In his speech Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said he would "welcome congressional support" for his expanded-but-limited plan to destroy ISIS, the terror organization wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria. But Obama conspicuously did not say he would ask lawmakers to vote on whether to approve this military action. The White House insists that a previous congressional authorization approving military action against Al Qaeda and its affiliates allows Obama to go forward without seeking another explicit green light from Capitol Hill. And once again, the nation is witnessing another round in the decades-long tussle between the legislative branch and 1600 Pennsylvania over the limits of the president's war-making power. Many lawmakers seem happy to give the president a pass because they'd rather not vote on the matter—especially in an election year. (As GOP Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia candidly said, "A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, 'Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.' It's an election year. A lot of Democrats don't know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don't want to change anything. We like the path we're on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.") But an odd-couple coalition is developing within Congress: liberal Dems and conservative Republicans who are demanding that the president seek a congressional okay before escalating attacks against ISIS.
"Congress must weigh in when it comes to confronting ISIL through military action," Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the chairs of the 70-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement after Obama's speech. "The voices of the American people must be heard during a full and robust debate in Congress on the use of military force."
On Wednesday night, President Barack Obama will lay out his plan to take down ISIS, the Islamist group that has conquered vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and recently beheaded two American journalists. Obama is expected to outline a strategy that will involve working with a coalition of other nations, continuing air strikes, and training and advising the Iraqi military—but not reintroducing US ground troops. Yet even before the speech, a group of progressive lawmakers in Congress were voicing opposition to greater US military intervention in Iraq and Syria, while other liberal Democrats were supporting Obama's steps toward more extensive, though limited, military action against ISIS. Though recent public opinion polls show a majority of Americans supporting air strikes against ISIS and the sort of military action Obama is adopting, his expansion of the US military role in Iraq (and possibly Syria) is threatening to split his own party.
Progressive Democrats opposed to greater US military intervention in Iraq tend to note that they share the widespread revulsion for ISIS, but they maintain that ramping up US military action is not necessary to protect US national security, would likely be ineffective, and could enmesh the nation (once again) in a prolonged and costly conflict. "While the US has an obligation to prevent imminent genocide, military force is not an effective solution to the broader strife afflicting Iraq," says Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). A July letter signed by 51 CPC members cautioned that "any solution to this complex crisis can only be achieved through a political settlement."
Police officers arrest a protester in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York's Times Square on Thursday.
On Thursday, nearly two years after fast-food employees first walked off the job in New York City, workers in dozens of cities around the country are staging a new round of strikes aimed at winning workers a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union. This spate of walk-outs will see a significant escalation in tactics: home healthcare workers will join the day of action, and some workers will engage in civil disobedience. Several have already been arrested.
"On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15," Terrence Wise, a Kansas City Burger King employee and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee, said in a statement earlier this week.
Employees at restaurant chains including McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Burger King are walking off the job and staging sit-ins in 150 cities nationwide, from Chicago to Oakland, Pittsburg to Seattle. During the last one-day strike in May, workers protested in 150 US cities and 80 foreign cities, forcing several franchises to close for part of the day.
So far, the massive chains have been resistant to bumping up workers’ wages. Nevertheless, the movement has dealt some serious setbacks to one of the biggest fast-food employers: McDonald's. The company's public image was tarnished significantly between 2013 and 2014, according to a recent study quantifying companies’ reputations. McDonald's sales have fallen over the past year amid ramped up scrutiny from Congress over its poverty wages. And in July, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s corporate can be held liable in worker lawsuits over wage-theft and working conditions. (The company had been arguing that it does not exert significant control over its franchises’ employment practices.)
The Service Employees Industrial Union, which has backed the workers from the start, hopes the addition of some of the nation’s 2 million home healthcare aides to the growing movement will put additional pressure on states and localities to raise their minimum wage.
On Labor Day, President Barack Obama gave the fast-food worker movement a morale boost. "All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity," the president said. "There is no denying a simple truth. America deserves a raise."
On Thursday, the Justice Department announced a record $17 billion settlement with Bank of America over accusations that the bank—as well as companies it later bought—intentionally misled investors who purchased financial products backed by toxic subprime mortgages. It's the largest settlement the US government has reached with any company in history, and it is roughly equal to the bank's total profits over the past three years. But as is the case with similar settlements involving Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America probably won't end up paying that much.
Bank of America will pay $9.65 billion in cash and provide consumer relief valued at $7 billion…Whether cash payments are structured as penalties or legal settlements can determine whether targeted companies can declare them as tax-deductible business expenses. Also, consumer relief is an amorphous cost category: If Bank of America's deal resembles the department's previous settlements with JPMorgan and Citigroup, that part could be less costly to the company than the huge figures suggest.
...[M]uch of the relief will come from modifying loans that the banks have already concluded could not be recovered in full. Reducing the principal on troubled loans often just brings the amount that borrowers owe in line with what the banks already know the loan to be worth.
Settlement math also affects the actual cost of the deals, allowing banks to earn a multiple for each dollar spent on certain forms of relief. Under Citi's deal, for example, each dollar spent on legal aid counselors is worth $2 in credits, and paper losses on some affordable housing project loans can be credited at as much as four times their actual value.
Banks generally regard the consumer relief portion of settlements as "stuff they're doing anyway," banking analyst Moshe Orenbuch told the AP.
The Bank of America settlement resolves more than two dozen investigations by prosecutors around the country.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will not say if he will stop blocking a major spending bill in the Senate that contains funding to help identify and prosecute rapists—or whether he would support a separate bill to break the log jam.
As I reported last week, since June, Senate Republicans have held up a $180 billion appropriations bill that would fund several federal agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Justice. Part of the funding allotted for the DoJ is supposed to go toward a $41 million grant to help states and localities go after rapists by funding jurisdictions to process backlogs of rape kits, the samples of DNA evidence that are taken after a sexual assault and used to identify assailants. There are over 100,000 untested kits waiting to be processed at crime labs and police departments around the country, partly because states and localities don’t have enough money to test them. The kits can go untested for decades, allowing countless rapists off the hook.
The sweeping spending bill has hit a wall in the Senate because McConnell and other Senate Republicans want Dems to let them add several unrelated amendments to the legislation. The amendment McConnell introduced would make it harder for the EPA to enact new rules on coal-fired power plants. Democrats have complained that GOPers are abusing the amendments process to hold up a bill they don’t like. "Regardless of the outcome of the amendment votes…Republicans have indicated that they are not willing to support the underlying bill," a Senate staffer told me last week.
On Tuesday, the Louisville, Ky. Courier-Journal asked McConnell if he would withdraw his amendment, which would indicate that he and fellow Republicans would be willing to vote for the underlying bill, including the $41 million in funding to process rape kit backlogs. McConnell dodged the question. His office did not respond when Mother Jones asked the same question this week.
Lawmakers may be able to add the rape kit funding into an temporary spending measure in October. However, neither McConnell's office nor Republicans on the House and Senate appropriations committees will say whether they would support doing so.