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July 30, 2014

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July 29, 2014

Advocates Grade Congress on Immigration (Updated)

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Immigration overhaul advocates hold a large rally in front of the White House Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

After Fights Over Cuckoo Clocks and Billable Hours, Rules Panel Backs Resolution Allowing House to Sue Obama

rules005 071614 445x300 After Fights Over Cuckoo Clocks and Billable Hours, Rules Panel Backs Resolution Allowing House to Sue Obama

Slaughter and McGovern saw their attempts to amend the resolution rebuffed in the Rules Committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

House GOP Forges Ahead on Border Funding Legislation With No Clear Endgame

rogers091013 445x317 House GOP Forges Ahead on Border Funding Legislation With No Clear Endgame

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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 21, 2014

Oklahoma Republicans to Obama: No More Child Migrants at Fort Sill

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Seven Oklahoma Republicans, led by Sen. Inhofe, called for the administration to end its practice of detaining illegal immigrants at Fort Sill.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Oklahoma congressional delegation is proud of its Fort Sill Army Base, but that doesn’t mean it wants to play host to thousands more unaccompanied child migrants awaiting deportation proceedings.

On Monday, one of the state’s two GOP senators and all six Republican congressmen called on the Obama administration to reverse its decision to send up to 5,000 more “unaccompanied alien children,” or UAC, to the Lawton army base on top of the countless children already being held there. They also want the administration to rethink plans to keep Fort Sill an active detention center through January 2015. Full story

July 17, 2014

Carter and Goodlatte Put Down Their Own Markers to Solve Border Crisis

carter011314 445x291 Carter and Goodlatte Put Down Their Own Markers to Solve Border Crisis

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

Full story

July 16, 2014

One Day Closer to Recess and Still No House Border Funding Bill

rogers 018 070913 445x296 One Day Closer to Recess and Still No House Border Funding Bill

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House wrapped up Wednesday, one day closer to the August recess and still with no clear indication of when Republicans will unveil their response to President Barack Obama’s emergency funding request for $3.7 billion for the Texas border crisis.

But lawmakers insisted the framework for their border funding bill is beginning to crystallize.

Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., confirmed that the plan was still to move through the chamber a single package providing both policy changes and financial assistance.

“We’re ready on the money part,” Rogers told reporters. “We’ve got to craft it, we’ve got to get it scored and do all of those things, but as soon as we get the final policy inserts, we can go pretty quick.”

Full story

July 10, 2014

Diaz-Balart’s Immigration Overhaul Effort Is Dead for Now

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Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., will no longer seek to advance his draft immigration bill (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

July 9, 2014

GOP Plan to Save Highway Trust Fund May Win By Default

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Camp, R-Mich., and Levin, D-Mich., preside over a Ways and Means Committee meeting (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

Full story

July 8, 2014

A Tale of Two Congressional Visits to the Southwest Border

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Lofgren had a different experience visiting the U.S.-Mexico border than her GOP colleagues. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

Goodlatte: Border Crisis ‘Disaster of President Obama’s Own Making’

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Goodlatte, R-Va., says the president must take responsibility for the border crisis. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

Full story

July 2, 2014

33 House Republicans to Obama: End Deportation Stays for ‘Dreamers’

issa092813 330x216 33 House Republicans to Obama: End Deportation Stays for Dreamers

Issa spearheaded a letter to Obama calling for the end of DACA. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who at one point was said to be writing his own immigration overhaul legislation and this week is at the Texas border visiting detention centers, has sent President Barack Obama a letter calling for an end to the 2012 executive order granting stays of deportation to children brought into the country illegally by their parents.

Reversing the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order, known as DACA, would “send a clear signal to all individuals that our immigration laws will be enforced,” the California Republican and thirty-two House GOP cosigners wrote.

DACA doesn’t apply to the thousands of children who have crossed the border illegally in recent months, but critics of the Obama policy say it has contributed to a general misunderstanding in some Central American countries that young people will be allowed to stay in the U.S.

Issa and his backers also say Obama should “make an explicit public comment that you will not support legislation that extends legal status to newly arriving illegal aliens no matter the age.”

Full story

Congressman: We Can’t Just Kick Them Off a Bus in Guatemala

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Farenthold, R-Texas, wants Congress to respond to the surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Barack Obama deserves blame for much of the misery in overcrowded illegal immigrant facilities on the Southwest border, a conservative Texas congressman told CQ Roll Call Wednesday.

But “instant deportation,” Republican Blake Farenthold said, is no answer to the crisis.

The second-term congressman is part of a group of lawmakers taking a firsthand look this week at Texas facilities that have been stretched to the breaking point in recent weeks as thousands of Central American children and mothers have streamed across the border seeking asylum.

The sudden surge of young immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is a direct result of the president’s rhetoric on immigration, Farenthold said.

“He telegraphed a message that if you’re a kid, you’re gonna get to stay,” Farenthold explained.

But the Corpus Christi lawmaker, who before 2012 redistricting represented the area now at the center of national scrutiny, is also frustrated with many of his constituents — and even with some of his colleagues — who call for instant deportation of “alien” children.

“We can’t just take them to the town square in Guatemala and kick them off the bus,” Farenthold said. “I also make the point that, if I were to send my child on a journey this perilous, child protective services would be knocking on my door trying to take away custody of my children.

“Here’s the thing with border security,” he continued. “Let’s assume it’s 100 percent secure, we catch anybody who crosses the border within a mile of the border, alright? Even if we capture a child, we still have to do something with that child.”

The “national security” and “humanitarian crisis” elements of the child migrant border surge are different, according to Farenthold — a distinction that needs to be clear for both Republicans and Democrats as Congress reconvenes next week with just 16 legislative work days scheduled before the August recess.

Full story

July 1, 2014

House GOP’s Secret Vote, Deconstructed

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Scalise leaves the hearing room after the June 19 secret vote electing him majority whip. Only three people know the leadership vote totals. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It’s been 12 days since House Republicans elected a new majority leader and majority whip behind the closed doors of the House Ways and Means Committee room. And though the ballots and vote totals were a secret, plenty of members and staff think they have an idea. The problem is, they’re probably wrong.

With the exception of the three members who counted the ballots — Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Flores of Texas, and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina — no one definitively knows the vote totals.

Unless, of course, they cracked the safe in conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s Cannon office, where the ballots are kept. Those ballots — numbered sheets of paper with candidate names scrawled on each — have not yet been destroyed, contrary to earlier practices, an aide confirmed.

Full story

June 30, 2014

Diaz-Balart: ‘Boehner’s Never Told Me’ Immigration Overhaul Is ‘Dead’

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Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., will still seek a vote on immigration this year (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Did Speaker John A. Boehner really tell President Barack Obama that the House wouldn’t vote on an immigration overhaul bill this year?

Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart intimated on Monday afternoon that he doubts Boehner would have, with such finality, closed the door to moving forward on such legislation, as Obama suggested in a national address.

“Boehner’s never told me that it’s dead,” Diaz-Balart said in a phone interview with CQ Roll Call. “What Boehner’s been telling me is what he’s always been telling me, that clearly the American people don’t trust Obama to enforce the law.” Full story

June 27, 2014

Conservatives Regroup to Force Leadership to Change

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Labrador worked the phones but came up short. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

They may have lost their fight to change leadership, but they intend to force leadership to change.

Conservatives who backed Raúl R. Labrador’s bid for majority leader are saying they are already on to the next battle to force change from within the House Republican Conference.

Austin Scott, R-Ga., who was one of Labrador’s earliest supporters, told CQ Roll Call that like-minded lawmakers are “extremely likely” to pursue an effort to address how the House operates.

“A lot of us, not just conservatives, are going to press to rewrite the rules of the House,” Scott said.

Specifically, Scott mentioned frustration regarding the three-day rule, which is supposed to give members at least three days time between when a bill is posted and when it comes up for a vote. In practice, House leaders could post a bill at 11:59 p.m. on a Tuesday and vote on it at 12:01 a.m. on a Thursday, which is why Scott called it, “technically, the 24-hours and two-minutes” rule.

Labrador found some traction in his message of abiding by the three-day rule, allowing more votes on amendments, giving more power to the committees and members and taking power away from leadership staffers.

The winner of the race, current Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, seemed to glom onto that message, adopting much of Labrador’s platform in his candidates’ forum speech ahead of the closed-door vote.

Whether McCarthy can actually make those changes before he faces another leadership challenge remains to be seen. He’ll be majority leader for 15 days before the next leadership elections are held on Nov. 17.

And Labrador, who finds himself at a congressional crossroads, could lead a pressure campaign for McCarthy and the rest of the leadership team to solidify those promises.
Full story

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