking for a standard-bearer in the aftermath of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney‘s White House defeat last fall.

As in past years, governors weighing bids sense political opportunity, mindful that their predecessors have long had success in presidential politics partly because of their distance from an unpopular Congress. Four of the last six presidents had been governors.

“Blame can go around for everybody,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another GOP leader contemplating a presidential bid, said when asked about the shutdown. “The best way to resolve it? Just look at what we did in Wisconsin. We had a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We now have more than half a billion surplus.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, facing re-election in November and looking ahead to 2016, released a television ad the first day of the shutdown highlighting his collaboration with Democrats in crafting a state spending plan. He’s also scheduled a series of public appearances with prominent Democrats and taken to social media to distinguish himself from Washington Republicans.

Asked about the shutdown, Christie this week called it a “failure” of public figures in Washington.

“Much too much in politics these days we have folks who have forgotten that one of the most important parts of leadership is listening. Listening to people of divergent views and opinions,” he said. He added, “I hope in Washington what they figure out is that what we pay them to do when we send them down there is to run the government, not to shut it down.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been working to raise his national profile, called the shutdown “a bad answer.”

“Michigan’s a great model to show how it can be done successfully,” Snyder said during a news conference this week. “We had a billion-and-a-half dollar deficit. We had two or three years prior to taking office where we had government shutdowns. So we had a mess. We came in, did tax reform, balanced the budget, have done that several years successfully.”

Snyder continued: “I would appreciate it if Washington might consider stop blaming, stop taking credit, get in a room, solve the problem and keep moving forward.”

For congressional Republicans with presidential aspirations, the shutdown seems to present challenges more than political opportunities.

Possible candidate and tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., has become a leading figure in the shutdown debate. Advisers to Rubio and Paul suggest that each will maintain a relatively low profile until the dispute is resolved.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, also has avoided being at the forefront of the public debate as he works with Republican leadership.

All this while Congress’ approval ratings remain low. Just 10 percent of Americans approve of Congress, according to a CNN/ORC poll conducted Sept. 27-29, which pegged congressional disapproval at 87 percent.

Republicans in particular fare worse than Democrats. A Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters found last week that only 17 percent approved of how congressional Republicans were handling their jobs, while Democrats earned 32 percent approval.

___

Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Wisconsin, David Eggert in Michigan and Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

GOP government shutdown tactics split presidential contenders

Sen. Ted Cruz says he will fight “with every breath” to stop the health care overhaul, even if it means shutting down segments of the federal government. That approach, warns former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is “quite dicey” politically for Republicans.

A clear divide over President Barack Obama’s health care law separates the emerging field of potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates. And it offers a preview of the battle Republicans nationwide will fight in their effort to build the party and win back the White House.

On one side of the health care fight are Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Texas’ Cruz and others who say they are standing on principle and willing to oppose the law at all costs.

On the other side are those taking what they call a pragmatic approach by accepting the law, if grudgingly, and moving on. Holding that view are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who says that shutting down the government would violate the public trust.

The Republican-controlled House passed a short-term spending plan Friday that would continue funding government operations through mid-December while withholding money for Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment. Some GOP lawmakers also advocate holding back on increasing the nation’s borrowing limit, which could result in a first-ever default, unless what they call “Obamacare” is brought down.

Obama, who has warned of “economic chaos” should Congress pursue such a strategy, said Friday in Missouri: “We’re the world’s bedrock investment. The entire world looks to us to make sure the world economy is stable.”

Less than a quarter of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, about the same as approve of Republicans in Congress, according to recent national polls. Democrats poll slightly higher, and large majorities disapprove of the work of both.

Walker said shutting down the government violates government’s chief responsibility to run, and run efficiently. He views the next round of congressional campaigns as a referendum on the law passed three years and two elections ago.

“The best way to fight it is in the 2014 elections,” Walker said Friday in an Associated Press interview.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, hosting a state Republican conference on Mackinac Island where Walker, Jindal and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are set to appear, said a shutdown “reflects poorly on the national political culture.”

Jindal said earlier this week, “I do think the party needs to be more than the party of ‘no.'”

Bush was more pointed, saying Republicans would be guilty of overplaying their hand if they passed a spending measure that did not include money for the health care law.

“You control one-half of one-third of the leverage in Washington, D.C.,” Bush said, referring to House Republicans. “As we get closer to these deadlines, there needs to be an understanding of that, or, politically, it gets quite dicey for the Republican Party.”

Cruz said worries that voters would blame Republicans for a shutdown are unfounded.

“If history is a guide, the fear of deep political repercussions — I don’t think the data bear that out,” he said.

Republican lawmakers and Democratic President Bill Clinton failed to agree on spending in 1995, which resulted in two partial government shutdowns. Clinton was re-elected the following year, but Cruz noted that Republicans held the majorities in both House of Congress in 1996 and 1998, and collaborated with Clinton on spending cuts and other changes that preceded economic expansion.

Creating some daylight between himself and his Senate colleagues, Paul — also a potential candidate for president — called a shutdown “a dumb idea” but said the fight about it was worth having.

“I am for the debate, I am for fighting,” Paul said. “I don’t want to shut the government down, though. I think that’s a bad solution.”

___

Thomas reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.

___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

Obama to Republicans: Shutdown could bring ‘economic chaos’

President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

A potential federal shutdown looming, President Barack Obama on Monday warned congressional Republicans they could trigger national “economic chaos” if they demand a delay of his health care law as the price for supporting continued spending for federal operations.

House Republican leaders were to meet Tuesday in hopes of finding a formula that would avoid a shutdown on Oct. 1 without alienating party conservatives who insist on votes to undercut the Affordable Care Act. Even more daunting is a mid- to late-October deadline for raising the nation’s borrowing limit, which some Republicans also want to use as leverage against the Obama administration.

“Are some of these folks really so beholden to one extreme wing of their party that they’re willing to tank the entire economy just because they can’t get their way on this issue?” Obama said in a speech at the White House. “Are they really willing to hurt people just to score political points?”

The Republicans don’t see it that way.

House Speaker John Boehner, who opposes the threat of a shutdown, said, “It’s a shame that the president could not manage to rise above partisanship today.” Obama, said Boehner, “should be working in a bipartisan way to address America’s spending problem, the way presidents of both parties have done before,” and should delay implementation of the health care law.

While some conservatives supported by the tea party have been making shutdown threats, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said Monday that was “a dumb idea.” At a community meeting in Louisville, he said, “We should fight for what we believe in and then maybe we find something in between the two. … I am for the debate, I am for fighting. I don’t want to shut the government down, though. I think that’s a bad solution.”

Obama timed his remarks for the fifth anniversary of the bankruptcy of Wall Street giant Lehman Brothers, a major early event in the near-meltdown of the U.S. financial system and a severe global recession that preceded his presidency. He used the occasion to draw attention to the still-recovering economy and to what he called a “safer” financial system now in place.

He delayed his remarks as authorities responded to the shootings that officials said left at least 13 people dead at the Washington Navy Yard just a few miles from the White House.

While unemployment has dropped to 7.3 percent from a high of 10 percent and the housing market has begun to recover, the share of long-term unemployed workers is double what it was before the recession, and a homebuilding revival has yet to take hold. A new analysis conducted for The Associated Press shows that the gap in employment rates between America’s highest- and lowest-income families has stretched to its widest level since officials began tracking the data a decade ago.

Obama conceded the problems. “As any middle class family will tell you or anybody who’s striving to get in the middle class, we are not yet where we need to be,” he said.

Still, his National Economic Council argued his case for progress, issuing a report detailing policies that it said had helped return the nation to a path toward growth. Those steps ranged from the unpopular Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, that shored up the financial industry and bailed out auto giants General Motors and Chrysler, to an $800 billion stimulus bill and sweeping new bank regulations. Of the $245 billion that the government injected into the banking system, virtually all of it has been paid back, the report noted.

“After all the progress that we’ve made over these last four and a half years, the idea of reversing that progress because of an unwillingness to compromise or because of some ideological agenda is the height of irresponsibility,” Obama said. He reiterated his stance that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. Failure to raise it could lead to the first national default in U.S. history.

Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, say the health care law, which has yet to take full effect, will place a burden on businesses and the public and will damage the economy. As a result, they insist that it be starved of taxpayer money or at least delayed.

Chances are fading for a complicated GOP leadership plan that would allow the House to also vote to “defund Obamacare” but automatically separate the measures when delivering them to the Senate to ease the way for quick passage of a “clean” funding measure for delivery to Obama.

The next steps aren’t clear, but one option under consideration is to accede to conservatives’ demands to deliver to the Democratic Senate a combined bill that pays for government and defunds the health care law. The Senate would be virtually certain to strip away the attack on the health care law and bounce the funding measure right back to the House.

That scenario might frustrate conservatives, with the funding measure probably gaining enough votes to win passage in the House and proceed to the White House for Obama’s signature.

Stopgap spending bills are usually routine, so the difficult path for the current one hardly inspires confidence for an even more important measure to raise the government’s borrowing cap. Republicans want to use the debt limit measure as a mechanism to win further spending cuts on top of those they forced upon Obama two years ago.

It’s not clear how the debt limit conundrum will be solved, though a time-tested recipe would be to add mostly symbolic reforms like a “no budget, no pay” proposal that worked early this year when House leaders orchestrated a debt limit increase that was intended to last through July or so but is now likely to suffice until mid-late October. The idea was that lawmakers wouldn’t get paid if the chamber in which they served didn’t pass a budget. It was a House GOP jab aimed at the Senate, which hadn’t passed a budget since 2009. This year it did but there’s been no effort to reconcile it with a competing House measure.

Obama intends to continue pressuring Congress with daily events this week, including a speech Wednesday to the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from the top U.S. companies, and a trip Friday to Kansas City to visit a Ford plant, where he will promote the strength of the auto industry.

___

Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Ky., contributed to this report.

___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

Congress looking to scale back on mandatory prison terms

Behind bars? Maybe not.
Behind bars? Maybe not.

Every weekend, Cindy Martinson treks from her home in Mason City, Iowa, about 160 miles roundtrip to Waseca, Minn. She visits the federal prison there, where her daughter Mandy Martinson, a first-time offender, is in the middle of 15-year prison sentence.

Cindy Martinson knows her daughter made mistakes and broke the law. Mandy Martinson was at a low point in her life, her mother said, addicted to methamphetamine when she allowed a drug dealer she was dating to move in with her. Within weeks, police raided her house.

“She hurt herself and her family. And she knows that. But it is just not fair,” Cindy Martinson, 64, said. “It’s got to change not just for her. Everything is so overcrowded and it is just wrong.”

Concerns about both the fairness and the costs of cases like Mandy Martinson’s have been growing in Congress, and the issue is gaining new speed as an unusual coalition of tea party conservatives and liberal Democrats push for the largest overhaul of federal sentencing guidelines yet.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing this week on minimum sentences. The committee is considering two bills, each sponsored by a liberal Democrat and a tea party Republican, which would allow judges to waive mandatory minimum sentences in many circumstances, particularly for some drug crimes. Wednesday’s hearing is the first step in legislation that advocates and lawmakers in both parties say stands a chance of winning enactment by the end of the year.

Attorney General Eric Holder has shown interest in working with Congress to make permanent changes in sentencing laws. Holder last month instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences.

Sentencing reform lands in an area of rare common ground between liberals and conservatives. Just a few years ago, it was an issue shunned by many politicians in both parties, lest they be labeled soft on crime.

Now it’s made unlikely teammates of tea party libertarian Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a liberal Vermont Democrat. They’re co-sponsoring one of the two sentencing bills now before the committee. Co-sponsoring the other one are Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, another conservative championed by the tea party, and the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, liberal Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois.

The four senators make similar cases for sentencing reform: Many of the sentences are unfair, prisons are overcrowded with nonviolent drug offenders, and it’s costing taxpayers too much money.

Prison costs have ballooned in the past 30 years, with the Bureau of Prisons budget now around $6.8 billion, or about 25 percent of the Justice Department’s total. The yearly cost of housing a federal prisoner ranges from $21,000 to $33,000, depending on the prison’s level of security, and is steadily rising.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world with more than 1.5 million prisoners in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, including more than 218,000 federal prisoners. About half of federal prisoners are drug offenders, nearly all of whom faced some form of mandatory minimum sentencing. They include Mandy Martinson.

Police raided her house in Mason City in January 2004. She was 27 at the time. They found 10 pounds of marijuana, two pounds of high-purity methamphetamine known as “ice” and two guns, components of a northern Iowa drug ring run by her then-boyfriend, whom court documents identify as Justin Dana.

Cindy Martinson said her daughter knew Dana was a drug dealer, but she was a drug addict and under Dana’s control.

A local judge released Mandy Martinson on her own recognizance after her arrest and she eventually sobered up and resumed a job as a dental hygienist for several months.

But at trial, it became clear Mandy Martinson would serve a long sentence, Cindy Martinson said. Dana testified against his girlfriend, saying she performed menial tasks, like counting money, helping his drug operation. He also testified one of the guns found in the raid belonged to him but said Mandy sometimes carried it.

Like the local judge, the federal judge, James E. Gritzner, acknowledged that Martinson posed little threat. But Gritzner said his hands were tied by sentencing guidelines.

He sentenced Mandy Martinson to 15 years in prison for drug and weapons charges. She had never been arrested for anything prior to that. Now 35, Martinson’s term is three years longer than Dana’s because he agreed to testify against her and others.

Julie Stewart, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said prisons are filled with inmates like Martinson. A former staffer at the libertarian Cato Institute, Stewart made sentencing reform her cause after her brother was arrested for growing marijuana and sentenced to a long mandatory sentence.

She said this is the most momentum she’s seen behind efforts to change sentencing laws.

“Let’s put it this way: I’ve been doing this for 22 years and this is the first time since 1993 I have felt significant attention from Congress on this issue,” she said.

“There’s a new era of bipartisanship on this issue,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, another champion of conservative groups and a leader on the issue in the Republican-held House.

Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill in the House that is co-sponsored by several Democrats. It would put in place a post-sentencing “risk assessment system” allowing some prisoners to earn credits toward different living arrangements, such as a halfway house or house arrest.

“There are smarter, cheaper ways to deal with this than what we’ve been doing,” he said. “And we have no choice,” because of costs.

Leahy and Paul’s bill in the Senate would expand a “safety valve” provision, which currently allows a small number of low-level federal drug offenders to avoid mandatory minimum penalties, to all federal crimes with mandatory minimum sentences if certain conditions were met.

Durbin and Lee’s bill would expand the “safety valve” to more drug offenses, but not all federal crimes with mandatory minimum sentences.

___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

Senate Republicans divided over Syria

Republican Senators Jeff Flake, Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio and James Risch.  Now what? (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
Republican Senators Jeff Flake, Ron Johnson, Marco Rubio and James Risch. Now what? (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

President Barack Obama’s proposal to bomb Syria is dividing both political parties as they cope with Iraq war weariness and, in the GOP, the rise of libertarian sentiment. The dilemma is most acute, however, for Senate Republican leaders who already were worried about tea party-backed challengers to their re-election bids back home.

Unlike his House counterparts, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell took no clear stand on the matter Tuesday. For now, he’s letting rank-and-file colleagues debate whether to approve the proposal to fire missiles at Syrian government targets, Congress’ biggest foreign policy decision in years.

McConnell, one of Washington’s longest-serving and best-known Republicans, faces a challenger from the right in Kentucky’s GOP Senate primary next year. Complicating matters is his fellow senator in the state. It’s Rand Paul, a tea party hero and leader of noninterventionist lawmakers who say attacking Syria is not in the United States’ interest.

Paul, who may follow his libertarian-leaning father in running for president, defeated McConnell’s choice for Senate in 2010. Ever since, McConnell has worked hard to court Paul and his supporters, sometimes sitting on the sidelines while other Senate Republicans hammered out difficult compromises on matters such as immigration.

McConnell’s caution on Syria contrasts with the support Obama received Tuesday from the House’s Republican leaders. After meeting with Obama at the White House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, “I’m going to support the president’s call for action.” He suggested his colleagues do the same.

The House’s second-ranking Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, was equally clear. “America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state such as Syria,” Cantor said.

McConnell attended the same White House meeting. But he quickly left for Kentucky, while numerous senators attended a closed briefing on Syria and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted an open hearing.

McConnell thanked Obama and said in a statement, “Congress and our constituents would all benefit from knowing more about what it is he thinks needs to be done — and can be accomplished — in Syria and the region.”

The Senate’s second-ranking GOP leader, John Cornyn of Texas, also proceeded cautiously. Obama “needs to explain in detail what vital national interests are at stake, his plan for securing these interests and a clear definition of what success looks like in Syria,” Cornyn said in a statement. Like McConnell, he faces re-election next year in a state where a tea party champion beat an establishment Republican in the last Senate race.

The House’s and Senate’s top Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have endorsed Obama’s call for military action against Syria’s government, accused of using chemicals to kill hundreds of civilians in rebel areas.

The Syria question is dividing Republicans in ways that domestic issues rarely do. GOP lawmakers, for instance, are virtually unanimous in opposing new taxes — even on the wealthiest Americans in times of large budget deficits, and even if Democrats agree to big spending cuts in return.

The recent elections of Paul and other libertarian-tinged conservatives highlight a growing Republican willingness to challenge traditional military hawks and interventionists such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Disillusionment over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cuts across many political lines, creating odd left-right alliances that don’t exist elsewhere. Lawmakers on the left and right also note the military’s heaving spending, which contributes to budget deficits.

“Both parties have become much more wary of exerting American force on the international scene,” said longtime Republican consultant Terry Holt. Many Republican lawmakers still support a strong U.S. military presence worldwide, he said, but “the noninterventionists are more vocal” in recent years.

McConnell hasn’t always been quiet about international matters. He was a leading critic of the military dictatorship in Myanmar, or Burma. He once chaired the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for the State Department’s budget.

With his 2014 re-election campaign underway, McConnell has seemed less hawkish at times. Earlier this year, he joined 12 other Republicans in voting to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt. Israel opposed the move, but tea party Republicans such as Paul and Ted Cruz of Texas pushed it nonetheless.

Such votes haven’t appeased Matt Bevin, the tea party-affiliated Kentucky businessman trying to oust McConnell in the Republican Senate primary. Bevin strongly opposes intervention in Syria and accuses McConnell of being a wishy-washy conservative across the board.

“It’s a very difficult position for McConnell to be in,” said Dan Schnur, a former top Republican adviser who teaches political science at the University of Southern California.

Schnur said Boehner is taking some risks by backing Obama on Syria when many House Republicans have expressed strong reservations.

Boehner “knows that Republicans don’t benefit from becoming the isolationist party,” Schnur said. Rejecting Obama’s Syria resolution, he said, would “take the Republicans back to a pre-Reagan, pre-Nixon, pre-Eisenhower approach to foreign policy.”

Some tea partyers and libertarian-leaning Republicans say it’s time for that change. Republicans in Chesterfield County, S.C., recently censured Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for his strong support of U.S. military action against Syria.

Debbie Dooley, national coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, said she supports an active U.S. presence military abroad, including acts of war, “when a clear American interest is involved.” But engaging in Syria “is completely ridiculous,” Dooley said, because the civil war factions on both sides “want to destroy us.”

Holt, who has advised several Republican campaigns, said mixing local political concerns with national security needs “is always a bad thing.” He said McConnell’s statement Tuesday leaves ample room for eventually backing an attack on Syria.

McConnell “is being more cautious,” Holt said, “and reflecting, ‘Why should I support a president who hasn’t shown more resolve on the international stage?'”

Holt, generally seen as an establishment Republican, said his party’s members “are going to have to overlook their distrust of Obama to do the right thing.”

___

Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

Uneasy GOP Presidential hopefuls forced to choose sides in Syria debate

 Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., left, joined by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., right, questions Secretary of State John Kerry at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on President Barack Obama's request for congressional authorization for military intervention in Syria, a response to last month's alleged sarin gas attack in the Syrian civil war, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., left, joined by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., right, questions Secretary of State John Kerry at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on President Barack Obama’s request for congressional authorization for military intervention in Syria, a response to last month’s alleged sarin gas attack in the Syrian civil war, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Barack Obama’s plea to Congress for the go-ahead for military strikes against Syria is forcing ambitious Republicans weighing a White House bid to choose sides, as the party is bitterly divided over the U.S. role in foreign policy.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky remains unequivocal in his opposition, tangling with Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday over constitutional powers and the possibility that a U.S. attack will further destabilize the Mideast. The tea party favorite and leading anti-interventionist in the GOP sees only a downside to a U.S. attack.

“There’s no sentiment in Kentucky, and the people up here are so out of touch,” Paul told reporters on a conference call after a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Kerry and other national security officials. “These senators who are going to vote for this, they need to go home and talk to their people or look at what their people are saying because people do not want to get involved in Syria and, despite what the people want, their senators are going to vote the opposite way, I have a bad feeling.”

Paul didn’t rule out a Senate filibuster of a resolution authorizing the president to use military force.

“Whether there is an actual standing filibuster, I’ve got to check my shoes and see if I can hold my water,” he said. “We’ll see. I haven’t made a decision on that.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a fierce foe of Syrian President Bashar Assad, expressed frustration with the Obama administration’s handling of Syria and skepticism about U.S. involvement.

“When America ignores these problems, these problems don’t ignore us,” Rubio told senior administration officials at the Senate hearing. “Yes, this is a horrible incident where perhaps 1,000 people died, but before this incident 100,000 people had died … and nothing happened.”

The administration says it has proof that the Assad regime used deadly chemical weapons in an attack on Damascus suburbs and must respond. It places the number killed at 1,429 people, including 426 children. However, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the death toll at 502.

Potential Republican presidential candidates hardly want to appear weak on national security, an issue that traditionally has been a strength for the GOP. But no one knows whether the United States would be drawn into a protracted conflict or if limited military steps would prove unsuccessful in the 2-year-old civil war.

Any Republican who supports the use of force resolution essentially will be siding with Obama, who is despised in conservative circles, and a vote in favor could anger more isolationist Republicans who are wary of getting involved in another military conflict after more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The votes could dog Republican candidates with voters in early primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Even the most nuanced explanation for a vote could be undermined by events on the ground.

Yet if Republicans oppose the resolution, they could be accused of giving Assad a pass after his regime used chemical weapons.

Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who managed Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said a vote in favor of the resolution would be the equivalent of “a purchase of stock over the long term in Obama’s decision-making on Syria.”

“Any Republican may go into a vote thinking, ‘I have given authority for a limited scope of action to the president,’ but the reality is you’re buying stock in the president’s current decisions on Syria and also his future actions in any escalation that may occur,” Schmidt said.

Polls show public opposition to U.S. military intervention in Syria, regardless of whether Syria’s government used chemical weapons on its people, and doubts about airstrikes across party lines.

A war vote can make or break a candidate. Just ask Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama used the October 2002 vote for the Iraq war as a cudgel against Clinton, who along with John Edwards voted to give President George W. Bush the broad authority to invade Iraq. Edwards said his vote was a mistake; Clinton stood by her decision — and never recovered with strong anti-war Democratic voters.

Clinton, a potential Democratic candidate in 2016, has not spoken publicly about Obama’s attempt to win congressional support for a military strike against Syria. But an aide to Clinton said Tuesday that she supports the president’s effort in Congress to pursue a targeted response to the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

In 2004, the first presidential election since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Democratic primary voters rejected the anti-war candidate, Howard Dean, and nominated John Kerry, the decorated Vietnam War veteran who had backed the Iraq war. Kerry was perceived as the stronger candidate on national security against the incumbent president, but he stumbled in explaining his Iraq war votes, saying he voted for an $87 billion war supplemental “before I voted against it.” Bush prevailed in the election.

For Republicans, the debate over Syria foreshadows a fierce argument in the party over the role of U.S. foreign policy and military involvement after Iraq and Afghanistan. The divisions have been simmering for months.

Paul conducted a lengthy Senate filibuster in March to raise concerns over the president’s use of aerial drones to kill suspected terrorists, rallying libertarians within the party. Some establishment Republicans opposed the filibuster and pushed back against criticism of the National Security Agency’s collection of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records, saying it was needed to keep Americans safe.

In July, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the libertarian strain within the GOP a “very dangerous thought” more than a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks. Paul responded, saying Christie was worried about the “dangers of freedom” instead of being concerned about losing those freedoms.

As Obama has pushed for the U.S. to intervene in Syria, the GOP divisions have emerged.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has expressed skepticism about possible intervention, saying the administration has yet to make a forceful case that it would protect U.S. national security interests.

The Syria question is easier to avoid outside Washington.

Christie, asked about the Syrian conflict Tuesday, told reporters the “use of chemical weapons is something that just is intolerable for civilized society,” but he said he would “let the policymaking be done by the people who are getting the bulk of the briefing on this, which is our federal representatives.”
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

Rubio mum on immigration now

Sen. Marco Rubio: Immigration? What's that?
Sen. Marco Rubio: Immigration? What’s that?

On a recent swing through the most conservative parts of his state, Sen. Marco Rubio told a packed banquet hall at the St. Andrews Bay Yacht Club that major policy issues were threatening the American dream: onerous taxes, burdensome regulations — and, above all, President Barack Obama’s health care law.

But all Doc Washburn wanted to know about was immigration.

The local radio talk-show host asked the Republican senator why he had worked with Democrats on legislation that would give the estimated 11 million immigrants here illegally an eventual path to citizenship.

“We know you, and we’ve always loved you,” Washburn said, “and yet you’re pushing this and it’s a real problem for us.”

The exchange — and Rubio’s reluctance to raise the issue after spending months advocating for comprehensive immigration reform — underscore why the potential presidential candidate has undertaken a sort of image-rehabilitation tour, promoting his conservative bona fides to crowds in Florida’s most Republican bastions.

Once embraced by the tea party, Rubio’s name can now elicit boos and catcalls at rallies. And since he began championing immigration changes, his standing has slipped in some polls.

The senator acknowledges the fallout. He told Republicans in Panama City, “Politically, it has not been a pleasant experience, to say the least.” But his aides insist that his pivot to health care is driven by policy, not politics, that he’s simply giving the U.S. House its own space to tackle immigration.

On a six-city, three-day swing through North Florida last week, Rubio emphasized his opposition to funding the health care law and barely mentioned immigration, the issue most closely associated with him. In a 35-minute speech to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville, he devoted just one minute to the reform legislation he helped shepherd through the Senate. In private, he discussed the issue in a series of meetings with conservative activists upset by his advocacy. He also held a series of public roundtables with business leaders, redirecting attention to his campaign to cut off funding for Obama’s health care law.

As he told Washburn and the yacht club crowd: “If we’re not willing to draw a line in the sand on Obamacare, then what issue are we willing to draw a line in the sand on?”

The tour came as two of Rubio’s fellow senators — and potential presidential rivals — appear to be building strength with conservatives. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky also are pushing to defund the health care law, promoting their efforts among activists in states that will help decide the Republican nomination in 2016.

Political and budget analysts say the push to neuter “Obamacare” has little chance of success: Leading congressional Republicans have openly rejected the strategy, fearing a repeat of 1995, when the GOP forced a government shutdown over spending cuts and resuscitated President Bill Clinton’s political career. Moreover, most of the health care law’s funding is deemed mandatory, falling outside Congress’ annual spending legislation.

Nevertheless, three years after its passage, the health care law remains a potent political issue. Polls show a majority of Americans — and most Republicans — oppose the law.

That helps explain why Rubio drew big applause for his pledge to reject any budget that funds “Obamacare” as he traveled across the Florida Panhandle, a stretch of plantations, farms and beach towns dotted with anti-abortion billboards and homemade anti-Obama signs.

Republican opposition to the health care law was visceral.

“Nobody knows what’s in it,” said Gerry Maloney, a retired U.S. Air Force general in Jacksonville. “It’s just awful.”

Some who were angry with Rubio over immigration said they were heartened by his campaign against the health care law.

“He may win us back with that,” said Glen Leirer, a retired computer salesman in Panama City, “because that’s probably the worst thing.”

Indeed, Rubio has turned the issue into a conservative purity test. Before leaving Washington for the August recess, he chastised his fellow Republicans on the Senate floor. “Don’t come here and say, ‘I’m against Obamacare’ if you’re willing to vote for a budget that funds it,” he said. “If you pay for it, you own it.”

Rubio says his renewed drive against the health care law has been driven partly by the administration’s decisions to delay some key provisions, including a requirement for larger employers to offer health insurance to full-time employees. Those moves, he said, amount to an “admission this law is not ready for prime time.”

He also cites the concerns of labor unions, which have asked Congress to change a provision that they say gives employers an incentive to cut workers’ hours in order to avoid a health coverage requirement.

Freddie Wehbe, who employs 200 workers at Domino’s Pizza franchises in Gainesville, was among several local business owners who told Rubio that they’re waiting to hire workers or delaying expansion because of uncertainty about the law’s impact on their health insurance costs.

At each stop, Rubio found fervor generally reserved for election years. But, except for a brief mention in Jacksonville, he addressed immigration only when asked about it.

During an interview on a Tallahassee radio show, Rubio tried a new approach. He said that if Congress doesn’t pass a reform bill, Obama may be “tempted” to act on his own to legalize the millions of immigrants already here illegally.

“A year from now we could find ourselves with all 11 million people here legally under an executive order from the president, but no E-Verify, no more border security, no more border agents — none of the other reforms that we desperately need,” Rubio said, referring to an electronic system for employers to check their workers’ legal status.

The show’s host thanked Rubio for his response. But he said the listeners emailing him were not impressed.

___

Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mjmishak
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta

Mad as hell about NSA spying?

The government is watching us but who is watching them?
The government is watching us but who is watching them?

Charlotte Scot isn’t one to take things lying down — like the time President George W. Bush was re-elected and she moved to Canada in protest.

So when the 66-year-old artist from Old Lyme, Conn., heard that major telecommunications providers have been turning over data about every Americans’ phone calls to the government since 2006, Scot demanded that her own phone company tell her what, if anything, it had shared about her.

She soon received a non-response from an unnamed customer service representative informing her how to opt out of its marketing program, which only made Scot angrier.

“Dear Anonymous,” Scot fired back in an email, “I have always opted out of all advertising emails. … However, my question was not about advertising. It was about what information AT&T turns over to the federal government and NSA. I appreciate an answer to this question.”

AT&T eventually responded with a link to its privacy policy and a promise that, while it doesn’t comment on matters of national security, “we do comply with the law.”

Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about government invasion of privacy while investigating terrorism, and some ordinary citizens are finding ways to push back. They are signing online petitions and threatening lawsuits. Like Scot, some are pressing their providers to be upfront when data is shared with the government, which federal law allows as long as the person isn’t being investigated under an active court order.

The question is whether these anti-surveillance voters will be successful in creating a broader populist movement. Many lawmakers have defended the NSA surveillance program — a program Congress itself reviewed and approved in secret.

And unlike the anti-war effort that rallied Democrats during the Bush administration, and the tea party movement that galvanized conservatives in President Barack Obama’s first term, government surveillance opponents tend to straddle party lines. The cause appeals to libertarian Republicans who don’t like big government and progressive liberals like Scot who do but favor civil liberties. Together, these voters would have little in common otherwise.

Another complication is the potential of another terrorist attack. One spectacular act and public opinion could flip, much as it did after 9/11, back to favoring government surveillance. Politicians know this, with many of them opting to blast the Obama administration for not being more transparent but most opposing an end to broad surveillance powers.

“If in fact something happens, you’re basically putting yourself in a position to look like you didn’t do something when you should have. And that’s got to be in the back of their head,” said Ed Goeas, president of the Tarrance Group in Alexandria, Va., a Republican survey research and strategy company.

That leaves voter-activists like Scot with little to work with, even with midterm elections next year that expose one-third of the Senate and every member of the House.

“I don’t believe it’s going to be a driving issue” in the upcoming elections, Goeas added. “It’s got to be the total picture” on national security that appeals to voters.

At issue is whether the government overstepped its bounds when it began collecting and searching the phone and Internet records of Americans to gather information on suspected terrorists overseas. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released late last month found that Americans are divided over whether they support the surveillance programs revealed earlier this year, but most Americans — 57 percent — still say it’s more important for the government to investigate terrorism than to put privacy first.

Like their constituents, lawmakers too are divided. Last month, a House proposal that essentially would have made the NSA phone collection program illegal failed in a 217-205 vote that didn’t fall along party lines. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California were among the 217 who voted to spare the program.

In the Senate, a small group of lawmakers — namely Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. — is taking a stronger line in favor of civil liberties. But progress has been slow, with few co-sponsors joining their legislative proposals to limit NSA spying powers. Meanwhile, such influential senators as Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., have defended the program and said Edward Snowden, who leaked details of the NSA programs, is guilty of treason.

Doug Hattaway, a Washington-based Democratic strategist, said the reluctance by most lawmakers to take sides isn’t surprising, considering that most Americans say they want both security and privacy.

“I don’t see Democrats benefiting from joining forces with libertarians,” he said. “If voters are looking for balance, I wouldn’t hop on the bandwagon with Rand Paul.”

Another challenge for surveillance foes is that industry isn’t exactly fighting back. Technology and phone companies often say they are prohibited from divulging details about government surveillance requests, but that’s only partially true. Federal law prohibits alerting customers when they are surveillance subjects as long as a court order remains in effect. But not all gag orders last forever.

So when AT&T wouldn’t tell Scot whether her information had ever been shared with the government, chances are that’s because it didn’t want to — not because it couldn’t.

AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris declined to comment on Scot’s case in particular or matters of national security. “We value our customers’ privacy and work hard to protect it by ensuring compliance with the law in all respects,” he said.

Meanwhile, Scot says she can’t understand why other customers are not just as angry. She’s now looking to switch providers, and has downloaded a mobile application called Seecyrpt that offers encrypted phone calls for $3 a month. But she knows it’s unlikely that a majority of Americans will follow her lead.

“I’m just one of these people who gets riled about things,” she said. “People are like sheep.”

___

Follow Anne Flaherty on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnneKFlaherty
___

Copyright  © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Enhanced by Zemanta