Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, revealed that before signing the bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress earlier this year that repealed a Patriot Act provision to appoint interim U.S. attorneys without Senate approval, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was able to install George Cardona in the Central District of California. The bill, the Preserving United States Attorney Independence Act of 2007, had been on the president’s desk since June 4th but was not signed by him until yesterday.
On Wednesday, the House passed by voice vote a NRA-approved gun bill in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. The measure would make more electronic data available to states for checking the criminal and mental health records of people who want to purchase guns. It would authorize new funding to help states enter felony convictions, mental disability and domestic violence records into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Gun dealers use NICS, created by a 1993 law, to check whether a person qualifies to buy a firearm. CQ warns the bill may not pass the Senate as easily, but most think it will ultimately be passed and signed by President Bush.
In another round of votes on the Iraq war before the July Fourth recess, the Senate will cast separate votes on whether to cut off funding for the war after March 31st of next year, order troop withdrawals within four months, impose stricter standards on the length of combat tours, and rescind congressional authorization for the Iraqi invasion. The House will consider similar proposals later on.
The measures will be offered as amendments to the 2008 defense authorization bill, but will probably fall short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and pass. However, this is seen as part of a strategy by Democrats to keep pressure on Republicans over the war.
Democrats were forced to set aside — at last until next week — their renewable fuels proposal after it became clear they lacked the 60 votes to proceed.
The bill, which will be combined with other energy legislation in the House, would require power companies to increase use of wind turbines, solar panels, biomass, geothermal energy or other renewable sources to produce at least 15 percent of their electricity by 2020. Only about 2.4 percent of the country's electricity is produced that way now. But the Senate reached an impasse when it rejected a GOP alternative that would have allowed utilities to meet the requirement by also building more nuclear power plants and taking conservation measures.
Republicans balked and refused to allow a vote on the bill. Now it's uncertain if it will get final approval before the Fourth of July recess.
Finally, Senate leaders announced a deal last night to bring back a comprehensive immigration reform bill either late next week or the week after for more floor debate. The measure had been pulled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week after the Senate failed to invoke cloture, mainly because of Republican opposition. President Bush met with Republican senators and told them he would approve $4.4 billion in immediate funding for border security measures in order to get Republicans back on board. It will be one of 20 new amendments to be offered on the bill. Still, no one knows if it will ultimately get the support needed for passage, but things look better than they did just a week ago.
The House today passed a $37.4 billion budget bill for the Department of Homeland Security on a 268-150 vote, but Bush has threatened to veto because it exceeds his funding request. An even more generous bill funding veterans programs and military base construction also exceeds Bush's funding request, but passed by an overwhelming 409-2 vote.
Republican Senator Jon Kyl blocked a vote in the Judiciary Committee on whether to authorize subpoenas to the Justice Department to obtain secret legal opinions and other documents related to the National Security Agency’s program of domestic eavesdropping. The action will block the vote for a week. After the vote next Thursday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the committee, "can decide whether to issue the subpoenas or use them as leverage in negotiations with the Bush administration over access to the documents."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he might have to pull the energy bill off the floor next week to revive the immigration bill , although he vowed to complete both before closing shop for the July Fourth recess. “If this [energy] debate doesn’t speed up, we’ll have to move to end debate,” he said, according to CQ. “If they do, Democrats are prepared to work through the weekends and the July 4 district work period to accomplish our goals.”
The U.S. Senate begins debate on the Employee Free Choice Act on Monday, with a cloture vote expected Wednesday, June 20. The bill, which makes it easier for workers to join a union, passed the House months ago 241-185 but faces a tough, 60-vote hurdle in the Senate.