The U.S. Senate wrapped up its first session of the 113th Congress yesterday. Despite modest signs of bipartisanship near the end of the session, this year's been lampooned as one of the least productive years in the history of the legislative branch, one mired in partisan strife. NPR's congressional reporter, Ailsa Chang, joins us now. Ailsa, thanks for being with us.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.
Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 7:01 pm
It's the season of peace and goodwill, but President Obama may have tested the limits of both with some comments at his end-of-year news conference.
Asked if he would negotiate with congressional Republicans about the debt ceiling, Obama said he wouldn't do so over raising the limit, though he was willing to talk with Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican and House Budget Committee chairman, about other issues, like tax reform.
Ahead of his trip to Hawaii for the holidays, President Obama held a year-end press conference at the White House Friday. Despite a tough year, the president insisted he had successes under his watch as well, and said he still hoped 2014 could be a "breakthrough year."
Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 5:52 pm
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill on Friday that will give some students who are in the U.S. illegally a break on their tuition.
Christie inked New Jersey's version of the DREAM Act, which the Republican governor supported in his last re-election bid.
The state's Legislature passed the bill after a compromise that dropped a provision that would also have allowed students in the country illegally to be eligible for state financial aid if they qualified under income guidelines, according to The Associated Press.
Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 5:49 pm
It's not every day that three long-serving House members announce their retirements within hours of each other. It's rarer still that two of those seats have a distinct possibility of being filled by a black Republican after next year's election.
President Obama has ordered a one-year review of the military's response to sexual assault within the ranks, saying his administration has "an urgent obligation" to respond to the problem.
"If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks," the president said in a statement on Friday.
Congress is hopes for a happy holiday after approving a budget deal. But the President is still feeling the heat over Obamacare and the National Security Agency's data mining. Host Michel Martin talks politics with Republican strategist Ron Christie and Fernando Espuelas of Univision.
Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 12:43 pm
Scott Brown still knows how to make an entrance.
The former Massachusetts senator — and a soon-to-be official resident of Rye, N.H. — arrived at the New Hampshire GOP's holiday party in his trademark pickup truck Thursday evening, and was greeted by more than 100 chanting protesters.
Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 6:11 am
"The women of the Senate who led the fight to change how the military deals with sexual assault in its ranks are hailing passage of a comprehensive defense bill that now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature," The Associated Press writes this morning.
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The Obama administration has released a figure that caught our attention. It's the number of people deported from the United States during the past fiscal year. For the first time, since the President Obama took office, that number is smaller than the year before.
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Leaders of the Pentagon got something they really wanted in a congressional budget deal. They are restraining future pensions paid to American troops. Cutting veterans benefits is never popular, but on this program last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said benefits are getting so costly, it's hard to keep troops ready for war.
Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 6:47 am
President Obama came to office after bemoaning the disparity in sentences for crack versus powder cocaine offenses, and with a background as a community organizer and constitutional law teacher that had some progressives anticipating a robust use of the Constitution's "reprieves and pardons" power.
President Obama heads to Hawaii on Friday. He goes there for Christmas every year and always talks about how good it is to get away from Washington. This year, that's likely to be especially true.
It's been a rough year for the president, starting with the very first hours of 2013.
One year ago, when the ball dropped on Times Square and people sang "Auld Lang Syne," Obama was supposed to be in Honolulu. Instead, he was in Washington as the country went over the so-called fiscal cliff.
Rep. Charles Rangel, the third-longest-serving member of Congress, announced Thursday he will seek a 23rd term in office next year.
There had been speculation that the New York Democrat, a veteran member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, would retire at the end of this term. But the 83-year-old Rangel, who could face a tough primary, said he still has "unfinished business" to tend to in the House.
A review panel convened by the White House released its report on surveillance by the National Security Agency Wednesday. Among concerns the task force has are NSA practices that some say deliberately weaken America's cyber security. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been critical about surveillance activities, and Mark Rumold, staff attorney for the organization, tells Audie Cornish about the pros and cons of the panel's recommendations.
Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 2:28 pm
President Obama has commuted the sentences of eight people convicted of drug crimes, saying their terms were unusually harsh due to a system that treated crack cocaine as a more serious offense than powder cocaine.
The president also pardoned 13 others convicted of various other offenses.
The commutations come after the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which is aimed at reducing disparities in the way the law treats cocaine possession.
Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 12:19 pm
Texas Republicans can't get hold of enough guns.
Greg Abbott, the party's front-runner for governor, posed for a recent cover of Texas Monthly with a rifle over his shoulder. Nearly every other GOP statewide candidate has put out pictures or videos proudly displaying firearms.
Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 11:24 am
Time and again, business leaders say the one thing they want out of Washington is more certainty.
But rarely do they get their wish.
In recent years, business owners have found themselves wondering whether their government would default on its debts, shut down national parks, change tax rules, cancel supplier contracts, confirm key leaders at federal agencies or hike interest rates.
Finally on Wednesday, they saw policymakers take two big steps toward a more certain future.
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A defense bill reaches the floor of the United States Senate today and it includes a measure aimed at cracking down on the problem of sexual assault in the military. For the first time, this bill would give sexual assault victims more rights, rights they normally do not get under the military code of justice.
President Obama's intelligence review panel has produced a report that is hundreds of pages long. The advisors have a list of recommendations for how to protect privacy while still trying to prevent terrorist attacks. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, some of these are recommendations that the Obama White House has long resisted.