Posts Tagged ‘Jeanne Shaheen’

US agencies banned from using Russia’s Kaspersky software

September 14, 2017

Federal agencies in the US have 90 days to wipe Kaspersky software from their computers. Officials are concerned about the Russian company’s ties to the Kremlin and possible threats to national security.

Headquarters of Internet security giant Kaspersky in Moscow (Getty Images/AFP/K. Kudryavtsev)

The administration of US President Donald Trump has ordered government agencies to remove products made by Russian company Kaspersky Labs from their computers.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Wednesday it was concerned that the cybersecurity firm was susceptible to pressure from Moscow and thus a potential threat to national security.

Read more: Facebook, Russia and the US elections – what you need to know

DHS said in a statement that it was “concerned about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence and other government agencies,” as well as Russian laws that might compel Kaspersky to hand over information to the government.

But the makers of the popular anti-virus software have said “no credible evidence has been presented publicly by anyone or any organization as the accusations are based on false allegations and inaccurate assumptions.”

US tech retailer Best Buy confirmed earlier Wednesday that it would no longer sell Kaspersky products, but has declined to give further details on the decision.

Ties between Kaspersky, Kremlin ‘alarming’

Civilian government agencies have 90 days to completely remove Kaspersky software from their computers. The products have already been banned in the Pentagon.

US congressional leaders have applauded the move. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said the “strong ties between Kaspersky Lab and the Kremlin are alarming and well-documented,” and asked the DHS if the company’s products were used for any critical infrastructure, such as for voting systems, banks and energy supply.

Although Kaspersky Labs was founded by a KGB-trained entrepreneur, Eugene Kaspersky, and has done work for Russian intelligence, the company has repeatedly denied carrying out espionage on behalf of President Vladimir Putin and his government.

es/cmk (AP, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/us-agencies-banned-from-using-russias-kaspersky-software/a-40500232

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Human Rights In China: People Disappear — Or Face Interrogations, Torture

September 24, 2015

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Pictured: Chinese human rights lawyers

By Jessica Chou

This is what we know happened on July 9, 2015: At 3 a.m., 44-year-old human-rights lawyer Wang Yu texted some friends, saying that people were breaking into her home in Beijing. Her electricity and Internet were cut off. Soon after, Wang, her husband, and her 16-year-old son went missing.
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Wang Yu
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Wang is one of 225 lawyers and activists who have been detained by the Chinese government since July 5, Amnesty International reports. She is also one of 20 imprisoned women representing silenced female voices around the world in the United States Mission to the United Nations’ #FreeThe20 campaign. Leading up to the Beijing+20 conference, where heads of state from all around the globe will recommit themselves to improving women’s rights worldwide, this campaign is meant to confront many of the delegates with the names and faces of the women who are being unjustly held in their countries.“We are here to launch a campaign to recognize 20 of those women,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said earlier this month at a press conference. “[These women] should be advocating for women’s empowerment and part of the discussions around the [Beijing +20] Conference in New York in three weeks, rather than being behind bars.”

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Wang was the first of the 20 women named in the campaign (and was featured prominently in the windows of the U.S. mission to the United Nations). As a lawyer, she took on high-profile human-rights cases, representing prominent and controversial scholars, activists, and, most notably, the “Feminist Five,” who planned a protest against sexual harassment and were detained for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” the Economist reported.

Feminist Five — Clockwise from top left: Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man. They have have been detained by Chinese authorities.

“It’s very important that people understand what she was doing,” Amnesty International researcher William Nee told Refinery29. “She was taking on cases about the rapes of ethnic minorities, religious-persecution cases, women’s-rights cases. In China, lawyers who are taking on those cases are at severe risk of persecution.”

THEY DON’T KNOW THAT CHINESE PEOPLE ARE LIKE ANIMALS AND DON’T HAVE ANY BASIC RIGHTS.

WANG YU, LAWYER AND ACTIVIST

But let’s be clear: Wang started off as a commercial lawyer. What turned her into an activist was her own run-in with the government.

In 2008, railway-station employees refused to allow Wang to board a train, even though she had a ticket. Several men assaulted her; Wang was then sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for “intentional assault,” despite the fact that she was the victim in this situation.

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“Many people think about China — China is rich, China is developing quickly,” Wang said in a 2013 interview for the upcoming documentary The Road From Hainan. “They don’t know that Chinese people are like animals and don’t have any basic rights.”

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The Road From Hainan tracks Wang’s work in a 2013 sexual-assault case in the Chinese city of Hainan, where the lawyer helped represent the families of six young girls, ages 11 to 14, who were taken to a hotel room by their school president and a government official and allegedly sexually abused. The families were threatened by the government and told to keep quiet; Wang refused.

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“[Wang] was doing a series of high-profile cases, many of which the government did not like whatsoever,” Nee says. “Eventually, the state-run press put out an article vilifying her in June, which is ominous. And there was a crackdown.”

Wang and her husband remain in custody under “residential surveillance”; their son has reportedly been released, but cannot leave the country. But the whereabouts of Wang and her husband are unknown — residential surveillance is notoriously secretive (it was the topic of Ai Weiwei’s powerful piece “S.A.C.R.E.D.,” produced after he was detained for 81 days in an unknown location).

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“In residential surveillance, there is really no way to know what is happening,” Nee says. “At least in a detention facility, you have your fellow detainees, you have family visits, word will leak out if something is wrong. [In residential surveillance], the police can basically do anything.”

Nee notes that there have been cases in the past where people held in this secretive limbo were subject to 22-hour interrogations and torture. Typically, people put under residential surveillance are being charged with terrorism, endangering state security, or serious bribery. Wang, Nee says, is being charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

“EVERYONE SAYS HUMAN-RIGHTS LAW IS A HIGH-RISK CAREER.”

WANG YU, LAWYER AND ACTIVIST
“Everyone says human-rights law is a high-risk career,” Wang said in a segment of the documentary published by the Guardian. “One might disappear, be sent to a mental hospital or detention center. This could happen at any time.”

It happened on July 9; it’s happened to many others since. And it’s those voices that Power wants to include in the conversation about advancing women’s rights — and, subsequently, all human rights.

“[These] women…have worked to promote freedom of expression and assembly; to ensure people’s right to basic health care and education; and to defend children, refugees, and other vulnerable members of our societies,” she said at the #FreeThe20 press conference. “To the governments imprisoning these 20 individuals, we urge: If you want to empower women, start by releasing these women.”

“IF YOU WANT TO EMPOWER WOMEN, START BY RELEASING THESE WOMEN.”

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS SAMANTHA POWER

Power is not alone in championing this cause. Yesterday, Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a bipartisan resolution in support of #FreeThe20, bringing together all 20 of the women currently serving in the Senate. They issued a joint statement explaining the importance of the resolution — and the need to empower and liberate these women, and the many others like them:

“As 20 women serving in the United States Senate we stand unified in calling on governments to recognize the universal human rights of women and to release women who have been imprisoned unjustly for exercising those rights. Our message is simple — world leaders and foreign governments, including those attending the U.N.-hosted meeting this month, should empower women, not imprison them.”

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Photo: A billboard in Beijing advocating for putting a stop to domestic violence. China’s new law is due for its first reading before the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in August. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

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These stories are not just about women. In Wang Yu’s case, she represents the activists and the minorities in China, the communities that want to create change. “In China, these lawyers are really the leaders of different social movements,” Nee says. “The law may say things in theory, but in practice it’s another story. So ethnic minorities, feminists, religious minorities, all of these people rely on lawyers to help them in legal battles, but there aren’t a lot of human-rights lawyers. It’s very important that the world step up and defend this community.”

To show your support of these women — and many others who have been unjustly imprisoned — use the #FreeThe20 hashtag to make your voice, and theirs, heard.

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http://www.refinery29.com/2015/09/94384/wang-yu-china-human-rights-lawyer
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China has turned Xinjiang into a sort of occupied zone. The Muslim Uighur minority is surrounded by Chinese military with automatic weapons. Many have accused China of a “slow genocide” of the Uighur population.

The empty chair with a diploma and medal that should have been awarded to Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo stands in Oslo City Hall

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The empty chair with a diploma and medal that should have been awarded to Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo stands in Oslo City Hall Photo: 2010 AFP

Cao Shunli

“Cao Shunli paid the highest price for trying to participate in China’s rights review at the Council,” said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, China director. “At the two-year mark of the detention that led to her death, it is shocking that there has still been no accountability, or any sign of an investigation.”

Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli died after falling critically ill in police detention in China

Officials in eastern China must abandon plans to demolish churches and crosses and stop their

Parishioners line up outside the Sanjiang church in Wenzhou hoping to save it from demolition by the Chinese Communist government Photo: Tom
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U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama delivers a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University on March 22, 2014 in Beijing, China

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U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama on her way to deliver a speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University on March 22, 2014 in Beijing, China Photo: GETTY IMAGES
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Photo: Hong Kong ‘s pro-democracy protesters carry a banner bearing the words, They can’t kill us all.”
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People march in a downtown street to support for a veto of the government’s electoral reform package in Hong Kong, Sunday, June 14, 2015. The rally was held ahead of a crucial vote by lawmakers on Beijing-backed election reforms that sparked huge street protests last year. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Beijing's No 1 detention centre

Outside Beijing’s No 1 detention centre. Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

China’s Xi Jinping

Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s extended family has controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion, the New York Times reported, citing corporate and regulatory records and unidentified people familiar with the family’s investments.

Republicans Put House Democrats Under Renewed Pressure to Move Trade Bill

June 16, 2015

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Trade: U.S. House is sole barrier to bill that would give the president fast-track trade negotiating authority

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R. Calif.) speaks at a June 10 news conference at the U.S. Capitol.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R. Calif.) speaks at a June 10 news conference at the U.S. Capitol. PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES
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By Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson
The Wall Street Journal
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WASHINGTON—The White House and House Republican leaders Monday worked to find a way to revive trade legislation that Democrats shot down last week, as an impasse over President Barack Obama’s trade agenda stretched into a second week.

Mr. Obama called House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) to discuss a new strategy forward. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, meanwhile, spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).

After months of what she called trying to “get to yes,” Mrs. Pelosi last week cast her lot with opponents of the trade bill who voted against extending a workers’ assistance program, putting the entire legislation in limbo.

That workers’ program had been separated from another measure giving Mr. Obama fast-track trade negotiating authority, or the ability to put trade deals before Congress for a vote without amendments, in a tactical move to win enough votes for the entire package.

Instead, Democrats opposed the first part to bring down the fast-track part.

The standoff leaves the House as the sole barrier to a bill that already passed the Senate and that is designed to help wrap up the biggest trade accord in U.S. history.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said that “the best option right now” would be for “the Democrats to come to their senses” and support the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which would help workers hurt by a trade deal.

Under a current rule, a re-vote on the assistance program must occur by Tuesday. But late Monday, the House Rules Committee voted to give the chamber through July 30 to hold a re-vote. The House must approve the new time frame.

Another option is for the Republican-controlled House to pass just the fast-track portion of the legislation as a stand-alone bill. But Senate Democrats indicated Monday evening that they would likely block such legislation.

“It would be very difficult to do that,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) “If we are going to open markets, it’s very important for us to support those workers who might get displaced as part of that.”

The trade legislation narrowly cleared a key procedural hurdle in the Senate in late May, indicating that the defection of Democrats could derail efforts to pass the fast-track measure unless congressional leaders find a way to extend the workers’ aid program, which expires at the end of September.

“They both have to pass and I don’t know how they’d pass if they were separate,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.).

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the administration continued to believe there is strong bipartisan support for the trade package and that officials just need to “figure out how to untangle the legislative snafu in the House.”

“We have made no decisions yet, but there are options,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters. “We’ll assess where we are and have a strategy to go forward.”

Trade supporters in both parties are under some time pressure to finish the legislation. Mr. Obama needs the fast-track authority to help complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. Progress on the remaining difficult issues in the deal has slowed as officials from U.S. trading partners wait for Congress to act on the fast-track legislation.

Supporters of the trade bill would like to wrap up their work by this summer, before the 2016 campaigns complicate the passage of bills in Congress. Labor unions have organized an effective opposition and have shown their ability to use even small delays to slow down the trade bill.

“The longer something like this sits out there the harder it is to bring it back,” Mr. McCarthy said Monday “Before the summer’s out, you have to have it done, and I think each week it goes on may make it a little more difficult.”

One question Monday was whether a single trade bill would fare better in the House than the two-part measure that imploded in the chamber on Friday.

House Republicans’ preferred approach is for Democrats to find more support within their caucus for the workers’ assistance part of the legislation. In last week’s voting, only 40 Democrats backed the program with Mrs. Pelosi joining 44 Democrats who voted against the measure.

But pro-trade Democrats including Rep. John Delaney (D., Md.) said the best opportunity for passing the bill rested with Republicans who supported the fast-track measure but so far have resisted the workers’ aid program.

“This is worker training, which I think they should have no problem supporting,” particularly if GOP leaders combine the two measures into a single vote, Mr. Delaney said in an interview Sunday.

“There’s no question that this issue was a setback for the president and it was delivered by the Democrats, so I’m sure there is some political joy associated with that, but I’m hopeful they’ll focus on the importance of this trade deal and realize we’re on the one yard line on this thing,” Mr. Delaney said.

Mr. McCarthy, though, said that 86 Republicans who voted for the workers’ aid program “is probably topping where you go” and that “maybe a few more” Republicans would support extending the aid program.

The last time the House voted on the workers’ program, in 2011, 118 Republicans favored it.

Mr. McCarthy noted that “a lot of Republicans believe you should just do TPA,” using the shorthand for Trade Promotion Authority, the formal name for the fast-track power.

Mr. McCarthy also shot down an idea floated last week by Mrs. Pelosi, who suggested that the trade bill would have more support if congressional GOP leaders showed a commitment to passing a multiyear highway bill.

“I don’t think that makes sense what she’s saying,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com and Kristina Peterson atkristina.peterson@wsj.com

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WASHINGTON — Congressional Republican leaders and White House officials on Monday explored ways to resurrect trade legislation that stalled last week when House Democrats objected and dealt President Obama an embarrassing defeat at the hands of his own party.

In meetings at the Capitol and in telephone conversations with Mr. Obama and administration officials, lawmakers ticked through a list of complicated procedural options that could circumvent House Democratic opposition to granting the president the power to expedite trade deals.

As they examined the possibilities, House Republicans took steps Monday night to give Speaker John A. Boehner until the end of July to try again to win approval of a bill to aid workers displaced by global trade agreements, a measure that was tied to the package that would give Mr. Obama so called fast-track authority to advance trade negotiations. The extension could be under vote on Tuesday and showed that the trade fight was far from settled.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/us/politics/house-republicans-seek-way-to-revive-trade-bill.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

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Voters Give Republicans Control of Senate

November 5, 2014

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Win McNamee/Getty

 

By David A. Fahrenthold
The Washington Post

Republicans scored a stunning electoral rout in the midterm elections, taking control of the U.S. Senate after a bitter campaign in which anger at Washington gridlock was turned against a president who took office promising to transcend it.

By early Wednesday, Republican candidates had won at least 10 of the day’s 13 closely contested Senate races. They took seats held by Democrats in Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia and North Carolina — more than enough to seize control of the Senate for the first time since 2007.

In addition, Republicans won at least 10 more seats in the House, adding to their majority. And GOP candidates won gubernatorial races from Florida to the high plains, including those in deep-blue Maryland and Massachusetts.

In Senate races, Democrats appeared to have kept just one of the states they had spent two years and millions of dollars trying to save — New Hampshire, where incumbent Jeanne Shaheen defeated Scott Brown (R), the former Massachusetts senator who had moved across the state line to run again from his vacation home.

And in Virginia, Democrats spent much of the night fearing they would lose a seat they thought was safe. Late Tuesday, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) declared victory by a razor-close margin over Republican Ed Gillespie.

Senate races in Louisiana and Alaska remained undecided late Tuesday.

The contest in Louisiana will not be settled until December, when Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) will face Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) in a runoff election. And final results in Alaska’s race could be delayed for days as votes flow in from far-flung villages.

Read the rest:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/2014/11/05/4156eaf0-5330-11e4-892e-602188e70e9c_story.html?hpid=z2

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Republicans Win Senate Control 

The New York Times

Resurgent Republicans took control of the Senate on Tuesday night, expanded their hold on the House, and defended some of the most closely contested governors’ races, in a repudiation of President Obama that will reorder the political map in his final years in office.

Propelled by economic dissatisfaction and anger toward the president, Republicans grabbed Democratic Senate seats in North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, West Virginia, Arkansas, Montana and South Dakota to gain their first Senate majority since 2006. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a shrewd Republican tactician, cruised to re-election and stood poised to achieve a goal he has pursued for years — Senate majority leader.

The biggest surprises of the night came in North Carolina, where the Republican, Thom Tillis, came from behind to beat Senator Kay Hagan, and in Virginia. There, Senator Mark Warner, a former Democratic governor of the state, was thought to be one of the safest incumbents in his party, and instead found himself clinging to the narrowest of leads against a former Republican Party chairman, Ed Gillespie.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/05/us/politics/midterm-elections.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=span-abc-region&region=span-abc-region&WT.nav=span-abc-region&_r=0

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky.,  joined by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, celebrates with his supporters at an election ...

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., joined by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville, Ky.,Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. McConnell won a sixth term in Washington, with his eyes on the larger prize of GOP control of the Senate. The Kentucky Senate race, with McConnell, a 30-year incumbent, fighting off a spirited challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, has been among the most combative and closely watched contests that could determine the balance of power in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Harry Reid, Democrats in Congress Clash With President Obama on Policy Issues in Run Up To Midterm-Election

February 4, 2014

By Janet Hook and Peter Nicholas
The Wall Street Journal

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he opposes a top trade initiative of the president’s.  Zuma Press

WASHINGTON—Democrats in Congress are parting ways with President  Barack Obama on issues including trade, energy and trade, health care as the gap widens between the political demands of keeping control of the Senate and advancing parts of the White House agenda.

A phalanx of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have announced opposition to the president’s top trade initiative. Many Democrats are clamoring for Mr. Obama to act soon to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline—a decision the White House is expected to make before midterm elections. Vulnerable Democrats are bluntly criticizing the rollout of the 2010 health-care law. Even an under-the-radar issue such as a flood-insurance bill has been a point of tension.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Reid met with the president in the Oval Office for about an hour Monday along with Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), who is chief strategist in his party’s drive to keep control of the Senate after November. The meeting was to review the political landscape of the crucial midterm-election year.

A Democratic official familiar with the meeting said it was requested by Mr. Reid as a routine matter, unrelated to the rift between the Nevada senator and the president on trade policy that emerged last week.

“We don’t stay on the same page through smoke signals,” the official said. “We sit down and talk.”

Despite those tensions, Democrats and White House officials say they remain united on major elements of the legislative and political agenda, such as the extension of unemployment benefits that lapsed late last year.

“There is far more that Democrats in Congress and the president agree on than there are areas where there might be differences,” said Obama pollster Joel Benenson.

Republicans, too, are riven with deep divisions within their party—on immigration policy and how to handle the coming debt-limit increase. But Democrats are finding that a united front that was so durable through last year’s budget battles has its limits in an election year. Action on Mr. Obama’s trade policy could advance his economic plans but hurt Democratic candidates in the process.

“Our caucus would rather see this issue come up at another time because there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue, and you hate to be pushed into a decision that might be easier to make after an election,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D., Ill.).

The White House and Senate Democrats share a powerful political interest in the fight to keep Republicans from picking up six seats they would need to take control of the Senate this year. Mr. Reid doesn’t want to relinquish control of a chamber that has proved a bulwark against a Republican-controlled House and would be crucial to Mr. Obama’s ability to have any sway in Congress during the last two years of his presidency.

Although he is unpopular in the states with the most fiercely contested Senate races—including Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska and North Carolina—Mr. Obama remains a mighty asset in helping his party’s candidates raise money. He participated in seven fundraising events for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last year, and Democrats are expecting more in 2014.

Some Senate races have become more competitive since the problems with the health law’s rollout—and because of a big influx of ads spotlighting those hiccups by conservative outside groups. That has weakened some once-strong incumbents like Sen. Kay Hagan (D., N.C.) and made open seats like one in Michigan tougher to hold.

Vulnerable Democrats have made greater efforts to distance themselves from unpopular aspects of the health law. Late last year, Sen. Mary Landrieu  of Louisiana introduced legislation to protect individuals whose policies were ended because they didn’t meet the law’s new standard. That added to pressure on the White House to propose an administrative fix.

The most striking fissure between the White House and Senate Democrats came last week when Mr. Reid, one of the president’s most reliable allies on Capitol Hill, told reporters he opposed administration-backed legislation aimed at speeding passage of free-trade agreements, a vital component to advancing two major international trade deals. Bitterly opposed by many labor leaders, a vote on the fast-track trade bill would put Democrats in the difficult position of choosing between Mr. Obama and the unions who are a crucial source of campaign workers and cash.

“I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now,” Mr. Reid said. An official familiar with his thinking said it was “pretty unlikely” the majority leader would bring the bill to a vote before Election Day but that it was “possible” he would do so after November.

Mr. Durbin predicted the White House would be hearing from other Democrats beside Mr. Reid who would rather not vote on the issue anytime soon.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, another Democrat with a potentially tough fight this fall, demurred when asked about the issue. “It does have pressures on both sides,” she said. “We’re taking a look at it.”

Helping spotlight one of his most vulnerable incumbents, Mr. Reid last month called up a flood-insurance bill that was a signature initiative of Ms. Landrieu’s. The bill, to delay scheduled flood-insurance-premium increases, passed easily. Ms. Landrieu expressed anger when, before the bill came to a vote, the White House issued a statement criticizing the bill because it believed it undercut the program’s financing.

Some red-state Democrats have welcomed opportunities to stake out positions in opposition to the White House on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, giving them ammunition to argue they are independent of the president. The pipeline project is opposed by environmentalists, but many Democrats in swing states support its construction as a way to create jobs—especially in a state like Louisiana, where refineries stand to benefit.

If Mr. Obama doesn’t approve the pipeline soon, Senate Democrats could face repeated GOP efforts to force a vote on the issue. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said recently he would “continue to push for immediate consideration of bipartisan legislation…that will get the pipeline built.”

A White House official said a verdict seems likely before the November elections. The official also said the administration fully expects that some Democrats will part ways with the president on issues such as Keystone and trade.

“Overall, on our economic-opportunity agenda, that’s something Democrats are excited about,” the official said.

Write to Janet Hook at janet.hook@wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

Obama Repeals ObamaCare, Disappointing Response on NSA Surveillance and Data Vacuuming

December 21, 2013

President Obama said during his end-of-the-year news conference Friday that the NSA surveillance program would likely see changes in the year ahead.

It seems Nancy Pelosi  was wrong when she said “we have to pass” ObamaCare to “find out what’s in it.” No one may ever know because the White House keeps treating the Affordable Care Act’s text as a mere suggestion subject to day-to-day revision. Its latest political retrofit is the most brazen: President Obama  is partly suspending the individual mandate.

The White House argued at the Supreme Court that the insurance-purchase mandate was not only constitutional but essential to the law’s success, while refusing Republican demands to delay or repeal it. But late on Thursday, with only four days to go before the December enrollment deadline, the Health and Human Services Department decreed that millions of Americans are suddenly exempt.

Individuals whose health plans were canceled will now automatically qualify for a “hardship exemption” from the mandate. If they can’t or don’t sign up for a new plan, they don’t have to pay the tax. They can also get a special category of ObamaCare insurance designed for people under age 30.

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So merry Christmas. If ObamaCare’s benefit and income redistribution requirements made your old, cheaper, better health plan illegal, you now have the option of going without coverage without the government taking your money as punishment. You can also claim the tautological consolation of an ObamaCare hardship exemption due to ObamaCare itself.

These exemptions were supposed to go only to the truly destitute such as the homeless, bankrupts or victims of domestic violence. But this week a group of six endangered Senate Democrats importuned HHS Secretary                                        Kathleen Sebelius to “clarify” that the victims of ObamaCare also qualify. An excerpt from their Wednesday letter, whose signatories include New Hampshire’s  Jeanne Shaheen and Virginia’s Mark Warner,                                 is nearby.

HHS and the Senators must have coordinated in advance because literally overnight HHS rushed out a bulletin noting that exemptions are available to those who “experienced financial or domestic circumstances, including an unexpected natural or human-caused event, such that he or she had a significant, unexpected increase in essential expenses that prevented him or her from obtaining coverage under a qualified health plan.” A tornado destroys the neighborhood or ObamaCare blows up the individual insurance market, what’s the difference?

The HHS ruling is that ObamaCare is precisely such a “significant, unexpected increase.” In other words, it is an admission that rate shock is real and the mandates drive up costs well into hardship territory. HHS is agreeing with the Senators that exemptions should cover “an individual whose 2013 plan was canceled and considers their new premium unaffordable.” In her reply letter, Mrs. Sebelius also observes that some people “are having difficulty finding an acceptable replacement.” She means the new plans are overpriced.

The under-30 ObamaCare category that is being opened to everyone is called “catastrophic” coverage. These plans are still more expensive than those sold on the former market but they’re about 20% cheaper on average than normal exchange plans because fewer mandates apply and they’re priced for a healthier, younger risk pool. Liberal Democrats hated making even this concession when they wrote the law, so people who pick catastrophic plans don’t get subsidies.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — Getty Images

What an incredible political turnabout. Mr. Obama and HHS used to insist that the new plans are better and less expensive after subsidies than the old “substandard” insurance. Now they’re conceding that at least some people should be free to choose less costly plans if they prefer—or no plan—and ObamaCare’s all-you-can-eat benefits rules aren’t necessary for quality health coverage after all.

But the White House is shredding ObamaCare’s economics on its own terms. Premiums for catastrophic products are based on the assumption that enrollees would be under 30. A 55-year-old will now get a steep discount on care courtesy of the insurer’s balance sheet, while other risk-tiers on the exchanges will have even fewer customers to make the actuarial math work.

Pulling the thread of the individual mandate also means that the whole scheme could unravel. Waiving ObamaCare rules for some citizens and continuing to squeeze the individual economic liberties of others by forcing them to buy what the White House now concedes is an unaffordable product is untenable. Mr. Obama is inviting a blanket hardship amnesty for everyone, which is what Republicans should demand.

The new political risk that the rules are liable to change at any moment will also be cycled into 2015 premiums. Expect another price spike late next summer. With ObamaCare looking like a loss-making book of business, a public declaration of penance by the insurance industry for helping to sell ObamaCare is long overdue.

The only political explanation for relaxing enforcement of the individual mandate—even at the risk of destabilizing ObamaCare in the long term—is that the White House is panicked that the whole entitlement is endangered. The insurance terminations and rollout fiasco could leave more people uninsured in 2014 than in 2013. ObamaCare’s unpopularity with the public could cost Democrats the Senate in 2014, and a GOP Congress in 2015 could compel the White House to reopen the law and make major changes.

Republicans ought to prepare for that eventuality with insurance reforms beyond the “repeal” slogan, but they can also take some vindication in Thursday’s reversal. Mr. Obama’s actions are as damning about ObamaCare as anything Senator  Ted Cruz  has said, and they implicitly confirm that the law is quarter-baked and harmful. Mr. Obama is doing through executive fiat what Republicans shut down the government to get him to do.

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The President declared at his Friday press conference that the exemptions “don’t go to the core of the law,” but in fact they belong to his larger pattern of suspending the law on his own administrative whim. Earlier this month he ordered insurers to backdate policies to compensate for the federal exchange meltdown, and before that HHS declared that it would not enforce for a year the mandates responsible for policy cancellations. Mr. Obama’s team has also by fiat abandoned the small-business exchanges, delayed the employer mandate and scaled back income verification.

“The basic structure of that law is working, despite all the problems,” Mr. Obama added. His make-it-up-as-he-goes improvisation will continue, because the law is failing.

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From The Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying — and bills pending in Congress — to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.

He did not do any of that.

Sure, Mr. Obama thanked his panel for making 46 recommendations to restore the rule of law and constitutional principles to government surveillance activities. (The number alone casts a bad light on the president’s repeated claims that there really was nothing wrong with surveillance policy.) And he promised to review those ideas and let us know next month which, if any, he intends to follow.

But Mr. Obama has had plenty of time to consider this issue, and the only specific thing he said on the panel’s proposals was that it might be a good idea to let communications companies keep the data on phone calls and emails rather than store them in the vast government databases that could be easily abused.

But he raised doubts about such a plan, and he left the impression that he sees this issue as basically a question of public relations and public perception.

Mr. Obama, who six months ago said that he thought the data collection struck the “right balance” between security and civil liberties, said on Friday that the government had not abused its access to private information. He continued to defend the mostly secret, internal protocols that the government uses to prevent abuse.

He kept returning to the idea that he might be willing to do more, but only to reassure the public “in light of the disclosures that have taken place.”

In other words, he never intended to make the changes that his panel, many lawmakers and others, including this page, have advocated to correct the flaws in the government’s surveillance policy had they not been revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.

And that is why any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed — in secret — as the justification for the data vacuuming.

Federal lawyers argued their way into a misreading of that passage, which deals with the collection of “business records” to stop or track down terrorists. But its intent, according to those who wrote the law, was never to allow the National Security Agency to collect and store data on every call and every email just in case it might be useful. That seems like a clear violation of the Constitution, as well as the spirit of the law.

A version of this editorial appears in print on December 21, 2013, on page A18 of the New York edition with the headline: Mr. Obama’s Disappointing Response.

Fearing Elections, Democrats Now Frantically Proclaiming Their Independence on ObamaCare

December 12, 2013

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Photo: Harry Reid’s happy with Obamacare but other Democrats are no longer so sure.

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Their votes for the law in 2010 are going to be very hard to defend in 2014.
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By Karl Rove
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When he was asked last week how much of a political liability ObamaCare will be for Senate Democrats in the midterms, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told  Jeff Gillan of Las Vegas’s KSNV, “I think it’s going to be good for them.”
.Brave words, but the Affordable Care Act remains very unpopular. And the intensity of feeling is with its critics.

A Dec. 8 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, for example, found 50% thought the health law was a bad idea—43% strongly (7% not strongly). The survey reported 34% thought ObamaCare is a good idea, but only 27% felt so strongly (7% not strongly).

Congressional Democrats will defend voting for ObamaCare by saying everything will turn out OK eventually (the White House line) or attack its many shortcomings. But either they didn’t know the law would raise premiums, hike deductibles, cost families their coverage, reduce hours for part-time workers and stymie job creation for small business—all defects that critics repeatedly warned about—or they didn’t care.

Consider the predicament of four Democratic senators up next year who voted for ObamaCare and defended it as the president did. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich used to say, “If you got an insurance plan now, you like it, you keep it.” Now he says: “Do I have issues with ObamaCare? Yes.”  Mr. Begich won in 2008 by 3,953 votes a week after his GOP opponent was convicted on corruption charges (later tossed out) in a state Mitt Romney  carried by 14 points. No wonder he has issues with ObamaCare.

Louisiana Sen.  Mary Landrieu  has been elected by no more than 52% of the voters in three races against weak opponents. She used to say those “who like the coverage they already have will be able to keep their current plan.” Now? She is out with an ad saying “I’m fixing it . . . and I’ve urged the president to fix it.” Of the law itself, however, she admitted last week: “Yes, I would support it again.” That’s after a Nov. 12 Southern Media & Opinion Research poll found Louisianans opposed ObamaCare 59% to 34%.

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Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor Getty Images

North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan used to say, “If you’ve got health insurance in our country, you keep it.” Running in one of two states Mr. Obama lost in 2012 after winning in 2008, Ms. Hagan now sounds like she’s a criminal investigator: “We need to figure out why this happened.” Her Republican opponent will solve the mystery: “This happened” because of Kay Hagan’s vote.

Then there’s Sen.  Mark Pryor, who once reassured Arkansans, “Are we gonna be able to stick with our plan? The answer is yes.” Now Mr. Pryor fiercely criticizes the government’s enrollment website as if it canceled millions of health plans. In a state Mr. Obama lost by 24 points, this may not help him escape responsibility for voting to pass the Affordable Care Act.

It’s not just the seven Democratic Senate seats in red states Mitt Romney carried that are in danger because of ObamaCare. In 2010, four of the six Senate seats Republicans picked up were in states carried by Mr. Obama in 2008. Mr. Obama will be less popular in such purple states in 2014 than he was last November—and so will Democrats who have been passive, reliable votes for him.

So Democratic senators in purple states, like New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen,  are at risk for having declared, as she did, “One of the things that I said as a requirement that I have for supporting a bill is that if you have health coverage that you like you should be able to keep that.” Colorado Sen. Mark Udall will get intense blowback for mimicking Mr. Obama’s pledge, “If you like your current plan, you can keep it.” And Virginia Sen. Mark Warner  can’t escape having pledged: “I’m not going to support a health-care reform plan that’s going to take away the health care you’ve got right now.”

ObamaCare will also hurt Democratic congressmen attempting to become senators. Examples are Iowa’s Bruce Braley, who asserted that ObamaCare would “allow Americans to maintain their choice of health insurance” and Michigan’s Gary Peters,  who said “If you’re covered and you like your insurance, you can keep it.”

A Dec. 8 Democratic Public Policy Polling survey found that 48% of Michiganders disapproved of ObamaCare while only 34% approved. Sixty-three percent thought its implementation unsuccessful. Mr. Peters is behind his GOP opponent, 40% to 42%.

These Democrats are now frantically proclaiming their independence on ObamaCare. But when it truly mattered, they were in lock step with the president. The law exists because congressional Democrats voted for it. While that vote is over, the political pain for these men and women has only begun.

Mr. Rove, a former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, helped organize the political action committee American Crossroads.

Al Franken: ‘We Have to Consider Extending the [Obamacare] Deadline for the Mandate’

November 23, 2013

Minnesota senator Al Franken, a Democrat, opens the door to a delay of the Obamacare individual mandate in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.

The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) says he would be open to a brief delay in the individual mandate if the problems with HealthCare.gov aren’t fixed by the end of the month, according to Minnesota Public Radio.   “I think then we have to consider extending the deadline for the mandate, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Franken told MPR.   Franken has so far been relatively quiet about potential changes to the health-care law, but he now joins a growing group of Senate Democrats in seats that could be targeted by the GOP in 2014 who are speaking up on the issue.

US Senator Al Franken, D-MN, questions US Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor on July 16, 2009 during the fourth day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

FILE: Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

By Aaron Blake

Washington Post

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) says he would be open to a brief delay in the individual mandate if the problems with HealthCare.gov aren’t fixed by the end of the month, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

“I think then we have to consider extending the deadline for the mandate, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Franken told MPR.

Franken has so far been relatively quiet about potential changes to the health-care law, but he now joins a growing group of Senate Democrats in seats that could be targeted by the GOP in 2014 who are speaking up on the issue.

While the GOP is mostly focused on winning a half dozen red states held by Democrats, there are another group of Democratic-controlled swing states and nominally blue states that have formed the second tier of GOP targets. Democrats facing reelection in these states in 2014 — Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jeff Merkley (R-Ore.) — have pushed for changes ranging from allowing people to keep their current insurance plans to extending the open enrollment period.

Two House Democrats running for open seats — Iowa’s Bruce Braley and Michigan’s Gary Peters — also voted for a House GOP bill that would achieve the former goal.

It’s not clear how many of HealthCare.gov’s problems will be fixed by Dec. 1 — the deadline the administration set for the site working for the “vast majority” of users.

“Respectful but Concerned” Democratic Senators Urge Obama to Delay Obamacare

November 7, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators from President Barack Obama’s own party pressed him in person on Wednesday to extend the enrollment deadline for Americans to sign up for health insurance because of the malfunctioning website.

Obama invited Senate Democrats facing re-election next year to the White House to discuss the problem-plagued health care rollout that could affect their races. The White House confirmed Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with 16 senators to describe fixes that are being made to the website for Americans to sign up for insurance under his signature health care law.

“The rollout of HealthCare.gov has not been smooth — to say the least — and I shared the concerns of Coloradans directly with the president,” Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said in a statement. “Consumers should have the time they need to shop for a plan and enroll after the widespread problems with the website are fixed.”

But White House press secretary Jay Carney rejected the idea of an extension of the March 31 deadline for Americans to get insurance or face a fine. “We still believe that there is time available to make the necessary improvements to the website and to use all the other means that we can to get the information to the American people who want to enroll in time for them to do it,” Carney told reporters.

Another Democrat, Sen. Mark Pryor, said he told Obama and Biden to “fix the website immediately,” address problems with the law and hold accountable those at fault for the mistakes.

“I won’t let up until these problems are fixed,” said Pryor, who faces a difficult re-election next year in conservative-leaning Arkansas.

The meeting with Democratic senators, which was not listed on the president’s public schedule, lasted about two hours and also included White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Jeff Zients, the president’s troubleshooter for the website. Such a dedication of time by so many top-level officials reflects concern for the political fallout the problems could inflict.

“Nobody in the room, including the president, thinks this rollout has gone well and he expressed that sentiment several times,” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico told The Associated Press. Udall said senators were “respectful but concerned” about how the many problems they are hearing from constituents are going to be solved.

“The two messages delivered to the White House are we must ensure no one is punished for problems with HealthCare.gov and we need to make sure the enrollment deadline gives everyone enough time.”

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, said Obama “didn’t hesitate to accept responsibility for the issues that have slowed the law’s implementation and laid out the White House’s strategy for fixing them.”

Sen. Mark Udall said he also encouraged Obama to ensure the security of personal information submitted on the site. The White House said Obama told the senators there is ongoing testing of the site’s security.

Carney denied that Obama is concerned with the politics of health care and simply wants to improve access. But the press secretary noted that Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday while supporting the law.

“The Republican candidate in that race made his name as an opponent of Obamacare, campaigned on the repeal of Obamacare, and lost,” Carney said. “The Democratic candidate embraced the Affordable Care Act, campaigned on the Affordable Care Act, and won.”

After the meeting, Obama left the White House with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, chairman of the effort to elect Democrats to the Senate, who attended along with the 2014 incumbents. Obama and Bennet flew together aboard Air Force One to Dallas, where the president planned to encourage Americans to enroll in health care plans and also raise money at two fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The White House said other meeting attendees were Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Al Franken of Minnesota, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Mark Warner of Virginia.

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Associated Press writers Josh Lederman and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Since Government Shutdown, Obama and Democrats Seem to be Under Seige

October 31, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just two weeks after President Barack Obama saw his Democratic Party put up an unyielding front against Republicans, his coalition is showing signs of stress.

From health care to spying to pending budget deals, many congressional Democrats are challenging the administration and pushing for measures that the White House has not embraced.

Some Democrats are seeking to extend the enrollment period for new health care exchanges. Others want to place restraints on National Security Administration surveillance capabilities. Still others are standing tough against any budget deal that uses long-term reductions in major benefit programs to offset immediate cuts in defense.

Though focused on disparate issues, the Democrats’ anxieties are connected by timing and stand out all the more when contrasted with the remarkable unity the party displayed during the recent showdown over the partial government shutdown and the confrontation over raising the nation’s borrowing limit.

“That moment was always going to be fleeting,” said Matt Bennett, who worked in the Clinton White House and who regularly consults with Obama aides. “The White House, every White House, understands that these folks, driven either by principle or the demands of the politics of their state, have to put daylight between themselves and the president on occasion.”

Obama and the Democrats emerged from the debt and shutdown clash with what they wanted: a reopened government, a higher debt ceiling and a Republican Party reeling in the depths of public opinion polls.

But within days, attention turned to the problem-riddled launch of the 3-year-old health care law’s enrollment stage and revelations that the U.S. had been secretly monitoring the communications of as many as 35 allied leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And with new budget talks underway, Democratic Party liberals reiterated demands that Obama not agree to changes that reduce Social Security or Medicare benefits even in the improbable event Republicans agree to increase budget revenues.

The fraying on the Democratic Party edges is hardly unraveling Obama’s support and it pales when compared to the upheaval within the Republican Party as it distances itself from the tactics of tea party conservatives. But the pushback from Democrats comes as Obama is trying to draw renewed attention to his agenda, including passage of an immigration overhaul, his jobs initiatives and the benefits of his health care law.

The computer troubles that befell the start of health insurance sign-ups have caused the greatest anxiety. Republicans pounced on the difficulties as evidence of deeper flaws in the law. But Democrats, even as they defended the policy, also demanded answers in the face of questions from their constituents.

“The fact is that the administration really failed these Americans,” Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., told Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner at a hearing this week. “So going forward there can be just no more excuses.”

In the Senate, 10 Democrats signed on to a letter seeking an unspecified extension of the enrollment period, which ends March 31. “As you continue to fix problems with the website and the enrollment process, it is critical that the administration be open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., wrote.

Another Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has called for a one-year delay in the requirement that virtually all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine.

Democrats who have talked to White House officials in recent days describe them as rattled by the health care blunders. But they say they are confident that the troubled website used for enrollment will be corrected and fully operational by the end of November.

The spying revelations also have created some tensions between the administration and Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and until now a staunch supporter of the NSA’s surveillance, called for a “total review of all intelligence programs” following the Merkel reports.

She said that when it came to the NSA collecting intelligence on the leaders of allies such as France, Spain, Mexico and Germany, “Let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.”

With Congress renewing budget talks Wednesday, liberals have been outspoken in their insistence that Democrats vigorously resist efforts to reduce long-term deficits with savings in Social Security or Medicare. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who usually votes with Democrats, has been the most outspoken, saying he fears a budget deal will contain a proposal in Obama’s budget to reduce cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security and other benefit programs.

Obama, however, has proposed that remedy only if Republicans agree to raise tax revenue, a bargain that most in the GOP firmly oppose. Moreover, leaders from both parties as well as White House officials have signaled that budget talks are looking for a small budget deal, not the type of “grand bargain” that would embrace such a revenue-for-benefit-cuts deal.