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Thursday, June 27, 2013

 3:43 PM 

Baldwin, Johnson split as Senate passes immigration overhaul

Wisconsin's U.S. senators split on a broad immigration overhaul that passed the chamber 68-32 this afternoon.

Tammy Baldwin of Madison supported the bill, while Ron Johnson of Oshkosh voted in opposition. Fourteen Republicans voted with Senate Dems in support.

Johnson, in a statement after the vote, praised some provisions of the bill and said current immigration laws are not working, adding that he hopes to support reform "for people whose only crime was to enter the country illegally when they came here to work."

But he also criticized the bill's costs and entry-exit policies for immigrants, and cited a Congressional Budget Office projection that it would only reduce illegal immigration by 25 percent.

"My bottom line in deciding whether or not I support this bill has always been that it must solve the problem," Johnson said. "Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that it will not."

Baldwin said that while the bill isn't perfect, "it is important to stand on the side of solutions that have earned broad support across the nation and in the Senate from Democrats and Republicans."

"I believe immigration reform will boost our economy, strengthen businesses, bolster security at our borders, and keep more Wisconsin families together," Baldwin said in a statement. "The time is now for the House of Representatives to stop standing in the way of progress for our country and move the Senate reform plan forward."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

 11:47 AM 

Baldwin, Pocan hail Supreme Court decisions

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan -- both openly gay Madison Democrats -- praised today's rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, both involving gay marriage.

Baldwin, the nation's first openly gay senator, said the decisions -- one striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act; the other rejecting the appeal of a case involving California's gay marriage ban -- "reflect the progress we have all witnessed across our country."

"One thing is clear; people’s views on marriage equality are changing because they believe LGBT family members, friends, and neighbors deserve to be treated like everyone else in the United States," Baldwin said in a statement.

Pocan said in a statement that "we now have the public, the courts and the Constitution on our side."

"I am overjoyed that the Supreme Court has come down on the side of equality, justice and love by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act,” Pocan said. “No more will thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples see their marriage ignored by the federal government, leaving them without the protections opposite-sex married couples enjoy."

 8:55 AM 

Ribble, Baldwin differ on climate change effort

Two Wisconsin elected officials in Washington, D.C. took opposing views on President Obama's plan to fight climate change, while the state's big business lobby declared it would mean much higher electricity costs for Wisconsinites.

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, expressed disappointment, saying the Obama plan could have a devastating impact on the state's forestry and paper industries.

"Our country's energy sector is one of the few remaining areas where we have an international competitive advantage but the President's agenda could bring that to an end," Ribble said. "These new proposals could raise costs and jeopardize jobs, and I will work to make sure the government doesn't irreparably harm Wisconsin's manufacturing sector."

But U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, tweeted her excitement on tackling the issue. She was recently appointed to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"Time to #ActOnClimate so we leave this country in a better place for next gen. Excited to be on @SenateEnergy to tackle this impt issue," she tweeted.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

 9:06 AM 

Wis. senators split on immigration vote

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson split on a test vote for the so-called "border surge" deal to the immigration bill.

But observers say enough Republicans voted with Dems to signal the overall bill is likely to pass the Senate later this week.

Baldwin, D-Madison, supported the cloture vote on the amendment from GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, while Johnson, R-Oshkosh opposed it.

The Senate voted 67-27 to move forward on the amendment.

Monday, June 24, 2013

 9:26 AM 

Sensenbrenner: PATRIOT Act needs changes after NSA revelations

The PATRIOT Act's principal author, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, said on Sunday's "UpFront with Mike Gousha" that the law needs to be amended after revelations about broad-ranging NSA domestic data collection.

While he said Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked the information, should be extradited and tried for revealing the classified information, he agreed Snowden did the public a favor by revealing the wide scope of the data sweeps.

"I think he did the American public a favor by showing that," the Menomonee Falls Republican said on the program, produced with WisPolitics.com. "This certainly was not what was contemplated when the PATRIOT Act was passed. I was the principal author of the PATRIOT Act, and I know that everybody who supported it made a conscious effort to balance national security needs with civil liberties requirements that make America different than practically any other country."

He said the law's business records provision used by the data collection program was intended only to be use used to get records of foreigners targeted by an authorized terror investigation -- not against U.S. citizens or legal residents.

The uproar President Obama has faced over the issue, Sensenbrenner said, "is a self-inflicted wound because he went beyond the PATRIOT Act."

See more from Sensenbrenner's interview here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

 1:55 PM 

Baldwin appointed to energy committee

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin today announced her appointment to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Baldwin, D-Madison, served on the House's energy committee from 2005 until taking office in the Senate this year. She said the appointment would enable her to focus on both conservation and sustainable economic development, while giving Wisconsin a voice in the nation's response to climate change.

“This opportunity will allow me to support Wisconsin’s leadership in the areas of bioenergy, energy efficiency and advanced battery production," Baldwin said in a statement. "We have a lot of great Made in Wisconsin stories to tell that can serve as models for the rest of the country as we work together to build the next generation of energy innovation and promote American energy independence."

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Baldwin has "a long history of fresh thinking, and her energy and creative ideas will be a welcome addition to our committee."

Baldwin had been mentioned for a possible slot on the Senate Appropriations Committee following the death of New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, but that spot went to Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

 2:48 PM 

Ryan, Sensenbrenner join Dems to oppose farm bill

U.S. Reps. Paul Ryan of Janesville and Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls were among 62 Republicans to oppose the farm bill as the House defeated the measure this afternoon.

The bill failed 195-234; the state's remaining Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while the delegation's Dems voted against it.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said the bill failed to include reforms necessary to make it "more fiscally responsible and more responsive to the needs of family farmers."

"I was optimistic that this Congress, filled with members who like to talk about fiscal responsibility and reform, would be able to produce a bill that delivers real reform for taxpayers and farmers alike," Kind said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the final bill wasn’t nearly strong enough for me to support."

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, meanwhile, marked his completion of the "SNAP Challenge" -- in which he lived for a week on a food stamp budget of $4.50 of food per day -- with a vote to bolster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding in the farm bill.

"The dangerous cuts proposed by my colleagues across the aisle will have deep, devastating consequences for the neediest Americans if they become law," the Madison Dem said in a statement.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

 12:02 PM 

Reports: Feingold to be named special envoy to Africa

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold has been tapped by Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as the department's special envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region, according to numerous national reports.

Feingold, who chaired the Senate's African Affairs subcommittee before losing his seat to Oshkosh Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, is set to be officially named Tuesday, according to reports.

The central African post would particularly focus on unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

UPDATE -- 2:19 p.m.: Kerry, in brief remarks announcing the Feingold selection, said that, "In the Senate, when Russ Feingold addressed the issues of Africa, the Senate listened." 

"Russ will be coordinating with me and with the Bureau of African Affairs to shape our strategy on the many challenges in the region – cross-border security; political, economic, and social assistance issues; and many other issues," Kerry said.

Monday, June 17, 2013

 5:29 PM 

In light of NSA controversy, Johnson says threat of terrorism requires balance

In light of the revelations about the National Security Agency collecting information about Americans’ communications, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson stressed in an interview on “For the Record” that there is a constant balancing act between security and liberty.

"I take a backseat to no one in defense of civil liberties or economic liberties,” Johnson told host Neil Heinen. “But I also understand that one of the first duties of government is keeping our nation secure, keeping Americans secure, and it’s unfortunate that we are under a threat of global terrorism. It’s a very serious threat.”

To underscore the threat, Johnson, R-Oshkosh, noted that President Barack Obama as a senator was opposed to the types of tools he is now using. He said Obama’s change of heart likely came when he learned more about the nature of the threat after he was elected.

Johnson said that the activities revealed will be subject to “robust oversight” over the next several weeks. He noted there is currently oversight at several levels.

Also in the interview, Johnson discussed intervention in Syria, the political climate in Washington, global warming and his support for a measure to have allegations of sexual assault in the military handled by civilian courts.

He also reflected on his dinner in March with Obama, which he said has led to an ongoing effort to arrive at an agreed-upon definition of the scope of problems in Medicare as a first step toward reaching solutions.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

 10:04 AM 

Johnson, Ryan to address conservative conference in DC

The Faith & Freedom Coalition’s "Road to Majority" conference kicks off later today in Washington, and two Wisconsin lawmakers are among the GOP dignitaries and potential presidential hopefuls set to address the event.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, will speak later today, while Friday's agenda includes U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville.

Other speakers include U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and former Govs. Jeb Bush of Florida and Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

 9:16 AM 

Baldwin, Johnson back immigration vote

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson both voted to move forward with an immigration bill in the Senate on Tuesday.

The chamber voted 84-15 to begin debate on the measure.

But Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said he wants tougher border security measures and “reliable triggers that would then initiate a path to legal residence.”

“I want to get to a bill that I can support, but I will not support weak border security legislation that guarantees that millions of new illegal immigrants come across our borders in the next few years,” he said.

Baldwin, D-Madison, tweeted about the vote, “I’m ready for this important reform to move forward. Let’s fix our broken system.”

Monday, June 10, 2013

 2:30 PM 

Baldwin at DPW convention: 'We won,' get to work with us

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has done her own postmortem on the 2012 elections.

"We won, get over it and get to work," the Madison Dem said during her address to delegates at the 2013 state Democratic convention on Friday. "And get to work with us to help strengthen and grow the middle class."

Baldwin said last fall's election was supposed to settle issues like tax fairness, Social Security and deficit reduction. Yet for all the GOP talk of the election being a definitive answer on those issues, the country instead is stuck with Washington Republicans intent on continuing to cling to their past stances.

She mocked national GOP efforts to re-brand the party like re-packaging a soft drink. She said Gov. Scott Walker cares more about "embracing the Tea Party caucus-goers in Iowa than he does moving our economy forward and the hardworking people of our state."

"Maybe if they spent more time learning the history of our state instead of spending their time tearing down the teachers who teach that history, they would understand what all of us know," Baldwin said.

See more coverage of the convention, including addresses by the state's Dem members of Congress and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, at the WisPolitics Dem Convention Blog.

 2:15 PM 

D.C. event: Energy driving foreign policy from Africa to Arctic

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A former ambassador to Tanzania praised the goals behind a coming Obama administration energy initiative in Africa while another former ambassador warned of possible competition between China, Russia and other nations over a new Arctic sea lane opened by climate change.

Former ambassadors Mark Green and Tom Loftus appeared at a WisPolitics.com/WisBusiness.com event Wednesday night at George Washington University to discuss the role of energy in U.S. foreign policy. Both are former state Assemblymen and candidates for governor; Green, a Republican, served under George W. Bush, while Loftus, a Democrat, served under Bill Clinton. They were joined by retired Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the United Kingdom's climate and energy security envoy.

Loftus said the United States is behind in grasping the importance of what he called "a new silk road" between Europe and Asia that cuts up to 40 percent off the time it takes for ships to travel to Asia via the Suez Canal. Russia is claiming control of the northern route, which could have a shipping season akin to the Great Lakes with the help of a modern icebreaking fleet. The U.S., meanwhile, is short on icebreakers but long on distraction.

"We are stuck in the camel caravan countries, and that's a problem," said Loftus. " We need to catch up." He urged a stronger U.S. naval presence in pushing for the northern route to be international waters along with recruiting help from Norway. "(Norwegians) will not be distracted," he said. "We are easily distracted. We are sort of sequestered in place."

Green, president and CEO of the Initiative for Global Development in Washington, said President Obama will be traveling this summer to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa to unveil a new energy initiative that will focus, in part, on the private sector. Green said energy is key to Africa's development and health, adding while he'll reserve final judgment on the Obama initiative until he sees the details he likes the goals and overall purpose.

"I think it's hard for Americans to appreciate how great the energy deficit is throughout the continent," he said. "In Tanzania, where I served, only 14 percent of citizens have access to electricity. In Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, it is one out of every five."

Without reliable energy, he said it's impossible for these countries to rise economically, even though many are blessed with abundant raw materials.

"Development isn't just about having raw materials," he said. "It's also about being able to process them, manufacture and add value in the process. But how do you do that without a reliable, dependable electric grid?

"On top of that, how do you have access to what's happening around the world in this Internet economy if you don't have reliable electricity?

"And third, the lack of reliable electricity makes the rest of our programs in Africa far less effective. The largest part of our foreign assistant is in global health" dealing with problems like malaria and AIDS, he said. "But it's very hard to get over the finish line if you don't have refrigeration."

The former Green Bay-area congressman also said protecting the continent's environment depends on developing new energy technologies. That's because now many Africans cook over open fires, which is inefficient, highly polluting and leads to dangerous deforestation.

Green said one of the most important reasons for the Obama reason to take this up is American companies "know how to do this. We have in the private sector a number of businesses that are very good at building energy capacity. This is something that we can add and make a difference."

Morisetti said Britain, which is now an exporter of energy because of North Sea resources, will become a net importer by 2020.

"Energy and foreign policy will be linked forever," he said. "The sea routes need to be protected… but we will need a new model."

He agreed with Loftus that Russian control over the northern route through the Arctic may become a "flash point."

Loftus said the Russian port of Murmansk is developing rapidly. He also noted that China's government and business community have made stronger ties to Iceland -- with the intention of making sure its energy supply lines are protected.

The conversation also briefly touched on growing oil and gas production in the United States, which some experts have said could lead to U.S. energy independence by 2030 and negate the need for this country to rely on volatile Middle Eastern countries for oil.

But Loftus said the United States, as the globe's major power, has diplomatic agreements that require it to guarantee other countries' access to oil. Potential U.S. energy independence wouldn't change those commitments, he said.

-- By Brian E. Clark
For WisPolitics.com

Friday, June 7, 2013

 12:10 PM 

Feingold: Phone records report 'deeply troubling'

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold -- the lone vote in the Senate against the Patriot Act in 2001 -- says he hopes reports of its use in the collection of millions of phone records "will renew a serious conversation about how to protect the country while ensuring that the rights of law-abiding Americans are not violated."

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Feingold said he originally opposed the bill "because much of it was simply an FBI wish list that included provisions allowing our government to go on fishing expeditions that collect information on virtually anyone."

"Today's report indicates that the government could be using FISA in an indiscriminate way that does not balance our legitimate concerns of national security with the necessity to preserve our fundamental civil rights," Feingold writes. "This is deeply troubling."

 10:12 AM 

Baldwin could be in line for Appropriations Committee

Some Wisconsin Democrats in D.C. see freshman U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin as a top candidate to take an open seat on the Appropriations Committee.

Wisconsin's other senator, Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, previously served on the powerful committee but earlier this year moved to the Foreign Relations committee.

A committee spot is opening up because of the death of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., earlier this week.

Dem sources say U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. and the chair of the committee, knows and likes Baldwin, which could improve her chances.

One Capitol Hill insider tells WisPolitics.com it's no secret to leadership that Baldwin would like to serve on the committee. The Dem insider said "given the fact that Johnson didn't do anything and was taken off, it would be good news for Wisconsin." Johnson, who has adopted the deficit as perhaps his biggest issue, said in an interview earlier this year that he voluntarily left appropriations because he got tired of being one of the only members routinely opposing spending bills.

Baldwin boosters also see value in the Madison Dem giving the committee a progressive Midwestern voice and carrying the banner for investing in science, research and innovation, as well as rebuilding the manufacturing economy and helping agriculture.

"There is now an opening, and given the fact she reps a Midwest state with ag interests (where there's) a real need for fed investments in an economy that isn't growing at same pace as rest of the nation, there is a strong case for her," said one booster. "It's also good politics for Dems as she can use the position to provide a strong contrast to the austerity politics of (Paul) Ryan, Johnson and (Scott) Walker."

Her supporters caution that others will also compete for the Appropriations position.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

 11:36 AM 

Sensenbrenner: Collecting phone records abuses Patriot Act

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls and the author of the Patriot Act, said today that the federal government's collection of millions of phone records as part of counter-terrorism efforts violates the controversial 2001 law, calling the effort "excessive and un-American."

"While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses," Sensenbrenner said in a statement. "The (FBI's) broad application for phone records was made under the so-called business records provision of the Act. I do not believe the broadly drafted FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act."

News reports this week disclosed a secret court order to collect millions of Verizon phone records. The White House, the Justice Department and bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee have defended the order, saying the practice has been ongoing for years and that Congress has been fully briefed on the matter.

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