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Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today sent the following letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch regarding the Justice Department’s (DOJ) application of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its potential impact on Wisconsin’s school voucher program, which the Congressman strongly supports:

Dear Attorney General Lynch:

I understand that your agency is in receipt of my letter dated March 19, 2015, regarding the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) years-long federal investigation into the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).  It is my hope that your agency is working expeditiously to draft a response as promised by your predecessor.

As I said in my previous letter, the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is clear and should not be misapplied.  I continue to worry that the DOJ is inappropriately applying ADA standards intended for public schools against private institutions.  The incorrect application of Title II ADA standards will have a devastating effect on the sustainability of MPCP, a program that serves 26,930 means-tested, low-income students. Congress crafted the dual standard explicitly to avoid these hardships.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and I look forward to a reply very soon.

U.S. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, author of the Judicial Redress Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, applauds the efforts of U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.),a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in the introduction of the Judicial Redress Act of 2015 in the U.S. Senate.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “As stewards of U.S. policy, both foreign and domestic, it is the responsibility of Congress to act in the best interest of both America, and her trusted allies. The introduction of the Judicial Redress Act in the United States Senate is a major step forward in ensuring we maintain important international relationships and promote safety and prosperity in the ever-changing space of data and technology. I applaud the bipartisan efforts of Senators Hatch and Murphy, and their continued work on this critical issue.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) received a letter from United States Trade Representative Michael Froman in response to his inquiry about the inclusion of climate change provisions in Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation. Congressman Sensenbrenner issued the following statement upon receiving Ambassador Froman’s letter:

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “International climate change negotiations have the potential to fundamentally restructure the U.S. economy.  It is imperative that they are kept separate from trade negotiations and that an international climate agreement is not agreed to by anything less than a treaty, fully-ratified by the U.S. Senate.  As a Member of Congress with over two decades of experience with climate change policy, I am pleased to hear that the Administration will not attempt to shoehorn climate talks into trade negotiations. The USTR promised that the TPA would not give the President ‘any new authority to enter climate change agreements.’  If Congress grants the Administration TPA, I intend to work vigilantly to ensure the Administration stands by that pledge and that Congress plays a role in any future climate agreement.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) today introduced a resolution celebrating the 100th birthday of the late Les Paul, the “Wizard of Waukesha.” Paul was born June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “Les Paul played a significant role in the advancement of modern music. A talented inventor, musician and musical pioneer, Paul helped revolutionize the industry through the birth of the solid-body electric guitar. As we approach his centennial birthday, we are reminded of Paul’s contributions to society every time we turn on the radio.”

U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Tibetan Refugee Assistance Act today to provide visas to displaced Tibetans. Thousands of Tibetans have gone into exile due to continuing repression in their homeland. These refugees have worked to preserve their religious and cultural identity in exile communities in India and Nepal, but the influx of Tibetans creates many challenges and places an economic burden on these countries. Because they fled Tibet, current U.S. law may consider the Tibetans “firmly resettled” in a third country and might render them inadmissible to the U.S. 

The Tibetan Refugee Assistance Act addresses this problem by providing 3,000 immigrant visas to qualified displaced Tibetans over a three-year period. The bill supports the well-being of the Tibetan exile community as they strive to find a peaceful solution for Tibet; helps the overburdened settlements in India and Nepal; and gives displaced Tibetans the opportunity to flourish as Tibetan-Americans.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “With the recent earthquake in Nepal, this legislation is more important than ever. Nepal is home to a sizeable Tibetan refugee population, and the disaster has devastated the Tibetan community, especially in remote areas close to the earthquake’s epicenter. This bill is a timely expression of American support for the Tibetan people as they struggle for religious and cultural freedom.”

Congresswoman Lofgren: “The Tibetan people are in need of our help, and this bill is a small but useful step in the right direction. The devastation of the recent earthquake in Nepal, coupled with decades of persecution at the hands of the Chinese government make it all the more necessary for displaced Tibetans to be recognized by the United States for refugee assistance and afforded protection under U.S. law.”

When this week's big showdown over the Patriot Act was finally behind him, Jim Sensenbrenner could savor the kind of victory that doesn't come along too often in a polarized, party-line political world.

His two-year push to rein in the government's mass surveillance program cleared its final hurdle Tuesday with the support of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. President Obama signed the legislation immediately.

"It's not that the President has caved to me or I have caved to the President," said Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican and prime mover behind the first major revisions to the Patriot Act since its passage in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We both realized there was a problem that had to be fixed. And we worked together to fix it," Sensenbrenner said in an interview Wednesday.

Along the way, the Menomonee Falls congressman helped build a coalition that crossed partisan and right-left lines, ranging from tea party conservatives to civil liberties Democrats.

Large bipartisan majorities on hot-button issues are rare these days. In the House, roughly 80 percent of lawmakers in both parties voted last month for the Sensenbrenner bill, known as the USA Freedom Act.

By the end, the bill's supporters included Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senate Republican Ted Cruz of Texas. Among Wisconsin lawmakers, they included Democrat Gwen Moore of Milwaukee and Republican Paul Ryan of Janesville.

Whatever one thinks of the law, it was an unusual legislative feat.

The Patriot Act reforms adopted this week have been attributed in part to a new generation of more libertarian Republicans elected to Congress years after the terrorist attacks.

But the law's chief sponsor – Sensenbrenner – has been in office since 1979. He's the second-longest serving Republican and fourth longest-serving member of the U.S. House.

Sensenbrenner was also the chief author of the original Patriot Act, which made him an effective advocate for changing it.

"Institutional memory is essential," he said.

Of any legislative victory he has played a major part in, Sensenbrenner called this one the "hardest to accomplish," because the others (including the 2001 Patriot Act) began with a built-in base of support in Congress and the public.

This one started "with nothing," he said.

After the revelations two years ago by Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency's "bulk" surveillance program, Sensenbrenner argued publicly that it overstepped the language of the Patriot Act. The government was collecting en masse Americans' domestic call records – not the conversations, but the record of what numbers were being called, and the time, date and duration of calls.

The Wisconsin Republican told conservative talk show host Sean Hannity last week that the NSA surveillance was "an intrusion to privacy of a scale no one imagined."

'The dominoes fell'

In 2013, Sensenbrenner began a long process of outreach and negotiation with telecommunication companies, the intelligence community, the White House, privacy and civil liberties groups, and colleagues in both parties and both chambers. He said he told telecom and digital companies that the program would damage them with customers, especially in Western Europe, where the surveillance was highly unpopular. Pressure from tech companies, he said, was a way to influence the White House on the issue.

Sensenbrenner worked closely with a small circle of House members and senators from both parties and both ends of the political spectrum to draft the bill. Boehner was persuaded to get behind it. Obama gave a speech in early 2014 promising new restrictions on data collection.

"The dominoes fell one by one," said Sensenbrenner.

In early May, a federal court ruling declaring the surveillance program illegal provided more momentum. After the House passed the measure overwhelmingly last month, the most powerful opponent was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, backed by a cadre of security-minded GOP senators.

Sensenbrenner said that while McConnell's opposition was no surprise, the "depth of his opposition" was. But the majority leader never had the votes to extend the Patriot Act unchanged and was outmaneuvered in his own chamber.

"He miscalculated where the public was and where his colleagues were," Sensenbrenner said.

Keeping balance

All along, Sensenbrenner argued that his bill was the sweet spot between privacy and security, and upsetting that equilibrium would doom it. All along, the bill had critics on opposite sides of the debate, those who said it sacrificed security (like Senate Republican John McCain of Arizona) and those who said it sacrificed privacy (like Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, the only Senate Democrat to vote against it).

"You make the perfect the enemy of the good, then nothing happens, which is one of the reasons I think we have a lot of gridlock around here. I am absolutely convinced that what we passed was the best that was pass-able and sign-able," said Sensenbrenner, who acknowledged if he could impose a law "by decree" he would have included more privacy safeguards in the bill.

Gov. Scott Walker, a fellow Wisconsin Republican and likely presidential candidate, surprised Sensenbrenner with his public opposition to the legislation, suggesting it would cost the U.S. an important tool for tracking potential terrorists.

"I would respond to the governor and others who have been saying that, (that) the bulk collection (of domestic phone records) has been going on for nine years now and the threat has increased rather than decreased," Sensenbrenner said. "And if there hasn't been any evidence that has been submitted that the bulk collection stopped anything, then what's the beef?"

Sensenbrenner said one huge legislative lesson is the leverage gained from including "sunsets" – expiration dates. The provision used by the NSA as the basis for its mass surveillance program was one of three in the Patriot Act with sunset clauses, requiring renewal. Sensenbrenner's original Patriot Act was criticized as overreaching by civil liberties advocates. But the lawmaker also was responsible for including the sunsets, and that leverage made this week's changes to the Patriot Act possible.

"If we ever had the need demonstrated on how useful sunsets are, this is it," said Sensenbrenner.

Sensenbrenner said he thinks Americans have shifted and become more privacy conscious compared to the climate that was created more than a decade ago by the 2001 attacks.

"You have more libertarian Republicans ...And you've got more civil liberties-minded Democrats that are concerned about that," he said, citing how technology has made privacy concerns about personal communication more tangible for everyone, especially young people.

In his last re-election race, the 71-year-old Sensenbrenner distributed posters on college campuses touting his bill to revise the Patriot Act and restrict NSA surveillance.

The posters proclaimed, "The GOVERNMENT knows what you did LAST NIGHT!" and declared in smaller type: "The NSA has grabbed your phone calls, texts, Facebook posts and emails. Jim Sensenbrenner thinks that is an outrageous invasion of your privacy."

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Congressional negotiators are scrambling over the Memorial Day recess to rustle up the votes required to pass legislation to rein in the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records but preserve the government's domestic surveillance program. This race against the clock would never have become necessary — and shouldn't have — but for a group of senators intent on scuttling sensible legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

Sensenbrenner's USA Freedom Act would end the government's massive eavesdropping program revealed two years ago by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. His bill overwhelmingly passed the House but fell three votes short of the 60 needed for passage last week in the Senate. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose hours-long monologue on Friday made passage impossible, wants to go farther: He has vowed to block reauthorization of the bill until the Senate votes to end the section of the Patriot Act used by the NSA to justify the dragnet of phone records.

But Paul, a presidential candidate who has used his filibustering to raise funds for his campaign, is wrong. The better course (though less lucrative for his campaign) would have been simple support for Sensenbrenner's bill.

It strengthens privacy and civil liberty protection, but still gives intelligence authorities the tools they need to protect Americans. The bill would not allow the NSA to sweep up records as it has done in the past but would require phone companies to hold the records, which the NSA could access with a search warrant.

The Patriot Act's Section 215 expires Monday, which forced Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to call for a rare Sunday session this week for a vote on any compromise deal. The House also may have to act on Sunday.

As with too many issues in the nation's Capitol, a handful of lawmakers are holding up a very good bill that solves a problem. We agree with U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee:

"This whole argument is just a circus act, and it's just unfortunate," he said. "We've wasted a considerable amount of legislative time, both in the House and the Senate, on something that is really trivial. This is a program that is very important but very seldom used."

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By a vote of 57-42, the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold to advance in the Senate. Following the Senate’s rejection of the USA FREEDOM Act, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), and Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) issued the following joint statement:

“The Senate’s rejection of the USA FREEDOM Act, a bipartisan bill that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives, misses an opportunity to protect our civil liberties while also maintaining our national security. The USA FREEDOM Act is a carefully crafted compromise that has earned the support of the White House, the intelligence community, privacy and civil liberties advocates, private industry, Republicans and Democrats, and most importantly the American people.

“The USA FREEDOM Act, which the House passed 338-88, ends bulk collection of data, increases transparency, and prevents government overreach. The bill preserves key intelligence-gathering authorities while prohibiting bulk collection under Section 215, consistent with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision. Section 215 would remain a valuable counterterrorism tool for the FBI and a targeted call detail records authority would replace the NSA’s current, unlawful program.

“Because the Senate has rejected the USA FREEDOM Act, Section 215—and the NSA’s bulk collection program that some in the Senate are trying to preserve—will now expire before the House reconvenes on the evening of June 1.  The Senate has failed to make the important reforms necessary, jeopardizing Americans’ civil liberties and our national security.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.): “Senator Burr’s proposal to plug the so-called “holes” in the USA FREEDOM Act is dead-on-arrival in the House.  His bill is not stronger on national security, it is just much weaker on civil liberties. This is nothing more than a last-ditch effort to kill the USA FREEDOM Act, which passed the House 338-88.  If the Senate coalesces around this approach, the result will be the expiration of important authorities needed to keep our country safe.”

  • USA FREEDOM’s six month transition period was proposed by the NSA.  Just this week, NSA Director Mike Rogers wrote that the time period was adequate.  There is absolutely no reason to extend a program recently ruled illegal by the Second Circuit for an additional two years.
  • The Amicus provisions in USA FREEDOM are entirely discretionary.  These provisions will not cause harmful operational delays.
  • The latest controversy proves the value of sunsets.  Now would be the worst time to make these provisions permanent.