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October 10, 2013

Leahy Criticizes Obama Administration for "Muddled" Message to Egypt

Leahy.Echo2The Obama administration's partial freeze of U.S. military aid to Egypt doesn't go far enough, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said late Wednesday. 

By failing to fully cut off funding to the U.S. ally after its democratically elected president was overthrown in a July coup, Leahy said, the administration is thwarting the will of Congress and sending a "muddled" message to Cairo.

"Our law is clear," Leahy said in a written statement. "When there is a military coup, U.S. aid to the government is cut off."

On Wednesday, administration officials confirmed to national news outlets that the U.S. would freeze delivery of $260 million in aid and a certain pieces of military equipment. They said the country would continue to provide counter-terrorism funding, military training and spare parts for Egypt's arsenal. 

Continue reading "Leahy Criticizes Obama Administration for "Muddled" Message to Egypt" »

October 03, 2013

Sanders Forced to Take Cover as Capitol Hill Car Chase Ended Near Him

Sen. Bernie Sanders was forced to take cover behind a car Thursday afternoon as a high-speed chase came to an end near him on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

Sanders was unharmed in the incident, but the driver of the vehicle that was evading police is dead, according to multiple press reports.

Spokesman Michael Briggs says the Vermont independent was returning to the Dirksen Senate Office Building from a caucus meeting in the Capitol when the incident took place. He was standing at the corner of 1st and Constitution Ave. NE with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and about to cross Constitution Ave.

"He saw police cars racing by and heard four or five shots," Briggs says. "A police officer nearby told him and other senators to get on the ground."

After taking cover behind a car for "a couple minutes," Briggs says, Sanders was ushered back inside by the Capitol Police. 

Continue reading "Sanders Forced to Take Cover as Capitol Hill Car Chase Ended Near Him" »

This Week's Issue: A Famous Sea Captain, Political Dark Arts and Scandalous Dancing

100213-coverIt's a big news week in Vermont with the long-awaited launch of the state's health care exchange. We've got stories about that and more in this week's Seven Days.

Read these stories and more in print, online or on our iOS app.

Cover photo of Captain Phillips by Oliver Parini

September 13, 2013

Did Sanders Just Come Out Against Syria Strikes?

Sanders.WesternCorridorYes, I know. You're all tired of reading about the Vermont congressional delegation's tortured positions on potential Syrian air strikes, which — at least for now — aren't gonna happen.

Believe me. I'm tired of writing about them.

Buuuuuuuut... Sen. Bernie Sanders' regular "Bernie Buzz" e-newsletter crossed the transom earlier today and something about it struck me as a little odd. Here's the lede:

In the midst of widespread public opposition to military strikes against Syria, which Bernie shares, President Obama seized the opportunity to explore a proposal for international monitors to take over Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. Bernie welcomed the president’s new approach.

Sanders "shares" "widespread public opposition" to the strikes?

From what I recollect, Sanders never actually came out in opposition to Obama's proposed air strikes. Sure, he talked Ed Schultz's ear off on a near-daily basis on MSNBC about his reservations. He said time and again that he was hesitant to get "involved in a bloody and complicated civil war in Syria." 

But every time I asked him or his staff whether he'd decided to vote against the strikes, they brushed off the question.

Continue reading "Did Sanders Just Come Out Against Syria Strikes? " »

September 11, 2013

Leahy Leads Hearing On State and Federal Marijuana Laws

Leahy2-1With Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) at its helm, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday sought clarity from a top law enforcement official on how to reconcile conflicting federal and state marijuana laws.

At a Capitol Hill hearing, the committee zeroed in on the Department of Justice's announcement last month that it would permit Colorado and Washington to host a regulated marijuana industry. The two states passed referenda last year to legalize recreational use of the drug by adults.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, a star witness at the hearing, issued a memo Aug. 29 advising prosecutors to focus enforcement on those who sell the drug to minors, distribute it to states where it remains illegal or use state laws as a cover for drug trafficking.

Continue reading "Leahy Leads Hearing On State and Federal Marijuana Laws" »

September 10, 2013

Sanders and Welch Praise Prospect of Peaceful Resolution in Syria


* Updated below with new comments from Sen. Patrick Leahy *

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) voiced a cautious optimism late Monday that the United States might yet find a peaceful resolution to its standoff with Syria.

The comments came after a frenetic day of diplomacy and public relations, in which U.S. and Russian officials signaled a willingness to avert a showdown by convincing Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international monitors. That development prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to postpone a test vote previously scheduled for Wednesday on whether to strike Syria.

In a written statement released late Monday, Sanders said he "appreciate[s] that the majority leader delayed a vote and that President Obama is prepared to work with Russia to have Syria turn over control of its chemical weapons to international monitors." 

While Sanders has yet to explicitly state his opposition to Obama's proposed strikes, he has expressed grave reservations about the prospect in countless interviews with the national news media. 

"Most Americans would support an effort that could remove chemical weapons from Syria without American military involvement in another Middle East war," he continued in the statement. "I urge the president and Russia to work vigorously to achieve that goal."

Welch, meanwhile, addressed the developments Monday night during an hourlong "telephone town hall meeting" with Vermonters. 

Continue reading "Sanders and Welch Praise Prospect of Peaceful Resolution in Syria" »

September 09, 2013

Peter Galbraith, Ex-Diplomat and Vermont State Senator, Says Syrian Strikes Are a Mistake

Galbraith2The Vermont politician with arguably the most diplomatic experience in the Middle East won't have a chance to vote this week on whether the U.S. should strike Syria.

That's because former ambassador and veteran diplomat Peter Galbraith now serves in Vermont's state senate, whose foreign policy jurisdiction ends at the New Hampshire border.

But if he could vote, Galbraith says, he'd oppose President Obama's proposed strikes.

"We should not, because the airstrikes won't accomplish anything," Galbraith says. "They are not going to degrade the Syrian government's ability to use the weapons. They are not going to change the military balance. So they're really about making a statement, and that's not, in my view, an appropriate use of military force."

Galbraith knows a thing or two about chemical weapons. Twenty-five years ago this month, while serving on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Galbraith traveled to the Iraqi-Turkish border, where he uncovered evidence of Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds. That discovery led to Senate passage of the "Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988," which Galbraith credits with prompting Hussein to halt his use of chemical weapons.

Continue reading "Peter Galbraith, Ex-Diplomat and Vermont State Senator, Says Syrian Strikes Are a Mistake" »

September 04, 2013

Welch Undecided on Syria Strikes, Calls it a "Wrenching Decision"


* Updated below with new comments and video from Sen. Bernie Sanders. *

In his first public comments since last month's chemical weapons attacks in Syria, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Wednesday he's "still in the process of deciding" whether to vote in favor of responding with air strikes.

"It's obviously a very wrenching decision," Welch said. "I mean, I've strongly opposed the U.S. getting involved in the civil war in Syria. That tragedy is something that I don't think we can control. We can't micromanage the outcome."

But, he continued, "There's a new question as a result of [the chemical weapons attacks of] August 21st — and that is when the Syrian state uses chemical weapons in violation of an agreement signed by 98 percent of the countries, there's a legitimate and moral basis for punitive action."

Continue reading "Welch Undecided on Syria Strikes, Calls it a "Wrenching Decision"" »

This Week's Issue: Bike Thefts, Crowded Sidewalks and Harry Potter


This week's Art Hop issue is on newsstands now. But fear not, news junkies! We've got the usual bunch of news and politics, too. Here's what you'll find:

September 02, 2013

Calling Syria Resolution "Too Open-Ended," Leahy Says it Won't Pass Congress

Leahy.ECHOSen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Monday criticized the White House's draft resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria as "too open-ended" and predicted it "will not pass as written."

While the senior Vermont senator said he hoped Congress would narrow the scope of the resolution, he expressed ambivalence as to whether he could support even a whittled-down version.

"I don't know the answer to that — and I'm trying to be as honest as I can. I have no question that the use of chemical weapons is heinous and contrary to everything since the Geneva Conventions," he said. "What I worry about is what happens next."

Leahy's comments came two days after President Obama abruptly reversed course and said he'd seek Congress' approval before launching retaliatory air strikes in response to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons late last month.

Leahy hailed Obama's decision to seek Congress' imprimatur, saying that, no matter the war or the president, "The point is, you need to go to Congress." 

But after flying back to D.C. for a classified briefing in the Capitol on Sunday, Leahy told reporters assembled outside that the White House draft was "too open-ended" and would be amended in the Senate.

Leahy elaborated on those comments Monday morning, telling Seven Days that the resolution as written could empower the president to send ground troops to Syria — or elsewhere.

"It's the breadth of what he can do [under the draft resolution] that's the biggest concern now. I mean, there's nothing to stop sending military into Syria or into other countries. See, that's the concern. It's too open-ended. And I've told the White House this. But having said that, I'm not the only one who's told them. They're hearing it from everybody."

Continue reading "Calling Syria Resolution "Too Open-Ended," Leahy Says it Won't Pass Congress" »

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