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October 23, 2014
Almost every House member is on the stump this month, wrapping up re-election bids, with most cruising to new terms and a handful on both sides of the aisle scrambling to hang on to their jobs. But for a select few GOP lawmakers — those actively seeking committee chairmanships — the final days before Nov. 4 are as much about lining up support among colleagues as they are about connecting with voters.
Every two years, after the Election Day dust settles, members return to Capitol Hill for a lame-duck session that includes the selection of colleagues to serve as senior lawmakers on the chamber’s standing committees during the new Congress.
Republicans, widely expected to retain the majority this cycle, will be particularly busy during the lame duck, scheduled to begin Nov. 12, when it comes to doling out committee leadership appointments. Thanks to retirements, possible assignment shuffles and a 20-year rule capping panel leadership at three terms, as many as 11 out of 21 committees could see new chairmen in the 114th Congress.
A twelfth committee could even be at play, if term-limited Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma decides to challenge Jeb Hensarling’s grip on the Financial Services gavel, as he recently suggested he might.
For the decidedly open chairmanships, some lawmakers are expected to win their desired posting without competition, while others will be facing off against their peers. All of the slots are filled by a secret ballot vote of members on the Republican Steering Committee, comprised of party leaders, top-tier panel chairmen and regional representatives.
Here’s a rundown of 11 committee gavels that are up for grabs, and which members stand to snag them. Full story
October 22, 2014
Updated, 2:27 p.m.: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowed Wednesday that House Republicans will not sit idly by while the Obama administration unilaterally negotiates a resolution with Iran over that country’s nuclear program.
The Obama administration, according to news reports, is considering sweetening its offer to Iran in the ongoing negotiations, allowing the regime to operate 4,000 centrifuges, up from an earlier 1,300.
The White House and the State Department have not commented on the the reports, which originated with an Iranian news agency.
But the development has set off alarms with lawmakers like McCarthy, who called the news “worrisome.” The California Republican promised “extensive oversight” of the administration’s handling of the Iranian negotiations.
The Senate’s No. 2-ranked Republican, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, also warned the president against overstepping his authority on the Iran deal.
“The American people will not tolerate a President who wheels and deals with a radical regime behind their backs and dodges congressional oversight every chance he gets,” the Texas Republican said in a statement. “Any agreement with Iran to provide further relief from U.S. sanctions must be done in conjunction with Congress in an open and transparent way to ensure it advances America’s national security.”
Here’s McCarthy’s full statement:
Recent reports have suggested the Obama Administration believes it can negotiate a deal with Iran and provide significant sanctions relief to the Iranian regime without Congressional support. This Administration has a long record of ignoring and threatening to ignore Congress.
While this unilateralism alone is distressing, it is made even more worrisome in light of additional reports that the Administration may be willing to yet again make significant concessions to the Iranians in the nuclear negotiations. As the President and his team know full well, there is overwhelming, bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill about Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, its sponsorship of terrorism, its promotion of instability throughout the region, and its appalling human rights record. Congress will not simply look the other way if the Administration agrees to a deal that does not make sufficient progress in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. Although the precise mechanics of Congressional approval or disapproval will depend on what exactly the President decides to do, the nature of the agreement, and a variety of other factors, I can promise that Congress will conduct extensive oversight regarding the details of any deal or extension of the current Joint Plan of Action.
Separate from the conduct of the nuclear negotiations, I remain concerned the Administration lacks an effective strategy to combat Iran’s malign influence throughout the region. Whether in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Yemen, Iran’s support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities threaten the interests and security of the United States and its key allies and partners in the region. I look forward to the Administration consulting with Congress about how to confront this grave threat.
October 21, 2014
While the Obama administration continues to put in place additional measures to identify travelers potentially infected with Ebola, the early Republican response is in: It’s still not enough.
The administration announced Tuesday that travelers to the United States from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have to travel through one of five major U.S. airports and go through additional Ebola screening.
The Department of Homeland Security introduced the additional measures, mandating that all foreign nationals coming from those three Ebola-stricken countries in Africa will undergo secondary screening and be forced to land at one of five airports: Kennedy Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport, Chicago O’Hare in Illinois or Dulles Airport in Virginia.
Those passengers, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement, would be subject to “added protocols, including having their temperature taken, before they can be admitted into the United States.”
The additional screening for passengers coming from those countries at those airports was already taking place, but now those passengers are mandated to land at one of those five airports. Full story
October 17, 2014
California Republican Darrell Issa has a well-deserved reputation for finding ways to bring the issue of the moment into his committee’s jurisdiction.
President Barack Obama’s handling of the Ebola crisis is no exception.
On Friday afternoon, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman announced he would convene a full panel hearing in seven days, on Oct. 24, titled, “The Ebola Crisis: Coordination of a Multi-Agency Response.” Full story
Will the House interrupt its recess to vote on a travel ban or visa suspensions to prevent the further spread of Ebola on U.S. soil?
After all, as airstrikes began in Syria earlier this month to combat the Islamic State terror group, members on both sides of the aisle were calling for Congress to return and vote on a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force measure.
GOP leadership didn’t bite, with Speaker John A. Boehner saying he would only be inclined to reconvene the House if President Barack Obama sent Congress the AUMF language.
In the case of Ebola, senior House Republicans are also downplaying the need to rush back to Washington for a vote on restricting travel from affected African countries to the United States. The Obama administration, they argue, should be taking such action without being compelled to by Congress.
“Let’s first see if the president is willing to work with us to do [a travel ban] now,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told a small group of reporters Thursday. “He loves to brag about how he can do things with a pen and a phone. … He can approve a travel ban. Today. And we’ve called on him to do that. So let’s see what he says.”
Scalise, a member of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, was back on Capitol Hill to participate in a special hearing to probe the Ebola response by the federal government. The occasion pulled many members off the campaign trail, including Senate hopefuls Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Bruce Braley, D-Iowa.
But a subcommittee hearing during a recess, when participation is voluntary, isn’t the same as recalling the House to take a recorded vote, a precarious exercise just weeks before the midterm elections.
Regardless, a handful of lawmakers were clamoring for just that Friday.
Since POTUS won’t act on travel ban, Congress should return to Washington to vote on legislation mandating precautionary measures.
— Ron DeSantis (@RepDeSantis) October 17, 2014
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) October 17, 2014
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., joined forces with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., sending a letter to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging emergency sessions on both sides of the Rotunda to institute travel bans while “the Obama administration has failed to recognize this public health threat.” Vitter’s Senate colleague, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, also wants members back on Capitol Hill to confront the issue.
Another Florida Republican, Rep. Dennis A. Ross, already has legislative text ready to go that would bar commercial flights to and from Ebola-affected countries until the virus is no longer a threat.
He’ll introduce it when Congress returns for next month’s lame-duck session, Ross said in a statement, though he added that he holds out hope Boehner would “quickly call Congress back into session to debate my legislation.”
October 16, 2014
The House majority whip lashed out at Democrats Thursday for trying to blame Republicans for sanctioning cuts to medical research that might have helped curb the spread of Ebola in the United States.
“It’s a ludicrous attack,” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., told a small group of reporters following an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the Obama administration’s handling of the Ebola crisis.
“You had a hearing today with a number of officials … and not one person asked for an additional dime of money,” Scalise went on. “[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas] Frieden himself has actually made public comments that he has the resources they need.” Full story
Updated 1:50 p.m. | Democrats at Thursday’s rare mid-recess Ebola hearing pushed back at criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis, arguing that missteps in the federal response are due in part to budget standoffs and last year’s government shutdown.
Colorado’s Diana DeGette, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee holding the hearing, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has come under fire since the arrival of the virus in the U.S., cannot do its job adequately without proper funding from Congress.
She reiterated a key element of the Obama administration’s approach to addressing the Ebola outbreak: that efforts to contain the disease must be focused on Africa.
“There is no such thing as fortress America when it comes to disease,” she said.
California’s Henry A. Waxman, in his opening statement, echoed his Democratic colleague’s remarks, telling the panel that congressional budget fights that led to sequesters and last year’s government shutdown contributed to the problems with the U.S. response.
“We have our share of responsibility by not funding the infrastructure,” Waxman said.
“Since 2006, CDC’s budget, adjusted for inflation, has dropped by 12 percent. Funding for the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement, which supports state and local health departments preparedness activities, has been cut from $1 billion in its first year of funding in 2002 to $612 million in 2014. All of these were also subject to the sequestration. And those who allowed that sequestration to happen by closing the government have to answer to the American people, as well,” said the California Democrat, who is retiring at the end of this term.
Pennsylvania Republican Tim Murphy, chairman of the subcommittee, in his opening remarks said if additional resources are needed, federal officials need to speak up.
“The trust and credibility of the administration and government are waning as the American public loses confidence each day with demonstrated failures of the current strategy,” he said.
“If resources or authorization is needed to stop Ebola in its tracks, tell us in Congress. I pledge — and I believe this committee joins me in pledging — that we will do everything in our power to work with you to keep the American people safe from Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” he said.
October 15, 2014
As a handful of House members return to the Capitol Thursday for a special recess hearing on Ebola, lawmakers in both parties are grappling with a practical — and political — question: Who gets the blame?
“It’s a tough one,” Rep. Michael Burgess said during a pen-and-pad briefing Wednesday with reporters.
Burgess, who is also a doctor, wondered aloud whether fault lies with the fact that Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola fatality in the U.S., was allowed in the country in the first place; whether the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where Duncan died, ignored safeguards; or whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not been, as the Texas Republican, said, “as forthcoming with information as they said they were.”
Burgess said the Texas hospital — where two health care workers have now contracted Ebola from coming into contact with Duncan — is probably prepared to take “some pretty tough questions tomorrow,” referring to the hearing to take place at noon Thursday on the U.S. public health response to Ebola. (You can watch the hearing live on rollcall.com.) Full story
Rep. Michele Bachmann may be retiring at the end of this year, but the woman who rose to prominence by founding the Congressional Tea Party Caucus in 2010 and running for president in 2012 isn’t leaving Washington, D.C., quietly.
In a speech and brief question-and-answer session Wednesday morning at the Heritage Foundation — billed as one of her last public speaking engagements as a member of the House of Representatives — the Minnesota Republican refreshed her audience on the history of the tea party movement and made a case for continuing the fight against higher taxes and bigger government.
But Bachmann also made a handful of policy recommendations that indicate she plans to remain engaged in the political debate, albeit from outside Capitol Hill.
October 10, 2014
House members who want to help their party in the final stretch of campaign season have options. They can offer endorsements. Make calls. Write checks.
But sometimes, nothing says “I care” like getting on a plane and flying across the country to stand alongside a colleague.
In the month before Election Day, members not fighting for their political lives are expected to be team players — and one way to do that is by traveling to different congressional districts as campaign “surrogates.”
It’s not as simple as just showing up: Being a good surrogate is an art, and considerable thought, time and effort go into deciding who should go where, and when, and in what capacity.
Each member has his or her own edge.
Budget Chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., will draw a crowd, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can bring in buckets of money (she’s raised more than $400 million for Democrats since 2002). Others can open doors that might otherwise be closed, or help a vulnerable member shore up support among a flagging constituency.
And every ambitious lawmaker on Capitol Hill knows that stumping for a fellow member or potential colleague can pay off down the road.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on Speaker John A. Boehner Friday to bring the House back into session to vote on two things: Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and Authorizing Use of Military Force to combat the Islamic State terrorist group.
The former was the subject of a half-hour long conference call hosted by Pelosi, Education and the Workforce ranking member George Miller and Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez.
After making the pitch for higher wages, Pelosi reiterated the importance of Congress returning to Capitol Hill before mid-November’s lame-duck session to let members debate and vote on the scale and scope of U.S. military operations already underway in Syria.
Boehner and other high-ranking Republicans have said that the lame duck is not the right time to engage in a full-scale debate on the topic, that it would be best dealt with by the new congress in January. Pelosi and other Democrats disagree.
“The American people wanted it acted upon … before the election,” Pelosi said.
Taking advantage of the auspicious date — Oct. 10 — Pelosi, Perez and Miller were joined by Janet Rowland, a 20-year-old full-time working mother of three who shared her story with reporters on the call and said a $10.10 per hour minimum wage would better help her juggle her responsibilities, make ends meet and go to school.
The conference call came less than a month before the midterm elections, and Democrats are working hard to make sure voters know that a minimum wage increase is a centerpiece of the party’s policy platform.
Every effort was made to keep the call on the subject. At one point, a journalist asked Perez to comment on media reports that he was a front-runner to succeed retiring Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. Perez did not have a chance to respond to that question specifically, however, before Miller interjected that the query wasn’t related to the purpose of the conference call.
Sticking to his talking points, Perez replied, “My focus on … everything we do is to help the Janet Rowlands of the world.”
October 9, 2014
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, showing off a lighter side rarely seen in his predecessor, offered some overly-elaborate highway navigation tips — a la Saturday Night Live’s soap-opera parody “The Californians” — for President Barack Obama’s fundraising trip to the West Coast.
The Bakersfield native, who took over the No. 2 position in the House from Virginia Republican Eric Cantor less than three months ago, made the driving suggestions in a press release encouraging the president to get out of Los Angeles and visit struggling agricultural areas in the state’s interior.
Borrowing from SNL’s goofy recurring sketch, in which characters with exaggerated Valley accents obsess over navigational details, McCarthy (or, more likely, his press shop) offered Obama an alternative to hanging out in Hollywood with the glitterati:
“He should take Colorado to Lincoln, hop on the 10, go north on the 405 to the 5 — get off at Lyons for a double-double from In-n-Out — then take the 5 to the 99 to the 65.”
Here’s the whole release:
In California, the President Should Take the 10 to the 405 to the 5 to…
Today, the President will be in West L.A. enjoying the Santa Monica sunshine and giving a speech on the economy. The President has been talking a lot lately about how great the economy is doing. While it may look good for some in the Los Angeles basin, a trip throughout the Golden state would show the President that many Californians are frustrated with his Administration’s economic policies.
So, before the President leaves California, he should take a little trip. He should take Colorado to Lincoln, hop on the 10, go north on the 405 to the 5—get off at Lyons for a double-double from In-n-Out—then take the 5 to the 99 to the 65.
On this route, he’ll pass through Bakersfield and into the Central Valley, where the nation’s largest vegetable, fruit, and nut producers are located. But right now the drought has made life tough for people in Central Valley communities, and the Obama Administration’s policies sure haven’t helped. Sadly, the Obama economy and the Administration’s harmful water regulatory burdens have left California in a far more precarious place than West L.A.
Labor force participation in California is only 61.9 percent, below the national rate of 62.7 percent, which is a full 3.4 percent lower than in 2008. Unemployment in counties across California, especially in the Central Valley, is still in the double digits.
If the President is serious about growing the economy and creating opportunity in California, he should direct his Administration to immediately ease the harmful policies that send precious water out to the ocean instead of to our communities. That would create real economic growth and provide greater opportunity to the next generation of our farmers.
So while the President is out West, he should take a trip on the freeway out of the big cities and see how the rest of California is doing.
October 7, 2014
President Barack Obama and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention need to move more quickly to tighten restrictions on travelers coming to the U.S. from Ebola-afflicted areas, said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.
Murphy, a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus, told CNN Tuesday morning that the enhanced screening processes proposed so far by the CDC do not go far enough. Murphy wants to see some travel from West Africa restricted until visitors are proven virus-free.
The CDC has pushed back against tighter travel restrictions on Liberia, the African nation at the center of the epidemic, arguing that such rules could hamper the American-led effort to contain the outbreak.
“For [the CDC] to simply be dismissive and say ‘We can’t isolate those countries,’ they’re going down the wrong rabbit hole and trying to give the American public a false sense of security,” Murphy said.
“The chance of getting this, spreading across 300 million Americans, is certainly very small. But the American public certainly is also saying ‘We don’t want this to be spreading at all,’” the congressman said.
“No one is saying, ‘quarantine an entire continent.’ What we’re saying is more sophisticated screening, look at travel restrictions for individuals, continue to send aid there,” the six-term congressman said. “We’re not saying isolate everything from that. But right now the CDC is saying, ‘It’s OK for people to come and go, we’ll just ask some questions.’ It’s not enough. I don’t think the American public is comfortable with that. I hope in the next few days the CDC is going to ramp up other ways of screening folks and having more restrictions on people coming out of Africa.”
Murphy is one of a growing number of lawmakers, including the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, calling for a more robust federal response to the outbreak.
Schumer on Sunday said screenings should include, “fever checks and health surveys in both airports and ports.”
Murphy is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, is scheduled to hold an Ebola hearing on Capitol Hill next week.
The House Homeland Security Committee will hold its own Ebola hearing on Friday at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
That committee’s chairman, Texas Republican Michael McCaul, said the hearing is being held at the airport to symbolize the interconnectedness of a world in which “threats to the homeland are only a flight away.”
Correction, 3:40 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the committee and the time of the hearing. The hearing was last month before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
October 6, 2014
Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay — or “The Hammer,” as he was known in his leadership days — recently called the GOP Class of 1994 “the greatest freshman class … to walk into the House of Representatives.”
Newt Gingrich, who won the speaker’s gavel in 1995 as a reward for orchestrating the first House Republican takeover in four decades, agreed.
“This is not just a game,” he said last month. “This is about how the free people govern themselves, and [that] class was as fine an example of that as I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
The men, from Texas and Georgia respectively, were preaching to the choir: They’d been invited back to Capitol Hill to deliver remarks to more than 40 members of the ‘94 class who reunited to celebrate the fast-approaching 20th anniversary of the historic election.
But the praise did more than just puff the egos of former and current lawmakers attending the event. It unplugged a spigot of nostalgia for what many of the Republicans on hand recalled as halcyon days of legislating. Full story
October 3, 2014
The top Republican and Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee are formally asking Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to conduct a “comprehensive external review” of Secret Service practices and protocol.
In a letter to Johnson on Friday, Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., emphasized that any such investigation must extend beyond last month’s isolated incident, where an armed intruder scaled the fence of the White House and was able to get inside the presidential residence before being apprehended — by an off-duty officer.
The two lawmakers, who famously clashed earlier this year, said Secret Service Director Julia Pierson’s resignation on Wednesday evening should not preclude a larger probe, given that problems within the agency preceded her tenure. Nor should the committee’s rare, mid-recess hearing on department misconduct be construed as congress closing the book on the chapter.