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August 27, 2014
A longtime former aide and political consultant for Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., has pleaded guilty to a number of federal charges in fraud schemes involving an unnamed elected official.
Gregory Naylor, 66, pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple counts for his “participation in two campaign finance-related schemes initiated by a long-time friend and former employer” identified as “Elected Official A.”
According to the Department of Justice release, Naylor helped conceal the theft of federal grants and private charitable funds to repay an illegal campaign debt from a 2007 campaign. Full story
August 25, 2014
D.C. law firm BakerHostetler will handle the House Republicans’ lawsuit against President Barack Obama.
House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said the firm has been contracted to represent the House in the district court civil suit.
According to the contract, the lawsuit will cost the House up to $350,000, billed at a rate of $500/hour.
“The president must be held accountable, and the House will continue to act in an open and transparent manner to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” Miller said in a Monday statement.
The lawsuit, authorized on July 30 by the House, calls for the courts to rein in a president who, Republicans contend, has overstepped his authority by unilaterally changing federal law in his implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
Many legal experts say the lawsuit faces long odds in the courts, but one of the highest-profile constitutional scholars in the country, former Reagan and George Bush lawyer David Rivkin, has said the case has merit — and he’s a partner at the firm the Republicans hired.
Democrats immediately weighed in on the announcement, sharply criticizing the $500 per hour contract as wasteful spending.
“This outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars is yet another reminder of House Republicans’ misguided priorities,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel, D-N.Y., in a statement. “Only in John Boehner’s world does it make sense to pay lawyers $500 per hour to work on a partisan lawsuit while refusing to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for hardworking Americans trying to feed their families.”
Reacting to a report that President Barack Obama is mulling unilateral action that could impact almost half the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez said Monday, “It’s music to my ears.”
The Illinois Democrat, one of Congress’ most vocal supporters of a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system, said in an appearance on MSNBC that Obama has been forced to take action because of gridlock in the House.
“We want to get as many as we can out of the vicious cycle of deportation,” Gutiérrez said. “But I think if the president takes such a move … I think it would be a huge move.”
His comments came after reporter Chris Jansing told MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart that administration sources have said the White House is weighing executive action that would impact up to 5 million illegal immigrants. Full story
August 21, 2014
A leading House Republican says the Obama administration needs to plug the leaks that led to revelations of an unsuccessful covert mission earlier this summer to rescue journalist James Foley and other hostages from jihadist captors in Syria.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, commended the U.S. forces involved, but he criticized the Obama administration for confirming the operation after news organizations, citing unnamed sources, reported on the mission.
McKeon, in a statement issued Thursday, said:
“Successful or not, such operations are incredibly sensitive, even after they have concluded. Disclosure of these missions puts our troops at risk, reduces the likelihood that future missions will succeed, and risks the lives of hostages and informants alike. While I believe it was unwise for the White House and Department of Defense to formally acknowledge this operation; it is outrageous that someone would be so selfish and short sighted to leak it to the media.”
He called on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to investigate and determine the source of the leak.
ABC News, citing “senior administration sources,” reported Wednesday that U.S. special operations members engaged in a firefight with jihadists at a site in Syria where Foley and the others were believed to be held, but withdrew when it became apparent the hostages were not there.
The administration has said it only acknowledged the operation because media organizations were going public with the news anyway.
The Islamic State insurgents who control parts of Syria and northern Iraq released a video this week showing the brutal beheading of Foley and vowed more executions if the U.S. continues its ramped-up campaign of airstrikes in the region.
August 19, 2014
A papal visit to Washington next year — including a possible address to Congress — could be in the works.
Although the Vatican has not confirmed or denied any official travel plans, Pope Francis told reporters accompanying him on a flight home from South Korea that he’s weighing U.S. stops in Washington, Philadelphia and New York City in 2015.
“Next year I would like to go to Philadelphia, for the [World Meeting of Families],” the pontiff said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Then, I have been invited by the president of the United States to the American Congress. And also the secretary-general of the United Nations has also invited me to the Secretariat of the U.N. in New York. So maybe the three cities together.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, earlier this year invited the pope to address a joint session of Congress.
The Vatican reported Tuesday the pope is mourning the deaths of three of his relatives — the wife and two young children of the pontiff’s 38-year-old nephew — killed in a car crash in Argentina.
August 15, 2014
Updated 11:03 a.m. | Rep. Elijah E. Cummings on Friday praised a change in police tactics in Ferguson, Mo., that was followed, finally, by a peaceful night in the troubled St. Louis suburb.
“The change in security tactics in Ferguson, and the intervention of Gov. [Jay] Nixon has greatly improved a horrible situation,” the Maryland Democrat said. “There is never an excuse for violence and aggression — on the part of the police or citizens — and the right to peacefully protest must be respected. This community has been rocked by the death of a young man with a bright future, and they deserve an opportunity to appropriately express outrage at this tragedy.”
Nixon on Thursday put the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge of security in Ferguson, after several nights of violent clashes between local authorities and protesters upset about the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown.
On Friday, Ferguson police identified Darren Wilson as the officer who shot Brown.
Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., welcomed the decision in Ferguson to release the name of the officer, and said he hopes that the events in Missouri serve as a wake-up call to minority voters.
“I was thinking this morning about all this rhetoric about being ‘tough on crime.’ It’s one thing to be tough on crime. I’m tough on crime. But it’s something else to be death on blacks. And that’s what seems to be happening,” he said in an appearance on MSNBC.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, in a statement issued Friday, questioned the aggressive response by Ferguson police to protesters earlier in the week.
“I have been shocked by the military-like response from the local police,” the Vermont Democrat said. “No one questions that law enforcement must maintain order, and certainly some of these protests have warranted intervention. But equipping police officers with the tools of war does nothing to repair a torn community … American streets are not a warzone. They shouldn’t be treated like one.”
August 13, 2014
Rep. John Garamendi on Wednesday joined the chorus of lawmakers from both parties warning against mission creep in Iraq drawing the U.S. back into a war in the Middle East.
Garamendi, in an appearance on MSNBC, said he believes President Barack Obama, who has ordered air strikes on insurgents, humanitarian aid and more troops to Iraq to protect U.S. interests, is operating within the bounds of the War Powers Act, but the California Democrat cautioned that Congress must weigh in if intervention in the splintered country is ramped up further. Full story
August 12, 2014
Updated: 12:18 p.m. | The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and two of her colleagues are calling on the Justice Department to probe deeply into the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, co-signed a letter Monday evening addressed to Attorney General Eric. H. Holder Jr., with Judiciary ranking member John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and the Democratic lawmaker who represents the Ferguson area, Rep. William Lacy Clay.
The letter acknowledged and expressed gratitude for the DOJ investigation already underway regarding the incident, in which a Ferguson policeman shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police have said the teen tried to take an officer’s gun, but at least one witness said the teen was shot without cause.
“The St. Louis County Police Department, which is currently investigating the shooting, claims that the shooting occurred after Mr. Brown assaulted the officer and the two men struggled for the officer’s gun,” the members wrote, “but local community members have expressed strong skepticism and outrage about this explanation. According to one eye witness account, several shots hit Mr. Brown as he attempted to flee with his hands in the air … More broadly, press reports suggest that Mr. Brown’s shooting may be symptomatic of larger racial tensions in Ferguson.”
August 6, 2014
Democrats commemorated the 48th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act last year with hopes that by today a fix for the landmark law would have reached President Barack Obama’s desk.
But on Wednesday, its 49th birthday came and went with no clear endgame for advancing legislation, and lawmakers took to email inboxes and social media to articulate their continued determination to get something done.
“Until House Republican leadership works with Democrats to protect this fundamental right, [voting rights] will continue to be at risk,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York. Full story
July 31, 2014
In the frenetic legislative run-up to the August recess, House lawmakers sent their version of a highway bill back to the Senate after voting to disagree with that chamber’s amendment to the legislation.
The House voted 272-150 to send the original $10.8 billion House bill back to the Senate, with 227 Republicans and 45 Democrats once again supporting the measure. Democrats had been considering voting down the highway bill in a gambit meant to force Republicans to accept the Senate changes, but that plan never quite materialized.
Still, significantly more Democrats voted against the House bill this time. On July 15, the House passed the bill 367-55, with 45 Republicans and 10 Democrats voting against it. This time, both Republicans and Democrats cracked down on their members to vote with their party.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 79-18 to change some of the offsets in the bill and the length of the measure from May to December. The idea with changing the term of the bill is to force Congress to find a more permanent solution in the lame-duck session.
House Democrats came to the House floor Thursday to express their dissatisfaction with the patch.
Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said that by insisting on the House bill, Congress would be denying certainty to the highway and construction industry.
“They are going to slide into the next Congress,” Blumenauer said. “We are going to duck all the tough issues. We haven’t heard anything that deals with how we are going to move forward.”
Fellow Oregon Democrat Peter A. DeFazio noted that the United States was now 26th in infrastructure in the world, and he said as former bicycle mechanic, he knew how to patch a tube. “But if you get to the point where you can’t see the tube anymore for the patches, then it’s time for a new tube.”
The bill now goes back to the Senate.
July 29, 2014
Speaker John A. Boehner vowed the House would not allow the Senate to add any “comprehensive immigration reform bill or anything like it, including the DREAM Act” to the House’s $659 million border bill Tuesday.
“Senator Reid, embarrassed that he cannot strong-arm the Senate into passing the blank check President Obama demanded, is making a deceitful and cynical attempt to derail the House’s common-sense solution,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement aimed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., after Reid suggested he could add immigration to the border bill.
“So let me be as clear as I can be with Senator Reid: the House of Representatives will not take up the Senate immigration reform bill or accept it back from the Senate in any fashion,” he said. “Nor will we accept any attempt to add any other comprehensive immigration reform bill or anything like it, including the DREAM Act, to the House’s targeted legislation, which is meant to fix the actual problems causing the border crisis. Such measures have no place in the effort to solve this crisis, and any attempt to exploit this crisis by adding such measures will run into a brick wall in the People’s House.” Full story
The House Republican Conference paid tribute to outgoing Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday morning with a video showcasing the Virginia Republican’s legislative career.
“While it’s impossible to fully capture your leadership on behalf of House Republicans, I wanted to remind everyone of a few of your many highlights,” Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington said introducing the video.
The video takes note of the bipartisan pediatric research bill Cantor championed, and includes a mention of his Jewish faith. It is set to triumphant music and includes flattering photos of Cantor working on a variety of issues, stressing bipartisanship and coming together for a common good.
The tribute concludes with the majority leader sounding a hopeful note: ”Each setback is an opportunity and that there is always optimism for the future.”
July 25, 2014
Updated 12:01 p.m. |Republican lawmakers emerged from a special conference meeting Friday morning with renewed optimism that they could pass a slimmed-down border supplemental package before the August recess. But passage still may not be as easy as some expect.
House Republicans are looking at a less than $1 billion package, according to lawmakers leaving the meeting, though no legislative text has been released. Appropriators were previously aiming for a package at about $1.5 billion — already down from the the $3.7 billion the president proposed to address the flood of unaccompanied minors crossing the Southwest border.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the leader of a Republican working group on the crisis, said Friday morning that the measure Republicans aim to pass next week would still look similar to the recommendations she and her working group recently released.
“I really feel very, very hopeful,” Granger said at the prospect of passing a bill next week. “I just think we had a chance to present our findings and our recommendations. We came back today and explained more and listened to people.”
The border group’s plan drew a lukewarm response Wednesday when Granger presented the proposal to the conference. Apparently some lawmakers were still concerned that the president or the Senate could negate whatever legislation they pass. But, as Granger said, “there were far fewer problems today than there were yesterday.”
Granger said the package would retain the “major pieces” of the working group’s recommendations: “Change the 2008 law, secure the border and send the children back in an organized way working with the countries.”
A key piece of the GOP proposal — and a key sticking point with Democrats — is the revision of a 2008 law on human trafficking. Republicans want to amend the law to allow for the speedy deportation of children coming from Central America. Under the current law, those children are entitled to an immigration hearing to determine whether they can get refugee status.
On Friday, during her weekly news conference, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pleaded with Republicans to not “hold the children hostage to the cosmetics of how tough you are on the border.
Pelosi had initially seemed open to the idea of making changes to the 2008 law, but she quickly changed her mind after many Democrats expressed opposition to that idea. “There’s no reason why they have to be tied and I hope that the Republicans will come to that conclusion,” Pelosi said Friday.
Pelosi’s comments were echoed by 13 members of the Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform — all Democrats — who sent a letter Friday to Boehner asking the speaker to submit a supplemental bill without the riders Republicans are almost certain to attach.
Changing the 2008 law seems like it almost definitely would be part of a Republican border proposal.
What’s “up in the air,” according to Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman, is whether Republicans try to end the president’s executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, more commonly referred to as DACA. Stutzman said he’d be surprised if Republicans try to end DACA in this package, but that “it was suggested a couple of times.”
There were an estimated 30 Republicans who spoke during the conference meeting, so a few voices on DACA would not be a significant call for immediate action.
Still, Republicans have very few votes they can lose on the measure before it’s in serious trouble of not passing. Democrats are unlikely to bail them out with more than a handful of votes — if any at all — and there are more than a few hard-line Republicans on the border supplemental.
“I think that we’re still very divided,” John Fleming, R-La., said. “I think that — I know that — there’s a number in there that didn’t speak up at all and feel as I do: that, at most, we should call the president out through a resolution that he must act, and that we can’t act until he does.”
Many lawmakers apparently thought it would be a good idea to adopt a resolution stating that it was the sense of the House that the president ought to enforce immigration laws. That could win some more votes for Republicans. But that doesn’t seem like it would appease Fleming.
“Because the idea that we’re going to pass legislation and it’s actually going to be signed into law is just nonsense,” Fleming said. “It isn’t going to happen. Everybody in that room knows that, at most, this would be, cover-your-butt kind of legislation.”
Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp expressed a similar sentiment.
“You can’t trust this president,” he said. “I mean, he could go in and do an executive order again next week.”
Huelskamp said he wanted to see the legislative text before he made his decision on the supplemental, but he seemed to suggest it was on the president, not Congress, to act to address the border.
“At the end of the day, this is the president’s border crisis, and he has to show how he’s going to solve it,” Huelskamp said.
But many Republicans seem to see the need to pass something before the August recess.
Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said it seemed like every Republican was coalescing around “some type of Granger-modified plan.” And Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said there was “growing consensus that the House will act, not to merely manage the problem, as the president wants, but to stop the problem.”
Brady added that, “if we worried about what the Senate does or doesn’t do, this House would not have sent over 300-plus bills on the jobs, the economy and getting the budget under control.”
And as Stutzman said: “We got to find a way to get there. I think we do. You talk to — you listen to some of the members, especially down on the border states, they don’t want to have to go home and deal with this all summer long.”
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.
July 23, 2014
Speaker John A. Boehner’s hand-picked House GOP ”working group” on the border crisis released its recommendations Wednesday.
“Our focus has been to ensure the safety of the children and it has remained a top priority throughout this process,” said Texas Rep. Kay Granger, who chaired the group.
The task force called for deploying the National Guard and changing a 2008 law Republicans say is hindering the speedy return of Central American minors to their home countries.
“Anyone who has been to South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley knows that the men and women of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing a remarkable job, but they are stretched thin with the massive surge of children crossing the border, and the quickest way to provide relief is by deploying the National Guard. The National Guard would also assist with the humanitarian care and needs of the unaccompanied minors, which will free up the Border Patrol to focus on their primary mission,” Granger said in a statement.
“The recommendation to amend the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2008 is something both parties agree on and modifications to the law can be done to expedite the process while ensuring proper protections are in place for the children who need them. We recommend amending the 2008 law, so that all unaccompanied minors are treated the same for the purpose of removal. This would be done by requiring unaccompanied minors who do not wish to be voluntarily returned to their home country to remain in Health and Human Services’ custody while they await an expedited immigration court hearing that must promptly occur after they are screened by child welfare officials,” she said. Full story
July 22, 2014
The initial outcry in Washington over the scale and scope of the child migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border signaled this could be a moment for rare bipartisan action.
But as with most issues on Capitol Hill, hopes for cooperation soon dissipated with rancor and disagreements now boiling over between the parties — not to mention within Democrats’ and Republicans’ own ranks.
With just days left until the monthlong August recess, lawmakers seemed as far apart as ever Tuesday — the eve of a House Republican Conference meeting that could determine whether, and how, the chamber moves forward with legislation to fund additional resources at the border and various policy changes to stem the tide of the crisis.
Here are four of the biggest reasons that first glimmer of optimism Republicans and Democrats could cobble together a deal might ultimately have been misplaced.
First, for House Republicans, it’s still about immigration. Republican leaders might have hoped that a specially-appointed “working group” tasked with advising the conference on the border crisis would help focus the conversation on the matter at hand, rather than let it devolve into the loaded rhetoric of the immigration debate that has plagued the party for the past year and a half.
It has proved virtually impossible to separate the two issues, however, with tempers still flaring on a number of fronts — from the president’s alleged untrustworthiness to concerns that undocumented immigrants are running rampant on the taxpayer’s dime, and fear that passing a border funding bill that isn’t stringent enough could be perceived by the public as too lenient.
At least 33 House Republicans want Obama to end his executive action that grants stays of deportation for young people brought into the country illegally by their parents, hoping send a message to Central American countries that their children won’t get a free pass at the Southwest border. And the six Republican House members from Oklahoma don’t want any more unaccompanied minors shipped to holding facilities housed at the state’s Fort Sill army base.
There are even divisions within the seven-member House working group regarding just how far to go. The same day the members signed off on its report of recommendations to leadership, two of them — Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Carter of Texas — introduced their own bills addressing the border crisis that tack significantly further to the right. Spokesmen for the lawmakers said the measures were intended to compliment, not supplement, the task force’s work, but a lack of solidarity among seven, hand-picked members could serve as a harbinger for how hard it will be to build consensus with the larger, unwieldy Republican rank and file.
Second, House Democrats are confounded by a difficult choice. Republicans are united on one thing: Any funding bill that comes to the floor will contain policy riders, and one of those riders will be a revision to a 2008 trafficking law to expedite deportations of unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border. Reality is sinking in among Democratic leaders that a condition of giving the president the money to stem the border crisis will be swallowing what for them is a bitter pill, one they say would strip children of key protections against exploitation and harm in their home countries.
Democratic leaders sense that a growing number of their members, particularly those who hail from the Hispanic and Progressive caucuses, are prepared to withhold their votes on those grounds, meaning they will have to either appeal to their members to hold their noses and vote “yes” or stand with them and vote “no.” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has already begun to harden her stance against changing the 2008 law after saying it wouldn’t be a “deal breaker” for her, though she still has not drawn a line in the sand regarding how she would vote if the language was included.
There could be practical consequences attached to not supporting the funding bill: Republicans could need Democratic votes to get the legislation over the finish line. But there could also be political consequences, with “no” votes opening Democrats up to criticism from Republicans that Pelosi and her party were in favor of the tweaks before they were against them, and that Democrats are turning away from their own party leadership. Speaker John A. Boehner seized upon that talking point Tuesday morning, suggesting in a statement that Democratic leaders’ waffling could jeopardize the entire effort.
Third, both parties are in for a challenging whip operation. If House Republicans want to pass a border funding package that could have some viability in the Senate, it’s going to have to be at least somewhat bipartisan, and they’re going to have to get Democratic votes. In that case, with Republicans on the right reluctant to support legislation that doesn’t contain red-meat policy provisions, and Democrats on the left unwilling to make compromises on changes to the trafficking law, leaders on both sides of the aisle are going to have to corral votes from middle. It’s likely Republicans will have to reach out to Democrats to make a deal, but Democrats won’t necessarily want to help, especially when there’s continued angst over riders and leaders could see an opening to extract compromises in exchange for their votes.
The challenge could be compounded by House GOP leadership’s current state of flux. Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia has been largely out of the loop since losing his June 10 primary — to an opponent who targeted Cantor’s support for an immigration overhaul, no less — and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, slated to replace Cantor on Aug. 1, has been basically working two jobs. The incoming whip, current Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is also dealing with the transition.
A GOP leadership aide close to the whip operation insisted that McCarthy and Scalise are working double-duty in anticipation of their new roles, and said their collaboration and engagement on this particular issue leaves them well prepared to tackle the most ambitious of vote counts. It’s the Democrats’ indecision on where they stand, the aide said, that is making things complicated.
Fourth, the House is stymied by money and time. Republicans are in agreement that the president’s $3.7 billion ask is too high, but how much they want to cut is another sticking point. For some GOP lawmakers, no topline number will be fiscally prudent enough; others might quibble that too conservative a sum might not fund all of the necessarily priorities outlined by the working group.
There’s also the question of whether the funds will be offset or classified as “emergency,” per Obama’s request. Republicans would all prefer the funding to be paid for, even those who don’t insist on it — though there’s a substantial number of members who do. Members don’t, however, know where to find such offsets, with non-controversial savings hard to come by. Whether appropriators are able to present members with a viable option could determine whether the package has enough votes to advance.
All this is taking place as days left until the August recess are down to the single digits.
Should Congress fail to act now, it could pick things back up in September, but the legislative days then are numbered too, before members go off to campaign in advance of the midterms. Plus, they could find themselves consumed with another piece of pressing business: A deal to avoid a government shutdown at the end of that month.