Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 25, 2014

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July 9, 2014

Uncertain Future for Next Week’s Highway Trust Fund Extension Vote

camp 177 022614 330x219 Uncertain Future for Next Weeks Highway Trust Fund Extension Vote

Camp, R-Mich., will lead a Thursday markup of legislation to extend the Highway Trust Fund (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House GOP leadership is prepared to push ahead on legislation to save the Highway Trust Fund from looming insolvency, with a vote expected on the chamber floor next week.

It all depends, however, on the reception to the new proposal, already being met with some skepticism from key lawmakers and influential outside groups. The House will also have to reconcile its work with that of the Senate, which is taking a different track.

And the clock is ticking quickly down to the August recess. Full story

June 23, 2014

Jockeying Begins for Republican Study Committee (Updated)

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Mulvaney is among the lawmakers mounting a bid for the Republican Study Committee chairmanship. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 3:58 p.m. | Two high-profile GOP leadership races have just ended, but a new one’s just getting started.

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana was elected on June 19 to ascend to the majority whip’s office on Aug. 1, which means the Republican Study Committee will have an opening for a new chairman — and ambitious candidates hoping to emerge as the House’s next conservative leader are ready to start campaigning. Full story

June 17, 2014

Hoyer: Only Hensarling Blocking Export-Import Bank Reauthorization

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Hensarling, R-Texas, doesn’t like the Export-Import Bank. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There’s only “one member of the Republican Party” holding up reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, according to Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer: Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt [he's] the one holding it up,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters at his weekly press briefing Tuesday morning. “It’s not an impression. It’s a fact.”

Hoyer went on to say that House GOP leaders, particularly outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, want to reauthorize the institution designed to help U.S. companies finance goods for sale overseas. The two lawmakers actually worked closely together at the time of the last reauthorization to bring a bill to the floor, Hoyer said.

Opponents of the Ex-Im Bank dismiss the institution as an anachronistic corporate slush fund rife with cronyism, and they have an ally in Hensarling, who heads up the committee of jurisdiction.

Full story

June 13, 2014

FreedomWorks Wants Labrador for Majority Leader

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Rep. Raul R. Labrador, R-Idaho, could run for majority leader. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Momentum is growing for a Majority Leader Raúl R. Labrador.

The Idaho Republican and current rank-and-file congressman is being courted by conservative colleagues and outside groups to get into the race for the No. 2 House Republican slot.

On Friday, the tea party affiliated advocacy group FreedomWorks entered the fray, calling on its members to rally together to urge Labrador to take on Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., currently the only declared candidate to succeed outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who unexpectedly lost his primary Tuesday night. Full story

June 10, 2014

Boehner Statement on Cantor’s Defeat

House GOP leaders weren’t expecting Majority Leader Eric Cantor to lose his primary Tuesday night against Tea Party-backed challenger Dave Brat, so nobody had statements ready when the race was called shortly after 8 p.m.

Reflections on the Virginia Republican’s defeat only began to filter in during the very late hours of the evening.

All were brief, free of political rancor for Brat and of any hints at personal ambitions to climb the ranks with the House’s No. 2 GOP lawmaker out of the picture in the 114th Congress.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., widely considered to now be angling for Cantor’s job, said “every single Member of this conference is indebted to Eric’s graciousness and leadership.”

Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called Cantor “a great friend and colleague.”

Perhaps the most revealing assessment of the evening’s turn of events came from Speaker John A. Boehner. Earlier, he exited from a local Italian restaurant and declined to speak with reporters who were waiting for him.

Full story

June 9, 2014

What’s Next for Pot in Congress?

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This photo from the Roll Call archives showcases the many decades that legalized pot advocates have been fighting for medical marijuana. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Activists cheered a House vote last month to bar the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. It was a watershed moment for pro-marijuana advocates — and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — who have been waiting for years for Congress to take an affirmative up-or-down vote on any related issue.

But in the afterglow of this long-sought legislative victory, it’s not clear just what comes next. Will bipartisan support for the measure, adopted as an amendment to the House’s fiscal 2015 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, inspire future action in the chamber? Will the Senate, poised in the weeks ahead to consider its own C-J-S bill, follow the House’s lead?

Full story

June 5, 2014

Activists Target House Members Who Oppose Medical Marijuana

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Pro-marijuana forces are now targeting House members who vote against medical use. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Advocates for expanding access to medical marijuana plan to turn up the pressure on members of Congress who aren’t supporting their cause.

They’re starting with two House members who voted last week against an amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that would bar federal government interference on state-approved pot and hemp laws.

The amendment passed 219-189, a victory for the bipartisan House coalition that sponsored the measure and supporters of the issue off Capitol Hill — but activists aren’t letting detractors off the hook.

Over the next few days, the “Vote Medical Marijuana” campaign, housed within the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, will run 30-second TV spots on MSNBC in Maryland and South Florida, the homes of two of the members who voted “no” — Republican Andy Harris and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Full story

June 2, 2014

GOP Leaders: Cut Saturday Mail Service to Pay for Roads

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Shuster supports a bill to end Saturday mail delivery to pay for roads. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There were plenty of bipartisan hallelujahs with last month’s House passage of a water resources and infrastructure bill — enough so that Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., is now cautiously optimistic about passing a highway bill this summer.

But the GOP leadership’s plan to save the Highway Trust Fund from running out of money before the August recess is likely to be more controversial than the water bill — especially if the plan means no more Saturday mail delivery.

According to a memo circulated among House Republicans in the late-afternoon on Friday, leaders plan to spend the next two months ginning up support for a short-term  highway bill extension that would also spare from bankruptcy the fund that pays for transportation projects around the country.

The suggested pay-for? Eliminating the U.S. Postal Service’s Saturday mail delivery service. Full story

May 28, 2014

On Immigration, the Pressure Mounts for Eric Cantor

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The pressure is on for Cantor, as political factions from both sides of the aisle clamor for action on immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

RICHMOND, Va. — Political forces from the left and the right gathered at the Virginia state Capitol Wednesday with a shared objective: Ratchet up the immigration pressure on Eric Cantor.

On one side were the pro-immigration activists — led by an Illinois Democrat — calling for the House majority leader to at least allow legislation an up-or-down vote. On the other was a political rival all-too-ready to hang the word “amnesty” around the Virginia Republican’s neck.

In the middle of the debate, walking a political tightrope with less than two weeks to go before a closely-watched primary and as the clock steadily ticks down on the 113th Congress, is Cantor.

“We have come here to say … stop being an obstacle. Stop standing in the way,” said Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill., a leader in the national fight to pass an immigration overhaul bill who was invited to speak at Wednesday’s event by the group CASA de Virginia. “Become a hero of our community and become someone who can help the tens of thousands of Virginians who need help because of this broken immigration system.”

Half an hour earlier, Cantor’s June 10 primary opponent David Brat held a brief outdoor news conference on the steps of the building, where he had a different perspective on Cantor.

“Eric Cantor has been the No. 1 cheerleader in Congress for amnesty,” Brat told a half-dozen reporters. “Eric Cantor has spearheaded the amnesty push in the House. … There is no Republican in this country who is more liberal on immigration than Eric Cantor.”

Conservatives’ biggest turncoat? Immigration’s most stubborn opponent?

It wouldn’t seem Cantor could be both, but the No. 2 Republican in the House has tripped alarms on both sides of the sprawling, complicated and emotional debate in recent weeks. Full story

May 20, 2014

Hensarling Slams Washington, Won’t Rule Out Speakership Run

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In a speech that is almost certain to stoke speculation he is running for House speaker, Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling slammed Washington insiders and special interests during an address at the Heritage Foundation Tuesday.

Less than two hours after the Heritage Foundation suffered one of its harshest congressional rebukes ever — more representatives broke from the advice of Heritage Action than ever before, with only four Republicans voting against a water resources bill — Hensarling came to Heritage’s Massachusetts Avenue offices to praise the foundation and condemn a boogeyman called Washington, D.C.

The Texas Republican did nothing to allay the concerns of K Street or Wall Street that he won’t work with special interests to protect some of Washington’s favorite carve-outs. In fact, Hensarling consistently demonized the “Washington insider economy.” Full story

May 19, 2014

Heritage Action Key Votes Water Bill Ahead of House Consideration

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The water bill heading for a final vote is earmark free, after a long process from Shuster, left and Rahall. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Heritage Action stopped short of urging lawmakers on Saturday morning to reject the conference report for a key water resources and infrastructure bill, but finished the job on Monday by saying it would “key vote” the legislation.

The advocacy group’s warning that lawmakers will be graded based on their vote may not be enough to sink the legislation on the House floor under a simple majority vote, but it could jeopardize passage of the bill in its current spot on the suspension calendar, where it will need an affirmative two-thirds majority to pass.

“This massive piece of legislation crosses five out of six red lines,” Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler said in a statement Monday on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Holler said the bill’s flaws include excessive spending, a failure to privatize a sufficient number of government-funded projects and a lack of provisions to “reduce bureaucracy.”

Full story

Rep. Denham to Continue to Push for ENLIST Act in NDAA

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Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. (Douglas Graham/Roll Call File Photo)

The Republican leadership of the House has signaled its intent to block consideration of any immigration-related amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act this week, but Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., hasn’t given up — yet.

Denham, who caused a stir last month by pledging to force a House vote on an amendment to the NDAA that would create a legal status pathway to undocumented immigrants who served the military — the so-called ENLIST Act — has filed that amendment with the House Rules Committee, which was set to meet Monday evening to determine whether to allow that amendment, and countless others, to be subject for debate. Full story

May 16, 2014

GOP Leaders Will Block ENLIST Act on House Floor Next Week

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Denham’s ENLIST Act hits new wall. (Douglas Graham/Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., promised earlier this year he would force a floor vote on legislation to create a legal status pathway for illegal immigrants who served in the military — but GOP leadership intends to thwart that plan.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., confirmed to reporters Friday that when the National Defense Authorization Act comes up for consideration by the full House next week, Denham won’t be permitted to seek consideration of his amendment, known as the ENLIST Act.

“No proposed ENLIST amendments to NDAA will be made in order,” Heye said in an e-mail statement. Full story

House GOP Touts Water Bill as a Sign of Thriving, Post-Earmark World

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The water bill heading for a final vote is earmark free, after a long process and compromise from Shuster, left and Rahall, among others. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated, May 17, 3:31 p.m. | The notion of passing a major infrastructure bill through the House and Senate without earmarks seemed, at first, unthinkable.

After all, it’s a highly dysfunctional Congress, there’s an army of outside conservative groups ready to thwart legislation that doesn’t meet their standards and members from both parties have complained an earmark moratorium is a reason it’s tough to get anything done.

But Speaker John A. Boehner insists things can get done, and he and Rep. Bill Shuster have a bipartisan water bill coming up to prove it. Should they succeed in the next few days, it might pave the way for a highway bill without special projects attached.

The bill is the bipartisan, bicameral conference report for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, and the speaker touts it as “a significant policy achievement.”

“Earmarks aren’t coming back on my watch,” the Ohio Republican told CQ Roll Call in a statement. “With the reforms in this agreement, Chairman Shuster has proven that we can do water resources bills without earmarks, and for that he deserves great credit.”

As a first-term chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Shuster would have had an easier time seven years ago, when legislation to fund key water and infrastructure initiatives around the country was last signed into law.

That water bill was historically one of the only pieces of legislation to repeatedly come before Congress composed almost entirely of earmarks, basically constituting a laundry list of line items handpicked by lawmakers to pay for specific projects in their districts.

So Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, got to work early in the 113th Congress. He labored with his committee’s ranking member Nick J. Rahall II, a West Virginia Democrat facing a difficult re-election battle, to build consensus for the billions of dollars worth of water projects. (The final conference report hasn’t been scored, but House aides predicted the cost will be close to the Senate’s bill, which would cost $5.7 billion over five years.)

Shuster also reached out to the chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee with WRRDA jurisdiction, Republican Bob Gibbs of Ohio and Democrat Timothy H. Bishop of New York.

Supported by party leadership and staff, Shuster set out to build consensus in uncharted territory. The congressman’s goal, according to GOP committee aides, was to educate everyone who would have a stake in the final bill.

He invited industry groups to Capitol Hill to weigh in, and he traveled across the country to learn what was important outside the Beltway. Shuster also took a hands-on approach to the social media campaign surrounding the effort, even lending his voice to an “explainer” video walking laymen through the ins and outs of reauthorizing water infrastructure projects.

Anticipating pushback from the right over legislation typically criticized for wasteful spending and government overreach, Shuster made sure conservatives were all on board, from Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana to to the usual suspects in the outside advocacy group community.

Heritage Action for America spokesman Dan Holler told CQ Roll Call that Shuster’s gestures went a long way toward his group’s inclination not to score votes on the measure when it first passed the House last fall, which meant there weren’t political consequences for backing it on the floor.

“You pull back and look at what this bill is, it is not something that we would generally be supportive of, [but] they went through a very painstaking process through this, and that really gave them an opportunity to explain what they were doing,” Holler said.

And Republican and Democratic committee staff worked on getting around the whole earmark problem.

In the past, individuals would take their water infrastructure requests to the Army Corps of Engineers — which executes construction and maintenance activities — directly to their representatives on Capitol Hill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Senate counterpart, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, would then fashion new authorization bills based on those requests.

While the practice clearly ran afoul of the earmarking ban, stopping it would mean ceding authority to the executive branch. The Senate’s approach to skirting its own earmark prohibition involved automatically authorizing projects with positive reviews from the Army Corps of Engineers.

But Shuster and other House Republicans didn’t like the idea of handing over project selection powers to the Obama administration — or any future administration — for fear that Congress wouldn’t be able to easily wrest back that power.

For WRRDA, their solution was to create a whole new process wherein local sponsors would take their projects directly to their regional Army Corps of Engineers office for review. Positively reviewed projects would be submitted to Congress as part of annual reports, and lawmakers would get to review those reports before including them in future water bills.

Shuster and company took their pitch to Republican leaders, who gave them the green light to move ahead. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House late last year, with just three dissenting votes. When both chambers finally finished hashing out one combined water bill, the House’s framework prevailed.

Two days after the conference report’s release, Holler told reporters that Heritage Action and the group’s think tank and policy arm, the Heritage Foundation, felt that while the final product was a step in the right direction, its conservative credentials had been diluted by the Democratic-controlled Senate during negotiations.

“We’re not exactly impressed,” Holler said, but he stopped short of suggesting the group would seek to punish lawmakers who vote “yes.” Even if Heritage Action does decide to score votes, the bill is likely to pass, given its wide bipartisan support and the compelling narrative Republicans have created around the bill as one that doesn’t betray the party’s values.

The last WRRDA measures became law in 2007, only after Congress took a rare vote to override President George W. Bush’s veto of the legislation on the grounds that it spent too much — on earmarks. Shuster’s goal? Reauthorizing the law in 2016 and every two years hence.

In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Bishop said lawmakers felt “a sense of urgency” to get to work because it had been seven years since the last legislation. He dubbed the earmark ban “bad public policy,” but admitted the process worked well this year.

Practically speaking, WRRDA is so unique it’s not likely to give lawmakers a template they can replicate in other comparable bills. It could, however, create precedent going forward in an earmark-free Congress, especially in the case of the highway bill, which needs to be reauthorized this year and probably won’t enjoy as smooth and bipartisan a legislative journey.

The Senate is already generating new ideas on how to retain lawmakers’ supervision of project selection without relying on earmarks, no doubt inspired by provisions in the water bill.

Earlier this month, the Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Senate’s proposed highway legislation, which would include a new grant program run by the Transportation Department that would spend $400 million annually on projects of regional or national significance.

There is a similar, existing DOT initiative known as TIGER, but the Senate program would be subject to greater congressional oversight: If lawmakers don’t like what they see, they’ll be able to block funding with a joint resolution of disapproval.

The Senate proposal is an attempt to get to the heart of objections to the earmark ban, the argument that it diminishes Congress’ power over purse strings.

On the House side of the Capitol, Shuster has no illusions about the challenges of passing a highway bill, particularly when the matter of funding is still in question. But a Republican Transportation committee staffer called WRRDA a “blueprint” for Shuster going forward.

The chairman expressed similar remarks at an association gathering earlier this year: “I’m really lucky that I had the WRRDA bill first … I learned a tremendous amount on how to put something together.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated the day after it was published to add breaking news about Heritage Action’s stance on the legislation.

May 15, 2014

Conservatives Prepare to Go to Battle Over ENLIST Act

 

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Denham’s ENLIST Act is seen by some as an immigration overhaul that Republicans could support, though others dismiss the proposal as “amnesty.” (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Heritage Action for America isn’t the only conservative advocacy group prepared to go to the mattresses over possible efforts in the House next week to tack an immigration-related provision onto the defense authorization bill.

Shortly after Heritage announced it would score lawmakers’ votes on the National Defense Authorization Act if it includes language to allow certain illegal immigrants to gain citizenship through military service, the Madison Project also weighed in.

The group, which backs conservative candidates for office and fights for conservative causes on Capitol Hill, warned that Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., plans to offer the legislation, known as the ENLIST Act, as an amendment to the NDAA that’s due on the floor in the coming days.
Full story

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