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Party line splits on House approval to arm Syrian rebels

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: September 17, 2014 - 5:23 PM

WASHINGTON -- It's not often that Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan join together to support the same amendment.

On Thursday, an odd blend of bedfellows voted against a $5 billion measure to arm Syrian rebels in the fight to combat the terror group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which passed 273 to 156.

Bachmann, Nolan and Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum voted against the proposal. Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Collin Peterson and Keith Ellison joined Republican Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulson in support.

Bachmann tweeted after the vote: "Many of the so-called "moderate" rebels have already joined the cause of Islamic jihad. Concerned U.S. weapons could fall into enemy hands."

Nolan uttered a similar sentiment on the House floor Tuesday. His impassioned speech earned him exposure on the CBS morning news.

"Remember, last year at this time we were ready to attack (Syrian President) al-Assad and Syria. Now we appear in a tacit alliance with Assad and his allies to defeat ISIL," he said. "Today we appear ready to send $5 billion to the FSA ... The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result."

Paulsen said, in a statement, he supported the measure with reservations.

"I remain concerned about the administration's ability to effectively and appropriately vet Syrian opposition forces to ensure we are training groups aligned with our interest in defeating ISIL," he said, noting he found it "necessary to provide the president with this limited and short-term authority."

McCollum, in a statement, called the debate "rushed."

"The CIA is already training and arming Syrian fighters in Jordan, without congressional approval. How well has that worked? We are not discussing that as a body," she said.

The Senate takes this up Thursday. Sen. Al Franken in an interview on Wednesday said he had concerns about arming Syria and was still undecided.

Minnesota delegation weighs in after Obama speech on Islamic State fight

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: September 11, 2014 - 10:31 AM

WASHINGTON -- President Obama outlined a campaign Wednesday to launch airstrikes in both Syria and Iraq. Obama said he doesn't believe he needs Congressional approval for this military action, which will be conducted with allies. He will seek Congressional support and additional money to finance the operation.

Here are comments from some of Minnesota's Congressional delegation after the speech:

Sen. Al Franken, Democrat: "I want to find out more about the potential ramifications of these actions on the civil war in Syria, for more specifics about the coalition the administration intends to build, and about their ongoing efforts to stifle terrorist recruitment activities in Minnesota and around the country."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat: "I support targeted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well as training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition, and I also think it's critical that we work with our allies in the international community so we are united in our effort defeat this terrorist organization."

Rep. John Kline, Republican: "It's never a good strategy to telegraph to the enemy what options are off the table. As a 25-year Marine Corps veteran, the father of a son who has served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a member of the House Armed Services Commmittee, I will continue to ensure our allies and personnel in Iraq and around the globe are receiving the support they need to combat terrorism, while carefully reviewing additional military actions taken by the president."

Rep. Tim Walz, Democrat: "The president has the authority to expand strategic airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq. I believe he should exercise that authority. Before taking any warranted action against ISIL in Syria, however, I believe the president should consult with Congress."

Rep. Keith Ellison, Democrat (via Progressive Caucus statement): "Congress must weigh in when it comes to confronting ISIL through military action. The voices of the American people must be heard during a full and robust debate in Congress on the use of military force."
 
Rep. Betty McCollum, Democrat: "As the U.S. confronts the growing threat from ISIL in the middle east, I strongly support President Obama and the men and women of the Armed Forces, intelligence community and diplomatic corps whose duty it is to defend our freedom while protecting the lives of millions of innocents in distant lands."
 

 Rep. Michele Bachmann, Republican (via Twitter)

"The president gave a poll driven speech that has nothing in common with defeating a brutal enemy that has declared war on the United States."

"The president's so-called strategy offered virtually nothing new, and it's clear he doesn't understand the threat of Islamic jihad."

By the numbers: Outside spending on federal races

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: August 28, 2014 - 1:41 PM

According to Federal Election Commission data, Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District race has attracted the most money from outside groups so far.

The contest between Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican Stewart Mills has already seen nearly $1.4 million in PAC spending, with much of it coming from Nolan supporters, such as the House Majority Fund and the AFSCME union.

In contrast, the race for the Seventh Congressional District seat, which Republican Torrey Westrom hopes to snatch from longtime Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, has only seen $245,000 in independent expenditures. Interestingly, the last filing documenting outside spending in that race was from eight months ago.

Minnesota's U.S. Senate race, so far, has drawn relatively little interest from independent spenders. According to FEC filings, outside groups have spent about $140,000 to weigh in on the battle between Democratic Sen. Al Franken and Republican Mike McFadden.

The FEC calculations only include expenditures that represent, "spending by individual people, groups, political committees, corporations or unions expressly advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified federal candidates."

This post first appeared in our Morning Hot Dish political newsletter. If you're not already getting the political newsletter by email, it's easy and free to sign up.  Go to StarTribune.com/membercenter, check the Politics newsletter box and save the change.

Hagedorn upsets Miller in First District GOP primary

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: August 12, 2014 - 11:11 PM

Businessman Jim Hagedorn ousted Army veteran Aaron Miller, the Republican Party-endorsed candidate, in the First Congressional District’s Republican primary.

After failing to win the party endorsement and bowing out, Hagedorn re-entered the race in May “at the urging of quite a few people inside the Republican Party,” who felt that Miller wasn’t devoting enough time to the campaign,  Hagedorn said.

“They felt that [Miller’s campaign] wasn’t strong enough to beat an incumbent congressman,” Hagedorn said.

Hagedorn – whose father once represented southern Minnesota in Congress -- now faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is seeking a fifth term in the House.

The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Republicans’ campaign arm, had pegged Miller as an up-and-coming candidate in the race against Walz.

The First District covers southern Minnesota.

Rochester VA clinic staff ‘felt pressure’ to manipulate wait time data, audit finds

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: August 1, 2014 - 5:31 AM

An internal audit by the VA found that staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Rochester “felt pressure to manipulate” appointment data to hide delays in medical care to veterans.

“The audit information is troubling, but not shocking give the culture we’ve uncovered at VA in recent months and the pressure to hit unrealistic wait-time goals,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who represents Rochester.

The audit by the VA’s Veterans Health Administration was ordered earlier this year by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

In response to cover-ups of wait times at VA facilities, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have reached an agreement that will provide $10 billion in emergency funding to the VA to allow veterans to seek private care rather than face long wait times at Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Walz was a member of the House-Senate conference that negotiated the deal.

 “[The audit] underscores the importance of the … legislation we passed. This legislation ends the practice of using wait-time metrics for performance goals.”

Minneapolis VA officials are awaiting a final report from the VA Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C.

VA policy is to enter the date the veteran requests as the “desired date” even if that time is not available. That date is then used to track waiting times for veterans to get appointments.

Patrick Kelly, director of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System said: “We don’t have enough information … to really take action on that. When there’s a further level of review, we will then take the appropriate … suggested or needed actions.”

As part of the audit, 43 schedulers in the Minneapolis VA Health Care System – including its network of 13 clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin -- were asked whether they were instructed to alter scheduling data or felt pressured to do so. The Minneapolis system has about 900 schedulers total.

Five schedulers in the Minneapolis region said they received instructions to alter appointment data. One scheduler said they were told to track appointments outside the system.

Kelly said the issues were tied to compliance issues at two clinics and “never any issue of integrity or trying to hide anything.”

The report found no offenses in the St. Cloud VA Health Care System. Released this week, the report follows up on an audit of 900 Veterans Affairs’ facilities throughout the United States.

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