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

Posts by Matt Fuller

410 Posts

November 25, 2014

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

brat 101 111214 445x289 The Anti Cantor: Dave Brat on Bringing Rationality to Washington

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

Democrats Praise Obama for Immigration Action, but Wanted More

immigration 001 112014 445x296 Democrats Praise Obama for Immigration Action, but Wanted More

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

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.

 

Related:

Pallone Defeats Eshoo for Energy and Commerce Slot (Updated)

Messy Fight for Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Slot

Eshoo Wins Backing of Steering and Policy Committee Over Pallone

Democrats Re-Elect Pelosi, Leadership Team for 114th Congress

Democrats Fume in Caucus as Duckworth Denied Vote

With New House Democratic Leadership Team, Pelosi Looks Out for Her Own

Chaffetz Wins Four-Way Showdown for Oversight Gavel

New RSC Chair Flores: ‘I’m No Shill for Leadership’

Power Plays: House Gavel and Ranking Member Battles (Updated)

Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat

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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

Next Congress Has a Schedule: McCarthy Releases 2015 House Calendar

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McCarthy posted the 2015 legislative calendar. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy released the legislative calendar for 2015, and Republicans aren’t deviating from the familiar formula of giving members plenty of time in their districts.

Overall, the House is slated to be in session 132 days next year, without a single five-day week scheduled.

That’s not unprecedented. The House was in session 135 days during the first session of the 113th Congress (after being scheduled to be in session for only 126 days — the extra work days a result of that whole government shutdown thing). Full story

Messy Fight for Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Slot (Updated)

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Brown, left, and Walz, center, each are vying for the ranking member position on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 9:28 a.m. | Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota thought there would be a vote after Thanksgiving on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member race. As it turns out, his face-off against Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida will happen on Wednesday.

It gives Walz less time than he and his allies said they anticipated to build support around his uphill challenge of Brown, who benefits from seniority and the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which she is a member.

Before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee can meet to vote on a recommendation to the full House Democratic Caucus, Walz will have to clear an additional hurdle: A vote on whether he is even eligible to hold the post.

Walz is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress and has had a seat at the Veterans’ Affairs Committee table since 2007. He is, however, on the committee via waiver, and his opponents say it doesn’t qualify him to run against Brown, who after nearly two decades on the committee is next in line to succeed the current retiring ranking member, Michael H. Michaud of Maine. Full story

November 18, 2014

Chaffetz Wins Four-Way Showdown for Oversight Gavel

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Chaffetz will take over Oversight. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There were hardly any surprises among the Republican Steering Committee’s picks for chairmen in the 114th Congress, but the one major question decided on Tuesday was who would lead the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And the answer is Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

The GOP Steering Committee announced their picks Tuesday night as Republicans gear up for a Congress in which they’ll hold their largest majority since Herbert Hoover was president.

There were few real decisions for the committee to make, but the biggest was who — Chaffetz, Michael R. Turner of Ohio, Jim Jordan of Ohio or John L. Mica of Florida — would pick up the gavel at the Oversight with Darrell Issa, R-Calif., stepping down.

Chaffetz emerged earlier this fall as the slight favorite in the gavel fight after strong performances on oversight issues at the Secret Service. His argument for being the next chairman of the committee centered on his undivided attention on the committee. Full story

New RSC Chairman Flores: ‘I’m No Shill for Leadership’

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Flores edged two more conservative rivals for the RSC chairmanship. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In a hotly contested battle over the direction of the Republican Study Committee, Texas Republican Bill Flores beat out his more conservative rivals, South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney and Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, to become the new RSC chairman.

While Mulvaney ran on reasserting a conservative direction at the RSC and Gohmert ran on asserting an entirely new, dramatically more conservative vision, Flores ran as someone who could work with leadership.

“I campaigned on being a collaborative leader,” Flores told reporters after he won.

“By trying to advance the perfect conservative solution, nobody wins,” he said. Full story

RSC Chairmanship Race Tests Conservatives

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Flores says if he wins the Republican Study Committee chairmanship, he’ll work with everyone. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As the Republican Study Committee decides on its next chairman, Tuesday’s contest between Bill Flores of Texas, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Louie Gohmert of Texas will likely set the tone for House conservatives for years to come as RSC membership swells to record numbers.

The RSC’s placeholder chairman, Rob Woodall of Georgia, has roughly 170 members in the groups ranks, and sources believe membership in the 114th Congress could exceed 180 — almost three-quarters of the entire GOP conference.

Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was chosen at the start of this Congress to lead the RSC over Tom Graves of Georgia, used the post as a springboard to becoming majority whip. His tenure perhaps set a more leadership-friendly tone.

There’s a similar dynamic at play as members prepare to vote behind the closed doors of the Cannon Caucus Room, as sources see it as a Flores-Mulvaney race. Both men say their whip counts suggest they will win, but declined to give numbers.

Mulvaney is presenting himself as the more conservative choice, while Flores has tried to sell himself as the option best suited to working with the rest of the conference.

Full story

November 14, 2014

House Approves Keystone XL Pipeline … Again

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Cassidy is facing Landrieu in a runoff next month. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In a bid meant to bolster the campaign of bill sponsor Rep. Bill Cassidy, who is in a runoff election for a Louisiana Senate seat, the House voted 252-161 on Friday to once again approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

It was the ninth time the House has passed a measure authorizing the construction of the pipeline, which would bring oil from Canada to Texas. But this time, with an election far off in the distance, 31 Democrats voted with 221 Republicans in favor of the bill. One Republican, Justin Amash of Michigan, voted present, as he has previously done on such votes.

“It has been 539 days, a year and half, since the House first sent a Keystone approval bill to the Senate in this Congress,” Cassidy said Thursday night when the House debated the bill, noting that multiple Keystone measures had been collecting proverbial dust on the proverbial desk of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Full story

New House GOP Rules Impact Medals, Gavels — and Paul Ryan?

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Ryan and other potential GOP House chairmen will have to seek a waiver if they want to keep their gavels while seeking another office. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans will operate the 114th Congress under essentially the same rules as the 113th — with two exceptions, including one that could have big implications for Rep. Paul D. Ryan.

Republicans voted Friday on conference rules for the 114th, approving a proposal that would allow Congress to hand out more medals and one that would require committee chairmen running for other office to hand over their gavel.

That proposal, from Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma, calls for chairmen — of committees, of subcommittees, ad hoc committees or joint committees — to step down if they run for another office. Full story

November 13, 2014

Boehner Will Fight ‘Tooth and Nail’ Against Obama’s Executive Amnesty, Doesn’t Rule Out Shutdown (Updated) (Video)

boehner111314 445x296 Boehner Will Fight Tooth and Nail Against Obamas Executive Amnesty, Doesnt Rule Out Shutdown (Updated) (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 5:58 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner said Republicans will fight “tooth and nail” against President Barack Obama’s plans to act on immigration by himself, and didn’t rule out a government shutdown.

“We’re going to fight the president tooth and nail if he continues down this path,” the Ohio Republican said at a press conference introducing the new GOP leadership team. “This is the wrong way to govern. This is exactly what the American people said on Election Day they didn’t want. And so, all the options are on the table.”

Boehner is facing pressure from conservatives to pre-emptively defund any amnesty, but that could lead to a shutdown fight.

“We’re going to have conversations with our members and when we have a decision, we’ll let you know. … Our goal here is to stop the president from violating his oath of office and violating the Constitution. It’s not to shut down the government.”

Full story

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