Weekly Address: President Obama – Pass the USA Freedom Act

The President’s Weekly Address post is also an Open News Thread. Feel free to share other news stories in the comments.

From the White HouseWeekly Address

In this week’s address, the President addressed critical pieces of national security business that remained unfinished when the Senate left town. This Sunday at midnight, key tools used to protect against terrorist threats are set to expire. The USA Freedom Act strikes a balance between security and privacy, reauthorizing important measures that give our national security professionals the authorities they use to keep us safe, while also implementing reforms that enhance the privacy and civil liberties of our citizens. But currently, a small group of senators is standing in its way.

The President asked Americans to speak with one voice to the Senate to put politics aside, put the safety of the American people first, and pass the USA Freedom Act now.

Transcript: Weekly Address: Pass the USA Freedom Act

Hi, everybody. As President and Commander in Chief, my greatest responsibility is the safety of the American people. And in our fight against terrorists, we need to use every effective tool at our disposal — both to defend our security and to protect the freedoms and civil liberties enshrined in our Constitution.

But tomorrow — Sunday, at midnight — some important tools we use against terrorists will expire. That’s because Congress has not renewed them, and because legislation that would — the USA Freedom Act — is stuck in the Senate. I want to be very clear about what this means.

Today, when investigating terrorist networks, our national security professionals can seek a court order to obtain certain business records. Our law enforcement professionals can seek a roving wiretap to keep up with terrorists when they switch cell phones. We can seek a wiretap on so-called lone wolves — suspected terrorists who may not be directly tied to a terrorist group. These tools are not controversial. Since 9/11, they have been renewed numerous times. FBI Director James Comey says they are “essential” and that losing them would “severely” impact terrorism investigations. But if Congress doesn’t act by tomorrow at midnight, these tools go away as well.

The USA Freedom Act also accomplishes something I called for a year and a half ago: it ends the bulk metadata program — the bulk collection of phone records — as it currently exists and puts in place new reforms. The government will no longer hold these records; telephone providers will. The Act also includes other changes to our surveillance laws — including more transparency — to help build confidence among the American people that your privacy and civil liberties are being protected. But if Congress doesn’t act by midnight tomorrow, these reforms will be in jeopardy, too.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The USA Freedom Act reflects ideas from privacy advocates, our private sector partners and our national security experts. It already passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support — Republicans and Democrats. A majority of the Senate — Republicans and Democrats — have voted to move it forward.

So what’s the problem? A small group of senators is standing in the way. And, unfortunately, some folks are trying to use this debate to score political points. But this shouldn’t and can’t be about politics. This is a matter of national security. Terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL aren’t suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight tomorrow. And we shouldn’t surrender the tools that help keep us safe. It would be irresponsible. It would be reckless. And we shouldn’t allow it to happen.

So today, I’m calling on Americans to join me in speaking with one voice to the Senate. Put the politics aside. Put our national security first. Pass the USA Freedom Act — now. And let’s protect the security and civil liberties of every American. Thanks very much.

Bolding added.

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  6 comments for “Weekly Address: President Obama – Pass the USA Freedom Act

  1. JanF
    May 30, 2015 at 7:16 am

    The president spoke at a private residence in Miami for a DNC event and had this to say about Congress and our ability to bend it to our will:

    … we’ve done great work, but we have so much more that we could be doing. And the reason it’s not getting done is not because we don’t know what to do; it’s because we’re stuck in Congress on so many of these issues.

    And as I made very clear my determination — talked to my staff about several years ago, after it became apparent there were some things that Congress was having trouble getting done, we’re not waiting for Congress. We’re moving forward on everything from precision medicine to rationalizing where we can our immigration system.

    But ultimately, the great genius of this democracy is that the most important office is the office of citizen. We’ve got to get people involved so that Congress ultimately responds to an electorate that is expressing our highest and best values around issues like climate change, and issues like education, and issues like opportunity and poverty. […]

    … ultimately, an eight-year span in the life of a country is pretty short. We can get a lot done, but part of what we’re also doing is laying the foundation so that we then pass that baton to the next administration and we institutionalize some of the progress that we’ve been making.

  2. JanF
    May 30, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Good riddance: Federal judge arrested for battery to resign from bench

    U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller announced Friday he will resign Aug. 1, almost one year since he was arrested and charged with battery of his wife.

    By resigning, Fuller, 56, gives up what had been a lifetime appointment. The departure creates another vacancy on the federal bench in Alabama, which is already depleted.[…]

    He was arrested Aug. 10 after his then-wife called 911 during a fight at an Atlanta hotel. She had cuts to her mouth and forehead and told police Fuller had thrown her to the ground, pulled her hair and kicked her after she confronted him over an alleged affair with a law clerk, according to a police report.

    Fuller completed a pretrial diversion program involving counseling for domestic violence, and the misdemeanor battery charge was dropped in April. […]

    Fuller was appointed to Alabama’s Middle District in 2002 by then-President George W. Bush. Alabama GOP Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, who voted to confirm Fuller, were among those calling for his resignation last year.

    Many members of Congress said federal judges should be held to a higher standard of conduct that Fuller hadn’t met. They also expressed concern that Fuller’s case damaged the integrity of the judicial system and that he had violated the public’s trust in that system.

    I am not sure that the public has much trust in a system that elevated torture apologist Jay Bybee to the federal bench but it is a step in the right direction that wife batterers should not be sitting in judgement over other criminals.

  3. JanF
    May 30, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Under the “stopped clock” theory of accidentally being right, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) vetoed the “Right to Discriminate” law passed by his legislature:

    The legislation (SB 2), which passed in the House on Thursday having previously passed in the Senate back in February, would have allowed state magistrates to opt out of conducting marriage ceremonies based on a sincerely held religious objection. Though the bill does not specifically reference same-sex marriage, its purpose was to allow officials to retain their jobs without officiating for same-sex couples.

    McCrory explained in a statement that allowing officials to pick and choose how they perform their sworn duties is not good law: “Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath; therefore, I will veto Senate Bill 2.”

    I am hoping that it is a new found sense that wasting money defending indefensible laws is going to further fray the Fiscal Conservative mantle these tea party governors are sporting. In Wisconsin, we have not evolved to that point yet. Here, “we” will be defending the 20 week abortion ban, the pee in a cup to get unemployment payments law, and the voter access laws. Plus “we” joined lawsuits against the EPA coal plant rules and the president’s executive order on DAPA and expanded DACA. Money wasted to simply make life more miserable for ordinary people.

  4. JanF
    May 30, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Hating the poors — not so good for business:

    In Texas, about 1 in 4 people is uninsured. By federal law, the county hospital’s emergency room cannot turn sick patients away, no matter their ability to pay, so Parkland opens its arms.

    Last year it cost Parkland Hospital three quarters of a billion dollars to provide what is called “uncompensated care” — mostly treating patients without health insurance. Parkland is hardly some 90-pound weakling, but $765 million of red ink will strain any hospital. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who oversees the county hospital, says it doesn’t have to be this way.

    “A huge chunk of that could be paid for,” Jenkins says. “It’s about $580 million a year that would be brought in by the Medicaid expansion monies.”

    Maybe the business community could put some pressure on their party’s governor and legislature to not only do the decent thing but the smart thing.

  5. JanF
    May 30, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Here is more on the players in the USA Freedom Act congressional dispute:

    Two of the NSA program’s strongest opponents, Paul and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have not ruled out using their privileges to block the House bill or any extension of current law. Paul and Wyden are also working together on a number of amendments to the legislation. […]

    Beyond Paul and Wyden, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., have been key players leading up to the impasse. McConnell and Burr both strongly oppose the House bill and want to see the program remain intact even though it’s been ruled illegal. Both senators argue that any weakening of current surveillance capabilities is ill-advised as the U.S. steps up efforts to combat the rise of the Islamic State and other terrorist threats. McConnell ran down the clock before the break in an effort to get senators on board for a short-term extension of current law, but it didn’t work. If the Senate is able to advance the House bill, it will likely be over McConnell’s opposition.

    The Senate will convene at 4pm on Sunday leaving themselves 8 hours to come up with a solution. There will be no time for a new bill to get back to the House and have it approved before the deadline so the likely scenario is that either the USA Freedom Act will pass or that the PATRIOT Act will expire.

  6. Portlaw
    May 30, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Nice series of summaries. Thanks.

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