David Welna

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.

Having previously covered Congress over a 13-year period starting in 2001, Welna reported extensively on matters related to national security. He covered the debates on Capitol Hill over authorizing the use of military force prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the expansion of government surveillance practices arising from Congress' approval of the USA Patriot Act. Welna also reported on congressional probes into the use of torture by U.S. officials interrogating terrorism suspects. He also traveled with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Afghanistan on the Pentagon chief's first overseas trip in that post.

In mid-1998, after 15 years of reporting from abroad for NPR, Welna joined NPR's Chicago bureau. During that posting, he reported on a wide range of issues: changes in Midwestern agriculture that threaten the survival of small farms, the personal impact of foreign conflicts and economic crises in the heartland, and efforts to improve public education. His background in Latin America informed his coverage of the saga of Elian Gonzalez both in Miami and Cuba.

Welna first filed stories for NPR as a freelancer in 1982, based in Buenos Aires. From there, and subsequently from Rio de Janeiro, he covered events throughout South America. In 1995, Welna became the chief of NPR's Mexico bureau.

Additionally, he has reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Financial Times, and The Times of London. Welna's photography has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Covering a wide range of stories in Latin America, Welna chronicled the wrenching 1985 trial of Argentina's former military leaders who presided over the disappearance of tens of thousands of suspected dissidents. In Brazil, he visited a town in Sao Paulo state called Americana where former slaveholders from America relocated after the Civil War. Welna covered the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, the mass exodus of Cubans who fled the island on rafts in 1994, the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and the U.S. intervention in Haiti to restore Jean Bertrand Aristide to Haiti's presidency.

Welna was honored with the 2011 Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress, given by the National Press Foundation. In 1995, he was awarded an Overseas Press Club award for his coverage of Haiti. During that same year he was chosen by the Latin American Studies Association to receive their annual award for distinguished coverage of Latin America. Welna was awarded a 1997 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. In 2002, Welna was elected by his colleagues to a two-year term as a member of the Executive Committee of the Congressional Radio-Television Correspondents' Galleries.

A native of Minnesota, Welna graduated magna cum laude from Carleton College in Northfield, MN, with a Bachelor of Arts degree and distinction in Latin American Studies. He was subsequently a Thomas J. Watson Foundation fellow. He speaks fluent Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

When President Obama laid out his proposals Wednesday to reduce gun violence, he included a call for Congress to ban "military-style assault weapons."

In recent weeks, President Obama has chosen Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as his next secretary of state; former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to head the Pentagon; counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to be CIA director; and his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to be the next Treasury secretary.

Each nomination will have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and they all could be stopped by a Senate filibuster — that is, the refusal by any one of 100 senators to let a matter come to a final vote.

This week saw both a frantic finale to the much-unloved 112th Congress and, hours later, the swearing in of the new 113th. The cast of lawmakers and their leaders is mostly unchanged. The same can be said for Capitol Hill's never-ending drama over taxes, deficits and spending.

What was arguably this week's most sensational congressional moment did not even take place in Washington. On Wednesday in Trenton, N.J., Republican Gov. Chris Christie blasted the GOP-led House for closing down the last Congress without even considering a Superstorm Sandy disaster relief bill.

It is almost unimaginable that both the House and Senate would be in session on a Sunday evening on the penultimate day of the year. And yet, they both were, with lawmakers hoping it was not merely a big waste of time and effort.

A bipartisan push by Senate leaders over the weekend has so far failed to forge a deal to spare American wage earners from tax hikes and shield government programs from drastic cutbacks.

Even though the top four congressional leaders left their White House meeting with the president separately and silently on Friday, they cast the hourlong encounter in a positive light back at the Capitol.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described the tone of the discussion to head off across-the-board tax hikes and spending cuts as "candid." An aide to House Speaker John Boehner put out a statement that noted that the group agreed the next step should be the Senate's — a tacit acknowledgement that Boehner is no longer the lead negotiator with President Obama.

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Even before the events of the last few days, Congress had a busy agenda. Lawmakers are negotiating over taxes and spending that could affect the economy in the year ahead, not to mention almost every part of the federal government and the take-home pay for millions of Americans.

As President Obama spoke to mourning families in Newtown, Conn., on Sunday night, he clearly seemed to suggest a need for tougher gun laws.

"Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?" he said.

For Congress, the politics have been too hard.

The combination of a powerful gun owners' lobby in the form of the National Rifle Association and a loss of public support for gun control has stymied efforts in recent years to tighten gun laws.

The United States is now just over two weeks away from a plunge over the "fiscal cliff" — that is, unless Congress can agree on a deal to prevent automatic tax hikes and spending cuts in the new year. But once again, Congress seems headed for the brink.

That's been happening more and more in recent years. And it was noted sadly by a string of retiring senators as they were bidding their colleagues farewell this past week.

Daniel Akaka

Congress has barely two weeks to agree on a deficit-cutting deal to keep the nation from going over the "fiscal cliff" in the new year. The problem is that right now there is no such deal to agree on.

Republicans reject the higher tax rates for top incomes that President Obama demands. And they also insist on more austere entitlement programs, which has Democrats digging in their heels.

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And amid that budget debate, a wall of Republican opposition to a new United Nations treaty kept it from being ratified in the Senate. The treaty is aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of disabled people. And even though it was inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Republicans argue that it would harm U.S. sovereignty and even interfere with home schooling. Here's NPR's David Welna.

Making an already head-splittingly difficult deal on the fiscal cliff even harder to resolve is a set of three rules by which the Republicans who run the House play.

These are not official regulations; they're more shibboleths that House GOP leaders have adopted in recent years. And those rules are leaving House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, little room to maneuver as lawmakers try to avoid a set of tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect at the end of the year.

1. "The majority of the majority"

New Year's Day typically inspires hope and new beginnings. But this next one may be cause for trepidation. Tax cuts for all income levels expire on Jan. 1, 2013, and most federal programs will face a 10 percent haircut — because Congress failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan.

Fresh off his re-election, a politically fortified President Obama summoned the top four congressional leaders to the White House on Friday for the first of what could be many rounds of talks for a deal to avert fiscal calamity.

The meeting was part of the opening moves to keep the nation from sailing over the so-called "fiscal cliff" — those across-the-board tax hikes and deep spending cuts set to kick in at year's end.

In welcoming the quartet of lawmakers, Obama struck a conciliatory note.

The impact of Superstorm Sandy has become the main focus of both presidential candidates, but what politicking does remain has Toledo, Ohio, at its center.

More than a year after winning Iowa's Straw Poll for the GOP presidential nomination, and more than nine months after dropping out of that race, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is back on the campaign trail.

This time she's after a fourth term representing Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, and Bachmann's campaign is running into stiff competition.

Here's one thing President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney could agree on during their first debate this week: Something has to be done about the enormous gap between what the federal government collects in taxes and what it spends.

But the two men fundamentally disagree on what to do about that budget deficit.

The Problem

It might seem counterintuitive, but the man running against Republican Linda McMahon in her second attempt at becoming Connecticut's first female senator wants this race to be all about women.

Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy released an ad this week, hammering McMahon's stance on women's health and reminding voters of McMahon's former role as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Cuban-Americans know a thing or two about what can happen when a government seizes wealth and redistributes it, as Fidel Castro's regime did five decades ago in Cuba.

So Mitt Romney had an especially receptive audience Wednesday night at a rally of Cuban-Americans in Miami, when he launched his campaign's latest line of attack on President Obama.

"He said some years ago something which we're hearing about today on the Internet," Romney told the crowd. "He said that he believes in redistribution."

Congress roared into town last week after a five-week break. Lawmakers will be heading back home just as quickly this week. They're expected to complete exactly one big item before pulling the plug on this briefest of sessions: a stopgap spending measure that keeps the government from shutting down during the next six months.

Members of both parties prefer tackling the mountain of unfinished business they leave behind only after the November election.

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Speaking to the Democratic Convention last night, President Obama spoke a line that played off a famous speech by John F. Kennedy. Kennedy said people should ask what they can do for their country.

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And after delivering a tribute to her husband on the opening night at the Democratic National Convention, First Lady Michelle Obama yesterday by reaching out to groups of minority delegates there in Charlotte. NPR's David Welna reports.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Let's give a rousing welcome for the first lady, Michelle Obama.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: The African-American caucus was fired up yesterday when Mrs. Obama got there just hours after she brought down the house at the convention arena. She was still getting going.

Mike Lee is one of the most conservative members of the Senate. The freshman Utah Republican was elected with strong Tea Party backing and, like Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, he's a man of the West.

Mention the possibility that Thune, 51, might team up with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Lee's eyes light up: "I love John," he says. "He's articulate, passionate, collegial. I mean ... I think he'd be great."

As the guessing game continues about Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman invariably comes up as a top contender. And with a wealth of experience in Washington and beyond, Portman would be considered a safe pick to run for vice president on the Republican ticket.

House Republicans today released a preliminary spending bill that would slash more than six billion dollars from the budgets of the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.The draft bill also bans NPR member stations from using federal funds to buy NPR programming.

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Once again, a push by Democrats to force outside campaign spending groups to reveal their big hidden donors has been stymied. Last night for the second time, Senate Republicans closed ranks and blocked legislation on what's known as the Disclose Act. And as it happens, that legislation would've affected groups that are a key source of spending this year, favoring Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. NPR's David Welna explains.

New questions about Mitt Romney's overseas investments have dogged the GOP presidential contender all week. Many arose from a report in the latest issue of Vanity Fair. It describes how the day before Romney was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts, he put a corporation he'd set up in Bermuda in a blind trust held by his wife, Ann. Romney insists he did nothing wrong.

President Obama hits the campaign trail Thursday with a bus tour in Ohio. The state is a crucial battleground not only for the presidential election, but also because it could decide whether Democrats keep control of the Senate.

Up for re-election there is Democrat Sherrod Brown, who is being challenged by the state's Republican treasurer, Josh Mandel. Mandel is highlighting Brown's staunch support of the new health care law — with a big assist from outside groups.

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Across the street at the Capitol, lawmakers lined up to issue their reactions to the court's ruling upholding the health care law. Democrats celebrated what for many of them was an unexpected victory. Republicans denounced the decision and vowed to repeal the law.

NPR's David Welna has that story.

Later this summer, Republicans will gather in Tampa, Fla., for their presidential nominating convention; Democrats will then do the same in Charlotte, N.C. Each party gets more than $18 million in public funds this year to help pay for the gatherings.

The money comes from that $3 box that taxpayers can check on their federal tax returns. But this could be the last time party conventions get taxpayer funding.

Nearly a week has gone by since President Obama announced a new immigration policy that could halt the deportation of some 800,000 young people brought to the country illegally.

While Republicans on Capitol Hill were quick to criticize the president for bypassing Congress, they've been unusually silent on the question of whether these illegal immigrants should be getting such a break.

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