Congress seeks to define president’s role in using military force

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met Wednesday to discuss the role of the president and Congress when using military force.

On Nov. 14, the committee evaluated a related topic — the president’s power to fire a nuclear weapon — and evaluated the administrative procedures for firing that weapon. That hearing looked at the powers enacted by The Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which places the power of firing a nuclear weapon under political control and not the military.

Wednesday’s hearing focused primarily on Article I and Article II of the U.S. Constitution and the president’s powers to act independently or with the consent of Congress when considering the use of force against an enemy.

Article I of the constitution does grant the Congress the power to “declare war.” Article II gives the president authority as the Commander in Chief:

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States,” according to Article II.

Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R- Tenn., said it is in the nation’s interest to have a strong commander in chief to take quick and decisive military actions in times national security calls for it.

“That authority must be legally sound and be checked by vigorous oversight and engagement from Congress on behalf of the American people. The decision to use military force is one of the most consequential any president can make,” Corker said.

The senator said he was interested in learning more about the tests the president should use to determine if force should be used, how the president should weigh the use of force against other options, and the consideration of public opinion in these situations.

“We should look at the legal side of this issue. The reality is that unless Congress takes the rare step of withholding funding, history shows that the president’s ability to initiate military action without a congress has been extremely broad,” Corker stated. “That said, discussing the legal doctrine regarding these questions is a conversation worth having.”

Ranking Member Ben Cardin, D-M.d., expressed his concern about the president taking military action without the Congress’ consent.

“President Trump’s entire inclination to use military force and to risk war rather than to find diplomatic solutions to these crises is troubling,” Cardin said. “His attitude toward diplomacy ranges from disinterest to naivety to actively sabotaging his own Secretary of State.”

The senator remarked that the increasing tension between the president and North Korea could lead to a nuclear first strike situation.

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Congress debates the role of artificial intelligence in America

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Lawmakers on Capitol Hill met Tuesday to discuss advancements in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, wanted to discuss the new and emerging role of AI in the nation’s growing digital environment.

Artificial intelligence is defined as “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers,” and “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior,” according to Merriam-Webster’s. But it was also evident during Tuesday’s hearing that the definition and uses for AI are still evolving.

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the increase in data collected from Americans through the use of the internet and mobile devices has contributed to the advances in the industry.

“Although AI applications have been around for decades, recent advancements, particularly in machine learning, have accelerated in their capabilities because of the massive growth in data gathered from billions of connected devices and the digitization of everything,” Wicker said. “Developments in computer processing technologies and better algorithms are also enabling AI systems to become smarter and perform more unique tasks.”

During his opening remarks, he also cautioned the risks of automating common processes through AI.

“These are important considerations to ensure that the decisions made by AI systems are based on representative data that does not unintentionally harm vulnerable populations or act in an unsafe anticompetitive or biased way,” Wicker said. “So, there is a lot to think about.”

The subcommittees’ Ranking Member Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, also expressed his concern for certain aspects of AI calling it a “black box.”

“It can make decisions and come to conclusions without showing its reasoning. There are also known cases of algorithms that discriminate against minority groups,” Schatz said. “And when you start to apply the systems to criminal justice, health care or defense, lack of transparency and accountability is worrisome.”

The senator encouraged lawmakers not to purchase AI systems for the government until there is a stronger understanding of its capabilities. Schatz said that U.S. policy needs to be updated to adapt to the advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

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Weapons of Mass Destruction office takes shape within the Dept. of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Lawmakers held a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss the implementation of a new office within the Department of Homeland Security dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

The new office within DHS will be called the “Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office.” The office has already begun the process of reorganizing and implementing some of the new changes of the consolidation to their current workflow.

The House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications expressed an interest in understanding more about the establishment of this new office.

Subcommittee Chairman Dan Donovan, R- N.Y., said the threat of weapons of mass destruction has changed and become more diverse.

“The scope of the threat has changed dramatically. It has become much more diverse and diffuse,” Donovan said. “We know that terrorist groups have long strived to employ chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials in their attacks.”

The congressman mentioned a number of increased attacks; including the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government involving mustard, Sarin and chlorine gas as well as a plot to release hydrogen sulfide uncovered by the Australian police and a laptop retrieved from ISIS in Syria in 2014 with plans for weaponized bubonic plague.

“As the world of threats becomes more complex, it is incumbent upon the Department of Homeland Security to assess whether or not it is optimally organized to best confront the variety of threats it is expected to counter,” Donovan said.

Ranking Member Congressman Donald Payne, D- N.J., felt strongly that the Department of Homeland Security should have consulted the committee before implementing the reorganization. He reminded the department that the DHS will soon no longer have the ability to make those changes under the section 872 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as the committee has taken action to repeal section 872.

The section states that secretary of the department may “may establish, consolidate, alter, or discontinue organizational units within the Department.”

“I appreciate the congressional authorization process takes time, but it also has value. And this committee has proven itself to be willing to partner when DHS has wanted to reorganize,” Payne said. “DHS officials spoke in generalities about how reorganization advanced the then secretaries unity of effort initiative and created a center point of contact for stakeholders. Such vague explanations are little justification for setting a disrupt.”

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Actor Richard Gere: In Tibet, ‘oppression cannot be tolerated’

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Members of the House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific met Wednesday to discuss U.S. policy toward Tibet.; more specifically, working toward greater access, religious freedom and human rights for Tibetan citizens.

Two bills pending before the subcommittee were highlighted. The H.R.1872 —Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2017 would require the U.S. State Department to submit a list to Congress of senior Chinese officials in leadership positions for review. Congress would then determine the officials’ level of access to the United States contingent with the access U.S. officials are granted to Tibetan areas in China.

The second bill, H.Con.Res.89, maintains that United States policy toward Tibet and treatment of the Tibetan people should remain a factor in U.S. relations with China.

Subcommittee Chairman Ted Yoho, R- Fla., discussed the ways in which the Tibetan people have had their human rights and civil liberties encroached upon.

“Human rights and personal freedoms in Tibet are already in a poor and worsening state,” Yoho said. “According to a 2016 Human Rights report, the government of China engages in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique cultural and linguistic heritage by among other means strictly curtailing the civil rights of the Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly and movement.”

The congressman added that the flow of information is heavily restricted to Tibet by China.

“Tibet remains extremely isolated. The flow of information in and out of Tibet is tightly restricted,” Yoho said. “Tibetans are prevented from obtaining passports and moving freely and foreigners especially journalists and officials are frequently denied access.”

Ranking Member of the Subcommittee Brad Sherman, D- Calif., said in 2015 China expressed they had no intentions of granting autonomy to Tibet.

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Congress evaluates its role building international policy alongside the president

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gathered Tuesday to discussed the authority of the president and the Senate in engaging in or withdrawing from vital international policy.

According to the Berkeley Law Library, treaties and international agreements are the responsibility of the executive branch. However, in Article II Section 2 of the United States Constitution, it states that”he [the president] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur.” These agreements involving the Senate are referred to as “congressional-executive agreements.”

Berkeley Law Library outlines this process in the following order:

  • “Secretary of State authorizes negotiation
  • U.S. representatives negotiate
  • Parties agree on terms, and upon authorization of Secretary of State, sign treaty
  • President submits treaty to Senate
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers treaty and reports to Senate
  • Senate considers and approves by 2/3 majority
  • President proclaims entry into force”

Some of the “treaties” the public hears about the president engaging in are executive agreements, which are not the same as the type of treaties mentioned in Article II of the constitution. These types of agreements are called “executive agreements.”

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R- Tenn., called on Congress to take a more active role in treaties and the negotiations that occur when forming them.

“Through the years the president from both parties have increasingly abused their authority to enter into and terminate binding international agreements with little input from Congress,” Corker said. “Unilateral presidential action without meaningful congressional partner undermines our national strength.”

Corker said that the hearing was not to “constrain” the powers of the president with respect to diplomacy, but to encourage the United States speaks with one voice on foreign policy and diplomatic affairs.

Ranking Member of the Committee Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., highlighted that treaties are not as commonly used as they once were to enter into international agreements. Presidents are opting to use executive agreements to avoid Senate gridlock and red tape.

“So, the president when he wanted to enter into a climate agreement he chose an executive agreement rather than a treaty. When he wanted to enter into an agreement with the international community with Iran, he chose an executive agreement rather than a treaty,” Cardin said. “Why? Because he couldn’t get it ratified in the United States Senate under any scenario.”

Hearing witness and professor at the Duke University School of Law Curtis A. Bradley said in his statement the reason behind the increase in executive actions is the high demand for them during the 20th century.

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