“The worldwide threats hearing, less than 50 days before a presidential election, I’m not sure that that timing is particularly good,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and of GOP leadership. “But I would be very concerned if they stopped coming up and talking to the Intelligence Committee.”
The public isn’t going to be completely in the dark. Some top administration officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray,are slated to appear Thursday before the House Homeland Security Committee to offer testimony on national security threats.
But the failure to get intelligence leaders before the historically nonpartisan Senate Intelligence Committee is a blow to efforts to inform the public and marks the latest in a series of norms tossed aside amid an increasingly pointed feud between the Trump administration’s intelligence officials and their overseers in Congress.
In recent weeks, Ratcliffe has significantly scaled back in-person election security briefings for lawmakers as Democrats have pressed the Trump administration for additional disclosures on foreign threats to the 2020 election. A public hearing would be one of the best ways to elicit that information, especially as President Donald Trump and his allies continue to emphasize influence campaigns by Iran and China, rather than Russia — even though intelligence officials say the Kremlin poses the most acute threat to the election.
Meanwhile, a Department of Homeland Security whistleblower has alleged that intelligence reports on Russian interference have been manipulated and suppressed for political reasons — prompting both the House and Senate intelligence panels to investigate.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the acting chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said the annual global threatshearing should “always” take place, and said he is still working to iron out a date and time with the intelligence chiefs. Typically, the hearings take place between February and May. He also dismissed the upcoming House hearing because that committee has jurisdiction over separate matters and is not hosting all of the intelligence chiefs.
But Rubio, who has lately lamented the breakdown of the committee’s oversight process due to increased politicization and once expressed doubt that a threats hearing would take place this year, said he wasn’t worried about holding the hearing so close to the election.
“It would be preferable to do it before the election, but we need to have one,” Rubio said.
Rubio and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, had pushed Ratcliffe to publicly testify about global threats before Congress’ month-long summer recess and ahead of the final leg of the 2020 campaign.
The spy chief later offered to appear in August but limit his remarks to an opening statement before moving the session behind closed doors. That would ensure Ratcliffe wouldn’t have to answer questions from senators that could be turned into cable-news clips if he contradicted Trump’s public claims, as happened when intelligence chief Dan Coats testified last year.
The proposal was rejected by Rubio and Warner, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations.
The back-and-forth underscores the Intelligence Committee’s months-long struggle to secure a worldwide threats hearing, even after Ratcliffe committed during his confirmation hearing in May that he would appear at one.
A spokeswoman for Ratcliffe reiterated his pledge but referred to letters he wrote last month to both Intelligence committees in which he said he would only answer questions in “closed sessions.” Democrats have argued that Trump and Ratcliffe are trying to downplay the threat of Russian meddling, which the intelligence community has said is again intended to boost Trump. Republicans have countered that Democrats are trying to weaponize the Russia-related intelligence against the president.
Ratcliffe and the other intelligence chiefs would almost certainly face a grilling from the committee over everything from election interference to North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and efforts by senior officials to portray China and Iran as greater threats to the integrity of the election.
The House Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, hasn’t held a public worldwide threats hearing since 2016 because of the administration’s resistance. The panel is looking to change that by including language in its annual intelligence bill requiring the DNI to submit an annual worldwide threats assessment and then appear for a public session.
Like Rubio, Warner is trying to remain optimistic about ultimately holding a hearing despite the clandestine community’s reluctance — and even as many lawmakers acknowledge that it may be too late to arm Americans with clear and reliable information about foreign interference in the 2020 election.
“I have not thrown in the towel,” Warner said in an interview. “We have both worldwide threats and the absolute need for election security briefs. So, there are two separate paths and Sen. Rubio and I are working on both of those.”
Pressed on the dwindling number of legislative workdays left on the calendar, Warner replied: “You have an amazing grasp of the obvious.”
Nepal’s Ang Rita Sherpa, first to climb Mount Everest 10 times, dies at 72
All the ascents to the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit of the world’s tallest mountain between 1983 and 1996 by Ang Rita, who went by his first name, like many Sherpas, were made without bottled oxygen.
The 72-year-old, who had suffered brain and liver ailments for a long time, died at his home in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, his grandson, Phurba Tshering, said.
Ang Rita was also known as the “snow leopard” for his climbing skills.
“He was a climbing star and his death is a major loss for the country and for the climbing fraternity,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
The body will be placed at a Sherpa Gomba, or holy site, in Kathmandu, and cremated on Wednesday according to sherpa tradition, Ang Tshering said.
Many other climbers have since surpassed Ang Rita’s feat, with one member of the community setting a record of 24 ascents.
Romney faces another crossroads on Trump’s Supreme Court push
Romney’s short Senate career has been punctuated by big moments of distancing himself from the president: marching in a Black Lives Matter protest and penning an op-ed before he even took his Senate seat vowing to push back against Trump when needed. He also occasionally criticizes Trump’s rhetoric, but he’s careful not to get dragged into a back and forth with the president on Twitter or elsewhere.
Yet the party’s 2012 presidential nominee has also largely backed Trump’s appointments and much of his agenda. His voting record is a regular reminder that he’s still a conservative, which his GOP colleagues hope is a sign that he will divorce his differences with Trump from the monumental opportunity the conservative movement sees before it.
“I really don’t know what he’ll do,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I think he’s probably wrestling with it just like he has on other issues.”
Romney’s opinion may not be decisive: He’d need one other Republican senator to join him and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Collins in opposition to derail McConnell’s hopes of a swift confirmation. For now, that would take a surprise defection after vulnerable Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) backed McConnell’s strategy.
But should Romney be the only other Republican to join the Senate GOP’s moderate bloc, it would invite the explosive scenario of Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 vote on the Senate floor for a Supreme Court nominee, perhaps just days before Election Day.
Romney’s decision may do a lot to illustrate what kind of senator he will be as he finishes his first two years in the chamber. Romney has little of the baggage of his colleagues over past Supreme Court fights or battles over precedent. At a 2018 debate, Romney said Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, set no new standard and did not say how he would handle an election-year confirmation under Trump.
Conservative advocacy groups are keeping a close eye on Romney. The Judicial Crisis Network announced Monday that it was pouring $2.2 million into ads boosting the effort to fill the seat. The targeted states are home to vulnerable GOP incumbents, except one: Romney’s Utah.
But Romney is insulated from immediate political ramifications. His term isn’t up until 2024, and that gives Romney significant freedom to make his own way.
With the filibuster gutted on all nominations after recent rules changes by both parties, Senate Democrats are powerless to stop Trump’s appointment on their own. But many enjoy good relationships with Romney and are counting on him to take yet another stand against Trump.
“He’s shown extraordinary courage before,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I hope he does again.”
A Former Government Minister Is Leading Calls By Tory MPs For Boris Johnson Not To Put The Country Back Into Lockdown
5 min read
The former minister Simon Clarke is leading calls by Tory MPs for the country not to be put back into a full lockdown amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
The Middlesborough MP made a “plea for proportionality” to Matt Hancock in his first contribution to the Commons since standing down as a local government minister earlier this month.
Speaking to PoliticsHome he said: “I’ve seen constituents commit suicide during the first lockdown. When you get those emails it’s quite sobering about the human cost about what it is that we’re demanding of people.
“And it made me reflect that we should lever do so lightly, and that frankly if there are intervening measures before we get to those – then I would strongly hope we would exhaust all of them.”
Speaking ahead of a statement by Boris Johnson on Tuesday, where he is expected to introduce tighter restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Mr Clarke warned: “there are very, very significant economic tradeoffs” to such measures.
He is calling for a “graduated tradeoff” of freedom “rather than fire off all our artillery now”, adding it will be “a very long winter if we moved into lockdown now”.
Although he is in favour of local lockdowns he added: “But I just think a suite of national measures which set the economy even further back, and really do impose massive restrictions on people’s quality of life, are to be avoided as such time as they are totally unavoidable.”
Mr Clarke urged his former colleagues to “maintain fundamental liberty for people at this stage of autumn” after suggestions it may take six months to tackle the virus.
With the ‘rule of six’ only recently introduced he called for “other rules kick in before preventing households to mix”, saying “things which cut across basic human freedoms and basic human needs are to be avoided until they are an absolute last-ditch option”.
A growing number of Tory MPs have also expressed concern over what they see as a growing lack of parliamentary scrutiny over Coronavirus legislation.
Peter Bone MP told PoliticsHome: “I think there’s a growing number of MPs who think you shouldn’t be making these significant regulations without parliamentary approval.”
He said the powers were handed over via emergency legislation but it was when there wasn’t “a functioning Parliament”, at the time, and MPs should not get a chicane to defat, amend and vote on them.
As an example he said the “rule of six” would likely have still been passed, but perhaps amended not to include children or a month-long sunset clause.
Asked whether Number 10 had been ignoring its own MPs, Mr Bone said: “Well I think they get used to it, they got used to in an emergency just doing it ,and they’ve continued. There is a drift within government to a more presidential type of government.
Clarke’s call to avoid lockdown was backed up in the Commons by the ex-transport secretary Chris Grayling, who said he did not believe there is a case for a new national lockdown.
He told the Commons: “Given the huge consequences of this virus for people in our communities on their mental health, particularly the younger generation who are paying a very heavy price, can I say to him that given those regional variations – and in the full knowledge of all the pressures that he is facing – I do not believe the case for further national measures has yet been made.”
Mr Hancock replied: “He’s absolutely right that there are some parts of the country where the number of cases is still thankfully very low and so the balance between what we do nationally and what we do locally is as important as the balance in terms of what we do overall.”
Another former minister – Sir Edward Leigh – said public consent for lockdowns is “draining away”.
Addressing the House of Commons, he said: “The trouble with authoritarianism is that’s profoundly inimical to civil liberties, it is also increasingly incompetent, it relies on acquiescence and acquiescence for lockdowns, particularly national ones, is draining away.
“If you tell a student not to go to a pub, they will congregate in rooms, even worse.”
Mr Hancock said in his reply: “As a Conservative, I believe in as much freedom as possible consistent with not harming others.”
But fellow Tory MP Pauline Latham called for more Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions, saying: “Could I remind the Secretary of State, I think he’ll be going to a Cobra meeting tomorrow, could he explain to the Prime Minister that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Yes, there absolutely will be a debate in this House on the measures… that we have to use. We do have to move very fast.”
The chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, then asked the minister if: “Balancing the measures to tackle Covid with the other health consequences such as cancer patients going undiagnosed or not treated in time and the economic and social consequences is a political judgment?”
He added: “And does he further agree with me that political judgments are improved by debate and scrutiny?”
Mr Hancock replied: “Yes I do and I do come to this despatch box as often as possible. I’m very sorry that I wasn’t able to come on Friday for Friday’s decision but the House wasn’t sitting.”
He added: “The more scrutiny the better is my attitude.”