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Biden was given classified briefings as a candidate but those stopped once he became president-elect, and his status as a former vice president and former senator does not afford him access now.

The result is an awkward gap between what Biden and Harris know about the biggest national security threats facing the country, which the Biden White House will need to be prepared to respond to on Day One of the new administration. Harris is also legally prohibited from disclosing any classified information to Biden, leading to situations where she may have to censor herself when discussing sensitive foreign policy and national security issues around the president-elect.

In the unlikely scenario that Harris accidentally revealed something classified that she’d learned as part of a committee briefing, mishandling of classified information is technically punishable under the Espionage Act.

“Until Biden is inaugurated, he has no constitutional right to classified information and none of his conversations with Harris can venture into classified issues until they both finally start receiving classified briefings as part of the transition,” said national security lawyer Brad Moss. “There has never been an Espionage Act case against a sitting Member of Congress but no one wants to poke the 400-pound bear on this one and risk it either.”

A transition official emphasized to POLITICO on Thursday that Harris’s work on the Intelligence Committee “is entirely separate from her role as the Vice President-Elect. There is no co-mingling of those roles and responsibilities whatsoever.” The official noted that Harris, like Biden, “does not have access to the [President’s Daily Brief] or other information to which she is entitled as Vice President-elect because of the GSA’s failure to ascertain the results of the election.”

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The official added that the information Harris receives by virtue of her membership on the Senate Intelligence Committee “is not the same information” as what is in the PDB — a detailed and highly classified document, compiled each morning for the president, vice president, and their senior advisers by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, that outlines key national security threats and global hot spots.

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But Priess, who prepared the PDB for past presidents, noted that the top-line analytic judgments that make it into the document “would not be substantially different” from what is briefed to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The committee members typically see analysis “that is consistent with what is in the PDB,” Priess said. So while Harris cannot currently see that document, “she should be seeing the best judgments of the intelligence community and its respective agencies on most, if not all, of the same issues that appear in the PDB.” And she will be “certainly a lot better informed” on the most pressing issues than past vice presidents have been upon entering the White House, Priess said.

Still, the transition official indicated that Harris’ access to the latest intelligence as a member of SSCI, which is walled off from her work as vice president-elect, makes it no less urgent that Biden begin receiving full intelligence briefings and threat assessments.

“The 9/11 Commission Report found that the delayed 2000 transition significantly hampered the incoming administration’s ability to fill key appointments, including national security personnel, and left the country less prepared for a crisis. That’s why in the elections since, the transition process has begun almost immediately,” the official said. “It could also pose significant challenges to getting President-elect Biden’s team in place given the role of FBI background checks and security clearances for potential nominees and incoming national security officials.”


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CPAC designed as a Trump coronation, former head of American Conservative Union says

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The former head of the organization that oversees CPAC on Sunday called this year’s ongoing event a coronation of Donald Trump.

Calling him “the great whiner.” Al Cardenas said on MSNBC of Trump: “He’s going to continue to make sure people understand that he is the de facto leader of the Republican Party, and those that don’t follow his path will have to pay for it.”

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Cardenas was the head of the American Conservative Union from 2011 to 2014. The organization runs the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which began in 1974 with Ronald Reagan as its first keynote speaker. Cardenas was succeeded by Matt Schlapp, who remains the organization’s president.


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Biden brings back bipartisan meetings at the White House

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President Biden has brought back bipartisan meetings at the White House that diminished under his predecessor, trying to find common ground with Republicans even as they remain far apart on issues related to the next round of coronavirus relief.

Biden’s first meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office was with Republican senators on the coronavirus proposal and he has since met with bipartisan members of Congress on infrastructure and, later, supply chain issues. Biden’s outreach to Republicans has also extended beyond Capitol Hill to governors and local leaders as his administration grapples with the coronavirus and recent winter storms in southern states.

The meetings are another example of a return to more traditional governing under Biden and he is expected to make them a regular occurrence.

White House spokesman Michael Gwin said that the president is “glad to welcome lawmakers from both parties to the White House to work towards finding common ground on the challenges we face, and he’ll continue to do so throughout his time in office.”

“Biden’s brand is bringing people together, so it’s always helpful for him to remind voters that he’s trying to unite,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “For now, it helps him stay above the fray.”

While Biden is making an effort to reach across the aisle, the real test will be whether that engagement yields any results. Discussions with Republicans on COVID-19 relief have brought both sides no closer to a compromise. Democrats have pushed ahead to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal using budget reconciliation, creating tensions with Republicans.

“There are clearly issues where there is bipartisan consensus, but it requires presidential leadership and political capital to prevent the far left or far right from stopping it,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former spokesman in George W. Bush’s White House.

Biden’s effort to work across the aisle is reflective of his campaign trail pledge to be a unifier and a “president for all Americans.”

“He’s said he wants Republicans at the table from the very beginning,” said one longtime Biden adviser. “You can’t campaign on that for a year and a half and then not do it.”

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The adviser said Biden’s aim has always been to tone down the rhetoric and “break the fever.”

“Making them the opposition and not the enemy, that’s part of the deal,” the adviser said. “Part of the goal is normalizing talking to them. That is also a message that he’s sending not just to Republicans, but to Democrats, as well.

“He’s not under the illusion that we’ll get 67 votes, but this is how policymaking works,” the adviser continued, adding that Biden is a “creature of the Senate.”

Biden has forecast plans to pass a recovery and infrastructure package and Democrats have also introduced an immigration proposal on Capitol Hill, presenting his next tests to work with Republicans. Biden would need Republicans to join Democrats in order to pass an immigration overhaul.

In addition to Biden’s contacts, the White House says officials remain in constant contact with Republican offices on Capitol Hill and in the states.

Biden’s first meeting with GOP senators on Feb. 1 was cordial, according to participants, but Biden has remained committed to his $1.9 trillion relief proposal, which Republicans view as too expensive.

Biden’s outreach continued as he met with a bipartisan group of senators on Feb. 11 about infrastructure and, this week, with 11 lawmakers, including six Republicans, about addressing vulnerabilities in supply chains. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.), who met with Biden on a trip to storm-stricken Texas on Friday, described the meeting as “very positive.”

“The political process has its ups and downs, and I’m hoping that this is an opportunity for us to do something truly important in a bipartisan way,” said Cornyn. “So far, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is being passed strictly along party lines. I think that’s unfortunate.”
(Hill)

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Trump’s baseless election claims march GOP into ‘policy wasteland’

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In Georgia, where Democrats not only beat Trump in November but flipped the U.S. Senate in the runoff elections, the Republican-controlled state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill requiring an ID when requesting an absentee ballot. The following day, it was a bonanza across the country. The Iowa House passed a bill designed to limit early voting. In Missouri, the Republican-controlled House passed legislation that would require a photo ID at the polls, while a legislative committee in Wyoming moved forward with a similar bill.

The Brennan Center for Justice is tracking more than 250 bills to restrict voting by lawmakers in 43 states.

Benjamin Ginsberg, an elections lawyer who has represented past Republican presidential nominees, lamented the death of the “ideas factory” in the GOP.

“Tell me what the innovative Republican policies have been of late?” he said. The focus on re-litigating the last election is “probably a sign that the Republican Party is mired in a bit of a policy wasteland and doesn’t know which way to turn to get out.”

Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, said “all Americans should be concerned about election integrity.” But with no evidence of widespread fraud beyond normal irregularities, he said, the focus by some in the GOP on the last election is a “big distraction” from issues that are more pressing to the electorate.

“I think it’s a big distraction,” Gonzales said. “And I worry that it will continue to be a big distraction as long as a certain individual makes statements that it was stolen.”

There is nothing to suggest that Trump, who will speak at the convention on Sunday, is letting go — or that the party’s rank- and-file is prepared to pivot away from his claims that the election was stolen from him, despite more than 60 losses in election lawsuits

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challenging the presidential election.

It hasn’t always been this way in the Republican Party. Last year, CPAC’s theme was “America vs. socialism.” The year before that, there were no fewer than three panels focusing on the challenges posed by a rising China. This year, CPAC did not go off without an airing of the party’s greatest hits: trade, China, immigration and abortion. And there were shoutouts for Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. But the fallout from November was the main fixture — in the Republicans’ frustration at de-platforming and the seven-part exploration of “protecting elections.”

In part, the party’s lack of a more forward-looking posture is a function of its sudden dearth of power in Washington. The GOP is settling in as an opposition party — with conservatives constituting what Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas described at CPAC as “the Rebel Alliance.” But there is little room for innovative, policy-focused conservative thought in a party so in thrall to one leader — a leader obsessed with the notion that he lost in a rigged election.

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Ken Khachigian, a former aide to Richard Nixon and chief speechwriter for Reagan, said the Republican Party today doesn’t have “a singular voice like they had with Reagan, for example, or Bill Buckley, the movement conservatives who could get up on a stage and move everyone the way Jack Kemp did back in the day.”

“There’s always hope,” Khachigian said, suggesting that “when you have nitwits like AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] on the other side, it’s not hard to come up with somebody.”

But the backward-looking focus on November and its fallout, he said, is “shooting blanks.”

It may come at a cost. As the Republican Party prepares for the midterm elections and the next presidential primary, it’s doing so as a shell of itself, having lost the White House and both houses of Congress in the span of four years. The last time it carried the popular vote in a presidential election was 2004, and America’s shifting demographics are making it increasingly unlikely that it will do so in 2024 — regardless of attempts to raise barriers to voting.

“It is a party that has been fashioned in the mold of Trump — Trump’s message, Trump’s tactics — and it is perfectly comfortable being a party that is defined by what it’s against,” said Kevin Madden, a former Mitt Romney adviser.

The difficulty for the party, Madden said, is “you become almost toxic as a party brand to larger, growing parts of the electorate. … The limitation of a message and a platform that’s just about disagreeing with the opposition is that it doesn’t speak to the broader concerns or anxieties of a big part of the electorate.”

It’s possible that the party’s fixation on election fraud and on the perceived silencing of those who tried to overturn the outcome will fade. Trump’s effort to contest the election postponed the traditional, post-election period of mourning for the losing party. And because a majority of Republicans still approve of Trump and believe the election wasn’t free or fair, there is a political imperative for the party to mollify them.

Sal Russo, a former Reagan aide and Tea Party Express co-founder, said that “sometimes you’ve got to give some deference to where your base wants to go. … Do I think the Republicans have to get over the election process issues? Yes, because you don’t win on ‘we’re going to tighten up absentee ballot eligibility.’ It doesn’t turn out to vote.”

“I think there’s a catharsis that has to happen,” he said, adding that “it’s probably a good thing that CPAC is spending a lot of time” on the subject.


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