Essential Politics: Does Congress want to vote on war?


I’m Christina Bellantoni, kicking off your week with Essential Politics.

After a three-day stretch that yielded the first blueprint for climate negotiators to work with in Paris, revealed new details about how Tashfeen Malik was radicalized and concluded with a rare Oval Office address, where do you even start?

Perhaps the best way to begin is what’s expected from today.

Memorial services will be held in San Bernardino and the investigation continues as a picture of the killers and how Malik made it to America comes into clearer focus.

Congress returns to Washington racing against the clock for a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. (Funding for California’s drought, it turns out, has sparked a nasty spat within the delegation.)

And as they grapple with the dollars, the House prepares to vote Tuesday on new restrictions for tourist visa waivers. But President Obama presented new questions for Congress to consider ahead of a scheduled holiday adjournment.

In his address, divided into distinctive sections despite being just 13 minutes long, Obama challenged members of the House and Senate.

"If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists," he said. "For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it’s time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight."

The request from the Oval Office — his first address in that location since August 2010 when he announced combat operations in Iraq had ended — was not a new one.

Obama sent Congress a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force in February, and even though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for a robust debate on what is essentially declaring a formal war on the Islamic State, it has gone nowhere.

Does Congress have an appetite to vote on war in an election year? Particularly when the administration has made clear all of the actions it has taken so far in Syria and elsewhere to combat Islamic State are sound under the AUMF agreement passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks?

Then there’s the presidential campaign, as David Lauter and Evan Halper wrote in this detailed analysis, which has been upended by the events of the last week.

We’ll be tracking every twist and turn, so don’t miss a moment and follow us on Twitter.


Before the debate shifted to terrorism, Rep. Jackie Speier told Sarah Wire she’s had it with standing for moments of silence after mass shootings. From now on, the Democrat said, she will boycott the chamber or stay seated.

The feelings of frustration were shared by several of her California colleagues.

"You’re just looking around the House floor wondering whose district will be next, and I didn’t expect that it would be Pete Aguilar. It could be a Republican, it could be a Democrat, it could be East Coast or West Coast, but it will be someone," Rep. Eric Swalwell told Wire. "Pete won’t be the last one to stand on the House floor and ask people to honor people in his congressional district."

Aguilar was in the district all weekend asking the grieving people of the San Bernardino community to stick together "across faiths, across cities." Don’t miss Christine Mai-Duc’s piece shadowing the congressman and Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, who has been going around the clock offering comfort to her constituents.

Politics do go on, of course, so Javier Panzar checked in with Aguilar’s 2016 opponent Paul Chabot. The Republican was friends with one of the people slain in San Bernardino, and asked his campaign supporters to donate to a fund for Michael Wetzel’s wife and children. (Panzar also found that two gun-related events in California would continue as planned — Rep. Jim Costa’s GOP challenger is giving away handguns next weekend, and former Alaska Gov. and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin signed books at a gun club.)

The president included a gun-control call in his address.

He said: "To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security."

"We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino," Obama said. "I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies -- no matter how effective they are -- cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do -- and must do -- is make it harder for them to kill."

The events in San Bernardino last week appear to be rekindling efforts in Sacramento to write new gun laws. As Patrick McGreevy writes, some of the efforts will sound familiar — regulations on ammunition sales and semi-automatic weapons. Others will be something new, like a promise from Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) to ensure anyone on the federal "no fly" list is also banned from buying guns or certain explosive-making chemicals.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom this fall called for stricter regulations, and the Democrat’s push comes at just the right moment in time, Cathleen Decker noted in her Sunday column. George Skelton also devoted his column to the gun issue, arguing lax laws allowed this (and other) massacres to happen.

It’s worth noting that the real question is whether the San Bernardino mass shooting has an effect on Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor has long straddled the line on new gun restrictions, and vetoed some of the legislation that made it to his desk in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012. Will 2016 be any different?

For now, the Golden State’s focus is on the City of Light.


It was a busy weekend for climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries, who have approved a new draft of a potential climate change deal. A new round of high-level talks is scheduled to begin Monday with political leaders from around the world.

Many disagreements still need to be sorted out, and India has pushed for developed countries to shoulder more of the burden for addressing global warming.

Chris Megerian interviewed Gov. Jerry Brown and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who agree on goals for the talks and also that they disagree with most of the Republican Party on environmental issues.

We’re keeping a liveblog populated with news — and some lighter moments for the remainder of the week.

Megerian delivered an early video report from the scene, just as authorities declared the San Bernardino massacre a terrorist attack. Watch.

Keep up on our live blog and follow @chrismegerian.


San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins’ tenure as speaker will come to an end on March 7, Melanie Mason reports. That’s when her successor, Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles) will be sworn in for the leadership job.

But first, there will have to be a vote to make the passing of the torch official (no suspense here: Rendon locked up the support of the Assembly Democrats back in September). The vote on the Assembly floor will happen on Jan. 11.

Atkins and Rendon announced the transition timeline on Friday. Both legislators are currently attending the United Nations summit on climate change in Paris.


If you like your California politics coverage with a blend of analysis and banter, then you’re in luck: There’s a podcast just for you!

Sacramento bureau chief John Myers, who joined us in October, has been the host of a weekly politics podcast since 2006. He has relaunched his California Politics Podcast.

This week’s episode, which also features Marisa Lagos of KQED News and former Times reporter Anthony York, is a quick catch-up of the autumn news on ballot measures, the state budget and Gov. Jerry Brown.

You can subscribe now via the audio service Soundcloud, and look for new ways to subscribe in the weeks to come.

John Myers contributed to today’s newsletter.


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