FBI Chief, Apple Lawyer Take Encryption Fight to Capitol Hill – By Devlin Barrett and  Daisuke Wakabayashi Updated March 1, 2016 6:43 p.m. ET

FBI director James Comey tells House Judiciary Committee the agency made a mistake in early days of San Bernadino probe

FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. — PHOTO: JOSE LUIS MAGANA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on Tuesday conceded that a mistake was made in the early days of the investigation into the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorism attack, making it harder to get data from one of the shooters’ phones.

Mr. Comey said, however, that even without that error, the government would still need Apple Inc. ’s help to open the locked iPhone.

The FBI director’s discussion of the San Bernardino case came during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue of encryption—the subject of a major legal battle between the FBI and Apple about the company’s refusal to help investigators open a phone seized in the probe of the California shooting that left 14 dead in December.

The hearing created the unusual spectacle of Mr. Comey, one of the nation’s highest-ranking law-enforcement officers, squaring off against Bruce Sewell, the top lawyer for Apple, one of the world’s most visible technology companies. Mr. Comey testified first, followed by Mr. Sewell.

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Congress’s Summer Fling With Marijuana – By JAMES HIGDON July 30, 2015

How Congress turned on the DEA and embraced weed.

It’s not easy being the DEA these days. After an unprecedented losing streak on Capitol Hill, the once-untouchable Drug Enforcement Administration suffered last week what might be considered the ultimate indignity: A Senate panel, for the first time, voted in favor of legal, recreational marijuana.

Last Thursday, the Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 on an amendment to allow marijuana businesses access to federal banking services, a landmark shift that will help states like Colorado, where pot is legal, fully integrate marijuana into their economies. As significant as the vote was—according to drug policy reform advocates, it marked the first time that either house of Congress has voted to advance legislation concerning legal marijuana—it’s only the latest vote in a remarkable run of success marijuana advocates have had this year on Capitol Hill.

“The amendment was a necessary response to an absurd regulatory morass,” Montana Sen. Steve Daines, one of the three Republicans to support Thursday’s amendment, tells Politico, referring to the multifaceted and complex system of laws that have been enacted over the past four decades to prosecute a war on marijuana. It’s a war that began on or about May 26, 1971, when President Richard Nixon told his chief of staff Bob Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana …I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”

But that war appears to be winding down—potentially quickly. The summer of 2015 could be viewed historically as the tipping point against Nixon’s war on pot, the time when the DEA, a federal drug-fighting agency created by Nixon in 1973, found itself in unfamiliar territory as a target of congressional scrutiny, budget cuts and scorn. In a conference call this week, the new acting DEA administrator repeatedly downplayed marijuana enforcement efforts, saying that while he’s not exactly telling agents not to pursue marijuana cases, it’s generally not something anyone focuses on these days: “Typically it’s heroin, opioids, meth and cocaine in roughly that order and marijuana tends to come in at the back of the pack.”

What a difference a year makes.


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Pentagon chief to push U.S. allies to ditch ‘Cold War playbook – BY PHIL STEWART Sun Jun 21, 2015 7:04am EDT

 U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will urge NATO allies to “dispose of the Cold War playbook” during a trip to Europe this week, as the alliance adapts to a new kind of threat from Russia in the east and Islamic State to the south, U.S. officials said.
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It’s Not Your Imagination: Congress Really Is Working More – By Gabrielle Levy April 21, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EDT

Lawmakers are showing up to work more and doing more while they’re there, according to a new analysis.

This loving moment between Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md. was brought to you by bipartisanship, which has been on a comparative upswing lately on Capitol Hill.

This loving moment between Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md. was brought to you by bipartisanship, which has been on a comparative upswing lately on Capitol Hill.

Bipartisanship is breaking out on Capitol Hill, and it seems to be catching.

With the 114th Congress now settling into the new realities of the Republican majority, members are rediscovering what it’s like to work together across party lines toward concrete, achievable goals.

Last month’s breakthrough on a long-standing Medicare payment headachewas the most significant evidence yet that members of Congress had finally decided they’d had enough of the gridlock that has sent public disapproval soaring.

The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, R-Texas, acknowledged the sea change after a vote in the upper chamber last week, calling the moment “great.”

“There’s just a huge pent-up demand to actually get something done, on both sides,” he told reporters after the Medicare “doc fix” passed the Senate, following approval in the House last month.

Republicans and Democrats have similarly found common ground on other high-profile issues. After weeks of negotiations between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and newly elevated ranking member Ben Cardin, D-Md., the panel unanimously advanced a bill setting the parameters of congressional approval of a deal with Iran. A similar bipartisan spirit saw the Senate education committee approve an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act, offering a more permanent solution to the beleaguered 2002 law so universally disliked that 42 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have received waivers from some of its provisions.

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Republican Congress moves into deal-making mode – By Scott Wong – 04/18/15 06:00 AM EDT

What ever happened to the do-nothing Congress?

Capitol Hill has seen a burst of bipartisan deal-making and legislating in recent days as newly empowered Republicans try to show voters they can govern responsibly when they’re in charge.

After a bumpy start, GOP leaders seem to have found their footing — passing a historic $200 billion Medicare reform package, striking big, bipartisan deals on Iran, education and trade, and preparing to pass a GOP budget for the first time in a decade.

Now comes the hard part: keeping the momentum.

Deadlines to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank’s charter, raise the federal borrowing limit, renew the Patriot Act and replenish the highway fund are fast-approaching, and none of the issues will be simple to sort out.

For now, GOP leaders are in a hopeful mood.

“There will be places we’re able to [come together]. There will be places that will divide us as well. But that’s part of the process of governing. Ideas flow,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told The Hill in a brief interview.

“There’s been some ups and there’s been some downs, and there’s been some very big successes,” he added.

Republicans entered the year under enormous pressure to show they can govern. For the first time in nearly a decade, the party hascontrol of the House and Senate. That gives them more ownership over Washington, and the party is eager to convince voters that their party should be given the keys to the White House in 2016.

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Governors, senators set for 2016 GOP presidential primary brawl – By Peter Schroeder February 08, 2015, 06:00 am

The Republican presidential primary is shaping up to be a battle between the statehouse and the statesmen.

Current and former governors such as Jeb Bush (Fla.), Scott Walker (Wis.) and Chris Christie (N.J.) are touting their hands-on experience outside of Washington as a major asset against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.

But those eyeing the White House from Capitol Hill are punching back, dismissing the argument that being from outside D.C. is better.

“I’m always amused when it is treated as news that governors think that governors make better candidates,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told The Hill on Thursday.

“What America faces is not a management problem, it’s a leadership problem,” argued Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who recently threw his name into the mix as a presidential contender.

The notion that the executive experience governors get on the job is an asset in the White House is nothing new. But a crowded GOP field pulling talent from governors’ mansions and the halls of the Senate has jumpstarted that debate ahead of 2016.

With public approval of Washington policymakers cratering and legislative achievements on Capitol Hill hard to come by, governors see a solid opportunity to bolster their outsider bona fides and slam would-be competitors in the process.

Former Texas Gov. Ricky Perry has been aggressive in dismissing senatorial experience a White House selling point, saying earlier this month that “governors have to make choices…senators talk.”

Even governors who once rubbed shoulders as Washington lawmakers are quick to argue voters should look outside D.C. for presidential picks.

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Republicans eye obscure budget tool to repeal ObamaCare – By Scott Wong – 12/21/14 05:00 PM EST

Getty Images 

Republicans on and off Capitol Hill are rallying behind using a rarely-deployed budget tool next year to dismantle ObamaCare.

But the issue of how to use “budget reconciliation” has divided Republicans, with some calling for it to be implemented to overhaul the tax code or to push through major energy reforms.

The tool is useful because it could allownewly-empowered Senate Republicans to pass legislation with a 51-vote simple majority rather than the usual 60, greatly increasing the chances of moving legislation to President Obama’s desk.And while Obama is certain to veto anything that tries to roll back his landmark healthcare law, Republicans increasingly see reconciliation as an important messaging tool to help paint a contrast with Democrats on Obamacare ahead of 2016.

“My guidance is that’s where members are headed,” said one senior Senate Republican aide familiar with the behind-the-scenes budget discussions.

There already appears to be strong bipartisan support to undo smaller pieces of Obamacare — things like restoring the 40-hour workweek and repealing the medical device tax — so those provisions wouldn’t require the filibuster-proof budget tool.

While Democrats will certainly have more leverage if they retain the ability to use the Senate’s filibuster, Republicans think they can work across the aisle to enact legislation on taxes and energy.

If Republicans are serious about enacting tax reform next year, they should aim for 60 Senate votes, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office who leads the conservative think tank American Action Forum. Republicans will hold 54 seats come January, so they they’d need at least six Democratic votes.