Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 30, 2014

August 29, 2014

Funeral Services Set for Wife of Maryland Congressman

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Harris, left, and his late wife. (Photo courtesy of the congressman’s office.)

In lieu of flowers, Rep. Andy Harris and his family are asking for donations to a Baltimore, Md., pregnancy center in memory of Sylvia ‘Cookie’ Harris.

The Maryland Republican’s wife, who unexpectedly died Thursday, was a dedicated anti-abortion advocate and a board member of the Pregnancy Center North, where she regularly volunteered. The 57-year-old mother of five and grandmother to two also served as director of special events for Maryland Right to Life.

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Top Judiciary Republicans Demand Answers on DACA Changes

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Grassley is one of two top Republicans questioning changes on the DACA website. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Top Republicans on the House and Senate Judiciary committees are asking the Obama administration to explain changes made this summer to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that they say loosen requirements and invite fraud.

House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa sent Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson a list of 25 questions Friday on revisions to the 2012 executive order.

The lawmakers zeroed in on a change made to the DACA website’s “Frequently Asked Questions” page that states officials “may verify information” submitted on applicant documents — imprecise language, Grassley and Goodlatte contend, that does not require the government to actually verify anything.

“Since the initial announcement regarding DACA, we … have written several letters to your Department requesting data and general information about DACA,” Goodlatte and Grassley wrote to Johnson. “We have rarely received substantive responses. Congress is entitled to know how this administration is managing the program and to whom it is providing lawful status.” Full story

August 28, 2014

Rep. Andy Harris Mourns Wife’s Sudden Death

The office of Rep. Andy Harris announced on Thursday the unexpected death of the Maryland Republican’s wife.

“Sylvia ‘Cookie’ Harris, beloved wife of over 30 years to Congressman Andy Harris, devoted mother of five and grandmother to two, and devout Catholic, unexpectedly passed away on Thursday, August 28,” the statement said. “The family is thankful for the thoughts and prayers that so many have offered already and appreciates privacy during this time.”

WBAL-TV reported that Cookie Harris, a well-known figure in the state capital of Annapolis, died after a heart attack. Before Andy Harris was elected to the House in 2010, the politician served in the Maryland Senate for more than a decade, include a tenure as Republican whip. Full story

Army Veteran Shane Scherer Joins Roskam’s Staff as Constituent Advocate | Hill Climber

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Roskam has hired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shane Scherer is joining his district office. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As President Barack Obama addressed the American Legion Wednesday and stressed the importance of regaining veterans’ trust after the Veterans Affairs health care crisis, retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Shane Scherer was in the middle of his second week as a congressional staffer.

Scherer recently began his new role as veterans constituent advocate for Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., the former chief deputy whip. Scherer will be based in Roskam’s district office in Illinois.

“I wanted to continue doing my duty for the public, so this is an opportunity to jump back in that role in a different setting,” Scherer told CQ Roll Call in a Wednesday phone interview.

The retired sergeant is part of the Wounded Warrior Program, which awards two-year fellowships in House offices to disabled veterans who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

According to Patricia Orsini, the director of the Wounded Warrior Program, a total of 135 veterans have participated in the program since it began in 2008. There are currently 40 Wounded Warrior fellows in the House.

“We just target disabled veterans who want to get hired and have an opportunity to really make a difference,” Orsini said Wednesday. She added that many fellows go on to become permanent staffers in Congress or at the VA. “It really opens doors, especially for those who want to stay in the advocacy field,” she said.

Scherer said that he was enjoying his experience working for Roskam so far, particularly “the opportunity to help people once again.”

Scherer was deployed in Afghanistan from July 2008 to May 2009. Eleven days before he was scheduled to return home, Scherer suffered life-threatening injuries during an attack on his base. He sustained a traumatic brain injury and spent months recovering and re-learning basic functions, such as walking and talking. Today he does not have any feeling in his left foot and hand.

“His remarkable recovery is a testament to his strength, resilience, and unparalleled determination to help the country he nearly lost his life defending,” Roskman said in a statement announcing Scherer’s hire.

According to Roskam, Scherer “will be responsible for helping our local veterans receive the care and attention they deserve.”

Scherer said his personal experience receiving care at a VA hospital will be beneficial in his new role, which will involve helping fellow veterans navigate the VA and other federal agencies.

“I understand the ins and outs in what it’s like to be involved in all levels of care in the VA,” said Scherer. “I relate and can connect on a very personal level, having the same experience.”

Dreamers Ambush Paul Ryan at Colorado Book Signing (Video)

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Protesters confronted Ryan at his book signing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 12:56 p.m. | THORNTON, Colo. — Immigration protesters ambushed Rep. Paul D. Ryan Wednesday as the Wisconsin Republican signed books at a Barnes & Noble here.

Ryan was confronted by Greisa Martinez, a national organizer with United We Dream. Martinez and three companions bought books and waited in line for Ryan. But once Martinez reached the front of the line, she asked Ryan questions about the lack of congressional action on immigration.

Full story

August 27, 2014

Armed Services Chairman Calls for Strategy to Combat ISIS

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McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is calling for the president to consult Congress on the U.S. response to jihadists in Iraq and Syria. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More House lawmakers are warning President Barack Obama he needs to articulate a broader anti-terrorism strategy — and consult with Congress on that plan — before ramping up military action against anti-U.S. jihadists in northern Iraq and Syria.

Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif. is the most recent member to release such a statement after the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria executed American photojournalist James Foley last week.

“I challenge the President to engage Congress,” McKeon said in his statement Wednesday. “I’m willing to work with him.”

McKeon added, however, that while a plan to address ISIS’s growing power “may well require additional authorities from Congress … speculation about that before the President has even offered a strategy is putting the cart before the horse.”

Barack Obama, McKeon continued, “need[s] … to explain to the American people what is at stake, what our objectives are, and the strategy for how to achieve them. Only after we understand all this can we contemplate what new authorities might be needed.” Full story

Guilty Plea: Iowa State Senator Paid for Ron Paul Switch

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Bachmann was Iowa’s presidential front-runner in summer 2011. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A former Iowa state senator pleaded guilty to concealing payments he received from former Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential campaign to switch his support from Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Kent Sorenson, 42, of Milo, Iowa, entered the guilty plea for one count of causing a federal campaign committee to falsely report its expenditures and one count of obstruction of justice.

According to a Department of Justice release, Sorenson admitted he had supported one campaign for the 2012 presidential election, but from October to December 2011, “he met and secretly negotiated with a second political campaign to switch his support to that second campaign in exchange for concealed payments that amounted to $73,000.”

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Former Fattah Aide Pleads Guilty in Campaign Fraud (Updated)

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A longtime aide for Fattah, above, has pleaded guilty to fraud charges. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:27 p.m. | A longtime former aide and political consultant for Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., has pleaded guilty to a number of federal charges in campaign finance fraud schemes.

Gregory Naylor, 66, pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple counts for his “participation in two campaign finance-related schemes initiated by a long-time friend and former employer” identified as “Elected Official A.”

But court documents posted online by Joel Mathis of PhillyMag.com describe in detail Naylor’s work on a failed 2007 Philadelphia mayoral campaign — when he was working on Fattah’s failed bid. Documents also describe a $500,000 contribution to a higher education conference named for an elected official that was then diverted to to pay off part of an illegal $1 million loan to the elected official’s failed mayoral campaign from an unnamed benefactor.

Fattah has annually held the “Fattah Conference on Higher Education” and a press release from the time touts a $500,000 contribution from Sallie Mae to the conference.

According to the Department of Justice release, Naylor helped conceal the theft of federal grants and private charitable funds to repay an illegal campaign debt from a 2007 campaign. Full story

By Steven Dennis Posted at 1:21 p.m.
Uncategorized

August 26, 2014

Larson: Congress Should End Vacation, Get to Work on ISIS

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Larson, D-Conn., says vacation is over and Congress needs to come back to work. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With the White House weighing more air strikes against jihadists in northern Iraq and possibly Syria, Rep. John B. Larson said Congress needs to cancel its August recess and get back to work in Washington.

The Connecticut Democrat said in a statement Tuesday that there are still open questions about whether President Barack Obama has the authority to take military action against the Islamic State, as the jihadists have named the region of Iraq and Syria under their control.

Congress isn’t scheduled to return to Washington until Sept. 8. Full story

August 25, 2014

House Lawsuit Against Obama Price Tag: Up to $350K

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Boehner and House GOP have hired a D.C. firm to handle Obama lawsuit. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

D.C. law firm BakerHostetler will handle the House Republicans’ lawsuit against President Barack Obama.

House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said the firm has been contracted to represent the House in the district court civil suit.

According to the contract, the lawsuit will cost the House up to $350,000, billed at a rate of $500/hour.
“The president must be held accountable, and the House will continue to act in an open and transparent manner to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” Miller said in a Monday statement.

The lawsuit, authorized on July 30 by the House, calls for the courts to rein in a president who, Republicans contend, has overstepped his authority by unilaterally changing federal law in his implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Many legal experts say the lawsuit faces long odds in the courts, but one of the highest-profile constitutional scholars in the country, former Reagan and George Bush lawyer David Rivkin, has said the case has merit — and he’s a partner at the firm the Republicans hired.

Democrats immediately weighed in on the announcement, sharply criticizing the $500 per hour contract as wasteful spending.

“This outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars is yet another reminder of House Republicans’ misguided priorities,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., in a statement. “Only in John Boehner’s world does it make sense to pay lawyers $500 per hour to work on a partisan lawsuit while refusing to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for hardworking Americans trying to feed their families.”

Related:

Lawmakers Battle Over Legal Arguments on Obama Lawsuit

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Congressman: Get Ready for Immigration Move From Obama

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Gutierrez said Monday the president’s move on immigration could be “unprecedented” in scope. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Reacting to a report that President Barack Obama is mulling unilateral action that could impact almost half the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez said Monday, “It’s music to my ears.”

The Illinois Democrat, one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, said in an appearance on MSNBC that Obama has been forced to take action because of gridlock in the House.

“We want to get as many as we can out of the vicious cycle of deportation,” Gutiérrez said. “But I think if the president takes such a move … I think it would be a huge move.”

His comments came after reporter Chris Jansing told MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart that administration sources have said the White House is weighing executive action that would impact up to 5 million illegal immigrants.  Full story

By David Eldridge Posted at 12:55 p.m.
Uncategorized

August 22, 2014

Gowdy Hires Top Lawyer for Benghazi Committee

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Gowdy’s Benghazi select committee will hold its first hearing next month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After an extended period of quiet, the special committee for investigating the attacks in Benghazi may be readying for action.

Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. announced Friday he has hired a retired three-star general to lead the panel’s legal team.

Lt. Gen. Dana K. Chipman was the senior military lawyer for the Army for four years as judge advocate general at the Pentagon, Gowdy’s office said. He retired last November after 33 years on active duty.

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Boehner Calls Bergdahl Swap ‘Potentially Serious Lapse in Judgment’ (Updated)

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Boehner says GAO ruling confirms Obama overstepped his authority in  approving Bergdahl prisoner swap. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:15 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner said Friday that the news the Obama administration ignored the power of the purse in a national security matter should be no surprise.

The Ohio Republican was responding to a Government Accountability Office finding, issued a day earlier, that the Obama administration acted outside federal law in the swap of five Taliban members for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

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August 21, 2014

McKeon Wants Probe Into Leak of Covert Foley Rescue Attempt

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McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wants answers on who leaked news of the secret mission in Syria. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A leading House Republican says the Obama administration needs to plug the leaks that led to revelations of an unsuccessful covert mission earlier this summer to rescue journalist James Foley and other hostages from jihadist captors in Syria.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, commended the U.S. forces involved, but he criticized the Obama administration for confirming the operation after news organizations, citing unnamed sources, reported on the mission.

McKeon, in a statement issued Thursday, said:

Successful or not, such operations are incredibly sensitive, even after they have concluded. Disclosure of these missions puts our troops at risk, reduces the likelihood that future missions will succeed, and risks the lives of hostages and informants alike. While I believe it was unwise for the White House and Department of Defense to formally acknowledge this operation; it is outrageous that someone would be so selfish and short sighted to leak it to the media.”

He called on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to investigate and determine the source of the leak.

ABC News, citing “senior administration sources,” reported Wednesday that U.S. special operations members engaged in a firefight with jihadists at a site in Syria where Foley and the others were believed to be held, but withdrew when it became apparent the hostages were not there.

The administration has said it only acknowledged the operation because media organizations were going public with the news anyway.

The Islamic State insurgents who control parts of Syria and northern Iraq released a video this week showing the brutal beheading of Foley and vowed more executions if the U.S. continues its ramped-up campaign of airstrikes in the region.

August 20, 2014

Paul Ryan Rules Out Another Government Shutdown

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Ryan, kicking off his book tour in Philadelphia, ruled out another government shutdown. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

PHILADELPHIA — House Republicans won’t shut down the government in September, Heritage Action is “constructive at the end of the day” and a person can write a book without necessarily running for president.

Those were some of the points Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., hit home during an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call Wednesday afternoon from the ornate Union League Building in downtown Philadelphia.

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The House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee was in the city to kick-off a 10-day national tour promoting his new book, which hit the stands Tuesday.

“The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea” is part-memoir, part-sweeping policy proposal, and Ryan will be spending some of the waning days of August recess touting it in Wisconsin, Chicago, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and California.

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