Weekly Congressional and DC Update

Election 2016

According to FiveThirtyEight modeling based on current polling, Clinton and Trump were being given nearly 50-50 chances of winning leading up to their first debate on Sept 26. The debate featured discussion of both trade policy, the criminal justice system, and US foreign & martial policy. Since the debate, Clinton’s position improved slightly, but is only marginally better than Trump; she is projected to receive 46.5% of the vote, with Trump receiving 44.3%, and Gary Johnson 7.9%. 

Congress Averts Shutdown by Clearing Stopgap Bill With Zika Cash

Congress sent President Barack Obama a stopgap spending bill on Wednesday after lawmakers reached a bipartisan deal to keep the government funded through Dec. 9. In its last vote before the November election, the House passed the measure 342-85 late Wednesday, following a favorable Senate vote earlier in the day. The White House indicated Wednesday that Obama would sign the measure.

The measure, which averts a partial government shutdown, also includes funding to fight the Zika virus and support veterans programs, and assist with flood damage in Louisiana and several other states. The bill’s passage represents a victory for Democrats, who got much of what they had been demanding for months — significant funding to combat Zika without barring money going to Planned Parenthood, which provides women’s health services including abortion. They also beat back numerous attempts by Republicans to score policy victories in the bill, including efforts to stop the privatization of internet domain name assignments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, was able to avoid a politically volatile shutdown and allow vulnerable Republican senators to return home to campaign, while House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin skirted a rebellion by conservative members seeking a six-month stopgap. The Dec. 9termination date means that Congress will rejoin the fight over government funding for the rest of the fiscal year after the November election. Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the presidency will largely determine whether spending bills are completed then or if decisions are pushed into next year, a more likely scenario if Trump wins.

Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

The House & Senate successfully overrode President Obama’s veto of S. 2040, an act which would allow victims of terrorist attacks on US soil to sue foreign government officials that funded or aided in the execution of the attacks. Congress’s override vote marks the first time that President Obama’s veto has been overruled during his presidency. The bill is broadly worded, but was passed in the House & Senate in response to Saudi Arabian government officials’ funding of the operatives involved in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. President Obama had expressed concerns about the law’s potential for blowback, presenting the possibility of foreign governments subjecting US officials to lawsuits regarding foreign US military & intelligence operations.

Pentagon’s 5,000-Strong Cyber Force Passes Key Operational Step

A 5,000-person Pentagon force created to bolster military computer networks and initiate cyber attacks against terror groups should be ready to carry out its mission by the end of the week, a key step in improving the U.S.’s ability to respond to hacks by overseas adversaries.

The Cyber Mission Force will reach “initial operational capability” by Friday, said Colonel Daniel J.W. King, a Cyber Command spokesman, in an e-mail. The group’s 133 teams have met basic criteria on personnel, training, resources and equipment, but all of them aren’t necessarily ready to launch attacks, he said.

The force, which falls under the U.S. Cyber Command created in 2009, likely will focus on the highest priorities, such as risks from Russia, China, Iran and terrorist groups including Islamic State. Previously, cyber operations were scattered in silos across Cyber Command, the NSA and other military branches. Officials plan to expand the force by another 1,200 people as part of the process of becoming fully combat ready.

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