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Posts in "Congressional Operations"
August 14, 2014
Three senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are calling on panel chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., to hold hearings on the violence that has erupted in Ferguson, Mo., following the police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager on Aug. 9.
“For the past five days, the citizens of Ferguson have protested the killing of of an unarmed teenager by local police,” wrote ranking member John Conyers Jr., Mich., and two subcommittee chairmen, Robert C. Scott of Virginia and Steve Cohen of Tennessee, in their letter on Thursday afternoon. “Last night, law enforcement broke up the protest with brutal force: confronting demonstrators in riot gear and armored vehicles, arresting journalists, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.
“These incidents raise concerns that local law enforcement is out of control and, instead of protecting the safety and civil liberties of the residents of Ferguson, is employing tactics that violate the rights of citizens … this situation requires immediate congressional scrutiny,” they continued. Full story
July 30, 2014
Updated 11:07 p.m. | In a bid to shore up votes for their border supplemental, Republican leaders plan to give conservatives a vote Thursday prohibiting President Barack Obama from granting deportation relief to more illegal immigrants.
One vote will be on the $659 million appropriations bill aimed at curbing the flow of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes policy riders that have alienated nearly all Democrats.
On the condition of that bill passing, members would then be allowed to a vote on standalone language prohibiting the expansion of Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation relief and work permits to children brought here illegally by their parents. Republicans charge that DACA has acted as a magnet for unaccompanied children to come to the United States, although recent immigrants are not eligible.
Obama has promised to do all he can on his own on immigration by the end of the summer — and recent news reports that he may expand DACA’s deportation relief to as many as 5 million additional illegal immigrants have roiled the GOP.
Language targeting DACA would be similar to legislation pushed in the Senate by Texas Republican Ted Cruz, who, as negotiations were ongoing, was hosting conservative House members in his Capitol Hill office to discuss strategy on the matter. Cruz’s bill has a companion in the House, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. The legislation would prohibit the administration from granting deportation and other relief to any more illegal immigrants. It does not target people who have already enrolled in DACA.
The Rules Committee finalized the plan late Wednesday on a party line vote.
Ranking member Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., offered an amendment to strike the language that would bar Obama from continuing or expanding DACA. It was defeated along party lines, 3-8.
Rules Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts took issue with the timing of the proposal’s introduction, which coincided with Cruz’s dinner.
“Mr. Cruz has considerably more sway than some of the leaders in the House,” he quipped.
Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, took issue with the criticism, saying there has been “a continuing dialogue within our conference about what would and would not be in [the bill], and yesterday we became aware of what was in, and that created a set of circumstances where there were certain discussions.”
The plan would force conservatives — many of whom have a history of voting for amendments and then voting against the underlying bill — to back the supplemental first if they want a chance to constrain what some conservatives, like Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, have blasted as “administrative amnesty.”
The plan also came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., roiled conservatives by suggesting the House’s bill could be used to conference a comprehensive immigration bill. That prompted Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to blast Reid and vow no “immigration reform” of any kind would be added to the bill.
It’s not clear what will happen if the House border makes it to the Senate. Although the rule doesn’t combine the border bill with the DACA language — as leadership at one point considered — the White House earlier Wednesday threatened a veto of the border bill on its own.
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.
The new House GOP leadership team is staffing up.
On Tuesday evening, just days before he officially assumes the rank of No. 3 House Republican with Kevin McCarthy poised to take on the post of No. 2, Majority Whip-Elect Steve Scalise, R-La., released the names of the aides who will either join his office or follow him into his new suite in the Capitol proper.
Many of the men and women currently on his payroll — either in his personal office or at the Republican Study Committee where he served as chairman — will stay on board, assuming equivalent titles or taking on new ones. Full story
July 29, 2014
Frustrated by lack of action and unfulfilled promises on the immigration overhaul front, a coalition of 10 advocacy groups is out to hold House members accountable for the extent to which they were unhelpful to the cause.
A new scorecard for all 435 members’ immigration votes, statements and co-sponsorships aims to draw a stark portrait of “who stands with us and who does not,” said Hispanic Federation President José Calderón. The rankings come as Congress nears a boiling point on an emergency funding request from President Barack Obama intended to mitigate the crisis at the border as children cross illegally into the United States.
The first-of-its-kind scorecard was released Monday, as advocates gathered a stone’s throw from the Capitol for the grand unveiling, calling for action and scolding lawmakers for what they see as stonewalling on a critical issue.
“Every ‘zero’ you see in that scorecard is personal to us,” said Rocio Sáenz, a member of the board of directors for Mi Familia Vota.
“There is some explaining that needs to be done as to why they said to us in private that they supported immigration reform, yet their report card says different,” said Tony Suárez, vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Republicans received significantly lower rankings than Democrats. Clarissa Martínez de Castro, the deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza Office of Research, Advocacy and Legislation, said the discrepancy reflected a “Republican leadership failure,” though the organizations behind the scorecard insist the results are based on the facts and aren’t motivated by party preference.
Here’s a look at the rankings, based on members’ positions in 11 different areas over the past several months: Full story
July 24, 2014
The House and Senate Republicans of the Texas congressional delegation are the latest contingent to stake out a position on the border crisis as time left to act on the issue before the August recess recedes.
On Thursday, all 26 Lone Star State Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill — 24 in the House and two in the Senate — signed on to a letter to President Barack Obama that lays out actions they want him to take to respond to the surge of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Full story
After Fights Over Cuckoo Clocks and Billable Hours, Rules Panel Backs Resolution Allowing House to Sue Obama
The House Rules Committee, already known for not being a bastion of cross-party comity, devolved into significant partisan rancor Thursday morning over a resolution to allow the House to sue the president of the United States.
The panel advanced consideration of the measure in a party-line, 7-4, vote after nearly two hours of debate, with Democrats and Republicans accusing each other in turn of playing political games.
Democrats said Republicans’ pursuit of a lawsuit against Barack Obama for making unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act after the law was passed, with Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts accusing his GOP counterparts of acting out of “hatred” for the president and at one point calling the Republicans “cuckoo clocks.” Full story
July 23, 2014
Updated 5:06 p.m. | House Republicans laid out their requirements for President Barack Obama’s border crisis spending request Wednesday: National Guard troops, more judges for expedited deportations and changes to a 2008 trafficking law that would make it easier to send Central American minors home.
But with little more than a week before lawmakers are supposed to leave town for the August recess, Democrats digging in against changing the 2008 law, and some conservatives complaining the deportation provisions aren’t harsh enough, it’s not clear GOP leaders have the votes needed to send their bill to the Senate.
Throughout the day Wednesday, GOP leaders, appropriators and stakeholder members huddled with colleagues to corral support for a possible $1.5 billion bill — the White House originally asked for $3.7 billion — to fund enforcement agencies that have been stretched thin by the overwhelming surge of Central American migrants in southern Texas.
But as of Wednesday afternoon, no formal piece of legislation had been introduced and no decisions had been made as to whether the GOP’s funding proposal and its separate policy provisions would be contained in one package or two.
Appropriations Democrats had not even been briefed on the details of a spending package, according to a Democratic committee aide.
Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters: “When the leadership lays out the plans for timing of what we do, we’ll be ready. … It’s pretty close to being ready.”
Meanwhile, a sizable number of rank-and-file Republicans said Wednesday that doing nothing at all would be better than passing legislation the Democrat-controlled Senate would likely make more lenient on undocumented immigrants — or that Obama would just ignore like he has, they say, with other laws on the books.
“We like her ideas,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La., of the recommendations put forth by Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the specially appointed GOP working group tasked with coming up with the border recommendations. “The problem is, if we pass them, they’ll be gone.” Full story
July 17, 2014
The specially appointed House GOP border surge working group is poised to submit its formal policy recommendations to party leaders, while two of its members appear to be pursuing alternate tracks.
On Thursday, Reps. John Carter of Texas and Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia introduced separate bills that would make more conservative revisions to current immigration law than many of their peers on either side of the aisle would prefer.
The bills would also tack farther to the right than the set of recommendations expected to be put forth by the GOP working group to address the child migrant crisis at the Southwest border.
July 15, 2014
Updated 4:45 p.m. | House Republicans could, by the week’s end, unveil their legislative response to the president’s $3.7 billion request to bolster resources at the southwest border.
The response is likely to cost less and incorporate policy riders sure to rile up Democrats on the left — but still might not be stringent enough to satisfy members on the hard right.
Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, the chairwoman of a special GOP working group convened by Speaker John A. Boehner to make policy recommendations on the child migrant border surge, told reporters Tuesday her group is focused on increasing border security funding, adding National Guard troops on the border and having more immigration judges to preside over deportation hearings and asylum requests.
With a formal report not yet public at the time she spoke with the press, Granger also said the group supported tweaking a 2008 trafficking law to allow all unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border to choose to return to their home countries rather than await trial to be deported, a right currently afforded only to children from countries contiguous to the United States.
“Tweak it, not change it, not repeal it,” Granger stressed, “but to treat all children the same.” Full story
July 14, 2014
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will meet with Blue Dog Democrats on Monday evening, sources confirmed to CQ Roll Call, as the Democratic Caucus writ large struggles to coalesce around a response to the surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Johnson’s meeting on Capitol Hill with the fiscal conservative contingent of the House Democratic Caucus comes as one the coalition’s own, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, prepares to offer controversial legislation that would make significant revisions to a 2008 trafficking law that Republicans are saying would help alleviate the border crisis. Full story
July 10, 2014
After a year and a half of stops and starts, unbridled optimism and hints of inevitable defeat, Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart has declared his efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system officially dead for the 113th Congress.
“Despite our best efforts, today I was informed by the Republican leadership that they have no intention to bring this bill to the floor this year,” the congressman told reporters at a hastily convened press conference in the Cannon House Office Building on Thursday afternoon. “It is disappointing and highly unfortunate.”
Later, Diaz-Balart repeated, “I don’t think I can hide my disappointment.” Full story
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had stern words for Speaker John A. Boehner’s, R-Ohio, developing lawsuit targeting the president Thursday, dismissing the proposed action as “subterfuge” and “totally irresponsible.”
“It’s a distraction,” Pelosi said of an intended lawsuit accusing President Barack Obama of overstepping his constitutional authority with the use of executive actions.
Boehner and House Republicans are still deciding which executive action they will sue the president for, but some conservatives are pushing House leaders to go a step further and bring forward articles of impeachment.
Pelosi, who noted she dealt with similar calls from Democrats in the later years of George W. Bush’s presidency, said she decided not to bring forward articles of impeachment on Bush because “it wasn’t something I wanted to put the country through.”
The California Democrat said Thursday that Bush had “sent us into war based on a false representation,” something she called “shameful, irresponsible and wrong,” but she said did not want to move forward with impeachment, “because of what it would mean for the American people.” Full story
July 9, 2014
The House Republican plan to prevent, through the middle of next year, the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund is drawing grumbles from both the left and the right, but there is increasing recognition that Congress has little choice but to enact it, or something like it.
Resignation that passing a short-term extension is likely the only way to avoid an August shutdown of transportation projects across the country was on full display Wednesday, the eve of a markup of the new proposal in the House Ways and Means Committee.
“It’s the only proposal out there,” Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., told reporters Wednesday afternoon in defense of his bill.
July 8, 2014
Updated 5:30 p.m. | House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., touted his delegation’s fact-finding trip to the Texas border last week as bipartisan, but lawmakers from both parties arrived back in Washington Tuesday as divided on immigration as ever.
According to Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Democrats and Republicans went their separate ways on least three of the delegation’s stops along the border, where local, state and federal officials are struggling to deal with a surge of immigrant minors — many of them unaccompanied — attempting to enter the country illegally.
“I honestly think they were looking for an opportunity to confirm … without any data, that somehow this is Obama’s fault,” Lofgren said of the Republicans on the trip.
Lofgren’s comments to CQ Roll Call on Monday came several days after Goodlatte told reporters he saw “some aspects we can work with on a bipartisan basis,” but acknowledged that Democrats ultimately “view this issue differently than we do.”
Lofgren said she and the other Democrats from the Judiciary Committee delegation — Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Joe Garcia of Florida — invited Goodlatte and the participating Republicans — Darrell Issa of California and Blake Farenthold of Texas — to three meetings that she said would have given them more information to bring back to Washington, D.C.
Goodlatte and Issa — the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee — declined, with Farenthold agreeing to tag along on a visit to a refugee assistance program being facilitated by Catholic volunteers.
Goodlatte spokeswoman Jessica Collins told CQ Roll Call the differences in itineraries were not intended as slights: “The trip was scheduled for partial days on both Wednesday and Thursday in order to accommodate members traveling from different parts of the country. Both Democrats and Republicans added additional visits to the trip for Wednesday. Democrats who arrived early on Wednesday morning made their own arrangements for visits.”
The wide gap in perspectives on the cause and effect of the border surge may not have been bridged by a more collaborative trip to Texas last week, given how political the debate has become. Ultimately, Democrats want to help the president address the crisis, while Republicans are inclined to blame him for its escalation.
That continues to be the case on Capitol Hill this week, as lawmakers confront whether to greenlight President Barack Obama’s $3.8 billion request to bolster border resources and alleviate some of the chaos there.
House Democrats — Lofgren among them — might have chafed at the proposal had Obama included a provision giving Homeland Security officials more discretion to deport immigrant children apprehended at the border, but absent that language, they stand ready to assist.
“My basic response is, this is a reasonable request and the House of Representatives, the United States Senate, will respond positively to it,” Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday. “I hope that’s the case.”
House Republicans are more noncommittal. Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky said his committee would “take a close and thorough look.”
Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, whom Speaker John A. Boehner has appointed to lead a GOP “working group” to advise leadership on the border crisis, said the task force will meet Wednesday to discuss the larger issues surrounding the president’s proposal, with a goal of updating the whole conference next week.
Boehner, through a spokesman, suggested he was peeved that Obama’s funding request did not authorize the National Guard to “provide humanitarian support in affected areas.”
And other Republicans don’t want to do anything at all. Goodlatte put out a statement saying the crisis remains Obama’s to fix.
“President Obama created this disaster at our southern border and now he is asking to use billions of taxpayer dollars without accountability or a plan in place to actually stop the border crisis,” he said.
Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and Goodlatte’s predecessor at the helm of the Judiciary Committee, was more blunt: “Congress shouldn’t give President Obama a single penny until we see him use the current resources to secure the border, increase interior enforcement, and reduce illegal immigration.”
Goodlatte and Issa implied their findings at the border would bolster the GOP response in Congress regarding the child migrant border surge.
During a conference call with a small group of reporters on July 3, the two lawmakers said they were fully confident that Obama used executive orders to render immigration laws so lax that children in Central America believe that once they enter the United States, they will automatically qualify for legalization proceedings.
Their suspicions were confirmed during a ride-along with border patrol agents near the Rio Grande River, where they witnessed individuals being taken into custody and then had a chance to interact with them.
“Their stories are basically, ‘I wanted to come to the United States, I wanted to be reunited with a family member in the United States and I’ve been told that if I come, they’ll let me in,’” Goodlatte said.
Lofgren had a different takeaway from her border visit. While she acknowledged that smugglers “have engaged in misleading efforts” to convince children to sneak across the border, she was certain there were more factors at stake.
“Here’s the thing,” she said. “OK, the smugglers are giving this pitch, but even if you can believe that was true, what would it take to give your 8-year-old to some smuggler to go off for a thousand miles? You don’t do that just because you’re going to get permission [to stay in the U.S.] You’re doing it because things have deteriorated to the point where it actually seems it’s smarter to get your kid out of there than to face the warlords who are threatening her life.”
Lofgren cited one briefing that she said would have been particularly enlightening for her absent Republican counterparts: a meeting with volunteer lawyers who said more than half the children who enter the country illegally across the Southwest border are found eligible for asylum as the victims of human trafficking, abandonment or abuse.
But even that statistic runs counter to one being touted by Republicans. According to a release from Goodlatte, a “key finding” from the border trip last week was that “many of these minors and families are able to game the asylum process since most applications are rubberstamped for approval.”
The same release cites an internal DHS memo stating “there is proven or possible fraud in up to 70% of asylum applications.”
Lofgren also described a visit to the Brownsville holding center where she saw children “sleeping on the cement with little tin foil blankets,” and a 3-year-old toddler traveling alone whose only word appeared to be “Miami.”
What she witnessed, she said, reinforced her position that Congress must, at minimum, address the overcrowding at detention facilities and improve conditions for children being held there. “We do need the resources to deal with these kids and I hope we’ll have a bipartisan effort to deal with that,” she said.
Goodlatte reiterated Tuesday that Congress shouldn’t act when the president could with his own resources.
“Republicans are committed to solving this problem, including seeking changes to current law,” he said. “However, no amount of resources or changes will be effective in stemming the surge of illegal border crossings if President Obama continues to ignore the law.”
July 3, 2014
After concluding a bipartisan, fact-finding tour of the immigrant crisis on the Southwest border, House Judiciary Committee Republicans said Thursday the onus is on President Barack Obama — not Congress — to address the surge of Central American women and children entering the country illegally.
In a conference call with a small group of reporters, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that while there were may be some things the House could do to confront the matter head-on, this was a crisis of Obama’s making and he should be the one to fix it.