Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

Articles by Brian

NSA leaker Edward Snowden has resurfaced in a new interview with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post that the paper suggests was conducted Tuesday night.

Snowden says he plans to remain on the island until he is "asked to leave," and has faith in its rule of law.

"People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality,” Snowden said. “I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law." “

My intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide my fate,” he said.

The paper did not divulge details of the circumstances of the interview, including where it was conducted or if it was done in person.

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Much of the world is eyeing Hong Kong in anticipation of whatever happens to Edward Snowden -- public enemy number one to the U.S. intelligence community, accused of treason by a U.S. senator.

His story and his circumstances invite imaginations to run wild. Snowden himself has suggested his life might be in danger. If this were a spy thriller, the nature of his disclosures and the tradecraft that facilitated them, might be followed by a similar cloak-and-dagger operation to capture him and return him to the United States.

This isn't a movie, of course. But if you're an espionage geek, you can take solace in the fact that such an outcome is entirely possible and would be perfectly kosher under U.S. law. The likelier and less exciting reality, though, is that officials will undertake a more straightforward diplomatic and legal process that could result in Snowden's extradition back to the United States.

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Of all the questions Edward Snowden raised by leaking reams of classified materials to the Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers, why and how a person with his experience and responsibilities had access to what appears to be an enormous array of classified information are two of the biggest.

Snowden famously claims that in his technical roles at NSA, he had access to the intelligence community's most tightly held secrets -- "full access to the rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have, what their missions are and so forth" -- in addition to the power to shut down powerful collections systems over the course of several hours.

Snowden also claimed to be able to wiretap virtually anyone. "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email," he told the Guardian.

A former top lawyer at the NSA and CIA dismissed Snowden's claim as a "complete and utter" falsehood. "First of all it's illegal," Robert Deitz told the Los Angeles Times. "There is enormous oversight. They have keystroke auditing. There are, from time to time, cases in which some analyst is [angry] at his ex-wife and looks at the wrong thing and he is caught and fired," he said.

But even if he exaggerated or lied about how porous the system is, the nature of the counterintelligence investigation to determine both the extent of his knowledge and access, and, more tellingly, why he had access to some of the things he actually leaked, suggests he genuinely had more visibility than his clearance entitled him to have.

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The contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton has issued a statement in response to the revelation that one of its employees -- Edward Snowden -- has leaked reams of classified surveillance materials to the media.

"Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii," the statement reads. "News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announced her support Sunday for bipartisan immigration reform legislation currently under debate in the U.S. Senate.

“I looked at the border security provisions, the E-Verify to make sure we control who’s getting a job in this country, and also making sure that there’s a better legal immigration system, bring the high-tech workers here to make sure that we can have the best and the brightest here in this country to grow our economy,” Ayotte said on CBS r. “This is a good bipartisan solution and I look forward to supporting it.”

Ayotte commonly aligns with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ), two of the bill's co-authors. Ayotte's support is a significant blow to the immigration reform opposition, led in the Senate by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL). But more Republicans will ultimately need to announce support for the legislation to guarantee its eventual passage.

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The U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs in May, according to an initial Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued Friday morning, exceeding analyst expectations and suggesting the economic recovery, with the support of the Federal Reserve, is enduring despite the contractionary effects of sequestration and higher taxes that took effect earlier this year.

The latest data suggest a steadily improving employment situation, though don't bear any signs of accelerating growth.

The unemployment rate increased imperceptibly, from 7.5 to 7.6 percent, but that's notably not a reflection of inadequate job-creation, which on its own can sustain the current unemployment rate with fewer than 100,000 new payrolls a month.

Instead, the uptick is due to a welcome increase in the size of the labor force.

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Congress, the White House, and maybe even the country at large have come a long way since House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) -- of all people -- told reporters, "It's clear we must enter an era of austerity. To reduce the deficit through shared sacrifice."

That was July 2011, days before she, other congressional leaders, and President Obama struck a debt limit deal to cut $2 trillion in federal spending over 10 years. It was perhaps Democrats' darkest moment since Obama was first elected in 2008. But it was ironically consistent with Obama's broader goals: $4 trillion in total deficit reduction, split roughly two parts to one between spending cuts and higher taxes.

A lot's changed since then. The economy has slowly but steadily improved over the past two years -- enough that the country re-elected Obama. With that victory under his belt he was able to pocket a decent chunk of the revenue he'd hoped to raise by allowing the Bush tax cuts for top earners to expire. These developments combined to send the deficit into a rapid tumble.

But that's when the real wrangling in Congress over dollars spent and dollars collected stopped dead in its tracks. Republicans turned off the revenue spigot; Democrats refused to cut more spending absent further tax increases on wealthy Americans; sequestration was passively allowed to take effect; and the budget took a backseat on Capitol Hill to issues like immigration reform, gun control and investigations of the Obama administration.

So for the last several months, Democrats have been grappling with two challenges, at times at odds with one another: Dragging Republicans back into the budget fight; and attempting to resume that fight absent a false consensus that the final piece of the budget deal is only possible if it includes immediate and austere spending cuts and no revenue.

During that time, they've received two gifts -- one academic, and one all-too real -- that deeply damaged the intellectual foundations for the austerity movement.

Several weeks ago, economists discovered that a wildly influential paper by Harvard scholars Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, which implied U.S. debt might be approaching an economically perilous tipping point, contained critical errors. Indeed, it's likely that no such tipping point exists. At the same time, austerity policies in Europe continued (and still continue) to prove economically disastrous.

None of this has increased Democrats' appetite for stimulus. But at last it has them publicly questioning the wisdom of belt-tightening in general, and indiscriminate spending cuts in particular, during a fragile recovery.

Their challenge now is to amplify the fact that their broad approach (if not its particulars) has been vindicated, so that when the budget debate inevitably resumes this summer ahead of debt limit and government funding fights, the public is prepared to question GOP resistance.

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After years of tacitly supporting President Obama's elusive quest for a "grand bargain" with Republicans to reduce 10-year deficits, the liberal Center for American Progress -- a White House-aligned think tank -- thinks it's time for the administration to give up the ghost.

To that end, they've released a new report encouraging law and policy makers to update their thinking about the relative imperatives of immediate job creation, and near- and longer-term deficit reduction; and to pursue a short-term strategy of investment and partially paying down sequestration.

"We think that we've learned that the last three years have shown if nothing else that there's no way to get a big deal right now," said Michael Linden, managing director for economic policy at CAP, at a reporter roundtable Thursday morning. "Republicans just simply aren't -- Republicans in Congress I should say -- don't seem willing to make the compromises necessary to achieve a large deal.... To that end we think that we should keep it small, keep it manageable. So we offer a plan that would replace the sequester for three years."

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For a few weeks now -- ever since Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) began stepping up pressure on Republicans to confirm key executive branch and judicial nominees -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has come as close as it comes in the Senate to calling another member a liar.

"The majority leader has twice committed on the Senate floor not to use the nuclear option," McConnell said on the floor two weeks ago. "These were not conditional commitments. ... The majority leader needs to keep his commitments."

And then again this Tuesday, at his weekly briefing with reporters: "Commitments were made. And on behalf on Senate Republicans, I intend to ask the majority leader every single day, 'Is your word good, do you intend to keep your word?'"

Effectively, McConnell is trying to shame Reid into dropping a threat to invoke the "nuclear option" if Republicans block key administration nominees. But Reid handed him that ammunition over two years ago.

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House Republicans have quietly returned to the stand-off driven approach to budgeting and must-pass legislation that was their hallmark before President Obama's re-election.

On Tuesday afternoon the House passed a measure directing House appropriators, in the absence of a budget agreement with the Senate, to adopt spending levels in the Republican budget. That blueprint calls for enormous cuts to spending on everything from science research to education to health care, in order to rescue the Defense Department and other politically favored agencies from the ravages of sequestration.

The procedural move is technical, and it stems among other things from Republicans' decision to abandon the very budget process they've demanded for the past four years. But it reflects their desire to jam Democrats and President Obama with spending bills that funnel billions of dollars out of domestic priorities into the Pentagon and other security programs, at the risk of a government shutdown

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