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August 1, 2014

Posts by Matt Fuller

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July 31, 2014

House Sends Highway Bill Back to Senate

bike presser010 050912 445x294 House Sends Highway Bill Back to Senate

Blumenauer expressed his dissatisfaction with the House’s move. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the frenetic legislative run-up to the August recess, House lawmakers sent their version of a highway bill back to the Senate after voting to disagree with that chamber’s amendment to the legislation.

The House voted 272-150 to send the original $10.8 billion House bill back to the Senate, with 227 Republicans and 45 Democrats once again supporting the measure. Democrats had been considering voting down the highway bill in a gambit meant to force Republicans to accept the Senate changes, but that plan never quite materialized.

Still, significantly more Democrats voted against the House bill this time. On July 15, the House passed the bill 367-55, with 45 Republicans and 10 Democrats voting against it. This time, both Republicans and Democrats cracked down on their members to vote with their party.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 79-18 to change some of the offsets in the bill and the length of the measure from May to December. The idea with changing the term of the bill is to force Congress to find a more permanent solution in the lame-duck session.

House Democrats came to the House floor Thursday to express their dissatisfaction with the patch.

Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said that by insisting on the House bill, Congress would be denying certainty to the highway and construction industry.

“They are going to slide into the next Congress,” Blumenauer said. “We are going to duck all the tough issues. We haven’t heard anything that deals with how we are going to move forward.”

Fellow Oregon Democrat Peter A. DeFazio noted that the United States was now 26th in infrastructure in the world, and he said as former bicycle mechanic, he knew how to patch a tube. “But if you get to the point where you can’t see the tube anymore for the patches, then it’s time for a new tube.”

The bill now goes back to the Senate.

Cantor Delivers Final Speech as Majority Leader (Video)

Eric Cantor delivered a somber farewell as majority leader Thursday, telling his House colleagues that he has “truly lived the American Dream.”

In a “one-minute” speech that lasted nearly 10 minutes — the standing ovation alone stretched to 60 seconds — Cantor delivered a doleful goodbye from his leadership post.

In his farewell as majority leader, Cantor touched on his background and his legislative accomplishments, noting one of his “proudest moments” was watching the president sign the “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act.” He outlined the direction he thought the country needed to go, and he thanked some of his colleagues and staff.

Presiding over the chamber, Speaker John A. Boehner dabbed at tears with a handkerchief as Cantor recognized him for showing “us all your kind heart and soft spot from time to time.” Cantor said that he and Boehner met at least once a day every day the House had been in session for the past five years — a testament to a relationship that saw its share of tumultuous moments but had been greatly repaired in recent years.

Already Cantor has slowly faded to the exit, stepping aside for new leaders after his surprise primary defeat in June to Republican challenger Dave Brat.

Full story

By Matt Fuller Posted at 12:45 p.m.
Eric Cantor

July 30, 2014

Ted Cruz Rallies House Conservatives to End ‘Obama’s Amnesty’

cruz001 052114 445x298 Ted Cruz Rallies House Conservatives to End Obamas Amnesty

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ted Cruz rallied conservatives Wednesday to “end President Obama’s amnesty” in a meeting late Wednesday — as GOP leaders agreed to vote on legislation Cruz is backing to do just that.

Meeting in Cruz’s Dirksen office over We, The Pizza; Starburst; Skittles; Shiner Bock beer; Yuengling; white wine; and three selections of Dr. Pepper — Diet Dr. Pepper, Dr. Pepper Ten, and the original, full-flavored stuff — 13 House Republicans stopped by the Cruz gathering, which lasted more than an hour and 40 minutes.

The members, in the order in which they arrived, were: Reps. Steve King of Iowa, Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, Steve Stockman of Texas, Randy Neugebauer of Texas, Paul Broun of Georgia, Todd Rokita of Indiana, John Fleming of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and finally Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who showed up for the last 10 minutes of the meeting.

The major topic of discussion, members said, was opposition to the $659 million border supplemental bill if it did not include legislation Cruz wants ending President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which grants deportation relief to children brought here illegally by their parents. Full story

House Democrats Weigh Voting Down Highway Bill

Democrats are apparently considering a tactic of voting down the House highway bill in hopes that Republicans would have to accept the Senate measure that offers a different timeline for funding construction projects. Asked whether there would be new Democratic opposition to the bill on Wednesday, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland suggested it is possible.

“We think the Senate bill is far better policy, and we’re discussing now our response to that,” Hoyer told reporters.

The Senate passed an amended form of the bill Tuesday, 79-18, changing some of the offsets in the bill and the length of the measure from May to December. Though the Senate bill is a shorter term, the idea is to force Congress to find a more permanent solution in the lame-duck, not in May, at “the beginning of the next construction season,” as Hoyer put it.

Democrats overwhelmingly supported the House version of the bill on July 15 when the measure passed 367-55. There were 45 Republicans voting against the measure. If those same 45 Republicans maintain their opposition, Democrats could force the GOP’s hand. At the very least, some of the Republican dissenters would need to flip their vote to help the measure pass the chamber.

The same would be true of the Democrats who voted for the bill, which Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel was happy to point out.

Full story

July 29, 2014

Dysfunctional Congress Sprints to Chaotic Finish

A Congress known for its dysfunction and acrimony may be on the verge of a rare triple combo — passing major bills addressing the border crisis, the Veterans Affairs scandal and the Highway Trust Fund in one week. But if it happens, it’s going to be like the rest of the 113th: ugly.

The pre-August sprint got off on the right foot with the announcement Monday of a $17 billion deal to slash wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs, followed Tuesday by the 97-0 confirmation of former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary.

A highway patch seemed likely too, although not without last-minute wrangling between the two chambers over the fine print. Full story

Will Democrats Bail Out Republicans on Border Supplemental?

As House Republicans search for the votes to pass a $659 million border supplemental bill, the key to getting the measure across the finish line may rest with one group: Democrats.

Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., seemed to indicate Tuesday there would be some support for the border supplemental on the Democratic side, though exactly how many Democratic votes Republicans could count on was a mystery.

Hoyer said he thought the $659 million was “inadequate,” and said doing it for just two months was “bad policy.”

“But I don’t think it would be a poison pill, if you will,” he said. “Essentially, we’re arguing how long a time are we going to appropriate the money for.”

Indeed, many Republicans may have trouble swallowing a $659 million price tag to address the border crisis for just two months, but the money could be the key for Democrats. Of course, many Democrats still have a problem with the proposed changes to a 2008 law on human trafficking that would essentially expedite the deportation of children from Central America, and those provisions certainly make passage in the Democratic Senate tricky. But the bill might have tacked just enough to the middle to at least make it through the House.

At least that was the tone Hoyer struck Tuesday, even as he noted that he didn’t personally like the bill.

Pressed on why Democrats wouldn’t withhold all their support and make Republicans pass the bill with only GOP votes, Hoyer suggested that relying on Democratic votes to pass the supplemental was a risky strategy for Republicans.

“Well if they need it, they’re throwing dice,” Hoyer said.

But he didn’t say Democratic leadership would be clamping down on its members to ensure no Democrat votes for the proposal. “I don’t know how much support there’s going to be on this side for their proposition,” Hoyer said.

The No. 2 House Democrat indicated he wouldn’t exactly be helping Republicans pass the bill. “I don’t see myself trying to get them votes for a language change,” he said, referring to the 2008 trafficking law. But Hoyer didn’t express great confidence in his ability to whip against this vote.

“I wish I could be as assured that I could give votes or not give votes that you premise,” Hoyer said.

July 28, 2014

Conservatives: Obama Impeachment Effort ‘Futile’

 

2impeach072814 445x301 Conservatives: Obama Impeachment Effort Futile

Protestors call for Obama’s impeachment while demonstrating outside of the White House in October. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

There’s no shortage of House conservatives who think President Barack Obama has broken the law — or is simply not enforcing it. But none of these brash right-wingers slamming the president for executive overreach are stepping up to offer articles of impeachment. Why?

“Because it is unwise,” said Rep. Mo Brooks. The Alabama Republican was like many others CQ Roll Call attempted to pin down, and wouldn’t comment on whether he thinks the president deserves to be impeached. “It does not make any difference what I think,” Brooks said, identifying the major procedural hurdle facing any such effort — there is “no chance” the Senate would impeach the president.

Calling it a “moot point,” Brooks pulled out the Serenity Prayer from his wallet and read: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Similar sentiments came from even the most ardent anti-Obama flamethrowers, with Steve Stockman of Texas calling it a “futile endeavor.”

“Not going anywhere with the Senate,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. “It sucks all the air out of the room.”

Even Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a few months ahead of her retirement, didn’t want to talk about impeachment, literally making a shooing motion with her hands when CQ Roll Call raised the question.

Full story

July 25, 2014

New GOP Optimism for Border Supplemental Before August (Updated)

House Republican Conference 22 120313 445x295 New GOP Optimism for Border Supplemental Before August (Updated)

Granger said the GOP plans to pass a border bill next week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 12:01 p.m. |Republican lawmakers emerged from a special conference meeting Friday morning with renewed optimism that they could pass a slimmed-down border supplemental package before the August recess. But passage still may not be as easy as some expect.

House Republicans are looking at a less than $1 billion package, according to lawmakers leaving the meeting, though no legislative text has been released. Appropriators were previously aiming for a package at about $1.5 billion — already down from the the $3.7 billion the president proposed to address the flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the Southwest border.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the leader of a Republican working group on the crisis, said Friday morning that the measure Republicans aim to pass next week would still look similar to the recommendations she and her working group recently released.

“I really feel very, very hopeful,” Granger said at the prospect of passing a bill next week. “I just think we had a chance to present our findings and our recommendations. We came back today and explained more and listened to people.”

The border group’s plan drew a lukewarm response Wednesday when Granger presented the proposal to the conference. Apparently some lawmakers were still concerned that the president or the Senate could negate whatever legislation they pass. But, as Granger said, “there were far fewer problems today than there were yesterday.”

Granger said the package would retain the “major pieces” of the working group’s recommendations: “Change the 2008 law, secure the border and send the children back in an organized way working with the countries.”

A key piece of the GOP proposal — and a key sticking point with Democrats — is the revision of a 2008 law on human trafficking. Republicans want to amend the law to allow for the speedy deportation of children coming from Central America. Under the current law, those children are entitled to an immigration hearing to determine whether they can get refugee status.

On Friday, during her weekly news conference, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pleaded with Republicans to not “hold the children hostage to the cosmetics of how tough you are on the border.

Pelosi had initially seemed open to the idea of making changes to the 2008 law, but she quickly changed her mind after many Democrats expressed opposition to that idea. “There’s no reason why they have to be tied and I hope that the Republicans will come to that conclusion,” Pelosi said Friday.

Pelosi’s comments were echoed by 13 members of the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform — all Democrats — who sent a letter Friday to Boehner asking the speaker to submit a supplemental bill without the riders Republicans are almost certain to attach.

Changing the 2008 law seems like it almost definitely would be part of a Republican border proposal.

What’s “up in the air,” according to Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman, is whether Republicans try to end the president’s executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, more commonly referred to as DACA. Stutzman said he’d be surprised if Republicans try to end DACA in this package, but that “it was suggested a couple of times.”

There were an estimated 30 Republicans who spoke during the conference meeting, so a few voices on DACA would not be a significant call for immediate action.

Still, Republicans have very few votes they can lose on the measure before it’s in serious trouble of not passing. Democrats are unlikely to bail them out with more than a handful of votes — if any at all — and there are more than a few hard-line Republicans on the border supplemental.

“I think that we’re still very divided,” John Fleming, R-La., said. “I think that — I know that — there’s a number in there that didn’t speak up at all and feel as I do: that, at most, we should call the president out through a resolution that he must act, and that we can’t act until he does.”

Many lawmakers apparently thought it would be a good idea to adopt a resolution stating that it was the sense of the House that the president ought to enforce immigration laws. That could win some more votes for Republicans. But that doesn’t seem like it would appease Fleming.

“Because the idea that we’re going to pass legislation and it’s actually going to be signed into law is just nonsense,” Fleming said. “It isn’t going to happen. Everybody in that room knows that, at most, this would be, cover-your-butt kind of legislation.”

Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp expressed a similar sentiment.

“You can’t trust this president,” he said. “I mean, he could go in and do an executive order again next week.”

Huelskamp said he wanted to see the legislative text before he made his decision on the supplemental, but he seemed to suggest it was on the president, not Congress, to act to address the border.

“At the end of the day, this is the president’s border crisis, and he has to show how he’s going to solve it,” Huelskamp said.

But many Republicans seem to see the need to pass something before the August recess.

Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said it seemed like every Republican was coalescing around “some type of Granger-modified plan.” And Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said there was “growing consensus that the House will act, not to merely manage the problem, as the president wants, but to stop the problem.”

Brady added that, “if we worried about what the Senate does or doesn’t do, this House would not have sent over 300-plus bills on the jobs, the economy and getting the budget under control.”

And as Stutzman said: “We got to find a way to get there. I think we do. You talk to — you listen to some of the members, especially down on the border states, they don’t want to have to go home and deal with this all summer long.”

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

July 24, 2014

Ethics Investigations Since 2009 — in One Chart

The Office of Congressional Ethics recently released its second-quarter report for 2014, and in the middle is a pie graph that gives congressional nerds some insight into what ethical lapses the OCE has been looking into since its inception.

The chart tracks preliminary investigations conducted by the independent ethics office, and, as the graph illustrates, the plurality of investigations since February 2009 — 46 percent — have involved campaign activities.

2Q 2014 Types thumb 600x306 151 Ethics Investigations Since 2009 — in One Chart

The OCE reports it has conducted 137 preliminary investigations since 2009, with 49 of those cases transmitted to the Ethics Committee for review.

In addition to the pie chart, the OCE’s quarterly report also reveals that the Ethics Committee is supposed to name two members under investigation on Friday, though no details of the investigation are expected to be released and the Ethics Committee will likely vote to take an additional 45 days to consider the matter.

The OCE also revealed in the quarterly report it voted to refer an entity to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for failing to register under the Lobbyist Disclosure Act.

By Matt Fuller Posted at 4:29 p.m.
Ethics

Boehner Still Pushing on Border Supplemental, VA Crisis (Video)

With time running out before the August recess, Speaker John A. Boehner still wants deals for a border supplemental and to address the VA health care crisis, but put the onus on the Democrats and the White House to move in the GOP’s direction.

Boehner said Republicans were still talking with their colleagues about a supplemental spending package to address the flood of children crossing the border, and he said those conversations would continue in the days leading up to the August recess.

“But understand: It’s time for the White House to get their act together,” the Ohio Republican said. “They want to change the ’08 law and address the underlying problem here, or don’t they?” Full story

July 23, 2014

Boehner Pens Letter to Obama on Border Crisis, Congressional Response

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Boehner is asking if Obama backs changes to the 2008 trafficking law that Republicans contend is fueling the border crisis. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner wrote to the president Wednesday to tell him that it is “difficult to see how” Congress could address the ongoing crisis at the border without addressing the 2008 human trafficking law that many Republicans contend has helped create the surge of migrants on the Southwest border.

With congressional Democrats increasingly digging in their heels on proposed changes to the 2008 law, Boehner called on Obama to reaffirm the administration’s support for revisions that would expedite deportations of migrant minors from Central America.

Full text of the letter follows: Full story

Cruz Meets With Conservatives to Discuss Border Crisis (Updated)

BtOrPguIUAAp6VE Cruz Meets With Conservatives to Discuss Border Crisis (Updated)

Cruz talks border crisis over breakfast. (Photo from @RepJeffDuncan’s Twitter feed.)

Updated 1:23 p.m. | Sen. Ted Cruz once again met with a group of the House’s most conservative lawmakers Wednesday morning to discuss potential legislative responses to the flood of children crossing the border.

Cruz met with “more than 20″ House Republicans Wednesday morning, according to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to discuss a supplemental package meant to address the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border. “I didn’t have a hard count, but I know that it was more than 20,” King said.

According to the Iowa Republican, lawmakers had breakfast and listened to Cruz’s take on the crisis.

“The main agenda was to hear from Ted Cruz and his perspective on immigration,” King said. “And then many people around the table weighed in and we had an open discussion.”

King noted that lawmakers didn’t know the exact details of the package at the time — Republicans learned more about it in conference Wednesday morning. But, in general, lawmakers seem concerned that whatever the House sends over to the Senate will be amended to not include changes to a 2008 human trafficking law. Republicans want the law changed to expedite the deportation of children from Central American countries who are coming to the United States in droves.

“There’s an understanding that whatever might go to the Senate will come back to us, if it comes back at all, and we would describe it as ‘terrible,’ King said. “And so, again, there’s no one who has explained how you can start something in the House and get it to the president’s desk and think that you’ve improved the situation when you have a president that, and, I think, a Harry Reid in the Senate — they don’t even want to amend the 2008 bill. They’re for what that’s causing.”

The group heard from a number of lawmakers, including Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., who was considering offering his own fix for the border crisis. Following the border working group’s release of their suggestions, Salmon issued a statement signing off on their recommendations.

“The House will now take up these recommendations so that we can quickly send them to the Senate for a vote and to the President for implementation,” Salmon said. “I expect that whatever proposal we pass will remain fiscally responsible and not add to our deficit.”

The meeting was part of a regular breakfast with the Conservative Opportunity Society, of which King is the chairman.

Members met in the narrow Henry J. Hyde room of the Capitol, where a quote above the door from William Allen White reads: “Whoever is fighting for liberty is defending America.”

By Matt Fuller Posted at 12:09 p.m.
Immigration

July 22, 2014

Boehner on Obamacare: ‘It Cannot Be Fixed’

Boehner 14 072513 445x295 Boehner on Obamacare: It Cannot Be Fixed

Boehner and other Republicans said the court ruling is an indication Obamacare is broken. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On the same day a federal appeals court upheld an IRS subsidy for Obamacare, GOP lawmakers seized on the opportunity of a conflicting ruling — Halbig v. Burwell — to make the point that the 2010 health care law is broken.

After a 2-1 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said the government could not subsidize insurance in the 36 states that defaulted to the federal health care exchanges, Speaker John A. Boehner offered one of his harshest rebukes of the Affordable Care Act yet, saying the ruling was further proof the law is “completely unworkable.”

“It cannot be fixed,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health Chairman Joe Pitts, R-Pa., sent out a joint press release that called the Halbig ruling “a clear rebuke of the administration’s effort to extend subsidies where the law did not provide them.”

“The ruling also dramatically limits the IRS’ legal authority to enforce the individual and employer mandates,” the missive said.

That is true — or, at least, it could be true, if the rest of the D.C. Circuit Court agrees. The administration has asked the rest of the court — all 11 judges — to review the decision “en banc,” and even if the liberal-leaning court agrees, there are other cases before other courts that could undermine the decision. Full story

The Border Supplemental and ‘the Height of Irresponsibility’

hoyer 174 032414 445x324 The Border Supplemental and the Height of Irresponsibility

Hoyer said there should be no debate over caring for the migrant children detained on the Texas border. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With the August recess fast approaching and emergency funding to deal with the border crisis seemingly no closer to passage than it was a week ago, Democrats and Republicans are firing up a new round of the blame game.

Shortly after Speaker John A. Boehner pointed the finger at the White House and congressional Democrats for the lack of action on a spending package to address the sharp rise of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer redirected the blame right back at Republicans.

“I think it would be the height of irresponsibility to leave without addressing this humanitarian issue,” Hoyer said Tuesday during his weekly pen-and-pad briefing with reporters. Full story

Chaffetz on Oversight: More Results, Less Confrontation

chaffetz 254 052914 445x299 Chaffetz on Oversight: More Results, Less Confrontation

Chaffetz, R-Utah, would be among only a handful of House members who have earned a full chairmanship in less than five terms. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the past 89 years, there have been four members of Congress who became committee chairmen in their fourth term. Rep. Jason Chaffetz is trying to become the fifth.

Chaffetz hasn’t even banked six full years in the House yet. But with Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa term-limited after this session, the 47-year-old Utah Republican is making a bid to head the chamber’s most powerful investigatory panel.

Like his top rival for the gavel, Michael Turner of Ohio, Chaffetz says he wants to move Oversight in a new direction. But Chaffetz, like Issa, still wants to go “full throttle” on the executive branch.

“I’m very grateful to Darrell Issa,” Chaffetz told CQ Roll Call. “He’s been very good to me, he’s given me a great opportunity, but we’d all do things a little bit differently.” Full story

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