Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 21, 2014

September 18, 2014

Pelosi Pens Second Endorsement Letter for Eshoo

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Eshoo (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Nancy Pelosi is making another play for her fellow Californian and close friend, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, to be ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Minority Leader sent a letter to colleagues on Thursday afternoon, just as the House was finishing legislative business before November. That’s when the full Democratic Caucus will vote for either Eshoo or her colleague, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., to win the party’s top spot on the powerful committee.

With competition stiff between the two lawmakers, Pelosi stunned colleagues once already back in late February, in the very early days of the campaign to succeed retiring ranking member Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., by penning a letter in support of Eshoo. Full story

Energy and Commerce Race Heats Up as Election Nears

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Ranking member rivals Eshoo and Pallone chatted earlier this year at a press conference. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After a quiet couple of months, the race to be the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee is heating up again.

As the November election nears, the two Democrats vying for the party’s top spot on the panel are stepping up efforts to show off their clout.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey made the bolder move on Thursday, releasing a letter signed by 50 of his supporters that outlines why they think he should be given the assignment over his opponent, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California. Full story

Boehner Lists Tax Reform Among House GOP’s Top Priorities for 2015

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Boehner at the Capitol Tuesday (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In what was hyped as a potential road map for House Republicans in the 114th Congress, Speaker John A. Boehner laid out a five-point vision for creating growth and mobility in America on Thursday.

On the 12th floor suite of the American Enterprise Institute, Boehner pushed tax reform, reduced spending, and improvements to the legal, regulatory and education systems as items Congress needed to address in order to make America “the best place to work, save and invest.”

The Ohio Republican said Congress could do it “the Washington way” — “move around some dirt, see what happens” — or they could “lay a solid foundation for growth and mobility, not pick one thing over the other.” Full story

By Matt Fuller Posted at 3:27 p.m.
Uncategorized

After Today, House Is Done Through the Elections

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Ruiz and Young check their phones as they walk down the House steps following a series of votes on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

It’s official: The House is closing up shop until after the midterm elections.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office announced Thursday there will be no votes on Friday and said the four-day session originally scheduled to begin on Sept. 29 has been canceled, pending Senate approval of the continuing resolution that passed the House Wednesday.

That means lawmakers will be sprinting to the exits — and the quick trip to the airport — after the close of business Thursday. Full story

ISIS or ISIL? On the Hill, Depends on Whom You Ask

 

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One protester used ISIL at a congressional hearing, but the term ISIS is more common. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Is it “ISIS,” “ISIL,” or something else entirely? On Capitol Hill, the answer depends on whom you ask — and neither party labels nor ideological leanings seem to have any bearing on the answer.

For many lawmakers, broadcasters and the reprehensible group itself, the term of choice is clearly ISIS, which stands for the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.” The terrorists rebranded themselves as the “Islamic State” in July, and the acronym ISIS has grown exponentially in notoriety and infamy in the wake of the brutal videotaped beheadings of three Westerners, including two Americans. Full story

Party Like it’s 1994: Gingrich, DeLay Reunite With ‘Greatest Class’

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Ginghrich arrives for the reception celebrating the anniversary of the 1994 Contract with America. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

While most of Congress trekked down Pennsylvania Avenue Wednesday night to the annual White House picnic, a select group of current and former members took a trip down Memory Lane instead, converging on the Hill to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the historic House GOP class of 1994. 

A half-dozen lawmakers joined nearly 40 former colleagues, including former speaker Newt Gingrich, inside the National Resources Committee hearing room to reminisce about one of the biggest “wave” elections in congressional history.

In the midterms that year, the party recaptured power in the chamber, with new members having campaigned successfully on what would become the 104th Congress’s defining document: The Contract with America.

“You are going to go down in history … as the greatest freshman class, at least in the last century, to walk into this House of Representatives,” said Tom DeLay of Texas, who in 1995 was the House majority whip before going on to serve as majority leader. “You are people of incredible character and incredible strength and you stood on your principles.” Full story

September 17, 2014

Odd Coalitions, Unusual Fractures in Syria, Continuing Resolution Votes (Video)

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House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller was one of the highest-ranked Republicans to vote no on the amendment to arm Syrian rebels. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House fractured along untraditional lines Wednesday, voting 319-108 to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government and 273-156 to adopt an amendment arming Syrian rebels.

Neither vote was typical. Roughly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats voted against both proposals. But there were some interesting trends hidden in both votes.

On the vote to fund the government, 143 Democrats joined 176 Republicans in support of the CR, while 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans voted against the bill.

On the vote to arm Syrian rebels, 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats voted for the proposal, while 85 Republicans and 71 Democrats voted against. Full story

House Votes to Arm Syrian Rebels; CR Passes (Updated) (Video)

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Boehner, left, and McCarthy pushed through a continuing resolution that includes support for the president’s request to train and arm Syrian rebels. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 7:03 p.m. | After voting to give President Barack Obama the authority to arm and train Syrian rebels, the House passed legislation Wednesday to fund the government until Dec. 11, moving the bill to avoid a government shutdown and address Islamic State organizations to the Senate.

House lawmakers voted 319-108 to pass the continuing resolution, with 143 Democrats joining 176 Republicans in support of the measure. 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans voted against the bill.

A vote on the spending bill, which will continue government spending through Dec. 11 at a $1.012 trillion level, was delayed last week so lawmakers could attach a request from the president to give him Title 10 authority to fight the Islamic State group.

That authority would allow the Obama administration to equip Syrian rebels for the intended purpose of fighting ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also referred to as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Obama praised the House and urged the Senate to follow suit on the legislation, which he reiterated is not an authorization for the use of U.S. troops in Syria.

“Today’s vote is another step closer to having the authorization to train and equip vetted elements of the moderate Syrian opposition so they can defend themselves against, and ultimately push back on, ISIL forces,” he said in a statement.  Full story

Pelosi Backs Obama, but Says ‘We Just Don’t Whip War Votes’ (Video)

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Pelosi: “We just don’t whip war votes.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Democratic leaders aren’t whipping votes on the continuing resolution and an amendment to give President Barack Obama authority to arm Syrian rebels against the terrorist group the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi used her regularly-scheduled Wednesday morning news conference to make an impassioned case for members to support their president.

“I don’t know how the vote will turn out,” the California Democrat said. “It’s not a vote we whip. We just don’t whip war votes. But I do think that, as members weigh the factors, that they will, I think, give points to the president for all that he has done, diplomatically, politically, humanitarian-wise and ask for this distinct piece.” Full story

Benghazi Hearing Opening Statements From Gowdy, Cummings

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Cummings said previous Benghazi proves had devolved into partisan proceedings. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House Select Committee on Benghazi got off to a relatively subdued start Wednesday, though the panel’s Republican chairman and ranking Democrat managed to take a few veiled jabs at each other in their opening statements.

Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., pushed back at Democrats who have argued the hearing is just a rehash of questions about the 2012 terror attack that killed four Americans.

“Some question the need for this committee,” he said. “I respect your right to disagree, but the mark of a professional, indeed the mark of character, is to do a good job even if you do not think the task should have been assigned in the first place.”

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat who has been at the forefront of those questioning the need for another round of hearings, responded a few minutes later.

“Too often over the past two years, the congressional investigation into what happened in Benghazi has devolved into unseemly partisanship. Today, we have an opportunity to focus on reform,” he said, reading from prepared remarks.

Here is Cummings’ complete statement as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing. I know every Member of this panel is dedicated to ensuring that our work honors the memories of the four Americans who were killed in Benghazi—Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. 

I want to thank our colleague, Representative Schiff, for proposing the topic of today’s hearing. Too often over the past two years, the congressional investigation into what happened in Benghazi has devolved into unseemly partisanship. Today, we have an opportunity to focus on reform. How can we learn from the past to make things better in the future? This kind of oversight can be productive, it can be critical, and it can sometimes even be tedious, but it can also save people’s lives.

I sincerely hope the Select Committee will stay on the course of constructive reform and keep this goal as our North Star. It would be a disservice to everyone involved to be lured off this path by partisan politics.

Today, we will review the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board, which was chaired by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During our previous investigation in the House Oversight Committee, Chairman Gowdy and I heard directly from both men about how seriously they took their roles. Ambassador Pickering called it a “debt of honor.”

Their report was independent, it was adopted unanimously by all Board members, and it was a blistering examination of what went wrong at the State Department. They made 29 recommendations, and Secretary Clinton accepted all of them.

After they issued their report, the State Department Inspector General issued his own report finding that “the Department wasted no time addressing the recommendations.” The Department has been working on implementing these recommendations for the past year and a half, and Congress should ensure that it finishes the job.

Today, I would like our witnesses to provide an update on the status of several of the Board’s recommendations.

First, the Board found that the Department’s response to the deteriorating security situation in Benghazi was “inadequate.” It was inadequate at the post in Benghazi, at the Embassy in Tripoli, and here in Washington. Ambassador Pickering explained that the post did not take action despite crossing several “tripwires” that should have caused officials to review security more closely and develop a stronger response. The Board recommended that the Department change its procedures to make sure that security breaches are reviewed immediately.

Today, the Department reports that it has created a new process that requires posts to report “tripwires” as soon as they are crossed so security officials can review them immediately and take action if necessary. I want to know if this process is now fully operational, and, if so, how it has been working so far. 

The Board also found that we should not have relied so heavily on local militia groups, like the February 17 militia, to protect our post. The Board called this reliance “misplaced,” and it found that these security forces were “poorly skilled.” The Board recommended that the Department strengthen security “beyond the traditional reliance on host government security support in high risk, high threat posts.”

Today, the Department reports that it has 17 new Marine Security Guard Detachments and another new Marine unit to enhance security in changing threat environments. In addition, the State Department is now using new funding from Congress to hire 151 new personnel in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, or DS. I want to hear from our witnesses about whether these actions are sufficient, or whether we need to do more.

The Board also found fault with a Deputy Assistant Secretary within DS who denied repeated requests for additional security in Benghazi. At the time, this official oversaw the security of all 275 diplomatic posts around the world.

To address this problem, the Department created a new position to focus exclusively on the security needs of roughly 30 posts experiencing the highest threats. The Board praised this action, stating that it could be “a positive first step if integrated into a sound strategy for DS reorganization.” Today, I want to hear from the State Department specifically about how this new position is working and whether they believe we should make additional changes.

Everyone understands that diplomacy, by its nature, sometimes requires us to be in very dangerous places. Our diplomats work in high-threat environments, and although we cannot eliminate every risk, we must do everything we can to keep Americans as safe as possible when they are serving overseas.

With that, I want to conclude by recognizing the tremendous sacrifices that are made every single day around the world by our diplomatic corps, the intelligence community, and our military servicemembers on behalf of the American people. 

 

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Gowdy leads the Benghazi select committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Here is Gowdy’s complete statement, as prepared for delivery:

A little over two years ago, four Americans were killed serving our country in Benghazi, Libya. Two were killed when a facility emblematic of our country was set on fire. Two were killed because they dared to fight back and defend themselves and others. Sean Smith, Chris Stevens, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty represented us. They represented our country and our values. We sent them to do that. They were killed in an attack rooted in the animus some people hold toward us, simply because we are us.

To the family, friends, and loved ones of those killed, we can never adequately express our condolences and gratitude. As you have helped us understand, the four killed were more than just pictures on a TV screen. They were sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends. And they were our fellow Americans.

I remain hopeful there are still things left in our country that can transcend politics. I remain convinced our fellow citizens deserve all of the facts of what happened before, during, and after the attacks in Benghazi and they deserve an investigative process worthy of the memory of those who died and worthy of the trust of our fellow citizens.

Some question the need for this committee. I respect your right to disagree, but the mark of a professional, indeed the mark of character, is to do a good job even if you do not think the task should have been assigned in the first place. Given the gravity of the issues at hand, I am willing to risk answering the same question twice rather than risk not answering it once. I am willing to reconsider previously held beliefs in light of new, additional, complimentary or contradictory evidence. I am willing to approach anew witnesses previously interviewed in light of the real possibility that additional questions may be warranted.

As we are keenly aware, all documents responsive to congressional requests have not been produced. Moreover, there are witnesses with information or access to information with whom no committee of Congress has spoken. I am optimistic the vast and varied backgrounds of our colleagues can be put to great use on behalf of our fellow citizens. The House of Representatives constituted this committee to find all of the facts, and I intend to do so fully and in a manner worthy of the people we serve. 

Our fellow citizens have legitimate and high expectations:

(1) They expect us to protect and defend those we send to represent us,

(2) They expect us to move heaven and earth to help those representing us who are in harm’s way;

(3) They expect government to tell the truth in the aftermath of a tragedy;

(4) They expect we will not continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Which leads to this hearing.

Benghazi was not the first time our diplomatic facilities and people have been attacked. The barracks in Beirut, our facilities in Tanzania and Kenya are a few that come to mind amid too many others. And after those attacks, groups came together and made recommendations on how to prevent future attacks. That is the process seemingly followed. An attack takes place, we commission a group to study how to make sure it doesn’t happen again, we pronounce it is time to move on and yet it happens again. So to those who believe it is time to move on, that there is nothing left to discover, that all questions have been asked and answered, that we have learned the lessons to be learned— we have heard that before. And yet the attacks and the tragedies keep coming. 

It is stunning to see the similarities in the recommendations made decades ago and the recommendations made after Benghazi. If you doubt that, compare the recommendations made nearly 25 years ago with those made after Benghazi. We do not suffer from a lack of recommendations. We do not suffer from a lack of boards, commissions and blue ribbon panels. We suffer from a lack of implementing and enacting those recommendations. That must end.

So it is appropriate to review the recommendations of the most recent ARB and Rep. Adam Schiff is to be credited for suggesting we do so. It is also fair for us to ask why have we not done a better job implementing recommendations made decades ago. Why does it take an attack on our people and facilities for us to make recommendations? Why not evaluate the threat before the attack? Why not anticipate rather than react?

The people we work for yearn to see the right thing done, for the right reasons, and in the right way. They want to know that something can rise above the din of politics. They want to trust the institutions of government. So to fulfill the duties owed to those we serve and in honor of those who were killed perhaps we can be what those four brave men were: neither Republican nor Democrat. We can just be Americans in pursuit of the facts, the truth, and justice no matter where that journey takes us.

 

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By David Eldridge Posted at 11:26 a.m.
Uncategorized

Watch Live: Select Committee on Benghazi Holds First Hearing (Video)

The House Select Committee on Benghazi holds its inaugural hearing, titled “Implementation of the Accountability Review Board recommendations.” The hearing begins at 10 a.m.

 

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Parties’ Shared Benghazi Goals: Win the Hearings, Control the Narrative

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On the eve of a new round of hearings, Cummings made it clear Democrats intend to defend the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Reps. Trey Gowdy and Elijah E. Cummings say they don’t want the Select Committee on Benghazi to be driven by partisanship, and both have made overtures over the past four months to prove they mean it.

But no matter how many times the South Carolina Republican and Maryland Democrat huddle in the Speaker’s Lobby and pledge to treat the committee’s mission with dignity, the chairman and ranking member probably won’t be able to drown out the partisan voices on sidelines just 48 days from the midterm elections.

On the eve of the committee’s first public hearing, set for Wednesday morning, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, on Capitol Hill and off, were already drawing battle lines. Full story

September 16, 2014

Could Democrats Blindside GOP on the Continuing Resolution?

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Pelosi said Democrats have leverage on the continuing resolution and should seek a longer extension of the Ex-Im Bank. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 6:28 p.m. | Democrats have indicated numerous times that they support — perhaps a bit reluctantly — the continuing resolution. But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seems to be having second thoughts about giving in so easily.

Asked Tuesday afternoon why Democrats wouldn’t withhold their support on the continuing resolution to get a better deal on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, Pelosi responded that she was “all for that.”

“I would like to see us use our leverage,” Pelosi said.

Republicans are relying on Democrats to help them pass the continuing resolution. But if Democrats voted no and made Republicans pass the spending bill on their own, GOP leaders would almost certainly be short on the votes needed.

Pelosi said she thought Republicans “probably” had the votes. Pressed on whether Republicans had the votes without Democrats, Pelosi said she didn’t know. But she did seem supportive of using Democratic leverage, though she did say running up against a government shutdown “weakens our leverage.”

Just minutes before Pelosi entered the Democratic briefing, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., seemed resigned to accept the current bill Republicans had put forth, and earlier in the day, during his weekly pen-and-pad briefing, Hoyer said Democrats wouldn’t withhold their support on the CR for a better deal on the Ex-Im Bank. “You don’t get perfect,” Hoyer said.

Democrats uniting behind a strategy that sinks the CR still seems unlikely, but it seems to still be an option Democratic leaders are mulling over.

Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, shared his reaction to the Pelosi comments with CQ Roll Call via email:

“Did Rep. Pelosi tell President Obama she is threatening to shut down the government over an unrelated issue after he said he needs the authority to train properly-vetted Syrian rebels in the CR as soon as humanly possible?” he asked.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had a similar question.

“Has the Minority Leader spoken to the President today?” asked Mike Long.

 

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Bipartisan Bloc Coalesces Behind CR, Syrian Rebels Amendment

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Despite reservations, Democrats are lining up behind the House GOP’s proposed continuing resolution and an underlying amendment on Syria, Hoyer said. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Despite lingering reservations on both sides of the aisle, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats is coming together behind proposals to arm Syrian rebels and fund the government beyond Sept. 30.

Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer confirmed Tuesday that, despite some provisions his colleagues don’t like — namely a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank through only June 30, 2015 — Hoyer and a significant bloc of Democrats would not withhold their support on the continuing resolution. “You don’t get perfect,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing.

The Maryland Democrat also said Democrats would support an amendment proposal from Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., that would give the Obama administration the authority it requested to arm and train Syrian rebels in order to combat Islamic terrorists.

With the support from Democrats, passage of the CR and adoption of the Syria amendment look increasingly assured. There are plenty of remaining concerns regarding the trustworthiness of the Syrian rebels. But with Republican and Democratic leadership supporting the measure — not to mention the White House, which has been calling members to drum up support for the proposal — passage of the CR does not appear to be in doubt. Full story

September 15, 2014

McCarthy Suggests Post-Election Vote Authorizing Military Force

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McCarthy signals a post-election vote authorizing use of military force. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Emerging from a GOP leadership meeting Monday evening, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled that, after the midterm elections, there’s a decent chance the House holds a new vote authorizing military force in the Middle East.

Asked during an impromptu hallway interview with a gaggle of reporters whether the House would be working on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force to combat Islamic State terrorists, McCarthy said that “after November,” he thought there would be an “opportunity” to at least debate an AUMF.

“I know a lot of members would want start to have that debate, or at least have that discussion, but I think everyone needs to have more information,” the California Republican said. Full story

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