Plans to tighten gun controls in the US, including the restriction of weapons sales to people on terrorism watch lists have been rejected by the Senate.
Four proposals were brought before the Senate after 49 people were shot dead in Orlando attack on June 12.
However, Democratic and Republican senators voted along party lines, blocking each other’s bills.
Senators strongly disagreed about how to prevent more attacks happening in future.
Republican Senator John Cornyn said: “Our colleagues want to make this about gun control when what we should be making this about is the fight to eliminate the Islamic extremism that is the root cause for what happened in Orlando.
“My colleagues in many ways want to treat the symptoms without fighting the disease.”
Photo NBC News
Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said: “Why is it we would go through such incredible scrutiny to board an airplane to protect me against terrorist, and yet we have no scrutiny of the people on the terrorist watch list to be able to buy a gun?”
Republicans and members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) complained that the bills put forward by the Democrats violated the constitutional right to bear arms. They are concerned that without enough “due process”, law-abiding Americans wrongly named on watch lists would be prevented from buying weapons.
Democrats said the Republican proposals were too weak.
Eight days before the Senate’s vote on June 20, Omar Mateen shot 49 people dead and injured many more in the worst mass shooting in recent US history.
Omar Mateen was a US citizen who had been known to the FBI since 2013 but was not on a terrorism watch list.
In the US, gun dealers are licensed by the federal government. People can be prevented from buying weapons if they have mental health problems or are guilty of serious crimes, but there is no specific prohibition for those on the terrorism watch list. There are currently about one million people on that list.
There are other ways to buy guns – at gun shows, or from a private vendor online – that do not require any background checks.
The Senate voted down legislation that would have closed a gun show loophole and expanded background checks to cover private sales.
It also rejected a bill to ban suspects on terrorism watch lists from buying guns, a bill (backed by the NRA) that would allow the US attorney general to delay a gun purchase by a known or suspected terrorist, but prosecutors would need to convince a judge of the would-be-buyer’s connection to terrorism within three days and a bill that would alert the FBI to terrorism suspects who have purchased a gun, without blocking the purchase outright.
The Senate passed the USA Freedom Act without any amendments, on a vote of 67-32, and sent the bill to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The USA Freedom Act extends the government’s ability to collect large amounts of data, but with restrictions. The bill will end the mass collection of Americans’ phone records by the NSA, restore some expired powers to security agencies, place record storage in private companies’ hands, create a public-interest advocate for the secret FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) that oversees surveillance programs, and require the court to notify Congress when it reinterprets law.
The Patriot Act, the policy of collecting phone data had been in place since the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The USA Freedom Act, which replaces the Patriot Act, had been backed by President Barack Obama as a necessary tool to fight terrorism.
Barack Obama later signed the bill into law.
The bill replaces a National Security Agency (NSA) program in which the spy agency collected personal data en masse.
The revelation of this program by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden triggered a global public backlash.
Instead of receiving bulk quantities of data from telephone and internet companies the NSA will now be forced to request the information through a court order.
The data will also be stored on telephone and internet company servers rather than government servers.
The request must be specific to an individual entity such as a person, account, or electronic device.
A six-month transition will be in place as the policy shifts so that data storage remains with private companies, rather than on government servers.
The law’s passage had been temporarily blocked by libertarian-minded senators who are fearful of government’s intrusion into individuals’ private lives.
Kentucky senator and presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul repeatedly criticized the bill from the Senate floor.
“We are not collecting the information of spies. We are not collecting the information of terrorists. We are collecting all American citizens’ records all of the time,” Rand Paul said.
“This is what we fought the revolution over.”
The Freedom Act had been approved by the House of Representatives and the White House but the Senate rejected it last week by a vote of 57-42.
Once it became clear that the Patriot Act extension would not be possible, senators voted to move forward with the Freedom Act.
The US Senate has announced plans to create an online database of all legal products sold on the market today that still contain asbestos. It has been known for years the substance is capable of causing a dangerous and aggressive form of cancer. However, there are hundreds of thousands of items that have not yet replaced the material with something more suitable. Almost 10,000 people die every single year in the US from conditions brought about by exposure to asbestos, and so the new move is welcomed by campaigners and the public alike.
The people behind the bill are Edward J. Markey and Dick Durbin. Both of them are current US Senators, and they recently sponsored the Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database Act. Their input has helped to amend the original bill to include a public database of products that contain asbestos which can be accessed for free online. Campaigners for the removal of asbestos from all products are happy to see things are moving in the right direction.
Unlike Ebola and other conditions that are currently in the public spotlight, the cancer caused by asbestos can take a long time to manifest. So, it is more difficult for people affected to make a claim against companies that produce containing products. However, it is thought the new bill will help to make that a thing of the past. If people can look online to find out which products they use have asbestos in them, they will have an easier time identifying the causes for their illness.
Certain manufacturers that choose to include the substance in their products are less than enthusiastic about the senate’s new act. They claim that asbestos levels in the items they produce are far too low to have any adverse effects. They say that everything they sell meets standard industry guidelines, and they are more than conscious of their customer’s health worries. Mesothelioma (the type of cancer caused by asbestos) requires the patient to have been in contact with much higher levels.
Since the news hit the press, the amount of people getting in touch with a mesothelioma lawyer has increased significantly. That suggests the problem might be more serious than anyone thought. Unless those people are simply trying to cash, it appears more people are affected by the condition than first thought.
The toxic chemical is still used in many different products sold in the US. Lots of building materials and car parts still contain traces. While asbestos is currently banned in many different countries around the world, it is still perfectly legal in the US. The World Health Organisation says that it accounts for more than 107,000 deaths across the world every single year. Campaigners hope improved public education will force the government to follow the UK in banning the substance altogether.
The bill is still waiting for approval from the Senate, but all evidence points towards it being implemented very soon. Could this be an essential step on the ladder to becoming an asbestos-free nation? That remains to be seen.
The Senate has passed a new annual defense bill expanding the military campaign against Islamic State (ISIS).
The bill approves a general Pentagon budget of $496 billion plus $64 billion for US wars abroad.
The measure also authorizes the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebel fighters for two years.
The bill had already been passed by the House and has now been sent to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
ISIS controls large areas of Syria and Iraq, imposing a rigid version of Sunni Islam and persecuting or killing non-believers.
The US-led coalition has launched more than 600 air strikes against IS militant targets in Iraq since the campaign began on August 8.
The US, with Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has also carried out almost 500 attacks on IS in neighboring Syria since September 23.
Until now, US operations against ISIS had been funded from the existing Pentagon budget.
The new bill, which was passed by 89 votes to 11, approves $3.4 billion for the direct deployment of US forces against IS, and a further $1.6 billion for training Iraqi Kurdish forces for two years.
Democrat Senator Carl Levin said that US air power had “changed the momentum on the ground” but added that IS “cannot be defeated without an opposing force to take the fight to it”.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) had been the subject of cross-party talks for several months.
The bill rejected President Barack Obama’s request to approve the closure of the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay.
It also extended a ban on transferring inmates from the prison to the US.
The bill protected for another year the fleet of aging A-10 “Warthog” ground-support aircraft, whose retirement had been proposed.
A 1% pay rises for military personnel was also agreed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lauded the bill, saying “it enhances our efforts to keep our warfighters safe on the battlefield, and it authorizes the resources needed to responsibly conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan”.
The bill also requires the provision of annual mental health screenings for military personnel.
The US Senate has failed to pass a bill approving the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The Senate voted by 59-41 in favor of the bill, but this was one vote short of the 60 needed to pass it.
The 1,179-mile pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska where it joins pipes running to Texas.
Republicans have vowed to approve the bill next year when the new Congress convenes.
The current Senate is controlled by the Democratic Party, but Republicans will control the next Senate, following gains in elections earlier this month.
President Barack Obama is said to take a “dim view” of the legislation, but has not directly threatened a veto in the event of the bill reaching the White House.
The pipeline project has pitted Republicans and other supporters – who say it will create much-needed jobs – against many Democrats and environmentalists who warn the pipeline will add to carbon emissions and contribute to global warming.
Republicans maintained their majority in the House and gained control of the US Senate during mid-term elections on November 4. But the official start of the new Congress is not until early January.
The bill failed to pass despite all 45 current Republican senators as well as 14 Democrats voting in favor.
The proposed XL pipeline has the same origin and destination as an operational pipe, also called Keystone but takes a more direct route and has a wider diameter.
It would daily carry 830,000 barrels of mostly Canadian-produced oil from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Steele City, Nebraska and then on to the Texas coast for export.
The southern section to the Gulf opened in January 2014.
It is a privately financed project, with the cost of construction shared between TransCanada, an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta, and other oil shippers.
A state department report raised no major environmental objections in February, but the final recommendation was delayed amid a court battle over the project in Nebraska.
The state department is involved because the pipeline would cross an international border.
The Keystone XL pipeline aims to carry some 830,000 barrels of heavy crude a day from the fields in Alberta to Nebraska.
The oil would then be transported on existing pipes to refineries in Texas. The southern section of the project was finished last year.
The bill passed easily in the House last week with a 252-161 vote, but it was not the first time the chamber had voted to approve the project.
The bill’s sponsor, Louisiana Representative Bill Cassidy, is facing a run-off election against incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu for her seat.
Mary Landrieu – among the pipeline’s Democratic supporters – successfully pushed the Senate to hold the vote on the measure on November 18 and urged backing for the measure.
Mitch McConnell, the presumptive Republican leader of the US Senate, has vowed to “work together” with President Barack Obama on issues where they can agree.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said working within a two-party political system did not mean “we have to live in perpetual conflict”.
Mitch McConnell and a host of Republicans swept to victory in the Senate, and now control both chambers of Congress.
President Barack Obama will respond later to what was a terrible result for Democrats.
Mitch McConnell is the presumptive Republican leader of the US Senate
As the new Senate majority leader when the new Congress sits in January, Mitch McConnell will control the chamber’s legislative agenda and floor proceedings.
He has been a fierce critic of the president’s healthcare overhaul and once vowed to block Barack Obama at every turn. But in the glow of victory, he hinted at compromise.
“Tonight we begin another [race]… the race to turn this country around, to restore hope and confidence and optimism to this commonwealth and across this nation,” Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday evening.
“Too many in Washington have forgotten that their job is to serve,” he added.
“We do have an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree.”
Throughout the campaign, Republicans focused on voter dissatisfaction with Barack Obama, a Democrat, describing the vote as a referendum on his presidency.
As the first results came in late on November 4, it became clear they had made the six gains they needed to win control of the Senate.
The Republicans won in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. The party now controls 52 seats, and is tipped to win at least one more as votes are counted in other states.
The Republicans are also projected to increase their majority – by at least 10 seats – in the House of Representatives to levels not seen since before World War Two.
They also made gains among the 36 governorships up for re-election.
The Republicans will now have the power to complicate, if not block completely, Barack Obama’s agenda in the last two years of his tenure in the White House.
Control of the Senate will also enable the Republicans to stymie his ability to name new federal judges, cabinet members and senior government officials.
Millions of Americans are preparing to vote in midterm elections which will decide who controls the Senate and pave the way for the 2016 race for the White House.
Polling booths open on Tuesday, November 4, beginning 06:00 Eastern time.
The Republicans, who already control the House of Representatives, need to gain just six seats to take the Senate.
Meanwhile the Democrats are battling to stay ahead as President Barack Obama’s approval ratings fall to the lowest they have been since he was elected.
Many analysts predict a Republican victory as Barack Obama’s popularity rate fails to climb much above 40%, despite recent improvements in the economy.
“This is a referendum on the president,” Republican senator and potential 2016 presidential candidate Rand Paul told NBC’s Meet the Press at the weekend.
Democrats say their proven ability to rally their supporters ahead of elections could still give them the advantage.
“Grab everybody you know, get them out to vote, don’t stay home, don’t let somebody else choose your future for you,” Barack Obama said during a campaign rally on November 2.
Without the focus of a presidential campaign, the midterms – which are named because they fall in the middle of a presidential term – typically see a low voter turnout.
Millions of Americans are preparing to vote in midterm elections which will decide who controls the Senate and pave the way for the 2016 race for the White House
They also typically favor the party that is not in power.
This year, a little over a third of the 100-seat Senate, all 435 members of the House of Representatives, 36 out of 50 state governors, and countless state and local offices are up for election.
The most closely watched action will be the races that will determine control of the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate.
The Democrats currently hold a five-seat majority in the Senate, meaning the Republicans need only six seats to take control.
As the Republicans already have a convincing hold over the lower House of Representatives, a win in the Senate would give them the power to shut down Barack Obama’s policies in the last two years of his term.
Aside from Barack Obama’s unpopularity, there is no single issue that dominates this midterm poll.
Instead voters will be swayed by a broad variety of concerns including the economy, the environment, immigration, foreign policy, abortion and healthcare.
The most competitive Senate races are expected to take place in the states of North Carolina, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa and Kansas.
Across the board, voters have expressed their dissatisfaction with both parties’ inability to co-operate in Congress and the resulting gridlock this has caused.
If the Republicans do win control of the Senate, the day-to-day running of the chamber will become the responsibility of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, should he win his own tough campaign for re-election.
As the country then shifts its focus to the 2016 presidential election, Barack Obama is likely to find it increasingly hard to operate as his term draws to a close, analysts say.
The US Senate has voted to recommend declassification of part of its report into “brutal” interrogation methods used by the CIA when questioning terror suspects.
But the Senate Intelligence Committee officials say it will be some time before the summary is made public.
Leaked parts of the report showed that the CIA often misled the government over its interrogation methods when George W. Bush was president.
The CIA disputes some of the findings, saying the report contains errors.
Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said that it had voted 11-3 to declassify what she called the “shocking” results of the investigation.
“The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again. This is not what Americans do,” California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said.
Senate report showed that the CIA often misled the government over its interrogation methods when George W. Bush was president
Correspondents say that while some of the committee’s Republicans voted with the Democrats in favor of declassifying the report, it was clear there were bitter divides within the panel.
Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said that while he voted for the report’s declassification “to get it behind us”, it was still “a waste of time”.
A statement released by Dianne Feinstein said that the report highlighted “major problems” with the CIA’s management of its secret Detention and Interrogation Program, which involved more than 100 detainees.
“This is also deeply troubling and shows why oversight of intelligence agencies in a democratic nation is so important,” the statement said.
“The release of this summary and conclusions in the near future shows that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them.
“It is now abundantly clear that, in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks after 9/11 and bring those responsible to justice, the CIA made serious mistakes that haunt us to this day.”
The statement said that the full 6,200-page report – which took five years to compile – has been updated and will be declassified at a later time.
It said that the executive summary, findings and conclusions – which total more than 500 pages – will be sent to President Barack Obama for declassification review and subsequent public release.
Leaks of the report in the Washington Post on Tuesday said that the CIA used secret “black sites” to interrogate prisoners using techniques not previously acknowledged.
These included dunking suspects in icy water and smashing a prisoner’s head against a wall.
Head of the US Senate intelligence committee Dianne Feinstein has publicly accused the CIA of improperly accessing computers used by congressional staff.
Senator Dianne Feinstein said on the Senate floor that such activities “may have undermined the constitutional framework” of government oversight.
The Senate panel was investigating allegations of abuse during a CIA detention and interrogation program.
A CIA internal watchdog has been tasked with looking into the alleged hacking.
“I am not taking it lightly,” Dianne Feinstein said of the matter on Tuesday, adding that the CIA may have violated federal laws in its alleged conduct.
But CIA director John Brennan rejected the Senate allegations.
Dianne Feinstein has publicly accused the CIA of improperly accessing computers used by congressional staff
“The CIA was in no way spying… on the Senate,” John Brennan told MSNBC on Tuesday.
The CIA is accused of secretly removing documents from computers used by the Senate intelligence committee during an investigation into alleged CIA abuse.
Those computers were provided by the CIA to congressional members of staff at a secure site so that Senate investigators could review millions of pages of top secret documents.
The alleged CIA abuse stemmed from a detention and interrogation program under former President George W. Bush.
Dianne Feinstein has previously said that the committee’s 6,000-page “comprehensive review” – completed in 2013 and encompassing six million pages of records – found that the CIA program had yielded little or no significant intelligence.
On Tuesday, the Senate intelligence committee chairwoman reportedly said such improper access to congressional networks, if true, amounted to attempted intimidation of investigators.
Dianne Feinstein also said she had requested an apology from the agency and an acknowledgment that the search was inappropriate, but had “received neither” despite sending letters to the agency requesting information on January 17 and 23.
She noted that CIA inspector general David Buckley had been tasked with looking into the alleged actions.
Dianne Feinstein said he had already referred the matter to the Department of Justice, “given the possibility of a criminal violation by CIA personnel”.
The US Senate has passed a broad immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
The 68-32 vote comes after months of debate and a recent deal to boost border security spending significantly.
But the legislation faces a tough road in the more conservative House.
House Speaker John Boehner has said he will not advance legislation that lacks support of most of his fellow Republicans, who remain resistant.
After the bill’s passage on Thursday, President Barack Obama said the vote brought the US “a critical step closer to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all”.
“Today, the Senate did its job,” Barack Obama said in a statement.
“It’s now up to the House to do the same.”
Barack Obama has made immigration a top priority for his second term, asking Congress to deliver a bill for him to sign by autumn.
As the vote was held on Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, made the rare request of asking all 99 of his colleagues to be present and to vote from their desks.
“This is not a vote where people should be straggling in,” Harry Reid said.
The US Senate has passed a broad immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
After the vote, members of the bipartisan group that negotiated the original bill, known as the Gang of Eight, thanked the broad coalition that had backed immigration reform efforts.
One member of the group, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, said the voices of young undocumented immigrants “had made a difference”.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the bill’s border security measures had “exceeded every expectation I had”, and said the bill had “practically militarized the border”.
Forward movement on the bill comes shortly after two Republican senators this week brokered a compromise to increase the bill’s funding of border security measures. An amendment that added an additional 20,000 border security agents was passed on Wednesday.
Earlier, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the legislation, without the increased border funds, would reduce the US budget deficit by $175 billion over 10 years and boost economic growth.
And analysts say many Republicans acknowledge reforming the immigration system will be key for their election prospects in the future as Hispanics become an increasingly important voter bloc.
On Thursday, John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, said the House would not take up the Senate bill directly.
“We’re going to do our own bill… that reflects the will of our majority and the will of the American people,” he said.
John Boehner’s comments cast doubt on the chances legislation will quickly reach Barack Obama’s desk, and could portend failure for immigration reform entirely, analysts say.
Separate bills designed by House Republicans include stricter border and interior security measures, employment checks and most significantly, no path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Some Republicans believe such a programme rewards those who broke the law by immigrating to the country illegally.
Senator Chuck Grassley, who voted against the Senate bill, said he was counting on the House to pass legislation that is “much more tough”.
What’s in the Senate immigration bill?
Path to citizenship for immigrants who arrived illegally before 31 December 2011
Billions in funding for border security, including 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, and 700 miles of fencing
Requirement border security and fencing goals be met before these immigrants can become permanent residents
A start-up visa for foreign entrepreneurs; new visa programmes for low-skilled workers and the agricultural sector
All employers must use E-Verify, a programme to verify electronically each employee’s legal status within four years
Tens of millions of Americans head to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to re-elect President Barack Obama or hand the job to Republican Mitt Romney.
The voting ends a hard-fought race that began nearly two years ago and has cost more than $2 billion.
Polls will begin closing in eastern states at 19:00 EST – a winner could be known by midnight.
Polls show the race is neck and neck, although the president holds a slender polling lead in crucial swing states.
National polls by Washington Post/ABC News and the Pew Research Centre both give Barack Obama a three-point edge over his rival.
As many as 30 million voters have already cast their ballots, with more than 30 states allowing either absentee voting or in-person early voting.
On the stroke of midnight, the first votes were cast and quickly counted in the tiny village of Dixville Notch in New Hampshire. They resulted in a tie with five votes each for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
Barack Obama has already voted in his adopted hometown of Chicago, becoming the first sitting presidential candidate ever to vote early. Mitt Romney is expected to cast his own ballot in Belmont, Massachusetts, later on Tuesday.
The election is decided by the electoral college. Each state is given a number of electoral votes in rough proportion to its population. The candidate who wins 270 electoral votes – by prevailing in the mostly winner-take-all state contests – becomes president.
Tens of millions of Americans head to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to re-elect President Barack Obama or hand the job to Republican Mitt Romney
Also on Tuesday’s ballot are a handful of state governors, one third of the seats in the 100-member US Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives.
Republicans are expected to keep control of the House, while Democrats were tipped to do the same in the Senate.
The presidential candidates spent Monday frantically criss-crossing the crucial battleground states including Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Virginia, making final appeals to voters. Their task: Push their own supporters to the polls while persuading the sliver of undecided voters to back them.
In speeches, Mitt Romney kept up his attack on Barack Obama’s record, reciting a litany of statistics he says illustrate the president has failed to lift the US economy out of the worst downturn since the Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929.
“If you believe we can do better, if you believe America should be on a better course, if you’re tired of being tired… then I ask you to vote for real change,” Mitt Romney told a rally in a Virginia suburb of the capital, Washington DC.
The president appeared at rallies with singer Bruce Springsteen and rapper Jay-Z. He acknowledged frustration with the still-lagging economy but told voters “our work is not done yet”.
“We’ve come too far to turn back now,” the president said in Ohio.
“We’ve come too far to let our hearts grow faint… We’ll finish what we started. We’ll renew those ties that bind us together and reaffirm the spirit that makes the United States of America the greatest nation on Earth.”
With observers anticipating a close race, both sides have readied teams of lawyers for possible legal fights, especially in the critical battleground state of Ohio.
Some analysts fear the election will not be decided on Tuesday night if the state’s vote becomes mired in legal battles.
On Tuesday Mitt Romney is to hit the campaign trail again with events in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cleveland, Ohio, before holding an election night rally in Boston.
Barack Obama will hold his own election night rally at a convention centre in Chicago.
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