Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 26, 2014

November 25, 2014

Don’t Count on Democrats to Help Pass GOP ‘Cromnibus,’ Says Pelosi

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Pelosi says Democrats won’t support the “Cromnibus.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republican leaders and incoming Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia are floating a plan to fund immigration-related activities separately from an all-encompassing government spending bill — and for a shorter length of time.

It’s a plan still very much in flux. However, if the Republicans want to go through with it, they had better have enough of their own members ready and able to vote “yes,” because Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has it made it clear she won’t be offering assistance from her side of the aisle.

On Tuesday afternoon, the California Democrat slammed the emerging gambit known as a “Cromnibus” — part short-term continuing resolution, or CR, and part long-term omnibus — saying it would be tantamount to a “partial” government shutdown.

“House Democrats have fought against Republican attempts to shut down the government,” the California Democrat said in a written statement. “Now, House Republicans are seeking to disguise their efforts, threatening our national security in order to undermine the President’s clear legal authority. We will not be enablers to a Republican Government Shutdown, partial or otherwise.” Full story

Congressional Black Caucus Members React to Decision in Ferguson

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Fudge calls the grand jury’s action a “slap in the face.”  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Just as America seems divided on the death of a young black man in Ferguson, Mo., members of the Congressional Black Caucus are showing their own divisions over the racially charged incident that has prompted many in Congress to wonder how they should respond.

A CBC spokesperson told CQ Roll Call Tuesday that the special orders hour on the first day the House is back, Monday Dec. 1, would be on Ferguson, but knew of no legislative response lawmakers were planning to take, including legislation to address the militarization of police. There were calls for hearings this summer on the Pentagon-to-police weapons program after the initial protests erupted in Ferguson, but there were no such calls Tuesday — at least not yet.

Instead, it’s been words — statements and tweets — that have marked the different approaches to Ferguson. And Monday night, after a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the police offer who shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown this summer, members further showed their divisions. Full story

The Anti-Cantor: Dave Brat on Bringing Rationality to Washington

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Brat raises his right hand as his wife Laura looks on during the ceremonial swearing-in Nov. 12. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s 7:49 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 21 — the first day of Congress’ Thanksgiving recess — and Dave Brat is 11 minutes early.

The man who unseated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor is meeting me at a Starbucks in Navy Yard before driving down to the Richmond suburbs for his first constituent town hall as a congressman. It’s part of a pledge he made to visit all nine counties in his district every month, and Brat has every intention of keeping his word.

He genuinely doesn’t seem to know exactly why or how he beat Cantor — “There’s no perfect interpretation on this, right?” — and he seems less interested in changing Washington than he is in making sure Washington doesn’t change him.

He orders a chocolate croissant, a Venti mocha latte for his campaign manager-turned-senior-adviser who’s also in attendance, and a Venti half-and-half mocha latte for himself. “Extra hot,” he tells the barista. Apparently, Dave Brat knows something about lattes we didn’t. He may be new to Congress, but he’s not new to Starbucks.

He pays $9.68 for the order, sits down in the quietest corner we can find, and begins telling — between bites of pastry — his life story.

“After the primary, when I got all the attention, people said, ‘Who’s Dave Brat?’ All these stories,” he says. “And so then I went around to all these business leaders and said, ‘Hey, I got a thing called a biography!’ You know, please check it out. The press, you know, they want to pigeonhole ya.”

Brat, 50, explains that he grew up in Alma, Mich.; went to high school in Minneapolis; graduated from Hope College; and then worked for the Arthur Andersen accounting firm in Detroit and Chicago before going to Princeton Seminary. “I was going to teach systematic theology, be a professor,” he says.

He speaks in the gravel-voiced tones of western Michigan, and in his frameless glasses, with his hair slicked back, he walks the line of looking like the proverbial Washington wonk and Congress’ version of Gordon Gekko.

But despite the outsider image cultivated in his campaign, Brat is no stranger to D.C. During his time at Princeton, he did a semester in Washington at Wesley Seminary and realized just how much economic policy drove “everything up here.”

He shifted his focus, received a doctorate in economics from American University, and then worked a few years in Washington — first at the World Bank and then for the Army before he took a teaching job 90 miles south at Randolph-Macon College.

He spent 19 years at the school, eventually becoming the college’s Economics Department chairman before deciding to use his experience in local politics to challenge Cantor. (Brat had previously served on a number of state advisory boards and had unsuccessfully run for a Virginia House seat.)

His congressional campaign is now the stuff of political legend. Cantor outspent him nearly 40 to 1, and yet Brat emerged on June 10 as the winner of the GOP primary by 12 points. It was the first time a sitting majority leader had lost in a primary since the position was created in 1899.

He went on to beat Democrat Jack Trammell in the general election by 24 points.

Now that he’s sworn in, Brat is treated like a mini-celebrity at the Capitol. Members of Congress flock to him on the House floor to introduce themselves. Reporters swarm him in the halls to give him their cards. And constituents flood email him with messages that say, “Keep being Dave.”

“There’s been outpouring, yeah,” Brat says, almost surprised to hear that not all members of Congress are greeted with a such hoopla.

“I don’t know what’s normal,” he says. “Everybody’s been totally gracious.”

When asked who specifically has tried to befriend him, he mentions Bill Huizenga — the Republican who represents a part of Michigan where Brat still has family — and conservative MIT-graduate Thomas Massie of Kentucky. He also enumerates fellow GOP members of the Virginia delegation Reps. Robert W. Goodlatte, Morgan Griffith and J. Randy Forbes.

Even GOP leadership has been nice to him. “Boehner’s got just a tremendous personality,” he says.

Asked what it’s like to be “the-guy-who-knocked-off-Cantor,” Brat says he doesn’t view it that way — and he wants to look forward, not backwards. “That’s all in the rearview mirror,” he says.

While immigration was seen as the central issue in Brat’s campaign, and thus the key reason he beat Cantor, Brat thinks his success was more about fiscal issues, actually.

“I think that was the central message, that the economics is broken,” he says. “And then immigration also fits in there, right? So when your labor markets are already broken, it seems to me the answer isn’t to import, you know, 10 million new people.”

On the morning after President Barack Obama’s immigration announcement, Brat calls the executive action “the height of cynicism.” But he stops short of calling it unconstitutional. When asked about impeachment, Brat says he’ll go through the executive order in “slow motion” with “the smartest lawyers in the room and navigate that.

“And then, based on my principles, nobody gets to violate the Constitution,” he says. “If, in fact, anyone has violated the Constitution, yeah, then we have serious, serious issues to deal with.”

And that’s how Dave Brat wants to deal with issues: slowly, methodically, like a rational economist.

According to Brat, the press made fun of him for doing 20-minute stump speeches entirely on economic theory. “They’d say ‘Brat’s going off on his lectures, and da da da da da, and make fun of the things. But the people liked it!”

And he says the voters saw his honesty, his “economic homilies,” and they recognized that the issues he was talking about were the issues he was genuinely most concerned about — and that’s what worked for him.

“I didn’t pick ‘em because they were political winners,” he says.

“I don’t think they want red meat, you know, cage rattlin’, that kind of thing,” Brat says. “They just want rational people to go up and say, ‘Hey, I’m an economist. Here’s exactly what this does. There’s better ways to do it.’”

And he married that economic message with an ethical one.

“My whole life has been putting economics and ethics together,” he says. “And I made it very clear: Ethics, in a nutshell, is where you put the rules down ahead of time.”

Brat made three campaign pledges: To meet with constituents from every county every month; to limit himself to 12 years in Congress; and to put in a “fair” or flat tax.

He knows he can’t really promise that sort of tax overhaul — “I’m not a utopian,” Brat, ever the academic, says — but he does promise he’ll work toward moving the tax needle in that direction.

And he hopes the voters will recognize that he’s advancing the conversation. But if voters are such rational actors, was it a rational decision for his district to throw out someone with as much political clout as Eric Cantor?

Brat pauses, considering the question for five seconds.

“I mean, obviously, I think the answer is yes, because I’m running on Ph.D.-level economic rationality,” he says. “That was the premise of my entire campaign.”

November 24, 2014

Boehner Reappoints Gowdy to Head Benghazi Panel

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Gowdy, left, was reappointed to his Benghazi panel role as Chaffetz said he will mount further probes into the matter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner announced Monday he will reappoint Rep. Trey Gowdy as chairman of the Select Committee on the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya in the 114th Congress.

“On September 11, 2012, four Americans were killed in a brutal terrorist attack in Libya. Two years later, the American people still have far too many questions about what happened that night — and why,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s why I will reappoint Rep. Trey Gowdy and the Republican members of the House Select Committee to investigate the events in Benghazi in the 114th Congress. I look forward to the definitive report Chairman Gowdy and the Select Committee will present to the American people.”

Gowdy, R-S.C., told CQ Roll Call Nov. 14 that the committee, which has maintained a low profile since its creation last spring, would meet “in public and in private” before the end of December’s lame-duck session, which is currently open-ended. Full story

Democrats Praise Obama for Immigration Action, but Wanted More

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Fasting immigration reform activists in front of the White House listen to President Barack Obama’s speech on his executive action on immigration policies Nov. 20. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

While Republicans in Congress aren’t holding back on their criticism of President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, some Democrats are trying to navigate a more difficult position: Supporting the president’s action while also arguing he could have gone further.

Some of the strongest congressional proponents of an immigration overhaul — Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, D-Ill., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Sen. Robert J. Menendez, D-N.J. — held a conference call Monday to discuss the president’s action. And while all three were effusive in their praise, it was also clear they believe Obama could have put forward a more ambitious executive order.

“We made the argument that he could go further,” Gutierrez said on the conference call. “We lost that argument.” Full story

Paul Ryan Woos Ex-Boehner Aide Back to Capitol Hill

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Ryan and Brendan Buck worked together on the Wisconsin congressman’s 2012 vice-presidential run. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call Fast File)

Rep. Paul D. Ryan must have made Brendan Buck a pretty strong case to leave his still-new K Street gig to come back to Capitol Hill.

The Wisconsin Republican and incoming chairman of the Ways and Means Committee announced Monday that Buck, a former spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, will be coming on board as the panel’s communications director.

Buck left his job as a congressional aide six months ago to be the vice president of communications at America’s Health Insurance Plans, the health insurance industry’s lobby. When he joins the GOP Ways and Means team at the start of the 114th Congress, he’ll be in a position to help message on Ryan’s ambitious goals, like a major overhaul of the nation’s tax code.

Full story

November 21, 2014

House Finally Files Affordable Care Act Lawsuit Against Obama

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Boehner said the House has formally filed a lawsuit against the president. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Four months after the chamber authorized a lawsuit against President Barack Obama — and on the third try with an attorney after the first two lawyers bailed — the GOP-controlled House has formally filed its case, Speaker John A. Boehner announced Friday.

“Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and re-write federal law on his own without a vote of Congress,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement. “That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work.

“If this president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have the ability to as well. The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action,” Boehner said. Full story

Boehner: ‘House Will Act’ in Response to Obama’s Immigration Orders (Video)

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Immigration activists gathered at the White House on Thursday in the wake of Obama’s announcement. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker John A. Boehner said “the House will, in fact, act” to respond to President Barack Obama’s sweeping immigration executive orders — but the Ohio Republican offered no details on the type, scale and scope of such action Friday morning.

In a 4-minute news conference outside his office, Boehner said the nation’s immigration system is “broken,” and “the American people expect us to work together to fix it.

“And we ought to do it in a Democratic process,” he continued, “moving bills through the people’s House, through the Senate and to the president’s desk.”

But Boehner also accused Obama of trying to “deliberately sabotage” the prospects for congressional action by issuing his executive orders and “making it impossible for me to do what he wanted me to do.”

Boehner said, “I warned the president over and over again.” Full story

November 20, 2014

New RSC Chairman: Don’t Look for Public Fights With Boehner

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Flores envisions a less combative RSC. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Good news for Speaker John A. Boehner: The next Republican Study Committee chairman wants to work with him — and he doesn’t want any public fights.

In an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” that will air Sunday, newly elected RSC Chairman Bill Flores laid out a vision for a more collaborative, less publicly combative RSC. For a preview of how he intends to run the conservative group, he points to the mission statement: The Republican Study Committee is dedicated to a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government, a strong national defense, the protection of individual and property rights, and the preservation of traditional family values.

Time and again, Flores returned to the mission statement as the guiding document of his chairmanship. The RSC creed has been a hot topic for Flores since he told Breitbart News that, according to the mission statement, it’s not the RSC chairman’s role to hold the greater GOP caucus leadership accountable.

The 170-member caucus of conservative Republicans in the House has been a springboard in recent years for former chairmen — such as Louisian’s Steve Scalise, who is now House GOP whip, and Texas’ Jeb Hensarling, now chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Flores, a 60-year-old Texas Republican, ran for RSC chairman on a platform of working with leadership. And now that he’s been elected to the position over his more conservative competition — Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Louie Gohmert of Texas — he is further emphasizing his less confrontational approach.

“To the extent that we have differences with our leadership, rather than airing those differences in public, we will keep those private,” Flores said.

The incoming chairman said there was “pretty good alignment” between what GOP leadership wants to do and what the RSC wants to do. “And so our goal is to put forth the most positive, achievable solutions and ask our leadership to do that,” Flores said. “And we’ll be pushy. I just don’t intend to do it in a public forum, unless our membership desires that we do that publicly.”

Asked about the members of the RSC who might want to see their chairman publicly prodding leadership toward more conservative proposals, Flores returned to the mission statement.

“If the membership of the Republican Study Committee wants to change the mission statement to say that part of our mission is to be publicly pushy with our leadership, I’m willing to fulfill the mission statement,” he said. “I signed on as chair to fulfill the mission statement, whatever it is.”

He reiterated that the 34-word proclamation, as it is currently written, is not to be “pushy” with leadership, “or to be banging on our leadership,” and he returned to the document of intent when asked about outside conservative groups that have sometimes been a thorn in Boehner’s side.

“The mission statement doesn’t say anything about working with the outside groups,” Flores said.

He said some of these groups were doing “great work” for the country and had missions to advance a conservative vision.

“But, in some ways, I think that they are — some of them, I believe, have other missions,” he said. “And that is to raise money. They have missions to primary Republicans.”

Flores noted that he’d like to work with them as much as he can, but said his “primary responsibility” was to work with our RSC membership, “not to work with the outside groups.”

Pressed on whether groups such as Heritage Action and Club for Growth had been forces for good for Republicans in Congress, Flores gave a mixed message: ”Sometimes they have and sometimes they’ve been less helpful.”

Overall, Flores emphasized advocating for achievable solutions, and he said the RSC would put forward proposals that would appeal to more than just conservatives.

He argued that Republicans needed to address sequestration to protect the Defense Department from the automatic spending cuts, and he said that he, personally, would like to see some sort of border security bill.

“The challenge as the chair is to be able to get as many of what I think will be 185 members on our roster, to come to a common set of ideals as we move forward in the next Congress,” he said.

 

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GOP Still Fuzzy on Strategy to Block Obama’s Immigration Move

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Defunding Obama won’t work, said Rogers.  (CQ Roll Call File Photo/Bill Clark)

Hours before President Barack Obama finally presses the “go” button on executive actions to change the nation’s immigration laws, House Republicans were not any closer to coalescing around a strategy to fight back.

House GOP leaders have made it clear they want to pursue some legislative response to block Obama’s orders, which Democrats say they should have expected after stonewalling consideration in the 113th congress of Senate-passed immigration overhaul legislation.

“All options are on the table,” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Boehner and his allies haven’t, however, figured out how to pacify a rank-and-file that would like to tie the president’s hands by attaching some kind of defunding language to a must-pass piece of legislation. Full story

Pelosi Praises Republican Presidents of Yore on Immigration (Video)

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Pelosi praised previous Republican presidents on immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nancy Pelosi, defending Barack Obama, praised Republican presidents who historically took unilateral action on immigration — with the minority leader even drawing parallels between Obama’s proposed executive order and Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

“Does the public know that the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order?” Pelosi asked during a news conference Thursday. “People have to understand how presidents have made change in our country.”

The California Democrat cited the history of U.S. presidents making significant changes without going through Congress, and she brought up the pattern of Republican presidents in the past 50 years exerting their executive authority to act on immigration.

Asked whether Republicans had a case that what the president was proposing was unconstitutional, Pelosi said Obama’s action was “absolutely, positively” not outside his constitutional bounds. Full story

November 19, 2014

Major Players From Team Cantor to Open Lobbying Shop

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Cantor joined the private sector recently, and some of his former staffers are following suit. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Months after Cantorland was turned upside down by their boss’ stunning primary defeat, two key members of the ex-majority leader’s team are returning to the workforce, opening a lobbying firm with another prominent former Hill staffer.

Steve Stombres — a longtime chief of staff to ex-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor — is starting a government affairs shop with Kyle Nevins, Cantor’s former deputy chief of staff, and John O’Neill, a former counsel and policy director for Trent Lott when he was the Senate GOP whip.

The firm, Harbinger Strategies, is still coming together, but the partners say they’ll officially be open for business by Jan. 1. “We’re on the sublet tour of Washington, D.C.,” Stombres said of finding office space.

He’s already hunting for clients, and said Nevin and O’Neill will officially join him at the start of 2015.

Full story

Walz Gets VA Committee Spot After Messy Process

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Walz will serve again on Veterans’ Affairs. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sometimes a consolation prize makes all the difference, Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz learned Wednesday.

After party leaders appeared to have blocked the Minnesota Democrat from running for ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Walz — who is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to serve in Congress — ended up getting much of what he wanted anyway.

He will be on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the 114th Congress, and he will have a larger role with veterans service organizations. Full story

CBC Rallies to Defend Brown, Democrats’ Seniority System

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Brown, who had the most seniority, is the new ranking member of the VA Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Wednesday was a good day for the Congressional Black Caucus: In just a matter of hours, the powerful group saw Democrats’ seniority system — a tradition that has long protected minority lawmakers from being passed over for leadership positions — prevail not once, but twice.

First, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. — the No. 3 Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee — beat the No. 5 panel Democrat, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California, in the race to be ranking member.

He’s not a member of the CBC, but Pallone showed that lawmakers had no intention of bowing to pressure from some party leaders, such as Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to disregard the House Democratic Caucus’s deference to the decades-old seniority precedent. Full story

Pallone Defeats Eshoo for Energy and Commerce Slot (Updated)

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Pallone topped Eshoo, 100-90. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:57 p.m. | In a triumph for the seniority system and a blow to Nancy Pelosi’s clout, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey beat Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California in a hard-fought race for ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Eshoo had Pelosi’s support and won the backing of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee Tuesday afternoon, but the full caucus early Wednesday morning voted to give the plum assignment to Pallone.

The final tally was 100-90. Full story

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